Suicide & Natural Selection

Discussion in 'Soap Box' started by Syd, May 22, 2007.

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  1. Syd

    Syd Guest

    It's been said before that suicide is a form of natural selection for the human species.

    The idea is that humans born lacking certain genes that ensure survival in current society will be perceived as 'weak' by the dominant majority through social interactions. Others may be compelled to bully and target these 'weaker' specimens by human nature, perhaps largely unaware that their attacks are serving a greater purpose. The 'weak' individuals begin self-destructive behavior after recognizing their own genetic flaws. Suicide could be thought of as human nature telling us to remove ourselves from the world in an effort to avoid adding flawed traits to the gene pool through reproduction.

    This could be part of the explanation as to why criminal behavior (which often starts with bullying) can still manifest in some people naturally even when their social environments were healthy and they weren't abused as children. Now, I'm not necessarily saying I believe any of this, though it's a discussion I'm interested in. In fact, as many on this board already know I'm a huge supporter of improving social environments, so this thread is my attempt to 'go against the grain' a bit and expand perspectives in the whole "nature vs. nurture" debate.

    I want to be clear that I'm not advocating suicide. I'm just trying to look at this concept in objective terms for the sake of scientific discussion. I want to look at both genetic and environmental causes for suicide and other destructive behavior. Natural selection is not necessarily a positive or negative action either, it's simply a pattern that seems to occur to help a species flourish.

    I hope this topic can be discussed maturely and objectively, especially given the purposes of our forum. I encourage all perspectives, so feel free to give your honest feedback on these ideas. Include any references that are important to your viewpoints if you'd like.
    Last edited: May 22, 2007
  2. music_addict

    music_addict Well-Known Member

    hmm... yeah that actually does make sense. after all it is the nature of all living things to ensire the survival of the species. So by having the weaker or flawed individuals destroy themselves it ensures that they will not pass on their inferior genetics. Perhaps there is more to the "fate" theory then i had first thought. man, im gonna have to get stoned and ponder that for a while. thats pretty deep.
  3. Freddy

    Freddy Guest

    I think environmental conditions contribute to it as well. I think people were alot less stressful living in small tribal communities compare to the modern civilizations we have today.
  4. Darken

    Darken Well-Known Member

    If weak genes are what make people do suicide, then why do people with strong genes and high social expectations do it as well? why do less intelligent and less strong people continue to live and mate. There is no certain group of humans that do suicide. There is a huge range of people. Does not seem completely true to me.
  5. Syd

    Syd Guest

    I agree. Currently, here's what I think probably accounts for destructive behavior in today's society.

    1) An imbalance between technological & genetic evolution (creating stress)
    2) Genetic deficiencies & natural selection taking it's course
    3) The destructive behavior which largely originates from (1) continues to spread to new generations through unhealthy social environments & observational learning.

    If we assume those statements are true, then it seems solutions on cutting down destructive behavior and crime could include some of the following:

    - Psychologically healthier, simpler lifestyles and societal roles
    - Genetic engineering and enhancements
    - Improvements in social environments, education, parenting

    I'm all for introducing changes such as alternative lifestyles and improving social environments, but I'm currently undecided on topics like cloning and genetic engineering. The morality of tampering with human genes through advanced technology seems even more controversial than today's debates over abortion and terrorism. ;p

    With the popularity of nanotechnology and other scientific and medical advancements in recent years, I have no doubts that humans will be experimenting with many genetic operations within the 21st century.

    When I think about 20th - 21st century fascination with perfection and the changes in culture already evident in exploitation of the masses through media and capitalism.. the potential appeal of genetic engineering becomes a scary thought. Not just for superior physical and mental attributes, but manipulation of neurotransmitters to achieve artificial highs far exceeding the chemical pleasures of today's drugs.
    Last edited: May 22, 2007
  6. hammockmonkey

    hammockmonkey Well-Known Member

    People might "perceive" flaws, but that is different the actually having flaws. Unless you say that this "perception" is the genetic flaw. However, this seems to a strange idea to me. Often these perceptions are created because of environmental pressures. This logic would seem to fall more into social darwinism then actual biological evolution.

