Are people who die by suicide or attempt suicide selfish?

Thoughts from  about selfishness and suicide via TheMighty.com.

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When a Friend Said ‘Suicide Is Pretty Selfish When You Think About It’

“Like… I get that it’s not the person’s fault really but… suicide is pretty selfish when you think about it.”

Flash.

Instantly, it was like somebody lit that spark in my mind that never fails to ignite my passion for mental health advocacy. For me, there’s something about stigma that turns an ordinary passion into the sort of fire you can just see in someone’s eyes.

The above sentence was said to me (paraphrased, of course) a couple of years ago. I was tabling with a fellow Active Minds member and a friend of hers had joined us to hang out. I think we were tabling about suicide, which is why the subject came up.

My immediate reaction when she said this was to be offended. Did she really have the nerve to say that while we were tabling about suicide prevention? Once I took a step back from my emotion I realized that she didn’t mean to insult anyone. She probably didn’t understand how stigmatizing it can be to label suicide as “selfish.” How could I expect her to understand when the topic of suicide is so seldom discussed in our society?

“The thing about suicide is….” I paused, not wanting to offend her or make her think she offended me, “Even if we can call the act of attempting suicide selfish, the person behind it is not acting out of selfishness… if that makes sense.”

I could tell she was truly listening to what I was saying, so I continued. “When someone is so far into that dark place they want to end their life, they might not be thinking about who their actions are going to hurt. Maybe they are in too much pain to think about it. And even if they are aware of how it might impact their loved ones, the desire to end their pain may have become too great to bear anymore.”

If I remember correctly, that’s about all I said. I could’ve gone in-depth about the known risk factors for suicidal behavior. I could have explained how feeling like a burden (a common experience of those contemplating suicide) might make someone think they’re doing their loved ones a favor by taking their own life, which might completely negate any feelings of selfishness or guilt that they might have had. However, I could tell she was really considering what I had just said, and I didn’t want to go too far and overwhelm her.

The notion that suicide is selfish is something I had spent a great deal of time thinking about.

When I was 14 I felt so incredibly guilty for wanting to die, because I knew if I killed myself my family would be devastated. For years, that guilt and the selfishness I felt for thinking about suicide kept me from reaching out for help. All of the stigma about suicide — much of which I had internalized — had me convinced it was better to suffer in silence than to have someone else think what I did: that I was selfish for wanting to die. I’ll never know for sure if that guilt had pushed me closer to the edge or further from it, but I do know that I’m grateful to be alive.

Make no mistake, I didn’t lose any respect for this acquaintance because of her statement, and there was no animosity created between us. In fact I’m glad she said what she said, because it reminded me that the stigma we need to face is not just in the media and our larger social systems, but in the people around us who don’t even realize these ideas are stigmatizing.

It’s one of the things that make the work I do as an Active Minds member or in other advocacy settings that much more important. I also realized that it was important for me to listen and understand where she was coming from too, because a one-sided conversation is not a productive conversation, especially in the pursuit of social change.

Being part of the social movement against mental health stigma can be difficult and discouraging, especially with the seemingly endless sea of misinformation and disrespect shown in various media outlets, but it’s worth it. Thinking back, it makes me happy to remember how respectful and thoughtful that conversation was. It gives me hope to know that “fighting” the stigma doesn’t have to be a fight —sometimes it’s as simple as a conversation.

I wanted to share this story here because I hope to see a day in which we can completely put to rest the idea that victims of suicide are selfish, weak or otherwise bad people, and think instead with empathy by making an effort to understand what someone might be going through if they are contemplating suicide.

My thoughts on the subject:

As a fellow suicide awareness / mental health advocate, I think it’s important to have conversations like the one you describe in this piece. I shared some of the same feelings of guilt regarding my own suicidal intentions and behavior when I nearly died as a result of untreated depression in 1998.

I think the conversation around suicide and selfishness is an important one. I think it’s important to acknowledge the pain and suffering experienced by suicide loss survivors. I think it’s a completely normal reaction for a suicide loss survivor to wonder: how much consideration did my love one give to me before dying by suicide? I think it’s equally “wrong” to blame someone for being suicidal as it is to blame a suicide loss survivor for wondering about the thoughts and feelings of their loved one prior to their death.

I often turn to the dictionary definition of the word selfish in conversations like the one you had: (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

It seems apparent to me that some people who die by suicide may not give very much consideration to the impact of their actions on others. They do not see themselves as a burden to others, rather their suicidal crisis stems from feelings of shame, embarrassment and guilt. Sometimes simply for feeling and acting suicidal.

I know that some suicidal people go through a series of desperate mental gymnastics to try to think of anything else besides the impact of their death on family and friends. This is part of a process that some suicidal people go through to work up the nerve, to work up the courage to take suicidal action. I know this because I did it, and I don’t believe that my suicidal crisis was unique.

Here’s how I’ve described my thinking in the past about why it doesn’t make sense to think of suicide as a selfish act:

Many view suicidal people as selfish cowards, but I believe it takes courage, massive amounts of courage to turn suicidal thought into suicidal action. Trying to cause your heart to stop beating, while knowing, to some degree at least, how much pain and suffering your death will cause for those who love you requires a special kind of morbid audacity. I won’t claim that there has never been a person who has died by suicide who lived selfishly during his or her life, but I insist that anyone who thinks those two words: selfish and cowardly — about the suicidal act itself, has no first hand experience with the macabre deed. The biological instinct for self-preservation is an almost insurmountable force to overcome. Death is the greatest unknown and fear-inspiring phenomenon facing each of us, which explains why possessing an enormous amount of courage is a prerequisite for dying by suicide.

Suicide can’t be accurately described as selfish either, although it’s understandable why people are prone to do so. The dictionary defines selfish as: lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure. I think it is unavoidable for survivors of suicide, the friends and family of people who die by suicide, to wonder how much consideration was given to them by their loved one or friend, prior to their suicide. Regardless of how much time and consideration someone who died by suicide gave to those left to deal with life after their death, the end of physical and psychic pain resulting from suicide can not bring pleasure nor profit to the deceased. So the suicidal act, by definition, cannot accurately be described as selfish. Suicide extinguishes any notion of the self. An act that causes the sense of self to no longer exist is inherently not selfish.

An open letter to President Obama about suicide prevention | frank talk about mental health | episode 9

November 14th, 2016

Dear President Obama,

Beau Biden was my captain on the tennis team in high school, and Hunter and I nearly won a football state championship together back in 1988.  As a self-declared brother of their father, you are undeniably an honorary member of our extended Archmere family.

I remember the moment during the early morning hours of August 23rd back in 2008 when I got the text message announcing that Joe Biden was your running mate, and I will never forget the moment later that year when you were elected president.  It was that night that I committed myself to getting into a position to leverage my personal connection with Vice President Biden, before you both left office, to the benefit of an important but underserved cause in this country:  suicide prevention.

