Love? Sheesh, a burp lasts longer

DE RERUM NATURA - Maria Isabel Garcia () - February 16, 2012 - 12:00am

You must remember this

Your brain just loves to hiss

It can’t say bye to highs

The fundamental things apply

As time goes by.

Which is faster — the speed of light or the time it takes for one to fall in love? Well, the speed of light still beats any record of anything that happens in the known universe at about 300,000 kilometers per second but falling in love takes a much shorter time than most of us would think. If you are one of those who get all worked up about Valentine’s Day, this is a tribute to that kind of high that makes lunatics out of the most rational of beings: romantic, passionate love.

So you think falling in love in a day or two is fast? An hour? Hmm, it is more like a second — in fact only a fifth of a second. Scientists every now and then seem to gather and work, with as straight a face as possible, to understand what passionate love is. You can already imagine how complex and messy it could be. I think that an astrophysicist who sets out to look at thousands of galaxies will have a clearer task ahead than a “love” scientist. Passionate romantic love is that immensely complicated thing that we have fallen for over and over again, recorded in the oldest memories of human emotional diaries. It is the kind of love akin to an energetic ball of emotion that shoots through you like solid iron and moves inside you as if you were a pinball machine. Suddenly, you think you are not bad-looking after all, that you look kind of hot, that there are many songs you can relate to, that there is inexplicable pleasure as you watch your beloved do extraordinary things such as, well, walk or talk and most of all, the feeling seems to make time stand still.

And when two lovers woo

They “dope” and “oxy” too

On that you can rely

The geeks saw that in lovers

As scans go by

Studies on what the brain gets marinated on when it is in love have filled the scientific literature for more than a decade now. With technology like MRIs, PET scans and other brain imaging devices used to look at our brains when it seems to be sick, scientists also used these devices to see through the skulls of those who are inflicted with a common “disease” called passionate love. In 2010, a study that appeared in the Journal of Sexual Medicine led by Stephanie Ortigue looked at many of these studies of the brain in love and found a common story among them. The study found that there are 12 brain parts involved when you fall in love. This “crazy dozen,” as I’d like to call it, not only include the parts that have always been associated with love — like the limbic system which shoots up certain potent secretions like dopamine and oxytocin – that gives you that “high.” They also include “thinking parts” — the ones that make you do analogies in IQ tests as well as metaphors and the image you have of your own body. And the electro-chemical roller coaster ride through this dozen nooks and crannies in your brain lasts about a fifth of a second. My goodness, even a burp lasts longer.

I seriously doubt it if the tradition for sending a dozen flowers as a sign of romantic love had anything to do with an instinctive feeling of recruiting these 12 brain parts to a conspiracy to make one a lunatic of love. We cannot feel our brain parts as we can count aches in other body parts like toes and knees. But fall for them, we have, in the billions around the world, throughout 200,000 years among modern humans alone. We have fallen for the same thing over and over again. We also know that the feeling of passionate love does not last and to try to make it last requires more than life-long bribing of all those dozen brain parts to keep them working. But we do it anyway. Fools that we are and suckers for dopamine and oxytocin highs. “Forever” may not exist but we are all druggies for love, on that we can rely.

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For comments, e-mail dererumnaturastar@hotmail.com

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