VIDEO: Love in an fMRI Brain Scanner

2 months ago
44 in love

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"I find love unavoidable, and continuous, and often coming from somewhere you don’t expect."
– Contestant #5: Don, MRI ID 1197, Age 60

"Ram Dass says, if you’re in a relationship for the money, for the sex, for the companionship, for any of those reasons, it’s not going to last. You have to be in it for what he calls, ‘to come to God together.’ Now, I don’t believe he means that means, ‘Take the other person to church.’ I think it means, to evolve together."
– Contestant #6: Marilyn, MRI ID 1199, Age 72

Seven contestants get five minutes each inside a functional magnetic resonance imager. Their task: to love as much as possible. This is the first “Love Competition” that can claim with “scientific accuracy” to determine who is actually experiencing love more strongly than the rest of the contestants.

Of course, love isn’t competition; this is just a way to motivate participants to get their heads into the game (and an fMRI machine). But the assumption of division’s palpable throughout this documentary, heart-warming as it is. This blind spot (the illusion of a separate self) is totally systemic in the way the game is framed. Let’s “put it back together” “piece by piece” (ironically, by “deconstructing” how Wholeness is mistaken for a suite of interacting parts):

– The brain’s the only part they bother scanning, even though we know the nervous system is a single and holistic organ touching every millimeter of the body. Corporeal intelligence is fractal, running down into the intracellular machinery, distributed immunologically throughout our veins and arteries. Experiencing love is not a brain event, and we learn precious little by restricting our investigation to the head...a residue of the insanity that separated mind from body, still very much alive in how we study by dissection.

– The body-mind does not just overrun the brain within the envelope of skin, but it’s as-one with its environment. All of cognition happens in relationship (you take away the senses, in a float tank or in dreamless sleep, and sense of “self” and “other” disappear). Experiences happen in a context, so where the person ends and her environment begins is basically a nonsense question.

– Barring one contestant, all of them associate their love with someone else, projecting their experience on some apparently external cause that lives in other people. Just one of seven volunteers appears to understand that love does not require an object – that it simply is.

How does this look and feel when we, instead of going on unquestioningly acting like we’re all discrete phenomena, experimentally begin from the assumption of our undividedness? When we acknowledge all apparently distinct events – the body and the brain, the mind and its environment, contestants and researchers – as one thing experiencing love from every angle?

Say you’re a volunteer for this. You’re in the room; the room’s in you, and neither’s absolutely true since both supposedly exclusive points of view are obvious to felt experience. The love’s in your awareness, your body’s in the imaging machine, the record of this multifaceted event is in this video, this video’s on a screen in your awareness. These perspectives, always partial, bubbling up from some “thing”– neither merely thing nor feeling but including and transcending both, subjective and objective angles always complementary but neither really real.

This isn’t just a thought experiment...it “gets you there,” it loosens you from who you thought you were, if you continue contemplating what contains “both” and “neither” in this way. And then the humor of “love competitions” just gets richer...

“Where is love?” “Who’s loving?” No answer’s unacceptable.

Michael Garfield is an evolutionary biologist, live painter, experimental guitarist, and the host of Future Fossils Podcast. Explore and follow his work at Patreon.

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