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For a lot of people, love is a awesome, wonderful thing. People write poetry and hip hop songs about it. But for me, though, I've been finding love kind of complicated.

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The other day, my mom said something to me that was really interesting on the day you were born today, and I'd never held a baby, right.

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You know, I've told you that before. I never held a baby. I'd never loved babies. I was never interested in babies. And you came out of me and you were in my arms and I fell in love with you so much. And what happened in that moment? I remember very clearly thinking that I would, like, lay down my life and die for you. But why? What would my mom die for me? Why sacrifice yourself for your offspring when, like worst case scenario, your offspring gets killed, you could just make more, right?

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Weird. Love is this powerful force that takes over our body and bends it to its will. That's actually really, really scary. How does that work? And why? I'm trying this is my podcast. I asked why there are so many good questions out there, they just really want to get answered. Which ones?

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Cool your infinity. How do you fix climate change? Should we trust our gut? What happens after we die? Why do we dream?

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And what is it, love? Now, Ken is my brother. He's eight years old and he's feisty and energetic, but he has some really good ideas. Hi, it's me and the person that he was talking about. The question is, what is love? Uh, it's like one part of your brain, like someone, and then their brain looks like you and some then. Yeah, kind of like that. Have you ever been in love?

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I love my mom and dad and you. Yeah. So that's cool. What is what's that like. Oh well I kind of love you guys because you're my sibling, my relatives and also I just live with you every day so I have to adjust to you. Do you know why people love each other? Because, like, they need to reproduce.

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Yeah, that that makes a lot of sense. If there's like that, there's probably a part of your brain that's like I have to pass these genes on. Yeah. What do you feel when you feel love? What what is it like? Well, I love you.

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What you try to describe is just like someone that you just, like, uncomfortable around and like talking to and they don't get embarrassed about. Kind of. Yeah, that's love.

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Yeah.

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Because you've known them for a long time and we also have to kind of be brothers. Yeah. Biking. I love you.

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My you. I love you. Bye.

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My brother said something really interesting there about how love actually is in the brain. Now, I'm a science guy. I really think the brain is cool. So I did a little bit of research looking at love and how it works inside our brain. And what I came across is this weird thing called oxytocin.

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It's a hormone in your brain that makes you connect with people, a lot of people even call it the love hormone. And I came upon this really awesome psychologist named Jennifer Bartz. Dr. Bartz is an expert on oxytocin and how we build relationships in general. I'm a professor of psychology at McGill University.

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I'm going to be honest. I looked at who you are and did a little bit of research about your work. And you're pretty awesome. Let me say that. Well, thank you. Now, I know this is a big Gary Hart to tackle question, but what do you think is love?

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So I guess my preferred definition of love was one that was put forward by the developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth as an affectional tie that one person or animal forms between him or herself and another specific one, a tie that binds them together in space and endures over time.

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A tie I would tie and I'm just kidding. But I really think that definition is awesome.

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It's like we're floating through time space and there's just a string that keeps us together that transcends space and time.

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I like that I'm going to use that from now on. Great. Why do you think humans love?

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You know, we know love plays a role in procreation, but it's way more than that.

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It's really there to ensure that the caregiver stays in close contact with the infant for warmth, protection, nutrition, just keeping the infant safe. You know, in contrast to other animals in the animal kingdom, humans are pretty unremarkable, lacking brute physical strength, speed, big claws, big teeth.

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So as a result, humans really evolved to be very social animals.

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Living in the group was their defense mechanism. Strength in numbers. Strength in numbers. Exactly.

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But like nowadays, you don't have to worry about getting eaten by bears is not right. No, you don't.

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But you still have to worry about, you know, illness. And when we don't have those social connections, we don't do as well. Lack of closeness increases risk for mortality.

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If we didn't have love, we would literally die. That's crazy. Now, do you think love is like something in your brain or something that just like goes through you when we are interacting with people that we love? You know, we often show our affection by, you know, hugging them, holding their hand. So a lot of our experiences that tell us that we're loved are communicated through our body and then that gets, you know, transmitted or mediated through brain processes.

