Adonis Diaries

Archive for September 23rd, 2015

How common: Difference between falling and being in Love

Not the experiment

An article about a psychological study designed to create romantic love in the laboratory, and my own experience trying the study myself one night last summer.

I published this article in the New York Times Modern Love column in January of this year. “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This.”

The procedure of the experiment is fairly simple: two strangers take turns asking each other 36 increasingly personal questions and then they stare into each other’s eyes without speaking for 4 minutes.

Here are a couple of sample questions.

Number 12: If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Number 28: When did you last cry in front of another person? Cried by yourself?

As you can see, they really do get more personal as they go along.

Number 30: Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things you might not say to someone you just met.

When I first came across this study a few years earlier, one detail really stuck out to me, and that was the rumor that two of the participants had gotten married six months later, and they’d invited the entire lab to the ceremony.

So I was of course very skeptical about this process of just manufacturing romantic love, but of course I was intrigued. And when I got the chance to try this study myself, with someone I knew but not particularly well, I wasn’t expecting to fall in love. But then we did. And I thought it made a good story, so I sent it to the Modern Love column a few months later.

This article was published in January, and now it is August, so I’m guessing that some of you are probably wondering, are we still together?

And the reason I think you might be wondering this is because I have been asked this question again and again and again for the past seven months. And this question is really what I want to talk about today. But let’s come back to it.

The week before the article came out, I was very nervous. I had been working on a book about love stories for the past few years, so I had gotten used to writing about my own experiences with romantic love on my blog.  (I was not that lucky to be falling in love and writing exciting stories)

But a blog post might get a couple hundred views at the most, and those were usually just my Facebook friends, and I figured my article in the New York Times would probably get a few thousand views. And that felt like a lot of attention on a relatively new relationship. But as it turned out, I had no idea.

The article was published online on a Friday evening, and by Saturday, this had happened to the traffic on my blog.

And by Sunday, both the Today Show and Good Morning America had called.

Within a month, the article would receive over 8 million views, and I was, to say the least, underprepared for this sort of attention.

It’s one thing to work up the confidence to write honestly about your experiences with love, but it is another thing to discover that your love life has made international news —

And to realize that people across the world are genuinely invested in the status of your new relationship.

And when people called or emailed, which they did every day for weeks, they always asked the same question first: are you guys still together?

In fact, as I was preparing this talk, I did a quick search of my email inbox for the phrase “Are you still together?” and several messages popped up immediately. They were from students and journalists and friendly strangers like this one.

I did radio interviews and they asked. I even gave a talk, and one woman shouted up to the stage, “Hey Mandy, where’s your boyfriend?” And I promptly turned bright red.

I understand that this is part of the deal.

If you write about your relationship in an international newspaper, you should expect people to feel comfortable asking about it. But I just wasn’t prepared for the scope of the response.

The 36 questions seem to have taken on a life of their own. In fact, the New York Times published a follow-up article for Valentine’s Day, which featured readers’ experiences of trying the study themselves, with varying degrees of success.

5:15 So my first impulse in the face of all of this attention was to become very protective of my own relationship.

I said no to every request for the two of us to do a media appearance together. I turned down TV interviews, and I said no to every request for photos of the two us.

I think I was afraid that we would become inadvertent icons for the process of falling in love, a position I did not at all feel qualified for.

And I get it: people didn’t just want to know if the study worked, they wanted to know if it really worked: that is, if it was capable of producing love that would last, not just a fling, but real love, sustainable love.

(Mandy must have found this acquaintance a handsome and a potential husband before conducting her experiment. That was a clever experiment to undergo)

But this was a question I didn’t feel capable of answering. My own relationship was only a few months old, and I felt like people were asking the wrong question in the first place.

What would knowing whether or not we were still together really tell them?

If the answer was no, would it make the experience of doing these 36 questions any less worthwhile?

Dr. Arthur Aron first wrote about these questions in this study here in 1997, and here, the researcher’s goal was not to produce romantic love. Instead, they wanted to foster interpersonal closeness among college students, by using what Aron called “sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self-disclosure.”  (Could any one of these questions entice antagonistic reactions?)

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? But the study did work.

The participants did feel closer after doing it, and several subsequent studies have also used Aron’s fast friends protocol as a way to quickly create trust and intimacy between strangers. They’ve used it between members of the police and members of community, and they’ve used it between people of opposing political ideologies.