    It is not "nature vs Nurture," because we are not completely sure where one stops and the other begins. Especially in regards to behavior. What I mean is we are constantly discovering that certain genes change based on the environment they are in. Some genes might be "predisposed" to self-destructive behavior. But these same genes under different environmental stress could have different results. So we might discover that these "self-destructive" genes are actually linked to potentially helpful traits that other people have.

    Genetic work should be very exciting. The potentail for curing some of the really scary diseases out there are amazing. The threat of genetic manipulation to create "super people" is very scary. I remember reading a report that we'd evolve into two species one very beautiful and intelligent and the other very stupid and ugly. [Note that is completely impossible with the way evolution works.] It is very dangerous to mess around with genes, there genes that are responsible for multiple functions, and there are functions that are created by multiple genes. Changing one or all of these genes can screw everything up.

    Humans have been obsessed with perfection for thousands of years not just in the last century.
  7. Syd

    Syd Guest

    I see what you're saying. There are indeed a wide range of people who suicide, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. There are many types of intelligence, and a wide-range of strengths and weaknesses, so it's not really proper for us to define anyone as simply 'strong' or 'weak' entirely. I think it's probably pretty relative to the era though, I'll try to explain what I mean a little better.

    In ancient history (before the ice age) humans likely needed to be strong, have stamina, and superior reflexes in order to survive and hunt animal prey and avoid predators. The humans who were best at gathering/ hunting were probably the most popular and successful, and were more likely to reproduce. Humans who were physically inferior were more likely to be rejected by others, and were less likely to reproduce.

    In today's times, we're living in an era of high urbanization. New genetic traits are favored, while other weak traits are adamantly rejected. Those who are highly social, charismatic, and good at business seem to thrive in capitalist societies for example. There are probably a lot of other traits that can be useful in this modern age too, but the fact is that introversion, personality disorders, anxiety, emotional sensitivity and other traits are often labeled as weaknesses by the general populace. This doesn't mean that someone who's introverted and sensitive is actually more "genetically inferior" than anyone else as a whole, it just means that they were unfortunate to be born into the 21st century business era where being a social conformist has major benefits, and being either socially challenged or simply an individual can be much more difficult.

    More traits that are favored in our era are willpower and having emotional control. There are many reasons why people can become depressed and suicidal (death of loved ones, abuse, rape, being rejected, bullied, etc.) but when these things happen, what leads some people to suicide while others recover and continue living? Willpower and ability to accept our pain. Those who genetically can't deal with emotional pain are going to have a much harder time surviving. Others seem to succeed no matter how many obstacles are thrown in their way.

    Maybe I've explained myself a little better now, or maybe not. I'm actually one of the "weak people" I've described here who is seemingly going against nature by living. I'm not insulted by admitting that I'm probably an inferior specimen (for our modern era) and I hope others aren't insulted by what I've said. I definitely don't mean it in a negative way. ;p

    In fact I think the most influential people in society can seem 'weak' to the norm, they just need to find their talents and impact the world in their own way. For example, it often takes new personality types to think about the world in new ways. So it's not that these people shouldn't live, I just mean that mother nature seems to be working against them, because the general populace tends to reject these people by instinct. This is debatable though. Survival of unique specimens are vital to social evolution, if natural selection was too strong in favoring certain traits - well then the gene pool would stagnate, everyone would be too similar.. almost like a world of clones. Actually it sometimes feels that way already.. haha.

    On the other hand, in today's age humanity seems to be working against classic natural selection too. Medication, cures for disease, surgery, all of this is continually weakening our gene pool in the long run. People who would have died hundreds of years ago are surviving today and reproducing.

