Why does the death of a loved one hurt?

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colloquial

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Emissary of the League

03-26-2012

Quote:
Originally Posted by Elan Tedronai View Post
The fact that 'natural' death is a painful experience for the survivors doesn't make sense to me from an evolutionary perspective because from that perspective humanity has never known anything different and has no reason to expect anything other than death at the conclusion of one's life.
Evolution is an extremely imperfect (but still pretty amazing) system. It is not a match for design though. Evolution doesn't work by getting rid of anything that modern day humanity sees as negative. As the most basic example, there are numerous hereditary diseases, developmental disabilities/syndromes, et cetera. You might also want to say that from an evolutionary perspective that those things don't make sense, but they do. There is nothing evolutionary unexpected about mourning the death of loved ones or about any number of terrible things about human mental/physical health.

Of course if you could design the human brain you would probably chose to make it so losing loved ones doesn't hurt as much, but evolution isn't as straight forward.

I can't really speak much about the psychology behind human reaction to death though. Its not anywhere near my area of expertise, and I'm not quite interested enough to dig through a bunch of literature about it. But there are definitely some possibilities.

One explanation is how the brain works. The brain and emotions are a complex mix of chemical interactions. There is no single gene for empathy, spite, intelligence, mourning death, liking brain teasers or anything else like that. There are a lot of genes that control the expression of different chemicals, activate different signalling pathways and all sorts of neuro-shenanigans. Its extremely complex and inter-related, and that's not even counting normal differences/uniqueness brought around during development. Its entirely possible that mourning death is a side product of/intrinsically linked to the same pathways that allow empathy and population bonding, which would be extremely fitness positive traits in a population. Traits are often linked, especially in an organ as complex and not completely understood as the brain. And its not at all unexpected or unusual for negative traits to be linked to positive traits, allowing both to spread throughout a population.

But that's just an off the cuff possibility that seems reasonable to me for why its not evolutionary unlikely. I've never looked into this topic to any significant degree. I'm sure there are also tons of good psychology/sociology/game theory angles on why mourning is a trait that would stick around/arise from other human emotions.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Elan Tedronai View Post
Evolutionarily speaking, we should react to our loved ones dying the same way a dog mourns the death of its offspring.
Death mourning is common in a number of animals. Its definitely not limited to humans.


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waterfireairDERP

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03-26-2012

Quote:
Originally Posted by oaktree View Post
actually, it does in tribal region of Africa where parents don't expect their children to live through infancy

they have lots of kids to make up for high infant mortality and they move on pretty fast if the kid dies (not sure if it's a behavior adaptation or evolution though). They probably didn't build up a strong bond to begin with


in more developed countries (both in modern and slightly earlier times), family just don't have the exposure to such death rate to build up a tolerance. In the US and Europe, I would imagine parents expect their kids to live a long live so they build up large emotional bond (I would imagine the bond increases the survival chances of kids)

so in summary, the living condition of human varies greatly throughout different regions, causing the optimal amount of emotional attachment different with each region. In Africa, human adapt to the condition by focusing increasing the numbers of offspring whereas in the US, a large number of offspring would decrease the living condition of the entire family so more emphasis is place on creating a small number of offspring with good living conditions

the same could be applied between a husband/wife relationship... or any other bond
You could replace Africa with the entirety of human history. Go back hundreds of years and almost every single parent from that time period would be found guilty of child abuse today. Could being a total jerk to your kids have evolved as a coping mechanism to distance a person from having to deal with the pure anguish of having 14 of your 15 kids die in early childhood?


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