Let’s do a brief thought experiment.
Imagine that you are old enough to reason intelligently, you’re physically healthy and perfectly normal in every respect except one: you have no basic beliefs!
In real life, experience left you with a huge number of basic beliefs that are stored subconsciously. They determine almost all your thoughts, feelings, attitudes and behaviors. However, in this thought experiment, you have no beliefs about anything! You are as free of beliefs as a newborn baby.
Still, you exist and must get on with life as you perceive it. Your task in this experiment is to determine the fundamental things that you would think, feel and do in such a scenario.
Please pause here to develop your answers. Write them down. The answers are within you and discovering them for yourself will make them more meaningful than if you simply read the rest of this essay.
The answers have to do with human nature. The word “human” requires that the characteristics identified are common to every living person and the word “nature” means that these characteristics are inborn in humans; human nature is not subject to the vicissitudes of basic beliefs.
Of course, human nature is complex and there is more to it than just those parts affected by basic beliefs. The premise here is that the greater the consistency between your basic beliefs and human nature (as best it can be understood), the better your mental health. That’s why it’s important to understand this topic.
Now back now to our thought experiment. Upon reflection, perhaps you identified four significant activity areas:
First and most importantly, you realize that your life has infinite value. This insight comes from recognizing the myriad of qualities that you possess in excess of any other animal. These include a high level of consciousness, capacity for language, abstract thought, writing and mathematics, a concept of time and space and the capacity for introspection. All these, and others, entitles you to claim, rightly so, that you have human dignity. Even in the absence of basic beliefs, you will do everything in your power to continue living.
Your need for food, clothing and shelter exists independent of beliefs. You will set about acquiring them and derive a sense of accomplishment when successful. As you become more proficient, your ability to accomplish will extend far beyond the basics, leading to ever-greater satisfactions of the sense of accomplishment.
You are free to think, choose and behave as you wish and will resent and resist any restrictions on these activities. This makes freedom of choice an important component of human nature.
Finally, you pause, look around and observe the beauty and goodness inherent in the physical world and the humans inhabiting it. This can include a strong affinity for another person, which leads to a core facet of human nature: procreation. With a broad view of world, a profound sense of well-being, comfort and peace becomes your worldview, otherwise known as love.
To summarize, human dignity, sense of accomplishment, freedom of choice and love are four intrinsic behavioral goals, inbornintentions, that are a part of human nature. Basic beliefs consistent with them speak to healthy mental health, and vice versa.
The core ideas expressed above reformulate a concept of human values expressed by Robert G. Olson in “An Introduction to Existentialism”, Dover Publications, Inc., 1962, pp 17, 18
YouTube channel: Choose Mental Health (a series of 10 videos on how to improve your mental health).
Facebook: Choose Mental Health
For questions, comments or concerns, contact Frank Hannah through the contact form on the right.