Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Crying Out for an Answer

I was reading  some old newspaper microfilm in the State Historical Society the other day, doing some research for work.  As long as I was there, I thought I\’d look up the press account from a family tragedy that befell us in 1977.  And I have to admit it – going back and thinking about it made me a little misty.  (Although not as much as a typical episode of \”Friday Night Lights,\” which gets the water works going every episode.

This got me thinking about a question I hadn\’t really given much thought to in the past.  Why do we cry?

When you think about it, the human body is an amazingly efficient machine – virtually every human physiological process has an explanation.  When we get hot, we sweat to cool ourselves off.  When we get cold, we shiver to stay warm.  When we exercise, we breathe more deeply to get more oxygen to our blood cells.  When we exercise our muscles, they get stronger to adapt.  When our bodies think it\’s time to have sex (for me, any time I turn the DVD player on), it…ummm… reacts accordingly.  The future of humanity depends on it.

But what purpose does crying serve?  Seemingly, there is no physical challenge overcome by tears streaming from your eyes.  There\’s no cause that produces the effect.  While other animals have tear ducts (like monkeys and Michael Moore), humans are the only ones that cry.  Biologists have pretty much nailed down the physiological process – the nervous system stimulates the cranial nerve, in the brain and this sends signals to the neurotransmitters to the tear glands. The largest tear gland, the lacrimal gland produces the tears of emotion and reflex.  But that doesn\’t explain what triggers the response, or what purpose it is supposed to serve.

I suppose one could argue that tears are the body\’s way of releasing pent-up feelings.  But why would these feelings come of of the eyes?  It seems the body already has several mechanisms for expelling things – imagine if, instead of crying, we just soiled ourselves.    When Red says \”maybe I just miss my friend\” at the end of Shawshank Redemption, I\’d have to make a beeline for the can every time.

As I mentioned, animals feel pain and sadness, but they just howl.  Why are humans different?  Maybe Baby Jesus makes us cry.  St. Francis of Assisi supposedly cried until he was blind.  So when I lose my sight, that\’s what I\’ll blame it on.

So, anyway.

1 Comment

  1. Mr. Pelican Pants

    December 18, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    I love the Interweb. Here’s what it says:

    Three types of tears are generated by the human eye. Basal tears protect the eye and keep it moist. Reflex tears flush out the eye when it becomes irritated. And emotional tears flow in response to sadness, distress, or physical pain.

    Studies have shown that emotional tears contain more manganese, an element that affects temperament, and more prolactin, a hormone that regulates milk production.

    Sobbing out manganese and prolactin is thought to relieve tension by balancing the body’s stress levels and eliminating build ups of the chemicals, making the crier feel better.

    So weeping after that sappy movie might not mean that you are a total wuss after all. In fact, it may mean that you are behaving like a perfectly normal human being.
    Author: Emily V. Driscoll

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