Problem Management — speculation

Ray Butterworth     Based on an article submitted to uw.general, 28 March 1994.
  In article <CMJ7o6.7vM@undergrad.math>,
  Rob Vanden Heuvel <rjvanden@cantor.math> wrote:
  > I claim that suicide is a strictly irrational
  > act and am looking for arguments
  > which contradict or support (preferably)
  > this position.
  > Any takers?


If you should find yourself understanding this and taking it seriously, stop reading. I do not wish to be held responsible for curing anyone's personal insanity.


If we believe that some supreme being has assigned us a purpose in life, and we are allowed to know what that purpose is, the rationality and morality of such things as suicide can be answered by that being and/or his/her prophets, agents, publicists, etc.

So, for the purposes of this discussion, let's simply assume that there is no such supreme being.

Now, is there such a thing as absolute truth? i.e. are there concepts that always have been and always will be true, independent of any individual's beliefs or perceptions? This does not imply that such truths can be discovered or proven, simply that they do exist. If there is no such thing as absolute truth, there is probably little point in discussing rationality or morality, since whatever conclusions may be reached will be uninteresting, if only because we know they aren't true.

So, let's assume that there is absolute truth.


Let's define "reality" as the way one perceives the world, and "insanity" as how far one's reality differs from the absolute truth. Without knowing what absolute truth is, we obviously have no objective measure of sanity, but a subjective measure is how far someone's reality differs from our own, and a reasonable measure is how far someone's reality differs from what is common to the personal realities of the majority of people in the community.


We all have our ups and downs, highs and lows, mood swings, or whatever we want to call them. If we plot those moods on a graph we end up with an irregular sine wave that (despite popular biorhythm theory) has many variations and patterns, both local and global.

For some people (e.g. the stereotypical accountant) the mood swings will be very small, ranging from slight happiness to mild disappointment. For others (e.g. the bipolar manic-depressive) the swings will be very extreme. Each individual will have his own predictable and non-predictable patterns.

We may think of these swings as changes in one's reality. At the highs we perceive things as being a lot better than they truly are, while at the lows we perceive things as being a lot worse.


There is a theory that all the important events and things in this world were done or created by manic depressives. When one is depressed, it is easy to see the world's faults and perceive everything as quite hopeless. But when one is manic, such problems present themselves as challenges and one works very hard to find solutions to them. Then, when one is depressed again, any faults in these solutions are quite obvious. The cycle repeats and the result is most of the advancements ever made by mankind.

There is another theory that the observation that one's reality swings above and below truth is itself optimistic. In fact, most people spend more time above than below, having a far rosier view of themselves and their futures than observation and reason could justify. For instance a survey of "what will your children be doing 20 years from now" will provide an average that is far nicer than what can statistically be expected. It is this unreasonable hope for the future that allows people to enjoy life. Without this built-in insanity, mankind could not have survived the evolution that brought him above the animals.

And there is yet another theory that not only is this observation too optimistic, but that even the lowest points represent a reality that is better than the truth. i.e. it is only at times of severe depression that one can even begin to perceive one's true situation.


Suicide is simply a rare moment of sanity during which one accepts one's true place in the universe.