Last Updated on January 24, 2023
We think that the ability to love distinguishes us from most animals. But from the point of view of science, all romantic experiences are just the cunning of selfish and cynical genes, the only desire of which is the infinite multiplication.
From the point of view of evolution, any living being is just a set of genes that copy themselves. Genes can grow into cells, grow organisms, interact with each other, but eventually only those who can save their copies will leave a trace in history. To achieve the goal, genes go to all sorts of tricks. Some are betting on the simplicity and efficiency and make the maximum of copies in the shortest possible time. For example, bacteria are divided in two, and thus creating new organisms. This is called asexual reproduction. Other genes are more cunning. They do not just copy themselves, but mix with other genes and create offspring from the resulting mixture.
This is the essence of sexual reproduction, which gave living beings a choice: with whom to “mix” so as to ensure the posterity the greatest success? Asexual reproduction is aimed only at quantity. For sexual, quality is important. The “choose and mix” strategy turned out to be extremely effective. It helped the genes to master the entire planet – from mountain peaks to the seabed.
Using sexual reproduction, genes built for themselves heaped machines like the human body – all in order to continue to copy themselves. But what if we, adult intelligent people, are not interested in the intentions of our genes? What if we do not want to breed? Of course, the genes foresee this. To deceive a person, they came up with love.
American anthropologist Helen Fisher divided love into three biological components: lust, attraction and affection. As in aircraft, individual motors work independently of each other, so in the brain, the three components of love independently control our emotions and desires. One can feel affection for one partner, attraction to another and at the same time be excited at the sight of piquant photographs of someone third.
Lust, or libido, is the desire to participate in sexual reproduction at all costs. With whom, for what and with what outcome – is not important. Its value is in the process, not the result.
An analogue of human lust can be considered the reaction of animals to pheromones. For example, they are produced by sexually mature mice. Molecules of pheromones, getting into the nose of a female mouse, bind to special receptors on the nerve endings.
They transmit the signal “It’s time to multiply!” directly into the brain, which immediately begins to command: “To ovulate, prepare sex hormones to pump into the blood, do not lose sight of the male!” Lust is the main breeding motor, and in Homo sapiens it works for sex hormones: estrogens and androgens. Being an ancient mechanism, lust is blind, and moral norms are powerless against its oppression.
If for the lust all the surrounding on one person, then at the level of attraction there is a choice for which everything was conceived. The female deer will give preference to the male who won the battle. A young lady will go on a date with the most charming boyfriend. From the point of view of neurophysiology, there is no difference between these events.
The main substance responsible for the attraction, is dopamine. It is worth the level of dopamine in the brain to grow up, euphoria comes, a person becomes overactive, loses appetite and sleep, worries over trifles and simultaneously begins to think better.
The same effect is caused, for example, by cocaine and amphetamines, which cause the body to “squeeze out” all dopamine from itself. Why do genes make a person nervous, but joyful and intelligent? The answer is simple: the gene carrying machine must overcome any difficulties, but bring the matter to
sexual reproduction with the chosen partner. And do it as quickly as possible, until another person appears who wants to participate in the mixing of genes. That is why the lover is so nervous and sees only one way out of the excruciatingly sweet state: to get the lady of the heart. And, of course, to deliver genes where they should be.
Affection has appeared in living beings by evolutionary standards quite recently. Lust came about 120-150 million years ago in mammals and in the first birds. If lust and attraction are based on obvious, momentary observations and immediate sensations, then affection requires a glance into the future, and this is much more difficult.
Why genes invented such a complex mechanism? If we imagine that the offspring appears right after fertilization and immediately begins an independent life, then attachment is even harmful: what is the point of limiting reproduction to just one set of genes?
But the more difficult the evolution of living beings, the more time and energy their offspring required. To make a new bacterium, twenty minutes and a pinch of sugar are enough. To get a full-fledged new person, you need nine months of pregnancy, comfortable conditions, a special diet, painful childbirth and a couple dozen years of care and education.
With the complication of animals, reproduction became a plan which must be planned in advance. To change sexual partners like gloves became unprofitable: if the relationship ends after fertilization, then who will be engaged in the search for food?
Neither attraction, nor lust do not take such complexity into account. Their mission ends when the genes are transferred to the next generation. We needed a way to make machines for breeding choose a long-term, not just an attractive partner.
The main “affection molecule” is the hormone oxytocin. He, in huge quantities, stands out during childbirth, helping to cope with the pain and in the future to forget about it. This hormone contributes to the allocation of milk, directly affects the manifestation of tenderness towards children and stimulates parental behavior. Oxytocin enhances the desire to spend time with a partner, to maintain social and physical contact with him. We can say that oxytocin is the hormone of plans for the future.
Systems that provide lust, attraction and affection in humans, are in other mammals as well. In studies of the role of oxytocin, for example, social voles are often used – these rodents are monogamous and are tied to a partner. But this does not say that for a vole, love means the same as for a person. We need to look for a starting point for what we call love.
It is believed that the emergence of love in humans is associated with the early evolution of anthropoid apes. Eight million years ago, the changing climate of West Africa forced our ancestors to leave the thinning forest and escape into the savannah. In open spaces, it was necessary to move long distances, and about four million years ago the australopithecines rose to their feet, instead of climbing the trees.
Straightening, the female could no longer carry the baby on her back, and this made it difficult to find food. But the uprightness freed the hands of the males, and they began to carry the food they found for long distances, instead of dinning on the spot. Evolutionary advantage was given to families with the distribution of roles: females tend to children, males bring food. Under the new conditions, the ancient oxytocin system proved to be extremely useful.
Playing with the brain settings, evolution “added” rapidly developing emotions and the consciousness to the hormone of Australopithecus – improved nutrition and new possibilities of nurturing young ones greatly increased its intellectual abilities.
In less than three million years, the hormonal and emotional processes invented by genes for the most effective copying of themselves, have grown over a dense shell of culture. Religions sang oxytocin, and medieval minstrel sang for dopamine. But this fact should not completely upset people who seem to lose control of their lives: after all, who, if not genes, know better how to make us feel good? So, it’s worth to relax and have fun.
Thank you for your attention, be sure to check out our friends at UKR Brides to put your new acquired knowledge into action.
Also, check out this great article about love: https://examinedexistence.com/why-we-fall-in-love-the-science-of-love/