Page 33 of PDF Version What is Love?
Written by Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith, 2011
The answer is that love is ‘unconditional selflessness’, BUT that is a truth we couldn’t safely admit until we could explain the HUMAN CONDITION—explain WHY our human behaviour has often been so competitive, selfish and aggressive, so seemingly unloving. It follows then that the real issue behind the question of ‘what is love’ has been the issue of the human condition.
MOST WONDERFULLY, however, biology is now finally able to provide the dreamed-of reconciling, redeeming and thus psychologically rehabilitating, human-race-transforming explanation of our seemingly-unloving human condition, thus allowing us to safely admit that love is unconditional selflessness. (And it should be mentioned that this explanation of our species’ deeply psychologically troubled condition is not the psychosis-avoiding, trivialising, dishonest account of the human condition that the biologist E.O. Wilson has put forward in his theory of Eusociality, but the psychosis-addressing-and-solving, real explanation of it.)
Before presenting the all-important, psychologically rehabilitating, human-race-transforming, real explanation of the human condition, the following scientific answer to ‘what is love’ makes it very clear why it hasn’t been possible—until now—to admit that love is actually unconditional selflessness.
The world’s greatest physicists, Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein, have said, respectively, that ‘The overwhelming impression is of order…[in] the universe’ (‘The Time of His Life’, Gregory Benford, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Apr. 2002), and that ‘behind everything is an order’ (Einstein Revealed, PBS, 1997). Yes, this ‘order’ IS apparent everywhere. Over the eons a chaotic universe organised itself into stars, planets and galaxies. Here on Earth, atoms became ordered or integrated to form molecules → which in turn integrated to form compounds → virus-like organisms → single-celled organisms → multicellular organisms → and then societies of multicellular organisms. Overall, what is happening on Earth is that matter is becoming ordered into larger wholes. So the theme or purpose or meaning of life is the ordering or integration or complexification of matter, a process that is driven by the physical law of Negative Entropy. ‘Holism’, which the dictionary defines as ‘the tendency in nature to form wholes’ (Concise Oxford Dictionary, 5th edn, 1964), and ‘teleology’, which is defined Page 34 of PDF Version as ‘the belief that purpose and design are a part of nature’ (Macquarie Dictionary, 3rd edn, 1998), are both terms that recognise this integrative ‘tendency’.
A vital part of this integrative ordering of matter is selflessness because for a larger whole to form and hold together the parts of that whole must consider the welfare of the whole above their own welfare—put simply, selfishness is divisive or disintegrative while selflessness is integrative. So consider-others-above-yourself, altruistic, UNCONDITIONAL SELFLESSNESS is the underlying theme of existence. It’s the glue that holds the world together, and it is, in fact, what we mean by the term ‘love’. Indeed, if we consider religious terminology, the old Christian word for love was ‘caritas’, which means charity or giving or selflessness; see Col. 3:14, 1 Cor. 13:1—13, 10:24, and John 15:13. Of these biblical references, Colossians 3:14 perfectly summarises the integrative significance of love: ‘And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.’ In John 15:13 we also see that Christ emphasised the unconditionally selfless significance of the word ‘love’ when he said, ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.’
The great problem, however, with acknowledging and accepting this answer to ‘what is love?’ is that it left humans feeling unbearably condemned as bad, evil or unworthy for being divisive competitive, selfish and aggressive—in fact, for being so ruthlessly competitive, selfish and brutal that human life has become all but unbearable and we have nearly destroyed our own planet! Far from being loving and lovable, we seemed to have been unloving and unlovable, which is why we had to explain WHY humans have not been ideally behaved—explain the human condition no less, which fortunately we now can—before it would be psychologically safe to confront, admit and accept that the answer to ‘what is the meaning of love’ is that it is to be integrative and unconditionally selfless. In fact, the concept of ‘God’ is actually our personification of the truth of the integrative, selfless, loving meaning of life, and if we include more of what Hawking and Einstein said we can see that they both agree. Hawking: ‘The overwhelming impression is of order. The more we discover about the universe, the more we find that it is governed by rational laws. If one liked, one could say that this order was the work of God. Einstein thought so…We could call order by the name of God’ (‘The Time of His Life’, Gregory Benford, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Apr. 2002); and, ‘I would use the term God as the embodiment of the laws of physics’ (Master of the Universe, BBC, 1989). Einstein: ‘over time, I have come to realise that behind everything is an order that we glimpse only indirectly [because it’s unbearably confronting/condemning!]. This is religiousness. In this sense, I am a religious man’ (Einstein Revealed, PBS, 1997). So, on a more profound level, as it says in the Bible, ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8, 16).