    Absolutely. Flaws are pretty subjective, and I'm thinking it's likely that everything is part of greater naturally occurring patterns (see other thread on determinism) giving a reason for every cause, it may be impossible for humankind to understand since we're trying to observe the big picture from within the process itself. Hey, maybe my perception of this is a 'flaw' too. Truly, I think humans lack the resources to really see many things clearly. I don't take myself too seriously here, it's really all in fun. That's probably a little easier for a literary artist than a scientist or philosopher though. ;p

    I do believe that most babies born can be raised to become healthy and productive citizens if a proper environment is provided, taking into account the child's traits as an individual.

    This is my hope, because I'd love to see a world where ignorance and destructive criminal behavior continually declines. I dream of a new era where learning, exploration of science, culture, art, and empathy all flourish. Somewhat like a new renaissance, except this one would include technology, psychology, etc. rather than just music and arts. The ancient Greeks were accomplishing so much thousands of years ago, I mean... what happened? It still seems strange that it all collapsed.

    I hope that huge improvements in education, parenting, psychology will help reshape social behavior enough that society can focus more on cultural progression and less on law enforcement, foreign affairs, war. Who doesn't want that though?

    I don't know much about genetic engineering, but it sure inspires interesting ideas for science fiction. I do think it's funny though, that technologically we're almost at the point where cloning is feasible yet we're so socially primitive as a species that we waste our energy and finances fighting each other (crime/ war) rather than use it to advance our culture. Crime/ war has a rebound effect of advancing culture, but it's doing so at the cost of human lives. WWII led to advancements in technology, but then again so did Newton. I would say that Newton's motivations to contribute to science are much favored over motivations of competition and war. Why was Newton so inspired to learn, while others would rather fight?

    That's why I think education is so important. There are many more great scientists, artists, philosophers, etc. waiting to make discoveries and contributions greater than anything we've seen in the history of humanity. They'll never open up to the world if they're raised in poverty or unhealthy environments. All our answers to fighting disease, finding new energy resources, improving natural & social environments, all of it lies in humanity. The more minds we open up, the better our chances of making real progress. (Assuming there are no evil overlords bent on destruction of humanity that happen to be reading this)

    I mean, just imagine... one child could grow up to change the entire world.. or they could be blown into a million pieces from a car bomb.

    That's true, I was referring specifically to 20th century because these ideas of perfection are now projected out to society more rapidly than in previous eras. Television, internet, and quickly-growing populations all mean that the consequences of idealism are manifesting in culture faster than ever. It is the 'information age' after all, but that means negative information can spread just as quickly as positive. This means academic subjects like logic & semantics, critical thinking, psychology are now more important than ever, yet these subjects are continually overshadowed by business related studies or whatever is popular and in demand financially. I think some more balance is needed here.
  8. hammockmonkey

    hammockmonkey Well-Known Member

    It is very plausible that genetics play a strong role in committing suicide. However, there would ahve to be an evolutionary reason for it. I mean if there was a suicide gene, well thinking it over. It could be a recessive trait. Meaning that people could be "carriers" of the gene and never know. So when two people who were "carriers" had children there was a one in four chance that the child would show the suicidal, or "self-destructive" trait. So the genes could exist and not necessarily be weeded out. These "carriers" might also have certain traits related to these "suicide" genes.

    That is a possibility.
  9. worlds edge

    worlds edge Well-Known Member

    >>>It's been said before that suicide is a form of natural selection for the human species.

    By whom? I don't think even Herbert Spencer went this far. And Darwin would be appalled by the use of the term "natural selection" in this context. I'd like to see who has theorized in this way before I comment on the rest of this post. Thanks in advance.
  10. worlds edge

    worlds edge Well-Known Member

    As Umberto Eco pointed out, in the original Renassaince those on its cutting edge spent most of their time fiddling with astrology and playing with Tarot cards.

    The average enslaved population in a Greek city was roughly fifty percent of those who dwelt there. In Athens women lived in conditions roughly like those imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The average free-male-citizen viewed those who could not speak Greek with utter contempt, as with the term barbarian, supposedly coined by greeks due to thinking those who couldn't speak Greek sounded like they were saying bar-bar-bar.

