Saturday, September 03, 2005

Love: An Intimation of a Deeper Spiritual Reality?

In a comment on my post on the evidentiary value of spiritual experiences, Mike wondered if love is an example of a category of truth, a “deeper spiritual reality,” whose discernment requires trust in feelings.

In terms of whether it is the evidence or the target knowledge that is ‘concrete’ or ‘ethereal,’ knowing the gospel is true and knowing someone loves you are more opposite than alike. In trying to discern via the Holy Ghost if the gospel is true, we interpret ethereal perceptions (our own thoughts and feelings) as evidence of a concrete reality (e.g. God’s existence) to which we don’t have direct access. In trying to discern if someone loves us, clues from observable expressions, behavior, and speech allow us to make inferences about something ethereal—someone else’s thoughts and feelings. (Such inferences are less that perfect, of course, as in the proverbial conundrum faced by women: ‘Is that a just a banana in his pocket, or does he actually feel glad to see me?’)

Now, if we want to get hard-nosed about it, we can talk about love in strictly concrete, empirical terms. (By the way, here and here are two relevant definitions of “hard-nosed”—I have an insatiable curiosity about the origin and usage of words and expressions.) For example, this news story in Science that discusses different patterns of brain activation in (1) early, consuming, obsessive infatuation, (2) longer term relationships, and (3) orgasm itself, for both men and women. (Subscription required—not, thankfully, to experience these forms and facets of love, but to read the article. For those bereft of institutional subscriptions to academic journals, contact me by email and I’ll send it to you.) I also remember reading an intriguing review in Nature of a recent book by Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History: Why We Love : The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. At first it sounds like Ms. Fisher fell in love with her brain scans:
When I first looked at those brain scans, with the active brain regions lit up in bright yellow and deep orange, I felt the way I feel on a summer night when I gaze at the sparkling universe: overwhelming awe.
But overwhelming as brain scans might be, apparently the book also contains a healthy sprinkling of real-world quotations reminding us that brain scans cannot compete with living the subjective experience, as evidenced by Richard Burton’s observation of 19-year-old Elizabeth Taylor:
She was so extraordinarily beautiful I nearly laughed out loud. She... was famine, fire, destruction and plague... Her breasts were apocalyptic, they would topple empires before they withered... those huge violet eyes... had an odd glint... Aeons passed, civilizations came and went while these cosmic headlights examined my flawed personality. Every pockmark on my face became a crater of the moon.
(Note: Fisher’s book is now available at in paperback, at a discount. I’ve placed it on my wish list, to make it easy for appreciative and generous readers to make their love for me concrete and observable. ;-> )

Of course, Richard Burton’s initial reaction to Elizabeth Taylor was probably not the sort of “deeper spiritual reality” to which Mike referred. Along the same lines as Mike, my mother has also expressed a similar idea:
Aren’t the really transcendent moments of life, those of true connection in love with another human being or with “nature,” spirit-to-spirit, that are life-giving and life-changing a reflection and intimation of the Eternal World? What, strictly by human effort alone, can compare with those moments?
My response is something like Ada’s response to her father’s otherworldly philosophy in Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain:
Monroe had commented that, like all elements of nature, the features of this magnificent topography were simply tokens of some other world, some deeper life with a whole other existence toward which we ought aim all our yearning. And Ada had then agreed.

But now, as she looked out at the view, she held the opinion that what she saw was no token but all the life there is. It was a position in most ways contrary to Monroe’s; nevertheless, it did not rule out its own denomination of sharp yearning, though Ada could not entirely set a name to its direction.
Does the existence of love imply, as Mike and my mother suggest, the existence of a “deeper spiritual reality”? Obviously I cannot prove this proposition false, but I confess I find a mortal origin and destiny of this phenomenon reasonably persuasive.

Whatever its origins, it is clear that love is a mystery of sufficient potency to have inspired longings for another world, and spawned the construction of powerful social structures—structures that define and control the ways in which we are by turns commanded, and forbidden, to acquiesce to its allure and nourish its growth and perpetuation. I cannot help wondering, however, if the long, otherworldly shadow cast by the perception of divine origin and eternal dictates over love hasn’t, in many cases, hamstrung the possible fullness of its mortal expression.


As usual, I think I agree with you on this one. I especially appreciated your views concerning the difference between evidence for love and evidence for God. I get somewhat impatient with people who think that since science hasn't fully described or explained X yet, then X is strong evidence for something transcendent. The lack of evidence for something doesn't count as evidence for the lack of something. A book which I just started on this topic which comes highly recommended by many (myself tentatively included) is The Problem fo the Soul by Owen Flanagan. He treats the notions of free will, consciousness and selfhood and does his best in clearly explaining how these concepts relate to modern cognitive science. You might want to check it out. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 9/03/2005 05:00:00 PM  

Jeffrey, thanks for the tip on the book. I looked it up on Amazon, and it does indeed sound interesting.  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 9/04/2005 09:32:00 PM  

I see two possible other-worldly roots of love, the kind between husband and wife.

The first is from D&C 132:51. The Lord said He gave Emma to Joseph to wife. This suggests we might have an appointment of love as well.

Another evidence comes from the autobiography of Mosiah Hancock (see Duane Crowther in his book "Life Everlasting" produces evidence that Mosiah was a just, honorable Saint until his death, and was trusted by Brigham Young.

He claimed to have had a vision of the premortal world. He saw how couples consisting of a man and woman were spiritually created together from intelligences (this might relate to the Platonic (?) idea that man and woman were created together). They learned the lessons of the pre-existence together, bound for eternity together.

Then Satan caused a revolt of 1/3 of the men, leaving their women without their husbands or men. Another 1/3 of the men were neutral, and their women remained neutral and stayed with them. The final third of men were valiant, along with their valiant women.

The lessons of the pre-existence continued. The husband-less women of the men who followed Satan were paired up with a valiant husband. So the valiant men had two wives or women by their side. Then, some of the neutral men became negligent of their women, and so many of the valiant men had even more women or wives paired up with them. So even in the premortal world, the perfect order of heaven was being disturbed and unraveled.

Presumably these marriage covenants which begin in heaven will be continued on earth, whether through plural marriage in the early church or maybe later on.

I don't claim this vision is the truth, but if it is it might explain something of the relationship between husbands and wives and the power of love and marriage. President Packer, among others, has said the idea of "soul mates" is false. The belief in the sould mate is that one is destined for a certain other no matter what. We would say of course that you are ready to marry that other only you are worthy to do so.

I would appreciate any comments, especially if you take the time to review Mosiah Hancock's vision. 

Comment by cadams | 9/13/2005 08:33:00 PM  

cadams, I looked quickly over the Mosiah Hancock autobiography you linked, and saw the paragraph about the vision you mention. It does have men and women being together in the premortal life, but I didn't see anything about the 1/3 rebellious and 1/3 neutral men, and their women being given to valiant men. Is this aspect your theory, and not part of Mosiah Hancock's vision? (I may have skimmed it too quickly.)

I can see how these notions could be spun from traditional or early Mormon elements, e.g., the doctrine of the 1/3 of the hosts of heaven following Satan, and reports of Joseph using premortal connections as part of his persuasions to enter into polygamy. However, I don't think the ideas you express are likely to be widely accepted in the Church, because of the teaching against "soul mates" that you mention, and also because people simply like to feel they have more freedom in their choices than that. As for me personally, I am not inclined to take any such detailed scenario seriously in the absence of better evidence. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 9/17/2005 08:42:00 AM  



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