Meaningful chance

In this week’s readings, what really resonated with me was the idea of meaning in existence. In both readings, we’ve looked on whether there is a meaning for our existence and if there is, where to find it. In my own thought daily thinking I try to find meaning in what I do, when I cannot I accept what it is and know it’s beyond me. Other days I sit down and ask why is this here, by this I mean physical matter not a specific object. What I found is a part of me practices logotherapy while other rejects it.

“Logotherapy, keeping in mind the essential transitoriness of human existence, is not pessimistic but rather activistic.”

Frankl here, claims that by looking for meaning in a temporary life is not sad but active work. I agree with him in this case. Keeping up on three WIP courses, four clubs and committees, and three jobs, I get lost in work. Not even lost but buried and sometimes feel the despair o my work creep on me. Sometimes I find meaning in what I do and see the reason for my tasks, other busy work I ask what is the point? When my workload grows is when I find meaning. I find whatever meaning I can, and this meaning provides the reason for persisting to do what I do. When the work or task seems pointless or I can’t grasp why I must deal with the situations dealt, I usually find that the reason is just not seen or comprehensible by me. Sometimes the long conversation with a customer may have seemed like an exhausting waste of time but it is possible that that conversation was the highlight of the customers day. Other times people ask me what the meaning of my work is, why do I bother with such inconveniences. I usually respond with “it’s beyond me!” Although, my friends would tell you I more often just respond with, “because my life is a joke” or “because the universe hates me.”

When I’m not busy and I don’t need a meaning to persist through my work I start really questioning existence entirely. I wonder why we are here. Not even why we are living or conscious or our personal meaning, but why is anything here. I often have this thought and try to describe it to friends and usually, I give an analogy of a magnetic drawing board. The board is the universe and all the magnetic fragments are matter. We design shapes and drawings on the board, but the matter is limited, cannot be added or destroyed in the universe. I wonder, not only, the reason or purpose for the magnetic fragments, but why even the board.

“The essential thing is contingency. I mean that one cannot define existence as necessity.”

This is said by Sartre’s character Roquentin and I see how it can show that the matter may not even have a purpose. It seems as if the magnetic board were the universe the magnetic fragments were only there by chance. It just so happens to be that we can draw and write on these boards for a purpose of our own. Whether it be for entertainment or for work, we begin to apply a meaning to something that was originally by chance. This is where I connected the readings and wonder if logotherapy, as activistic as is it, is only applied when we need it and we are just finding meaning in something that just so happens to be here.

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Meaning for survival

One of the ideas I picked up this week from the reading Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, is where it is we find meaning, and how we go about it. We can find alternatives to an actual meaning and be left unsatisfied but living in an existential vacuum as he puts it. Going in depth with a psychoanalysis can only do so much, we can discover what makes us function as we do, but it cannot tell us why.

Logotherapy explores this why and it doesn’t go in depth of how the person works but attempts to find the meaning in a person’s experience, it is no longer internal it is external. Because every individual is different inside and out, by nature so should their meaning. This is why Frankl notes:

“Thus far we have shown that the meaning of life always changes, but never ceases to be. According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”

Surely, we have experienced all these feelings. We can be so focused on a paper to be published, meetings to change the face of the college or club, being a significant part of an institution can help give one a sense of purpose. Some may look at a paint, read a book, explore the world or even the city they live in and immerse themselves with the sensations of the culture. Others may find comfort in a loved one, with a friend who is caring and a grandparent who is compassionate. What I notice about all these reasons or meanings of life are that when experienced we don’t consider them a meaning. When experienced we don’t even feel the void pulling and tugging for our attention as a young child, at that moment we are satisfied.

When we find a meaning in life it is not only a way to escape the feeling of existential dread of our lives entirely but can be used as a weapon for perseverance. When nearly all the men with Frankl were in despair and hope was fading fast he used this knowledge not only to his advantage but everyone else’s. He proclaimed:

“They must not lose hope but should keep their courage in the certainty that the hopelessness of our struggle did not detract from its dignity and its meaning. I said that someone looks down on each of us in difficult hours—a friend, a wife, somebody alive or dead, or a God—and he would not expect us to disappoint him. He would hope to find us suffering proudly—not miserably—knowing how to die.”