The original version of the story, the one that I tried last summer, that pairs the personal questions with four minutes of eye contact, was referenced in this article, but unfortunately it was never published.

So a few months ago, I was giving a talk at a small liberal arts college, and a student came up to me afterwards and he said, kind of shyly, “So, I tried your study, and it didn’t work.” He seemed a little mystified by this. “You mean, you didn’t fall in love with the person you did it with?” I asked.

“Well…” He paused. “I think she just wants to be friends.”

“But did you become better friends?” I asked. “Did you feel like you got to really know each other after doing the study?” He nodded.

“So, then it worked,” I said.

8:20 I don’t think this is the answer he was looking for. In fact, I don’t think this is the answer that any of us are looking for when it comes to love.

I first came across this study when I was 29 and I was going through a really difficult breakup. I had been in the relationship since I was 20, which was basically my entire adult life, and he was my first real love, and I had no idea how or if I could make a life without him. So I turned to science. (She means performing experiments and not just doing paperwork research)

I researched everything I could find about the science of romantic love, and I think I was hoping that it might somehow inoculate me from heartache. I don’t know if I realized this at the time — I thought I was just doing research for this book I was writing — but it seems really obvious in retrospect.

I hoped that if I armed myself with the knowledge of romantic love, I might never have to feel as terrible and lonely as I did then. And all this knowledge has been useful in some ways.

I am more patient with love. I am more relaxed. I am more confident about asking for what I want. But I can also see myself more clearly, and I can see that what I want is sometimes more than can reasonably be asked for.

What I want from love is a guarantee, not just that I am loved today and that I will be loved tomorrow, but that I will continue to be loved by the person I love indefinitely. Maybe it’s this possibility of a guarantee that people were really asking about when they wanted to know if we were still together. (People marry to Guaranteeing their relationship)

The story that the media told about the 36 questions was that there might be a shortcut to falling in love.

There might be a way to somehow mitigate some of the risk involved, and this is a very appealing story, because falling in love feels amazing, but it’s also terrifying.

The moment you admit to loving someone, you admit to having a lot to lose, and it’s true that these questions do provide a mechanism for getting to know someone quickly, which is also a mechanism for being known, and I think this is the thing that most of us really want from love: to be known, to be seen, to be understood.

But I think when it comes to love, we are too willing to accept the short version of the story. The version of the story that asks, “Are you still together?” and is content with a yes or no answer.

Rather than that question, I would propose we ask some more difficult questions, questions like:

  1. How do you decide who deserves your love and who does not?
  2. How do you stay in love when things get difficult,
  3. How do you know when to just cut and run?
  4. How do you live with the doubt that inevitably creeps into every relationship, or even harder,
  5. How do you live with your partner’s doubt?   I don’t necessarily know the answers to these questions, but I think they’re an important start at having a more thoughtful conversation about what it means to love someone.

So, if you want it, the short version of the story of my relationship is this:

 A year ago, an acquaintance and I did a study designed to create romantic love, and we fell in love, and we are still together, and I am so glad.  (Positive Expectation is the main cause, and not necessarily the questions.  They made the choice to be)

But falling in love is not the same thing as staying in love.

Falling in love is the easy part.

So at the end of my article, I wrote, “Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.”

And I cringe a little when I read that now, not because it isn’t true, but because at the time, I really hadn’t considered everything that was contained in that choice.

I didn’t consider how many times we would each have to make that choice, and how many times I will continue to have to make that choice without knowing whether or not he will always choose me.

I want it to be enough to have asked and answered 36 questions, and to have chosen to love someone so generous and kind and fun and to have broadcast that choice in the biggest newspaper in America. (If he were not fun the choice would have faltered after the second question)

But what I have done instead is turn my relationship into the kind of myth I don’t quite believe in. And what I want, what perhaps I will spend my life wanting, is for that myth to be true.

I want the happy ending implied by the title to my article, which is, incidentally, the only part of the article that I didn’t actually write.

But what I have instead is the chance to make the choice to love someone, and the hope that he will choose to love me back, and it is terrifying, but that’s the deal with love.

