“Often I think we with mental illnesses already feel guilty enough, and we are not responsible for our own suffering.”
Are you aware that Albert Einstein didn’t believe that any human being was deeply/truly/genuinely responsible for any “choice they make”? Einstein did not believe that humans understand what is happening when they “make a choice.” Al did not believe that people, at the moment of any apparent choice, have the ability to freely choose between the options before them. He didn’t believe that people were the conscious, free-willing authors of their own thoughts and intentions. Rather, he thought the entire universe was governed by immutable laws of physics. He believed that every event that occurs in this physical reality, including the events that give rise to every thought we have, and the events that give rise to consciousness itself, are subject to these laws. Al thought that guilt is a feeling that arises from a misunderstanding of the human condition. Al thought that if you ever think that you could have done other than you actually did, you are believing in an illusion: the free-willing self.
“I do not believe in free will. Schopenhauer’s words: ‘Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills,’ accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper.”
“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ — a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
“Our actions should be based on the ever-present awareness that human beings in their thinking, feeling, and acting are not free but are just as causally bound as the stars in their motion.”
Please understand, Einstein is referring to everyone, in every situation. “Mental illness” whatever precisely that is… has nothing to do with it.
Make no mistake about it, Al thought that people with “mental illness” have no less control over themselves than anyone else. Rather they are simply unfortunate to be thinking, feeling and acting in a way that is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM.) But most people don’t think like Al thought. Instead, the vast majority of people, incorrectly conflate “exhibiting signs of mental illness” with “having less control over your life.” It’s not that people without “mental illness” have more control over what they will think or want next, rather they are simply fortunate
that they don’t habitually think, feel and behave in ways described in the DSM. I think most people who insist
that they have free will incorrectly identify themselves as the sole or primary causal source of their thoughts and intentions because they first glimpse ideas and impulses as they emerge within their own consciousness. I made this same mistake for over 40 years until I watched this video
The thing is, in spite of how persistently persuasive the lived experience of making a decision may seem to confirm the existence of free will, this claim appears unrealistic when examined more closely. Our thoughts and intentions simply arise in consciousness. A few moments of quiet introspection spent listening to your own thoughts quickly belie the notion that you’re exercising free control over what you think or want. Try to clear your mind and to not think any thoughts for five minutes. Good luck. Surely if humans had free will, if they possessed control over what thoughts arise within their consciousness, intentionally causing no thoughts to arise would not only be feasible, it would be as simple as raising your right hand, wouldn’t it? Or how about this question: which ice cream flavor do you prefer, chocolate or vanilla? Whatever your preference is at the moment (assuming you have one) are you free to genuinely prefer the other one? Granted you and your preferences may change over time, but clearly you are not free to consciously choose what you want to want. Does anyone actually think that people who are unfortunate enough to be sexually attracted to young children are freely choosing to be attracted as such?
I no longer kid myself that I am in control of the thoughts that pop into my head. Of course I remain legally and practically responsible for everything that I do, but this shift in thinking, if persistent, literally banishes guilt, shame and pride from your life. Not believing in free will takes away the egocentric or self-centric view of life that we are programmed to believe in, and replaces it with one recognizing that no one is truly separate from anyone or anything else. Rather, we are all linked to each other and to the world around us, and everything that we do still matters, because everything is connected in this cause and effect reality. Author and neuroscientist Sam Harris, the guy from the video above sums it up nicely:
“So you can’t take credit for your talents, but it really matters if you use them. You can’t really be blamed for your weaknesses and your failings, but it matters if you correct them. Pride and shame don’t make a lot of sense in the final analysis, but they were no fun anyway. These are isolating emotions, but what does make sense are things like compassion and love. Caring about well-being makes sense. Trying to maximize your well being and the well being of others makes sense. There is still a difference between suffering and happiness, and love consists in wanting those we love to be happy. All of that still makes sense without free will.”
Just because no one has choices like most people believe that they do, one can still be whomever one wants to be without free will, in part, by recognizing a better explanation for what one is and what is going on in reality.
I wish you guilt-free wellness.
frank talk about mental health at iameinstein.com