Keeping the hope by reminding people where their meaning may lie, fighting to persevere for someone or something. Even for Frankl, he discusses his wife when he truly needed to persevere and other times he talks about saving his manuscript and jotting down notes to retain it. Finding meaning does not have to be in an achievement, in art and beauty, or in a loved one. It seems it can be a part of all three. Depending on what we need to continue and provide the courage for that mentality is when we call for a different reason at that time. Frankl agrees to say:

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”

Wasting Time

In our society today, what we do and discuss in our free time is no different than throughout the decades. We have progressed into new discussions and new technologies but how far off are we from the same contemplations that have occurred time and time again? In the play Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, we can see the similarities and differences from then and now. The idea of minimalism is so bare that the setting is just a tree, a road, and a time. Now in the 21st century, you would think it to be any different. We are surrounded by lights, signs, people, and screens everywhere you go. Many times, we can sit in our room playing on our phone, writing a paper or this very blog post, and have the tv on in the background and still feel like the bare minimum. There’s more than just a tree and a road but it’s the same boredom that the characters Vladimir and Estragon experience.

When in such a routine setting such as your room, class, or workplace it becomes dull and uneventful. We just find stuff to fill the void and pass the time, spend it with friends, playing video games, watch a movie, study, repeat. But even after a movie, after some gaming, what did we accomplish? Nothing! We accomplish nothing but how to waste time, just as much as when Pozzo and Lucky stop and fill up the time of waiting for Godot for Vladimir and Estragon. The dialogue after Pozzo and Lucky leave even consist of this short response.

“Vladimir: That passed the time.
Estragon: It would have passed in any case.
Vladimir: Yes, not so rapidly.”

We can be in Disney World and still find ourselves just wasting time. Even in the happiest place on earth, we can find this boredom. Of course, it also has to do with the point that being happy has nothing to do with the boredom of passing the time for even in the play Beckett makes a point of writing:

“Estragon: I am happy.
Vladimir: So am I.
Estragon: So am I.
Vladimir: We are happy.
Estragon: We are happy. [Silence.] What do we do now, now that we are happy?
Vladimir: Wait for Godot. [Estragon groans. Silence.] Things have changed here since yesterday.”

We could be happy, sad, angry, or disgusted but we still have time to pass and until we figure out how, we ponder. In a short quote from Aristotle’s Nicomachean, Ethics found here, Aristotle explains how philosophy is a leisure activity, a pleasant way to pass the time. Some may agree and that when left with nothing to do, no labor, or at least to discuss while laboring, discussion of thought-provoking reasoning and philosophy seems like a fitting way to fill time.

The tragicomedy by Samuel Beckett can seem all too real at times. We laugh and chuckle at the simple silliness of life and other times we feel miserable and bored just waiting for meaning to come to find us. We waste time asking questions, in-depth explanations relevant to life and death, and still making no progress toward anything in life. We are simply bored, wasting time until twilight comes and night falls, then we return to dark nothingness.

Keep On Keeping On

With the pieces this week there was a sense of existential dread. Not the conclusion that life is not worth living but the question of why, why is life worth living if it is at all. Reading Camus sounded like reading parts of my own thoughts and ideas. Life is absurd. Life is just routine habit. Life is just driven by existential means. I sit a lot and sometimes do think absolutely nothing. Other times I think of the void, of life’s absurdities. When I ponder these thoughts, I assume it’s because it’s what I’ve done for a long time, it’s what I know and what I love to do, and why I’m a philosophy major. Sometimes these points cross over, and I wonder if it’s worth even carrying on or even bother fighting through. This feeling of carrying on is what Camus calls the revolt.

This revolt is what keeps me carrying on, I say “true there’s a void, and emptiness, a meaninglessness, to the world” but I keep on keeping on. Somedays I wonder if I shouldn’t keep going and just give up and wonder what would happen if I did. Camus would think this okay, and healthy.