My namesake and paternal grandfather died in a mysterious explosion at the factory where he worked two days after Christmas in 1951.  Within a year my fourteen year old father-to-be was working two jobs, and giving $40 a month (about $350 in 2016) to his mother to help support her and his two younger sisters.  He joined the Army after graduating from high school where he learned how to be a land surveyor.  After returning from his tour in Europe, he met my mother-to-be, bought a small land surveying firm in Delaware, and started a family.  My father ran the business while my mother ran just about everything else at home.  My parents, two high school graduates, paid for every penny of their four children’s education, which included private grade schools, the same private high school attended by the Bidens, and the colleges of our choice.  Good luck, hard work and love have made the story of Judy and Franco Bellafante an unequivocal example of the American Dream.

I enrolled at the University of Notre Dame in the fall of 1989.  Archmere and AP tests gave me a 30 credit head start, and I earned a Bachelor of Arts in just three and a half years, graduating Magna Cum Laude with a Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society induction to boot.  Mr. Tom Brokaw closed his commencement address to the class of ‘93 in South Bend like this, “It’s easy to make a buck; it’s harder to make a difference.  We need your help.  Go Irish!”  Four years later I became the youngest Principal out of 350 staff at a financial IT consulting firm located a couple of blocks from Wall Street.  I was 26 years old, and my bill rate was $250 an hour.  I won’t deny that I worked hard, but Mr. Brokaw was right.  The advantages afforded me had made it easy for me to become someone who billed in excess of half a million dollars a year in consulting fees.  Back then being successful at my job was paramount to me, while “making a difference” had been temporarily relegated to a distant backburner.

Less than a year later and a few weeks before being accepted into UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, a foreman at a warehouse arriving for work in Secaucus found me clinging to life inside of a running rental car that I’d turned into a makeshift carbon monoxide gas chamber the night before.  I had a near death experience in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and I woke up a couple of days later in the ICU.  Suffice it to say that my suicidal crisis stemmed from an unshakeable belief that I had become unable to live up to expectations I had for myself as a result of being the beneficiary of so many advantages and so much privilege.  Countless hours of introspection and study over the ensuing years have made me a “lived experience expert” regarding how some young people, with no prior trauma and with many apparent advantages, feel so self-loathing and so hopeless that they become suicidal.

In April of 2015 I left my day job in IT to work full-time in suicide prevention and mental healthcare advocacy.  I became a volunteer in the speakers bureau of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  I began to share some of the lessons I’ve learned since my suicidal crisis by giving talks at Philadelphia area schools and businesses aimed at lowering the suicide rate and reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness.

In June of this past summer, I was on Capitol Hill with hundreds of volunteers from the AFSP advocating for more federal funding for suicide prevention.  Thanks to Hunter and an assistant of the Vice President, I was poised to introduce the executive leadership of the AFSP to the Vice President and his policy staff when the mass shooting in Orlando derailed our plans to meet.  

You are taking questions from the press for the first time since the election as I write this message to you, and I’m compelled to share the following as if I was at the presser and you had just called on me.

Based on 2014 CDC statistics, about 58 Americans die from self-inflicted gunshot wounds every single day—a death toll nine lives greater than the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.  Annually that’s 21,334 lives lost to suicide via a firearm.  Comparatively just half as many Americans died by homicide via a firearm in that year, and only 18 Americans died in mass shootings in all of 2014 according to Mother Jones reporting. Imagine that at 12:00 noon tomorrow, 58 Americans simultaneously die by suicide via a firearm.  Imagine that twenty four hours later it happens again—58 simultaneous suicides via a firearm occur at 12:00 noon. Twenty four hours later it happens yet again.  

Am I right to assume that if this slight and absurd modification to the details surrounding the daily tragedy of firearm inflicted suicide occurred in reality, that you would be compelled to say and do things to try to prevent suicide that you have yet to say or do?

If so, why not consider adding more achievements to your team’s list of accomplishments in suicide prevention before leaving office?

There is still time for you to try to change what this picture looks like in order to bend the rising U.S. suicide rate curve.

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You are an elocutionary potentate and a transformational leader of humanity.  I imagine that you have inspired millions of Earthlings to serve the public’s interest in ways that they might not have without your influence.  I am grateful to include myself in this group.  Your vision for the future of this country inspired me to do the hard work to try to make a difference for others by being the change that I wish to see in this world.

With the election behind us, I’m happy to report that I am in the process of rescheduling the meeting between the AFSP executive leadership and Vice President Biden.  I will be sure to share the time of that appointment with you and your staff once it’s scheduled just in case you might be available to join us.

Thank you for all that you have done to prevent suicide and to improve mental health care in this country.  Thank you for being a constant reminder of the positive difference that someone can make in the lives of others.

Sincerely,

Francesco Bellafante
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Greater Philadelphia Chapter Board of Directors
Zero Suicide Champion
frank talk about mental health ~ leveraging the genius of Einstein to stop suicide and to maximize well-being
iameinstein.com

A letter to the man who killed the psychiatrist who treated me before ever speaking with me

November 4, 2016

Dear Christopher,

On August 14th 2002, I was civilly committed to the MeadowWood mental hospital by a psychiatrist who worked at Christiana Hospital.  The doctor who committed me failed to ask me one single question about the incident leading to my involuntary psychiatric treatment.  After being admitted to MeadowWood and prior to meeting or speaking with the psychiatrist who was responsible for my care, Dr. Caroline Ekong, I was informed that she had directed the staff to treat me with Risperdal, an oral antipsychotic.  I respectfully refused to swallow the Risperdal, and asked if I could at least speak with Dr. Ekong prior to commencing taking any psychopharmacological  drugs.

Dr. Ekong refused my request to speak or meet with her prior to commencing treatment. Staff at the mental hospital told me that I would have the chance to meet and speak with Dr. Ekong the following day, but that I still had to begin taking the Risperdal immediately.  I was told that if I refused to swallow the Risperdal that I would be given an injection of Haldol, another antipsychotic.

I told the staff I thought it was wrong for me to be treated against my will by a doctor who hadn’t even spoken with me yet, and I told them that I would not willingly take the Risperdal.  I also told them that I wouldn’t physically resist being injected with the Haldol if they were compelled to treat me without my consent.  They were so compelled, and I did not resist.

Subsequently I began swallowing the Risperdal to avoid receiving any additional Haldol injections.  Ten days later, the same day that my involuntary commitment would have been reviewed by a judge, Dr. Ekong released me from the hospital.

In May of this year, while working on a memoir manuscript about my mental health care journey, I Googled “Caroline Ekong” and first learned about your story.

A couple days after learning some details of your mental health care journey I posted this on Instagram.

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Christopher Frick stabbed Dr. Caroline Ekong to death in October of last year at her home in Hockessin, Delaware, three years after she civilly committed him to a private psychiatric hospital.  I just learned of this event this week.

Dr. Ekong was the same caregiver who ordered me to be injected with Haldol before ever meeting or speaking with me after I trespassed at CIA headquarters five weeks before the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks back in 2002.

Imagine if judges in our legal system could imprison suspects and order them to be injected with potentially life-threatening substances without meeting or speaking with them.  Imagine if imprisoned criminal suspects and criminals were financially responsible for paying fees for being in prison, including one to the judge who jailed them.  These ideas are just as absurd as a reality in the mental health care system as they would be if they were part of our legal system.

I do not blame any individual for my harrowing experience with Haldol, even if their actions were illegal.  On the contrary, I am exceedingly appreciative of anyone who dedicates themselves to caring for the well-being of others.  They are my brothers and sisters on the front line in the battle to bring about the beginning of the end of suicide.

