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Celebrity Deaths

Posted Jun 29 2009 5:07pm

The recent deaths of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, and television pitchman Billy Mays have caused considerable conversation. I have heard many people actually distressed that so many famous people are dying and there must be some reason for it. The same thing occurred not long ago when the news was full of information about pancreatic cancer (which has affected Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Patrick Swayze, and others). Is the world coming to an end as many fear?

Granted--the news has been full of the unfortunate deaths of public figures. But, is there a pattern? Ed McMahon was 86 years old and lived a good life. Farrah Fawcett had rectal cancer and lingered longer than most with a similar cancer. Every thing we have heard about Michael Jackson indicates that he has been on a downward spiral for some time--primarily due to drug abuse. While Billy Mays' death was a surprise, he was a Type A personality and exhibited some features that would suggest a propensity for heart disease. These were just random events that occurred in close temporal proximity--nothing more, nothing less.

As we humans evolved, we have developed a survival capacity based upon pattern recognition. For example, we tend to look for faces and see faces even when faces aren't there. We see a man's face on the moon, the Virgin Mary on a tortilla, or similar sights. Facial recognition evolved because our survival depended upon recognizing whether an approaching human was a friend or foe. But, pattern recognition it is not limited to faces. We tend to see other patterns that pose a potential threat to survival. How many times have you been walking and seen a garden hose or something similar and jumped back because you thought it was a snake? The more primitive areas of our brain interpret data from the senses and process it. When something is alarming (like what the brain interprets it as a threat), it immediately activates the reticular activating system and the autonomic nervous system. Thus, we tend to look for threats--albeit unconsciously. We tend to look for patterns. Thus, people worry about the recent cluster of celebtity deaths. There is no pattern here.

The deaths of 4 or 5 celebrities, while sad, is not the sign of impending doom or the apocalypse. They are just random events that happened to occur close to each other. What is sad is that the deaths of Michael Jackson, Billy Mays and maybe Farrah Fawcett may have been preventable (maybe). We'll never know. By the way, the picture above is the southern end of a north bound dog.
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