Gaia, Suicide and Suicide Prevention
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
Email: David.Lester@stockton.edu 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.
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…