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Darwin’s wastebasket: The evolutionary purpose of suicidal behaviour

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From Matthew Hutson at Nautilus:

The second strategic model of suicidality is the bargaining model, which relies on the notion of “costly signaling.”6 A colorful example of costly signaling is the peacock. Managing a big, eye-catching tail is costly, in that it wastes energy and draws predators. But the fitter a peacock, the less costly a big tail, and so big tails have evolved to signal genetic fitness to peahens. They are attractive not despite their costliness but because of it. In addition to communicating fitness, costly signals can also communicate need. Consider baby birds. They don’t need to chirp for food if their mother is right there, and chirping attracts predators, making it costly. But the more hungry or sickly a chick is, the less it has to lose by being eaten, and the more it has to gain by being fed. So chirping louder is an honest signal of greater need for food, and the mother responds. (Anthropologists and psychiatrists have long framed suicide attempts as cries for help, but considered them pathological forms of pleading rather than the results of context-sensitive and evolved cost-benefit analyses.) Whereas the goal of suicidality in the inclusive fitness model is death, the goal in the bargaining model is help. Crucially, the vast majority of suicide attempts are not fatal. More.

What a rubbish dump. Self-evidently, one would need human consciousness in order to intend suicide because one must first know about death. Evolution before that has nothing to teach us. And when, exactly, did that happen?

The reason most suicide attempts are not fatal is so often that the attempter does not actually know how to kill himself or that ER staff will stay up all night trying to keep him alive.

If suicide advances “evolution,” should they bother? Is that not a violation of the right of the involuntary patient to be an “evolved” corpse?

Caution! When we tread on Darwin’s sacred ground, we tread on carefully treasured nonsense, and we must be careful. And tomorrow is Darwin’s Sabbath.

See also: Darwin’s wastebasket: “Evolutionary” explanation for female genital mutilation

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5 Replies to “Darwin’s wastebasket: The evolutionary purpose of suicidal behaviour

  1. 1
    Darwins_downfall says:

    I think that News has hit on it. Obviously, suicide can’t provide a Darwinian fitness advantage. Consciousness and the ability of abstract reasoning, on the other hand, certainly can. And these require complex neurology and chemistry. Suicide may be nothing more than one of the possible negative consequences of this complex “machinery”. The fitness benefits to the vast majority of the population simply outweighs the fitness disadvantage of suicidal thoughts of the few.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    DD, a reincarnated troll, states:

    “suicide can’t provide a Darwinian fitness advantage. Consciousness and the ability of abstract reasoning, on the other hand, certainly can.”

    “Fitness”, contrary to what DD may believe, certainly does not even begin to explain subjective conscious experience. Moreover, “fitness” ensures our perceptions and abstract reasoning are illusory and unreliable. In other words, “fitness”, instead of explaining how consciousness and abstract reasoning came about, falsifies Darwinian evolution as a coherent scientific theory for explaining how our cognitive faculties came about.

    Although reliable ‘observation’ of reality is a necessary cornerstone of the scientific method itself,,,

    Steps of the Scientific Method

    ,,, Although reliable ‘observation’ of reality is a necessary cornerstone of the scientific method, the reductive materialistic foundation that Darwinian evolution rests upon undermines this necessary cornerstone.

    That is to say, given materialistic/atheistic premises, not only are our personal beliefs about reality held to be somewhat flawed, and therefore in need of testing, even our perceptions/observations of reality itself are held to be untrustworthy and thus ‘illusory’ given the materialistic premises of atheism.

    Richard Dawkins puts the awkward situation between Darwinian evolution and reliable observation like this:

    Why Atheism is Nonsense Pt.5 – “Naturalism is a Self-defeating Idea”video
    Excerpt: “Since we are creatures of natural selection, we cannot totally trust our senses. Evolution only passes on traits that help a species survive, and not concerned with preserving traits that tell a species what is actually true about life.”
    Richard Dawkins – quoted from “The God Delusion”

    In the following video and article, Donald Hoffman has, through numerous computer simulations of population genetics, proved that if Darwinian evolution were actually true then ALL of our perceptions of reality would be illusory.