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But a lot of the input is through our physical body. So people hug people. And when you hug, there's a whole bunch of crazy things going on in your brain that make the love actually happen. And one of those is the love hormone I told you about oxytocin. What is oxytocin?

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And like, what's so crazy awesome about it?

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Oxytocin seems to be really important for the development of partner preference formation.

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So adult adult pair bonding also for caring behavior directed towards offspring protecting offspring.

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Oh, so this is why my mom would die for me. But it's weird though, right? Because, you know, you're breaking all your human instinct that tell you, hey, don't die. But, you know, it's cool how my mom sued you, it's person in order to form those bonds, we need to be able to recognize those people.

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So the idea is that oxytocin is released during social contact.

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Somehow it seems to be tagging those cues as important and those experiences are more pleasurable and the behavior is maintained. Basically, oxytocin is like a booster that helps you remember your loved ones. So you don't forget about them and stuff.

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But Dr. Bahts has also been doing this new groundbreaking research that shows the dark side of love at her like she did a study with oxytocin.

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And what we found was if participants were relatively securely attached, they reported feeling closer to their mother in childhood when they received oxytocin versus placebo. But more insecurely attached participants actually showed the opposite effect.

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So oxytocin seemed to bring to mind instances in which mom kind of failed to meet their needs for security. So they actually reported feeling less close to their mom.

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So just because oxytocin connects us with people doesn't mean those connections are always good.

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Love has a dark side, right? So when we love someone but feel that that love is not reciprocated, we feel vulnerable and we can lash out at other people with anger and aggression. And we also know love can ignite jealousy and all the negative behaviors associated with jealousy.

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I used to like a girl, OK, but then, you know, she started liking this other guy and then he started liking her too and, you know, it was annoying. It kind of ticked me off. Why does love do that kind of thing? It can be so good and make you so happy. We can also use the word. Now, I wasn't necessarily jealous, but I was really annoyed when the girl that I like started liking that other guy.

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Why does love even have a dark side? It's actually helpful to experience sadness, pain when we're socially disconnected, because that is going to prompt you to either reignite existing social relationships or form new bonds. And as we know, those are really important for survival.

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You feel pain because something is wrong. So it drives you to getting back with these people, getting with some other people, because if you're alone in the woods, that bear will eat you.

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It's a signal that's telling us something's wrong and we need to do something to change it.

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Wow. Jennifer is so brilliant. I love thinking back to how she described love as this link that we need between us to keep us alive and ensure the survival of our species, and yeah, if we weren't connected to each other, we would just be floating through time or space with no love or hugs. But I still don't really get why love has to hurt, you know, what used to be so complicated? I decided to head to the local coffee shop down the street from me and try to find people who have experience, love to see if they could explain it to me.

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Love is given your heart and yourself wholly to somebody, you accept all the consequences going into it. It's a risk you're taking. A risk is worth taking.

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Love is a reflection of what you need in your life and the people around you at that particular time.

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I like that. It's like what you need, but it's like put in a good way. It's not like hunger, like, oh, I really need food. It's more like a more welcoming feeling.

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Sometimes can take many forms, romantic love or love for your family and friends.

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Like you could love a shovel. You could love a dog. You can love a person. Where do you think love is in your body? I mean, when I with my family, I feel like a swelling in my chest, but it's also in my head because I'm thinking about it.

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And. This is a tough question because I'm a little heartbroken right now, so love is just a way that we find meaning in the world.

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I know some people who tell me that they don't really love people outside, and I'm not sure I believe them, but they definitely know that they love themselves. That's really important.

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I think it's care about yourself in order to maintain yourself, you know, like yourself, in order for you to be like, I want to keep this guy alive.

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Yeah, exactly. I heard a ton of great perspectives at the coffee shop, but talking to all those people actually just gave me more questions. Is love selfish? Do we need love in order to be happy? Can you love a shovel?

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I found the perfect guy to ask these questions.

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He's a philosopher and his name is Ronald D'Souza. He actually wrote a book called Love, a very short introduction.

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I am now at the building where Ronald de Sousa works. So let's go in and ask him a few questions.

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Good afternoon.

