Wednesday, May 01, 2013

don't leave the grieved one behind...

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.

Burial practices!

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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