31 October, 2012

Why do we grieve?

It's very important first to understand that evolutionary processes do not have a causative role in all evolved behaviors or traits. Often species responses to various stimuli are simply that responses to either stimuli in presence or absence and not a behavior that has evolutionary causation.

Grief is a perfect example of such a response. It is a reaction to the end of a continuous stream of signals that otherwise would come from an individuals (or items) presence and represents a momentary set of *shocks* at the re-realization at the loss when need presents.

"Need" can be as simple as the desire to talk to a person who is gone or hear their laughter. Unlike the things we surround ourselves with...which we experience sensorially only in a limited band of ways (and thus impress networks in our brain in an equally limited way)

The influence of individuals we've been close to on our brain networks is extensive...especially when those histories go back to childhood...where dense networks of experience touch upon the active presence of those persons not just in our past lives but in our present minds.

Remember how modulation of our mental state is enabled by the controlled release of various neurotransmitters that maintain the stability of our cognitive landscape through the optimal flow of these  brain drugs in order to keep us at balance.

When some one dies we literally have the mental network system thrown out of balance across deep areas of the brain...from autonomics to higher cortical function. Of these people we often have network connections that cross all of our senses from somatosensory to sound to smell to sight to taste...and those often connect to temporally associated events that tie to the personal experience...for example remember the type of perfume some one would wear or remembering the feeling of their hands.

Shakesphere in his genius touched on the core of it when he wrote:

"To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. "


-- Those thousand natural shocks erupt when we lose some one because they reverberate in a dense multidimensional way in all our mind which our brain must subtract if it is to remain balanced in the face of their absense and it does that by remodulating the brain chemicals...forcing us to prune the mind literally of the old state of expectation that was associated with past interaction with that person to a new state in which we are...less often over time...  startled by the sudden realization of their non presence when we think of them. If this subtraction process does not happen the constant shocks can lead to significant build up of stress which could literally kill (and it does quite frequently to those who die from grief complications after the passing of a loved one).

That's the individual side of things but we are now individuals that live in a social structure that also impinges different pressures, for a kin group open mourning (weather the mental grief and detachment process indicated above is real or performed) shows to the individuals in the clan that the individual meant something to the indivuals mourning and to the group...it allows later the group to come together in the common way in which literally they were molded (their mind literally) by the presence of the one departed and allows them to come together to *fill any gaps* that their absense may leave in the survivability of the group. In the past the death of a prominent provider could wreak havoc on an entire groups ability to survive if that person possessed unique skills that the group relied on...mourning enables this rebuilding of a new group dynamic for those roles to be established in the clan so that it can move on.

So here is revealed the true causative drive in my view for grieving...the social import induced as a response to the physiological reaction to loss that individuals must necessarily engage if they are not to die by a thousand continuous shocks.

The hypothesis can be tested by correlation to other species. Contrary to your statements above regarding advance (a term which doesn't make much sense over all evolutionary space because often evolution leads to regression) we should find a correlation between grief and social animals that doesn't exist in non social animals...and indeed a cursory examination of many non social species reveals that they do not mourn. This is not to say that ALL social animals do, many  insects indeed live highly social lives but they are cognitively simple beings compared to the complex landscape of sensory experience that weaves together the cognitive states of higher mammals and birds that are social.

So I posit that there is a set of feedback systems at work that feed social evolutionary pressures into expressed behavior depending on the cognitive sensory complexity of the animals in question. The necessary neuro chemical complexity that gives us the greater cognitive dynamism and consciousness also gives us the burden of needing to unbind the deep networks being formed across our sensory landscape with individuals that is continuously Shepparded in the presence of the individuals...once they are gone the energy required to maintain that system in the face of their absence and the shocks that continuously testify to that fact can lead to life ending stress...so to cut the bond we grieve internally (rebalance of neurotransmitters around the kernels of experience that were associated with that departed)...and to acknowledge and strengthen the social web in which we  live we grieve externally.

So I assert that Absent social expression in a species one should find that mourning does not present...this is a falsifiable hypothesis that I am interested in testing.

I've not read the literature on theories for the purpose of grief any with information that may illuminate this subject may provide such in the comments below.

09 October, 2012

Loves new meaning...

Often I've had conversation with those in long term relationships who have through the years grown apart as a red hot passion reduced to burn as no more than a dull ember. I've often thought to myself as some one who has been in Love of deep intensity but as of now is free of those motivations, that passion and Love as we define them today will soon be as extinct as Short Faced Bear.  These independent qualities are in a slow process of revolution as we have both evolved as a primate species and through the creation of new modes of social organization, methods for acquiring the necessary items of survival and success and finding optimal modes for living with one another in the mostly monogamous relationships that we engage in.

The revolution is being accelerated by an additional recent factor about our ability to survive on this planet that is due to our ability now to directly modulate the genetic information of living beings without risk of cancer. This discovery of only the last few years sets the stage for social and behavioral changes in human populations that can scarcely be imagined.