I don’t seek attention for my anecdotal experience with mental health care mistreatment for the purpose of retributive justice or sympathy, and unlike some survivors of less than optimal behavioral health care, I do not want to burn the existing system to the ground.  Rather, my motivation for sharing this story publicly is to increase awareness about human rights violations occurring within our mental health care system in order to inspire social change and systemic reform.

Caroline Ekong and Christopher Frick are victims of the same thing: a broken, but fixable behavioral healthcare system.

I’m sorry that you’re in the position that you’re in, and I’m sorry that I wasn’t compelled to share publicly about my experience with Dr. Ekong prior to last October.  I can’t help but imagine how telling my story could have been the cause of you thinking and acting differently than you did.  But that is not how our stories played out unfortunately.

Fortunately we are both still in a position to try to improve the mental health care system that treated us without our consent.  I would appreciate the opportunity to learn more about your mental health care journey if you’re open to communicating with me.

Warmest regards,

Francesco Bellafante

Why do people without trauma in their past become suicidal?

In this post I will answer some of the questions that I posed in frank talk about mental health, episode 7 | Why do people attempt suicide? 

As a reminder, I am a suicide attempt survivor who had a near death experience due to semi-intentionally caused acute carbon monoxide poisoning eighteen and a half years ago when I was 27 years old. 

As I explained in episode 7, I’m aware that my answers to these questions don’t apply to everyone who becomes suicidal or who dies by suicide.  With that said, I still don’t believe that my answers are unique, and apply only to me.  While my answers may not resonate with you or with what you think your loved one was thinking and feeling when he or she attempted or died by suicide, I’m convinced that they apply to many people.  A growing number of suicide attempt survivors are sharing about the circumstances leading up to their suicidal crisis.  While it’s impossible to know for sure precisely what someone who died by suicide was thinking, I believe it’s possible to gain insight into the state of mind of a loved one or associate who died by suicide by exploring the growing number of personal accounts provided by suicide attempt survivors like myself.  By revealing insights about my suicidal mindset, I hope to provide, at the very least, a modicum of understanding and peace to those left to mourn and remember loved ones who have died by their own hand.  

I also hope to be a source of hope for those who may be feeling hopeless and suicidal.

1.  Why do people who have every single thing that they need and almost everything that they want have suicidal thoughts?

If you are a human being that has a sense of self, if you have a sense of personal identity or an ego, I think you are susceptible to having suicidal thoughts.

The problem of suffering arises from our reaction to what-is, our resistance to it, or our interpretation of it, which is a function of our conditioning.

Lionel Corbett

My paternal grandfather died when my father was just thirteen years old.  Within a year of his father’s death, my father worked two jobs to help support his family to the tune of $350 a month (in 2016 dollars).  Neither of my parents went to college, but they were determined to provide my siblings and I with the highest quality education possible given their middle class income.  I went to private school from the time I was in fourth grade through college.  I graduated from the University of Notre Dame in just three and a half years, and by the time I was twenty six years old I was working for an information technology consulting firm a couple of blocks from Wall Street.  My bill rate was $250 an hour.  While on assignment in Toronto, I had a troubling experience at work.  The genesis of the crisis that nearly resulted in my suicide was a single, negative interaction with the senior client on my sub-team in Toronto.  At our first meeting, the senior client manager on the team asked me if I had any prior experience working with commercial lending, credit risk management systems.  The way he framed the question indicated he assumed I would respond affirmatively, but I had no such relevant experience.  I balked at saying no, and then pivoting to explain why I would still be a valuable asset to the team and the project as a whole.  Instead, I responded, “Excuse me?” as if I didn’t hear his question.  The man was less than five feet away from me, and he spoke quite clearly;  I was instantly and irrevocably mortified.  By the time he had finished rephrasing his question slightly, I was ready to give him my “no” which I did, but I failed miserably, in my view anyway, when I tried to pivot back to why he should still be pleased to have me on his team.

I began to suffer as a result of this interaction, not because of what had happened, but rather because of my interpretation of what had happened.  My self image and my sense of self-worth had been based on what authority figures in my life thought of me.  This worked fine for the first twenty six years of my life.  My parents were the first authority figures in my life, followed by my teachers and then my superiors at work.  My sense of self-worth and self-esteem was probably higher than average because the feedback that I had received from these people was overwhelmingly positive.  This incident at work in Toronto changed all of that.  I became convinced that an authority figure (my client) thought very poorly of me.  He never said this, but I believed that he was thinking thoughts like this:  I can’t believe that we’re paying this guy two hundred and fifty bucks an hour!  He’s not worth $2.50 an hour!!   Whether he thought this or not really wasn’t important.  It’s what I thought an authority figure thought about me, and in a very short period of time, I believed it as the irrefutable truth.  I came to see myself as an under-qualified, over-compensated fraud.

It still seems incredible to me how quickly I unraveled; how quickly hope and excitement for the future were replaced by fear and apprehension.  Within a month’s time, my internal monologue became almost unrecognizable to me.  The voice I was accustomed to hearing, one brimming with confidence, resourcefulness, excitement and determination was replaced by one saddled with uncertainty, doubt, indecision and distress.  Thinking and feeling so negatively about myself for an extended period of time was a novel experience for me.  I searched my psyche in vain for something to reverse my psychological and emotional slide, but the unrelenting pessimism of the voice in my head stripped away my self-esteem and hope for things to come.  Silencing my fearful, troubled, constantly-questioning self-talk at night was so difficult that getting sound sleep became impossible.  Night after night I only slept between zero to three hours at most thanks to the ceaseless barrage of dark, automatic thoughts that bombarded my consciousness, and ate away at my sanity.  As I continued descending a downward spiral of disempowering thoughts, I began to ruminate over what I was doing with my life.  I remember the first glimmer of my very first suicidal ideation.  It happened on a particularly turbulent flight home to New York from Toronto on a Friday afternoon.  Normally unnerved by turbulence, I found the unlikely prospect of crashing oddly comforting.  I remember thinking:  If only this plane would go down, I wouldn’t have to worry about this miserable assignment any longer.  

Within just a couple of weeks of my professional faux pas in Toronto, I had discounted all of my prior accomplishments, as my formerly steadfast belief in my ability to intellectually tackle any problem waned.  Some bad luck left me socially isolated as my five closest friends all coincidentally moved away from New York City over the course of a few weeks.  The lack of reassurance received from my usual sounding boards to bolster my flagging self-confidence paved the way for my suicidal crisis.  My ability to concentrate was so impaired from lack of sleep, that completing simple tasks—like deciding what to have for dinner, or packing my bag for the week ahead in Toronto—became cognitively burdensome.  Not surprisingly, given my deteriorating mental faculties, effectively performing the duties of my job became impossible.  I became certain that I wasn’t ever going to be able to live a life that would honor my parents and all of the sacrifices they had made for me.  In a short period of time, my thoughts of death gave rise to thoughts of suicide, followed eventually by a practical plan to end my life.

