Friday, March 16, 2012

Your Beautiful Mind

Upon G.'s expert recommendation, I've been spending these last few days of drudgery reading the most intriguingly titled book on psychobiology ever written - it's called A General Theory of Love and trust me, it hijacks your interest completely from the very first chapter - a chapter that oddly enough begins with a dreamy poem.

That first chapter, called The Heart's Castle - Science Joins the Search for Love, yields a most interesting paragraph about the intricate osmosis of intuition and rationality in matters of the (proverbial) heart and mind. It's quite unexpected to find such a well-written, almost romantically framed book about the scientific study of the brain in love.

And since I was so fascinated by it and so impressed with the writing that really resonated with my own mental image of the kind of thought processes I'd like to develop, I'm quoting it here.

"If empiricism is barren and incomplete, while impressionistic guesswork leads anywhere and everywhere, what hope can there be of arriving at a workable understanding of the human heart? In the words of Vladimir Nabokov, there can be no science without fancy and no art without facts. Love emanates from the brain; the brain is physical, and thus, as fit a subject for scientific discourse as cucumbers or chemistry. But love unavoidably partakes of the personal and the subjective, and so we cannot place it in the killing jar and pin its wings to cardboard as a lepidopterist might a prismatic butterfly. In spite of what science teaches us, only a delicate admixture of evidence and intuition can yield the truest view of the emotional mind. To slip between the twin dangers of empty reductionism and baseless credulity, one must balance a respect for proof with a fondness for the unproven and the unprovable. Common sense must combine in equal measure imaginative flight and an aversion to orthodoxy."

While I am still upon the first chapter, I am falling in love with this book about the mysteries of love and I am delighted that the writers are experts of affective neuroscience, a field of study that has always been a little too esoteric and opaque for me to follow directly.

But all that aside, I am happy that what was a nebulous idea for me has been crystallised in such concrete words for me to keep here on this blog.

25 comments:

Sakshi said...

It seems really interesting.. considering I am one person who is always in love with the idea of being in LOVE!

Tangled up in blue... said...

Sakshi, it really is! :) And I'm sure you'll love it. Because although it's a science book it is aimed at the intelligent general reader as well. :)

Gustaf Valström said...

I'm glad you liked it. Another great book is Helen Fisher's Why We Love. I have not read it yet but I intend to. It's a wonderful quote you've chosen, Kari. I can see why it must have appealed to you.

sunil said...

Wonderful lines these in the quote...."between the twin dangers of empty reductionism and baseless credulity, one must balance a respect for proof with a fondness for the unproven and the unprovable".....

Arumugam said...

I am grinning from ear to ear reading this post:)

Since you are a Sherlock fan too..


"From a drop of water,a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other.So all life is a great chain,the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it.By a Man's finger nails,by his coatsleeve,by his trouser knees,by the callosities of his forefinger,a man's calling is plainly revealed.That all united should fail to enlighten the competent inquirer in any case is almost inconceivable." pg 145:-)

It is an absolutely lovely book!:-)

You know,I used to feel vaguely frustrated why people around me are not as interested in the books and ideas,I find so facinating.The internet put an end to all that!:)

'Why we love' is an interesting book too,though one girl told me that learning the science behind romanticism is decidedly unromantic!)

btw,do you have an account on Shelfari?Would like to follow you there too:)

Arumugam said...

and strange reason,but I picked up the book initially because the cover art was so cute!:)

Tangled up in blue... said...

Gus, will add it to my to-read list! :) And I've actually seen this ted video of Helen Fisher's - The Brain in Love, I think it was called. I have actually blown my entire year's stipend money on books, can you believe it? And I wish you were nearby so I could actually beg you to lend me some instead of actually having to buy these! :D And really, can you? I just instantly fell in love with the words. Guess you know me too well! ;)

Sunil, I agree. It's a fantastic sentence. I really really think this is a very well-written book. Besides being academic, it does have some startlingly beautiful sentences.

Aayushi Mehta said...

Seems very intriguing. Let's see if I can lay my hands on it!

Tangled up in blue... said...

Arumugam! Man, I am sooo glad you found me in cyberspace. Somebody who quotes Sherlock Holmes is such a great person to meet here! :) Somehow, my generation seems to have skipped him. I have exactly four friends in the real world, one of them recently acquired, who read Arthur Conan Doyle's books, although I have managed to convert and convince a LOT of people into watching the BBC TV series. Lovely, lovely quote! Thank you for that! :)

And I completely disagree with that girl - I have this almost compulsive need to decipher the hidden mysteries of why we do what we do really. I've tried to find out scientific explanations for pretty much everything people do - why they kiss, why they fall in love, why they betray, why they create art.

