An interesting question and many interesting replies.
I'm assuming the OP means all types of love--familial, friendship, romantic, and spiritual. I would even include aesthetic love.
First off, I find your choice of words interesting. "Simply a biological process that can be reduced to self-interest" makes me think of the ideological strain of recent reductionist theories of evolution, such as the "selfish gene" theory proposed by Richard Dawkins. As a student of anthropology, I question such presumptions. It is, of course, perfectly possible that the primary purpose of all actions of living organisms can be reduced to a fundamental desire to carry on *one's own* genes and achieve immortality, a feat that is the essence of the life force's revulsion of the idea of death. However, the selfish-gene theory is only one way of looking at things. And again, as a student of anthropology (though I certainly haven't gotten my degree yet so I don't claim to be an expert on the subject) and an avid reader of the psychological theories of Carl Jung, I believe that selfishness and ego-focus are only one aspect of the living organism's experience, and that recognizing oneself as part of a greater whole is another significant motivating factor for our actions. I also believe that biology is far from simple, and that reducing something to its component parts will only yield even more levels of complexity. Even in its apparent simplicity, biology is greater and grander than is probably within our ability to understand.
To go back to the idea of a greater consciousness/identity than ourselves, I think that's a good way to start looking at the question of love, at least from my perspective. I will start out by saying that I do agree with the idea that the prime (i.e., first) urge in a living thing is a selfish one. The self is all that you can really, truly be sure of (well, if we're looking at it from a physical rather than metaphysical perspective!). It is the thing that is closest, that you are most aware of. It is the thing whose demands you must satisfy or risk pain and discomfort. It is the receptor of all sensations. The self is the most direct experience of life-consciousness. And for some indefinable reason, the self wants to preserve itself. It wants to live. And it will do what it needs to do to to attain that goal.
However, the self soon becomes conscious that its existence is based on the existence of other beings--subjective beings, since they are only viewed through the self's lens. The self soon realizes that it is involved in a relationship of either struggle or alliance with these beings (sometimes both) in order to perpetuate itself.
Most emotions spring from this source of struggle vs. alliance. For example, it is believed by human evolutionary biologists that the instincts toward family and community and the mother-offspring bond are tied to the simple idea of strength-in-numbers, as well as the necessity of caring for young in order for them to survive and thus carry on the genes.
However, I often ask, is this all that is at work?
For instinct, while important, does not totally define an emotion. The instinct, for example, for a mother to protect her child does not necessarily equate with her *love* for her child. Of course, the mother's instinct may be surrounded by intense feelings of affection and joy at the sight of her baby. But even so, this might very well be separate from love.
Another example: romantic love. The ego-focused biological root of the romantic/sexual instinct attaches similar feelings of attraction, affection, and excitement to the need to couple in order to reproduce. However, as the "honeymoon phase" phenomenon attests, these instinctual feelings do not necessarily equate with love.
I would propose that love is something else entirely. Of course I have no idea what it actually is, nor can I give a description of its form and substance. And I can only work with the subjective experiences I have had, or have been told about, or have read about in books or seen in movies.
It seems to me that love involves a rejection, or at least a suspension, of the ego-focused mentality in favor of the idea that life is equally important in other organisms as in your own body. A being who loves identifies itself with something that is not itself, and allows something that is not itself to become part of itself. It is a widening of consciousness past the ego-focus and into the collective.
Love happens when you have shared so many experiences with another being, and connected so very deeply with them, that you actually identify yourself with them. A revolutionary concept for the ego-focused being! The self is no longer at the center of experience--you begin to feel, deeply and viscerally, for a being that is entirely foreign. Some people can even feel their loved ones' pain. You have, in effect, placed part of yourself in another body, and allowed another body to take up residence within you. "You" are no longer just *you*, but the sum of yourself and the subjective selves of those you love. And you're willing to sacrifice and endure for those you love just as much as you would for your own self.
I have found that I am prone to loving someone when I find them to be a "kindred spirit," meaning that I just click with them, mostly due to similarity in personality. I am lucky enough to have this with both of my parents, and I've found it in many others. However, I love people I don't have this bond with, and I have not loved people I *did* have this bond with. For even with people I am dissimilar to, I have found some spirit or trait within them that makes them magnificent and special to me--even if we may never have a great conversation. And even with people with whom I get along famously, I may not be willing to undergo the process of taking them into myself, because they just are not dear to me. I wish I could say what it is that makes one person cherished and another person not so, but I can't. A combination of similarity, mutual support/nurturing, and that certain indefinable something (I'm sure it is definable but I haven't found a definition) are a good recipe.
