In A General Theory of Love, three psychiatrists take a scientific look at the phenomenon of love. Arguing that our emotional experience in adulthood is profoundly influenced by our childhood relationships, the authors suggest ways to undo this emotional “programming” and establish healthier relationships with friends and romantic partners.
The demystification of human emotions by science is not a recent thing. As early as 450 BC, the Western world’s first physician, Hippocrates, proposed that emotions – such as love – are a product of the brain.
Even though Hippocrates’ hypothesis turned out to be correct, it took more than 2000 years before scientists began to closely examine the brain and the effect it has on human behavior.
Today, thanks to the scientific discoveries of the past few decades, our knowledge of the brain has far exceeded that which even the prescient Hippocrates could have predicted.
One such discovery is that of how the human brain evolved over the millennia.
In order to survive, our ancestors had to adapt to their changing environments. This included changes in their brains, which helped them to survive in new climates and conditions.
For example, our distant ancestors were forced by climate change to move from the forest habitat to the dry savannah planes. In order to survive in this harsh environment, their brains had to adapt to out-smart predators and find food. Gradually, step by step, adaptation by adaptation, our established brain structures were transformed.
What evidence do we have to support this theory?
The human brain’s evolutionary history can be found in its three subsections.
The oldest of these, the Reptilian Brain, sits at the top of the spinal cord and controls our most basic bodily functions and impulses.
Next is the Limbic Brain, situated around the reptilian brain. Here you can find such famous components as the amygdala, which plays a major role in the production of fear.
The development of the limbic brain has been crucial for the evolution of mammals. In contrast to reptiles, it enables them to feel attachment towards their young. As a result, mammals – unlike reptiles – form close social groups, will protect children or mates and play with each other.
The newest and largest section of the human brain is the Newest Brain – or Neocortex. The Neocortex is behind such qualities as reasoning, planning and speaking, and allows us, for example, to make decisions based on careful thinking rather than instinct.
As you’ll see in the following blinks, this three-part brain schema helps us to understand why our behavior in relationships is often surprising.