Originally this comic was going to be Carl Sagan and a lonely Neil DeGrasse Tyson meeting and both trying to explain the science behind a sunset to each other before making out. But having just come off an “Dr. Sagan” comic, I wanted to avoid any confusion, and honestly, we’re nowhere near mindlessly churning out fanservice for science geeks. Apologies!
Dovetailing nicely in our recent string of “science is awesome” comics, I wanted to stray off the “NDT Smokes Cigars Made from the Tears of Children” variant of the series and go with something along the lines of “NDT Explains Things.” Also, feeling bad*, I decided a little turnabout was fair play.
But now onto the subject at hand: This was inspired by a series of conversations that have been happening in comment forums elsewhere on the net. Before I get too far, I beseech thee to check out Matt Schickele’s new blog, Hooray Reality. Particularly the recent posting about a conversation he had with what one could only call a spiritualist. Go on and read it. I’ll wait here.
So if I had a quarter for every time somebody invoked love as one of life’s greatest mysteries, I’d have enough money to fund the research that would get people to stop saying that. Moving past the “You can’t explain love” tripe, what I see underlying this whole debate is the fear that we (humans) are not special. You see it rear its ugly head when facing opponents of evolution or whenever the subject of artificial intelligence comes up. For these people who still cling to some biblically inspired dominion over the Earth, science is scary. Knowledge is scary.
Now, I can understand where folks get this idea about love: It’s such a powerful emotion and at the same time completely unpredictable. It’s hard not to think that it permeates the entire fabric of the cosmos, because that’s sure what it feels like, doesn’t it? Love has a way of making everybody feel like they’re having a completely unique experience—as if nobody else has ever been in love or has ever had their heart broken. You can’t understand what I’m going through! DON’T LOOK AT ME! In this way, love deludes us all, and we are never more stupid than when we’re in googly-eyed love. On top of that, it’s totally worth it.
So of course we hold it up as some sort of higher ideal. Of course nobody really wants to hear it explained, because that would take the magic out of it, right?
This faulty idea stems from some school of thought that idealizes mystery—though not the kind of mystery that drives one to explore, the kind that makes some perfectly happy with throwing their hands in the air and saying, “It’s magic**.” Even if scientists had every mechanism tied to human attraction tied down, it’s still downright astounding that it all comes together into this mushy flood of endocrine secretions and euphoric chemicals. Only adding to the complexity are societal and environmental pressures coming from every angle (Romeo and Juliet would have been a ho-hum, normal love story if the Capulets and the Montagues got along). Love triangles, marital spats, jealousy-fueled attacks, and displays of dominance are not uniquely human, only uniquely social.
Perhaps I’m playing right into the metaphysical argument. “Love encompasses everything, man.” Taking a crap is a pretty all-encompassing aspect of life on earth too. One could argue that it is more all-encompassing because even bacteria poop, but we’re pretty sure they don’t feel love. But go on, gloss over it just because you’re under the impression that love is magic.
Love is beautiful, inspiring, difficult, complex, and utterly inevitable. But it’s not magic. I don’t care what Deepak Chopra says.
This post was brought to you by Sodium (Na).
*I hope nobody out there thinks we don’t like the guy, it would be far from the truth. Our jest comes from a place of love and admiration.
** For the rest of the article, we’re going to define “magic” as unexplainable, paranormal, spiritual woo-woo. Not every little thing she does.
For a whole program on the science of sexuality, check out this World Science Festival video:Sexuality. Note: Obviously has a lot of sex talk. Including grad students sexually stimulating female mice. There’s a job for everything.\