2.  What goes wrong with someone that has so many gifts, talents, privileges, and advantages?

The good fortune that I experienced through the first twenty-six years of life left me with high expectations for myself and my future.  The incident in Toronto caused me to confuse being unknowledgeable in a particular subject (commercial lending risk management) with being un-intelligent in general.  This cognitive mistake and my faith in the veracity of my conclusions due to my track record of being a high performer in school and at work led me to believe that the expectations that I had for myself were beyond my reach.  I became consumed with feelings of guilt, embarrassment and shame as a result.  I felt guilty that I was even considering the idea of checking out given the depth and breadth of suffering experienced by countless others in the world.  I felt guilty that I had achieved so little in life after having been given so much.  I was embarrassed that I had ever thought I was intelligent and that I could achieve anything that I set my sights on.  I was embarrassed that I was in a situation where I obviously needed help and was mortally afraid to ask for it.  I was ashamed that I was considering ending my life because I feared that I wouldn’t be able to earn an above average living.  I was ashamed of the imagined prospect of having to move back home to Delaware to live with my parents, and get a job in the local shopping mall.

Guilt involves falling short of one’s own moral standards.

Embarrassment is the feeling of discomfort experienced when some aspect of ourselves is, or threatens to be, witnessed by or otherwise revealed to others and we think that this revelation is likely to undermine the image of ourselves that, for whatever reason or reasons, we seek to project to those others.

Shame arises from measuring our actions against moral standards and discovering that they fall short.

Dr. Neel Burton

3.  How can someone who has love for his family and friends and whom is loved by his family and friends be suicidal and not tell a loved one?  How can they not reach out to a loved one for help?

I did reach out to a few close friends to express that I was having trouble, although I never went so far as to explicitly say that I was in need of help.  I even told my closest friend at the time that I had gone as far as considering ending my life.  Regarding reaching out to members of my family, I had a single conversation with my parents from my hotel room in Toronto several weeks before I nearly killed myself, where I expressed concerns about my performance at work.  In each case, my communication was only as effective as the responses that it elicited.  I received constructive advice from one friend—he suggested that I quit my job and try doing something completely different for awhile like go work at a ski resort or on a cruise ship.  Another friend was moved to discuss his concerns about my situation with his father who subsequently telephoned me to check in on me.  The friend I explicitly shared about my suicidal thoughts with became emotional as a result of my revelation, and was supportive in the moment, but he still wasn’t compelled to talk about our conversation with anyone else.  As far as the interaction with my parents, as novel as it was for me to express concerns about work to them, they too didn’t grasp the severity of my situation.  Me engaging in suicidal behavior wasn’t an eventuality that they seriously entertained.

I viewed my deteriorating mental health as a character flaw, because I believed other people would see it the same way, and I believed that asking for help to deal with what was going on in my head was a sign of a personal weakness. Thoughts and beliefs like these lie at the heart of the stigma surrounding mental illness, and explain why many people suffering like I was back then never seek help.

4.  What motivates someone without traumatic experience who has access to loving support from family and friends to harm themselves?

Unsubstantiated beliefs about myself and my future coupled with irrational thinking due to sleep deprivation motivated me to engage in suicidal behavior.

5.  What could a loved one (or anyone else) of a suicide attempt survivor or someone lost to suicide have done to prevent the suicide attempt or suicide?

Obviously, there’s nothing anyone can do to change the outcome of an event in the past.  As a free will skeptic, I don’t believe that human beings consciously author their thoughts or intentions.  We live in a cause and effect physical reality that is governed by immutable laws.  Like Albert Einstein, I too believe that the thoughts and intentions that arise in consciousness do so according to these natural laws.  Given this view of reality, there’s no coherent way to explain how an organism, human or otherwise, makes freely-willed conscious choices.  Einstein believed that the subjective experience of making “choices” was a “delusion of consciousness.”  As a result, Einstein believed that thoughts and feelings like regret, guilt and shame are all based on a gross misunderstanding of reality that arises from an egocentric view of life.  I think Einstein’s answer to this question would have sounded something like this:  There is nothing that a loved one (or anyone else) could have done differently to prevent the suicide attempt or suicide of someone.  The person who blames him or herself for not behaving in a way that he or she thinks would have or could have prevented the suicide attempt or suicide of someone is misunderstanding how the universe works.  For that person to have done something other than they did, the universe would have had to have been in a different state than it was in at the moment in question.  

The universe is going to unfold how it is going to unfold based on the immutable laws of physics, whether we can foresee what’s going to happen or not.  In simple cases, we can accurately predict the future.  In unfathomably more complex cases—predicting the thoughts that arise within a human being’s consciousness and what she is going to do as a result—we cannot reliably make accurate predictions yet.  Our understanding of neurobiology has yet to reach the point where we can accurately predict the output of the most complex object in the known universe:  the human brain.  

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Make no mistake, I still believe that preventing suicides from occurring in the future is possible and worthwhile work.  Knowledge of the warning signs and risk factors for suicide and vigilance can be the cause of someone avoiding a suicide attempt altogether.  Also worth noting, there is always help available for someone in the midst of a suicidal crisis.  You can always call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

6.  Why was I “gripped by fear” about life?

Fear seems to have many causes. Fear of loss, fear of failure, fear of being hurt, and so on, but ultimately all fear is the ego’s fear of death, of annihilation. To the ego, death is always just around the corner. In this mind-identified state, fear of death affects every aspect of your life.

Eckhart Tolle

I don’t recall precisely when I came to understand that my lungs will cease drawing breath and my heart will stop pumping blood and I will die.  I also don’t remember when I realized that absolutely no one has any certain knowledge about what is going on in existence.  The apparent unknowability of the answers to the “big picture” questions that homo sapiens ponder can be unsettling to some.  The certainty around the inevitability of the death of the body coupled with the uncertainty around what is going on in existence is enough to give any contemplative person pause.  

Serial Podcast story pitch

Dear Serial Podcast producers:

In 1993 I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Notre Dame in just three and a half years, and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. 

In 1998 I had a near death experience in the back of an ambulance due to semi-intentionally caused acute carbon monoxide poisoning.  I drew this picture during my first ever stay in a mental hospital.

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In 2002, less than a year after I learned that my birth name literally translates to “candid catnip soldier” and within several weeks of watching the movie The Bourne Identity, I trespassed at CIA headquarters with a large framed poster of Albert Einstein with his tongue sticking out, while in possession of marijuana. After being questioned for a few hours, I was cited for two misdemeanors and released.

The next day I told my father a story about what had happened.

Subsequently my father told a story based on the story I told him to my mother and my older brother.

Twelve days later my mother and brother told a story to Dr. Michael Marcus, a psychiatrist, based on the story they had heard from my father.

Without asking me a single question about the story Dr. Marcus had been told by my mother and brother, he committed me to a for-profit mental hospital for emergency involuntary medical care.

Hours later, Dr. Caroline Ekong reportedly read the civil commitment document filled out by Dr. Marcus about why I needed emergency medical care.  Without ever seeing or speaking with me, Dr. Ekong directed staff at the mental hospital to treat me with an oral antipsychotic.

I respectfully refused to swallow the medication, and requested to speak with Dr. Ekong before she began providing me with medical care.

