Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What is love?

This is a question that has been pondered upon by thinkers and non-thinkers alike for so many centuries. Each individual either writes about it or the lack of it. So many creative expressions have been a result of this is one emotion. I personally as well have been pondering about it from time to time.

So many attempts have been made to classify love. From divine to lustful, there is an entire continuum on which it finds expression. But again if we can these as expressions, then surely these are a mere manifestation. Then the question to be asked is, what lies beneath/ beyond, and what is it that is the root-cause of one of the most powerful and captivating emotion that man experiences.

People say that love is a state of being. If it is so then, love is just another emotional state. And like any other emotional state, transitory and affect based. By definition, emotion is the affective aspect of consciousness. This again brings us back into the cause-symptom loop, if love an emotion then it’s a symptom and now the cause. However, if we accept this premise we find attribute the seat of this emotion rooted in our neurology and hence hardwired in our brains and waiting for the right set of triggers. Instinctual love, as I would like to call it, doesn’t leave very far behind the animals, who in every mating season are compelled to go through the motions of copulation without the least bit of understanding of the whys.

Can love be rational? If love has a rational base then we can break it down to a mathematical equation. We can perform/ apply the rules of logic to it. We can add, subtract, multiply, divide it and find the resultant. This surely is not the case, as this paints a very manipulative picture of love. Yet, ironically, when we come to think of it, in real life this is the kind of love that we see around us so many times. Transactional love, as I would like to call it, involves give-and-take and book-keeping of all that one person does for the other and hence, an implicit expectation of return.

Popular cinema often equates love with sacrifice. The protagonist is portrayed as a suffering hero/ heroine. Love equals sacrifice equals suffering seems to the equation over here and hence. The more you sacrifice and the more you suffer the stronger is suppose to be your love, seems to the premise over here. Is love the same as sacrifice, if one person claims to be in love with another person and gives up everything for him/ her is that love? Sacrificial love, according to me is nothing more than a compromise. We all have our value system and our set of priorities, if one has to give them up, I would look at it more as a compromise rather anything else.

Religion talks of selfless love. Karmakaand (the ritualistic aspect of Hindu religion) and similar practices across all religion often equate social service and charity with love. Selflessness and acts of philanthropy have there own merits, there is no denying of that, but calling it love is something that is beyond my understanding. Selfless love, means to elicit the same response to all things in the world. As a meta-physical concept this is the most idealistic way ahead, however at the worldly level this surely seems to be the least understood and practiced.

There are so many connotations to this single word. Each school of thought tries to capture the essence of this emotion and bring forth there interpretations. As a free society surely there is no harm in doing so, but this starts to create problems when as a group or as an individual when there are attempts to impose these views over everyone else. This leads to a lot of fallacies, like, the government claims if you love your country then kill others on the battlefield, a number of extremist groups brainwash people and ask them to kill for religion and so on.

Love might still be an undefined concept for me, but as I start to think about it I certainly start realizing what it isn’t. And it might be an anti-thesis, but I have also started to realize that it is this very attempt to define and hence confine it to a selected operational framework that has caused so much distortion, and that too sadly, in the name of love.

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  • premonition said...

    Very insightful post indeed!

    I could not help thinking one thought over and over again though.
    You question the transactional definition of love. My views however are entirely personal and definitely reflect ,at least in part, my own interior. I personally think that one can eventually scale down all definitions of love to transactional one. It is only a matter of perception. What maybe selfless sacrifice (and hence true love) to one eye maybe a pure calculated transaction for another(life in return for immense momentary happiness).

    The only reason we chose not to believe it is probably because we pride ourselves as the "supreme" beings definitely better than animals and just a step removed from God almighty.

    I think ego and vanity kept aside, we humans are as animalic as the rest of those beasts! And the love that we have is transactional, at all levels.

    Even sacrificing your life for someone you love is,in essence, transactional. The loved one did bring you immense joy and happiness to begin with remember! And who is to say, that the action itself does not cause a sudden and other wordly surge of neural endorphins- those very neurochemicals that are rumored to make us happy and give us a natural "high"! I know I can never give up my life for such a "high" but then again thats only because I have not found anyone for whom this transaction would be worthy of execution.

    It has to be give and take; the definition of give and take can be refurnished only to make it look more acceptable to our own senses. Think of it for a moment. How could we humans chose to believe that we are just animals, pretending to indulge in something as divine as perhaps God himself. No, we need gigantic pillars to support our fallacious arguments.

    I should, perhaps, exemplify my point lest I sound intoxicated.
    Why should we malign love (and by extension the lovers) if the give and take involved material pleasures (sex for expensive dates) and yet, keep in the highest regard the kind of give and take (but which we would be more inclined to call love) where you have to give up your life (and derive immense satisfaction) for your "object" of love so that they can live. Just different levels of give and take.

    In the end, we remain animals and ,unfortunately, animals with mind; who try to sugar coat our truths and hide the facts beneath veneers of hypocricy. Man indeed!!!

  • Ashutosh said...

    @ premonition

    Very true that everything can be scaled down to a worldly and material plane however my conceptualization of love is transcendental. According to me, rather than being a matter of perception it is more a matter of choice.

    I do not buy the idea of “falling in love”. For me love, like any other transaction in/of life (if I may borrow that expression) is a matter of total choice. One may like to choose selfless sacrifice or a moment of pleasure, it is totally a personal choice. And since I rarely use “what others think/ might think” as a criterion of decision making, it is unthinkable for me to use it for the most personal (or selfish) transaction of my life.

    I cannot comment about others, but my reason of choosing not to believe in others is that I would like to take complete ownership of my decisions. Cynical as it might sound, I would prefer to take all the blame/ credit of my actions and there consequences. I have seen enough spineless cowards in life who claim to have loved and then used society/ others/ destiny/ anything/ everything to back out. I would prefer to believe in myself and make errors and learn rather than follow the dictates of others who might as well be as unsure and yet pretend otherwise.

    We can choose to be animals or reach the highest levels of awareness that again is a choice that has been given to us. As Swami Vivekanand says –

    Never mind failures; they are quite natural, they are the beauty of life-these failures. What would life be without them? It would not be worth having if it were not for struggles. Where would be the poetry of life? Never mind the struggles, the mistakes. I never heard a cow tell a lie, but it is only a cow-never a man. So never mind these failures, these little backslidings; hold the ideal a thousand times; and if you fail a thousand times, make the attempt once more.

    As human beings we have been bestowed the ability to think and conceptualize. Its up to us how we prefer to use it. I would any day prefer to struggle for my ideals, rather than living a borrowed dream.


  • premonition said...

    Well said. But in the end, we will have to agree to disagree. Mainly , because I see no choice out there. The decision for us to think and behave like animals is not for us to make. It stands executed even before a man is born into this world. Off course, most of the rest of the life is spent in embracing complete denial of this fact. Denial, someone said, remains the most predictable of all human emotions. But thats just me thinking.

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