In the last post, I drew parallels between the concepts of Twin Flames and the concepts of limerence, and showed that there was a lot of overlap. However, a perfectly reasonable response to that observation is it doesn’t show which explanation is more likely to be right. Limerence could just be the explanation invented by psychologists to account for the observed phenomena of Twin Flames meeting. Alternatively, the Twin Flame concept could just be the explanation invented by gurus to account for the observed phenomena of limerence.
How can anyone discriminate between the two? Why with philosophising of course!
The basic problem
When faced with a really powerful experience that we can’t explain, humans feel discomfort. The best way to resolve this discomfort is to find an explanation that is emotionally and intellectually satisfying. In that order.
For most of human history, the ways of finding out information were mostly based on thinking things out. So, we looked inwards and dreamt up ideas about how to explain something or solve a problem, and then used trial and error and logic to see whether the ideas worked. “Worked” in this context means: accounts for most of the evidence, makes sense, and allows us to make predictions about behaviour.
You could call this the “revelation tempered by reasoning” approach to understanding the world, or Revelation+Reasoning.
In practical terms, this method works. We thrived as a species for millennia using this strategy, even if life was often nasty, brutish and short. But there are some significant limitations, most notably that we are full of cognitive quirks and biases that make us very questionable judges of what constitutes a good explanation.
Distributed problem solving
One possible problem with Revelation+Reasoning is that we might be insane. Most people don’t give this a lot of thought, but how do you know you are sane? The mechanism most of us use is to closely watch other people, take an average of their behaviour and then check to see whether we are too far away from that average. We also take cues from the way that other people react to our behaviour. If they are shocked, disgusted or angry we tend to use that as feedback to alter our future behaviour (with the exception of the personality disordered and artists).
If you think about it from the right perspective, we kind of borrow other people’s mental processing power to help refine our own internal programs.
What’s this all got to do with Twin Flames and limerence then, eh?
Thanks for bearing with me. The philosophical digression was to lead up to this point: the two alternative explanations for the phenomenon of “overwhelming emotional craving for another person” both fit within this Revelation+Reasoning method. Both have confirmation from other people around us, both are internally logically consistent (for the most part).
Many people who write to me express a profound sense of relief that they have finally found an explanation for their extraordinary personal experience. Discovering this community is confirmation that they are (basically) sane, that other people have had the same experience, and that there is an explanation for what they are going through that makes sense. I’m sure the exact same reaction occurs for people who discover Twin Flame communities.
Which of the two ideas is the most satisfying comes down to your emotional response to the ideas. Some people find spiritual explanations compelling, others like rationality. It mostly comes down to worldview (although Twin Flames probably has the edge in terms of flattering ego).
So for all those words, we end up where we started: two opposing ideas that are both satisfying. Why then do I accept limerence and reject Twin Flames?
The common conception of science is that it creates technology. It’s a very useful system for making useful stuff. But that’s not why science is powerful, and it isn’t actually what science is about. Science is a way of protecting ourselves from our biases. Science is a method for validating revelations.
The big innovation of science was to take the basic Revelation+Reasoning method and really concentrate on the Reasoning bit. The revelation stage is much the same – someone has to think about a problem until they come up with an idea that might explain or solve it – but after the idea has been formulated, science attacks it mercilessly.
Instead of relying only on logical consistency, emotional satisfaction, appeals to authority, and historical belief, science looks outward and asks “is there any objective evidence that supports this idea in the external world?” More specifically, at its best, science asks “what would disprove this idea?” Then, you design an experiment or test that would allow you to disprove your idea.
This might seem perverse or contrarian, but it is amazingly powerful because it directly overcomes the limitations of our cognitive and emotional biases. You take the human element out of the Reasoning step, and use objective measures to stress-test your idea. Science outsources the idea-validation process from flawed and biased humans to dispassionate experimentation.
This approach massively accelerates progress in understanding the world. When faced with several explanations for the same phenomenon you test them all until one emerges as “not disproven despite our best attempts”. You can then use that idea to make predictions, and test those predictions, and if they are right, you can be even more confident you are on to something.
Then, in a virtuous cycle, new revelations emerge from the evidence you’ve been collecting, and those ideas are much more likely to be accurate than ones plucked from thin air. So you make faster progress and your ideas are better.
Getting back on track again
Limerence has not been properly subjected to scientific testing. It is still mostly at the level of an idea that has a lot of explanatory power. However, it did emerge from scientific enquiry.
Tennov came to the revelation of limerence by detailed cataloguing of hundreds of subjects experience of romantic love. She formulated the idea of limerence from the common elements of the testimony of multiple people, refined it, and then asked additional questions to focus the idea more effectively. She also proposed various ways that the understanding of limerence could be advanced by testing.
