Approaching Suicide Positively
    By Sascha Vongehr | February 20th 2013 01:58 AM | 21 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    Howard Blume over at “looseendsdotme” in Assisted Suicide for Jumpers provides us with a strange article on my Suicidal Philosophy (which is as yet largely unpublished for reasons that should be obvious). 

    I am not sure what Howard Blume’s aim is nor why the article is often so centered around me personally.  It seems that he believes that I am mostly correct but address the wrong crowd in ways that are either merely useless or even bad.  He seems to complain that Suicidal Philosophy is not helping those confused on the edge, those who threaten to jump, but Suicidal Philosophy is not directly addressed at those.  Suicidal Philosophy and rational suicide (especially the concept of Global Suicide as a rational, self initiated switching-off of an advanced society that is integrated enough to count as a single super-organism) is addressed at, for example, the depressed, who may end up confused on the edge of a roof because they find nobody that helps them to rationally think about existential concerns like suicide, who accepts their perspective on suicide as being a perspective that one can have without being all silly and wrong. 

    Suicidal Philosophy helps to cope with existential anxieties and to embrace life via amor fati, calming, Zen-like enlightenment that is scientifically and philosophically mature!  If such should lead to suicide, then that is how it is, and any critical philosopher will only deny such truth under threat of consequences inflicted by a society evolved for its own survival disregarding the comfort of its participating individuals.


    Let me give short answers to Howard’s misrepresentations and what seem to be charges against my work and me, or at least misinterpretations; I expect that Howard will agree that he simply got my writing somehow at the wrong angle for a moment (and thank you Howard for that cute picture with the cop citing my article to a jumper - loving it).  

    I won’t go into all tiny details like the little kicks in the nuts starting with “nano-quantum-blackhole-obsessive-compulsive thinker” – hey, I mean, yes, that is one possible perspective, namely advanced thinking or even fundamental science as mere ‘ultra profoundness’ obsession and thus pathological thinking (I agree).

    Howard writes:

    To further alleviate any misgivings a jumper might harbor Sascha cites: “The fear of dying involves fearing pain and plainly fearing fear. Anybody who has ever endured a panic attack or so called horror trip will fear this ‘fear of fear’.”

    No – it is not “to further alleviate any misgivings a jumper might harbor”.  I wrote it in order to take the fear out of the thought process, in order to facilitate rationality when thinking about these topics, and I escape the charge of pushing a disturbed potential jumper over the edge, because those jumpers that hesitate out there on the edge already are not the ones who first study philosophy real quick or who already studied my work!

    Howard continues:

    To begin with: 1. Fear of fear is a misnomer. When I felt a sudden rush of blood to my face and head after over indulging on the fleshy steak-like chunks of the delicious shelf fungus ‘Chicken of the Woods’ I had a panic attack — not because of my fear of fear — I thought I poisoned myself. “Fear of” is about fear of something causing fear. 2. Jumpers don’t have a fear issue.

    1) Panic attacks, which usually come without warning, lead to the constant fear of having another attack at any time, and once you had a bad trip, the next ones are more likely to be bad too, because you start out with a tense setting being anxious about that the (known to be otherwise groundless) fear will set in again. 

    Many indeed fear the fear and thus trigger the fear– such is the perverse irony of life.  Howard is right about that fear is always of something causing fear; here the something that causes fear is the potential fearing. 

    2) That jumpers do not have fear issues is firstly wrong and moreover beside the point, again because I do not address the potential “Jumpers” who already stand at the open window.  I address, for example, the educated guy who has a hard time dealing with the horrors of society and who is going to blow his brains out if one more moralizing, obviously hypocritical pamphlet from a suicide hotline and their often badly hidden religious or political agendas is the last straw on the camel's back.

    Howard writes:

    Those who choose jumping from heights to end their life aren’t about to consult Wikipedia on the Philosophy of suicide.

    Precisely, Howard, thank you for this, because this is the significance of Suicidal Philosophy as opposed to the usual philosophy of suicide:  The latter addresses nobody, neither those on the edge of the wall nor those on the edge of thinking, when people increasingly conclude that suicide is a viable option!  It always is for modern, educated, rational people, the type that may read Science 2.0, and we want to be talked to like adults, not like misbehaving children that should stop thinking about naughty stuff. 