Again, the problem was that until we could explain the human condition we couldn’t afford to demystify ‘God’ as Integrative Meaning and admit that love is unconditional selflessness. It is little wonder then that we humans have been, as we say, ‘God-fearing’—in fact, God-revering to the point of being God-worshipping—not God-confronting! Not surprisingly, mechanistic science has also had to comply with this avoidance of the question of ‘what is love’, so much so that it has not been able to offer an interpretation of ‘love’ despite it being one of humanity’s most used, valued and meaningful words! The linguist Robin Allott gave this succinct summary of the excuses that have traditionally been used by the scientific establishment to avoid the question of ‘what is love’: ‘Love has been described as a taboo subject, not serious, not appropriate for Page 35 of PDF Version scientific study’ (‘Evolutionary Aspects of Love and Empathy’, Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems, 1992, Vol.15, No.4, pp.353-370). Indeed, the evasion has been of such a scale that ‘more than 100,000 scientific studies have been published on depression and schizophrenia (the negative aspects of human nature), but no more than a dozen good studies have been published on unselfish love’ (Science & Theology News, Feb. 2004).
Yes, the concept of ‘unselfish love’ took us far too close to the truth that love is the integrative, unconditionally selfless, ‘Godly’ theme or meaning of existence! We had to first explain our less-than-ideally-behaved human condition before we could confront it. So while there has certainly been much talk of the need to love each other and to love the environment, the REAL need and cause on Earth has been to find the means to love the dark side of ourselves, to bring understanding to that aspect of our make-up. The famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung was forever saying that ‘wholeness for humans depends on the ability to own their own shadow’ because he recognised that only finding understanding of our dark, unloving side could end our underlying insecurity about our fundamental goodness and worth as humans and, in so doing, make us ‘whole’. The pre-eminent philosopher Sir Laurens van der Post was making the same point when he said, ‘True love is love of the difficult and unlovable’ (Journey Into Russia, 1964, p.145) and that ‘Only by understanding how we were all a part of the same contemporary pattern [of wars, cruelty, greed and indifference] could we defeat those dark forces with a true understanding of their nature and origin’ (Jung and the Story of Our Time, 1976, p.24).
True compassion was ultimately the only means by which peace and love could come to our planet, but it could only be achieved through understanding. Drawing again from the writings of van der Post: ‘Compassion leaves an indelible blueprint of the recognition that life so sorely needs between one individual and another; one nation and another; one culture and another. It is also valid for the road which our spirit should be building now for crossing the historical abyss that still separates us from a truly contemporary vision of life, and the increase of life and meaning that awaits us in the future’ (ibid. p.29). Yes, only ‘true understanding of the nature and origin’ of our species’ ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted, even ‘fallen’ or corrupted condition could allow us to cross ‘the historical abyss’ that ‘separate[d] us’ from a ‘compassion[ate]’, reconciled, ameliorated, ‘meaning[ful]’ view of ourselves. One day there had to be, to quote The Rolling Stones, ‘sympathy for the devil’—one day, we had to find ‘true understanding’ of the ‘nature and origin’ of the ‘dark forces’ in human nature. Indeed, the great hope, faith, trust and in fact belief of the human race has been that redeeming, rehabilitating and thus transforming explanation of the human condition would one day be found—which, most relievingly, it now finally has been! Yes, the ‘future’ that Jung and van der Post looked forward to, of finding understanding of our human condition, is finally here! (Again, it has to be stressed that this explanation of our deeply psychologically troubled condition is not the psychosis-avoiding, trivialising, dishonest account of it that E.O. Wilson put forward in his theory of Eusociality, but the psychosis-addressing-and-solving, truthful, real explanation of it.)
Romantic Love: Regarding other aspects of the question of ‘what is love’, specifically romantic love, the dream of living in an unconditionally loving, fully integrated state with another person (as we say, we ‘fall in love’, we abandon ourselves to the dream of a human-condition-free, ideal relationship), read the explanation provided in the freely-available, online book FREEDOM.
Page 36 of PDF Version So, what is the wonderful, breakthrough, reconciling, redeeming and thus psychologically healing, truthful explanation of our seemingly-unloving, human-condition-afflicted behaviour that at last makes it safe to admit that love is unconditional selflessness?
Certainly, we have invented excuses to justify our species’ seemingly-unloving, competitive, selfish and aggressive behaviour, the main one being that we have savage animal instincts that make us fight and compete for food, shelter, territory and a mate. Of course, this ‘explanation’, which has been put forward in the biological theories of Social Darwinism, Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, Multilevel Selection and E.O. Wilson’s Eusociality and basically argues that ‘genes are competitive and selfish and that’s why we are’, can’t be the real explanation for our competitive, selfish and aggressive behaviour. Firstly, it overlooks the fact that our human behaviour involves our unique fully conscious thinking mind. Descriptions like egocentric, arrogant, deluded, artificial, hateful, mean, immoral, alienated, etc, all imply a consciousness-derived, psychological dimension to our behaviour. The real issue—the psychological problem in our thinking minds that we have suffered from—is the dilemma of our human condition, the issue of our species’ ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted, less-than-ideal, even ‘fallen’ or corrupted, state. We humans suffer from a consciousness-derived, psychological HUMAN CONDITION, not an instinct-controlled animal condition—our condition is unique to us fully conscious humans. (A brief description of the theories of Social Darwinism, Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, Multilevel Selection and Eusociality that blame our divisive behaviour on savage instincts rather than on a consciousness-derived psychosis is presented in the What is Science? article in this, The Book of Real Answers to Everything!, with the complete account provided in the freely-available, online book Freedom: Expanded Book 1.