    Donald Hoffman: Do we see reality as it is? – Video – 9:59 minute mark
    Quote: “,,,evolution is a mathematically precise theory. We can use the equations of evolution to check this out. We can have various organisms in artificial worlds compete and see which survive and which thrive, which sensory systems or more fit. A key notion in those equations is fitness.,,, fitness does depend on reality as it is, yes.,,, Fitness is not the same thing as reality as it is, and it is fitness, and not reality as it is, that figures centrally in the equations of evolution. So, in my lab, we have run hundreds of thousands of evolutionary game simulations with lots of different randomly chosen worlds and organisms that compete for resources in those worlds. Some of the organisms see all of the reality. Others see just part of the reality. And some see none of the reality. Only fitness. Who wins? Well I hate to break it to you but perception of reality goes extinct. In almost every simulation, organisms that see none of reality, but are just tuned to fitness, drive to extinction that perceive reality as it is. So the bottom line is, evolution does not favor veridical, or accurate perceptions. Those (accurate) perceptions of reality go extinct. Now this is a bit stunning. How can it be that not seeing the world accurately gives us a survival advantage?”

    The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality – April 2016
    The cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman uses evolutionary game theory to show that our perceptions of an independent reality must be illusions.
    Excerpt: “The classic argument is that those of our ancestors who saw more accurately had a competitive advantage over those who saw less accurately and thus were more likely to pass on their genes that coded for those more accurate perceptions, so after thousands of generations we can be quite confident that we’re the offspring of those who saw accurately, and so we see accurately. That sounds very plausible. But I think it is utterly false. It misunderstands the fundamental fact about evolution, which is that it’s about fitness functions — mathematical functions that describe how well a given strategy achieves the goals of survival and reproduction. The mathematical physicist Chetan Prakash proved a theorem that I devised that says: According to evolution by natural selection, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness. Never.”

    Of related note to being Hoffman’s claim of ‘just tuned to fitness’: Fitness itself, although it figures centrally in the equations of population genetics, has no universally agreed upon measure so as to tell us exactly how fitness is to be numerically quantified into a rigorous, i.e. mathematically useful, measure:

    Fitness: A Battle is Raging
    The rigor of this approach, however, is lessened because there is as yet no universally agreed upon measure of fitness; fitness is either defined metaphorically, or defined only relative to the particular model or system used. It is fair to say that due to this lack, there is still no real agreement on what exactly the process of natural selection is. This is clearly a problem.

    Moreover, fitness effects cannot be predicted

    Prehoda’s Goof: Mutational Fitness Effects Cannot Be Predicted – November 28, 2016
    Excerpt: The new PNAS paper by Bank et al., “On the (un)predictability of a large intragenic fitness landscape,” takes a serious look at the effects of mutational interactions.,,,
    The point of the study is that epistatic interactions are profoundly unpredictable. By performing one of the largest-ever surveys of epistasis on engineered mutations to Hsp90, a well-known protein, they concluded that it is extremely difficult to predict what will happen.,,,their conclusion has far-reaching implications for all evolutionary predictions,,,,
    “our results highlight the inherent difficulty imposed by the duality of epistasis for predicting evolution. In the absence of epistasis (i.e., in a purely additive landscape), evolution is globally highly predictable because the population will eventually reach the single-fitness optimum, but the path taken is locally entirely unpredictable. Conversely, in the presence of (sign and reciprocal sign) epistasis evolution is globally unpredictable,”

    Thus, although ‘fitness’ may figure centrally in the equations of population genetics, fitness is, in reality, not rigorously quantified nor even predictable.

    And although Hoffman tried to limit his results to just our visual perceptions, as Plantinga had pointed out years before Hoffman came along, there is no reason why the results do not also extend to undermining our cognitive faculties as well:

    The Case Against Reality – May 13, 2016
    Excerpt: Hoffman seems to come to a conclusion similar to the one Alvin Plantinga argues in ch. 10 of Where the Conflict Really Lies: we should not expect — in the absence of further argument — that creatures formed by a naturalistic evolutionary process would have veridical perceptions.,,,
    First, even if Hoffman’s argument were restricted to visual perception, and not to our cognitive faculties more generally (e.g., memory, introspection, a priori rational insight, testimonial belief, inferential reasoning, etc.), the conclusion that our visual perceptions would be wholly unreliable given natural selection would be sufficient for Plantinga’s conclusion of self-defeat. After all, reliance upon the veridicality of our visual perceptions was and always will be crucial for any scientific argument for the truth of evolution. So if these perceptions cannot be trusted, we have little reason to think evolutionary theory is true.
    Second, it’s not clear that Hoffman’s application of evolutionary game theory is only specially applicable to visual perception, rather than being relevant for our cognitive faculties generally. If “we find that veridical perceptions can be driven to extinction by non-veridical strategies that are tuned to utility rather than objective reality” (2010, p. 504, my emphasis), then why wouldn’t veridical cognitive faculties (more generally) be driven to extinction by non-veridical strategies that are tuned to utility rather than objective reality? After all, evolutionary theory purports to be the true account of the formation of all of our cognitive faculties, not just our faculty of visual perception. If evolutionary game theory proves that “true perception generally goes extinct” when “animals that perceive the truth compete with others that sacrifice truth for speed and energy-efficiency” (2008), why wouldn’t there be a similar sacrifice with respect to other cognitive faculties? In fact, Hoffman regards the following theorem as now proven: “According to evolution by natural selection, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness” (Atlantic interview). But then wouldn’t it also be the case that an organism that cognizes reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that cognizes none of reality but is just tuned to fitness? On the evolutionary story, every cognitive faculty we have was produced by a process that was tuned to fitness (rather than tuned to some other value, such as truth).

    Thus, in what should be needless to say, a worldview that undermines the scientific method itself by holding all our observations of reality, and cognitive faculties, are illusory is NOT a worldview that can be firmly grounded within the scientific method!

    Why Evolutionary Theory Cannot Survive Itself – Nancy Pearcey – March 8, 2015
    Excerpt: Steven Pinker writes, “Our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth. Sometimes the truth is adaptive, but sometimes it is not.” The upshot is that survival is no guarantee of truth. If survival is the only standard, we can never know which ideas are true and which are adaptive but false.
    To make the dilemma even more puzzling, evolutionists tell us that natural selection has produced all sorts of false concepts in the human mind. Many evolutionary materialists maintain that free will is an illusion, consciousness is an illusion, even our sense of self is an illusion — and that all these false ideas were selected for their survival value.
    So how can we know whether the theory of evolution itself is one of those false ideas? The theory undercuts itself.,,,
    Of course, the atheist pursuing his research has no choice but to rely on rationality, just as everyone else does. The point is that he has no philosophical basis for doing so. Only those who affirm a rational Creator have a basis for trusting human rationality.
    The reason so few atheists and materialists seem to recognize the problem is that, like Darwin, they apply their skepticism selectively. They apply it to undercut only ideas they reject, especially ideas about God. They make a tacit exception for their own worldview commitments.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    Moreover, completely contrary to what Hoffman found for Darwinian theory, it turns out that accurate perception, i.e. conscious observation, far from being unreliable and illusory, is experimentally found to be far more integral to reality, i.e. far more reliable of reality, than the math of population genetics predicted. In the following experiment, it was found that reality doesn’t exist without an observer.

    New Mind-blowing Experiment Confirms That Reality Doesn’t Exist If You Are Not Looking at It – June 3, 2015
    Excerpt: The results of the Australian scientists’ experiment, which were published in the journal Nature Physics, show that this choice is determined by the way the object is measured, which is in accordance with what quantum theory predicts.
    “It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it,” said lead researcher Dr. Andrew Truscott in a press release.,,,
    “The atoms did not travel from A to B. It was only when they were measured at the end of the journey that their wave-like or particle-like behavior was brought into existence,” he said.
    Thus, this experiment adds to the validity of the quantum theory and provides new evidence to the idea that reality doesn’t exist without an observer.

    Apparently science itself could care less if atheists are forced to believe, because of the mathematics of population genetics, that their observations of reality are illusory!

