Moult studies have shown the control power our brain has.

From relaxing yourself, to decreasing your breathing rhythm and auto-hypnotizing yourself to sleep (all three of which I have experienced), we have a lot of control on our bodies and functions.

I have heard (no sources to back this claim up) that one is unable to commit suicide by not breathing if in an oxygen-ful environment. The reason I heard is that one may stop breathing until passing out, but then normal operation mode resumes once you are passed out: one starts breathing again.

Since we have so much control on our bodily functions, shouldn't it theoretically be possible to commit suicide by requesting a brain shutdown.

The heart is an automatic organ which does not need a brain to function. So stopping one's heart by will isn't possible.

The brain on the other hand, is easily tricked and hypnotized. Which makes me wonder if someone suffering from severe depression could hypnotize themselves / meditate into a coma which may end in death.

Am I assuming too much power to our brain bodily function controls? Or, on the other hand, do my claims seem feasible?

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    What is the difference between eating and breathing? People have stoped eating by will. Death by hunger strike has been observed. – user unknown Apr 22 '11 at 23:58
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    @user unknown: Eating is not an involuntary process. If food is in your mouth, you'd have to be awfully distracted to chew and swallow and not notice it, and if you were unconscious you wouldn't eat. Most of the time, I don't notice my breathing, and if I were unconscious I'd still be breathing. – David Thornley Apr 23 '11 at 1:47
  • But isn't that circular logic? If you can resist to (eat|breath|drink), it doesn't count as suicide by will, because... ? Because what? You can't eat unvoluntary, yes, but we talk about not eating, voluntary. The opposite of the opposite, so to say. If breathing is performed without thought, stopping to breath wouldn't mean suicide through thought. – user unknown Apr 23 '11 at 2:01
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    Could you please provide a reference to "Moult studies"? – Oddthinking Apr 23 '11 at 7:20
  • @@Oddthinking, I was referring to studies about placebo and nocebo effects which have shown that if one does not believe a treatment will be beneficial, the treatment may turn out not be as beneficial for the patient cf sciencedirect.com/… . – ChrisR Apr 23 '11 at 11:44

The concept of "bone pointing" (a.k.a. Kurdaitcha) comes from some Australian aboriginal cultures.

The idea - from Western eyes, at least - is that, once cursed, a victim becomes convinced that they will die, and soon after do.

Many of the stories about such incidents are anecdotal, folklore or there may have been other more prosaic reasons for the death, but at least one case has been documented.

Now, if this were true, you could argue that it is a situation where the brain has been tricked into dying. However, in the recorded case, the victim refused food, so perhaps it cannot be counted under your definition.

  • This example is very interesting. It is exactly what I was thinking of. More specifically, as noted in your link, some argue that loneliness may eventually lead to death ( James J. Lynch: A Cry Unheard: the Medical Consequences of Loneliness Bancroft Press, Baltimore MD (2000)). By combining both hypothesizes, I suppose one could trick their brain into dying, even though one may somewhat unconsciously refuse food. What I mean here by "unconsciously" is that in their eyes, they are not "refusing" food but more so "no interested" in eating. Does that make sense? – ChrisR Apr 23 '11 at 12:01

It's not possible for a perfectly healthy person to will themselves to die. If it were, how many seriously depressed people would just up and die?

But, I do believe it's quite possible for a person who is in poor health, perhaps suffering from a serious disease, or a victim of a car crash, to will themselves into a state where they just don't want to keep living, and they die. It's a documented fact, that if a person doesn't want to live, then they have a harder time surviving such an ordeal. In fact, there is a paper that shows that having depression is shown to increase the likelihood of death, and that it's not related to suicide.

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    Just because the average depressed person can't kill themselves by thought doesn't mean that no person can kill themselves by thought. – Christian Apr 23 '11 at 13:58
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    #Christian: Depression can suppress a lot of things, and typically will seriously inhibit anything that requires a lot of will power. – David Thornley Apr 23 '11 at 15:43

I don't think there a way to answer this question definitely. For ethical reasons it's not really a phenomena you would be expected to be well studied.

The heart is a bit autonomous but it's possible to effect it via thought. People can learn to affect their heart rate through biofeedback.

What the hurdle when you want to stop your own heart or lung? If you have a lot of CO2 in your blood it increases the activity of your sympathicus. Sympathicus activity increases breathing rate and depth. It also increases your heart rate. I don't know of a way to block this process.

Instead of stopping your heart there's however also the possibility to speed it up. If your heart beats at 300 beats per minute it can't fill itself fully before the blood get's pumped out. Sympathicus activity would rather raise the heart rate then lower it. Tachycardia where the heart beats too fast already happens in some people with unhealthy hearts in nature. If it's fast enough and the heart stays too long at that level of activity people die from it.

There are a lot of factors involved that might prevent someone from killing himself this way but I wouldn't discount the possibility.


It is not possible to stop breathing voluntarily. Unless there is a serious medical condition (e.g., sleep apnea) this is ruled out.
I assume you are talking of some sort of nocebo effect, which is voluntary. I believe nature has built life to preserve itself, hence what you are talking is not natural. This is why, most of the life sustenance operations are involuntary, not controlled by brain. If it were, the entire euthanasia debate would be irrelevant.

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    You could need much practice, to control your brain that far. However, I disagree with your statement 'Nature has build ... to ...'. No - that's religion. Nature has no will and plans. – user unknown Apr 22 '11 at 23:57
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    Also, whomever mastered the skill could not really teach it to anyone ;-) – Sklivvz Apr 23 '11 at 0:16
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    Yes, I was somewhat referring to the nocebo effect (term which I wasn't familiar with until now). More specifically, I was skeptical about one falling into depression (for any reason it may be) and due to the nocebo effect die within a couple of weeks: a death linked to complete loss of hope for life. In other terms, a brain influenced and unconscious death. Kurdaitcha (see answer below) seems more in tuned with this. – ChrisR Apr 23 '11 at 11:53
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    @user unknown - Religious views may sometimes coincide with nature's desires (i.e. evolution) – apoorv020 Apr 23 '11 at 17:39
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    Nature's desire? Mother nature? A being with desires? Nature has no desires. – user unknown Apr 23 '11 at 18:12

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