It is reassuring to see that in a future where we are preoccupied with scientific and technological advancement, there is still a place for love at first sight, though, as it’s portrayed in “The Long Morrow,” there is certainly room to question whether the encounter between Commander Stansfield and Ms. Horn is appropriate workplace behavior. Putting that worry aside, the brevity of the encounter, we find out, is in sharp contrast to the length of the separation that follows for two persons who have fallen deeply in love.
As we noted in our discussion of “Jesse-Belle,” some philosophical accounts of the nature of love claim that love is grounded in an emotion experienced by the lover. Other accounts maintain that for someone to love another person, the lover must beliefs about the characteristics of the person loved. that support the reasonableness of loving that individual. These and other alternative theories of love don’t shed much light on this episode, which celebrates the attraction between two individuals as something as inexplicable as it is powerful. There are some general philosophical observations we can make about what makes love possible that are revealed in this particular match.
Philosophers are fond of asking questions of the form “What makes x possible?” The answers to such questions are lists of necessary conditions, things that x must have in order to exist. When all the conditions needed for x are assembled, then we say that we have a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for x.
What makes love possible? If we’re not interested in love when someone loves the hamburger they are eating, we need to make the question more precise. What makes mutual romantic love between two persons possible? Starting with some basic conditions, we can begin with the need for two prospective lovers to meet. So a plausible condition is that two persons who are in love have, at some time t, have met ‘in person,’ that is, they’ve met in space and time. We might call this the spatial-temporal proximity condition.
For this condition to be plausible, we have to say something about what it means for two people to meet. It isn’t enough for two people to be in spatial and temporal proximity. Two individuals can be in the same crowded room and not meet. We would have to spell out some details to make this condition at all plausible.
There’s a further difficulty with the spatio-temporal proximity condition, and that is that people can meet without being in spatial proximity. This was true even before the Internet. Individuals have met and have corresponded through letters, for example, and have fallen in love without meeting in person. More recent advances in telepresence, including video chat and other such network technologies, have made it easier for relationships to begin and to be sustained in the absence of spatial contiguity.
The temporal contiguity requirement is not as easily dismissed. A reader in the twenty-first century might love the plays of Shakespeare, but that reader can’t be in love with Shakespeare, the person. The lover and the loved must be co-temporal, for some interval. This requirement is at the heart of “The Long Morrow.”
Right after Stansfield and Horn meet and fall in love, Stansfield is sent on a mission to a distant planet. The mission will last forty years, and the plan is for Stansfield to be placed in a state of suspended animation for most of the mission. If that plan is followed, then Stansfield will return to earth at roughly the same age he was when he left. Horn will be forty years older than him. Though forty years has passed from Horn’s perspective, almost no time has passed from Stansfield’s. They have not co-existed during those forty years, in the sense that forty years has only passed for one of them. There is a sense in which Stansfield does exist for those forty years, but only as an unchanging object. In the sense that matters, he has not lived for those forty years. In this scenario, a necessary condition for a relationship of mutual love is absent.
This is not the scenario that unfolds in “The Long Morrow.” What happens instead is that Stansfield, without informing Horn or anyone else, foregoes suspended animation, while Horn opts for it, expecting that they will both meet in forty years at their current ages. The result is functionally equivalent to the former scenario. One of them is forty years older; the other hasn’t aged. The difference is that now the aged person is Stansfield and the non-aged person is Horn. The failure to meet the temporal proximity condition is the same. Tragically, it is not possible for the two of them to carry on their love affair after Stansfield returns.
Like the crooks in “The Rip Van Winkle Caper,” xHorn participates in a form of time travel. She traverses forty years in forty years, but she does so without changing. It is not that because she was ‘asleep’ the forty years seem to her like forty seconds, what turns out to matter most is that the forty years seem to others, and particularly to Stansfield, like forty years.
A strikingly similar case is presented in “The Trade-Ins.” x After undergoing the body exchange procedure, Mr. Holt has a youthful body. Mrs. Holt does not. Mr. Holt immediately appreciates that the conditions for the possibility of maintaining his relationship to Mrs. Holt have evaporated. Mr. Holt with a young body facing his elderly wife shares an insight with the elderly Stansfield facing a youthful Ms. Horn.
Soble, A., (1990) The Structure of Love, Yale University Press.