Lead in

In this presentation we discuss the emotion of love.


When a person feels love it is usually the body telling them to relate physically or in some similar way with another person or thing.  When in this state we are attentive to what is going on around us.  Unlike anger in which the other person or thing becomes an object and tends to be blocked out, love involves acknowledging and being influenced by the other person or thing.  At the most fundamental level the only reason we exist is to find a mate, have children and then die, and it is for that purpose that we have the hormones that give us our sexual drive.  We feel love at all kinds of levels to all kinds of things but it is our desire towards a member of the opposite sex that is likely to be the greatest of all and most able to inspire us to live.  Love and inspiration go together.  Love inspires the greatest inventions and creative works of humankind, from Michaelangelo to Einstein.  Love makes the world go round.  Although earlier artists attributed their creativity to worship of their God, it is probably likely that more earthly desires played their part as well, and they certainly do in more recent creators whose biographies we know in more detail.

Definition of love

Love is a complex emotion.   

In this definition we focus on love as an emotion; what we feel inside and what we look like from the outside when we experience love.  We ignore the interpersonal aspect of love, relationships and most of what we normally discuss when we consider love.

We cannot discuss love without also including lust. It is possible to feel lust without feeling love and possible to feel love without feeling lust.  It is helpful to consider them as two ends of a spectrum whereby love and lust by themselves occupy the ends and the middle of the spectrum consists of a combination of the two.

Love is physiologically detectable, and is accompanied by a number of hormones including sex hormones such as testosterone and progesterone and also more recently discovered social bonding hormones such as oxytocin.  In general the sex hormones are behind lust and social bonding hormones behind love.  Lust we reserve for our spouse, partner or significant other, but love we can experience in relation to any number of people, including our partner, parents, children and other people close to us.  Religions often elicit the love hormone by assembling people into a tight congregation and providing a shared experience which gives followers a sense of belonging and well being, likely stimulated by the presence of oxytocin.  Research suggests that social bonding hormones are elicited in any social gathering and help to characterise or motivate us as social beings.

Love occurs when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated and therefore occurs in the absence of anger.

Benefits of this definition

There is lots to be gained by viewing love as an emotion in itself.

The main event

Humans are naturally social creatures and coherent use of love is an important part of our emotional repertoire.  Feelings of love, from the most intense lust and love that we may feel with our partner, to the less intense love we feel for close family, to the liking that we may have for friends and acquaintances and to the bond that we feel with members of our congregation or community, are what help bind us together as a society.  Humans do not exist as individuals or small family units, each making their own independent way in the world.  Instead we create great civilizations out of the bonds of love that we are able to feel and coherently express.  In that respect, love is very constructive.


Problems with Love: unwanted pregnancies, rape, STDs

Just as with other emotions, love often leads to destructive behaviour. Feelings of lust or love are often unrequited or unable to be expressed coherently, thereby leading to violence including rape and murder.  Expressions of love between immature adults or adolescents might lead to unwanted pregnancies and neglected offspring, who then miss out on opportunities that children of more mature parents usually enjoy.


Love can and is frequently channelled into creative pursuits, especially for the young.  There is no end of list of artists who claim to have had a muse or muses that inspired them to create.  Anyone who has felt the flush of young love can attest to the inspiration feelings that it can elicit.

Personal example

When I was young, I wrote a bunch of songs while I was in love.  I enjoyed the creative energy that comes with the feeling that you are in love.  Despite the fact that in my case that feeling was not reciprocated, the energy and the emotion was still there and I was still able to harness it.

Challenge to audience

Imagine the society we would live in if people didn't love each other.  The emotion we experience individually on a small scale within ourselves, gets magnified across families, communities and nations, into something much bigger, which helps bind us together as an integrated and cooperative super-society across the planet.  

References and further reading