    Suicidal people actually do consult wikipedia rather than the philosophy of suicide, because they know that the usual philosophy of suicide has nothing for them, which is why we need to be explicitly distinct from such academic survival exercises.

    Howard then cites Scott Anderson’s “The Urge to End it All”:

    What makes looking at jumping suicides potentially instructive is that it is a method associated with a very high degree of impulsivity, and its victims often display few of the classic warning signs associated with suicidal behavior.

    Precisely!  Those who usually jump are impulsive; they have not thought it through, therefore you see them often just climbing out on the fourth or fifth floor right after an argument in the living room perhaps, which is insufficient height for killing yourself.  Such is not suicide but a scream for help.  Again: Those Jumpers that irrationally climb on the edge are not the audience.

    Howard writes then something that is more dangerous and careless than anything that I have written about suicide – this circumstance supports the value of a more rigorously scientific approach like Suicidal Philosophy demands:

    Six meters above ground is moot. Either way, at 6-meters or at “thud” the jumper will experience an immediate drop in transmission  — no pain to the brain — brain death — a no brainer.

    No!  If you jump from insufficient height, you will have a very bad time perhaps for many years to come.  On the wide spectrum between being crippled on one hand versus the movie simply ending six meters above the ground on the other, there are all kinds of painful scenarios possible; “no pain to the brain” is not a “no brainer”! 

    Indeed, if the brain would work, as some have wondered in discussions below the articles on related issues, by complete and conscious simulation to forecast future (something prohibitively calculation intensive and unnecessary), it would be completely wrong to say that the brain does not experience the pain!

    Howard then seems to be somewhat amused about my affiliation with the Lifeboat Foundation, perhaps partially because Global Suicide is the very opposite of what the Lifeboat Foundation desires.  I accepted the Lifeboat Foundation’s invitation to join after having openly expressed strong feelings about joining any platform that at least certainly seems to be largely about self-promotion, especially as there are even obvious pseudo-scientists on those boards (not something I enjoy being seen with, though then I am here on Science 2.0, ha ha). 

    I joined the advisory boards tentatively for now nevertheless because of the open answer that was given to me nevertheless, accepting my concerns, and I find it impressive, role model like behavior seen too seldom when any institution or group invites the active participation of somebody who doubts or opposes their position!  Such is a mature attitude to criticism; an attitude which is increasingly lacking from the scientific community for example! 

    After all, Lifeboat Foundation is doing precisely what Suicidal Philosophy scoffs at, namely holding on to the belief that anything advanced is still bogged down with a fundamentally pointless desperation about the evolved urge to maximize physical time or the amount of experiences that will be forgotten, worrying about deciding inside a thereby totally unaffected totality of what is possible (think quantum modal realism if you demand sciency sounding stuff). 

    I am affiliated with groups like the IEET not because I share their ethical stance, just as much as I am not eating a diet that increases the probability of a long life in order to live long; or think about suicide in order to shorten lifespan.  I do all these because I believe that they improve my and others existence right now, that they may improve the quality of our last days, even if the last days date is not affected. 

    After all, that 'today is my last day' is possible.


    IF such should lead to suicide, then that is how it is 
    I guess you mean here to doubt my opinions about whether rationality leads to suicide.  If so, point taken, but I meant to preempt here the usual charge that allegedly all non-PC approaches to the topic are fostering poor little teeny girls to slit their wrists and thus must be forbidden.  Apparently, in Australia you cannot even report on suicides anymore.
    Well, I might be overthinking this, but what Sascha describes as "suicide" is not particularly a suicide itself, but more of Shopenhauer's concept of "Elimination of Will" (which Shopenhauer himself regarded as the highest state a mind can achieve)...
    As a thought exercise, we can try to imagine an infinite knowledge. Yes, that would require more processing power than universe possesses itself and so collapse any mind into a black hole (and possibly violate Heizenberg's principle in process), but the point is that such a knowledge of every single detail of every possible universe on every level would result in elimination of thinking process itself! Yet - that absolute knowledge is precisely what minds are striving towards. Such state of mind, deprived of thinking, would be completely static and therefore, most likely, deprived of self-awareness. But isn't it the ultimate perfection?
    Obviously, the infinity of minds, the infinity of multiverse and quantum nature make things by far more complicated by the virtue that "infinity" iself is outside of "static" vs "process" duality... But that's another story...

