Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Love Unfeigned . . . Shall Greatly Enlarge the Soul"

This is what the Doctrine & Covenants teaches--that "No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul" (D&C 121:41-42). I've argued elsewhere that this expansion of the soul (which Alma links to "redeeming love" [Alma 5:9]) is connected to the bridling of one's passions, but today I just want to briefly explore some of the science behind the ways in which love literally makes your soul (or at least your brain) expand.

"According to cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter, in his book I Am a Strange Loop, two people in love internalize each other and create a shared state of mind that overlaps and EXPANDS their individual personalities. In essence, you form a 'we'--a merger of your partner's attitudes, tastes, habits, experiences, knowledge, goals, and dreams with your own. You can think of this identity, the 'we,' as a pattern of neurons in your brain." (Jena Pincott DGRPB? 306)

Love stimulates a part of the brain known as the angular gyrus, which is "a bridge between your brain and the outside world" used in "internalizing the external" (Pincott 307). Women primed with subconscious reminders of their loved ones (names that flash too quickly to process consciously) experienced significantly higher activity in their angular gyrus and consequently performed much better in tests of mental comprehension; reminding these women of their loves stimulated a "love-related network" of neurons in the brain that significantly increased test scores--and "the more passionate a woman was about her partner, the higher she scored" (308).

When I talked earlier about bridling passions, I suggested that this process increased an individual's control over physical influences--your appetites--and thus represented a process of creation, as internal order is imposed on external matter. My point today is that love itself--not just the bridling of physical passions or sex and the physical act of procreation--is a form of creation, as two individuals form a "we" and their selves expand as each absorbs the "attitudes, tastes, habits, experiences, knowledge, goals, and dreams" of the other. As Pincott writes, "Think of love as self-expansion, an internalization of the external. By association, you and your partner, the 'we' you share and the world beyond, are all part of a network that grows with your love" (308).

This is the sense in which I now understand the statement of Elder James E. Talmage that "We believe in a God who is Himself progressive, whose majesty is intelligence; whose perfection consists in eternal advancement--a Being who has attained His exalted state by a path which now His children are permitted to follow, whose glory it is their heritage to share" (Articles of Faith 390). I used to wonder how a God who is omniscient and omnipotent could advance eternally. What is there to learn? What new capacity is there to achieve? Now I see that eternal advancement as an accumulation of vicarious experience and variegated personality as His love encompasses each of His children and they become "one: I [Christ] in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one" (John 17:22-23). Our great opportunity is to love--and to receive, as a natural consequence of that love, new perspectives and expanded understanding.

Love unfeigned truly does enlarge the soul.


Jenny said...

Yes, it does.

It can also enlarge a household.

Becky said...

Laughing at Jen's comment. :) Loved this post Zach...always something to learn when I drop by!

Jo Jo said...

Do you think any of this sharede connection contributes to similar features as we age? Son to father, and husband to wife?