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Photo by Rachel Berman

There was a time not too long ago when I thought that the universe, and the foundations of behavior lied in the most fundamental matter from which it was comprised. Studying chemistry meant getting a step closer to understanding the universe. However, during my college years I started to go through a sort of an evolution of the self.
The first day in my Neurobiology and Behavior class, my professor held up a brain and asked what we thought of the idea that brain and behavior are equal. Many spoke of religious beliefs and the notions of the mind and the soul, which cannot be explained by the physical, which is the brain. I remember feeling a sense of superiority; I was a true scientist, I knew better. In fact, this was my first response entry written in that class:
"As was mentioned in class, epilepsy was viewed as a form of spirit possession and during that time if anyone made the assertion that the brain controls this phenomenon, that individual would be deemed “crazy.” For someone like myself, who began to question the entire scheme of the universe from the beginning of abyss to the present, that was nicely laid out for me by my Rabbi, it is quite natural to accept the “brain=behavior” model primarily for the fact that overwhelming scientific evidence pinpoints the brain as controlling a wide range of behaviors that were previously explained by some other concepts, such as God. Some people might be uncomfortable viewing complex behaviors, such as love, as a mere series of chemical reactions because such thinking might "take away" from the feeling. I do not think that the brain=behavior link makes us any less human or unable to feel. Nor does it make life any less exciting, simply understandable."

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Photo by Rachel Berman

Its funny I mentioned love when I wrote this entry because almost three years after it, this was the very topic I was preoccupied with. Whether it was because I thought that I experienced it and lost it or because my intellectual life as a chemist was boring me, I had a strange feeling of utter emptiness. I was looking for something...something that would have meaning, something that would inspire me.
The last thing in my life which inspired me was love. So perhaps by learning about it I could somehow rekindle that inspiration or make sense of what happened to me. The first thing which probably emerged was my training as a chemist. I was going to define the system in question and then study it. My advisor, , gave the best characterization of this “syndrome.” He called it “intellectual schizophrenia.” I definitely had two opposite sides to my intellectual inquiries. One had to do with what I thought was proper science, the inquiry concerned with the “right” answer. That is, anything a scientist says should be possible to rephrase as a summary of well defined observations. The other part of me was concerned with concepts which mattered to me. These were abstract concepts such as love and art. What I had to do for the first time in my life was to try to put the two together.

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Photo by Rachel Berman

I started out reading all sorts of ideas about love, and there are so much! Poets, neurobiologists, and just about any person on the internet had something to say on this topic. I tried to narrow my search by looking at articles written by PhD’s. Propositions stating that “The cerebellum [is] the principle structure involved in mediation of an abnormal social behaviors of mother deprived monkeys…” appealed to me. However, I realized two things during my primary endeavors. First, just because someone has a Ph.D. may not mean much about the type of research performed. Secondly, anyone identifying a certain brain structure as the only determinate of a complex behavior is not considering the context in which that behavior emerges.
The first step to unifying the two sides of my "intellectual schizophrenia" was to realize that love is a human concept, a characteristic of a human language. When you give something a noun it carries the implication that it is a unitary thing. This is the idea expressed in the opening poem . One reason science is able to shed light on things is because it breaks them down. What I needed to do was to take the concept apart. I had to rephrase my original question, which frankly now seems rather absurd: What is love?
If I was to be scientific about this matter at all, I had to break it apart and learn about the pieces. So the way to make sense of it was not to take it in isolation but figure out where it sits in a broader context., Then try to make sense of the broader context. Thus, the goal was to find small questions using “systems” in which pieces of the concept of love emerge. These systems were not limited. In fact, the first I choose was drugs. I was reading an article on Ecstasy , a drug which produces various feelings associated with love, and decided to study the drug itself. Next, I had to figure out what was solid in the chosen systems…maybe then I could form some conclusions and relate them back to the broader context of this ...whatever that may be.

There are essentially six parts to this project:

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Photo by Rachel Berman

Part 1 deals with the chemical effects on interpersonal relations. Here the effects of Ecstasy are examined. Also, summaries of the theories of pheromone release as related to synchronization of menstrual cycle in human females, as well as the “love chemicals” used by various insects to govern their social behaviors, are provided.

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In Part 2 , I examine the contradictions that arise when one solely considers the chemicals as accounting for effects of Ecstasy, as well as Prozac, which is examined in context of depression. I start out by pointing out our current awareness of the state of depression, the medium of Prozac’s operation. Also, I present some of the contradicting issues which arise from implications of what we know and what we do not know about the state of depression and the medium of its conduction - the nervous system. I will make the argument that knowing chemicals and neurotransmitters is not enough. Also, an alternative hypothesis originally proposed by Peter Kramer in Listening to Prozac is explored. This is the notion that there are brain areas involved in interpersonal relations.

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Isle of Alone Soul

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Part 3 is somewhat of a test of Kramer’s thesis. That is, if we assume that there actually exist specific brain areas concerned with interpersonal relations, a good thought experiment would be to examine cases when a person is incapable of having such relations. This is done through the exploration of a neurobiological disorder known as Autism.

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Part 4 entertains the notion that the evolutionary sequences in human beings produced a brain organization which promotes “the urge to love.” In this discussion, I examine the "problem of altruism" in relation to brain organization: even if there was a gene accounting for self-sacrificing behaviors, it would make sense that the individual species possessing it would die out. Various theories as to why this is not the case, such as the Darwinian reproductive success model, are explored. Alternative ways of examining the phenomenon of altruism as applied to human beings are proposed.
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Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach by Salvador Dali

In Part 5 , the dream state is used as a system through which the standardization of dream symbolism as well as various theories of dreams are examined. From the observations of this system, as well as our previous inquiries in the first four parts, I develop a model of the working of the brain which will be extended to the original question about the nature of interpersonal relations.

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Vase Illusion

In Part 6 , I present my conclusions about the workings of the brain and implications for the broader picture of interpersonal relations and the “urge to love.”

Index Introduction Part1 Part2 Part3 Part4 Part5 Part6