How Romance And Reason Became Frenemies

Romance and reason are becoming estranged bedfellows (too bad—they were a cute couple). Does love’s logic now add up? Or is love like “happiness,” a low-resolution word (unhelpful in seeing key distinctions). Food for thought on love’s unrequited logic...

Does love’s logic add up? Like “happiness,” love is becoming a low-resolution word (blurry, unfocused). Some food for thought on love’s unrequited logic:

1. "Love is a kind of war” wrote Ovid. Can one of its opposites illuminate love? Stephen Pinker’s book on war and violence provides “Better Models of Our Nature.” His ideas on the complicated couplings between our biological drives and our behaviors, apply also to love.

2. In love, do we fall for Freud’s "hydraulic" error? Hunger is hydraulic: Its pressure builds, requiring regular relief. The logic of fighting can’t work that way—it’s evolutionarily adaptive only if used strategically. Is love more like food, or fighting?

3. In mating models, are we too tempted by the evo-irresistible error? Is our evolutionary fate to constantly fight conflicting impulses? The mechanics of non-hydraulic drives require self-command, an evolved (culturally configurable) capacity humans have always had.

4. All our drives play out on an ever-social stage, shaped by norms, rules, and cued “scripts.” Our hydraulic food habits are heavily culturally scripted. As is love’s relationship to sex ( = very variable).

5. We absorb our culture’s, often tacit, rules, norms, and scripts for love. And pop-culture makers (psychologists all) have superseded novelists (Stalin’s “soul engineers”) and poets (Shelley’s “unacknowledged legislators”) in both describing and patterning our behaviors. For example a Dylan song taught one listener “about heartbreak before [he’d] suffered any.” [Aside—film/video’s visual patterns trump language, going directly to System 1).

6. Grappling with love’s logic, Socrates called it the fourth form of “divine madness.” Greeks gripped by passions imagined themselves possessed by gods, but ideally sought “the perfect combination of human self-control and divine madness.” Reason’s role is self-command, precisely to guide our drives towards long-term goals (vs short-term pleasures).

7. Short-and long-term “love” now seem easily divorced. Scientists hook up them up separately to wobbly evolutionary stories. Maybe today’s plain old biology is enough, and here food analogies help. Could junk love be like junk food? Is sex love’s sugar? Sweet but never free? Never a complete diet?

8. We can’t choose to have a short-term relationship with doughnuts. Their long-term effects come whatever we decide (biochemical karma). Likewise, perhaps there’s no such thing as casual sex: All sex is causal—it always causes biochemical changes. Divorcing pleasure from what it unavoidably causes, causes food woes. As might the biochemical bondage sex likely evolved to tie us up in.

9. Perhaps it’s a misconception that two generations of contraception can override 10,000 generations of biochemistry. Though we can, and do, ignore biology’s signals (e.g. ignoring biochemical satiety = widespread obesity).

10. The logic of unshort love requires loyalty (“love is not love which alters when it” easier alternatives finds). We once were connoisseurs of commitment (our self-deficient survival required it). Today’s norms/scripts can counter commitment, encouraging co-omit-ment, we jointly omit to commit (uncool to ask = a form of don’t ask don’t tell dating).

Romance and reason are becoming estranged bedfellows. Too bad—they were a cute couple.


Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions 



​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

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Is this why time speeds up as we age?

We take fewer mental pictures per second.

Photo by Djim Loic on Unsplash
Mind & Brain
  • Recent memories run in our brains like sped-up old movies.
  • In childhood, we capture images in our memory much more quickly.
  • The complexities of grownup neural pathways are no match for the direct routes of young brains.
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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.

Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Climate change melts Mount Everest's ice, exposing dead bodies of past climbers

Melting ice is turning up bodies on Mt. Everest. This isn't as shocking as you'd think.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Surprising Science
  • Mt. Everest is the final resting place of about 200 climbers who never made it down.
  • Recent glacial melting, caused by global warming, has made many of the bodies previously hidden by ice and snow visible again.
  • While many bodies are quite visible and well known, others are renowned for being lost for decades.

The bodies that remain in view are often used as waypoints for the living. Some of them are well-known markers that have earned nicknames.

For instance, the image above is of "Green Boots," the unidentified corpse named for its neon footwear. Widely believed to be the body of Tsewang Paljor, the remains are well known as a guide point for passing mountaineers. Perhaps it is too well known, as the climber David Sharp died next to Green Boots while dozens of people walked past him- many presuming he was the famous corpse.

A large area below the summit has earned the discordant nickname "rainbow valley" for being filled with the bright and colorfully dressed corpses of maintainers who never made it back down. The sight of a frozen hand or foot sticking out of the snow is so common that Tshering Pandey Bhote, vice president of Nepal National Mountain Guides Association claimed: "most climbers are mentally prepared to come across such a sight."

Other bodies are famous for not having been found yet. Sandy Irvine, the partner of George Mallory, may have been one of the first two people to reach the summit of Everest a full thirty years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did it. Since they never made it back down, nobody knows just how close to the top they made it.

Mallory's frozen body was found by chance in the nineties without the Kodak cameras he brought up to record the climb with. It has been speculated that Irvine might have them and Kodak says they could still develop the film if the cameras turn up. Circumstantial evidence suggests that they died on the way back down from the summit, Mallory had his goggles off and a photo of his wife he said he'd put at the peak wasn't in his coat. If Irving is found with that camera, history books might need rewriting.

As Everest's glaciers melt its morbid history comes into clearer view. Will the melting cause old bodies to become new landmarks? Will Sandy Irvine be found? Only time will tell.

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