PHILOMADRID

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Attraction

Attraction


We all know which attraction is of great interest to us. Either by choice or by design we spend a lot of personal energy and resources looking for it. We hope to be attracted to someone and that someone is attracted to us. However, this seems to be just the tip of the iceberg.


The word, and concept, attraction is linked to the very physical concept of gravity. And although we are not physicists we cannot ignore the concept of gravity.


From the language point of view, gravity includes the idea of attraction. But attraction, of course, does not include the idea of gravity. This makes attraction more generic and perhaps more conceptually metaphysical, which might come handy later on.


There is no doubt that at a metaphorical and analogical level both attraction and gravity have a lot in common. Could there also be a link at the physical level? Let's stay with the language implications for now.


Both attraction and gravity have the idea of action. Gravity also gives us the idea of movement whilst attraction gives us the idea of a need or desire for movement. In a way, action and movement are necessary for gravity. What about attraction? Are action and movement necessary and/or sufficient conditions for the meaning of attraction?


Nevertheless, understanding how important gravity is might help us understand attraction. Gravity, we are told, separated from electronuclear forces some 10-43 seconds (ten to the power of minus forty three seconds; Planck time) after the big bang. That's a very short time. Whatever our views might be on these matters, this claim certainly puts gravity in perspective. And if this is not enough, gravity can also be very persuasive if it gets hold of us in the wrong way!


There are two more things about gravity that seriously interests us. Gravity creates big 'things,' by bringing together smaller things. It is the ultimate in turning mole hills into mountains. The second thing about gravity is that once it creates something it tends to destroy it or, to be precise, transforms it into something else. Stars are put together by gravity, but it is the same gravity that turns some of them into black holes. On a much smaller scale, it is gravity that brought the atoms of your best china plates together, and it is the same gravity that turns your plates into a thousand pieces should they hit the floor unsupervised!


There are many contexts in which we use the concept of attraction. For example, we are attracted to the big city lights. We are attracted by the nice covers of books. Many things have the capacity to attract our attention. And in many instances we do something about it: we go to the city or we buy the book.


However, whilst it seems to me that gravity depends on brute force to succeed, attraction depends on something different. That difference seems to be information. When we see a nice cover on a book we are not only attracted to the pretty design of the cover, but also to the prospect of a good read. But we also know, from past experience, for example, that this information could be flawed hence the saying: don't judge a book by its cover.


We also know that information, as opposed to white noise, comes in a context. The previous sentence (ps) could only possibly make sense in the context of this write up. It would be inconceivable to imagine the sentence (ps) turning up, say, in a victory speech by Churchill.


As with gravity, attraction is not immune to causality. I'm attracted to a nice painting and decide to buy it. And by buying the painting I'm creating a new experience and a new state of affairs. It is at this point where metaphysics might become relevant. A beautiful painting is more than just a physical sensation in our brain. It could be a work of art, an investment, a collector's item, it could be many things. But this process of 'attraction, information and action' is part of our daily life. For example, advertising works on this principle. A creative advert is aired on television, then, it is hoped, we go and buy the product. Even simple things such as traffic lights depend on this process; the choice of red colour to tell us to stop is not done just for the fun of it even if some people seem to think so.


What is the exact status of attraction in our life? This depends on which aspect of our life we are talking about. I started by saying that we spend a great deal of our time trying to be attracted to someone and trying to get someone attracted to us. We can call this, for the sake of this write up, as looking for a partner! We can also assume, for the sake of this write up, that our life can be categorised as looking for a partner and the rest of the universe.


I have already established that we use attraction to buy books, works of art and stop for on coming traffic. All these activities have one thing in common with respect to the status of attraction in our life: our interaction and relationship with the rest of the universe. This relationship seems to benefit us even if we have to put something back in the universe. When I buy a book I am putting money into the system, so to speak, but I only do so because I want the book. It seems that the status of attraction and the rest of the universe is one based on utilitarianism. Can we use the same argument, utilitarianism, to establish the status of attraction when it comes to finding a partner? I don't think so, not if we are looking for the real thing. This is because when we look for a partner we are involved in that ultimate of metaphysical activities called love. And this, by the way, is an important context for any information that might come our way.


Now, I think, we all agree that attraction is not love. So the first question we have to ask is: when does attraction become love? And like many first questions I will address it later on. When we are attracted by someone, presumably, we are receiving the first bursts of information about that person. Physical attraction, beauty and maybe social status through the way they dress and speak. Where we meet this person also gives us some background to the context we need to put all this information into some use.


If attraction is not love, then what must happen for attraction to become love? When does attraction become love? It is sometimes suggested that knowledge is the key factor here. The more we know about the other person the more we become in love with them. No doubt, in many instances the more we know about the other person the more we come to love them (or the other way round presumably!!). However, this does not establish the point when do we actually become in love; at which point does attraction convert into love. It is like asking when does a slice of bread become a toast? The mathematicians amongst you might be thinking about catastrophe theory here; the philosophers might think about Zeno's infinity paradoxes. What ever; the point is the same: when and what brings about the change?


Knowledge alone cannot possibly be the answer to move from attraction to love. After all, we might know a lot about a particular person and still not fall in love with them. Maybe this is because we are missing some ingredients which are necessary for love. I'm thinking here of passion and affection and these two emotions are certainly not metaphysical. And if they are not metaphysical they surely must be physical and that is the domain of gravity!


Could it be that the same force that fires up the stars also fires up our love; literally? And have you noticed how some stars beget other stars, just like two lovers can sometimes beget a loved one or two?




Take care


Lawrence



Jan 28, 2005

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