    Didn't humanity endure enough of idealists with shiny bright plans to crank out a new & improved human being during the 20th century? Or as Mencken put it:

    Newton didn't really advance technology, did he? More like pure science as best I recall.

    I'm under the impression that Newton and Leibniz each developed a system of Calculus simultaneously and that Leibniz's was easier to use. But Britain stuck with Newton's for a few hundred years out of pure chauvinism.

    And what happens to those who disagree with your philosophy of education?

    How on earth do you know this?

    And those who stubbornly insist on keeping their minds closed by your standards? What of them? When they decline to participate in getting New & Improved the syd way, well, what then?

    Most evil overlords through history have been corrupt, stupid, vicious, and shortsighted. But they've also been lazy, as with the average tin-pot dictator in South America or parts of Africa. They don't scare me half as much as a Pol Pot, a Mao Tse Tung (for most of his reign), a Hitler or a Stalin. Those guys all had a plan, and a manifesto for "progress," didn't they?

    The First World does NOT have a quickly growing population. In fact, places like Japan, Italy and Germany may have already started an absolute decline in population. Fertility rates in all three countries are well below replacement level and have been for some time.
  11. Syd

    Syd Guest

    First of all Gmork, I just want to say thank you for your feedback.

    Before I begin, I should clear up the intentions of my initial post. This thread was intended to be a highly conjectural, hypothetical discussion. (such is my typical style) The statement was only given to spark some initial thought and conversation. I don’t really expect anyone to take anything said here very seriously, and I’m not trying to prove anything. I just want to hear what people think. The same could be said of previous thoughts I’ve posted on such as “imbalances between technological & genetic evolution lead to aggression” and “unhealthy social environments breed criminals”. (Although the second quotation is not new and could be backed up with references) In all seriousness, I don’t absolutely believe in these topics, they’re just interesting to think about. All theories have to begin somewhere. I can’t always offer empirical evidence on ideas that are still new.

    Another reason I opened this particular subject was due to responses I commonly receive while discussing the importance of social environments in preventing criminals from surfacing in society. “What about genetics?” and “Why is it that some criminals come from good social backgrounds?” So I’m left thinking that perhaps (based on some reading) certain genetic differences in humans allow some to be more prone to developing destructive behavior. That’s already commonly known of course. Still, it would be too much of a stretch for me to say that some humans can be born with predisposed genetics that will always lead to development of destructive behavior, no matter the environmental circumstances. That also pretty much goes against my current beliefs.

    However, I’ve heard some people take the stance that some humans naturally develop into ‘killers’ or naturally develop suicidal tendencies. Aggressive animals killing off their weaker kin has been discussed as part of natural selection before, I thought it could be an interesting concept to apply this to humans in cases of bullying or even suicide. Perhaps it’s just inappropriate to apply the term ‘natural selection’ to suicide. We can abandon the discussion if needed.

    While I have heard others discussing the relations between suicide and natural selection before, I’ve never seen any published material approaching that topic and offering citations to research. There could be some theories that are very similar, I just don’t know about them if they do exist.

    Instead I’ll include some links below that have either inspired such thoughts metaphorically (apoptosis) or are related to topics we were discussing here (like suicidal genes for example).


    Serotonergic genes and suicidality

    The Evolution of Programmed Death in a Spatially Structured Population

    A Suicide Gene

    Why? The Neuroscience of Suicide

    Genetics of Suicide: an overview

    Eh, that’s a pretty cynical statement to make about 3 centuries worth of important developments in exploration, humanism, art, science, religion, self-awareness. I see it as a largely spiritual movement that helped bring humanity out of the darkness of the middle ages. Many people don’t understand how influential the art, anatomical study, architecture and philosophical works really were. It’s not just about the direct significance of the work itself, it’s the inspiration that spread to other areas of the world and spurred further movements in the centuries that followed.

    People suddenly began to realize their potential and no longer felt restrained by traditional culture. The printing press helped spread a lot of ideas to the masses. It opened up a lot of doors for humanity. What about the scientific method and the works of Copernicus and Galileo? The anatomical study and artwork of Leonardo da Vinci?