Even more persuasive to me is that the behavioural features of limerence overlap with very well grounded neuroscience principles that have been stress-tested for years: activation of the sympathetic nervous system, activation of the reward circuitry, emotional salience of stimuli, addiction. Some of these ideas have direct predictions that have been tested – such as “exposure to a photograph of the romantic partner [LO in our conception] should activate dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area”.
Limerence persists as an idea because it is useful and hasn’t been disproven yet. It definitely needs more testing, but the foundations emerged from a scientific background.
In contrast, Twin Flame spirituality is all about revelation. Someone came up with the idea, and it was an emotionally satisfying explanation for the experience of extreme infatuation. The idea persists because lots of people repeat the idea. The provenance of the idea is not a careful collection of interview evidence, or the linking of the physical phenomena of emotional arousal to some model of the soul. It was just invented.
Furthermore, a resistance to scrutiny is built into the Twin Flame concept. Every proposal that could test the idea bounces back. We can illustrate this with a hypothetical conversation between a sceptical scientist and a TF enthusiast:
If a soul has been broken in two, would each person be only half alive?
Ah no, because that’s not how souls work.
How do you know how souls work?
Spiritual leaders have studied it for years.
What method did they use?
Could we detect the presence of souls somehow?
No because that are not material.
How do they interact with material things then?
What form does that take?
Energy – like prana or kundalini.
Well where does it come from?
Ah, vibrations! Good, we know a lot about them! What medium do the waves propagate through?
They aren’t those kind of vibrations.
So how do you know they are there?
Attuned people can feel them.
They feel the energy flowing through them.
How do they know they aren’t just imagining it?
That’s just close-minded and insulting!
It’s probably obvious that science has been pestering theology with these sorts of questions for centuries, and the basic rebuttal is: science doesn’t work on spiritual stuff. You literally can’t test it.
And at that point we reach an end. That’s the fundamental impasse. For spiritualists, emotionally satisfying ideas are more important and persuasive than earthly evidence. They believe that their spiritual senses transcend the material world. For scientists, ideas are worth almost nothing unless they can be tested to destruction and survive. Emotions and ego will lead you astray, and aren’t good indicators of truth. The only way to be sure is to test your ideas.
And that’s why I believe what I believe.
Anonymous Limerent says
When Twin Flames first wer talked about on this site, they were (and still are) referred to as ‘TF’. And at first, that panicked me, until I knew what ot stood for – because those two letters are my LO’s initials. So whenever I see someone has written ‘TF’, my heart sort of lurches.
Just one of those funny things that happens to me nowadays, that I’m refusing to believe is a divine sign!
Apparently, there is another, TF, Transcription Factor. I just came across it as I was grinding through “Behave” by Robert Sapolsky. http://www.words-and-dirt.com/words/review-robert-m-sapolskys-behave/. I don’t really understand it but it kind of makes sense to me.
The diagram in https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3020789/ shows how it fits in the grand scheme of things.
Your Twin Flame can activate your Transcription Factor?
There are actually dozens of transcription factors linked to even more upstream receptors – it’s the major mechanism by which changes in the (external and internal) environment lead to changes in gene expression.
I’ll have to have a proper read of that paper, but at first glance it’s not compelling (the diagram basically says your brain regulates your internal physiology, which is… not exactly groundbreaking).
Love the sly little dig there at artists, Dr. L 😉
Artists are great, really 😉
I really enjoyed this post, and liked the back and forth between the skeptical scientist and TF enthusiast. One comment I have is that kundalini is a physiological sensation, and I think it can be compared to ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response).
The history of ASMR and the interest in scientific studies of it shows that what is science all about if it’s not critical mass? When replies to a single post about a specific sensation indicated that a significant number of other people had experienced the same sensation, suddenly it had a name. When someone originally created a Wikipedia page for it, it was taken down by skeptical Wiki editors who said the article lacked scientific evidence. Still, enough people report experiencing the same sensation in response to roughly the same stimuli that it would take an especially prejudiced skeptic to say that ASMR was purely a figment of a few thousand people’s imaginations. Now there have been at least 5 peer reviewed scientific articles on the subject.
So maybe sometime soon we will see the same thing happen with kundalini. I was particularly interested to read this description of kundalini from the book Kundalini Rising: Exploring the Energy of Awakening by Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Sivananda Radha and others (quoted on a blog; I haven’t read the whole book):
Kundalini awakening most commonly occurs as an unintentional side effect of yoga, meditation, Qigong or other intensive spiritual practices. Some also consider psychotherapy, giving birth, unrequited love, celibacy, deep sorrow, high fever and drug intoxication to be the triggers.
If “unrequited love” (and I think limerence can stand in for this) can trigger this big unexplained phenomenon that comes with multiple physiological and psychological symptoms, perhaps it’s worth studying.
Yes, this is a good example of the principles. If there is a consistent phenomenon concerning spinal sensations that multiple people have, that’s a testable premise. Can something be measured? Can we figure out what triggers it? Does any existing knowledge of sensory physiology help understand it? etc. etc.
