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Love. Throughout history, humans have been experiencing that unique emotion. Stories, songs, poems, art of all kinds, hugging, touching, kissing, and just plain affectionate talk express its magic. Theologians and romantics may refer to it as a godly emotion, some hypothesizing that God created humans in order to give Him something to love, and His children the means of reciprocating that feeling through praise, adoration, and worship. Still, in the new millennium, we continue to ask ourselves: What is the nature of love? Where is such a powerful force initiated? Is it an emotion of cognition, biology, or both?

Enter Lewis, Amini, and Lannon, three professors of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, who have been working together since 1991, with A General Theory of Love a summation of their collaboration. While they don't provide the final answer, they move readers to a deeper level of understanding regarding the central human emotion called love, stating that, "As long as the brain remained a mystery, as long as the physical nature of the mind remained remote, and inaccessible, an evidential void permitted a free flow of irrefutable statements about emotional life."

The non-glitzy title of their book reflects the straightforward, scholarly approach to this important issue. "The development of the human brain," they maintain, "was neither planned nor seamlessly executed. It simply happened." The mammalian brain has three distinct sub-brains: reptilian, limbic, and neocortical. These continually intermingle and communicate, but the nature of their interactions are not easily understood. The reptilian sub-brain, the oldest and most primitive, serves survival needs of the organism: breathing, swallowing, keeping the heart beating, etc. The limbic sub-brain, "which drapes itself around the first with languid ease," deals with rearing, nursing, defending, and playing with one's young. Unlike reptilians, there is vocal communication between the mammal and its offspring. Infant reptiles must immediately fend for themselves. The neocortex adds the capacities of speech, reason, and abstraction.

This excellent work is consistent with the advice of Albert Einstein, who warned: "We should take care not to make the intellect our God; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality. It cannot lead; it can only serve." Regarding the workings of the heart, the authors state, "[Considering the] microscopic maze wherein such secrets dwell, centuries may pass before the brain yields up its last mysteries. None of us will live to see beyond the dawn of that revelatory age."

I strongly recommend this book to readers who are intelligent, inquisitive, possess an open mind, and have a dictionary handy. It presents no solutions, though, to those seeking advice for expanding or fixing their love life.

Reviewed by RALPH HYATT Psychology Editor
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2000
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