Besides, knowing how a rainbow is formed doesn't make the rainbow any less beautiful to look at. And knowing there are no fairies at the bottom of a garden doesn't make the garden less pretty. I've mashed up Douglas Adams and Richard Dawkins into two clumsy sentences there. But I really really believe that, you know.

Maybe it's just me. And I agree, I really and truly cherish the friends I've made in the virtual world. They're all my kindred spirits. I am eternally grateful to the internet for them! :)

And wow, now I must buy that book! :D

Tangled up in blue... said...

Aayushi, oh yeah! It definitely is. I have a pdf file of it, too. I could email it to you if you like. What's your address?

Jester said...

the curiosity to find out how our body works led me to being a doctor and to find out how the mind works led me into psychiatry! we probably know <1% of how the 'mind' works and trust me every single thousandth of that knowledge makes u look at the wonder of the human 'machine' with awe!

Jester said...

that said, i can completely understand someone who finds the rainbow less beautiful when the science behind it is explained!
To quote Wordsworth:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;

I guess for some the explanation of the mystical is akin to the loss of childhood's innocence, and thereby the absence of the leap of their heart!

Tangled up in blue... said...

Jester, I agree. I find it very interesting as well. I have considered psychiatry myself actually. Let's see. It's only a matter of time before I find out if that's what I'll be doing.

But no, I do not understand somebody like that. Science does not rob natural phenomena of their beauty, nor can it all by itself. It's like saying one enjoys a good mystery so much, they'd hope it was never explained. Or not wanting to know a magic trick actually involves sleight of hand to hold on to the notion of magic existing.

But to each their own, I guess. Ignorance is bliss for some, and for others, knowledge is light.

Aayushi Mehta said...

My id is aayushim@gmail.com

Tangled up in blue... said...

Sent it to you, Aayushi! :)

Jester said...

the oft quoted beauty-beholder comes to mind. even if the beauty is not actually lost, its perception in the beholder's eyes is.

and maybe, (just guessing here), maybe you do understand but do not agree, do not empathize.

if ever you think of psychiatry the one word that you will forever try to understand and often fail is 'empathy'!

Tangerine said...

I like the quote...I was wondering, don't you think the only thing that makes the world go on is 'love'. I mean seriously I'm not kidding, look at history, it was all about love for country, and women, and money. Love makes us do what we do.... :)

Tangled up in blue... said...

Jester, yes, definitely. My dad's a shrink and he tells me the same thing. That empathy is not something you can learn from books. It is something you must acquire on your own.

And it's strange, don't you think? That increased knowledge about the nature of an object is enough to rob the beholder's idea of its beauty. That what is unknown is beautiful but when known becomes pedestrian?

I do find it difficult to empathise or even intellectually reason with that point of view because it is so diametrically opposed to my own. For me, the more I learn about something, the more layers of intricacy it reveals, the more fascinated I become by the complexity of the natural phenomena that give rise to it.

That the laws of physics should work in just such a way in our universe as to create a rainbow or that evolution should act in all its ruthless randomness to create a garden of flowers is extraordinary, is it not?

Tangled up in blue... said...

Tangerine, I agree. It is such a powerful motivating force for humanity.

Jester said...

TUIB - i share your views exactly, the more i learn about something the more it fascinates me too. the rainbow isn't as fascinating for me as the science behind it!

--Sunrise-- said...

That quote is very interesting. It is, from my understanding of it, in effect describing how social scientists study the world around you. Human behaviour and emotions cannot be seen by laying them flat under a telescope, but a study cannot be called a study unless it is grounded in good scientific methodology with clear evidence to support a logical conclusion... it's fascinating the various range of study designs and techniques sociologists use. Perhaps, like your quote, there is a message hidden there for all of us to look at love 'from both sides now' (I KNOW you will get the Love Actually reference, o fellow kindred spirit! :D) because it is these both sides that comprise a human being.

PS: Can I be a bit cheeky and ask for Aayushi to forward me to the PDF as I would like to read it too (and I've been looking at the comments above so..)? If you're OK with it? Don't really want to post my e-mail address on here publicly :) Thanks ever so much!

--Sunrise-- said...

PPS: HA HA HA HA HA HAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAA 'telescope' LOL sorry... I meant microscope! My mind was clearly somewhere else... ooops!

Tangled up in blue... said...

Sunrise, I agree. I've always been in awe of people who study subjects like anthropology and economics. Because it's difficult to have much empirical data to work with. Which is what is also true about a subject like the one this book talks about.

Oh yeah, sure, go ahead and get it from Aayushi. I sent it to her some time back.

Sugar Magnolia said...

Oh thank you so much for sharing this! Absolutely what I've been trying to put into words for years. But now I must read it. =(

Tangled up in blue... said...

Sugar Magnolia, you're welcome! :) And do read it. It's not very long and not very overly scientific either. :)