Modeling Love – A pseudo scientific view


In preparation for my project requiring me to create a Bayesian Network based Movie Recommendation system, I happened to read a lot of stuff on Mathematical Modeling and Modeling Emotions and Behavior. In course of these readings, I stumbled upon two really unusual descriptions on the mathematical modeling of a concept interesting to a much wider audience – Love.

For the purposes of this article, and as assumed by most writers, to simplify this potentially infinite topic, I’d restrict the attention to only one facet of love. The one which is most common in literature – lets call it facet of ‘cupid love’. The clichéd phrase ‘Love has no boundaries’ makes it difficult to describe it in a sentence but I assume that the reader has a fair idea of idea of the aspect of love in question. As mentioned in one of the readings for the article:

Love is a kind of suitcase-like word, which includes other kinds of attachments like these:

The love of a parent for a child.
A child’s affection for parents and friends.
The bonds that make lifelong companionships.
The connections of members to groups or their leaders.

We also apply that same word ‘love’ to our fondness for objects, events, and beliefs.

A convert’s adherence to doctrine or scripture.
A patriot’s allegiance to country or nation.
A scientist’s passion for finding new truths.
A mathematician’s devotion to proofs.


A rare and interesting article on some scientific and mathematical experiments conducted in the University of Wisconsin on modeling the psychology behind these other types of love like maternal love is available here.


The first reading of interest was from the Legend – Marvin Minsky from MIT, who is perhaps the most influential AI practitioners of today. In his book, ‘The Emotion Machine’ he describes the concept in vivid detail. Even though the purpose of this book is to explain his ‘Critic-Selector model’ and in a way to provide a new viewpoint to the theories of emotions, behavior and thought that we want to embody in computers of tomorrow, it nevertheless has some really interesting modeling of the thought processes involved in love – rather than the nature of love itself.

Interestingly, the book starts with a chapter titled ‘Falling in Love’ in which it talks about why love is a difficult emotion to incorporate in machines and how love is the perfect example of how a single emotion can cause our brains to cause such great changes in how we think – a main theme of the book. It describes the beginning of love to be an infatuation that negates the processes in our brains that enable us to see faults/blemishes or any questions and doubts that we may have about the person we love. In fact blemishes are treated as embellishments by a love-struck mind. It then mentions a pointed sentence about the idea of love from Feynman’s 1996 Nobel Prize lecture:

“That was the beginning and the idea seemed so obvious to me that I fell deeply in love with it. And, like falling in love with a woman, it is only possible if you don’t know too much about her, so you cannot see her faults. The faults will become apparent later, but after the love is strong enough to hold you to her. So, I was held to this theory, in spite of all the difficulties, by my youthful enthusiasm.”

and then leaves us with a question and an answer that involve a kind of recursive understanding of love:

What does a lover actually love? That should be the person to whom you’re attached—but if your pleasure mainly results from suppressing your other questions and doubts, then you’re only in love with Love itself.

The next mention on love is in the chapter 3 – “Pain and Suffering”, which mentions the concept of love as an inducer of persistent suffering as compared to more transient ones like the suffering in touching something hot. He uses the following dialog indicating an interesting logic from Woddy Allen’s “Love and Death” to describe this feature.

Sonja: “To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.” — Woody Allen, in “Love and Death.”

Here, I cant resist myself from quoting one of Mirza Ghalib’s famous lines illustrating the same with more finesse.
pray someone ask my heart, the sting of cupid’s arrow that’s stuck piercing its center
where would this anguish have come from, had it gone all the way through
For a detailed poetic analysis of these lines by a project in Columbia University (in case I’m not sounding a weirdo already), here’s a link.

The only other chapter apart from the last chapter that mentions the article is one titled “Consciousness” that aims to understand the concept from a computing perspective. Here, love is used to illustrate the higher consciousness inherent in humans that is conceivably difficult to model in machines. The following lines convey it best:

For example, when the fingertips of two lovers come into intimate physical contact, the resulting sensations, by themselves, have no particular implications. For there is no significance in those signals themselves: their meanings to those lovers lie in how they represent and process them in the higher levels of their minds.

Finally, in the last chapter titled – ‘The Self’, the author conveys a sense of enigma about the lack of a complete formulation of love and other emotions. The following lines are representative

Similarly, when you try to describe the feelings that come with being in love, or from suffering fear, or when seeing a pasture or a sea, you’ll soon find that you are merely mentioning yet other things that these remind you of. And then, perhaps, you will come to suspect that one can never really describe what anything is; one can only describe what that thing is like.

The other interesting find was this video, explaining a scientist’s mathematical (rather graphical) formulation of love. He shows the space of love to be a 3-dimensional model consisting of three variables:

  • Sex Appeal / Attraction – (perhaps similar to what Minsky explains as the beginnings of love in Infatuation) Relates more to the present according to the presenter.
  • The level of Fun / Friendship (perhaps what Feynman mentions as the stage when even though faults are apparent, the emotion is strong enough to cause suffering on loss of the emotion itself). Relates to the past or the emotions associated with the past time spent with the lover.
  • The Nesting / Future Compatibility – (something perhaps missing in Minsky’s description) Relating to the idea of spending more time with the same person in future, and the possibilities of extending the same relationship.

The presenter also mentions a fourth variable of the ‘Dark Side of Love’ that he doesn’t elaborate upon.

When the volume of the space occupied by these variables increases beyond a threshold, we can say that the subject in question is in love. Here’s a diagram based on my understanding of the above mentioned models (click to expand):image004.jpg
Other interesting models of love from Prof. J.C.Sprott, from the Physics Dept. of the Univ. of Wisconsin may be found here.


Even though the subject is really vast and these by no means are models that are flawless or ones that leave no questions unanswered, nevertheless, I felt they’d make an interesting read for anyone awed with the phenomenon of love. At least I am slightly better off in thinking about love after the last few readings. Now, my MS seems to be on track…. Finally!! Lets hope the results stay that way too 😛 …. Back to Bayes Nets then…. Probably the romantic movies will make some sense now!!



2 Responses to “Modeling Love – A pseudo scientific view”

  1. Eternal Blissfulness of the Subject-less love « Says:

    […] the face of it, it seems absurd to be able to love & trust an unknown entity. Even in the very naive model of love (although of a specific type), that I analyzed years ago, the fundamental assumption was the presence of a subject – The one that is loved. Also, even […]

  2. I live and love, therefore I lie « Says:

    […] better than the phenomena of love, especially romantic love or cupid’s love as I called it in my old & naive analysis. In her Ted lecture Anthropologist Helen Fisher, who has done extensive research on romantic love […]

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