    Moreover, as Nancy Pearcey alluded to in her ‘Why Evolutionary Theory Cannot Survive Itself’ article, given the materialistic/atheistic premises of Darwinian evolution, not only are our observations of reality itself held to be illusory, but even our sense of self, i.e. the belief that we really exist as real persons, which is the most sure thing we can know about reality, becomes illusory too.
    Thus, in what I consider to be a shining example of poetic justice, in their claim that God does not really exist as a real person but is merely an illusion, the Atheistic naturalist also ends up claiming that he himself does not really exist as a real person but is merely an illusion. Here are a few quotes to that effect,,,

    “that “You”, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing.”
    Francis Crick – “The Astonishing Hypothesis” 1994

    “We have so much confidence in our materialist assumptions (which are assumptions, not facts) that something like free will is denied in principle. Maybe it doesn’t exist, but I don’t really know that. Either way, it doesn’t matter because if free will and consciousness are just an illusion, they are the most seamless illusions ever created. Film maker James Cameron wishes he had special effects that good.”
    Matthew D. Lieberman – neuroscientist – materialist – UCLA professor

    The Confidence of Jerry Coyne – Ross Douthat – January 6, 2014
    Excerpt: But then halfway through this peroration, we have as an aside the confession (by Coyne) that yes, okay, it’s quite possible given materialist premises that “our sense of self is a neuronal illusion.” At which point the entire edifice suddenly looks terribly wobbly — because who, exactly, is doing all of this forging and shaping and purpose-creating if Jerry Coyne, as I understand him (and I assume he understands himself) quite possibly does not actually exist at all? The theme of his argument is the crucial importance of human agency under eliminative materialism, but if under materialist premises the actual agent is quite possibly a fiction, then who exactly is this I who “reads” and “learns” and “teaches,” and why in the universe’s name should my illusory self believe Coyne’s bold proclamation that his illusory self’s purposes are somehow “real” and worthy of devotion and pursuit? (Let alone that they’re morally significant: But more on that below.) Prometheus cannot be at once unbound and unreal; the human will cannot be simultaneously triumphant and imaginary.
    Per NY Times

    At the 23:33 minute mark of the following video, Richard Dawkins agrees with materialistic philosophers who say that:
    “consciousness is an illusion”
    A few minutes later Rowan Williams asks Dawkins
    ”If consciousness is an illusion… what isn’t?”.

    Atheistic Materialism – Does Richard Dawkins Exist? – video 37:51 minute mark
    Quote: “You can spout a philosophy that says scientific materialism, but there aren’t any scientific materialists to pronounce it.,,, That’s why I think they find it kind of embarrassing to talk that way. Nobody wants to stand up there and say, “You know, I’m not really here”.

    Thus, given materialistic premises, people become illusions whose observations of reality are illusory.
    And why in blue blazes should anyone trust what illusions having illusions have to say about reality?

    (of personal note: Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “Dream within a Dream” is a fitting reference at this point)

    A Dream Within A Dream – Poem by Edgar Allan Poe


    2 Corinthians 10:5
    Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

    2 Peter 1:16
    For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    Atheism is a mental illness:

    “, I maintain that whatever else faith may be, it cannot be a delusion.
    The advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health is one of the best-kept secrets in psychiatry and medicine generally. If the findings of the huge volume of research on this topic had gone in the opposite direction and it had been found that religion damages your mental health, it would have been front-page news in every newspaper in the land.”
    – Professor Andrew Sims former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists – Is Faith Delusion?: Why religion is good for your health – preface,,,
    “In the majority of studies, religious involvement is correlated with well-being, happiness and life satisfaction; hope and optimism; purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better adaptation to bereavement; greater social support and less loneliness; lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression; lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes towards suicide; less anxiety; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; greater marital stability and satisfaction… We concluded that for the vast majority of people the apparent benefits of devout belief and practice probably outweigh the risks.”
    – Professor Andrew Sims former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists – Is Faith Delusion?: Why religion is good for your health – page 100

    Knowledge of the afterlife deters suicide. Lessons From the Light by Kenneth Ring and Evelyn Elsaesser p.257-258:
    As far as I know, the first clinician to make use of NDE material in this context was a New York psychologist named John McDonagh. In 1979, he presented a paper at a psychological convention that described his success with several suicidal patients using a device he called “NDE bibliotherapy.” His “technique” was actually little more than having his patients read some relevant passages from Raymond Moody’s book, Reflections on Life after Life, after which the therapist and his patient would discuss its implications for the latter’s own situation. McDonagh reports that such an approach was generally quite successful not only in reducing suicidal thoughts but also in preventing the deed altogether.