The second reason the savage-instincts-in-us excuse can’t possibly be the real explanation for our divisive, selfish and aggressive behaviour is that it overlooks the fact that we humans have altruistic, cooperative, loving moral instincts—what we recognise as our ‘conscience’—and these moral instincts in us are not derived from reciprocity, from situations where you only do something for others in return for a benefit from them, as Evolutionary Psychologists would have us believe. And nor are they derived from warring with other groups of humans as advocates of the theory of Eusociality would have us believe. No, we have an unconditionally selfless, fully altruistic, truly loving, universally-considerate-of-others-not-competitive-with-other-groups, genuinely moral conscience. Our original instinctive state was the opposite of being competitive, selfish and aggressive: it was fully cooperative, selfless and loving. (How we humans acquired unconditionally selfless moral instincts when it would seem that an unconditionally selfless, fully altruistic trait is going to self-eliminate and thus not ever be able to become established in a species is briefly explained in the above-mentioned What is Science? article, and more fully explained in chapter 5 of FREEDOM—however, the point being made here is that the savage-instincts-in-us excuse is completely inconsistent with the fact that we have genuine and entirely moral instincts, NOT savage instincts. Charles Darwin recognised the difference in our moral nature when he said that ‘the moral sense affords the best and highest distinction between man and the lower animals’ (The Descent of Man, 1871, p.495).)
So, what is the truthful, human-condition-addressing rather than human-condition-avoiding, biological explanation of our species’ present seemingly-highly-imperfect, competitive, selfish and aggressive behaviour? The answer begins with an analysis of consciousness.
Page 37 of PDF Version Very briefly, nerves were originally developed for the coordination of movement in animals, but, once developed, their ability to store impressions—which is what we refer to as ‘memory’—gave rise to the potential to develop understanding of cause and effect. If you can remember past events, you can compare them with current events and identify regularly occurring experiences. This knowledge of, or insight into, what has commonly occurred in the past enables you to predict what is likely to happen in the future and to adjust your behaviour accordingly. Once insights into the nature of change are put into effect, the self-modified behaviour starts to provide feedback, refining the insights further. Predictions are compared with outcomes and so on. Much developed, and such refinement occurred in the human brain, nerves can sufficiently associate information to reason how experiences are related, learn to understand and become CONSCIOUS of, or aware of, or intelligent about, the relationship between events that occur through time. Thus consciousness means being sufficiently aware of how experiences are related to attempt to manage change from a basis of understanding.
What is so significant about this process is that once our nerve-based learning system became sufficiently developed for us to become conscious and able to effectively manage events, our conscious intellect was then in a position to wrest control from our gene-based learning system’s instincts, which, up until then, had been controlling our lives. Basically, once our self-adjusting intellect emerged it was capable of taking over the management of our lives from the instinctive orientations we had acquired through the natural selection of genetic traits that adapted us to our environment.
HOWEVER, it was at this juncture, when our conscious intellect challenged our instincts for control, that a terrible battle broke out between our instincts and intellect, the effect of which was the extremely competitive, selfish and aggressive state that we call the human condition.
To elaborate, when our conscious intellect emerged it was neither suitable nor sustainable for it to be orientated by instincts—it had to find understanding to operate effectively and fulfil its great potential to manage life. However, when our intellect began to exert itself and experiment in the management of life from a basis of understanding, in effect challenging the role of the already established instinctual self, a battle unavoidably broke out between the instinctive self and the newer conscious self.
