WHERE DOES OUR LONGING
FOR A ONE COME FROM?
Dr. Tom Lewis
Dr. Lewis is co-author of A General Theory of Love with Fari Amini,
M.D., and Richard Lannon, M.D. Dr. Lewis is an Assistant Professor of
Psychiatry at the UCSF.
The following is excerpted from an on-camera interview with Tom
Lewis, which is interspersed in our film with man-on-the-street interviews
about whether people believe in The One. Here Dr. Lewis's segments have
been reconstituted into a small essay.
We used to say ten years ago it was
pointless to study the brain science of emotion. We skeptically asked,
"what does science have to do with that?" Now that very
prevalent attitude has been chased out, and people realize that emotional
life is a completely legitimate neurophysiological inquiry.
When mammals showed up on the planet, their
method of reproduction was different. Unlike reptiles, they gave birth to
live helpless young that had to be nurtured or wouldnt survive. The
parent had to monitor the physiology of the baby. This lead to the
development of a part of the brain called the Great Limbic Lobe, which we
share with all mammals.
Infants physiology is incomplete on its
own; babies cant get to sleep on their own, they need to be lulled to
sleep; they cant soothe themselves, instead seek out someone who can
Just as infants need the regulating
presence of the external contact figure, all of us are like infants, only
bigger, and we also need the regulatory influence.
Most people think their body is self
contained, that sugar levels are monitored internally and so on, oxygen,
hormones. Its very surprising that this not true there are
physiological parameters regulated by other people outside own body.
In our culture we construe loneliness as
weakness, as a character defect, not as a "normal" need. But its
based on brain evolution; theres no choice about it. Just as when youre
hungry, or low on water and feel thirst, loneliness is a real
physiological feeling telling you you need something vital. It hurts so
much because its important to your health.
A relationship is not just an abstract
idea, like the economy, its a live physiologic event much like a
heartbeat or a breath or a muscle contraction.
Relationships have a grammar to them, a
regularity thats discoverable. Just as a child hears language spoken
and discovers the regularities, the brain of a child studies relationships
and pulls out the regularities, or rules, same as they learn the rules of
their native language.
As a result, people often tend to fall in
love with same person over and over. Its very likely to be the
end-product of their implicit memory, which is why they find some people
interesting and others not so interesting. If they grew up with someone
who didnt listen to them, thats what they want, even if they dont
know it - not someone whos nice. Like some grew up in New York City;
while other places might be nicer, they want New York, it's what their
emotional memory finds comfortable.
Regarding the urge for a One, its true
that infants are born with orientation to one attachment figure thats
primary, and others that are secondary. Infants are not born to have
multiple attachment figures, often to the dismay of many fathers; their
orientation is towards One, primary, and with that one the physiological
When theyre with someone they match
with, someone they feel they "belong" with, they report they
feel more like themselves than they did before. Some of strongest laid
down parts of their emotional memory are connecting with those of the
The urge is for not one person to satisfy every
need, but for that feeling of deep bond and communion. Its not only
emotional, but physical and neurophysiological. To feel whole, or
regulated like after eating, you feel like dont need any more, or
Once you establish that bond, its so
solid and impermeable that cant swap people out. You can see people who
have had that physiological relationship for decades if one dies the
other dies, and I have seen people wander the planet bereft, unable to
find another key for that lock.