Agape, Human Nature, Life, Love, Spirituality, Unconditional Love

How Do We Know Unconditional Love Exists?

SUMMARY:  I attempt to answer three questions about unconditional love including how we know it exists.

(About a 5 minute read)

We humans are a strange animal.  For one thing, we seem to be, in about equal measures, a social species and an individualistic species.

Put differently, we have contradictory needs.  On the one hand, we feel an emotional need for companionship and to get along with each other.  On the other hand, we feel just as much of an emotional need for independence and not to be bothered by each other.

Perhaps because we are a social species, we often feel a need for people to share our beliefs, and perhaps because we are an individualistic species, we often resent it when others try to make us believe as they do.

That seems to be nowhere truer than when it comes to things that either cannot be proven to exist (or to not exist), or to things that are so rare not everyone has experienced them.  Take unconditional love, for instance.

It doesn’t always happen, but I have in the past met both people who seem to feel it is necessary for everyone on earth to believe in unconditional love — even if they themselves have never experienced it, and people who seem to feel the very opposite of that — that no one should believe in such a thing!

That “debate” puzzles me.  Why does it matter to anyone what other people think about it?  I can only see it in light of the fact we seem to be both a social and an individualistic species.

I myself believe unconditional love is rare, but that it exists.  I do not, however, believe that it much matters whether anyone believes in it or not.  So far as I can see, believing in it does not bring it about, and neither does not believing in it stop it from coming about.  Strange as this might sound, the first time I experienced it, I not only didn’t (up until then) believe in unconditional love, I didn’t even believe in love!

I was nineteen or twenty years old, and I was very certain that I — alone of all the people I knew —  “saw through” love for the farce it really was.  Today, I cannot look back on that time without laughing at myself.  But I also take a lesson from it.  That lesson being, there are many things you can never be totally certain of knowing.

Any way, the fact I was cynical about love — let alone unconditional love — did not prevent me from soon experiencing it for myself.  I doubt disbelief would prevent anyone from experiencing it, too.

But it is rare.  And there seems to be no method or procedure for forcing it to happen.  The best advice I’ve ever heard about it was Rumi’s.  “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”  In other words, tear down the barriers within you, then sit back and wait.  It might come — but it might not.

As for what unconditional love is, I’ve posted about that here.  Among the readers of that post was Marysa, who blogs here, and who asked several questions about unconditional love.  This post is an attempt to address her questions, the first of which is, “How do we know unconditional love exists?”

The fact is, we don’t.  Others might tell us it exists, that they themselves have experienced it, but unless we have experienced it for ourselves, we don’t really know whether they are mistaken or not.

But neither do we know that it doesn’t exist.

Over the years, people have often enough told me that it is logically impossible for unconditional love to exist.  That’s one way folks who have not experienced it rest their minds about the question of whether or not it exists.  That is, they seek to prove that it’s logically impossible.

Usually, their arguments boil down to:

  1. People always act in their own self-interest.
  2. Unconditional love implies that people might not always act in their own self-interest.
  3. Therefore, unconditional love cannot exist

A problem with that argument is that the first premise cannot be demonstrated to be true because we cannot know for certain that everyone on earth is always acting in their own self-interest.  If we really wanted to be precisely accurate, we would restate the first premise this way:

  1. So far as I have observed, I always act in my own self-interest.
  2. I assume everyone else is like me — that is, everyone acts in his or her own self-interest.
  3. Therefore, people always act in their own self-interest.

When the first premise is more accurately restated, it can be better seen for what it is — a rather weak argument.

In fact, the only thing we really know about whether or not unconditional love exists is whether we ourselves have experienced it.

A second question Marysa had was does the fact unconditional love is unconditional imply that it is everlasting?  That’s a good question which I’ve seen asked before.  The key is to understand what is meant by “unconditional”.

In this context, unconditional means “without strings or other attachments”.  In other words, one loves without any expectation of getting something out of it.  But the term does not mean that one’s love is in every way unlimited or “everlasting”.  So how long does it last?

Unconditional love can be like other kinds of love in that you can experience it without actually knowing that you’re experiencing it.  Consider how often you’ve heard someone say, “I just realized I’m in love with Madison!”  Or Jon, or Emma, or whoever.

While some people instantly know they’re in love with someone, what so often happens with most of us is that one day we have a moment of insight — a moment in which we realize that we are not only in love with someone, but that we’ve been in love with them for awhile — sometimes for quite awhile.

