Sunday, June 24, 2007

Love Drugs and the Future of Marriage

There is considerable evidence that both falling in love and long term attachment are associated with the levels of various chemicals in the brain. Suppose we learn enough about the process to be able to control it artificially. What might the results be and should we approve?

A couple fall in love and get married. To properly regulate their emotions thereafter, they get a prescription for a few months of "being in love" drugs and use them to enjoy their honeymoon and the beginning of their marriage. Being in love is too intense an emotion for the long term, so they then switch to the "long term attachment" prescription. Later, as their schedules permit, they temporarily switch back in order to experience a second, third, fourth honeymoon.

That is, however, only the first step in the social changes made possible by the new technology. Currently, falling in love is usually a necessary step in the process that leads to marriage. But should it be? It is not at all obvious that the person you fall in love with is the best candidate for a long term relationship—a point made long ago by defenders of the old system of having parents choose mates for their children. Our emotions, after all, are driven by processes generated by Darwinian selection in a very different environment and "designed" not for our happiness but for reproductive success—the interest not of us but of our genes.

The new drugs provide a new option—choice of mate not by either our parents or our hormones but by our reason. You employ some suitable search strategy to find a woman who is well suited to be your wife and will think you well suited to be her husband. Once the marriage contract is signed, the final step in the ceremony is for both of you to take your love drugs. You look deep into her eyes ... .

13 Comments:

At 10:59 AM, June 24, 2007, Blogger jimbino said...

I have long held marriage to be beneath my intelligence, as opposed to love, sex, cohabitation, friendship--even rearing kids together.

For me, the only legitimate reasons to marry are to game the tax laws or the immigration laws. Folks who marry for love, sex, companionship or friendship are misguided and ignorant of the lessons of literature and history.

As far as I know, the IRS does not consider a marriage a "sham" if entered into for the "wrong" reasons (like mere tax savings), though they have come down on folks who marry at year's end and divorce on New Years, or vice versa.

But the INS has some weird concept of "sham marriage" that I can't understand at all. I find no written rules and imagine that they "know it when they see it." Historically folks have married for love, sex, money, status, inheritance, children, good cooking, good dancing, religious supersitition, shotgun pellet aversion and immigration rights, disjunctively.

Is it true that the INS considers a marriage a sham iff entered into for immigration purposes? What if for immigration and tax avoidance or for immigration and good sex?

Wouldn't the world be a better place if the government just got out of the business of marriage? Marriage poisons everything!

 
At 4:50 PM, June 24, 2007, Blogger Vicente Barriatos said...

Love through Reason is a very rare thing from my standpoint. Ayn Rand once wrote something to the same effect, that coinciding intellectual interests will eventually find a way for two people to come together.

Some would contend the whole notion of love and marriage is more complicated than a simple algorithm; then again, the process which people go through to find love is an algorithm in and of itself, be it wrong or right.

*Irony*

 
At 12:52 AM, June 25, 2007, Blogger ninjadroid said...

If e're there was a source of existential despair, this is it.

 
At 3:06 AM, June 25, 2007, Anonymous Tuukka said...

This is the way to turn "satisficiers" to optimizers. A way to align people's caveman-like emotions with reason. Isn't the issue of choosing a partner for life like other central choices in life (choose a profession, hobbies, reason to live) essentially a emotional one? Unless someone is planning to emotionally reconstruct a himself with drugs, how can you reason what your preferences ought to be (how to optimally choose objective function)?

 
At 5:28 AM, June 25, 2007, Anonymous RKN said...

Our emotions, after all, are driven by processes generated by Darwinian selection in a very different environment and "designed" not for our happiness but for reproductive success—the interest not of us but of our genes.

There is a variety of human behaviors, as far back as we have records for such, that are evidently inimical to human reproductive success. Since those behaviors are rooted in the genes, the neo-Darwinian theory of natural selection, vis-a-vis human beings at least, must be false.

 
At 7:30 AM, June 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our conscious thoughts are chemicals and neural structures in our brain.

I think people divorce simply because they get bored and there is nothing else they have to learn from one another. Romance and monogomy memes go against what human relationships thrive on.

People like to meet new people with new ideas, to taste new people.

The pleasure of eating a new food for the first time is much higher than the following times.

A new book is only the best until a better one is written.

 
At 9:00 AM, June 25, 2007, Anonymous Arthur b. said...