(Congratulation. Not for the experiment. For their happiness)

Decades Ago: Exxon’s Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuels’ Role in Global Warming

At a meeting in Exxon Corporation’s headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black addressed an audience of powerful oilmen.

Speaking without a text as he flipped through detailed slides, Black delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.

Exxon’s Own Research Confirmed:

Fossil Fuels’ Role in Global Warming Decades Ago

Possible catastrophe from (irreversible) greenhouse effect

Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert.

And went ahead to lead efforts to block solutions.

By Neela Banerjee, Lisa Song and David Hasemyer, Sept 16, 2015

“In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” Black told Exxon’s Management Committee, according to a written version he recorded later.

It was July 1977 when Exxon’s leaders received this blunt assessment, well before most of the world had heard of the looming climate crisis.

A year later, Black, a top technical expert in Exxon’s Research & Engineering division, took an updated version of his presentation to a broader audience. He warned Exxon scientists and managers that independent researchers estimated a doubling of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit), and as much as 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) at the poles.

Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert.

“Some countries would benefit but others would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed,” Black said, in the written summary of his 1978 talk.

His presentations reflected uncertainty running through scientific circles about the details of climate change, such as the role the oceans played in absorbing emissions.

Still, Black estimated quick action was needed. “Present thinking,” he wrote in the 1978 summary, “holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”

Exxon responded swiftly.

Within months the company launched its own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and its impact on the earth. Exxon’s ambitious program included both empirical CO2 sampling and rigorous climate modeling.

Exxon assembled a brain trust that would spend more than a decade deepening the company’s understanding of an environmental problem that posed an existential threat to the oil business.

Then, toward the end of the 1980s, Exxon curtailed its carbon dioxide research.

In the decades that followed, Exxon worked instead at the forefront of climate denial. It put its muscle behind efforts to manufacture doubt about the reality of global warming its own scientists had once confirmed.

It lobbied to block federal and international action to control greenhouse gas emissions. It helped to erect a vast edifice of misinformation that stands to this day.

This untold chapter in Exxon’s history, when one of the world’s largest energy companies worked to understand the damage caused by fossil fuels, stems from an 8-month investigation by InsideClimate News.

ICN’s reporters interviewed former Exxon employees, scientists, and federal officials, and consulted hundreds of pages of internal Exxon documents, many of them written between 1977 and 1986, during the heyday of Exxon’s innovative climate research program.

ICN combed through thousands of documents from archives including those held at the University of Texas-Austin, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The documents record budget requests, research priorities, and debates over findings, and reveal the arc of Exxon’s internal attitudes and work on climate and how much attention the results received.

Of particular significance was a project launched in August 1979, when the company outfitted a super-tanker with custom-made instruments. The project’s mission was to sample carbon dioxide in the air and ocean along a route from the Gulf of Mexico to the Persian Gulf.

In 1980, Exxon assembled a team of climate modelers who investigated fundamental questions about the climate’s sensitivity to the build-up of carbon dioxide in the air.

Working with university scientists and the U.S. Department of Energy, Exxon strove to be on the cutting edge of inquiry into what was then called the greenhouse effect.

Exxon’s early determination to understand rising carbon dioxide levels grew out of a corporate culture of farsightedness, former employees said. They described a company that continuously examined risks to its bottom line, including environmental factors. In the 1970s, Exxon modeled its research division after Bell Labs, staffing it with highly accomplished scientists and engineers.

In written responses to questions about the history of its research, ExxonMobil spokesman Richard D. Keil said that “from the time that climate change first emerged as a topic for scientific study and analysis in the late 1970s, ExxonMobil has committed itself to scientific, fact-based analysis of this important issue.”

“At all times,” he said, “the opinions and conclusions of our scientists and researchers on this topic have been solidly within the mainstream of the consensus scientific opinion of the day and our work has been guided by an overarching principle to follow where the science leads. The risk of climate change is real and warrants action.”

At the outset of its climate investigations almost four decades ago, many Exxon executives, middle managers and scientists armed themselves with a sense of urgency and mission.

One manager at Exxon Research, Harold N. Weinberg, shared his “grandiose thoughts” about Exxon’s potential role in climate research in a March 1978 internal company memorandum that read: “This may be the kind of opportunity that we are looking for to have Exxon technology, management and leadership resources put into the context of a project aimed at benefitting mankind.”