    John Hasenkam
      Apparently, in Australia you cannot even report on suicides anymore.
    I don't know that it can be legally prohibited but there certainly is a lot of pressure to prevent suicides being reported and it appears to have worked because suicide is the leading killer for 15-44 year olds yet I don't read about it down here. We're a weird mob. At times not so bright. Just this week some Australian scientists claimed to have found a biomarker for depression: quinolinic acid. Imagine doing a differential on that marker, it is associated with so many conditions that you could spend a month getting results by which time the suicide has occurred. It will come and go, this single biomarker business as a prediction for some unfortunate behavior has more to do with business than medicine. 

    There could be an evolutionary upside to suicide. I sometimes wonder how many suicidal types were the first to go marching off to war. That suicide has always been a leading killer suggests it might have some adaptive value, if only be allowing the suicidal to undertake risks and adventures that the rest of us would care to avoid because we actually do want to keep on living. In the interests of the that mythical beast The Economy we should promote suicide because studies across multiple nations demonstrate that economic conditions have a strong influence on suicide rates so by promoting suicide we can reduce the labour pool hence drive up wages, reduce welfare and health costs,and so guarantee a better living standard for the living. The other problem with trying to prevent suicide is that it costs so much money to treat the suicidal when that money could be better spent on people who want to keep on living. So how we do treat the suicidal. First an antidepressant, then probably an antipsychotic, the result being the patient is so sedated and docile they couldn't be bothered popping themselves. They too often become the living dead. Hence as long as antidepressants have been around that initial antidepressant administration period does constitute a suicide risk and it is surmised this is because the patient again develops sufficient initiative to do the dirty on themselves before the sedating and docile qualities have a chance to kick in. Psychiatry: we can't cure you and we'll make sure you cannot cure yourself. 

    I think everyone would benefit by seriously thinking about suicide. The Myth of Sisyphus was a book that I loved for its elegant prose and penetrating insight. Deal with the question and barring major life changing events then get on with living. Come to terms with death so it can no longer dominate your life. In Living Without God, Phil Zuckerman refers to a hospice worker he interviewed. This hospise nurse stated that in her experience the people who were best prepared for death were the atheists not the religious. This struck me as paradoxical until a friend pointed out that atheists have no choice but to come to terms with death. They cannot run away from it. They accepted it long ago and then got on with living. Even St. Paul wrote: Death is the final enemy(Corinthians 1 or 2) Fair enough, death is that scary but why be scared all our lives? 

    The first and last of your three blocks here are interesting.  Now about the whole middle part starting with "There could be an evolutionary upside to suicide" - oh boy!  You might like to think that all through once more - almost every single sentence that is.
    We are all nothing and yet, here we are. Isn't that actually quite astounding? We'll have eternity to be without consciousness again once we die, so why not stick around and enjoy the experience of being self-aware nothingness while we can?

    John Hasenkam
    Sorry Sascha, the middle paragraph was my bad attempt at sarcasm. From an economic perspective though, at least for modern societies and those enamored by free market ideas, suicide should not be prevented because we always have surplus labour which the end rest up supporting. For eg. In Australia the official unemployment rate is 5.4%. The actual unemployment rate is circa 11% and add another 6% for under employment. The psychiatry part though, the implication from the research that suicide must ALWAYS be about psychopathology, they can stick that we're the sun don't shine. The argument is circular: you want to commit suicide so you must be insane. So I have a little sympathy(just a little) with transpersonal psychology, which borrows heavily from eastern traditions and perceives modern psychology and psychiatry as too often being in the service of the State rather than the Person.

    Suicide, especially by the elderly, was probably quite prevalent in some tribes and it may have been based on the survival of the tribe - unable to hunt and provide to the tribe I imagine many elderly chose to die for the sake of their children. There is a wonderful Japanese film about this, where the elderly wander off to a mountain top with the belief they will be carted off to heaven. A grandmother, too weak for the journey, is carried by her grandson. As they approach the base of the mountain they are confronted with a field of dead bones.