(C) Tristan & Iseult :)

How do you make the drug specific though ? Why should the drug make you in love with your wife in particular and not just a tree-hugging hippie ?

 
At 2:53 PM, June 25, 2007, Anonymous markm said...

Isn't there an old rock song like, "If you can't have the one you love, then love the one you're with"?

Go back a few centuries and you'll find parents arranging marriages, and assuming that biology will make the couple fall in love eventually. It worked most of the time, but there were also plenty of stories of parents making bad choices for their children.

 
At 11:09 AM, June 26, 2007, Anonymous Economist said...

Tuukka wrote >>Isn't the issue of choosing a partner for life like other central choices in life (choose a profession, hobbies, reason to live) essentially a emotional one?<<

Is your career now exactly the same as you wanted to be as a child and/or "starving" musician/artist? Most people who would find these most appealing in an ideal world still end up choosing a more practical career -- evidence of reason over emotion. Not to say that money is more important than doing something interesting but most rational optimizers are quite aware of budget constraints before starting a hobby of getting the largest diamond collection in the world (assuming diamonds are very enticing).

All of these choices are essentially rational. "I really want to try out for NBA but I should go to college first, just in case I don't make the draft, because I also like a certain level of consumption goods." Reason is what recognizes inherent opportunity costs in every choice we make.

Anonymous describes two examples of decreasing marginal returns and suggests that human relations necessary exhibit this property. On the other hand, if the returns were increasing (knowledge & understanding, specialization & exchange, duration and shared memories as additional positive input) then the argument would support monogamous relations exclusively.

An interesting question is whether it's desirable to have such rationality-altering commitment without an escape clause. Suppose the spouses made a mistake because of asymmetric information or unanticipated future events and they would actually be better off separated and married to other people but the drugs prevents Bayesian updating of their posteriors.

Also, does it make sense to give priority pre-drug self's preferences over the post-drug self's preferences?

It may be difficult and impossible to stop taking these sort of happiness drugs as post-drug evaluation of the prescriptions would necessarily be more favourable than what outsiders and pre-drug self would see (psychological addiction and warped rationality).

 
At 11:41 AM, June 26, 2007, Anonymous sportember said...

...and finally intelligent design could take the crown from evolution even in the scientific world.

 
At 12:32 PM, June 26, 2007, Anonymous William H. Stoddard said...

I think people divorce simply because they get bored and there is nothing else they have to learn from one another. Romance and monogomy memes go against what human relationships thrive on.

I've suspected for a while that part of the problem is that the institution of marriage was worked out in premodern times, when lifespans were much shorter. If you look at adult mortality rates, it's a fair guess that an average marriage probably lasted around a decade or a bit more before it was ended by one of the spouses dying. So an institutional pattern that had a 15-year mean time before failure would last longer than it needed to for most people. Now, though, it's quite possible for two people to marry at twenty and still both be alive fifty years later. The cultural expectations about marital behavior may not have altered sufficiently to make it viable for that long.

 
At 1:43 PM, June 28, 2007, Anonymous markm said...

William, that's part of it but far from all of it. The divorce rate remained fairly low for a generation or two after life expectancy increased dramatically. E.g., one pair of my great-grandparents, born around 1890, remained married for over 65 years before my greatgrandfather died - even though according to my grandmother they fought bitterly and continually starting just a few years into their marriage. They were Protestants, of a denomination that had long since accepted divorce, but to people of their generation divorce was scandalous, so they hung in their regardless of how bad their marriage got.

To my grandmother's generation, divorce was only slightly less scandalous, but after thirty years she reached a point where that was more acceptable than continuing the marriage. (Then she became a 50-something hippy for a few years, as if rejecting one of the settled sureties of her class and generation required testing all of them...)

 
At 12:01 AM, June 29, 2007, Anonymous Tuukka said...

Economict, i agree with you. What i was trying to say that you can't derive (by reason) the amount of satisfaction/utility one gets from different things. Based on various constraints under which one has to operate (personal abilities, environment, intial wealth) one can reason the probability of an outcome. So then one can for example maximize expected utility..

The point was that without emotionally perceived utility this reasoning is not useful. So, choosing a partner based solely on deductive reasoning and probabilistic assesments and taking the love drug would not be a good strategy IMHO. a) I don't have enough confidence on my conscious logical processor b) this would violate my definition of love as something spontanious and would ruin all the fun

 

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