The Kundalini folks have instead reaffirmed an old idea that was invented (or “revealed”) to account for the phenomenon and based it around a theoretical framework of traditional wisdom rather than sceptical enquiry.
Thanks, Dr. L. I am curious about what current studies are being conducted regarding limerence. I read this very interesting article recently:
I was interested in this part:
Psychiatrist and social neuroscientist Leonhard Schilbach of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich … has also found that even very simple acts such as gazing at another individual and believing they are gazing back—an interaction in which you sense that your own behavior has an effect on another person—spurs activity in the brain’s reward circuitry, particularly the ventral striatum. And the more rewarding we find a behavior, the more likely we are to repeat it.
Michiel Mans says
“We thrived as a species for millennia using this strategy, even if life was often nasty, brutish and short.”
A lot shorter, and brutish, if you didn’t see the Smilodon coming because your brain was, as ever, too occupied with that cave girl. Ironically, just before Smilodon jumped on you, in your day-dream fantasy you were heroically saving cave girl from a sabre-toothed cat attack.
Which makes one wonder why Darwinism hasn’t weeded out the limerence infected, limbically impaired. I do not see any evolutionary advantage for serious cave girl (boy) dreamers. Yet, somehow ‘we’ made it into the 21st century. Well, apart from mentioned cave girl dreamer, who failed to pass on his genes.
In other words, limerence probably isn’t inherited. But can be explained by the described ‘~ we might be insane’ theory. As being madly in love has been described as a form of insanity, it makes a lot of sense.
I hold our ancient brain parts (limbic system) responsible for the insanity. They’re pre-cave man. One can argue this idiot ‘Limbi’ makes all of us suffering from a multiple personality disorder.
Limbi (L): “I want her”
Reason Lobes (R): “Don’t be an idiot.”
*Complete cerebral discussion as you wish, it can be fun*
Ah, but a rich imagination could also help invent a Smilodon-proof hut. And never underestimate how much of the industrious labour that has moved us through evolutionary and cultural history has come from limerents trying desperately to impress LOs 🙂
Michiel Mans says
“And never underestimate how much of the industrious labour that has moved us through evolutionary and cultural history has come from limerents trying desperately to impress LOs”
You might have a point there. To which can be added, do something creative as a distraction from LO. Still have to keep checking ‘6’ for Smilodons though.
Before I discovered the concept of Limerence I thought that LO was a TF ; BUT I still hadn’t come across the term “Twin Flame” at the time either. I just thought in one of my sleepless nights that our souls were reaching out to each other and that there was a physical and societal barrier to us being together. I even had an “astral projection” of this mutual love.
But then I remembered that I’ve been through this MANY times before. The big difference is that there was a long dormancy since the last LE and the thought patterns were more or less the same for all previous LE’s.
The fact that I had many “tf’s or lo’s” in the course of my lifetime I am more convinced by the LE concept. The latest LE was a truly unique experience because it happened at a time in my life where I “had it all”, so why would I go through this again?!?!
I hold current LO in a special place because she brought me much realization in my life and was merely a messenger. I can never forget about her or the lessons I’ve learned as a result; so hard to completely give up the “twin flame” concept.
Article of the Day: https://thoughtcatalog.com/sylvia-salow/2019/12/if-your-twin-flame-relationship-isnt-working-out-its-probably-because-you-havent-realized-this/
I like this. It’s not about them.
Great post Scary
Great article, that really resonated with me.
I am in the mids of letting go, but holy shit it’s hard. I’ve realised it’s a conscious choice letting go and it won’t just happen by chance.
I need to stop waiting for it to happen, it’s been two long years………
Thanks for sharing Scharnhorst. I needed that reminder.
Over the previous few weeks I’d lapsed a lot, both with rumination and initiating contact once a week or so to check in – just mundane stuff nothing too personal.
Last week I realised I was sending myself round the bend again, so asked him to block me (as my discipline when it came to blocking was very poor!) I know that’s not the most purposeful way, but it does mean the only way I can contact him is to go to my former workplace, which is easier for me to avoid than to visit.
This week the focus has been much more on SO and kids, so am feeling so much better for it. The longest NC managed so far is five months, so I know I can do this.
Does anyone else struggle to think/dream/work out what they really want from life?
I hadn’t heard about limerance until this article. Thank you for the reveal – I’m a scientist with a TF and it’s creating some cognitive dissonance :). It seems questions are encouraged here, so here are mine for consideration. I accept the proposal of limerance to explain my experience, and yet wonder, can limerance explain how my intense experience is also occurring for the object of my affection in strikingly similar ways? Is it coincidence? Does limerance suggest each person who “suffers” with it, would find a way to pair with someone else who also suffers from it? Or does it suggest situations of unrequited love would more likely occur? Does limerance explain how someone’s current beau isn’t their object of affection?