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Monday, 25 August 2014

Love drugs

The Square, Glasgow University
So despite provoking the cosmic joker by her insistence that she can plan her life to the last detail, Joanne survived another week and we met again in the College Club on Friday morning.

“Falling in love is a form of drug addiction," she says, getting right into her pet theory, as we sip coffee and stare across The Square to the house where Kelvin lived. 

"I told you about dopamine and the connection with heroin and cocaine last week," she says. "Well listen to this. Another drug made in our bodies creates warm feelings and helps keep people with one partner. It's called oxytocin.”

"I've heard of it," I say. "It's claimed that people with autism don't produce enough, so they're giving them oxytocin nasal sprays. My pal Yarrum reckons that's just trying to get everyone to conform and follow the herd." 

"He could be right," Joanne says. “My objection is a bit different. I don't want what I do and feel decided by chemicals, even if it's my body making them."

"Why not?” I say. “Surely they're Nature’s way of forcing you to do the right thing, even when you don’t know what that is? The small part of Joanne’s brain that’s conscious can't be better at making decisions than the rest of her brain, body and emotions, honed by millions of years of evolution.”

“Yes it can,” she says.

“That’s not science. It’s arrogance.”

“Who do you think those drugs, instincts and emotions, honed by evolution, are for?” she says.


“Wrong,” she says.

“Who else is there?”

“My kids."

“You don’t have kids," I remind her.

“Correct,” she says.

“So you’re talking bollocks," I say.

“I'm not,” she says.

"So what are you saying?" 

“That I'm descended from a long line of ancestors that goes back to the first living things on earth – a bunch of single cells drifting aimlessly around the ocean.”

“Like scientists at a party?” I say.

“I don’t know much about those ancestors," she says. "Except that every one did something really well. You know what?”

“Skateboarding. Taking penalties. Doing impressions of Mao-Tse-Tung. Gimme a clue.”

“Having kids that survived long enough to have kids, who survived long enough to have kids, who survived long enough ….”

“If you were an old Jukebox I’d kick you," I say.

“That is evolution," she says, waving her coffee for emphasis and spilling some on my leg. 

It's not too hot but the wetness is uncomfortable, so I dab at it ineffectually with a napkin. "Sorry," she says. "But pay attention, will you?"

"Watch what you're doing then," I tell her.

"Everything about us got they way it is by small steps," she says. "Little changes from mum and dad to the kids. Each step did one of three things. Helped them survive long enough to have kids. Helped them find a mate. Or helped their kids to survive and have kids, who survived long enough to have kids, who … You get the idea?”

“Some time ago," I say. "What I don’t get is the point.”

“It's obvious," she says. "I’m happy with the drugs in my body helping me survive. But I don't like the other two.”

“What’s wrong with helping you find a mate and having kids that do well?”

"Sounds fine, doesn't it?" she says. "But it's all about finding the kind of mate that means the kids do well, so that the genes get carried into the future. There’s nothing about making me happy. Or the kids. It’s all about shooting genes into the future.”

“I see what you’re getting at," I say.

“You should," she says. "What if my genes and drug-fuelled emotions team me up with Gorgeous George, who gives me smart, sexy, long-lived kids, then runs off with Sonia, the Swedish masseuse and makes me miserable, the bastard?”

“Would they do that?” I say.

“They sure would," she says. "If my mate makes me happy that’s incidental to evolution. It only wants the kids to do well. And the genes they’re carrying. My happiness is incidental to them. But it’s not incidental to me. It's very important to me.

She dabs her lips with her napkin and jumps to her feet. “So you know what?" she says, lifting her folder and turning to go. "Evolution can just sod off. I’m interested in my future. Not the future of a bunch of big daft molecules.”

"What are you going to do then?" I ask her back. 

"Tell you next week," she throws over her shoulder and she's gone.

"Good god man, she's energetic," says Alexander, the lecherous, long-haired philosophy lecturer, leaning over from the next couch.

"It's in her genes," I say.

"I noticed," he says.

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