Suicide: Suicide and Natural Suicide Rate Essay

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Gaia, Suicide and Suicide Prevention
David Lester
The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, USA
Submitted to SOL: 16th January 2012; accepted: 14th June 2012; published: 18th June 2012
Abstract: The Gaia Hypothesis, in which the Earth is viewed as a self-regulating system, is explored for its
implications for suicidology. Seven questions are raised by applying the Gaia Hypothesis to suicidal behavior:
(1) Is suicide ever a rational act? (2) How common is burdensomeness as a motive for suicide? (3) Can suicide
be an instinctive behavior? (4) Does suicide benefit the society? (5) Is suicide found in animals other than
humans? (6) Why have we failed to have a major impact on the suicide rate despite all of our efforts and will we
ever have an impact? (7) Is there a natural suicide rate?
Keywords: Gaia hypothesis; suicide; rationality; burdensomeness; instinct; animal suicide; preventing suicide;
natural suicide rate
Copyrights belong to the Author(s). Suicidology Online (SOL) is a peer-reviewed open-access journal publishing under the Creative Commons Licence 3.0.
The present paper explores whether the
Gaia Hypothesis has any implications for
suicidology. It may be that some of the implications
offend readers, and the present author does not
endorse all of the implications or, indeed, agree with
all of the theories presented.
Lovelock (1995, 2000) proposed that the
Earth was a cybernetic system with homeostatic
tendencies as detected by chemical anomalies in the
Earth’s atmosphere, which he replaced with the term
Gaia, suggested by William Golding (Margulis,
1998, p. 118). The Earth may be regarded as a
superorganism (which is not the same as a single
organism) that controls and maintains its
environment – its temperature, acidity/alkinity and
gas composition. Gaia is “emergent property of
interaction among organisms, the spherical planet on
which they reside, and an energy source, the sun”
(Margulis, 1998, p. 119).
Margulis gave as an example the symbiosis
between bacteria and mammals. Bacteria remove
hydrogen from the air (both from the hydrogen gas
itself, from hydrogen sulfide expelled by volcanoes,
*David Lester, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of Psychology
The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
Galloway, NJ 08205-9441
Tel: +1 609-652-4254
and from water), and they expel oxygen which
mammals need to breathe. In an early computer
model, Watson and Lovelock (1983) showed how
the sun and plant species could achieve a stable
surface temperature. In Daisyworld, the name of
their computer model, they postulated two species of
daisies, black daisies that grow best when it is cold
and white daisies that grow best when it is hot. As
the sun falls on a cool earth surface, the black daisies
grow faster and, being black, absorb the heat. This
warms the surface, resulting in lower rates of growth
for the black daisies and a faster rate of growth for
the white daisies. As the white daisies increase in
proportion, they reflect back the sun’s rays, thereby
cooling the earth’s surface, leading to the black
daisies benefiting. The result is an equilibrium,
oscillating in a limited temperature range.
It is interesting to note that Ward (2009)
proposed a counter-hypothesis, which he called the
Medea Hypothesis, after the mythological Greek
goddess who killed her own children. Ward claimed
that the Earth is a doomsday system experiencing
cataclysm after cataclysm and that it can be saved
only by human intervention. Ward pointed to earthgenerated mass extinctions, such as the period of
freezing which has been proposed as occurring
roughly 650 million years ago, as evidence of the Suicidology Online 2012; 3:51-58.
ISSN 2078-5488
suicidal nature of the Earth’s system.1
It is
interesting to note that this hypothesis at the level of
the Earth is analogous to the