Actually, this applies to love of nature and life in general as well. When I fall in love with a landscape or a sunset, it almost seems like I'm diffusing myself in it, losing myself in it, and it becomes a part of me and I become a part of it. The losing of boundaries--another important component of love. And when I experience this general love, I become at peace, feeling that I am not just myself, but am in fact part of all things, and therefore there is little need to be afraid of death, because the most important part of me, the life force, will always be here.
This is not to say that I am not afraid of death. Just because I needn't be doesn't mean I'm not. But it does mean that I am fairly certain that I would face death for someone I loved, because I no longer identify myself merely with myself, but also with others. Basically, if I died saving someone I loved, death would not be a terrible prospect because their lives mean as much to me as my own and protecting them is as good as protecting myself.
As to whether love hints at a purpose of life itself, I certainly can't say. However, I definitely think it points to an important *truth* of life, namely that your being is not the only thing, and you are part of a much bigger whole of life. I believe that if you love the whole rather than just yourself, and if you truly believe that you are what everything is rather than just yourself, Death shouldn't be quite so horrifying no matter what the true nature of it is.
Have you seen Christopher Nolan's most recent flick "Interstellar"? It has some interesting philosophies about the nature and purpose of love. It posits that love is an actual force, that it is "the only emotion that transcends time and space," and that it intuitively guides us toward the higher truths of life and existence. I believe that to be so, and not in a mushy-gushy "follow your heart" sense. When you truly love, you are inclined to be more practical, more forward thinking, and you take the good of others into account. And perhaps, as the movie posits, love *does* guide us to new truths of existence. Only time and the far-reaching range of human discovery may tell.
As for god...I haven't even mentioned god in this entire response. I do not think that god is necessary for love (I don't currently believe in god/gods), but I think that the way people feel love for god/gods deserves more study. I am reminded of the writings of the mystic poet Rumi, a thirteenth-century Muslim Sufi, whose poetry often referenced the idea that "I and the Beloved are One." One of the highest concepts of many religions is the idea that you ARE the divine, you ARE transcendent and eternal because you are more than just yourself, and this conclusion is arrived at through deep love for and contemplation of the Deity.
I think religion evolved mainly for different purposes, just as I think that emotions evolved for selfish purposes, but the ideas of love and transcendence and immortality seem to develop in the conscious mind pretty naturally as an extension of more practical concerns, which makes me wonder if it really is part of the process.
I hope I haven't been too terribly long winded, but I felt I had to explain my thoughts as clearly as possible. I am anxious to see all the different perspectives!
Congrats for a good post. That suffi quote is great and it sums up what you say, right? (sorry, I'm all for brevity )
I agree with the jist of it. It MUST be all based on empathy, the capacity to feel what other feel. Yet there is this mysterious part that remains, this je ne sais quoi (or to quote you, "that certain indefinable something") which makes you fall in love with X but not with Y.
The way I see it, it's more than just similarity, it is about complementarity or compatibility. We seek to compensate for our weaknesses perhaps. And then there is the physical elements... What makes a lip, a wrinkle, an ear, a hand 'beautiful' or not, desirable or not? I suspect the genes are looking for complementarity too, but that's just a hunch.
Sun 28 Dec, 2014 09:27 pm
For me love is all about trust, loyalty, and respect with each other.
Tue 31 Jan, 2017 03:07 am
Love is an irresistable desire to be irresistably desired.
Tue 31 Jan, 2017 05:09 am
One could talk chemestry, biology and evolution, one could talk Sociology, and all that would be trivial superficial talking...
Love/relation, is rationality, not infinite alienation...
Thu 23 Feb, 2017 03:12 am
Love is just feeling...
Thu 23 Feb, 2017 03:21 am
The feeling or the behaviour ?
Thu 23 Feb, 2017 09:45 am
From my point of view "love all about understanding"
We can describe the physical perspective of energetic efficiency for parenting and group survival, the chemical pov the dopamine and ocitacine in the brain, we can take the Biology glance n speak about the drive to perpetuate our genes, and we can take the Sociology stand about the role of family as a corner stone of a healthy human mind and as the ground base of group belonging and society. The first brick of the social contract, civilization and the Law State.
...yeah, we can say a lot more and we would miss the essence of it...
Joseph Ratzziger made a PHD thesis about "God" being Love...
...well, ya all know I am a sort of atheist in the classical sense, but I think I get his underlying point. Love cant exist without a Rational that connects the entirety of existence. Of all that it is real.. when one says that God is ,
Love one deeply points to Reality being deeply interconected, bound in Rationality, and thus interdependent...
The most elevated form of Love is abstract and holistic not just personal or tribal. In the global age this ought to be better understood by us all.
Sun 26 Feb, 2017 11:08 pm
love for someone else is a one way street, you could say. Why someone loves a person has to do with that someone, not the person. .