Girl Defending Herself Against Love, by William Adolphe Bouguereau (1880)
The gal portrayed by Bouguereau certainly doesn't look estrogen-deprived, but fighting off love the way that she is, perhaps we may infer that she's deficient in oxytocin and vasopressin, even if she ain't really fighting off Cupid quite so hard.
At least that's what the young philosopher, self-taught science buff, and erstwhile educator, truck-smuggler, and screenwriter Matthew Alper would tell us in his 2006 book The "God" Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God.
Somehow, I don't think a lack of neurotransmitters was quite the message that Bouguereau was trying to put across.
In his book, Alper describes his own relentless personal quest to get at the very heart of the matter regarding God’s existence or non-existence. Eventually he came to the conclusion that the thrust of the quest should not be directed at finding proofs in the natural world outside of our own selves, but within ourselves, in our own brains. I admit that I have a certain frustration that Alper probably shares as well. Many people who believe in evolution and accept that our bodies were shaped by the forces of evolution still want to believe that our minds are a tabula rasa, a “blank slate,” as if human evolution stopped from the neck up. As an organ like any other, our brains were shaped by our evolutionary past, and it makes sense to conclude that both our cognitive and emotional traits are there as the result of forces which maximized our chances for survival and reproduction.
Alper’s main premise is that the “God” part of the brain, reflected in a universal human proclivity towards spirituality and tendency to believe in deities, was an adaptation that formed in us as the result of being self-conscious creatures with foresight who needed a coping mechanism in order to deal with the anxiety caused by the awareness of our own definitive and inescapable mortality.
That’s fine as far as it goes, but there is a bleakness and a coldness among scientifically-minded atheists of the most militant stripe that I find chilling. Not only would someone like Alper want to take down God, but even a most basic human raison d'être like being “in love” as well. Must these reductionists ”reduce” everything that makes us human?
From the footnote on page 110:
A research team led by anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University has been working to determine the neurochemistry involved in bonding behaviors. Fisher believes the attachments formed by individuals "in love" are caused by changes in the brain involving a group of neurotransmitters called mono-amines, which include dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. To plot these changes, Fisher subjected lovelorn couples to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scanner that could pinpoint minute changes of blood flow in the brain associated with bonding and infatuation.Well, there it is. The next time you're swooning and walking on air over someone new, or suffering a broken heart over getting summarily dumped, or mourning the loss of a spouse or a child, just get an MRI, and see which parts of your brain are getting lit up by your mono-amines.
What she found was that whereas lust is governed by testosterone and estrogen, attachment is governed by the neurotransmitters oxytocin and vasopressin. Apparently, even romantic love and attachment can be reduced to neurochemical processes. This hypothesis was later confirmed when Andreas Bartles at University College London found that when students placed in an fMRI were shown photographs of loved ones (versus photos of insignificant others, which had much less effect), specific regions of the brain became highly activated. The areas which lit up were part of the anterior cingulate cortex, the middle insula, and parts of the putamen and caudate nucleus.
If it's just a matter of your anterior cingular cortex, your insula, or your putamen acting up, heck, maybe you shouldn't take it all so personally...
I don’t know about you, but I’m not letting anyone else have a look at my putamen.
I’m not anti-science. Like a lot of other people, I find evolutionary psychology to be fascinating. I find the logic challenging and compelling, but like the other forms of psychology, it is highly suppositional. If theologians need to show more humility, perhaps darwinists need to be more humble in their claims as well. These days, evolutionary pyschology is even coming under attack for being pseudo-science, like the discredited schools of eugenics and sociobiology that came before it. See Newsweek's June 20th article: Can We Blame Our Bad Behavior on Stone-Age Genes? (Why Do We Rape, Kill and Sleep Around? The fault, dear Darwin, lies not in our ancestors, but in ourselves)
Science is fine, and religious intolerance and violent fundamentalism are indeed serious problems, but what kind of people would the Matthew Alpers, Richard Dawkins, and Same Harrises of the world have us be? Cold, clinical organic machines who need to accept that “even romantic love and attachment can be reduced to neurochemical processes?” Is that the liberation from the shackles of superstition that they are offering us?
In wanting to wrench our eyes away from heaven they would force our gaze upward to the depths of cold, dark, empty space instead, warmed by nothing but the occasional blast of a solar wind. That’s bad enough, but when they start speculating about the possibility of performing surgery on us to remove the "God" part of the brain in a “Godectomy” or treating the malignant spiritual lobes on our brains with medication, then they start becoming downright frightening.
Long live Love, I say, of both the eros and agape variety... For better or worse, I’ll take my life with a bit of poetry in it please.
For what, we ask, is life
Without a touch of Poetry in it?
Hail, Poetry, thou heav'n-born maid!
Thou gildest e'en the pirate's trade.
Hail, flowing fount of sentiment!
All hail, all hail, divine emollient!