Professors on Love

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Shufan Zhang/File

My senior year of high school, I stumbled upon edge.org, a comment thread that poses questions to the world’s greatest minds. The website annually posts a broad question –– such as “What should we be worried about?” and “What will change everything?” and “What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?” — for scientists, engineers, philanthropists and university professors to publicly interpret. At the time, I had never seen anything like it. Each response incorporated an interdisciplinary point of view that made the answer unique and genuine.

I simply could not get enough. My high school self was accustomed to each academic subject set in a state of isolation. I learned biology or history — but any middle ground between the two was left unexplored. Through this website, however, I was privy to thousands of authentic and interconnected ideas, and I realized that many of the brilliant people who approached these important questions did so through an interdisciplinary scope. It was rare that a respondent limited his or her response to a single field. Devouring pages of replies, I came to understand that all disciplines of study are interconnected in some form, so it makes sense that the answers to profound questions take multiple fields into account.

I was inspired by edge.org to pose my own question to a few pedagogues in my local community, and last week I asked 40 UC Berkeley professors from various disciplines the following two questions:

  1. Is love a process of learning, or is love innate?
  2. What influence (or lack of influence) has your field of study had on your perspective of love?

I expected absolutely mind-blowing responses. Keep in mind that the professors I emailed are some of the shrewdest minds in their respective fields. A few have advised presidents on economic policies. Yet others have conducted cutting-edge research in quantum mechanics. These were Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners — a bright bunch, indeed.

But of the 40 professors that I emailed, only three professors gave me a legitimate response about love. I was dumbfounded! Three professors? That’s an abysmal return rate. The remaining 37 responses iterated some combination of “I’m too busy” and “I’m not interested.”

These were a few rejections:

Robert Reich, public policy:

There is no way in the world I could possibly answer these questions by Monday. If I weren’t teaching 810 students this semester and didn’t have a thousand other commitments, I might be able to answer them in a year or maybe two.

Sam Olesky, Haas School of Business — finance:

Thanks for your email and interests in my thoughts on this.

I am going to pass at this time. Maybe, I can help you in some way in the future instead.

Best of luck with your article.

Alex Filippenko, astronomy:

Thanks for the note. I’m sorry, but I’m just completely overwhelmed with other things

right now. Moreover, I don’t have any profound thoughts on this particular subject.

 

Other professors, however, did offer more serious responses:

Matt Goren, cultural psychology:

I think that there are different types of love. Humans have love from the start; you place two babies in a crib and they start kooing at each other. They develop a sort of intimacy that is very similar to love; it is their first friendship. Then there’s the more classic example of babies being in love with their mothers. These are the innate types of love, they are with you from day one. Then as we get older, culture develops a greater impact on our love. For example, Valentine’s Day is a learned love because it is only found in our culture. Falling in love with somebody, that is a combination of the two.

Amitabha Basu, Bengali:

In my opinion, love is innate — it is more a matter of heart than of brain. My field of study had little or no impact on my perspective on love. My field of interest has some — since I got confirmation of my feelings towards love through language and literary exposure and experiences.

Jason Oshen, earth and planetary science:

You can think about it rationally to a certain extent, but after that it is beyond all of us.

 

I found this final response to be particularly poignant, for the simplicity of his answer parallels the simplicity of love. Love isn’t something that we ought to quantify or analyze. Rather, we should just enjoy.

Pasha Minkovsky is a contributor to The Weekender. Contact him at [email protected]