Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Don't Fear The Reaper

Yesterday I had a root canal done. That tooth that was hurting last week ended up becoming abscessed. The pain wasn't as bad as last week, partly because the nerve was dead. Great. Lovely. Anyway, as I was driving to the dentist the Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" came on the radio. That got me thinking about how nervous I was. I began to consider how someone who was sentenced to death in the 'old' days might have felt as they made their way to the gallows or be-heading stump or whatever. Of course, I can't honestly compare a root canal to execution, but I can sort of compare the feelings of anxiety. It seems that one who was executed probably felt little pain as long as the executioner was skilled enough. I suppose that can be said about dentists too, but at least the executed didn't have to pay the executioner. (maybe in some places they did have to pay and that was part of the punishment, I don't know)

Anyway, I'm not feeling great today as the soreness seems to be increasing and trying to make my head ache. I just took a pain pill, Lorcet Plus, which apparently many people like to take just for kicks. Sorry, I just don't see the appeal there. All they do is make me sleepy. Addiction to pain pills isn't something I'll ever have to worry about.

While at the dentist's office I had a chat with his assistant about wisdom teeth (third molars). I was born without them. Some people are. Some people have anywhere from one to four. And there doesn't seem to be a very obvious genetic pattern to the presence or absence of third molars. Where's the wisdom in that? LOL, I'm joking, of course, because I realize that evolutionary changes like that are probably difficult define while you're in the middle of that process. It will only be after several generations that we might see a defined pattern. There are still many people out there trying to claim that wisdom teeth have nothing to do with evolution. That link is mostly about whether or not it's necessary to extract wisdom teeth, and it does not even mention that some people don't have them in the first place. I think that's a convenient omission for their argument. ;-)

Why do people still try to debate why our wisdom teeth are disappearing? They are, and it is obvious that they are no longer adaptive. While I'm a fan of asking 'why' about most things, I do think that sometimes the 'why' is less important than the 'how'. When we ask 'why' it's probably because we think we might want to intervene if we don't like the answer. ;-) But I don't think that physical processes are necessarily that vulnerable to our manipulations. Don't fear the reaper. When physical processes are in play there is usually an inevitable result even if the path is changed somewhat. No matter how good we live we're all going to die eventually.

One thing I do find a bit puzzling about human evolution is the apparent lack of human fossils. I don't really know that much about it, but I have watched lots of the Discovery Channel, etc. and read popular science magazines over the years. It seems that many conclusions about human evolution have come from studying the remains of teeth and jaw-bones. This has been a source of contention for both sides of the argument. However, I think that the anti-evolution arguments are weak and misunderstanding of science and evidence. But just for fun, let me throw out this little thought. Imagine that some asteroid or comet hits the earth and causes a mass extinction, including humans. Several millions of years pass and a new species of intelligent beings now live on the planet and are studying the fossils of us. What do you think they would decide if they found my fossilized jaw with no wisdom teeth next the David's fossilized jaw with wisdom teeth? They might decide that we were two completely different species! Perhaps one was more 'advanced' and the other was a 'slave' or 'pet' or some such thing? Pretty funny, eh?

What I'm trying to show with that silly example is that we are still learning and discovering the 'what' and the 'how' of life. And when we are in the midst of that we can't always see the big picture and the 'why'. I'm afraid the pain medicine is beginning to affect my thinking now because I'm losing my stream of consciousness. Anyway, don't fear the reaper. Don't fear the dentist. And don't fear the answers. And all of this comes from the empty places where my third molars would have been.

Oh, and Lubos has a great article about Evolution and String Theory. God love him!


mr_g said...

So now to I have mine removed....????

Rae Ann said...

mr g, no don't if they aren't bothering you. Hope everything is okay these days!

Anonymous said...

i was also born without wisdom teeth! Pretty awesome, considering what all my friends have been through. Doing some research into my lack thereof and ran across your blog. Cheers! Andrea

Emilie said...

how d'you know if you were born without wisdom teeth??

Rae Ann said...

emilie, thanks for the comment! The lack of wisdom teeth is apparent in dental x-rays.

Emilie said...

hey! no prob... i kinda suspect i was born without wisdom teeth as well, but didn't know how to tell for sure... so i just visit a dentist and get an x-ray done?
i'm already 20, so if i was born with wisdom teeth, they should've already formed by now right? even if they haven't erupted...?

Rae Ann said...

Yeah, at 20 they should definitely show on x-rays if you have them. There are two kinds of x-rays that my dentist has done, "bite-wing" and "panoramic" but I'm not sure which one would best show wisdom teeth or lack thereof. Your dentist could tell you for sure. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

If someone has their wisdom teeth taken out at the dentist and people in the future decided to study their jaw, they would be able to know they were taken out.
That argument is like saying that we could not put together a skeleton unless we find all of its parts, which is simply not true.

Rae Ann said...

anon, you obviously didn't comprehend what you read.... I was talking about people who are BORN without wisdom teeth at all, as I was. Some of us just don't have them, or any sign at all that there should be wisdom teeth, because human evolution is phasing them out, so to speak. Please don't leave anonymous comments on blogs if you don't actually read and understand them.

Anonymous said...

Rae Ann, my reply was not meant for you. I replied to another anonymous comment that was removed. This person said that "fossils are not proof of anything because if I take all of my wisdom teeth at the dentist and someone find my fossils a million years from now they will think I belong to a different species or to a different period of time."
I know there are people born without any/all four wisdom teeth, in fact I'm one of them. Although I don't agree with you in that evolution is facing them out. Evolution does not have a purpose.
I posted anonymously again because I do not want to register in a blog I think I won't go back to. I have enough spam already. My name is Alice, if that makes a difference.
If it bother you so much that anonymous people comment here, why don't you make it private, or change the settings so that it requires a log in?

Suzanne said...

Your post certainly got me thinking! I guess I'm one of the lucky few who don't have a wisdom tooth. Just to prove, I even consulted with several Laurel dentists and had x-rays done just to confirm. All those horror stories about them sure made me scared before. But I'm glad that I don't have one and I have the best oral care courtesy of my dentist. Laurel, MD's residents are definitely lucky because they have professional and skilled oral care practitioners that are sure to take good care of their teeth.