This week, a little treat for you. It's a short documentary called “The Love Competition,” by filmmaker Brent Hoff.
The premise. You get seven strangers. Each has five minutes in an fMRI machine to “love someone as hard as they can.” The winner is the one who can generate the greatest level of activity in the regions of the brain associated with love.
If this sounds absurd or a little gimmicky, maybe it is, but it quickly becomes oddly riveting. WHO WILL WIN?
The adorable old couple? The ten-year old boy? The dejected lover still in love with an ex?
Maybe you’re thinking things in the back of your head like “yeah, but can ‘love’ really be measured by a stupid fMRI machine?,” but as you watch person after person fall into a deep state of concentration (there’s a little camera tucked into the fMRI machine that lets you watch them with surprising intimacy), you begin to wonder, well, could it? Take a look:
The Love Competition from Brent Hoff on Vimeo.
My sister passed this video on to me recently, with the simple subject line: “I would love on you." When I finally figured out what she really meant by that, I found myself surprisingly... moved.
The question at the heart of things, the one on Brent Hoff’s mind as he made the film, is this: could there be a way to make external and measurable a feeling inside us?
On one hand, Brent concedes the futility of the attempt: “An old woman once threatened to throw her drink at me for daring to reduce love to mere chemicals!,” he says.
But on the other hand, in the face of the terrifying reality that we can’t ever really know what another is thinking, he figures why not use these new-fangled tools -- thanks to the generosity and spirit of play from the folks at Stanford Center for Cognitive and Neurobiological Imaging -- to try to get a little closer to witnessing a feeling as an objective thing? “All we can do is look into each other's eyes, listen, and feel doubt, or believe. So not to get all squishy, but in my mind, by masquerading as a competition, the film is attempting to prove the unprovable and make us feel less alone.”
Proof of the unprovable. Or just a great bit of fun. We hope you enjoy.
Who would you love on? Do you think you could win?
For a bit of Radiolab on the topic, check out Your Brain on Love, an odd little short that explores the biochemistry of love.
And for another of Brent Hoff’s attempts to make the internal external via competitive challenge, check out The Crying Competition. He’s weighing sadness by tears on a table. Four men. None of them can cry. A woman does it in but 25 seconds. The video has ended up inciting a major comments-war of the sexes, with people calling women fakers and men calloused.