Monday, February 11, 2013

The Evolution of Love

I LOOOOOOOOOOVE  the theory of Evolution.  Well, I love Greg too --- and all of you; but today I want to focus on my love for Evolution AND the Evolution of Love.

For those of us who have questioning minds about why the world is the way it is, the theory of evolution has become a strong and useful tool!  Indeed, I probably think about it EVERY day as I wonder why something or someone behaves in a certain way.   So several years ago, when I was asked to sign on to the Clergy Letter Project and agree to lift up evolution in our worship services, I did so without reservation.  And we are joining thousands of other houses of worship in lifting up evolution this weekend - the weekend closest to Darwin's birthday on February 12. 

Now - It's easy for us to see the part evolution plays in the makeup of our bodies and how we use them.  But what does it have to say about our SOULS, about our SPIRITUAL CONNECTIONS, and more specifically for this service, about LOVE.

I found several sources that were helpful to me in doing my research on this but the most helpful was a book by Israeli Professor of Human Evolution Ada Lampert called The Evolution of Love.  And it's the primary source that I am drawing from today.

Lampert says that:
Love is one of the most intense, dramatic, powerful experiences known to humans. It is some times perceived as stronger than life itself. Our thirst for love is so intense that it seems as if our entire lives are about what happens to us during the restless pursuit of love. That is why we wish so much to discover the story of its evolution.

Now Lampert has given a lot of study and thought to this, and I have just 15 to 20 minutes for my sermon slot.  But I'll make an effort.  Because Lampert's focusing on EVOLUTION, she's primarily focusing on the love that brings forth offspring and the love that raises offspring.  We normally think of that as the love of mates and the love of parents, but of course that same love can be expanded beyond those partnerships, and indeed we have done that.

In her book, Lampert does discuss evolution in general, but she really gets down to love when she gets to the mammals. Now Lampert has the whole detailed description of how she thinks mammals evolved, which includes the evolution of some sweat gland possibilities, but I don't need to share those specifics for this Love Story.  I will share that the the parental role became more important, of course, since the mother had to feed and nurture her young.  But WHY would Mama give up her independence and hang around to take care of her little offspring when she could be off playing in the WARM SUN.  What evolved that kept her there?   WARM FEELINGS!

Lampert says that:
Evolution selected EMOTIONALITY together with intensive motherhood. The placenta and milk are expensive investments that mothers make for the sake of their kids, but they are worth nothing unless they are part of a caring, devoted, alert mother. To watch the child eat is a joy; to watch it sleep is to dissolve in pleasure. To think of any threat to the little one's well-being gives rise to deep fear; to know that the threat is over brings forth deep relief. This is the new emotional world of concerned, caring, loving mothers. In the same way that evolution selected milk glands, the womb, the birth canal, and so forth, it selected the urge, the concern, the joy and the satisfaction that motivate mothers.

The mammalian mothers were the first in evolution to feel concern about others, and they set the cradle for the evolution of love, the dependence of every individual on proximity, belonging, being cuddled.

Throughout evolution, love, first as touch and then as a rich cluster of loving behaviors, has become a need, and even a prerequisite, for physiological and psychological well-being.

Now Lampert goes on to describe how motherhood was responsible for many other aspects of our evolution, and we don't have time for all of that.  But I did want to share one thing I found interesting that I, for some reason, had not thought about.

If someone hands me a baby, I hold it like this (holding Tiny Tears doll)  - on my left side.  Most mothers are not even aware of this.  But Lampert says that if we lined up 100 mothers, 70 to 80 percent would do the same  - embracing the babies to their hearts.  She says if you give the babies to men, some would swing the baby over their heads and the rest would distribute equally between left and right.

Taking baby to the left seems to be a genetically implanted phenomenon. She shares that it is not due to right-hand dominance because taking infants to the left side came first in evolution. Yes, laterality came later. In fact, left-handed women also hold their infant on their left, as do apes who have no significant preference of arms.

Apparently, cuddling the infant to the left side was selected because it allows the infant's ear to be next to the mother's heartbeat, to make it feel better, and to give it the feeling of returning home (to the womb where the sound of the heartbeat was evident).  THEN the mother's right hand was free to gather the grapes and do lots of other handiwork.  And that work demanded rather logical directions from the brain.  And the area that developed was the left side of the brain which was connected to the right hand.  Sounds logical! 

Speaking of the brain,that's the where the real evolution of LOVE takes place. We may pin up pictures of the HEART on Valentines day and it and other body parts play a part, that's true.  But the BRAIN is the LOVE machine.

So let's take another look at the evolution of the brain and how the effects on LOVE.

The eminent brain researcher, Paul MacLean, spent a lifetime of work on understanding the evolutionary layered human brain amassed from fish to humans. He calls our brain the "Triune Brain" and says it is made of three major strata. 

