Sunday, March 9, 2014

Knocked Out: Evolution Fail?

OK, this may seem a bit obscure, but I've been thinking, mostly subconsciously, over the past month or so about the evolutionary function of being knocked out. Yes, I think about stuff like this. I guess it all started for me during the whole knockout game scare, which gives you an idea of how long I've been thinking about this. (I even posted the question online, "What's the evolutionary function of being knocked out?" It got no responses.) I can't blame people. Being knocked out doesn't seem to have any evolutionary advantage at all. I mean, once you're incapacitated you are at the mercy of your assailant - you can be killed! It makes no sense for the brain to shut off like that and leave you helpless. Shouldn't the brain prolong consciousness to aid you as much as possible?

But I wasn't even sure if it was a valid question. What I mean is, what if it's more a question of biological limits than evolution? For instance, if you get stabbed in the heart, you'll die. Yes, it would be nice if there was some evolutionary thing whereby you could grow another heart or something else took on the work of the heart, but that's just not biologically possible. Maybe that's not the best example. Your heart is pretty protected by your ribcage, and your brain by your skull. But being knocked out, while being an injury to your brain, doesn't permanently damage your brain. Being repeatedly knocked out mostly likely does, but what I'm saying is that your brain is more or less fine afterward.

The answer I think came to me while watching the UFC. When someone is knocked out, the fight is over. When you are knocked out, the knockout game is over. And I've seen some videos of fights online, though not all are like these, when the attacker stops after knocking the victim unconscious. So being knocked unconscious is the human equivalent of those sheep that get all rigid when you scare them or playing possum. Aggression is primitive, instinctual. It is often connected with pride, as a recent Finnish study indicates. (Notice the similarities between anger and pride.) By playing dead, or in the case of humans by being unconscious, we negate the stimuli that resulted in the aggression - if that stimuli had to do with us, such as being defiant or insulting. We, the knocked out person, are no longer a threat. Therefore, violence is no longer necessary. It is no coincidence then that apparent death is so widespread a behavior in the animal kingdom.

Of course, the biological mechanism, as I'm saying it is, doesn't always work. Sometimes the assailant keeps going. I've seen videos of this too. Perhaps they're fighting for other reasons, are full of hate, or are sociopaths. But once a person is out, whether the initial fighting can be justified or not as self-defense, it is clearly wrong to continue to assault him/her. The person is no longer a threat and you are free to leave the scene.

This mechanism, and I could be wrong and this may just be biological as mentioned, at least gives the knocked out person a chance. That alone, I think, would be highly heritable. If you remain conscious and can move, the aggressor will have no signal to stop until you are seriously incapacitated, crippled, or dead.

I'd like also to take this time to emphasize the importance of not being knocked out in a fight. If you can avoid it, please do. Cover up. Don't take too many punches to the face, which soften you up. Bob and weave. There's no telling what could happen to you if you're knocked out. You're literally at the mercy of someone else. Of course, avoiding fights altogether is a much safer strategy, and something we should all strive to do.


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