His sentiment was echoed by Henry Shaw, the scientist leading the company’s nascent carbon dioxide research effort.

“Exxon must develop a credible scientific team that can critically evaluate the information generated on the subject and be able to carry bad news, if any, to the corporation,” Shaw wrote to his boss Edward E. David, the president of Exxon Research and Engineering in 1978. “This team must be recognized for its excellence in the scientific community, the government, and internally by Exxon management.”

Irreversible and Catastrophic

Exxon budgeted more than $1 million over three years for the tanker project to measure how quickly the oceans were taking in CO2.

It was a small fraction of Exxon Research’s annual $300 million budget, but the question the scientists tackled was one of the biggest uncertainties in climate science: how quickly could the deep oceans absorb atmospheric CO2? If Exxon could pinpoint the answer, it would know how long it had before CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere could force a transition away from fossil fuels.

Exxon also hired scientists and mathematicians to develop better climate models and publish research results in peer-reviewed journals.

By 1982, the company’s own scientists, collaborating with outside researchers, created rigorous climate models – computer programs that simulate the workings of the climate to assess the impact of emissions on global temperatures.

They confirmed an emerging scientific consensus that warming could be even worse than Black had warned five years earlier.

Esso Atlantic

Between 1979 and 1982, Exxon researchers sampled carbon dioxide levels aboard the company’s Esso Atlantic tanker (shown here).

Exxon’s research laid the groundwork for a 1982 corporate primer on carbon dioxide and climate change prepared by its environmental affairs office.

Marked “not to be distributed externally,” it contained information that “has been given wide circulation to Exxon management.” In it, the company recognized, despite the many lingering unknowns, that heading off global warming “would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion.”

Unless that happened, “there are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered,” the primer said, citing independent experts. “Once the effects are measurable, they might not be reversible.”

The Certainty of Uncertainty

Like others in the scientific community, Exxon researchers acknowledged the uncertainties surrounding many aspects of climate science, especially in the area of forecasting models. But they saw those uncertainties as questions they wanted to address, not an excuse to dismiss what was increasingly understood.

“Models are controversial,” Roger Cohen, head of theoretical sciences at Exxon Corporate Research Laboratories, and his colleague, Richard Werthamer, senior technology advisor at Exxon Corporation, wrote in a May 1980 status report on Exxon’s climate modeling program. “Therefore, there are research opportunities for us.”

When Exxon’s researchers confirmed information the company might find troubling, they did not sweep it under the rug.

“Over the past several years a clear scientific consensus has emerged,” Cohen wrote in September 1982, reporting on Exxon’s own analysis of climate models. It was that a doubling of the carbon dioxide blanket in the atmosphere would produce average global warming of 3 degrees Celsius, plus or minus 1.5 degrees C (equal to 5 degrees Fahrenheit plus or minus 1.7 degrees F).

“There is unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the earth’s climate,” he wrote, “including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere.”

He warned that publication of the company’s conclusions might attract media attention because of the “connection between Exxon’s major business and the role of fossil fuel combustion in contributing to the increase of atmospheric CO2.”

Nevertheless, he recommended publication.

Our “ethical responsibility is to permit the publication of our research in the scientific literature,” Cohen wrote. “Indeed, to do otherwise would be a breach of Exxon’s public position and ethical credo on honesty and integrity.”

Exxon followed his advice. Between 1983 and 1984, its researchers published their results in at least three peer-reviewed papers in Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences and an American Geophysical Union monograph.

David, the head of Exxon Research, told a global warming conference financed by Exxon in October 1982 that “few people doubt that the world has entered an energy transition away from dependence upon fossil fuels and toward some mix of renewable resources that will not pose problems of COaccumulation.” The only question, he said, was how fast this would happen.

But the challenge did not daunt him. “I’m generally upbeat about the chances of coming through this most adventurous of all human experiments with the ecosystem,” David said.

Exxon considered itself unique among corporations for its carbon dioxide and climate research.  The company boasted in a January 1981 report, “Scoping Study on CO2,” that no other company appeared to be conducting similar in-house research into carbon dioxide, and it swiftly gained a reputation among outsiders for genuine expertise.