    The West is emerging from a theistic worldview to a don’t really know worldview. Theism was an explanation for death that seemed plausible to the great many. Christians and I suspect Muslims have extremely strong prohibitions against suicide. In Christianity suicide is the fast track to hell with no exceptions. We still live with this in our legal systems and our attitudes. We now need a new secular approach to the problem of death.

    In Christianity suicide is the fast track to hell with no exceptions.
     Chapter and verse?

    John Hasenkam

    It is a theological argument Derek and the views have changed over the centuries. If it were simply a matter of a biblical reference to justify a certain position the bible would be so large it would fill the library of congress. Below is one theological argument about suicide. 

    Augustine’s viewpoint on suicide has heavily influenced both Roman Catholics and Protestants. Thomas Aquinas, the most outstanding of Catholic theologians, gave three succinct arguments why suicide is a sin against self, neighbor and God. First, suicide is contrary to nature: every living organism naturally desires to preserve its life. Second, it is contrary to our social obligations: the whole human community is injured by self-killing. Third, suicide is contrary to our religious rights: God alone should decide when a person will live or die. Aquinas reasoned: "To bring death upon oneself in order to escape the other afflictions of this life is to adopt a greater evil in order to avoid a lesser. . . . Suicide is the most fatal of sins because it cannot be repented of" (Summa Theologica 2-2, q. 64,5). The poet Dante, following Aquinas’s theology, placed those who take their own lives on the seventh level of hell, below the greedy and the murderous (Inferno 13). For centuries those who committed the unconfessed and therefore unforgivable sin of suicide were not buried in cemeteries that Catholic priests had consecrated.
    The 17th-century Westminster Shorter Catechism, which remains authoritative for Calvinists, follows Augustine in relating one of the Ten Commandments to suicide. The Catechism asserts: "The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto."
    Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer also showed his indebtedness to Augustine when he wrote: "God has reserved to himself the right to determine the end of life, because he alone knows the goal to which it is his will to lead it." When that leader of the German resistance to Hitler was being persecuted -- prior to his imprisonment and execution -- he affirmed: "Even if a person’s earthly life has become a torment for him, he must commit it intact to God’s hand, from which it came" (Ethics [Macmillan, 1955], pp. 124-5).
    An examination of our biblical and church heritage discloses different degrees of tolerance toward suicide. For some it is always absolutely wrong; for others it may be an appropriate response in exceptional situations. The historical discussion provides some guidance for facing current dilemmas. Modern medicine occasionally extends artificially the time of death -- a fact that has generated fresh inquiry into situations in which suicide might be acceptable. Let us consider three cases involving elderly persons.
    In fairness - as you link to that particular article - that position is simply that there is no hell, which is one interpretation of "Christianity" among others, and although it may be the one for you, it is not the one adopted by most "Christians" if we count them all over the ages and refuse 'truely true Scotsman' meta-fights.  There are big name "Christians"* who hold suicide worse than murder, so if there is hell for anybody, suicide would be the fast track.

    Suicide is the most fatal of sins because it cannot be repented of" (Summa Theologica 2-2, q. 64,5). The poet Dante, following Aquinas’s theology, placed those who take their own lives on the seventh level of hell, below the greedy and the murderous (Inferno 13). For centuries those who committed the unconfessed and therefore unforgivable sin of suicide were not buried in cemeteries that Catholic priests had consecrated.
    This is why "Christianity" is bonkers:  Murderers better than those who humbly retire to leave the world to those who may know better what to do with their life.
    "Hell for all suicides" is obviously a theological argument but what I was objecting to was your blanket assertion that it is held "in Christianity".  This is not always the case; my link was to a Christian group who clearly do not hold such a view. As for Dante - why should 20th century Christians be bound by a 13th century poet writing political satire? Even your lengthy quotation was not about "hell for all suicides" but whether suicide is always wrong. They are not the same thing.