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What do you think of is? Well, most people tell you that love is all about being more united and cooperative with other people.

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But what about the dark side, about the fact that love makes people commit crimes, people kill out of love.

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People get mad out of love. People get jealous. People get angry.

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Is that still really love? Well, maybe love isn't a feeling. Maybe that's why maybe love involves all kinds of feelings when you're lucky. It involves he's very, very positive, delicious feelings. But depending on the circumstances, it can make you feel practically anything.

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Do you think love is like only inside your brain, or do you think it might be like out there and our brain is like a funnel?

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You can think of it as something that you is out there in a person. So I'm seeing you and I am seeing your qualities and I'm responding to your qualities. But the other possibility is that love is it's like a projection.

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I send it out and there's nothing about you that makes you special.

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I love you, but not you specifically.

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Well, that's what Plato thought. If you guys don't know, Plato is an old philosopher guy.

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Plato thought that we didn't love people specifically because we really loved what was lovable about them, which was beauty. He said, you don't really love anybody. You love beauty itself.

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Wait a second. I know that I love my mom and dad, but I don't love them for their beauty.

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Do you think that maybe that used to be what love was and love used to be one thing, but it's changed over time? A lot of the way in which we love is not so different from the way in which you can see animals nuzzling each other, otters holding hands. I think what's changed is that we've come to talk about it. And so the way we talk about love changes love. Yeah, it could be like, you know, only after you learn what love is can you, like, start thinking that you can feel it.

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Do you think we can love stuff like I love this pencil or I really love the book, but do you think that's love? And if so, is it the same? Is it different?

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There are people who actually fall in love with objects. They're called objective file.

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So somebody could love a shovel. Cool.

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There's this lady who married the Eiffel Tower, for example. Right. So I think that to most people, that feels a little crazy. Why does it feel crazy? Because when we think of love, most of us think about how important it is that you get a response from the other person that you have into action.

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Talking to Ronald made me realize that the love I felt for that girl might not have really been love. It might have just been a small piece of it that I felt because I liked her. But, you know, it wasn't love because she didn't like that it wasn't reciprocated and like it felt real. But I realize now I haven't really felt the true feeling, true love. And when I find the person who reciprocates the feelings and we can both feel the whole piece of the circle, the whole pie of the love.

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I can't even possibly imagine what that would feel like. I think we love because I think the richest, biggest moments of being human that we remember on our deathbed are the people we loved and how we experience love. Almost nothing else will matter at the end.

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I really think those last days of your life, you'll be looking back and the only things you'll really be regretting are not loving more or not being kinder to people or not prioritizing that in your life over other silly stuff. It's kind of the meaning of life. Well, there you have it, you don't want to argue with my mom, right, love is the meaning of life. No wonder people write poems and cool songs about this.

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Love isn't really something you understand, and that's what makes it special, you know, because like when you have those moments that you enjoyed together, you don't need to make an understanding of it. She need to enjoy it, you know. Not sure how to love. Well, lucky for you, I found the answer.

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The answer is hugs and just keeps getting better for you because I'm the type who'll find a way to explain it in three easy steps. Here we go. Send us your thoughts. Ixtapa, not before. Thank you so much for listening. I'm tied for the show was produced by Veronica Simmons and Yasmin Materne, our digital producer is Olivia Pasquarelli today.

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My guests were Dr. Ronald D'Souza and Dr. Jennifer Bartz. Thanks to Crystal Dulaim for the editorial assistance.

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The theme music is by the legendary Johnny Bench and also thanks to Johnny for helping me write and record the love song.

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Next, I want to ask why we don't know.

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Their tie ends and his microbiome begins till next time.

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I'm tired. I keep asking why. Hey, there's another podcast you should check out as well. It's called Love Me, a CBC podcast about the messiness of human connection. It's heartbreaking and funny and available anywhere you listen to podcast. Here's a taste.

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I feel that it's like something missing, always in control. My life is not complete because I never been with the one before.

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I never been alive before. So I don't know how it feels. There's something I missed.

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Subscribe or you get your podcast. Support for checks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This is tracks from P, R, X.