Newton’s third law tells us that for every action, there’s an equal reaction going the opposite way. It’s been reassuring us for 400 years, explaining why solid ground holds our standing on it, and why – when we love our mate – the mate will love us back. When a system is in equilibrium, no energy goes in or out and such reciprocity is the rule.
Really? Harmony, symmetry – is that it?
Of course. Isn’t that what most of us hope for, that is, would like to believe in? When we love our mate, our mate will love us back! Are we then not totally united in true love – a dream come true? Or, let’s say, united in God’s love – for those pious folks in our midst?
But many systems exist and persist far from equilibrium. Perhaps the most glaring example is life itself. We’re kept out of equilibrium by our metabolism, which converts matter into energy. A human body that settles into equilibrium is a dead body.
In such systems, Newton’s third law becomes moot. Equal-and-opposite falls apart. Such nonreciprocal relationships show up in nature, for example, where predators eat prey, but prey doesn’t eat its predators.
I can imagine an intimate couple where the male interacts with the female in a different way than how the female interacts with the male.
I do not understand. Why does it matter?
Look, people imagine that love or a man and a woman are supposed to act as harmonious and symmetrical beings, much like the Yin and Yang of oriental philosophy. It may be experienced as such for a short while, perhaps while two are falling in love or are in love – for the time being.
Are you talking about me?
Yes. But, as you all must know, that kind of exhilarating, romantic love does not last forever. Love, if it is to persist, will go through phases. There will be unavoidable transitions between phases, believe me. The fire of love may kindle from a spark of romance or burst into an inferno of passions from a bolt of a lightning. In any case, love might not flare enough to warm the home or simply burn out fast. Or, it may steady out as conditioned by subsequent obligations and duties, and by the adoption of habits. Eventually, love may cool into a phase of courtesy or even contempt.
Symmetries, that is, harmonies will not endure unchanged even though change is perhaps resisted. However, an overall love can stay alive when the two lovers choose to continually enchant and surrender to each other, undeterred by the ups and downs of life. Only after that real love has lasted might we call it true love.
I see. So, a human is unruly system, and any intimate relationship is necessarily so just as well? Is it then that a couple must be prepared, must learn to accept and adapt to natural and man-made changes in their loving relationship? The couple needs to stay intentional so that they do not just walk out on each other in the midst of a regular phase transition? Phase transition – that sounds very unromantic to me.
Sorry, yes, it sounds technical. But many systems exist and persist far from equilibrium. Perhaps the most glaring example is life itself. Humans are kept out of equilibrium by their metabolism, which converts matter into energy. A human body that settles into equilibrium is a dead body. A mate who tries to settle into perpetual equilibrium is a dead mate. A couple that tries to settle into equilibrium by avoiding change at all costs is a dead body of a couple.
Do pious people not say that men and women are created for each other, sort of as complementary beings?
Well, yes, they say that. But the only thing that is naturally complementary about them are their sexual organs. These go well together, as you can imagine. Other than that? Their hearts feel and their minds think different at best. Most observed harmonies or symmetries are due to behavioral choices. So, tell the pious not to be so naïve about yin and yang, plus and minus, male and female, and God’s assured plan for mankind and all that.
I will. Does that mean that even what we might call love is predisposed to what their hearts feel and their minds think? I mean, can it be said that love then is kind of independent of the male/female harmony?
It depends. For us and many others, it is the male/female harmony that sponsors our version of love. Obviously, that does not apply to Augustine’s ‘God’s love’ or the complementary human ‘love of God.’ We are talking about love between humans in this discourse.
Thanks for pointing that out. True, ‘God’s love’ and our ‘love of God’ are different notions from human love. Too many people simply mix it all up, though.
Say that again. But you, Augustine, could not really figure things out very well, in spite of your devotion. Are you not the one who pushed people to believe that erotic love between humans is unclean? You had looked at yourself in disgust, after all, I think.
Yes, human love is unclean. And lust is a sexually transmitted disease. And I make no apologies. Had Adam and Eve not fallen, they would have procreated without any passions whatsoever, without arousal or lustfulness. Read my The City of God and my Confessions, which I penned in the 4th Century A.D. while being the bishop of Hippo in North Africa. I was an eminent philosopher and theologian. All of Christendom has had to listen to me.
I did read your words, diligently. Wish you could have read my magnificent Paradise Lost. It is by far the next most influential philosophical and theological interpretation of the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve. Human love is a noble love, you know. Nothing wrong with passions. I could come to that conclusion because I had maintained my sexual integrity and its dreams and did not need to write out of self-loathing.
Hold your horses, fellas. You both, I dare say, not only fascinated but traumatized humanity with your make-believe. Although I must say that you, John Milton, have the upper hand in my esteem. Your rather unorthodox discourse on freedom, choice, love, and all is much more aspiring as it describes divine, angelic, and human emotions in much more subtle and salient terms.
Yes, thank you, John Milton. Adam and Eve weren’t faulty automatons. Neither were we.
As you said before, what about love then as kind of independent of the male/female harmony?
Yes Tom, that notion did not get forgotten in this discourse.
Love is a very subjective phenomenon or experience, is it not?. Expressions of love are found in unlikely places, I guess. I do not wish to dwell on it, though. My preference is the male/female harmony. As a man, I am fascinated by women. I dream about women, not men. There is something tantalizing about trying to enchant a woman and delight in her surrender, and eventually surrender in delight to her enchantment.
But I understand that for many men, this is too much of a challenge, too much of a hill to climb – for multiple reasons. And it is perhaps difficult for many women to share their tenderness with men too ruff and tumble. Whatever, let’s call love between a man and a woman a preference and not a principle. We do not live in paradise.