Originally derived inspiration to write this while I was creating my previous post.
In almost all of the cultures today funerals are conducted when someone passes away. This is a phenomenon which is as old as humanity itself. They are conducted in different styles; each of them are closely connected to religious beliefs that that culture shares.
I recommend that those who have lost someone dear recently not hang around to read the remainder of this post.
Every popular human civilization that ever existed on earth had them. And because of cultural diversity, these practises were all different from other civilizations. For the human species almost all practices show a pattern wherein the body of the deceased individual is ornate with food, or, clothing, jewels, etc, and then disposed.
The existence of such practices kind of proves the fact that the human species are aware of death. But other animals in the wild do exhibit such awareness!
However, the degree to which they exhibit awareness is somewhat confusing or misleading. The above picture shows a bird "mourning" the death of its mate. But the fact is we don't know if its really mourning, because mourning is what we "humans" would do. When "humans" try to empathize with the above picture, what we'd probably do is mourn.
The psychological term for this behaviour is pareidolia. However, people might also call this as a side effect of anthropomorphism. This is one of the reasons why we'd always unconsciously associate an emotion with the following pic:
Getting back on track: imagine that the victim bird in the earlier pic was the victim of a stampede or an attack by a predator. Imagine that the threat that killed the bird still persists in some way; the predator is somewhat nearby, or the stampede hasn't ended. It is actually dangerous for the other bird to linger around. And staying around the deceased individual wouldn't help either - because it can decompose and increase the chances of the other bird contracting diseases.
These arguments apply to our primitive evolutionary counterparts too. But then why do we still have such practices when, you objectively look at it, it is kind of disadvantageous to the survival of the individual?
To answer this puzzle: you can draw references by observing what actually happens during funerals and figure it out. But fundamentally you'd need to understand the dynamics of group survival. In other words, what it means surviving in a "pack".
Pack formations had the distinct advantage of showing up in numbers. Hunting in numbers proved relatively better success rates in getting food. Similarly warding off threats also was relatively successful when there were more individuals to defend. So hence pack formations were a kind of behaviour that got naturally selected. But pack formations slowly lead to socialization between individuals. These kind of socializations kind of make it difficult to answer one question...why we mourn?
Now imagine a small pack. Say that only two individuals know how to hunt; assume they were relatively successful at it too. Now what happens to one individual when the other one has met with some misfortune and passes away? For whatever reason he/she might mourn.
But what about the other surviving members in the group?
Even they might mourn, but what they'd really need is the realization that they need to move on in order to survive. So one of them takes the call, tries to motivate the other to move on. Such sort of gestures are really crucial if the group's primary mode of survival was hunting. Previously two individuals were skilled at it; now one only of them remains. If the skilled individual was the one which was mourning, the whole group becomes challenged in one sense. Hence one of the members in the group takes the responsibility of bringing the grieved one out of shock, so that their chances of survival are relatively increased. Hence they may actually perform simple rituals to pay respect to the deceased individual. The primary focus of such an act was to make everyone move on with surviving.
Over time these simple rituals became more complicated because the number of individuals in the group increased...the population exploded...people settled down with the discovery of agriculture...societies formed...politics emerged...and then history happened.
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Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Monday, April 29, 2013
Why do we shed tears when we are sad?
Our eyes fill with tears when we cut up onions, or, when exposed to dust, etc. The function of tears here is to protect the eye surface.
But why does our eyes fill up with tears when we are hurt, or, feel sad, etc?
There is an emotional aspect to it, but before we go there, just get familiar with scenarios where our eyes actually fill up with tears.
1. While suffering from intense physical injury or a wound
If you had a nascent mouth ulcer and you purposefully put a pinch of salt over it, your eyes with probably start to fill up with tears...
Similarly any physical injury, like a hand fracture, etc could induce tears in the eyes.
Digressing a bit: infants know only one thing to do when they want something, or, when they know something is wrong – cry. And when they do, even their eyes also fill up with tears sometimes. Of course for the case of infants, the pitch with which they cry, the tone, etc are features that got naturally selected to evoke empathy in the person attending the infant. They actually call out for the person's help. The help that the infant receives will again be dependent on how fit that person is to provide to the child. (But that is a subject of another matter).
Say when the infant is grown up a bit and able to see and react to the surroundings; what would it do when it is approached by a predator, but the predator has not seen it yet. The infant can cry, but that would defeat the infant's chances of survival. So the infant eyes starts to fill up with tears first. Now for the mother/father, this is a sign that the infant is probably in danger, and hence the mother will take some actions to save her offspring.
Another theory (which is called the white flag theory) kind of says that in a fight, if one person happens to cry, its a sign of surrender or helplessness. The tears which the loser shed in this scenario is again to invoke empathy in the aggressor, so that the aggressor doesn't kill/punish the other individual.
In all these examples the function of tears are merely symbolic – they point to the fact that the individual is suffering from something, and its intended purpose here is to evoke empathy, and expect help from the other individual so that the subject's chances of survival relatively increases.
So in these situations relative success is only there when there are other individuals there capable of feeling empathy – in short people/individuals should be around the victim and should be willing to help.
2. While experiencing sadness
This is mainly a phenomenon common with the human species. As before tears symbolize suffering, but the suffering is something hard to understand in the case of sadness – it depends on the situation. When a child loses his parent he/she cries because of various reasons:
a) the parent's affection to the child that the child has gotten accustomed to...when the parent has expired the loss of affection is something of a shock for the child. This is purely psychological because it matters to what degree the child is aware of the affection, mental maturity, etc.
b) sometimes its just a gloomy outlook of the child's chances of survival itself since the protecting member has passed away. (But in this context, the child should again be mature enough to understand it).
There can be many reasons; it depends on the situation. The “suffering” is not exactly loneliness, but we shall call it so – since loneliness is something which reduces the chances of the individual's survival. The usage of the word loneliness encompasses a much larger scope that what is actually defined in the English language in this context.
It is a common pattern in most of the mammalian species which used to hunt or forage for food. Living in groups helped survival of the individual and the group collectively.
3. Tears appear when we feel empathy sometimes
Our eyes fill with tears when we've watched a tragic movie or read about a tragic love story. Sometimes when we hear some exceptional piece of musical composition, or an inspirational speech, our eyes fill with tears. The function of tears where is more of an empathetic symbolism – it is sometimes equivalent to saying I know because I feel the same way...
Last but not least...
The reason I write this post is because someone tweeted about it. I read the article and found my inspiration. Tears have a symbolic meaning usually. But for it to be symbolic there must be people to observe it and be able to take action on it; else the purpose of tears is lost. With this fact, please bear that when you happen to cry while all alone, it doesn't help at all, because the tear-ing incidentally happens to have evolved for a kind of social purpose meant to increase the individual's survival.
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