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SCIENCE MAGAZINE, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, devoted its August 23, 2019, cover story to “Unraveling Suicide: Scientists Look for New Ways to Save Lives.” Its articles include “Geography of Loss—a Global Look at the Uneven Toll of Suicide,” “Reading an Anguished Brain,” “Warning Signs,” “Pathways to Prevention,” and “Probing an Evolutionary Riddle.”
Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, I glean tidbits on evolutionary, global and U.S. aspects of suicide.
Suicide and Evolution. In her Science article “Probing an Evolutionary Riddle,” Elizabeth Culotta cites Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. He wrote, “Natural selection will never produce in a being anything injurious to itself.”
Yet, Culotta writes, “But in humans, natural selection apparently did exactly that. Suicide is the leading cause of violent death, striking down about 800,000 people worldwide each year—more than all wars and murders combined, according to the World Health Organization.”
Culotta shares the research findings of two specialists, Nicholas Humphrey, an academic evolutionary psychologist, and Clifford Soper, a practicing psychotherapist. Nicholas Humphrey is emeritus professor at the London School of Economics. Soper earned a Ph.D. in 2017 from England’s University of Gloucestershire’s School of Natural and Social Sciences and now is in private practice in Portugal.
Culotta writes, “Applying an evolutionary eye to epidemiological data and human culture, Humphrey concluded that suicide was likely a tragic byproduct of a vital adaptation: the sophisticated human brain.”
This was backed up by Soper’s Ph.D. thesis: “… that the ravages of suicide are the consequence of human intelligence and have shaped our minds and culture.”
“In fact,” Culotta continues, “Humphrey and Soper propose that if what makes us human has put us at risk, it has also saved us. They argue that faced with the persistent threat of suicide, humans have developed a set of defenses, such as religious beliefs, that are crucial elements of our culture and psychology.”
She quotes Soper: “Humans very rarely die by suicide because we are superbly designed to deal with anything life throws at us, but our anti-suicide defenses are not fail-safe either.”
This evolutionary hypothesis is not without controversy in psychological and psychiatric circles. In particular, suicide is believed to have many possible causes and motives. Nevertheless, recognizing an evolutionary aspect could be part of easing this tragic human condition.
Tomorrow in Part 2, Science address global aspects of suicide as well as those in the U.S. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019