Aspects of love evolved from biological needs. But what we are today transcends those origins. And we were meant to. Gender also as it evolved and developed in the human person also transcends the original purpose of genetic variation.
I noted under Humanity and Family the extent of our family relations, and as being so as part of the divine plan. It might be interesting to ask how the complex relationships of love arose in the evolution of humanity although any answers will be more the subjects of theory for which hard evidence will be lacking. As a starting point for this I came across an essay on the “Evolution of Love” by Patricia Williams. It makes a central thesis that love is the product of evolution and that can love can develop and spread in new forms.
The patterns of life and co-operation in social insects are sometimes used as starting point in social biology. For example we may think of forms of “self-sacrifice” that may make one insect die in the battle against others, dying for the sake of the colony. This may have something to do the fact that the individuals share a genetic link with the queen and safeguarding her brood. In other respects animals may work for the good of other kin with whom they share genes. In this way kin pass copies of their advantageous genes to the next generation. At its basis this is only about preserving the colony and preserving the queen that is the governing and unifying being in the community.
Perhaps some of the answer about human motivations is linked with the long development period of human infants, their helplessness at birth and the long period of dependency stretching into years. It can be postulated that dependency was a driving motivation for the evolution of deeper feelings and commitment of the pair bond, with the male also having a vested interest in the paternity and sustaining the survival of the infant. It is argued that the love in the pair bond transcends kinship because the pair are not biologically related but it relates to a new genetic attachment founded between two unrelated individuals that have a stake in seeing the infant survive.
Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist, suggests some underlying chemical activity in the brain in the neurotransmitters and hormones, as a biochemical explanation for some of this development, particularly Dopamine and Oxytocin. Certain emotions and moods are created or accompanied by changes in the levels of these chemicals. This includes certain chemical changes related to sexual attraction, the action of sex and the pleasure created, and the hormonal changes related to the birth and nurture of the infant.
However it would be wrong I think to boil down all our emotional life and activity of love to a chemical explanation of life. That would take biochemical explanations too far. The developed emotional life and attachment between parents may now often transcend any dealings related to their parental role, even if it was an original biological cause for their pairing up. The development of the emotional need and commitment of love may far exceed what is needed to raise an infant and couples without an infant may often still have deep commitment to each other, even if some chemical changes in brain transmitters have some accompanying presence to the process and relationship.
Another aspect of human communal life is in the case of co-workers or additional carers. Co-operation and development of love and commitment of this kind is another step away from kinship although the benefit of co-worker assistants is good for the pair who have them. The building of varied co-worker relationships is emotionally supportive of the individual and the pair. Thus unrelated individuals find support and solace in each other’s company that transcends original biological needs.
How about the development of other more altruistic and wider relationships? In the developmental step of cognition the growth of feeling and emotional consciousness this enabled the development of empathy. It may be because of the self- understanding that feels pain and hurt becomes capable of foreseeing similar feelings in others and leads to a love for others. The self-identification with perceptions of the Other’s feeling is based on projected feelings of one’s own self vulnerability and need of support. In this view one’s own feelings are the basis of empathy with another. The further steps in the development of imagination and use of images also promotes a more universalized love where we declare we are all sisters and brothers.
From Christian, and especially a Franciscan perspective, human beings were predestined to have a relationship with God whose nature is love, to have the characteristics of love in fundamental relationships and extended beyond mere self-interest and personal need. We have developed capacities for love. The process of development in evolution of the physical and cognitive needs actually enabled aspects our capacity for love to grow. This capacity for love may have all have originated in biological needs but has the capacity transcended those origins and from a Christian and Franciscan perspective we were meant to.
Earlier forms of symbiotic partnerships (in which different species interact to each other’s benefit) become more greatly realised and enhanced in the rise of conscious humanity where a deliberate decision is involved to carry out an altruistic acts and the free decision to do something for another even if it involves a cost to self
Gender and sexual love
Early on during the evolution of life there was a development and differentiation of gender parts and gendered organism with male and female reproductive parts requiring a joining of cells from one organism to another to create and new joining of DNA. It had an advantage of exchange and variation of genetic material and diversity. With development of higher levels of conscious existence the behaviours of one gender towards the other takes on new aspects of attraction and pair formation. With the evolution of humanity there are more complex emotions and personal aspects of the search for and sustaining of the bond between male and female that vastly transcends the original gender difference and need of genetic exchange and the creation of a new organism and a new person.
Teilhard de Chardin wrote of the universe and matter becoming conscious through the consciousness of humanity. The coming together of different organisms differentiated by gender to create a new organism can be seen in a partial reunification of separateness. The original differentiation of gender and formation of sexual union in nature is at once a splitting of being and re-union within nature. The direction in evolution to increasing consciousness that leads to humanity can be seen as a movement towards a conscious drive to greater level of reunion within the world in more sustained relationships.
With the enhancement of this made possible by conscious selves there is an added element to this re-union in humanity. The desire of two persons in sexual motivation and desire for the physical pleasure of each other can lead to a greater commitment of one self to another even without the necessity or actuality of pregnancy. While the biological processes of sex and biochemical processes of sexual attraction and bonding have a role in bringing together a union of persons is in humanity transcended by their conscious commitment to a life together and other shared endeavours. At its best and most good the sexual communion becomes a union of intentions and the pair become something that transcends their two individual selves and transcends the original biological formation and functions.
We give you thanks Heavenly Father for the patterns of life and love evolved within in our past and made as part of our being. For the relationships of partners, families and friends and workmates. And for the capacity of our wider love to the world, to whom we give our love and time, even at cost to ourselves.