Monday, August 12, 2013

Illusion at First Sight

Alright, so xkcd has already documented fairly eloquently the scientific viewpoint on "true love" here.  I would like to expand the scientific outlook to the idea of "love at first sight".

As movies and songs try to tell us, it's that moment that you look across the room and meet some stranger's gaze, and then you just know...

...what?  What is it exactly that you "know"?  Are you suppose to "know" that this person is your soul mate?  Would you "know" the same thing if the situation were different, if, say, the attractive girl in a red dress with her hair and makeup all coiffed were instead dressed in a baggy sweatshirt and pants, with a runny nose and bed hair? And what if she doesn't "know" the same thing?  Then what happens?

Well then, it's not love at first sight, the true believers would tell you.  And you know what?  They're right.  It's not "love at first sight", it's never "love at first sight", I would argue, it's "illusion at first sight", that gets rewritten by memory (the malleability of which has been well studied and well documented, particularly due to its importance in, like, court cases) into "love" if the relationship ends up working out.

Unless you're Sherlock Holmes, you really can't know very much about a person from just a first glance.  What you can do (and do do) is form a mental image/judgement of the person based on the traits you observe and your previous experiences with people, real or fictional, with similar or comparable traits.

So the thing you're really falling in love with at that moment is the mental image you form.  If you end up actually getting to know the person and you end up actually falling in love with him/her, you can cite that first meeting as "love at first sight", even if the person ends up being totally different than what you originally thought.  But even if your initial image was fairly close, it's pretty much impossible for it to have been totally accurate and/or complete, so in truth, the 'person' you fell in love with at first sight and the person you end up spending the rest of your life with are not the same.

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