“All healthy men having thought of their own suicide, it can be seen, without further explanation, that there is a direct connection between this feeling and longing for death”

We have this longing for death, especially it seems in young adults with high pressures from society and family. To be a student, pay bills, get a job, maintain our health, fitness, student debt etc. etc. etc. We are told to keep going, to strive, and to persevere. The slogan “keep on keeping on” is usually what pops into my head when someone says this. When we wear it on t-shirts, use it on memes, or even apply to those who need a word of encouragement. The slogan is tied to perseverance and to just keep going whether you feel there is a point or not. This is a revolt.

When we see this type of hopelessness or despair we tie it so quickly to depression, whether clinical or grieving. We feel a sense of emptiness when clinical depression is strong or on a bad day, and as Camus would probably ask us, yes, we feel nothingness, so we must know the void and absurdities of our life.

“In certain situations, replying “nothing” when asked what one is thinking about may be pretense in a man. Those who are loved are well aware of this. But if that reply is sincere, if it symbolizes that odd state of soul in which the void becomes eloquent, in which the chain of daily gestures is broken, in which the heart vainly seeks the link that will connect it again, that it is as it were the first sign of absurdity.”

Depression can make you fall out of routine, you sleep more, you have no interest in what you do, no passion, and feel physically weak. We sit and ponder, sometimes over nothing. Our life is an absurdity. But we cannot cave to this absurdity we must revolt. Those who treat patience with depression, many counselors in my own experience have used the same idea of perseverance, just keep going, keep on keeping on.

Me, Myself, and I

Although I found this week’s text rather complex, the idea of Existenz and how it differs from our objective selves was a key point that I found most interesting. There is a difference between ourselves as an essence and ourselves as an objective thing. Of course, we don’t objectify our bodies because there is a relation between the Existenz and, as Heidegger calls it, our Da-sein or physical selves. Jasper explains that:

“Whatever can be said about of me by way of objectification applies to my empirical individuality, and as this can be the phenomenon of my Existenz, it is not subject to any definitive psychological either.”

When reading these explanations, I thought about how our thoughts can be very different than how we may behave or experience the world. I felt this would help explain and shed light on mental illnesses in the world. Fighting stigmas toward mental illness is still a work in progress, especially some stigmas that are toward people would should be fine. If we look at a high school football captain, or the student body president, or even the smart student with several scholarships, they seem well off. They attend classes, practice, meetings, with a smile and a plan but who are we to judge? Assuming they are fine is just as Jasper says before, that we are putting an objectification onto that person empirical individuality, not themselves.

Mental illness runs in my family, myself included. As someone diagnosed with anxiety and depression I can admit that Borges’ piece felt very accurate. At one-point Borges says:

“Thus is my life a flight, and I lose everything, and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.”

This hit me because this is exactly what anxiety and depression feel like. And this is not only on my account but in an article from Mind.org found here, they explain that anxiety can leave one feeling a derealization, depersonalization, or even feeling disconnected from yourself and the world around you. Borges claims:

“Little by little, I yield him ground, the whole terrain, though I am quite aware of his perverse habit of magnifying and falsifying.”

He never states who is the one writing in this text, his authentic self or objective self. Either are capable of doing such an act, we can le our mind creep in and begin to take over our actions. In the article given previously, from Mind.org, they also give physical symptoms for anxiety, such as headaches, sweating, rapid breathing. The habit of anxiety can also magnify and falsify, to exploit our negative behaviors and make us feel bad about ourselves. We may also allow our physical selves to overrun our minds for some time. We can use activities as sports, music, creating art, to overcome our thoughts and ignore that internal voice within ourselves.

There must be a balance between the two. Some well-known solutions, not just for anxiety but stress as well can be to allow your body to overrun your mind for a moment. Play a game, take a break, get out of your head. Sometimes you have to allow your mind to overrun your body as well, by meditation, self-reflection, and journaling your thoughts.

Good, Evil, Beyond Me!

Between the readings and discussions, what stuck out to me was the text of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. Although his perspectives were different from past readings and his points seemed strange at first, it was their accuracy that struck me by surprise. After this reading, I noticed a lot of similarities in comparing the text to how society has functioned and how it is molded and continues to be molding, and how we got to where we are today.