    Since McDonagh’s pioneering efforts, other clinicians knowledgeable about the NDE who have had the opportunity to counsel suicidal patients have also reported similar success. Perhaps the most notable of these therapists is Bruce Greyson, a psychiatrist now at the University of Virginia, whose specialty as a clinician has been suicidology. He is also the author of a classic paper on NDEs and suicide which the specialist may wish to consult for its therapeutic implications. (14)
    Quite apart from the clinicians who have developed this form of what we might call “NDE-assisted therapy,” I can draw upon my own personal experience here to provide additional evidence of how the NDE has helped to deter suicide. The following case,,,

    Lack of ultimate meaning in life associated with alcohol abuse, drug addiction and other mental health problems – August 2015

    Christians respond better to psychiatric treatment than atheists: – July 21, 2013
    Excerpt: “Our work suggests that people with a moderate to high level of belief in a higher power do significantly better in short-term psychiatric treatment than those without, regardless of their religious affiliation. Belief was associated with not only improved psychological well-being, but decreases in depression and intention to self-harm,” explained Rosmarin.
    The study looked at 159 patients, recruited over a one-year period. Each participant was asked to gauge their belief in God as well as their expectations for treatment outcome and emotion regulation, each on a five-point scale. Levels of depression, well being, and self-harm were assessed at the beginning and end of their treatment program.

    As well, there are studies that show that people who do not believe in a soul are more anti-social (psychopathic) than people who do believe in a soul:

    A scientific case for conceptual dualism: The problem of consciousness and the opposing domains hypothesis. – Anthony I. Jack – 2013
    Excerpt page 18: we predicted that psychopaths would not be able to perceive the problem of consciousness.,,
    In a series of five experiments (Jack, in preparation), we found a highly replicable and robust negative correlation (r~-0.34) between belief in dualism and the primary psychopathic trait of callous affect7.
    Page 24: Clearly these findings fit well with the hypothesis (Robbins and Jack, 2006) that psychopaths can’t see the problem of consciousness8. Taking these finding together with other work on dehumanization and the anti-social effects of denying the soul and free will, they present a powerful picture. When we see persons, that is, when we see others as fellow humans, then our percept is of something essentially non-physical nature. This feature of our psychology appears to be relevant to a number of other philosophical issues, including the tension between utilitarian principles and deontological concerns about harming persons (Jack et al., accepted), the question of whether God exists (Jack et al., under review-b), and the problem of free will9.

    Why Don’t Psychopaths Believe in Dualism?
    The Role of Opposing Brain Networks Anthony Jack (Case Western Reserve University, Cognitive Science, Cleveland, OH
    In a theoretical paper linking the attribution of phenomenal consciousness to moral cognition, Robbins and Jack (Philosophical Studies, 2006) predicted that psychopaths would not perceive the problem of consciousness. New experimental evidence is presented which supports this claim: in a group of undergraduates it was found that support for a naturalistic view of the mind is positively correlated with the primary psychopathic trait of callousness.

    Moreover, atheism is rooted in emotion not reason:

    When Atheists Are Angry at God – 2011
    Excerpt: I’ve never been angry at unicorns. It’s unlikely you’ve ever been angry at unicorns either.,, The one social group that takes exception to this rule is atheists. They claim to believe that God does not exist and yet, according to empirical studies, tend to be the people most angry at him.

    Study explores whether atheism is rooted in reason or emotion – Jan. 2015
    Excerpt: “A new set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that atheists and agnostics report anger toward God either in the past or anger focused on a hypothetical image of what they imagine God must be like. Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University and the lead author of this recent study, has examined other data on this subject with identical results. Exline explains that her interest was first piqued when an early study of anger toward God revealed a counterintuitive finding: Those who reported no belief in God reported more grudges toward him than believers.”

    Look Who’s Irrational Now – 2008
    Excerpt: “What Americans Really Believe,” a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.

  5. 5
    Darwins_downfall says:


    DD, a reincarnated troll, states:

    Sorry, life is too short to read all your cut-and-pasta. But, given your claim that I am a troll, with nothing to support the claim, you can imagine the level of interest I have in whatever you have to say.

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