Helen Fisher: Why we love, why we cheat

H/T to Justin J. Lehmiller.

This is a bit long but I found it very interesting:

This TED talk is centered around this observation of human brain systems:

Millions of years ago, we evolved three basic drives: a sex drive, romantic love, and attachment to a long-term partner. These circuits are deeply embedded in the human brain.

The comments are very hostile and complain about her feminist agenda, that she incorrectly described the mechanism of how anti-depressants work, and “humans” were very different a million years ago, and other stuff unrelated to her basic points.

I didn’t really pick up on the feminist agenda. I presumed she had good data on women worldwide are entering the workplace and tending toward achieving economic parity with men. It certainly seems plausible to me.

I gave her a pass on a few things that weren’t 100% correct in their details because they were unrelated to her main point and when giving a talk it is easy to misstate something that isn’t your main point (100,000 years versus 1,000,000 years for long term human/ape brain circuitry development).

Given that, I found it fascinating to just have the model of the three different basic drives. It explains some things such as what is described in Sex at Dawn- How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships. And it also explains some almost shocking comments I ran across today (“GB” means “Gang Bang”). This is representative:

S.: I’m headed out solo on Wednesday and my wonderful hubby will be with me on Friday! Anxiously awaiting my first GB experience on Friday. Let’s have some fun party people!

How do you resolve that with the typical model of romantic monogamous love and marriage? The typical model doesn’t explain that and therefore has to have some extreme exceptions or we need a better model. I think we need a better model and Fischer’s model might be that model.


3 thoughts on “Helen Fisher: Why we love, why we cheat

  1. This looks on the surface like another example of what I refer to as people obsessing over the molecules. My sister for example is always obsessing over the molecules. You can’t offer her any food or drink with being interrogated about which molecules may or may not be present in said food or drink. Medical doctors take a cursory look at you, listen to your description of your problem, and WHAM! Out comes the prescription for some molecules.

    And so we then must bring up the single subject of free will, morality, good verses evil, good sense verses compulsiveness, and social programming verses inherent perception and behavior.

    If we are nothing but the result of the molecules, if we are at the mercy of the molecules, then there is no such thing as guilt verses innocence. Or even right verses wrong.

    But that isn’t true, and I think most people know very well that it isn’t true; we are not entirely at the mercy of some combination of our genes and the molecules we acquire from our environment.

    And so we come to a fundamental question I came up with some time ago. Do the molecules create life, or does life create the molecules? And I suppose then we’d have to look at the question of whether life and the molecules are the same thing, or are they separate from one another.

    Again, if they’re the same thing, then no one should be punished under the law, because they are controlled entirely by the molecules and have no conscience capable of overriding the programing within the molecules. What have law at all, for that matter, for the only incentive on Earth would the pre programmed incentive present in molecular structure.

    So I would like everyone to answer the question. Not here, not to me, but in their own minds; do the molecules create life or does life create the molecules?

  2. Free will? Sure, it exists. But it’s not completely free. You can will yourself to stay awake for 24 hours without too much trouble. But if you go for 48 hours it’s pretty darned tough. If you go for a week then you are pushing the envelope toward death.

    The same exists for a number of things in our lives to greater or lesser extents. You can’t hold your breath as long as you can go without sleep. You can go without sex for much longer and you aren’t going to die if you don’t have sex. But you probably are going to have vivid dreams and probably nocturnal orgasm if you don’t exercise your free will to satisfy that drive.

    By identifying different components of the sex drive Fischer can explain behaviors that are otherwise baffling. For example some cultures, past and present, punish homosexuality and adultery with severe loss of social status and even death. Yet many people still did/do it. How can you explain this unless there is a strong innate drive in these people?

    Is this drive “evil”? How do you define “evil”. I’m rather fond of Heinlein’s definition of sin.

    It’s all very interesting to me and I don’t see a universal morality issue like I do with murder or slavery.

  3. I’d argue that free will does not mean it enables one to negate natural laws, such as gravity or the limitations of our biology. But at most we have inclinations, rather than mandates. what we do with those inclinations are still matters of choice.

    If I were an alcoholic, I could choose to not drink. It’d be a more difficult choice, granted, but it’d still be a choice.

    I differ from Heinlein in that his definition of morality centered on survival within a group (yes, I’m over simplifying a bit, but I’m still trying to get the hang of this “terse” thing…) My take is that morality is simply a matter of following natural law, which means adherence to property Rights, in the Lockean sense. self ownership, contract, trade, protection of property (including self), etc. Consent plays heavily into it as well.

    I’ve seen numerous methods such as this over the years & it all seems to come from the same motive – justifying a promiscuous lifestyle. (hell, I was a pro musician for decades; you simply can’t imagine the ingenious circular logic bass players use to explain away their indiscretions). But despite our inclinations it’s still a matter of choice, & the search for a rationale to explain our desires to not be monogamous always seemed silly. Instead of slipping around, enter into a relationship where all parties involved are not exclusively obligated to each other.

    Otherwise, that morality thing comes into play, as a monogamous relationship is a contract, and steppin’ out is a breech of said contract.

    As for homosexuality despite risk of death in certain cultures, it doesn’t appear compelling as evidence of an overwhelming drives or drives, as many people do many things in many cultures that carry some great penalty or risk.

    & your original query – why does there have to be a model that explains an individual’s choice? Couldn’t it be that a person’s experiences are so unique that there’s no real method to determining why a choice is made? After all, freedom is a messy business, so why shouldn’t free will be as well?

Comments are closed.