How do you know your mother loves you?
Or, rather, what is it that you believe you are feeling when you are experiencing your mother’s love? Or the love of anyone, really, whom you love and/or feel like they love you. When you are in their presence and feel that special combination of warmth and happiness that you associate only with them, what is it that you think you’re feeling?
As I see it, there are two possibilities. One of these is that what you are feeling is your loved one’s actual emotion; that somehow, the love they feel gets projected directly into your consciousness and you are feeling what they feel as they feel it. The other possibility is that what you are feeling is your own emotion, generated in your own brain and triggered by your positive associations with that person combined with the belief that they love you.
Did I say two possibilities? Because I don’t think the first option is actually possible. Nothing we understand about how the world works suggests that anyone, much less everyone, is capable of projecting their emotions directly into other people’s heads. Nor do we have any reason to think anyone, much less everyone, is capable of plucking the emotions directly out of anyone else’s heads.
Now, that has some interesting implications. It suggests that it’s quite possible that, when you’re being held by someone you love and are basking in those beautiful emotions, the other person might not even be feeling them. For all you know, they’re wondering how you might taste fire roasted with a barbeque glaze. Or, maybe they’re not actually thinking about you at all. Maybe your girlfriend is absent-mindedly stroking your hair while wondering whether Agents Coulson and May are ever actually gonna share that bottle of Haig. You don’t need them to be feeling that emotion in order for you to feel it. All you need is the right emotional cues, or even just to put yourself in the right frame of mind. Actually, I’d bet that if you think hard enough about it, you could summon up those emotions without your loved one having to be present.
Or even having to be real…
Yeah, I’m sure you saw that coming. It is the nature of this blog, after all, and it usually comes to this point eventually. You see, one often hears believer saying that they can “feel God’s love,” and I have to wonder how they know that’s what they feel. After all, we use the same language to say we feel our mother’s love, but I think we all understand that it’s an emotion generated in our own heads that we are feeling. I suppose that it’s possible that, if an all-powerful god existed, it would be capable of telepathically projecting its emotions into our minds. But that would be the only instance of “feeling X’s love” where what you were feeling was X’s actual emotion and not something generated in your own head. And how do you tell the difference? How would you know if the emotions originated with you or with someone else – especially someone else that you can’t otherwise see or hear?
I don’t know… it seems to me that, knowing that in every other instance of “feeling someone’s love,” is an emotion generated in your own head, you’d have to acknowledge the possibility that “feeling God’s love,” falls in the same category. Or at least that I don’t have any reason to think it’s any different. Wouldn’t you?