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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Dating From the Inside Out > 57

Dating From the Inside Out
by Susan S. Davis

The Evolution of Love

Since time began, love has always been a preoccupation in our society, however, little consideration has been given by science, and even less has there been an attempt to thoroughly explain it in an evolutionary fashion. While there are many behavioral types of love, from animal, empathy, group feeling, sexuality, parental, to friendship, the principal issues seem to be having do involve the sexual and parental variety.

In science, sexuality has addressed extensively, and its connection to the bond of love. In addition, few have discussed the characteristics which distinguish it from love. The parental bond alone, does not fully account for the characteristics of human love.

Studies have shown that love evolved as the outcome of interaction between the genetic basis for parental (usually mother/infant) attachment. Physical attributes evolving human manifested that attachment, in the increase in human brain size: enlarged cognitive capacity, improved communication abilities and the evolution of language. The capacity for language then led to the emergence of the conscious self, from which the ability to recognize and empathize surfaced.

Both empathy and love develop and are expressed mostly in the family, between parents, children, and is transferred within the family, which forms a nucleus from which a wider group feeling can develop. Logically, empathy and love can then extend from the family group to wider social situations, ultimately reaching the community, extending to nations and even worldwide.

It stands to reason then, if the above is the case, that when the elements of love are missing within the family environment, the results can affect how individuals view other humans, and the ability to originate or reciprocate love may suffer as a result.

It is believed that empathy previews love. Animals have displayed empathy and manifested it in social groupings and behavior. One group of animals that has been documented in this regard, are the chimpanzees, which seemed to have displayed the closest to human feelings.

The evolutionary history of love, is not simply an aspect or an intensification of empathy, nor is it to be identified with sexuality, since it results in behavior patterns that have been determined to be nearly universal amongst all living creatures. Though empathy and sexuality are apparent in the behavior of animals, there is little evidence of love at the human level, in most patterns of animal behavior.

Love appears to be an eminently human phenomenon, which involves potential, significance, and survival in individuals and groups. Love in its most developed form is a necessity for the course of human development. While a more meticulous "scientific" explanation of love which explains it as a physiological and neurological interpersonal behavior or individual experience is necessary, it should not be viewed as an accident, or, in any way, undeserved blessing for humanity.

Empathy, like love, is a most important feature of human experience. The evolution of empathy and evolution of love, are separate, yet related. On a scientific level, empathy is a total form of perception, not only developed in humans, but animals, as well. While it is doubtful whether there has been much separate development in the human species of an empathetic capability, it is likely that from the time of the existence of groups, it has been in notable existence.

With regard to the perception of animals, the need was present, due to the fact that it was necessary to interpret the appearance of other animals in order to predict behavior and take appropriate action: running away, attacking, hiding, playing dead, etc.

For the most part, empathy was a neutral mode of perception, in the sense that it could be used in relation to enemies or potential enemies, family or friends, or simply as a mode of obtaining information. In some sense a precursor of love, empathy is a major component of love, or essential precondition for love.

One of the earliest writers to discuss empathy was Edith Stein (1917/1970), who proposed that empathy was a kind of act of perceiving sui generis; the experience of foreign consciousness in general; the way in which "man grasps the psychic life of his fellow man."

Other descriptions of empathy involve understanding another's affective experience, triggered by expressive signals. It appears to be a fundamental aspect of perception, part of the process by which one relates one's current perception to the already formed structure of one's experience.

The scientific exploration of the process of empathy does not seem to have progressed very far. There seems to be a close relation between bodily posture and action and the perception of the feelings of others.

The benefits of empathy clearly increase fitness, and value for survival, insofar as it serves as a mode of communication between members of a family, a group or even where hostility exists. It is necessary that communication between members of a group exist, in order for group behavior to function in an organized way. Emotional states must be recognized, so that survival-related actions can be recognized.