Staff at the mental hospital informed me that Dr. Ekong was not at the hospital, and was not willing to speak with me by telephone.  I was told that if I continued to refuse medical care, that I would be injected with a different antipsychotic medication.

The hospital staff did not inform me of the potential “side-effects” of the two antipsychotics which include a non-zero chance of causing death due to Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome.

I refused to swallow the oral antipsychotic, but I did not resist the hospital staff when they injected me with Haldol.

Subsequently, I agreed to take the oral antipsychotic medication due to the horrible state of consciousness induced by the Haldol.

Dr. Ekong restored my inalienable rights of liberty and the pursuit of happiness on the same day that my “civil commitment” for involuntary medical care was subject to review by a judge in a court of law.

Four years later, in October of 2006 I made another unauthorized visit to CIA headquarters in order to illustrate ways to improve this country’s mental health care system, and was cited for trespassing again.  Judge T. Rawles Jones of the Eastern District Court of Virginia presided over the ensuing 18 minute trial where I defended myself, and was found not guilty.  

Nine years later in late 2015, I watched Sam Harris’s 2012 talk at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas about the illusory nature of free will.

In May of 2016, while working on a memoir manuscript about how the events described above led me to view the life of free will skeptic, Albert Einstein, as “the brand new greatest story ever told,”  I learned that Christopher Frick, a 21 year old man whom Dr. Ekong had civilly committed in 2013, stabbed her to death in October of 2015.

A couple days later I posted this on Instagram:

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-10-53-08-am“Imagine if judges in our legal system could imprison suspects and order them to be injected with potentially life-threatening substances without meeting or speaking with them.  Imagine if imprisoned criminal suspects and criminals were financially responsible for paying fees for being in prison, including one to the judge who jailed them.  These ideas are just as absurd as a reality in the mental health care system as they would be if they were part of our legal system.

I don’t seek attention for my anecdotal experience with mental health care mistreatment for the purpose of retributive justice or sympathy, and unlike some survivors of less than optimal behavioral health care, I do not want to burn the existing system to the ground.  Rather, my motivation for sharing this story publicly is to increase awareness about human rights violations occurring within our mental health care system in order to inspire social change and systemic reform.  Caroline Ekong and Christopher Frick are victims of the same thing: a broken, but fixable behavioral healthcare system.”

In October of 2016, after securing an appointment with Vice President Biden and/or his policy staff at the White House to introduce him/them to the executive leadership of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, I submitted this story to the creators of Serial.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Francesco Bellafante
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Philadelphia Chapter Board Member
Zero Suicide Champion
frank talk about mental health ~ leveraging the genius of Einstein to end suicide and to maximize well-being

Guilt is a feeling that arises from a misunderstanding of the human condition – Albert Einstein

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“Often I think we with mental illnesses already feel guilty enough, and we are not responsible for our own suffering.”
Dear Ms. Booth: 
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.
 
Einstein wrote this:
 
“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.”
 
And this too:
 
“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.”
 
And finally… this too:
 
“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.
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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.
Warmest regards,
Francesco Bellafante
frank talk about mental health at iameinstein.com

Free will discussion with author John C. Wright

I have a Google alert for suicide that included this post from John C. Wright yesterday.

The Suicide of Thought (Part Eight)

PartEight:  The Matter of  Materialism

Please note that the endless and silly debate about determinism and reductionist materialism is nothing but the crudest possible form of science worship as I have here defined it: the materialist takes the intuitive axiom of scientific reasoning, that all bodies act without free will, and applies it to the thoughts and deeds of human beings, and comes to a conclusion that renders all law and punishment simply meaningless.

But the two methods of reasoning cannot apply to the subjects proper to the other.

No one thanks the sun for having the fidelity to hold the beloved Earth in orbit, never letting it slip out into cold interstellar darkness.  It is gravity, not fidelity, that is the cause identified. Efficient cause.

Likewise chastity in a young and pretty wife allured by a dangerous Don Juan is of no account if it is merely the outcome of brain chemical actions beyond her awareness or control.  It is fidelity, not chemistry, that is the cause identified. Final cause.

The reductionist materialist, of course, cuts off the branch on which he sits, just as all modern simpletons do.

If the words issuing from his mouth and the thought-symbols flickering through his brain are solely the operation of mechanical forces devoid of intent hence beyond human awareness or control, then his belief in materialism is not a philosophical belief, or indeed not a belief at all, but an epiphenomenon.

The belief cannot be debated because it is not a belief, merely a side effect of meaningless material motions. In such a case, a human would and could no more care about the electrical disturbances produced by the convolutions of his brain than a record in a phonograph would and could care about the sonic waves produced by grooves in the vinyl.  Those sonic waves are not, strictly speaking, words. Likewise those neural electrical brain-motions are not, strictly speaking, thoughts.

The materialists never actually use scientific reasoning in their debate upholding materialism. They use judicial reasoning only.

Note that, like all philosophical arguments, an assumption is made by all parties to the debate that stare decisis will be followed: if you answer that in one given hypothetical you would decide or believe one given conclusion, you are expected to decide or believe the same conclusion in a second hypothetical unless the cases can be distinguished.

But if materialism were true, only scientific reasoning would exist. There would be no method of judicial reasoning and no subject matter of judicial reasoning.

Indeed, I will be so bold as to state that judicial thinking is what we use for all ethical and moral questions, as well as such judgments as whether to let a boy date your daughter, whether to trust a man to be your partner in business, whether to cosign a loan, whether to wed a suitor, whether to vote for a candidate. All political decisions are based on judicial thinking.

The grinding tedium of debates with materialists is also explained by the source of their error. They are using judicial thinking to appeal as if to a juror ruling on the case they present. The juror is expected impartially to study the pertinent evidence and render a verdict.

Unfortunately, mentally crippled by modern education, the materialists are unable even to imagine that there is a distinction between scientific and judicial reasoning. For them, the word ‘reasoning’ means scientific reasoning only. Anything not scientific reasoning is merely meaningless opinion. The error cannot be pointed out to them. There is literally no category in their mind into to put the debate being debated, to identify the proper means of debate, much less to identify the intuitive axioms without which the debate cannot take place.

Hence no debate takes place. Both parties state their positions and grow frustrated because they cannot identify the intuitive axiom they do not share in common. As if Euclid were to debate congruent triangles with Lobachevski, but neither mentions Playfair’s axiom.

Now the same criticism of materialism applies to all the modern simpleton systems of philosophy here listed: from Hume to Marx, each philosopher is looking at human nature like a biologist or rancher looking at livestock. He attempts to discover facts about men, trying to use wissen or savoir (book learning) instead ofkennen or connaître (getting acquainted) to get acquainted. Hence, by the mere logic of the method of thought used, these simpletons eliminate themselves from the equation. The human livestock or the human machine at which they look with their scientific goggles is some object, a thing, unlike the philosopher doing the looking. And so the same logical trap always trips them up: their conclusions apply to all other men, but cannot apply to the philosopher himself.

Their pronouncements are always in the third person, never in the first person. It is never “My opinions are determined by nonhuman historical forces” or “My words are a meaningless word-game” but always “His opinions are by nonhuman historical forces” or “Their words are a meaningless word game.”

The attempt to produce a philosophy which has these two envied characteristics, simplicity and objectivity, produces no philosophy, but abolishes it.

