Saturday, February 12, 2011

Love is in the air...

It is the season of roses and heart shaped candies and chocolates and teddy bears ... And MRIs. The last? Maybe not yet, but MRI might just be your most sought after Valentine thing in the future. (For those of you who know me really well, I hope you saw something like this coming :P Magnetic Resonance Imaging instead of mushy dialogues :P)
Actually I read “this” article sometime in December, and had been thinking of blogging about it for long. But you know how I get stuck with one thing or the other never get around to writing. However, with Feb 14 around the corner, I thought what better time to write about love.. 

So basically, this article is about a guy who just participated in a neuroimaging experiment related to how exactly he loves his wife. And how do you find that out? They take images of his brain while he is thinking about his wife (he is shown pics of her to create that scenario) and they see which parts of the brain are more active when he does so. For a comparative study he is also shown the photo of Angelina Jolie (he gets to choose who) and in between both there is a neutral face (which bores him) to cleanse the brain activity.

Reduced to first principles, the brain has 3 systems related to love- the sex drive, the romance system and the attachment system. (I don’t think I need to explain the first, the second refers to the idyllic dreamy stuff and the third to the more mature friendly attachment you would have with your partner). Of course all three are part of any ideal romance, but how much of each is the question. I will leave you to read the results of his particular scans in his article.

What I was more interested in were the implications of something like this. Look at it- (if you believe in MRI) today’s technology can tell you exactly what you feel towards your wife. Or your extra marital girlfriend. Or Katrina Kaif. That kind of shakes the romance, eh? First of all, to say that all of love could be reduced to chemicals is a little disappointing. (You can read about the vasopressin-oxytocin experiment in that article itself). But this kind of theory has been around for a long time- that all of your anger, disappointment, premenstrual stress, were all chemicals all along. Maybe not ALL chemicals, but mostly. There was nothing divine about love (Nothing like Guna “Manidhar unardhu kollla idhu manidhar kaadhal alla.. Adhayum thaandi punidamaanadu... ")...
But this imaging experiment shakes love even more fundamentally- it not only potentially implies love is all chemicals, but it “analyzes” love. I am sure there are loads of people who would tell me that to analyze love would be to kill it. The beauty of love is in the parts not explained. (“Joh hai ankahi, Joh hai ansuni....”) To be honest, I am not too sure I agree. Sometimes I think so- it is the same of music or poetry or painting. At the outset, you feel that something is so beautiful that if you explain it in purely rational, mathematical terms you would not be able to enjoy it. However, there have been times when I enjoyed something I didn’t understand (mostly songs) and later enjoyed it much more after I understood it. (Entamaatramuna is one song I loved listening in MS’ voice. And after I read the English translation, I love it lots more.) So maybe, just maybe, analyzing your love might bring you closer. Or at least be an objective proof of your love. And truth, should ideally, never cause any harm.

But then again, look at the social significance of it. I can picture a Facebook App in the future that would analyze your MRI results for all the girls in your list (assuming you are guy and straight etc) and then give you a summary of how many people you are infatuated to, how many you have a crush on, how many you like “intellectually”, how many make good friends and so on. And imagine publishing that kind of info. That could do a lot to your relationships. There might be people you have a crush on but better not express it to, simply because it could hurt your career or your daily life to do so. And there are always people you never liked but must be civil to, and to have them know the truth (they probably already suspected it) might be a disaster- like this neutral girl face in the article- you can imagine the consequences of the writer telling her he finds her boring. And there might be guys who propose “I never thought I loved you, but that’s what my MRI says! I didn’t do anything really, my MRI did it!” :P And maybe bharatmatrimony would load your MRIs instead of horoscopes.

Plus, each girl would compare all her beaux’ scans and rate them. And even though you might really like the girl etc there might be that other guy who likes her more. (If you think of it, there are probably some people who exercise these portions of the brain more than the rest). (And then we would have companies that sell tablets or strange berries to help boost your MRIs.) Or maybe you never wanted to tell the girl that the sex drive and attachment was there, but you were never really into the romance.. (Unmai Sonnal Nesipaaya....) Maybe, sometimes the truth was better left unsaid.

Of course, on the non-romantic end, there are a whole bunch of applications possible for this kind of study. I show you my brandname and take a brain image. What does my brand name connote to you? I study your image and plan my marketing strategy accordingly. (This is something people are conducting experiments on). Or, I look at the brain images of my son/daughter and see which subjects he/she responds best to and, hey, choosing the field of study was never so easy. You can imagine Brilliant Tutorials and T.I.M.E coming up with their own quick study of your child to help “tailor the best path to his/her successful career” and so on. Lucrative business in India huh?

Anyway, for those of you who noticed, I began the looking-at-the-results paragraph with an if statement. And so, here comes the else.
If you do NOT believe in MRI, all this is probably meaningless. But then, why would you not believe in it? Well, (as is also mentioned in the article) there are many many neuroscientists and psychologists who feel that we might be reading just a little too much into the results. How much of the brain imaging is directly proportional to the brain function, or how much of statistical averaging is necessary to really make conclusions etc is still being debated.
(A little Googling can yield loads of more material on the minuses of MRI interpretations, which I leave you to read.) So maybe, all is not lost yet. Maybe, the MRIs will never become trendy. And you can safely say “love is in the air”

But you can never tell. Someone might just correct you- “Love is in the head” or to be precise “Love is in the dopamine”...

I simply loved the beginning of the article. The ideal proposal statement to tell a girl like me- “I love thee with serotonin produced by my raphe Nuclei. I love thee with testosterone receptors deep in my hypothalamus. I love thee with dopamine that floods my primitive lizard brain.” Lol....


  1. Two comments :-
    1) Certain feelings are best when left to their own methods . Love is certainly one of them .

    I would rather die than fix an MRI chip in my brain which will show how my feelings , emotions and sex drive blah blah change ,when i see a girl . I kind of believe love is spontaneous and divine . Sorry , i am a bit old school.

    2) The present day human race is really sad . You need an MRI to tell you what you feel about your girl . God help us !!!

  2. @ratha:
    1. I have only mentioned the facts and potential implications of MRI. As I already said, the interpretations of MRI are themselves debatable. Plus of course, I feel even if someone proved all the love you felt were chemical/biological or whatever, you still have room for the question why this girl (or guy) and not some other? In any case, as in any sci/tech article, I want to leave the reader to draw his/her own conclusions.
    2. I don't think you "need" one. You probably need an MRI as much as you need a heart shaped cushion. Or any Valentine goodie that Archies makes money with. I'd say at least the MRI made more sense. In your style- Sorry, I am a bit anti-red-dolls-and-pink-candies :D

  3. @ratha again:
    One of these days, we will have a longer discussion on this... :)

  4. Hi Suchithra,"Love is in the air..." very nice feeling after reading it and now on gng to follow ur blog....:)


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