I have wondered in the context of "Love" how will these changes effect the meaning of this emotional quality of bonding which has served mostly positive purpose in drawing two individuals together to mate but often to ensure that they bond for the duration of their lives.

It is in duration of life and in other aspects regarding the physical state in which we experience our life that changes under way will radically shift the mean we apply to this emotion called Love.

One of the technologies that is sure to emerge from the ability to change the DNA of a living organism is the ability to modulate the externally expressed genetic factors that strongly define our social status in many ways. Study after study confirms the positive benefits of being taller than average, or of being considered more better looking. Additional studies describe the benefits, variably across the world of having particular skin color an unfortunate reality of the application of ad hoc cultural traits to the clashing populations of lineages of man as they rediscovered one another in the peregrinations of one another variably across the globe in the last 10,000 years or so.

Love and commitment are often entwined as sister behaviors and couples that express the former usually prove it by behaving via the latter toward one another...but the deeper meaning of both words is seen now that we come to the dawn of super mortals due to the discovery of new ways to prevent, revert and keep at bay the damages that accrue to us during the process of degradation we call aging. As treatments continue to emerge that can extend life to arbitrary lengths of time, then the meaning of Love and commitment become fully clear.

If the bonds of marriage indicate that one should love "until death do us part" only some one who realizes the potential for that time period to be centuries rather than just a few decades impresses upon them the seriousness of this commitment.

So how will people behave, will marriage evolve to be a temporary contract, limited by arbitrarily chosen duration? Will people even make a fuss to change the institution at all??

Considering that in addition to revolutions in longevity, researchers are engaged in also ensuring the ability to retain youthful vigor throughout as a consequence...and thus making changes to maintain the vigor of youth that is highly correlated with attraction trivial and routine in the future.

Imagine how ageist tendencies are made extinct by such a society. Where a 120 year old can chose to appear as youthful as a 40 year old or a 25 year old depending on how often they revigorate themselves what meaning is the label at all of age?

No meaning at all is the answer at least post reaching adulthood. What a world of expanded possibilities will be unleashed when the women who would otherwise be slow in gait, frail and unflattering in body and dimmed of the beauty of her youth can achieve that youth yet again post revigoration. How a mind mature in the acquisition of much wisdom from the length of it's time on Earth can interact, reason and mate with individuals whose "natural years" put them at a fraction of time on Earth but appear similar in physical age.

What meaning will Love be extended to when we realize that using the ability to change our genes and coupled with the quest to decipher the genetic pathways that emerge the specific phenotypes that in genetic fashion guide our efforts to date and mate that we can change our hair color and texture? change our eye color? change our skin color?

When the formerly utilized physical cues are no longer indicative of an "original" state, all things become fashion and true meaning must be searched for in other context to substantiate the amorous interactions that people engage. I predict a polar response will result, individuals who uphold a pure view on Love that sees it truly as undying will seek to persist in it for the duration...as the markers of attraction become items that can be picked and purchased to physically change us in natural ways into the objects of our partners desires...does Love last longer or does it become more fickle? Other individuals that see the non finality of their lives (at least as far as aging as a cause of death is concerned) will revel in the freedom of their eternal youth. They will see Love as a temporary pleasure to be shared with as many as they can and the rest will be  fewer in number. If one is nearly gauranteed to live for ever either one will chose to be eternally bonded to one or be eternally bonding with many is my hypothesis.

Does the ready availability of others modify our will to stay with a one? I assert that it would NOT be the case. Rather than diminish the power of the meaning of Love it will be enhanced. A couple that can be who they need to be to sustain the passions of their engagement by genetic modifications and age reversals have at their command an arsenal of fantasy that was only dreamed about in the minds of couples long gone and buried. Love (or rather the physical expression of the emotional act) can be explored from multiple vantage points, where each of us can chose to literally be some one genetically different from how we were born. I say this will effectively ensure the duration of flow of the critical chemicals that sustain passion and thus directly lead to a strengthening of the emotion of love itself.

It seems obvious that the benefits of these results will accrue first to the affluent and as a result societies run the risk of creating a "superior" class of humans that through their largess are able to experience endless youth and endless variation in their life long before those in the common masses are able to afford such treatments. I predict these issues will become dominant in the 2040 time frame, shortly (in my analysis) after the treatments are numerous and efficient enough to gain market (if not mass market) distribution. Think of the extent of the plastic surgery business today and that is where I predict this age of "cosmecuticals" as I call them will be, with high priced genetic treatments available for those that have means and desire to change themselves as described.

So the new meaning of Love is that rather than be a fickle valueless word, to most it will speak to a duration of commitment that is only known in fables...of Vampires, immortal creatures cursed in their longevity. In reality individual lives will vary based on their paths of experience but in a very contrasting way. Individuals will over much long of periods go from either one view or another...after all if you can spend the next 3 centuries experiencing the youth and vigor of a 25 year old wouldn't you? If you can do that while sharing life with some one who shares your dreams and can be your moving fantasy as they genetically evolve literally to be your fantasy through time wouldn't you?