If we know how to cultivate intimacy, why don’t we?

Replication-gate continues, this time with a successful replication of Arthur Aron’s interpersonal closeness study: To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This.

The odd thing is that the author tried it, found it caused feelings of intimacy with a potential sexual partner, and now calls that love. Because Aron’s whole point was that our brains look for explanations of feelings of emotional arousal, and create narratives and meanings to fill the gaps. This is the classic error theory of emotions (although William James had a precursor) in the sense that it distinguishes the feeling (intimacy) from the cause and identifies moments of misattribution, moments when we have a feeling for one reason but attribute it to another.

Error theories are one of my favorite philosophical tricks, and this is no exception. But it raises some important question in this context. For instance:

“It’s astounding, really, to hear what someone admires in you. I don’t know why we don’t go around thoughtfully complimenting one another all the time.”

I think it’s weird and awkward to demystify intimacy, but useful and illustrative, too. It seems at least one reason we don’t do this all the time is that this is a lot of intimacy to visit upon someone unawares. A lot of social niceties are about avoiding falling into love or best friendship with every single person, because you can’t afford to be in love or best friendship with everyone you meet! But thinking about it that way feels weird because of how stingy it is.

So in that sense it seems like we have a collective or social sense of the kinds of emotional errors we are prone to, and we have built politeness barriers–manners–to keep from being too easily fooled. But either this is an accidental side effect or these rules work best when we ignore that purpose. Either way, we’re better adapted to our social setting and conditions than the neo-Luddites* let on.

*(Autocorrect transforms “neo-Luddites” into “bro-Luddites” which kind of fits.)

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