Further Reading

Brain research shows cult suicides foreordained!

Stanton Peele asks what could possibly be the biological basis of the Heaven's Gate mass suicide. I'd say that the physical, biological brains of the cult members most definitely mediated their behavior. If not, Stanton, WHAT then? Their "souls," perhaps?

Mike Lyvers


Dear Mike:

Actually, I have now conducted my own research in this area. I had brain sections sent from the deceased cult members, which I examined closely under my microscope. I focused on the following four sections of their brains, and made the accompanying discoveries:

  1. Longevity: The older cult members had long life indicators, while the younger ones had shorter life lines. (I realize this is controversial, since -- according to Dr. Niels Holm, who compared ages at death among identical and fraternal twins -- "there is no evidence that genes dictate a maximum life span. Only 2-3 percent of the variance in ages at death is explained by genetics.")

    Naturally, the longevity sections of their brains (as with all other sections) might not be inherited, but might have been damaged or environmentally modified. Incidentally, this is now E. Fuller Torrey's theory of schizophrenia, that the inherited component is weak, while he and his colleagues found that identical twins with schizophrenia have on average about 10-15% smaller hippocampal areas and larger ventricular areas than unaffected identicals. (See E.F. Torrey, "Are we overestimating the genetic contribution to schizophrenia," Schizophrenia Bulletin, 18: 159-170, 1992; R.L. Suddath et al., "Anatomical abnormalities in the brains of monozygotic twins discordant for schizophrenia," NEJM, 322: 789-794, 1990.)

  2. Religiosity: All members had large religiosity brain sectors. (Again this is somewhat controversial, since Australian researcher Nick Martin and his colleagues found the heritability of belief in "bible truth" to be only .25; this is compared with attitudes towards the death penalty, for which Martin et al. found heritability to be > .50. See N.G. Martin et al., "Transmission of social attitudes," Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 83: 4364-4368, 1986.)
  3. Gullibility: The gullibility sections of the brain in all members was extremely enlarged.
  4. Sexuality: Here I made a somewhat complex discovery. The castrated members had *larger* brain sexuality sections (I actually looked at the "pleasure centers" in the brains, a la Ken Blum, and found these to be enlarged) than the non-castrated males. However, this is easily explained, since these were the members who needed the most help in counteracting their sexual urges.

A distinct pattern emerges in the brains of these cult members: high religiosity and gullibility, longevity clearly delimited, and -- for some -- the need to counteract strong pleasure urges. I would say for individuals thus predisposed who then came into contact with Heaven's Gate, suicide was foreordained.

Sincerely, Stanton