When his mother, Rosemary, was dying from cancer, he witnessed a different kind of suffering—intractable and without purpose. “It was cruel...
“Coming to terms with randomness, while initially frightening, can be liberating and empowering. Realizing that the universe is fundamentally random is not usually the cause of nihilism, apathy, or feelings of pointlessness about life.”
– Dr. Ralph Lewis
You could say that one of the central roles of a psychiatrist is to persuade people to be skeptical about their own beliefs: that is, to critically examine the evidence for their assumptions, and to not automatically believe their own thoughts and perceptions. An example is the common human habit of seeing life events as cosmically intended. We are strongly biased to see events as inherently purposeful and designed rather than random.
In his resolutely rational yet empathetic blog series, Finding Purpose, Dr. Ralph Lewis examines how human thought processes, emotions and behavioural tendencies have been imprecisely tuned by evolution, and how our foibles become magnified in psychiatric disorder. Human nature is writ large in mental disorders, which are usually just one end of a spectrum of the normal human condition.
Dr. Lewis is a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Canada, and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. His clinical work focuses particularly on two areas: youth psychiatry and psycho-oncology.
Dr. Lewis is the author of a forthcoming book Finding Purpose in a Godless World – Why We Care Even If The Universe Doesn’t.
“A random world – which according to all the scientific evidence and despite our intuitions is the actual world we live in – is too often misconstrued as nihilistic, demotivating, or devoid of morality and meaning. My hope is that this book will help people to see the scientific worldview of an unguided, spontaneous universe as awe-inspiring and foundational to building a more compassionate society.”
Coming to terms with randomness is frightening, but it does liberate us from the tendency to blame ourselves for illnesses we didn’t cause.
“For some of our most important beliefs we have no evidence at all, except that people we love and trust hold these beliefs. Considering how little...
Sense of purpose isn't an abstract concept — it's a biological function entirely dependent on the physical brain.
When it comes to mental disorders, it's not a black or white question of "do you have a disorder or do you not?"