Sometimes, I wonder whether our species even wants to survive…
Writer: Grace Wellington
Editor: Karolay Lorenty
Artist: Wenanlan Jin
It is known that our bodies are programmed to survive; we have evolutionary origins that have adapted our central nervous system to function and respond to a constantly changing environment. From Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection, it is clear that humankind has fought to remain alive and continue to survive. Yet, a question many people might ask themselves is: why do some go against their instinct to live? Why do people choose to commit suicide?
The fascination for suicide comes from the idea that those who unfortunately killed themselves were able to overcome that fear we all inhabit. The fear of death has deeply embedded in our subconscious, conserved through years of evolutionary adaptations, as well as social practices, as many religions condemn the act. The Nobel Prize Winner Herman Hesse, proposeda theory of the ‘temptation of suicide’ that suggests, suicide may appear to some as a rewarding act, and social psychologist Baumeister’s view of suicide is a way of escaping our aversive self. In each of these cases, the fear of death is virtually non-existent, but why?
Very little research has been conducted to investigate such questions. Following a neuroscientific approach, it is a known fact that serotonin influences the calming emotions of the brain, and when this is lacking, individuals will suffer from impulsivity. In the autopsies of 20 suicide victims, a limited supply of serotonin was evident in reaching the white matter in the orbital cortex (a region regulating impulse control). In a similar study, they found that, it is clear that serotonin did not sufficiently reach a prime area of the brain.
In the analogy of the ‘source and the sink’, hormone imbalances (the sink) must stem from a source – the brain. Is there an anatomical aspect that could further explain why individuals choose suicide? A study conducted by a team of researchers at the? University of Pittsburgh sought to prove their hypothesis that suicide is a decision-making and ‘prediction’ disorder. FMRI computing modelling was used to examine the brains of patients while completing a task, and signals were found to be blunted in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex – the key area regulating risk and fear. What is the implication of this?
Therefore, these studies suggest a strong correlation between underlying biological defects and increased chance of committing suicide. Without risk perception and fear, the phobia of death is non-existent, and accompanied by poor decision-making ability, Hesse’s ‘temptation of suicide’ will appeal more to such individuals. Their perceived perception between the boundary of life and death is gravely reduced to the point where life becomes less meaningful than death, and death is a prize they wish to take.
In conclusion, it is evident that, from a neuroscientific perspective, the brain activity and hormone levels are different in individuals of suicide-attempters. It is striking that such variations can result in a devastating decision to commit suicide, but what is even more outstanding is the fact that, this variation is global. Has a mutation in the rationality of our thoughts and behaviour become a common trait?
Throughout history, the act of suicide has been continuously rebuked; Plato expressed suicide as an act against society, whilst Aristotle deemed it a ‘cowardly act’. Yet, time has transformed society’s perception on suicide, establishing a rather glorified platform. Many articles now explore the ‘right ways to commit suicide’ and TV shows such as ‘13 Reasons Why’ almost make suicide seem appropriate and a form of justice.
The rising rates of suicide and social acceptance makes us question whether our species are failing to adapt to Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’?
The questions I now pose is simple: do our species even want to survive and whether we are choosing to accept death over life?