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A General Theory of Love

by Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.

Random House, 2000

288 pages, hardcover

Review by Jim Walker

Although this book does not address religion, it presents further evidence that love, as commanded in the Bible, cannot serve as a reliable source for human emotion. Love occurs as an emotion and not subject to intellect's demands. Indeed, all emotions, although influenced by life's experiences, cannot serve commands. To understand love, says Lewis, et al, "we must start with feelings." And to understand feelings requires the study of the brain and its neurological and hormonal workings from infancy to adult maturity. Although love does not submit to commands, natural love can flourish as long as the conditions for it do not die, and this represents the core message of this book.

A General Theory of Love presents a humanistic look at the natural science of our feelings, and why communication, touch, and time spent with another individual plays a far more important role in healthy relationships than do all the drugs and Freudian therapy can possibly hope to achieve. Lewis, et al, give us a poetically scientific explanation on the development of the limbic brain and how it shapes personality.

Anyone who wishes to raise a child, to understand why most people love and some cannot, why some intelligent people kill others without a shred of remorse, or to just to learn the basic workings of the brain, will find this book illuminating.


1. The Heart's Castle: Science joins the Search for Love
2. Kits, Cats, Sacks, and Uncertainty: How the Brain's Basic Structure Poses Problems for Love
3. Archimedes' Principle: How We Sense the Inner World of Other Hearts
4. A fiercer Sea: How Relationships Permeate the Human Body, Mind, and Soul
5. Gravity's Incarnation: How Memory Stores and Shapes Love
6. A Bend in the Road: How Love Changes Who We Are and Who We Can Become
7. The Book of Life: how Love Forms, Guides, and Alters a Child's Emotional Mind
8. Between Stone and Sky: What Can Be Done to Heal Hearts Gone Astray
9. A Walk in the Shadows: How Culture Blinds Us to the Ways of Love
10. The Open Door: What the Future Holds for the Mysteries of Love

A Few Quotes:

Because it is part of the physical universe, love has to be lawful.

People who do not intuit or respect the laws of acceleration and momentum break bones; those who do not grasp the principles of love waste their lives and break their hearts.

Love itself has not surrendered to reductionism, but the last two decades of the twentieth century, the brain that produces love did.

He cannot will himself to want the right thing, or to love the right person, or to be happy after disappointment, or even to be happy in happy times. People lack this capacity not through a deficiency of discipline but because the jurisdiction of will is limited to the latest brain and to those functions within it purview. Emotional life can be influenced, but it cannot be commanded.

The face is the only place in the body where muscles connect directly to skin. The sole purpose of this arrangement is to enable the transmission of a flurry of expressive signals.

The limbic brain has more opiate receptors than any other brain area.

New scanning technologies show that perception activates the same brain areas as imagination. Perhaps for this reason, the brain cannot reliably distinguish between recorded experience and internal fantasy.

Assuming the world is the way it looks is the neurally prompted so-called naive realism to which most of us unwittingly subscribe. Reality is thus more personal than daily life suggests. Nobody inhabits the same emotional realm.

Many people live in a world so singular that what they see when they open their eyes in the morning may be unfathomable to the rest of humanity.

If an infant is to squeeze out while his head still fits, his brain at birth can be only a fraction of its final size. He must defer most of his neural maturation until he leaves the womb.

A child's brain cannot develop normally without the coordinating influence that limbic communication furnishes.

Of all humans who try cocaine, less than 1 percent become regular users-- the other 99 walk away. As Malcolm Gladwell has argued, this staggering imbalance points to a problem not in the juices of coca leaves, but inside the brains of the tiny fraction who find its effect on their emotions irresistible. America expends billions to protect our borders against the influx of small packets of limbic anesthesia. Those sums might be better spend ensuring that our children harbor brains minimally responsive to such agents.

Steeped as they are in limbic physiology, healthy people have trouble forcing their minds into the unfamiliar outline of this reptilian truth: no intrinsic restraint on harming people exists outside the limbic domain.

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A General Theory of Love