Nietzsche’s ideas of good and evil seemed clear and made sense, but it was beyond and in between the text that triggered my curiosity. As a philosophy major I seem to be easily triggered by my curiosity, and many others may be driven by that curiosity to know things. Rather Nietzsche does not believe we are driven by our curiosity for knowledge.

“Accordingly, I do not believe that a “desire to knowledge” is the father of philosophy; but rather that another has, here as elsewhere, employed understanding (and misunderstanding) as a mere instrument.”

 

This drive is within us, a part of mine may be what gives curiosity a heavier weight to bear over my decisions, but Nietzsche seems to believe in an inner drive. One programmed for who we are and what guides us. This drive he calls an inner drive also drives our morality, he says:

 

“and above all, his morality bears decided and decisive witness to who he is—that is, in what order of rank the innermost drive of his nature stand in relation to each other.”

 

When I think of these innermost drives and how their relation creates morality I start to think of the well respected and world renown leaders we are taught, how they helped guide the world based on their own moral. Some of these leaders we may think of are people such as George Washington, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. All these people have impacted the world in which we live in today and are all known as a great leader or activists of some sort.

 

I found that there must be some sort of traits of characteristics that make up a great  leader and I came across a list of traits and their explanations here. On Leadership Thoughts, some of the qualities are confidence, compassion, fairness, impartiality, and responsiveness. If we don’t find these traits in a leader we may at least find them in a noble person. We can compare these qualities to the points Nietzsche brings up about a noble person.

 

“The noble human being honors himself as one who is powerful, also as one who has power over himself, who knows how to speak and be silent, who delights in being severe and hard with himself and respect all severity and hardness.”

 

It seems if Nietzsche were right about the inner most drive bring out morality than it can be assumed that the leaders of the world and those who shaped and shaping our world are to be of noble people.

Freedom and Passion

Throughout the week I have seen a recurring theme but in different relations. The them of freedom and passion or desire. Overall it appears we have freedom to choose desire over reason and sometimes our desires may align with reason and law. It is nice when they align but what happens when they don’t? This is where I was struck by the many different ideas of the readings this week, for each seems to have a different answer on how to choose.
The first reading this week by Kierkegaard doesn’t exactly tell us which to choose but opens the door for us to see that there is a difference in choosing desire or reason. We can choose our passion and desire and be an aesthetic person or choose law and reason and be an ethical person. For Kierkegaard, he doesn’t say which to choose but he does mention that regardless on the aesthetic person or ethical person we must have a passion. He says in “Truth is Subjectivity” that:

“It is impossible to exist without passion, unless existing means just any sort of so-called existence.” (pp 21)

How do we know whether to follow our passions? The two readings by Dostoevsky seems to give us insight on both sides of the question. In the first reading “from Notes From Underground”, the narrator explains that:

“What man needs is simply independent choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead.” (pp 43)

The narrator in this reading is arguing that we need to be free to choose and if its against reason and law so be it. He understands how man works toward passion and desire and will choose so even if it goes against the system even thought we make the systems ourselves.

“But man is so fond of systems and abstract deduction that he is ready to distort the truth intentionally, he is ready to deny what he can see and hear just to justify his logic.” (pp 41)

This seems to show that man is willing to go against reason for their passion but still attempt to make it seem reasonable and within the law of reason. Of course, it will fail if they are going against reason but the system and those involved in the system may not know this.
The other side of this argument is that we cannot be happy if we are free, that we are mistaken when we follow desire and passion and that ultimately, we must follow reason to be happy. In Dostoevsky’s piece there’s a story of “The Grand Inquisitor”, Ivan shares his poem that shows how we cannot be happy and free at the same time.

“He claims it as a merit for himself and his Church that at last they have vanquished freedom and have done so to make men happy.” (pp 51)

Toward the end he argues that it is the duty of the few, the noble churchmen to know the Truth but to hold it a secret so the rest of the people may be happy, they are sacrificing themselves for the happiness of their followers. They are taking the freedom that they naturally have and using it against them to follow them. They do so because they believe man to be weak and must show them so.

“We shall show them that they are weak, that they are only pitiful children, but that childlike happiness is the sweetest of all.” (pp 59)

Do you think it’s better to be happy and have your freedom taken, or to be free and pursue passion against reason regardless of where it brings you and what you do?