Jeff is My Problem with Evolution

I know, one who makes fun of young-earthers should probably keep her own mouth shut about problems she has with evolution, but I have them anyway in exactly the area of Jeff.

So, Jeff shows up and comforts Jo’s Grandpa at the end of his life. And, as Jo points out, there’s a scientific explanation–that “the brain in extremis contorts reality into one final rationalization to make it all better at the end.” But why would our brains do this? It’s not like you can get out of death. Everyone dies.So, while I see the benefit to the individual, I don’t see why this is a coping mechanism our brains would evolve to develop. Yes, it may make facing death easier, but you can’t not face death. And, once you’re dead, you can’t pass on your genes, so it’s not as if you can really select for a good death as a trait you want to pass on to your offspring. By the time anyone knows you’re capable of it, it’s too late.

So, why waste the energy?

And how would comforting deaths even evolve? Are we talking mate selection based on great-grandparents? “I have three cows, six rocks, and your son can graze on my sons’ land until my death. Oh, and did I mention my grandmother eased into death?” “Well, then Bob, I’m happy to give you my daughter to marry your son.”

Or older “Ogg, I will mate with a woman of the Uglok clan for their deaths are always calm and unscary!”

Although, now that I give it some thought, I can see how it’s selected for–child deaths. If you think of just how many children used to die before their 18th birthdays, and how many women whose children died were still in their childbearing years, now I can see how this is indeed selected for. Women whose children died horrible, scary deaths would work to lessen their chances of continuing to reproduce. In places and times when childhood mortality is so great, who could bear bringing a child into the world knowing how great the chance is that the child will suffer and die horribly?

But, if the child’s brain kicks in to comfort itself and the child’s parents with stories of supernatural beings who care and are there with them, then it makes the prospect of having more children, even if some of them may not live, more palatable.

Well, this is depressing.

And the truth is that I honestly don’t care if someone like Jeff is just in your brain. Everything is just in your brain at the end of the day. If it makes the tragedies of life easier, and doesn’t hurt other people, I have no problem with it.

8 thoughts on “Jeff is My Problem with Evolution

  1. It could be that the skill of “finding rationalization” or “finding pattern” developed in other contexts. And, if it was adaptive for reproduction in other contexts, it was passed on. The skill also just happens to be helpful in easing a person into death, but that needn’t be the environmental pressure that selected the skill in the first place. Maybe.

  2. My Granny is 91 – and she’s got her mind. She’s always been healthy save for a bout of having issues swallowing a few years ago due to the medication she was taking for her swollen legs.

    Anyway, about 6 years ago or so, she said she had the same visitor. It was floating above her bed. She woke up and saw it. She said it just floated there and had a calming presence. She watched it but wasn’t frightened.

    The only religious thing about it is she calls it “my angel”.

  3. Well, three things. Lots of traits develop through evolution that aren’t selected for. (The idea that everything that has evolved has evolved for a purpose through natural selection is a result of dumbing down science for kids.) Sometimes traits develop as a side-effect of other, selected, developments. If those incidentally developing traits aren’t harmful, they will stick around because the thing that causes them is helpful. An obvious example of this would be variation in hair color: there’s no need for ash blonde or red hair, ya know.

    Second, I see no reason to think that having visions before death, or “contort[ing] reality into one final rationalization to make it all better at the end,” is selected for, or more people would have the experience.

    Third, the process of transforming random electrical discharges in the brain into coherent though possibly bizarre images and narratives is a familiar one to humans; we call it dreaming most of the time. We can (and, I think, maybe we even should) take it as a blessing for those who experience it as a comforting event in frightening circumstances. But the underlying brain process is pretty ordinary.

  4. ” But why would our brains do this? It’s not like you can get out of death.

    But sometimes you do. The whole reason we even know about these things is from near death experiences. Sometimes you have these experiences and you don’t actually die. And because of this you come back and reproduce.

    I’m thinking of the wolves who have gnawed off their own legs when stuck in traps — or for that matter, the story of hiker Aron Ralston, who sawed off his own arm with a dull blade to escape being trapped beneath a boulder. Ralson lived and went on to marry and have a son. Perhaps if he hadn’t had comforting visions of a peaceful future he might not have been able to withstand that horrific event. He might have succumbed and died and not passed on his genetic material in the form of his son.

  5. Also these near death experiences have played an important role in human’s concept of an afterlife, the creation of religions and myth and folkore …. such things, through the centuries, have played an important role in human civilization. They have allowed groups of humans to coalesce into communities, to create a social bond that has been crucial to human evolutionary success.

  6. I will say that like you, I have no idea. My sister in law was present when my mother died unexpectedly (I was not there) and swears that she looked over and saw someone, and smiled, just before she went. Trying to comfort me, she says it must have been my dad (who passed earlier) that Mom saw; my first thought was, well, their relationship was somewhat more contentious than that, she’d be more likely to scold him :)

    But anyway, who knows? Maybe she saw something. Maybe she was delirious. I can never know.

  7. Well, or it’s just a big blast of endorphins or something. I don’t know.

    nm is smart. But we knew that. ;) Evolution does have a way of kicking out a lot of side projects.

    Southern Beale’s point made me go “a-ha!” — because that would mean the delirium experiences came *before* religion and *resulted* in religion, which is why they seem to follow a certain generically religious bent — because in reality the religious bent is following the experience!


  8. I was with my Granny when she died in the hospital. She raised me and I had a great love for her.
    as she lay dieing, she did not respond to any of us in the room but seemed to be looking at something in the distance and she said, :”Oh, it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.” I asked her, “What is beautiful Granny, what is beautiful?” She did not reply and her heart monitor went flat and she was gone. She was a great believer in God and I think he was there for her in the end. She was 86.

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