What is Love? (Baby Don't Hurt Me)
So I've been working my way through Fox's Bones. In general, a decent show, not a great crime procedural (I'm not a lawyer nor a cop, but they get a shit ton of stuff wrong*. Temperance "Bones" Brennan and her band of squints (because nerds have bad eyesight and squint all the time, see?) embody many of the worst stereotypes Hollywood attaches to nerds and scientists. Bones herself is the worst as being borderline autistic and so closeted she doesn't get 99% of the pop culture references around her and misunderstanding virtually every idiom she hears. It is, however, endearing when she tries and fails to use them herself.
The worst part of her characterization is that she's a Straw Vulcan. She's intended to be incredibly rational and thus allow normal people to feel superior when they see her completely fail to understand emotions (and idioms and pop culture), and have to work hard to understand why anyone would prioritize love or happiness. Because emotions are irrational, see? This video (roughly 50 minutes) is an excellent deconstruction of that insulting trope
The above is Julia Galef's talk at Skepticon 4. She gives all the reasons why an actually rational person, as opposed to the pseudorational Hollywood Spock, would understand emotion and give it appropriate weight and priority. I don't particularly want to repeat all her talking points, so instead let me talk about love.
Bones, the character, repeatedly makes the point that the heart is just a muscle and that love is a chemical reaction. Bones, the show, repeatedly makes the point that she's emotionally stunted and stupid and wrong for thinking that and that she should be ashamed and change so she's more like her appropriately emotional partner, Booth.
However, she's entirely correct that love is a chemical reaction. Basically, you become addicted to someone. To their presence, their smell, their sound, all that other jazz. You're high whenever you're around them, or looking at them, or thinking about them, and you say stupid things like "Don't you just love 'love', man?" as if you were a sixteen year old halfway through a plate of magic brownies.
Understanding love as a chemical dependency and a process within portions of the brain allows us to understand it within a social context, a biological context, an evolutionary context, a health context. It helps us understand why and how love fades and people get the Seven Year Itch, and why a break up hurts so very, very badly. Also, why even a couple in the midst of a physically violent domestic dispute will still turn on any interloper who tries to break it up. Putting love into its proper physical context takes a lot of stupid mystery out of life and makes it comprehensible. In fact, it makes it easier to deal with some of it; you actually can die of heartbreak; be told.
Does any of that take away from the power of love? From the fact that being in love is genuinely awesome? That we do, in fact, love love? Absolutely not. This is just another example of the petulant art major whining that the scientist is unweaving the rainbow. Science doesn't reduce everything to numbers and equations. Take a gander at any scientist and you won't find an antisocial manchild viewing the world through a grey haze of numbers, but someone who wonders at the marvels of nature, who finds joy and excitement in discovery. Also, someone with even rudimentary knowledge of biology and physics can really take sex up to the next level, though he'd be wise to get someone with rudimentary knowledge of contracting to install the sex swing.
* Law and the Multiverse, a blog that covers legal issues within comic books is a very educational read. Among other things, I now know for certain that Batman's antics are entirely illegal and roughly 50% useless when it comes to getting criminals off the streets.