Thursday, September 23, 2004

John Shirley writes:

"When I was having thyroid problems, I began having visions of suicide and a feeling of 'do it, do it'. When I got thyroid medication, those suicidal images and urges went away. Certain people (often teens) taking certain antidepressants, paradoxically get suicidal urges. Men who are very territorial and possessive of their families often--when their chosen mate decides to leave them--fall victim to a 'I must kill my family and myself' syndrome. It seems triggered by a specific set of circumstances. This pattern of self destruction, prompted with such cerebral automaticity, suggests that suicide is designed into us by nature. There may be a 'suicide program' wired into the brain, which is triggered at times, sometimes accidentally. This to me also argues that nature is up to something--that it has intention. It is willing to make us kill ourselves if we don't get with the reproductive program. It is more winnowing."

I bang my head against this issue all the time; am I a merely a convenient receptacle for selfish DNA molecules or am I a sentient individual fortuitously perpetuated by the machinations of DNA? Both, quite possibly. If so, which is the more important aspect of my being? What's the raison d'etre of intelligent carbon-based life?

Maybe it's a yin-yang sort of thing. Life and death; the solace of the inanimate waging perpetual war against the sense of individuality and purpose (however ill-defined) taking place inside our skulls -- and, just possibly, elsewhere.

Like Shirley, I've wanted to cash it in. At times there's an almost palpable drop in what can only be called "life energy" -- a sort of subjective energy-level maintained by the subconscious. Think of it as one of those little glowing meters that accompany characters in video games. You take so many bullets, or lasers, or punches to the face, and the meter drops to zero and you "die."

To Freud, the psyche was ruled by the immutable laws of Sex. I suspect the mind cares less about actual sex than it does the perpetuation of DNA. Superficially, of course, they're one and the same, but the ensured output of viable genetic material is far more abstract and depersonalized. It's as if we share our bodies with mechanistic genies with their own purely selfish agendas -- and when our own agendas begin to conflict with the deoxyribonucleic overmind, our "life meters" start to plunge -- maybe just a little bit, enough to produce a bit of existential unease -- or maybe a considerable fraction all at once, like blowing a tire.

It's then that the genetic overmind plants its roots in the fertile soil that once housed your volition and identity. You become a husk, loping android-like from once task to another until effectively lobotomized. As G.I. Gurdjieff stressed, we are literal machines. And although he didn't specifically invoke biochemistry, he may as well have harped on Richard Dawkins' inspired notion of the "selfish gene," had the idea existed in his time.

The irony is that a being constructed (and in certain critical respects defined) by genes bent on self-preservation can be lured to (or actually programmed for) self-destruction. I wonder if other planetary ecologies have produced intelligent creatures to whom suicide is a physiological impossibility; such creatures may exist among us in coming decades, and we will know them as robots.

Maybe that's the answer. Perhaps we are larvae, subject to incurable neuroses that will cease to exist only when we ourselves cease to exist, supplanted by something new, and -- in strictly Darwinian terms, if nothing else -- fundamentally better. Maybe Shirley's "winnowing" -- seemingly psychotic from our narrow vantage on the evolutionary bridge -- is an essential instrument in the betterment of our species, or at least a lens through which to glimpse where we're headed.

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