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Sunday, 26 March 2017

Is Love the Opposite of Science?

Obviously they are not strict opposites, in the sense that if you look in the dictionary you will not find one defined in terms of the negation of the other. What follows is not rigorous philosophical analysis so much as an attempt to make a profound point in a scattered, imperfect and perhaps awkward way.

Let’s start with science. A cornerstone of science is that scientists change their minds if the evidence demands it. They construct hypotheses to account for observed phenomena, and then rigorously test these hypotheses, altering them or abandoning them as the evidence demands. Some hypotheses stand the test of time, and others don’t, but in order to have any validity a scientific hypothesis must be, in principle at least, capable of being proved wrong. In the words of philosopher Karl Popper, it must be ‘falsifiable’.

Love, it seems to be, is the opposite of this. It is unconditional, not falsifiable. The psychotherapist David Richo writes that love “is an unconditional response to what is, rather than a conditioned response to what we have learned.” In other words, love does not shift to fit the ‘evidence’; it integrates everything. It is in this context that we can see that the phrase “I just don’t love you any more” doesn’t make much sense – if you can stop loving someone then it wasn’t really love in the first place.

This might suggest that love is something that just happens to us, out of the blue. However, I don’t think this is true. The genesis of love is commitment, which is governed by choice. We choose to love someone unconditionally. Those of us who think of love as primarily a feeling will find this idea a bit weird – we can’t choose what we feel, can we? – but love is not (just) a feeling, it is action, or a commitment to undertake a course of action.

How does this relate to science? I’m not sure, except to say that gathering ‘evidence’ doesn’t strike me as an especially helpful way of deciding whether or not to embark on a course of loving someone. We might need a certain threshold, some indication that our partner is basically reliable and sensible, say. But love will always involve an element of risk. A commitment to loving is not a commitment to examine the evidence but a commitment to act in the light of incomplete evidence and the possibility of pain and disappointment.

I said at the beginning that my thoughts would be scattered, imperfect and awkward. Love itself is all of these things, so perhaps any treatment of it in writing demands nothing less. 

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