    I’m not really here to discuss the subjective importance of the Renaissance though. I mentioned it as an example of humanity pursuing academic interests after a long period of religious rivalry and destruction of culture during the middle ages.

    Still, Umberto Eco was not alive during the Renaissance period, and neither were we. I’ll just accept that our opinions on the era differ, and it’s unfortunate that we couldn’t experience the time period ourselves to talk from experience rather than just by personal interpretation of historical literature. There’s much more to history than what’s written, whether good or bad. Maybe it’s best that we don’t try to define an entire era so simply, coming from the ignorance of modern perspectives.

    What is the point of mentioning this? Those are horrible conditions, but I was referring to the positive aspects of Greek civilization like academies and intellectual pursuits. This includes contributions by Thales, Archimedes, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Heraclitus, Democritus, Euclides, Pythagoras, and others. Yes, ancient Greece had a lot of negative aspects too. This was the age of Empires after all. Modern day societies can acquire the funding for high learning and open new educational programs without suffering from the low conditions present in ancient societies.

    If your response was answering my rhetorical question about why Greek civilization fell apart, well then it was done out of context. I was referring to the positives of Greek culture rather than the actual empire itself. It’s maybe not so much the fall of specific civilizations that matters, but the dominance of religion and negative acts like the torching of the Library of Alexandria, and the dark ages of Europe that were most harmful. I’m glad much of modern humanity was able to adopt so much from the Greeks, even though so much ancient literature was lost.

    Actually, it’s good to have a healthy balance of both idealists and cynics. Part of the process is to discuss ideas with as many different people as possible. Each person’s opinions are equally important. It’s not one type of people who are responsible for progression. It’s a large group of many types of people that can sacrifice some of their personal ideologies in order to find middle ground that will be able to accomplish something.

    Newton’s discoveries in science would become fundamental building blocks for a lot of new technology. That’s what I meant when I say he helped advance our technology.

    Haha, I’m not going to be drawn into the debate between Newton and Leibniz. Ideas are much more important than the individual people responsible for the ideas themselves. I’m not some huge fan of Newton or anything, I just mentioned him because he’s a well known example of how one human can influence society through science. It is embarrassing that Leibniz and Newton had to resort to such rivalry, but I still respect both of the men for their accomplishments.

    That’s cool. If someone disagrees, I’d just ask them to fill me in on which parts they disagree with, and what solutions they would suggest. I take into account others’ opinions, and would do my best to redesign ideas in order to better accommodate to new perspectives.

    I can’t predict the future, it’s just an educated guess. Think about the history of humanity on a timeline. In the span of 10,000 years we’ve socially evolved from small tribes and farming communities to huge civilizations, and eventually to modern nations on every continent except Antarctica. It once took years to travel around the world, now we can leave Earth’s atmosphere within hours and reach the moon within a matter of days.

    Humanity could continue for many millions of years. So much has changed in the last century that it’s hard to fathom the changes possible in even a thousand years, let alone a million.

    I’m no dictator, I’m just another human being. I don’t want to impose my personal philosophies on others. I just want to share my perspectives in the hopes that others will share their perspectives with me in return.

    If others completely close themselves off from change, well that is their choice to make, not mine. They don’t have to respond or work with me at all, I’m only interested in finding those who are open to cooperation. I believe the world is big enough for all of us.

    My humor never comes across well on the internet.

    That’s true. I have indeed heard that parts of Europe are facing population problems, as their working class is constantly declining. Meanwhile in places like France, there are social conflicts arising from the Muslim immigration pouring in.

    Anyway, what I meant before by ‘quickly-growing population’ is simply that universally, our population continues to climb, the world rate of childbirth continues to increase, and there are many urban areas where it’s quickly getting out of control.

    I don’t suspect our views on these topics are actually all that different, though I always welcome criticism. Inevitably there will always be miscommunication and different sources of information, but people generally want the same things out of life. It’s just a matter of how we go about getting these things that is the challenge.
    Last edited: May 24, 2007
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