    Of course we could discuss what "True Christianity" is all day long. However, to get from "xyz is wrong" (if indeed it is) and "xyz invariably leads to hell" requires the proposition "wrong-doing invariably leads to hell" which even the harshest kind of Christianity would never say.  As John's quotation illustrates, the best argument anyone can come up with is that in the specific case of suicide there isn't any time left to repent - and that without explicit repentence you can't be forgiven. No need to point out the flaws in both assumptions. So, fear not - we can spare ourselves any No Scotsman Fallacy Fallacy meta-arguments. John's argument is a simple non-sequitur. There again, so is saying that Christianity is "bonkers" because some dude in the Dark Ages came up with such a flimsy rationalization of his church's teachings.   ;)
    John Hasenkam
    Derek approaching heaven,
    Fair enough but if one were to articulate all the positions christians have held on so many issues by the time one had articulated that one would have to start again because they would have already articulated another position. I'm so confused why people who are purportedly being transformed by the Holy Spirit(Rom12,1) have Christ dwelling within their hearts(Eph 1:6?), are partakers of the Divine nature(I Peter 1:12?) have the scales fallen from the eyes (Corinthians) can't make up their bloody minds! PS: haven't read the Bible in 30 years but the references are close). 
    Yes, it is highly frustrating that God doesn't make us perfect and omniscient. I shall suggest it next time He asks me.
    But, God or no god, we are perfect, and knowing only this, we become omniscient.

    My point was that your link basically claims there is no hell, while hell, I think you have to admit that, is not exactly a completely new concept in "Christianity".  I know, I know, time.  Hey - what about we sell a catholic suicide booth: Enter to be killed after five minutes with no escape.  Entering is the suicide; then there is time to repent.
    Hey - what about we sell a catholic suicide booth: Enter to be killed after five minutes with no escape. Entering is the suicide; then there is time to repent.
    The Catholics (since you mention them) already have one. It's called Purgatory. All they need to do is change the entry rules. They should be able to do that. After all, they invented it :) 
    Modern society buffers HR surplus by a lucrative industry of mass-incarceration for example, and such renders it a little on the silly side to claim a too direct connection between norms against suicide and economy or stability of a social system (much like many other rationalizations based on our naive market-economic models; this is not particularly about suicide).
    John Hasenkam
    Of course it is silly, it is an economic argument. As one economist quipped: you physicists have your Newton and Einstein, we're still waiting for a Newton. 
    Sascha: Ok, I surrender. I wasn’t out to kick you in the nuts, certainly not to make charges against your work. Maybe I misread you, misinterpreted you as you might have done with me. I appreciated your concept and ran with it, responded to it.
    Referring to you as a nano-quantum-blackhole-obsessive-compulsive thinker, was referring to brain power, intellect, your grasp of all things math, invisible worlds, inner and our belly button/memes — possibly excessive/abundant but an ability that I would very much like to own but don’t.
    Anyway. I’ll be by occasionally to wade thru your posts for any gems I can find.

    No reason to surrender - as I wrote - I think we mostly agree.  In my case, my misreading of your article is consciously overcautious because of the danger that readers easily take home the '"obsessive-compulsive" whose deranged nonsense makes our children jump' interpretation.  I like your article because it is on my side at least in two aspects:
    1) You say that jumpers do not first read up on suicide, meaning that my writing cannot be made responsible.
    2) You seem thus to support that (traditional) philosophy of suicide is not useful to those considering suicide.  Many AI guys do read philosophy of mind; many quantum physicists do read about philosophy of physics; but neither many depressed nor many psychologists read philosophy of suicide - they know it is useless to them from the little they have seen.
    Big rushes of intense, negative emotion are terribly unpleasant. 

    I am very familiar with fear of fear. I once had a terrible experience on an airplane flight. During some very bad weather, I somehow became convinced we were about to crash. It was a horrible sensation. My heart was beating very fast, and I felt I might faint. I hope never to experience that much fear again. 

    Also, because of recent sad events in my life, I am also very conversant with fear of sorrow. 

    I do personally fear to experience such intense negative sensations. Sometimes it is possible to avoid big cascades of negative emotion without causing other harm. In those cases I do try to avoid experiencing them.

    This all seems entirely logical to me.