The topic of love has been one that has pervaded the artistic, literary and, believe it or not, scientific landscapes for as long as sentient organisms have dreamed of white weddings and sky-high tier cakes.
“I, Homo Habilis male, do hereby take Homo Habilis female to be my lawfully wedded wife.”
OK, I admit that’s kind of ridiculous. Institutionalized pairings were as much of a thing as cakes were at the time Homo Habilis walked the earth 1.4 million years ago. But that’s not the point.
The point is that we scientists care about love. We write articles about it, study it in our laboratories and ponder it late at night. We wonder if chemicals and neuromodulators play as much of a role in Shakespeare’s love-centric works as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of “Hamlet” do.
So, does my love for you come from my heart? Probably not. But it does come from my brain.
When I say I love you with all of my brain, I really do mean a decently-sized portion of my brain. In fact, the pathways that twist and turn between the grooves and ridges of my central processing unit are totally altered whenever I think about you.
Multiple sections of my brain network in to contribute each facet that comes with loving you. The same regions associated with the dopaminergic reward system are activated when I look at pictures of you.
In fact, love has been compared to being addicted to cocaine, a drug that also consequently causes mass production of dopamine, a “happy” neurotransmitter that you may have heard references of in pop science talks.
However, this comparison is not entirely true. Cocaine, while causing a greater production of norepinephrine and dopamine like love does, also results in a higher production of serotonin. My love inhibits the creation of serotonin, causing me to act a lot more aggressively and obsessively.
My heart could not contain the love I have for you. It is simply dwarfed by my brain, which is roughly four times larger in volume.
Don’t get me wrong: My heart is impacted greatly by my love.
The overproduction of norepinephrine in the locus coeruleus (the nucleus of the pons, located on the brain stem) courses through mynervous system, causing my heart to contract faster and more frequently.Then again, the same happens when I’m stressed or panicking, so without the other stuff, loving you with all of my heart could be interpreted as an insult.
“Honey, my love for you is like my stress: chronic, exhausting and distracting.”
OK, that’s also a bit ridiculous; I’d never call my significant other “Honey.”
Anyway, the heart feels the ripple effect and pumps the blood that allows me to keep loving you, but it serves as a cog rather than a hub of the machine.
Now that I’ve made it clear that my heart is relatively inconsequential, maybe it would mean more to you that I love you with all of me.
I, along with many members of the scientific community, consider my brain to be all that makes me who I am: my thoughts, my hopes, my dreams. Take comfort that you sit at the epicenter of that.
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