Review of The Evolution of Life Worth Living: Why we choose to live
Soper’s pain-brain theory, based on evolutionary biology, represents a provocative breakthrough for both suicidology and positive psychology. The main thesis of the book is that the evolved way of choosing to live rather than to die in the face of unbearable suffering is to develop a zest for happiness and meaning. His new theory can be summed up by a two-by-two matrix of “pain-type” versus “brain-type” of reducing pain, and the “keeper” versus “fender” levels of protecting us from suicide. My main critique is that the brain versus pain distinction is confusing because the brain is the center for all the functions needed for to reduce pain and keep us alive. Similarly, his football metaphor of two levels of defense (“keeper” and “fender”) is incomplete because the best defense is offence, when a good last line of defense can be quickly turned into offence. Therefore, a more fluid way of conceptualizing this distinction may be the dialectically interactive dual systems of life protection (Yin) and life expansion strategies (Yang) (Wong, 2012).
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