Reptilian brain controls the instinctual behaviors necessary for basic survival.   Now if we see two lizards mating, we might say,  "Oh look, they are in love."  But for them, it's just SEX.  I know some humans may end up sometimes just making that lizard love too, but we strive for something more.

The 2nd part of the triune brain is the limbic system (also called the mammalian brain) which includes emotions; all stimulated by chemicals.  Yes, our brain IS on drugs but naturally produced.
These allow us to feel, to empathize and to love.  And MOTIVATE us to perhaps volunteer to be a part of our Feeding Statesboro team and serve in other ways.   Lampert shares that this area has been found to be rich in opiate receptors. The brain produces endorphins, morphine like matter, that affects the brain much like opium. Endorphins give a feeling of a "high," inducing a sense of well-being, relaxation, satisfaction, and pleasure when we perform acts such as feeding, protecting, and caring. As a result, we feel joy and satisfaction and a euphoria much as if she were on a "trip."   SO  -no need for drugs; just come volunteer with us!

Now many of the hormones that connect with this system can be stimulated by connecting physically with others - hugs really can heal.  And I used to think of the term MAKING LOVE as a euphemism for a couple having sex.  But in reality, the act itself stimulates a release of chemicals that DO cause that LOVING feeling and can, in fact, help a couple to form a closer bond.  So if you feel that that loving feeling has drifted away from your relationship, I have a solution.

Well, I better move on to something more highly evolved, and that would be the cerebral cortex. 
In the human brain, the new cortex takes up about 80% of total brain volume, and therein lies the human's preeminence, notably, the ability to use words and other languages, the language of computers or music or mathematics; the ability to think logically and to learn rules; the sophisticated ability to measure space and time.  And all of these can and should take LOVE to a higher level.
Now all of these brain systems work together sending messages back and forth. 

But what about Romantic Love? We are honoring Valentine's day as well as Darwin today, so let me speak to that. I've been lumping much of this loving together, but romantic love IS a little different.
I watched one of those wonderful TED talks done by anthropologist Helen Fisher.  And she discusses how much more we are learning about Romantic Love with the advent of the MRI where they can look and see which region lights up when shown a picture of the lover, etc.  And they put two groups of folks through this experiment.

The first group consisted of couples who said they had fallen in love. Fisher and her colleagues found that the region that lit up with these folks were the cells that made and released dopamine which can give you the same rush as cocaine, and Love becomes an obsession.

The second group they put through the MRI had been dumped by their partners.   Three areas lit up:
1st, the same brain regions as in first.  They just loved them harder, and the craving and focus systems become more active.
2nd, the region associated with calculated gains and losses; also region active when you are willing to take enormous risks.
3rd, the region associated with DEEP attachment

Here is what she says she's learned from these experiments.
"Romantic Love is a drive (not like the sex drive which is focused on anyone)--- but focused on one person."
And -- "Romantic Love is an addiction.  It has all the characteristics of addition:  Focus, craving, willingness to take risks, tolerance, withdrawals, relapse."

Yes, "Romantic love is one of the most additive substances on earth."
Do they have 12 step programs for this?

Fisher's research team has also now begun to experiment with folks who have been together for decades and say they still love each other as much as they did when they started out. And what they have found is that these folks are telling the truth.  The same areas light up as the folks who were initially in love.  So how about that?

I'm glad biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and others do these experiments to find out about love.  It's interesting and it informs me.  Perhaps it helps me to understand myself and others a little more.  But it does NOT in any way tarnish my worship, yes WORSHIP of LOVE and the power of LOVE.  Just because I know why we see a rainbow in the sunshine after the rain, makes it no less beautiful.

Much of this discussion of the evolution of love has revolved around family.  But we've all expanded our definitions of family and many of us have multiple kinds of family to help meet our needs for love and belonging and nurturing of others. My primary other family is the family of Unitarian Universalism and this congregation.  Indeed, I find that I can be more fully accepted JUST AS I AM in this family and in this place than perhaps even at my Mama's house --- and my Mama loves me with all her heart.  But I think there are some things about me she just doesn't quite get.  So I'm so glad I've got this family -- because you get me.  

When we march in parades carrying our LOVE signs, we tell people we are the LOVE people, the LOVE church.  And we continue to EVOLVE in our Love.

One final note:  Just as that couple I talked about earlier needed to MAKE LOVE a little more for their relationship to improve, I think some of you need to come join us here more often for worship and other activities.  When we sing together, share stories with our children together, learn together, meditate or pray together, share our joys and concerns together, enjoy coffee and refreshments together -- folks we are MAKING LOVE -- Good soulful love together that we can then go out and share with the world.
(Sing) -- And what the world needs now, is Love Sweet Love!
Oh, may it be so!

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