When examining evolutionary scenarios for love, systematic or scientific treatment of love by philosophers, psychologists, evolutionists, neurologists and even anthropologists, has been sparse. It is often still considered an almost taboo subject, not serious, not appropriate for scientific study. This is not because there is any lack of literature about love; but simply because the scientific basis for it seems to be questioned. There has been a particularly interest in recording love behavior and experience, as demonstrated, for example, in Sternberg and Barnes Psychology of Love (1988):

Without question the major preoccupation of Americans is love... Don't leave home without it... [rather than the American Express card].(Mursten, pp. 13, 37)... Love had always been the one thing - perhaps the only thing - beyond the research scientist's ever-extending grasp.... Dozens of love studies appear annually in the journals; dozens more are presented at regional and national conventions. There is even a Journal of Social and Personal Relationships that fills a large proportion of its pages with studies of love.... "How do I love thee?" - Elizabeth Barrett Browning might have written in the 1980's - "Let me count the articles". [Nevertheless]... the science of love is still in its infancy" (Rubin, pp. vii-viii).

Major philosophers, beginning with Plato, wrote in the Symposium of it as a fundamental issue, the relation between love and desire.

Pascal, before his renunciation of the world, produced a Discours sur les passions de l'amour. Schopenhauer indicated that the subject of love had, in fact, forced itself on him objectively and had become inseparable from his consideration of the world (pp. 169-170):

Instead of wondering why a philosopher for once in a way writes on this subject which has been constantly the theme of poets, should we be surprised that love which plays such an important role in a man's life, has scarcely ever been considered at all by philosophers... I have decided to spend my life in thinking about it.

Erich Fromm, one of the few known psychologists to discuss love in depth, has argued that any theory of love must start with a theory of man, human existence, as a proposed answer to one of the dilemmas of humanity. According to Fromm, love lies in the achievement of fusion with another person; the desire for interpersonal fusion, is the most prevailing motivation in the human race:

Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love. I want the loved person to grow and unfold for his own sake (Fromm, p. 28).

Freud, on the other hand, could see nothing good, or indeed no significance in love, proclaiming it an irrational part of human behavior. While he promised a book on the love life of humankind, it was never produced, though he did amend published essays on sexuality. According to reports, toward the end of his life, he said that we know very little about love. In contrast, some renowned authors have demonstrated, through their writing, that they understand the significance of love. J.Z. Young commented in Programs of the Brain (1978 p. 143) that:

Attempting to define love is indeed a hazardous enterprise, more suitable for a poet than for a scientist.... [but he added] What would be the use of a neuroscience that cannot tell us anything about love?

On the basis of the parental relationship, it is apparent that it is dependent upon empathy, as a mode of perception of a child's state and needs. As the social structure and interaction of human groups became more complex, the extended parental relationship acquired a new importance, as the stage at which the child acquired the capabilities and the awareness necessary to be successful within a group.

Obviously, the parental relationship was a precursor to the development of the child’s communication abilities within a group. Love then would become essential, in order to increase the fitness of the parental relationship, as well as the group as a whole.

Contrasting this with sexual behavior, in humans, and in many animals, is self-regarding (for the individual), competitive, aggressive, possibly violent, random in the male, and divisive rather than co-operative. Though sexual selection may contribute in evolutionary terms to bodily physical change, stronger, more aggressive, highly charged individuals, it has not shown to contribute to the specifically human requirements in group cohesion, and the acquisition of social and other skills.

Love, in and of itself, has had a very good press for thousands of years. We cannot ignore love as an experience, as a fact; we cannot treat it as trivial, familiar and so well understood. The power of love can tell us something about our natures.

Love, on some level, could be responsible for the dissolution of the obsession of one's self; love could be the method by which we understand ourselves, humanity, sense of purpose. The sympathy for existence, by loving, enables the sense and reality of the beauty of others. Intellect needs love to avoid the coldness the lack of it, while love needs intellect, to keep a sense of mental balance. While we may drift with intellect; we satiate our soles with love. Love is a total emotional state, as specific for humanity as language.

Love is what usually drives human being into human relationships – which begins with dating. Love is the motivating factor for many aspects of life, as well. However, in the dating world, love is often the catalyst – from the first sight of someone, to getting to know them, to becoming involved in a more long-term commitment. Were it not for love, or the chance of it, many people wouldn’t bother to date, let alone get to know someone well enough to embark upon a romantic commitment. Therefore, the importance of love in our lives, within romantic involvements in particular, cannot be minimized. Understanding what it is, and the evolution of it, may be a reminder of what our motivations are in developing our interpersonal relationships, as well as our humanity.



Susan S. Davis is a published book author and writer, currently doing research for a romantic screenplay she is writing. Her Dating From The Inside Out column is published every Tuesday.


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