You have presented a good outline for one of our main confusions with love, or any emotion for that matter – Peter Ralston Newsletter

Hello Peter,
Somewhere, I do not know where, you mentioned something about “love;” it was either in one of your newsletters or in one of your books which I read – I have no idea where, so I didn’t even try to look for it. However, you said something like “If I told you what love really is, you would be surprised” (or something similar), but you didn’t elaborate on this. Can you tell me what you had in mind?

Is it about loving the FEELING that the other person brings and not about really loving the other person? So we love someone for something that this person gives to us, for the feelings the other person evokes in us? If so, should we say that love is a selfish act, because what we call love is actually something that we do for our own perceived benefit? Let’s say someone says “I love chicken”, obviously it doesn’t mean he cares and likes the chicken as it is, but rather loves the taste, loves the chicken because it gives him something he enjoys, but he really doesn’t care about the chicken as it is. Is it something similar with love?

Regards, Luke



Through the implications of your questions, you have presented a good outline for one of our main confusions with love, or any emotion for that matter. We believe emotions are “caused” by circumstance. In the case of love we think it’s something we “have” in relation to another. But the other is necessary in order for us to have it, thus “causing” our experience. What you’re speaking about is being “at the effect” of the other in which it seems as if we’re compelled to feel certain ways. In reference to love, these feelings may range from stimulation, lust, need, desire, comfort, approval, empathy, affection, connection, attachment, etc. — some mixture of feelings an individual will identify as love. In the case of being at the effect of another, you’re right, the person is then just “chicken” for us, albeit a sophisticated chicken since we aren’t talking about taste but a complex set of social needs.


On the other hand, there may be a possibility of an experience of love that is independent of simply being an effect, and perhaps even independent of emotion. This is not something, as a culture, we’ve considered. It is a different activity than the overwhelming emotional affects we have in romantic love, or even the comfortable sense of connection and familiarity that we have in more long-term love relationship which satisfies deep socially oriented personal needs, such as a sense of connection, partnership, safety, etc. This latter more long-term love is closer to what we might consider a love of the person, as opposed to the romantic love which puts the brain in a such a swoon the other person is really barely visible for themselves but acts more as a placeholder for the “promise” of a resolution to personal emotional “incompleteness.”

Yet there is an unseen possibility of a love that is actually about the other or others, and is independent from any effects, good or bad, that they may have on us. The closest we come to this perhaps is when we create compassion, which shows up as a feeling. But there is also a love that is not a feeling but rather an experience. This experience of love is not an emotion yet still is a distinction of loving another. Since we live in a world completely dominated by emotion and concept it’s difficult to even imagine this possibility. I’ll leave it as something to contemplate.


To add to your consideration, however, consider that all of our experiences of emotion are created through the distinctions we make. For example, you may have heard that the Japanese do not have the same emotion that we assume as love. This would seem impossible since we insist love is a universal force. If the Japanese don’t experience our version of love, we find this baffling. Yet we don’t have to stop at love. There are many distinctions and so experiences in various cultures that aren’t shared, and so aren’t known or experienced by people of other cultures.

Speaking more than one language as you do, I’m sure you’ve encountered this. I’m certain there are words referring to experiences had in Polish that you don’t find in English and vice versa. Having been party to translations of my books into various languages it is amazing the challenges that come up to do so. If we consider that the words of languages exist to represent shared experiences, then we can see not every experience is accurately translatable from one culture to the next. In the case of a culture and language that is far more fundamentally different than Polish is from English, such as Japanese or Swahili, this stands out all the more.

If we use this understanding to consider that an experience of a human emotion is primarily conceptual, then instead of being caused by circumstance we can see that we craft our emotional experience, even though we remain ignorant of our role in this activity. Conceptually generated distinctions determine how we interpret the effects within our internal state. These effects are generated by the meaning we give our automated reaction to a particular perception of circumstance — such as a feeling of love in response to seeing your child at play. This creates the experience we call an emotion. Since that may be hard to follow, in my scenario the perceived circumstance is a child playing, the meaning given is it’s your precious and adorable child, and the resultant internal effect is interpreted as love.

When you experience this love you can see that it is quite different in conceptual shape and form from your love of chicken, or your love of your wife, or your love of your parents. Although there is something these all seem to have in common, you are also clear of the differences and relate accordingly. What are these differences? Most likely you’d just say that they “feel” differently. But really you are making different distinctions in each case that produce a particular emotion with a specific meaning. This reveals what I’m talking about when I say that emotions are constructed by the personal and cultural distinctions made, and the purpose for making them. Looking at it in this way, opens a whole new can of worms to consider when contemplating your question. It’s not as simplistic as you may have imagined. I’ve gone too deeply into it without our having enough shared background in such work to stand on, but that would take a lot more dialogue to establish. For now though, it may provide news avenues to consider in your investigations.



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