Monday, January 29, 2007

Sociobiology of Grief

With reference to the previous post below - ‘Shadowlands’ - C.S. Lewis believed (and apparently eventually re-believed after his wife’s death) that the purpose of grief was to perfect the soul in this life.

In this he was certainly mistaken. But what, then, is grief actually ‘for’?

Nikolas Lloyd (an evolutionary psychologist with an eclectic site here) wrote that he attended a forum a few years back where pro- and anti- evolutionary psychology advocates battled it out. Here is what happened next.

“One speaker was a social scientist, and a one of such rudeness, such arrogance, and such jaw-dropping ignorance, that I was quite astounded. At one point, this person spoke with heavy scorn about evolutionary psychologists who believed that emotions all had functions. "I can't see the function of grief," said the social scientist, and left it at that.

“Presumably the speaker imagined that the audience would conclude that because a qualified social scientist could not think of a function for grief, then there must be none. In fact, grief is one of the easiest emotions to explain.”

Nikolas then recounts his understanding of the adaptiveness of grief, which seems to me broadly along the right lines, (here). Many emotions seem to have a ‘natural-world’ version and a ‘social-world’ analogue. I suspect grief is the social-world analogue of natural-world pain, with similar cautioning function.

I suspect that C. S. Lewis would have been completely bemused by the discipline of evolutionary psychology. He would surely have found it as incomprehensible as it would have been unacceptable to his concept of God, and of meaning in life.