“We are very pleased with Exxon’s research intentions related to the CO2 question. This represents very responsible action, which we hope will serve as a model for research contributions from the corporate sector,” said David Slade, manager of the federal government’s carbon dioxide research program at the Energy Department, in a May 1979 letter to Shaw. “This is truly a national and international service.”

Business Imperatives

In the early 1980s Exxon researchers often repeated that unbiased science would give it legitimacy in helping shape climate-related laws that would affect its profitability.

Still, corporate executives remained cautious about what they told Exxon’s shareholders about global warming and the role petroleum played in causing it, a review of federal filings shows. The company did not elaborate on the carbon problem in annual reports filed with securities regulators during the height of its CO2 research.

Nor did it mention in those filings that concern over CO2 was beginning to influence business decisions it was facing.

Throughout the 1980s, the company was worried about developing an enormous gas field off the coast of Indonesia because of the vast amount of CO2 the unusual reservoir would release.

Exxon was also concerned about reports that synthetic oil made from coal, tar sands and oil shales could significantly boost CO2 emissions. The company was banking on synfuels to meet growing demand for energy in the future, in a world it believed was running out of conventional oil.

In the mid-1980s, after an unexpected oil glut caused prices to collapse, Exxon cut its staff deeply to save money, including many working on climate. But the climate change problem remained, and it was becoming a more prominent part of the political landscape.

“Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate,” declared the headline of a June 1988 New York Times article describing the Congressional testimony of NASA’s James Hansen, a leading climate expert. Hansen’s statements compelled Sen. Tim Wirth (D-Colo.) to declare during the hearing that “Congress must begin to consider how we are going to slow or halt that warming trend.”

With alarm bells suddenly ringing, Exxon started financing efforts to amplify doubt about the state of climate science.

Exxon helped to found and lead the Global Climate Coalition, an alliance of some of the world’s largest companies seeking to halt government efforts to curb fossil fuel emissions. Exxon used the American Petroleum Institute, right-wing think tanks, campaign contributions and its own lobbying to push a narrative that climate science was too uncertain to necessitate cuts in fossil fuel emissions.

As the international community moved in 1997 to take a first step in curbing emissions with the Kyoto Protocol, Exxon’s chairman and CEO Lee Raymond argued to stop it.

“Let’s agree there’s a lot we really don’t know about how climate will change in the 21st century and beyond,” Raymond said in his speech before the World Petroleum Congress in Beijing in October 1997.

“We need to understand the issue better, and fortunately, we have time,” he said. “It is highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be significantly affected whether policies are enacted now or 20 years from now.”

Over the years, several Exxon scientists who had confirmed the climate consensus during its early research, including Cohen and David, took Raymond’s side, publishing views that ran contrary to the scientific mainstream.

Paying the Price

Exxon’s about-face on climate change earned the scorn of the scientific establishment it had once courted.

In 2006, the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s science academy, sent a harsh letter to Exxon accusing it of being “inaccurate and misleading” on the question of climate uncertainty. Bob Ward, the Academy’s senior manager for policy communication, demanded that Exxon stop giving money to dozens of organizations he said were actively distorting the science.

In 2008, under mounting pressure from activist shareholders, the company announced it would end support for some prominent groups such as those Ward had identified.

Still, the millions of dollars Exxon had spent since the 1990s on climate change deniers had long surpassed what it had once invested in its path-breaking climate science aboard the Esso Atlantic.

“They spent so much money and they were the only company that did this kind of research as far as I know,” Edward Garvey, who was a key researcher on Exxon’s oil tanker project, said in a recent interview with InsideClimate News and Frontline. “That was an opportunity not just to get a place at the table, but to lead, in many respects, some of the discussion. And the fact that they chose not to do that into the future is a sad point.”

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, who has been a frequent target of climate deniers, said that inaction, just like actions, have consequences. When he recently spoke to InsideClimate News, he was unaware of this chapter in Exxon’s history.

“All it would’ve taken is for one prominent fossil fuel CEO to know this was about more than just shareholder profits, and a question about our legacy,” he said. “But now because of the cost of inaction—what I call the ‘procrastination penalty’—we face a far more uphill battle.”

Part II, coming on September 17, will further examine Exxon’s early climate research.

ICN staff members Zahra Hirji, Paul Horn, Naveena Sadasivam, Sabrina Shankman and Alexander Wood also contributed to this report.


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