Unconditional love can be somewhat like that.  You can suddenly realize that you’re unconditionally loving everything around you.  But here’s a difference.  With other kinds of love, you can — and often do — realize that you’ve been in love with someone for “ages”, but with unconditional love, it is almost always a matter of moments.

I think it’s possible that spiritually enlightened people are almost constantly in a state of unconditional love, but I don’t know that for sure.  It’s really only speculation on my part.  So to answer Marysa’s question, it seems to me that for most people unconditional love is brief and fleeting.

Now, that doesn’t mean its effects are brief and fleeting.  Just like some foods have a strong aftertaste, unconditional love can have an “aftertaste” too.  That is, its effects can last a long time — years perhaps.  They can change how you approach things.

For instance, you might find yourself discontent with other kinds of love.  Or a brief experience of it can result in your affirming life.  That is, in your deeply believing that life is worthwhile.

A final question here is, “Can you still believe in unconditional love even if you’re not religious?” Some people have told me they found their experience of unconditional love religiously inspiring in the sense that they thought something so wonderful couldn’t exist unless there was a god.  But others were not moved to religion by it. So yes, you can both believe in it and experience it even if you’re not religious.

Questions?  Comments?

 

25 thoughts on “How Do We Know Unconditional Love Exists?”

  1. Now this is one interesting article. This morning I was thinking about your other post, the three kinds of love and kept wondering is it possible to experience the a love which is an concoction of testosterone, dopamine and oxytocin at the same time for the same person or does each ingredient take prominence at different times!

    And here you have a post on unconditional love. I honestly think it is not rare, but extremely rare 😀 From being a non-believer if love is concerned (rather protecting my vulnerability), to have fallen in love that seemed unconditional to realize I was mistaken and there were conditions (with a tiny asterisk), I guess I will have to say lucky are those souls to have chanced upon unconditional love! Yet it is one debatable question!

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    1. Hey! How are you doing today?

      As for experiencing testosterone, dopamine, and oxytocin at the same time, the answer is yes. That’s actually done all the time. But here’s the catch — I don’t know if it’s done without one of those being dominant.

      I don’t know exactly how rare unconditional love is. I’ve never seen a study on that. I prefer not to actually debate the question because I think that’s unproductive. What important difference would a debate make?

      Thanks for some thought provoking comments.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am good Paul. I think you are right with the all three forms acting simultaneously. May be it’s synchronous or harmonious or may be it’s stochastic!

        Guess unconditional love is a debate with no right or wrong answers.

        Thank you for coming up with these posts which sends us packing into the thinking room 🙂

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  2. Owing to past troubles between my son and I, I’ve often pondered this question. There’ve been times when I thought he’d killed off my love for him, but it always resurfaced.

    As for ‘romantic love’; I’ve loved the same man since I was 13. At 22 I made the painful decision to walk away from him forever. My decision was based more on his welfare than mine. He wanted to leave his wife and child to be with me. Although he loved me, he also loved his wife (and son). She’s a lovely woman and they had a good marriage despite my interference. Although it was painful, I’ve never regretted my decision. Does that mean I love him unconditionally? I don’t think so. I never knew him to rape a child or torture an animal for pleasure – or any other reason. Had he done either of those things, I’d realise that I was in love with someone who only existed in my imagination.

    I don’t think anyone can say whether unconditional love exists, or even know whether they love someone unconditionally. Unconditional love requires that the an acceptance of WHATEVER acts the loved one MIGHT carry out, including (for example) necrophilia. Imagine this scenario: two necrophiliacs get together. They seem perfectly suited; it’s a match made in their version of heaven, so they move in together – then one of them notices that the toothpaste has been squeezed from the wrong end…

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    1. I think a key thing to grasp about unconditional love is that it in no way resembles emotional dependency. Therefore, you would not necessarily accept everything another person did even though you loved them unconditionally.

      We disagree about whether someone can know whether they are experiencing it. In my experience, you can know. But everyone has to arrive at their own conclusions about such things.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t believe that it is a matter of should vs shouldn’t. It’s more like religion, the opinions and beliefs will differ greatly. I appreciate the mention of my blog, haha. I also disagree with your point that you don’t/may not believe in unconditional love if you have not experienced it. By your standards, or others standards, they could be experiencing unconditional love without believing/realizing it. My ‘logical argument’ is if all things come to an end, how can love be unconditional, which implies forever. You say it is brief and fleeting. I believe that counteracts the meaning of unconditional. If you love unconditional, it means nothing can stop you from loving someone and therefore, how can it end? Death is a condition, breakups are a condition, falling for another is a condition, so on and so forth. So, in all technicality, it can’t be unconditional and brief. Maybe unconditional love is a religion in itself lol.

