What is love, technically?

What is love, technically?

During my AI research, I noticed an algorithmic phenomenon that very closely resembles what we call 'love' in everyday conversation.

While most definitions of (aspects of) love, such as "oxytocin" are kind of depressing, this one is actually inspiring and romantic, which is unusual for scientific theories to say the least

Note that we actually use the word 'love' to refer to dozens of different concepts. This definition only explains one meaning of the word, not all of them: It explains the kind of deep, true affection people can develop for each other, which stays with them no matter what, even through tragedy.


To explain love, I first need to explain some basics about the way the brain works.

In the brain, there are many concepts that can provide positive or negative feedback to each other, often connected in complex ways.

For example:

  • Eating fat and sugar gives positive feedback for evolutionary reasons.

  • Eating a piece of candy gives positive feedback because of its high sugar content. As a result, the brain learns that seeing a piece of candy gives positive feedback and should activate the parts of your brain that motivate you to eat. You now grow hungry when you see a piece of candy even if you are actually sated.

  • You intellectually know that eating candy is bad for you, so your brain creates a new connection that sends negative feedback to your craving for candy.

  • Depending on a variety of factors such as genetic makeup, epigenetic traits, cultural effects, willpower, etc. the evolution-based positive feedback towards eating candy either outweighs the reflection-based negative feedback, or it does not. As a result, you either eat the candy or you do not.

  • Most of these concepts are actually dependent on other, more abstract concepts. While 'eating sugar is good' is a hardcoded value derived from evolution, the concept 'sugar is unhealthy so I should avoid it' is actually dependent on an enormous number of other facts such as 'my parents say it is unhealthy' and 'I can trust my parent'. Likewise 'I can trust my parents' is predicated on all the times you have noticed that your parents have told you the truth about something.

  • From a purely mathematical perspective, knowing the exact probability that sugar is unhealthy would actually require you to mentally review 'I can trust my parent', which in turn means you need to review every single time your parents have ever told you something, and to compare this with how often they turned out to be correct. Needless to say, since the brain only has a limited amount of processing power, this is unfeasible. So the brain makes a shortcut and creates a concept in your brain that says 'the degree to which you can trust your parents'. Likewise, it makes a concept for 'the probability that sugar is unhealthy'.

  • When the brain makes the decision whether or not to eat candy, it only backtracks through these concepts to a limited degree. It does not re-evaluate concepts that it is already fairly certain of, so it will not call into question whether or not your parents are trustworthy every time you see a piece of candy.

  • The degree to which the brain bothers to re-evaluate such intermediate concepts on a routine basis has a large impact on how creative and focused someone is. The brain needs to strike a balance here. A person who never reviews intermediate concepts can react quickly and is intensely focused, but can also become naive and miss the obvious. A person who constantly calls intermediate concepts into questions is creative and insightful, but can also easily get distracted, can be scatterbrained, and can waste time on pointless flights of fancy.

  • As a concept proves itself reliable over time, the brain will re-evaluate it less often. After all, if 'I can trust my parents' has held true for your entire life, why waste valuable processing power re-evaluating the concept?

  • A concept that has proven itself reliable for long enough will eventually be treated as inherently correct, and other concepts will come to rely on it.

  • Once this stage is reached, the brain actually builds up a resistance towards re-evaluating the concept. After all, if it has always been true in the past then there had better be a very good reason why it should waste its valuable processing time re-evaluating the concept.

  • Incidentally, this is why it can be so mind-breaking when a fundamentally-held belief turns out to be wrong: The brain has a lot of catching up to do because it hasn't re-evaluated the concept in too long, and there are a lot of dependent concepts that also need to be updated as a consequence.

What is Love

Given all of the above, what then is love?

Love is a system providing positive feedback that was once conditional but has now taken on a life of its own.

The idea of helping the person you are in love with is treated as inherently correct and important by the brain, and has been decoupled from its original reasons for existence.


  • When you first meet a person you later come to love, the brain forms the concept 'I want to do nice things for this person' as a conditional concept. It is created purely as an abstraction to save time in your thought processes. It is actually powered by much baser instincts like 'I want to have sex with this person and doing nice things for them is a way to achieve that' as well as cultural notions of romance such as 'You need to take potential significant others on dates and buy them expensive things'.

  • As time goes on and you consistently act in a way that supports 'I want to do nice things for this person', the brain gradually stops evaluating the original reasons for this concept.

  • Eventually, 'I want to do nice things for this person' becomes an inherent motivation that is no longer predicated on any conditions or external influences. At this point, it no longer matters if you find the person physically attractive, or what your culture says you should do. You simply find genuine, inherent joy in doing nice things for this person.

The brain starts with a pragmatic, goal oriented behavior. Over time, this originally egotistical behavior gradually develops into an inherent desire to help and support the object of your affection.