Sigmeund Freud beckoned the importance of the civilized man's unconscious incapability of acknowledging death.

We cannot, indeed, imagine our own death; whenever we try to do so we find that we survive ourselves as spectators. The school of psychoanalysis could thus assert that at bottom no one believes in his own death, which amounts to saying: in the unconscious every one of us is convinced of his immortality...

Reflections on War and Death, Our Attitude Towards Death by Sigmund Freud (1918)

So thus, what is the point of suicide to each individual? This isn't a question of how rational suicide is. It's about the unconscious connection with suicide. If everything originates from the unconscious mind, then the thought of suicide must also. Therefore, the unconscious must be thinking of its own death if to conjure an idea such as suicide.

  • 1
    Why do you think that this is a philosophical question? The quote states an empirical truth. Your question is about the unconscious, which is a psychological notion, not a philosophical one. And your premises are Freudian, too.
    – iphigenie
    Jan 12 '13 at 20:44
  • @iphigenie I assumed that the question was too metaphysically in-depth for psychology, but I'll remove it here if you see it as irrelevant.
    – jeremy
    Jan 12 '13 at 20:47
  • 1
    You might be totally right about that, but maybe you could elaborate that point a little further - the metaphysical aspect that you see in that.
    – iphigenie
    Jan 12 '13 at 20:55
  • If we assume that everyone believes in their immortality, and join that with the fact that people commit suicide, it could be argued (and is rather consistent with psychological examinations) that suicide is motivated by the hope of release from a certain predicament. Death may be understood by the suicide as an egress from one's present condition, not as a termination of one's existence.
    – danielm
    Jan 14 '13 at 10:32

Inability to imagine something doesn't imply disbelief in its existence. Especially inability to imagine something from the point of view of that thing.

Inability to imagine self being dead is no different than inability to imagine self being in the dreamless alpha phase of dream. It's based on a technicality: to imagine we need awareness of what we imagine; being alive is a prerequisite of awareness.

Still, do you, going to sleep, disbelieve to any degree the fact your subconscious self-awareness will be gone for a couple of hours?

If you choose a short*) afternoon nap, is it because your unconsciousness is creating a belief you will remain self-aware, or denying it?

In essence the ability to imagine the abstract concept of being awake/alive is entirely orthogonal to origins of wish for sleep/death. The origin is much simpler biological impulse of discomfort/wish for comfort and the decision is a result of chain of logical processing of that impulse through our conscious knowledge base, to a conscious decision.**)

While all concepts may originate in our subconsciousness, their original shape may be entirely different than what reaches consciousness. You don't need primal image of death to decide on suicide, just as you don't need a primal image of cow to decide on eating a steak - you just need a primal impulse of hunger and a taught memory of steak.

*)too short to enter the REM phase and ever experience any subconscious sense of self-in-a-dream, just dreamless sleep.

**)Whether the process itself is performed correctly is entirely irrelevant. A faulty conscious decision is still a conscious decision.


I think this is a philosophy question, and it's actually fairly easy to answer

the logic for the argument goes:

1) representation occurs consciously, the unconscious cannot 'represent' anything to itself, including death

2) the main determinants of behaviour are unconscious

3) behaviour is largely determined by a belief in imortality

..so the question is, does the absence of a capacity to represent death imply a belief in immortality?

it's what's called a negative proof, inferring that something is by establishing that something is not the case. my answer would be that no, this is not a logically 'waterproof' argument.

  • I'm not sure I completely understand your answer, could you elaborate a tiny bit?
    – jeremy
    Jan 18 '13 at 1:05

Of the 200+ people interviewed who jumped off bridges to commit suicide, but survived, all of them felt the same sentiment the moment they stepped off and started to fall.

Get. back. on the bridge.

All of them were glad they're still alive.

Hope that helps.

  • 1
    Can you provide a reference for this interview? Jan 18 '13 at 18:46
  • I don't know what Tyler was talking about and I know of no systematic interview study that was conducted and peer reviewed in methodology. But there are of course individual anecdotes about regretting suicide. An example of such a singular interview is here: youtube.com/watch?v=WcSUs9iZv-g But this is, I believe, straying off topic so if you are interested in this you might want to post a separate question (probably not on philosophy SE, though).
    – MM8
    Jun 19 '16 at 10:41

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