I posted the following comment as a reply on his blog:

“I do not believe in free will.”
“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.”
Albert Einstein, modern simpleton?

Another commenter, Mike B, replied as follows:

Outside of his area of considerable expertise, yes. The more specialized one is, the less likely to be particularly skilled outside of the specialty. In this case, poor Albert has contradicted himself fairly quickly: If we are causally bound, then there is no such thing as should.We would either are aware of things or not, for causes that we have nothing to do with and cannot ever overcome. For that matter, there would be no such things as our actions either, simply events that happen to involve the things we call “us.”

I replied to Mike B as follows:

It seems to me that Einstein’s area of “considerable expertise” was his penchant for questioning authority and having highly creative insights about existence. Your claim that Einstein has contradicted himself relies on his use of the word “should.”

Really?

“Our actions should be based on the ever-present awareness that time and space do not exist in reality as most people perceive them to exist.”

This isn’t a quote of Einstein’s but it seems like something he might have thought or said. He theorized that humanity misunderstood the fundamental building blocks of our reality – time and space.

“Should” isn’t a tangible thing, certainly, but it is an understandable idea. If one wants to understand reality as it is versus as it seems, one should consider being open to new explanations about the existence we inhabit and evidence that supports or contradicts them. Living organisms on this tiny speck of dust hurtling through existence (including homo sapiens) do things, they take actions. We homo sapiens associate those doings, those actions, through language, with the organism that did them.

Surely one doesn’t need to believe in free will to make sense of pronouns or the word “should.”

Granted, you may be more insightful about the nature of reality and the human condition than Einstein was… you just haven’t demonstrated that to me yet. 🙂

John C. Wright chimed in at this point with this:

“Surely one doesn’t need to believe in free will to make sense of pronouns or the word “should.””

Actually, no. The word “should” by definition means that, of the several courses of action open, one better adheres to a given standard than the others, and therefore ought to be followed. If you are nailed into a crate on an airplane and something beyond your control throws you out the bomb bay doors, it is merely a nonsense statement for someone to say “You should not have done that!”

One can only use the word “should” when there is some possibility of other actions.

“Granted, you may be more insightful about the nature of reality and the human condition than Einstein was… you just haven’t demonstrated that to me yet”

If you are going to try an ad verecundiam argument, the expert you call as a witness is only an expert in his field. Einstein may know more about physics than a layman, but he surely knows no more than any other human about the human condition.

I replied to John C. Wright with this:

The definition of “should” that I was referring to is:

2
—used in auxiliary function to express obligation, propriety, or expediency

And I take “propriety” to mean – the condition of being right, appropriate, or fitting.

Someone who believes that seeing contra-causal free will as an illusion as a means to maximize well-being may be compelled to try to cause other people to see their point of view. I think author and neuroscientist Sam Harris thinks like this. I suppose you think of him as a modern simpleton too.

Anyway, free will skeptics, like myself, continue to use ‘meaning-sounds’ that rely on (most of) humanity’s foundational belief in free choice or free will out of practicality. It’s hard for me to believe that you don’t get what I’m trying to communicate.

“One can only use the word “should” when there is some possibility of other actions.”

The Einstein quote I cited meets the criteria you’re proposing…

“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.”

I think Einstein, like Harris, is saying that it is a mistake to view a person as an agent who authors his or her thoughts and intentions. He said “should” because he thought people misunderstand not human nature, but simply nature. Human beings are corporeal entities necessarily bound by (in his view) the natural laws associated with the area of expertise that you view as Einstein’s forte. There IS a possibility of “other action” i.e., thinking like he thought, in the future.

Yuval Noah Harari’s words popped into my head after I looked up what ad verecundiam means… “How long can we maintain the wall separating the department of biology from the departments of law and political science?”

We seem to inhabit one universe. There is only nature. It contains everything that is, and I see Einstein as someone who was incredibly insightful about understanding what is going on in reality.

As I opened my comment with: It seems to me that Einstein’s area of “considerable expertise” was his penchant for questioning authority and having highly creative insights about nature/existence.

So human beings and their nature are in scope in my view.

While I was typing that out, John C. Wright added these thoughts in reply as well:

Allow me to quote myself in reply to you, or, rather, to what is left of you:

“I doubt this is deliberate. No one utters pure, self-contradictory nonsense on purpose. Or, to be specific, the purpose is unrelated to the content of the words, as when a man is boasting or joking or saying something else where his words are not meant literally.

“For the modern, none of his words are actually uttered with the purpose of conveying the meaning of the words from one mind to another. The purpose is to count coup, to spread the peacock tail of vanity, to show intellectual superiority or moral supremacy, or to show loyalty to the postmodern creed, or, most often, to halt criticism, attack the questioner, hinder the reasoning process, and abolish human nature.”

After reading that, I got curious.  Spent a couple minutes using Google, and then wrote this in response to John C. Wright:

Just learning now that I have fallen for an atheist luminary’s lapse in logic, in your view.

As well as this…

“At age 42, Wright converted from atheism to Christianity, citing a profound religious experience with visions of the “Virgin Mary, her son, and His Father, not to mention various other spirits and ghosts over a period of several days”, and stating that prayers he made were answered.[8] In 2008, he converted to the Roman Catholic Church, of which he approvingly said: “If Vulcans had a church, they’d be Catholics.”[9]”

This is you?
I’m grateful that you took the time to respond to me.
I stumbled upon your online journal as a result of a Google alert I have set up for “suicide.” I work in the suicide awareness and prevention field. Your title caught my eye, and got my click. (no “choice” whatsoever!) It’s clear to me that you’ve forgotten more about writing than I know. I’d be grateful for any links to other pieces you’ve already written that best explain your argument for the existence of contra-causal free will. No need for you to re-explain yourself to me here.
Best,
Francesco

John C. Wright replied with the following responses inline.  John’s writing is in bold.  My writing is not bolded.

The definition I gave and the one you gave map on to each other. Again, there is no obligation, propriety, or expediency for objects which are determined by outside forces. These words only apply to decisions. Decisions only exist when there is more than one choice leading to more than one outcome.

“Free will skeptics don’t claim that people don’t have intentions or make decisions and choices. Rather we claim that there is no nexus of control within you that is consciously causing you to think what you think or what you want. ”

I see. And night skeptics don’t claim that it is dark at night. Rather we claim that there is no light at night.

The words “no nexus of control” and the words “don’t have intentions or make decisions and choices” mean the exact same thing.

You use an example of an reaction in thought that is carefully selected to sound non-deliberate. But from this, the general conclusion that no deliberate thoughts exist does not follow. From the premise “one thought is not deliberate” we cannot reach the conclusion “therefore no thoughts are deliberate.”

The statement “Every thought, intention and action that you have or take is caused by prior events that you did not control. Your will is caused, it’s not “free.”” is either true or false.

If it is true, then it applies to you. If it applies to you, then none of the words you are thinking or saying mean anything or make any sense, any more than a record player thinks or means the vibrations created when its needle passes along a record groove. In which case the words are not meant.

If not true, then again the words are not meant.

In both cases, the statement contradicts itself. I need not argue with you: you have already argued with, and defeated, yourself.