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    1. I just realized that I was thinking mutually. What if unconditional love is one-sided…Would it then just be doing everything to make sure that other person is happy even if it means sacrificing your own?

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    2. To me, unconditional love does not imply forever. But it’s ok to disagree, of course.

      As I see it, you’re arguing with the word, rather than the reality. The thing that I called in my post “unconditional love” is usually brief and does not last forever. Maybe I should have found another name for it, but I didn’t like the other choices.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Agape” is the Christian term for it, but the Christian theologians have pretty much defined it in Christian terms. “Agape” was also the ancient Greek term for it, but again, the Christian theologians.

        “Loving kindness” or “loving compassion” is the Buddhist term for it, but to me, that doesn’t quite capture it for a Western audience.

        “Altruistic love” is a general Western term for it, but that one is almost impossible to explain — people have such strong feelings about what altruism means to them, they aren’t very likely to accept it can be defined in any way that is not their own definition.

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  4. People still bandy about that “every man for himself” trope? Hard to think it could stand up to any kind of close scrutiny! Incidentally, Robert L. Humphrey had an interesting take on that in his (poorly named) “Values for a New Millennium”. It’s worth a read in its entirety, but he basically claimed that we all have two primary values: 1) we look out for ourselves, and 2) we look out for each other. His claim was that 2) wins out willy-nilly, on average. 🙂

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    1. I think Humphrey has a point. Currently, the consensus in the sciences seems to be that humans survived mainly because they were among the most cooperative species of mammal that ever existed. In other words, we got through it by looking out for each other.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. By the way, what do you do to keep up with advances in various sciences? You mentioned being a lay reader of neurosciences. Do you read journals and such? Any resources you can share? I’d be mighty grateful for any pointers!

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      2. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to keep up with the sciences as well as I believe I should. For me, the hardest part is the sheer volume of information coming out of so many different sciences. That’s matched by the fact I don’t have the math to understand much of what’s being said.

        So, I am forced to take a clumsy approach. In the neuroscience of mysticism — which is my main area of interest — I mostly get my information from books written by scientists and others for a popular audience. For broader information about the neurosciences, I first read websites geared towards a popular audience, then sometimes follow up by reading — or attempting to read as best I can — journal articles linked to in by the websites if they’re not behind a paywall.

        That’s the same approach I take for the other sciences, too. First the websites, then sometimes the journals.

        Here are a few sites I especially like (in no particular order):

        https://thelogicofscience.com/

        https://rationalisingtheuniverse.org/

        https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/

        https://kevishere.com/

        https://scienceswitch.com/

        View collection at Medium.com

        https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/

        https://neurosciencenews.com/

        https://www.scientificamerican.com/neuroscience/

        https://www.theatlantic.com/author/ed-yong/

        Those are some of my favorite sites. I try to cycle through them about once every two weeks, but sometimes I go three or even four weeks between reading a site. That last guy, Ed Yong, is an online friend of mine from way back. His specialty is biology and related fields. He’s excellent at making things accessible while still maintaining rigorous accuracy.

        I hope this helps.

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  5. I don’t know if I’ve experienced unconditional love before my children arrived. I believe their love for me is unconditional, and my love for them is unconditional. Sure, our love is based on a number of human needs (care, affection, nurture, protection, attention, encouragement, inspiration, etc) and in that sense it is most certainly conditional – on such desirous conditions being met – but the bond I have with my children, and the bond they have with me, it is not conditional on anything… other than existing together, in this world. It’s hard to describe it in words, but there is something spiritual almost, about the way parents and children bond. I don’t know if it’s a purely biological thing, or it grows from biology and evolves into a more wholesome reality, but the bottom line is, my children show me unconditional love. And my love for them will never be based on any condition. It just is.

    (This is a thought provoking post, Paul, and I enjoyed reading every bit of it.)

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    1. I very substantially agree with you Sindhuja. I should point out though, that the sort of unconditional love I’m talking about in the post is distinct from the unconditional love of a parent for a child. I should have made that much clearer. My apologies.

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