The love thing

by Marcus Loane


"Contact" is a rather excellent film based on a novel by the late astronomer Carl Sagan. In it a representative of humanity has to be chosen to visit an alien intelligence. There is much discussion about if it matters if the representative believes in a god. In another conversation the sceptical scientist says there is no proof for god. The theist replies "Did you love your father". She says "Yes" and the theist says "Prove it". Now I have heard this before and it is supposed to be terribly profound. However it occurred to me that proving someone loves someone else is not theoretically impossible.

A man could love his wife deeply. Say the man develops Alzheimers. In a few years the same man may no longer have any feelings of love towards his wife. Why? Because the neural connections in his brain that coded for "I love my wife" have been destroyed by disease. (I’m not imagining it is simple. There would be a vast complex of associations and memories encoded in the neural connections that collectively code for “I love my wife”). Love is completely dependent on matter. Please don't email to tell me that love is just too fantastic to be the product of mere matter. It is a combination of a biological function shared by other animals and two minds getting to know each other in ever greater detail. Why should it bother you if something wonderful is dependent on matter?

Now fast forward far into the future: We could fully understand the workings of the brain and have incredibly accurate brain scanners. It could be possible to scan for the physical representation of "I love my wife" in a man's brain. This could be patterns of neural activation when presented with images of the loved one. It would be complex but there would be some physical arrangement or changes in arrangement over time (ie. processes) that correlate with the inner experience we call love. That would be objective proof of someone's love.

This is not that far fetched. An experiment has been done where a scanner detects patterns of brain activity when a subject is looking at a cat. The cat is removed and the subject is asked to imagine a cat. The scanner reveals a similar pattern. So a scanner can be used to "read" the subjective state of mind of a person.

Equating God with love is making God a biological process. Why love? Why not fear or disgust?

Marcus Loane