“I have been living “as if free will is false” for about a year.”

Yours is sounds suspiciously like a psychological rather than a philosophical problem.

“Free will skeptics, like myself and Sam, continue to use ‘meaning-sounds’ that rely on (most of) humanity’s foundational belief in free choice or free will out of practicality.”

Actually, no. You are not using meaning sounds. You are not making sense at all, and you know it.

If you were sincere, and sincerely believed that I make no decisions, have no free will, and cannot of my own free will agree to any arguments you make, why make any arguments?

The very act of trying to talk me into deciding to believe you proves that you do not believe your doctrine that humans make no decisions.

I replied as follows.  My responses are in bold.  John C. Wright’s are not bolded.

“The definition I gave and the one you gave map on to each other. Again, there is no obligation, propriety, or expediency for objects which are determined by outside forces.”

Thinking that there are “outside forces” within the Universe is a red flag of misunderstanding. I urge you to seek to understand, not to be understood.

“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.” AE

We, including the sounds we make, the disagreements we have… etc. etc… are the universe unfolding according to the laws of physics. There’s no room in that equation for uncaused choices (i.e., free will) We are existence figuring itself out… and in Einstein’s view. You are falling for a compelling illusion. Einstein apparently would have lumped you in with most people as delusional. And despite your obvious talents in stringing together these symbols, at the end of the day, you are claiming to have more insight into the universe than the guy who “figured out” that humanity misunderstood/stands time, space and gravity. (Worth noting, I don’t think consciousness is necessarily an epiphenomenon given my belief that contra-causal free will is an illusion of the imagined self.)

“These words only apply to decisions. Decisions only exist when there is more than one choice leading to more than one outcome.”

You want an expert… okay… how about Thalia Wheatley?

“Choice is simply a fanciful shorthand for biological processes we do not yet apprehend. When we have communicated that — when references to choice occupy the same rhetorical space as the four humors — we will be poised to realize public policy in harmony with a scientific understanding of the mind.” TW

Thalia thinks your thinking represents a poor explanation about reality.

“The words “no nexus of control” and the words “don’t have intentions or make decisions and choices” mean the exact same thing.

Words don’t have inherent meanings. They’re empty boxes inside of empty boxes that we put ideas in. Here again, I’m next to incredulous that you’re not understanding where I’m coming from. I use the words that you use despite believing that they are little fairy tales like Thalia thinks. i.e., that John C. Wright has a magical power to control how the universe is going to unfold based upon his “decisions”. Einstein and Thalia think that you delude yourself into thinking that you could do otherwise… in any/every given moment. Presently, I still agree with them. I’m open to considering other ideas though.

“You use an example of an reaction in thought that is carefully selected to sound non-deliberate. But from this, the general conclusion that no deliberate thoughts exist does not follow. From the premise “one thought is not deliberate” we cannot reach the conclusion “therefore no thoughts are deliberate.””

Free will skeptics make no claim that homo sapiens don’t deliberate. We have no problem making distinctions between voluntary and involuntary actions. We don’t deny the existence of consciousness. We just deny that we have control over what pops into that consciousness, or to when we will “decide” that a decision is made. We think most people are so attached to their imagined sense of themselves, to their egos, that they shudder to consider that they’re not in control of their lives. They shudder to think of the role that chance plays in how their life is going to turn out. i.e. whether or not they’re going to be as famous a writer as Sam Harris or not… 😉

“If it is true, then it applies to you. If it applies to you, then none of the words you are thinking or saying mean anything or make any sense”

The claim that “meaning” can’t exist if contra-causal free will doesn’t exist makes no sense to me. You’re going to have to connect the dots for me. 1+1=2 whether or not you believe it does. Your knowledge of that reality tells us something about the “decisions” you’re going to make in your life. As does a belief in free will… i.e. someone who is particularly egocentric who is outclassed in idea propagation (writing down and selling ideas) by someone (you know who!) whom he thinks is a simpleton… was bound to write precisely what you wrote when you scored your tiny little sales victory over him.

“In both cases, the statement contradicts itself. I need not argue with you: you have already argued with, and defeated, yourself.”

I bet you were captain of the debate team, right? 😉

“If you were sincere, and sincerely believed that I make no decisions, have no free will, and cannot of my own free will agree to any arguments you make, why make any arguments?”

I am sincere, and I make arguments, because they matter. We are the cosmos arguing with itself… you’re telling me you’re in charge of your life, and I’m trying to help you get over your”self” and that we are one. Our interaction lies in the cause and effect chain that is the universe unfolding. Tiny parts of the universe becoming “sentient” and mini-creators and storytelling imaginers does not contradict the idea that the story coming from you about humanity and free will is… a fiction. Fictions clearly matter, duh. Everything matters! I think it matters that you and most of humanity are dualists.

“The very act of trying to talk me into deciding to believe you proves that you do not believe your doctrine that humans make no decisions.”

Not in many people’s view it doesn’t. What an organism is going to do is “determined” by that organism’s brain before the organism is aware of that event. There is a growing pile of evidence showing this, read what Thalia has written! YOU don’t consciously make decisions…in the sense that you think. The organism known as John C. Wright does. Again, if YOU would just get over/let go of… yourSELF, you might better understand the view of human nature that resonates with simpletons like Al, Sam, Thalia and me.

Why is it so hard for you to fathom that homo sapiens — big-brained, meaning-making, myth-believing creatures — may have created the fiction called “free will”?

I’ll grant that I’m a poor parrot of Sam Harris, but the view of reality and of humanity that I share with him isn’t nonsensical to me.

I appreciate you sending me the link that you provided in your subsequent response.

I happened to read this post: The Same Inescapable Topic Yet Again, and its entire discussion thread. I suppose your issue/impasse with Dr. A is the same as it is/would have been with Einstein.

John C. Wright’s subsequent reply:

You have defined your terms nonsensically, and everything else you say on the topic is likewise nonsense because of that bad decision. The term free will does not mean “breaks the law of cause and effect” — if anything has or could break the law of cause and effect, all physical sciences are in vain. The term is a legal, not a scientific term, and refers to what humans do in their minds which is not instinct, reflex, unreflective, nondeliberate.

“The claim that “meaning” can’t exist if contra-causal free will doesn’t exist makes no sense to me. ”

Your the sounds you call words have no meaning if a mind possessed of free will did not use that free will to select those words to convey meaning from one mind to another. You are claiming that the noises that sound like words but are not issuing from your mouth are in fact merely sounds, on the grounds that the brain beyond works, now and forever, on autopilot, with no one at the wheel making decisions.

If you possess no more free will than a record player, then a conversation with you is as impossible as a conversation with a record player.

I notice continuing to try to persuade me, as if the act of persuasion were possible. But, logically, if I am a record player just like you, then my thoughts are merely a groove in the album also, and cannot be changed by any act of mine.

My subsequent reply after I found this YouTube video of John C. Wright describing how and why he became a Christian after calling himself an atheist for years, apparently.:

I never claimed that you were a record player or like a record player. You are a living organism that is interacting with the environment around you. You don’t have unchangeable grooves that are being played by the cosmos. The stuff between your ears is quite malleable while you’re still breathing.