Our intellect began to experiment in understanding as the only means of discovering the correct and incorrect understandings for managing existence, but the instincts—being in effect ‘unaware’ or ‘ignorant’ of the intellect’s need to carry out these experiments—‘opposed’ any understanding-produced deviations from the established instinctive orientations: they ‘criticised’ and ‘tried to stop’ the conscious mind’s necessary search for knowledge. To illustrate the situation, imagine what would happen if we put a fully conscious mind on the head of a migrating bird. The bird is following an instinctive flight path acquired over thousands of generations of natural selection, but it now has a conscious mind that needs to understand how to behave, and the only way it can acquire that understanding is by experimenting in understanding—for example, thinking, ‘I’ll fly down to that island and have a rest.’ But such a deviation from the migratory flight path would naturally result in the instincts resisting the deviation, leaving the conscious intellect in a serious dilemma: if it obeys its instincts it will not feel ‘criticised’ by its instincts but neither will it find knowledge. Obviously, the intellect could not afford to give in to the instincts, and unable to understand and thus explain why its experiments in self-adjustment were necessary, the conscious intellect had no way of refuting the Page 38 of PDF Version implicit criticism from the instincts even though it knew it was unjust. Until the conscious mind found the redeeming understanding of why it had to defy the instincts (namely the scientific understanding of the difference in the way genes and nerves process information, that one is an orientating learning system while the other is an insightful learning system), the intellect was left having to endure a psychologically distressed, upset condition, with no choice but to defy that opposition from the instincts. The only forms of defiance available to the conscious intellect were to attack the instincts’ unjust criticism, try to deny or block from its mind the instincts’ unjust criticism, and attempt to prove the instincts’ unjust criticism wrong. In short—and to return to our human situation because we were the species that acquired the fully conscious mind—the psychologically upset angry, alienated and egocentric human-condition-afflicted state appeared. Our ‘conscious thinking self’, which is the dictionary definition of ‘ego’, became ‘centred’ or focused on the need to justify itself. We became ego-centric, self-centred or selfish, preoccupied with aggressively competing for opportunities to prove we are good and not bad—we unavoidably became selfish, aggressive and competitive.
What is so exonerating, rehabilitating and healing about this explanation of the human condition is that we can finally appreciate that there was a very good reason for our angry, alienated and egocentric behaviour—in fact, we can now see why we have not just been ego-centric, but ego-infuriated, even ego-gone-mad-with-murderous-anger for having to live with so much unjust criticism. We can now see that our conscious mind was NOT the evil villain it has so long been portrayed as—such as in the Bible where Adam and Eve are demonised and ‘banished…from the Garden of Eden’ (Gen. 3:23) of our original innocent, all-loving, moral state for taking the ‘fruit…from the tree of knowledge’ (ibid. 3:3, 2:17). No, science has finally enabled us to lift the so-called ‘burden of guilt’ from the human race; in fact, to understand that we thinking, ‘knowledge’-finding, conscious humans are actually nothing less than the heroes of the story of life on Earth! This is because our fully conscious mind is surely nature’s greatest invention and to have had to endure the torture of being unjustly condemned as evil for so long (the anthropological evidence indicates we humans have been fully conscious for some two million years) must make us the absolute heroes of the story of life on Earth. Finally, God and man, religion and science, our instinct and intellect, the integrative meaning of life and the inconsistency of our behaviour with that meaning, our loving and seemingly unloving states, are all reconciled.
And BEST OF ALL, because this explanation of the human condition is redeeming and thus rehabilitating, all our upset angry, egocentric and alienated behaviour now subsides, bringing about the complete TRANSFORMATION OF THE HUMAN RACE—and importantly, understanding of the human condition doesn’t condone ‘bad’ behaviour, it heals and by so doing ends it. From being competitive, selfish and aggressive, humans return to being cooperative, selfless and loving. Our round of departure has ended. The poet T.S. Eliot wonderfully articulated our species’ journey from an original innocent, yet ignorant, state, to a psychologically upset ‘fallen’, corrupted state, and back to an uncorrupted, but this time enlightened, state when he wrote, ‘We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time’ (Little Gidding, 1942).
Yes, finding the exonerating, redeeming understanding of our dark, seemingly-unlovable, psychologically upset, human-condition-afflicted existence finally enables the human race to be healed and thus TRANSFORMED—it makes us ‘whole’ again, as Jung said it would. To quote Professor Harry Prosen, a former president of the Canadian Psychiatric Page 39 of PDF Version Association, on this dreamed-of, greatest of all breakthroughs in science: ‘I have no doubt this biological explanation of the human condition is the holy grail of insight we have sought for the psychological rehabilitation of the human race’ (FREEDOM, 2016, Introduction).
As just demonstrated, with understanding of the human condition found ALL the great issues finally become explainable. See also: Human condition – What is science? – Soul – Conscience – Good vs Evil – What is the meaning of life? – Is there a God? – Our ego and egocentric lives – How can we save the world? – Consciousness – Human nature – Why do people lie? – Why do we fall in love?
For a book of these explanations to keep or give to others, print The Book of Real Answers to Everything! by Jeremy Griffith, featuring a Foreword by Professor Harry Prosen, at www.humancondition.com/real-answers
Watch videos on the biological explanation of the human condition and the dreamed-of TRANSFORMATION of the human race that it brings about at www.humancondition.com
Read FREEDOM, the definitive book on the world-transforming explanation of the human condition, at www.humancondition.com/freedom