In the Richard Morgan's sci-fi debut Altered Carbon, the technology exists to separate a person's consciousness and put it into another body or "sleeve". The protagonist Takeshi Kovacs, is downloaded into the sleeve of Elias Ryker, who was romantically involved with Kristin Ortega before his own consciousness was put in storage. Kovacs, through Ryker's body, is attracted to Ortega, and the two become a pair. Then, when Kovacs leaves Ryker's body, he no longer feels attracted to Ortega, and suggests that this is because the attraction was between Ryker and Ortega's bodies, not their minds.

The question is, is there anything to support this notion that attraction is purely physical? Is the brain involved at all in sexual/romantic attraction, and if we separated the mind from the body, do we think that we would still have the same feelings?

  • $\begingroup$ Can you clarify what you mean by physical attraction? Usually, it means something like 'attracted to the appearance of someone', but here it sounds like you might be talking about something different. $\endgroup$
    – Josh
    Jul 26, 2014 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I meant it in terms of attraction to someone's body, but appearance and body aren't too far removed :). $\endgroup$
    – Lou
    Jul 26, 2014 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ This sounds like a bit of a premise justification, but there has been some interesting research related to genetic compatibility and sexual attraction, but the reality is we don't yet know enough about how what we feel and what happens in our brains are connected. I supposed it's theoretically possible that there is a direct physical or genetic aspect to what we call "attraction," but any claim of it would simply be a guess. $\endgroup$
    – GetSwifty
    Jul 30, 2014 at 2:42

1 Answer 1


All attraction involves the brain. The brain is responsible for consciousness, perception, and motivation.

Not all attraction is physical. In two structural theories of love with which I'm familiar, physical attraction corresponds to a minority of what constitutes love. Love isn't exactly the same as attraction, but much of these theories' content implies attraction that is more than sexual and sometimes not sexual at all. In Sternberg's triangular theory of love, passion often entails physical attraction, but the theory frames intimacy and commitment as somewhat independent and based on other aspects of interpersonal relationships such as trust, closeness, benevolence, role identification, and cooperation.

People have many reasons to desire these relationships besides sex. Lee's love styles considers physical passion a defining aspect of only one of six styles. Other motives drive the other styles: power, affiliation, teamwork, emotional fusion and obsession, and altruism. However, one might argue that some of these are not clearly approach motives (mania in particular may be more fear-driven), or that the other person is more a means to an end than the object of desire (particularly pragma and ludus). Regardless, storge and agape are clearly more platonic (though not necessarily nonsexual) forms of attraction with a person as the primary object.

Separating the mind from the body is not possible at present within the scope of mainstream empirical science. Hence all questions that depend on this premise are very likely to be speculative and controversial, and probably off-topic for this site, which discourages opinion solicitation. Even so, the logic of these theories seems to indicate clearly enough that while many aspects of attraction do not depend on sexuality, some do, and that much might change if the physical object of sexual attraction changes. Furthermore, many physiological elements that influence the brain during attraction would have to be emulated in the alternate host to have unchanged consequences, such as adrenalin, which is produced in glands atop the kidneys. Dopamine and serotonin also play important roles in love style variation (see the reference below); their influence would require emulation as well if the mind were somehow separated from the physical sources of these neurotransmitters.

Emanuele, E., Brondino, N., Pesenti, S., Re, S., & Geroldi, D. (2007). Genetic loading on human loving styles. Neuro Endocrinology Letters, 28(6), 815–21. PMID 18063936.


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