Furthermore my goal wasn’t persuasion, it was understanding, i.e., trying to understand what motivates you to believe what you believe. You would have me and your readers believe that what motivates you is reason. After a night of sleep and a little more poking around online I found some words that you wrote that have given me the understanding I sought.

You were (and I would bet still are if forced to make a guess) scared to death of death, in spite of your claim to the contrary. The effect that your fear has had on you, in short, seems to have been to cast aside reason and believe, without compelling evidence, that “you”, your ego, your sense of self, the essence that is John C. Wright… that your soul will continue to live and think and have a life after your body dies. The reasons you have provided for believing this are based on faith, not reason. The meaning that you have ascribed to certain events in your life (a hope/wish/prayer that something would happen and that event subsequently happening) isn’t a result of a “choice” you made brother, rather it is the result of a brain state of a frightened organism grappling with the inevitability of the death of its body and the likely silencing of the voice in its head that it identifies as itself.

John C. Wright’s subsequent reply:

“You were (and I would bet still are if forced to make a guess) scared to death of death, in spite of your claim to the contrary. ”

Well, it is certainly convenient enough for you to believe that . It allows you to escape from all fashion of awkward questions.

Do you have any evidence to contradict the testamony of the eyewitness? Was there someone in the room known to you and unknown to me who saw my demeanor and conclided it was the demeanor of a frightened man, but one who would lie about it later?

In effect, your response to my pointing out the obvious logical self contradiction of your neurotic belief system is to lash out against your questioner, accuse him of hallucinations or dishonesty or both, and thus stopper your ears against further questions.

Are you sure we should begin long distance psychoanalysis of each other, boy? The suicidal asperger who seeks escape of all human responsibility will not emerge the better.

My subsequent reply:

Your refusal to admit that your story might not match what happened/is happening is where you fall down brother John, and where you differ from me. I’m sure of nothing. You are. You fail to be incredulous with yourself. You believe in you. Your self. In the story you tell yourself. Part of that story includes writing words like “suicidal asperger” about someone you don’t know from Adam. I’m doing the same to you, you might claim? I’m not. I have no clue who you are. But I have read words that you have written. And the picture I have of you in my head is that of a believer. Unequivocally… your communication is only as effective as the response it elicits.

You are looking at that response spilled out on the page… brother.

I have no clue whether or not “God” exists. Your “problem” is that you KNOW there is a God… now.

You are a believer in your own story.

You have faith in your own imagination.

You know things.

I know nothing.

John C. Wright’s subsequent reply (emphasis mine):

“Your refusal to admit that your story might not match what happened/is happening is where you fall down brother John, and where you differ from me.”

For the modern man, certainly is their sole sin, and uncertainty their sole boast. You regard personal insult as a perfectly normal and laudable reply when you encounter someone outside your worldview, but when someone returns back to you the selfsame insult you utter (you called me an insane liar, and I returned the compliment) you react with petulant, childish fury and an incoherent stream of opprobrium. This shows tne (sic) weakness of your position, and its hypocrisy.

If you were actually a skeptic, you would not leap to conclusions about what happened in the mind of a stranger you do not know during an event where you were not present. If you were actually a determinist, you would not blame me for anything I say or do, since blame only can be fixed on acts under the actor’s control. If you were actually mentally stable, you would show more self command in your speach. (sic) If you were actually a man and not a boy, no matter your age, you would act like a man, and comport yourself with some dignity.

Come now. Snap out of it. If you insult, expect insult in return. If you hang around witb (sic) people who tell you calling a man a liar is not an insult, find better friends.

My subsequent reply where I discuss select quotes of John C. Wright from the aforementioned video:

“I was agreeing with the Christians about things like abortion and infidelity and adultery and homosexuality and other questions of what I’m going to teach my kids what is right and wrong.”

I’m not much for “praying” brother John, but I so desperately hope… I wish… very sincerely, out of a genuine interest for the well-being of your children, that they are not compelled to want to romantically love and be physically intimate with people that possess the same sexual organs that they possess. Your beliefs about the “moral wrongness” of people with the same sex organs loving each other in any way they desire to do so are the source of inestimable amounts of fear-based cruelty and hate against homosexual people. I’m not alone in seeing this belief of yours as hateful versus loving, brother John.

“Because I realized you couldn’t phil- philosophically deduce yourself to God because God wouldn’t set up a system that was so difficult to achieve knowledge of him. I decided to experiment and and and pray. And so what I said is: Dear God, I know you don’t exist. I know philosophically, and I know with with as much certainty as a man who knows twice two is four that you cannot possibly exist. But if I’m wrong, because as a philosopher you have to, you know, recognize that you might be mistaken about your conclusions. But if I’m wrong, I dare you, I challenge you to show yourself to me. I demand it in fact, because if you don’t, either you don’t exist, which is what I suspect, or you do exist and you don’t care if I’m damned, in which case you’re not benevolent in which case your hardly a God at all.
Well… God not only answers prayers, he has a sense of humor, because I had a heart attack, and was sent to the hospital.. two two days after I prayed that prayer. In the hospital I had a vision of the Virgin Mary, and several other visions, which I’m not at liberty to speak about in any detail. And my heart attack was cured by prayer. And I also had a religious experience about a week later, that was different from the original visions. And I was drenched with a superfluity of evidence, an abundance of evidence. I had been an atheist because I saw no evidence that God existed. Then I saw that there was evidence, so I changed my mind. I had to change my mind upon my integrity as a philosopher.”

Your assertion that I called you a liar is patently false. I shared with you a fact. After I heard you tell the story above on YouTube, I was full of doubt that you make reasonable sense about reality. I am claiming that it is reasonable to doubt that you know what you are talking about regarding why you had a heart attack.

I would imagine that your cardiologist explained to you how heart disease works. Your genetic biology, how much food you eat and what kinds, how much exercise you partake in… all of these things are factors in what cause the pump that moves blood within you to clog up, not your thought demands of the creator of the universe.

Your claim can’t even gain admittance to the room where the parsimony test is being given in this case brother John.

The fact that you believe you having a heart attack two days after you demanded that the creator of the universe show you a sign of his existence, isn’t compelling evidence that God exists, in my view. Rather it is evidence that you are a person who is obsessively egotistical or self-centered. I do claim that you seem to think like an egomaniac.

This is not an insult as I see it. Here again, I hear you speak, and it is the word that pops into my head.
I do not blame you or judge you for being how you are or for your beliefs.

I do not believe you have a choice.

I love you as a brother of humanity that you are to me, in spite of the fact that I think your beliefs about homosexuality are hateful.

I love you as a brother of humanity that you are to me, in spite of the fact of how egotistical I think it is for someone to think that he has a personal relationship with the creator of the universe.

There is no fury within me brother John…just love, curiosity and compassion. Your words provide more evidence of how prone you are to misperceiving reality.

“If you insult, expect insult in return.”

As before, you’re not doing yourself any favors in becoming a Christian thought leader with this gem brother John. Plus, I refute the claim that I insulted you by doubting that you know what you’re talking about regarding why you had a heart attack. It is reasonable to doubt such a preposterous claim… especially when the claimant is not at liberty to speak about the evidence in any detail.

Worth adding, I’m grateful to hear you admit that you’re not free!

=D