on December 7, 2003
Holocaust survivor Frankl earned the right to teach us how to transcend ourselves and find "ultimate meaning". He was a contemporary of Freud who was able to take Freud to task for naturalism and reductionism which "undermines and erodes the enthusiasm of youth". Frankl has a lot to tell us about how to avoid the neurotic train wreck many of us are headed for. He points out that an existential vacuum (meaninglessness and emptyness) is growing in our culture as man "Now, knowing neither what he must do nor what he should do, he sometimes does not even know what he basically wishes to do. Instead, he wishes to do what other people do-which is conformism-or he does what other people wish him to do-which is totalitarianism." Frankl tells us "Man is responsible for fulfilling the meaning of his life." He contends "man is not he who poses the question, What is the meaning of life? But he who is asked this question, for life itself poses it to him. And man has to answer to life by answering for life; he has to respond by being responsible;" and "Being human means being confronted continually with situations, each of which is at once a chance and a challenge, giving us a "chance" to fulfill ourselves by meeting the "challenge" to fulfill it's meaning.
Get it; read it; study it!
on May 27, 2007
"We psychiatrists are neither teachers nor preachers but have to learn from the man in the street, from his ... self-understanding, what being human is all about". Of all those who applied existentialism to psychotherapy and to the efforts of human beings to help themselves, perhaps none has done so with as much wisdom as Viktor Frankl.
Although I didn't connect with the first 50 or so pages of this book, after that I was challenged and inspired by Frankl. His concerns, the "existential vacuum", the depressing impact of an "indoctrination into reductionism", the irreducibility of our experience, "responsibility as the essence of existence", these are well worth being reminded of.
That a "machine model" or "rat model" is not the best way to view human beings, does it seem such a revelation? Frankl observed how some young people had begun to view their ideals and altruism as hangups, how they had been engaging in fruitless "hidden motive" games. He wondered if behavioral scientific therapeutic programs didn't fail to take into account the specialness of people to find meaning, to transcend and to detach themselves from their situations. He called for responsibility and a recognition that we all proceed into the unknowable.
Frankl's approach is quite different from that of Freud, Jung, Skinner or even Rogers (Frankl at least credits in this book Rogers with "de-ideologizing psychotherapy"). His work still lives on, as for example in the United States through the Franklian Psychology (Logotherapy/Existential Analysis)doctoral program offered through Graduate Theological Foundation. Frankl himself, as he makes clear in this book, suggested a concept of spirituality and religion that "goes far beyond the narrow concepts of God as they are promulgated by some representatives of denominational religion", one that encompassed even atheism.
It would seem unfortunate if Frankl and his existential analysis that assumed a "will to meaning" were forgotten. Existentialism remains one of the great reponses of Western civilization to the challenges of life and Viktor Frankl one of its best practical advocates. I realize I need to read more about Frankl, logotherapy and existential analysis in general. It may be the best expression of a sacred view of being human we have in the West.
on May 21, 2008
I enjoyed parts of this book, but not all of it, for I couldn't understand most of it. This is a book to read more than once to really understand, unless you are a psychologist. I will certainly read it again; I am sure I missed a lot of important and useful information.
A lot of the material has to do with the interpretation of dreams, and about the theories of Freud. I also found the book too technical for the average reader, and found it confusing at times. For example, the author says, "Here it is not the ego that becomes conscious of the id but rather the self that becomes conscious of itself." I did take a few psychology courses back in school, but I still find such statements difficult to grasp and comprehend. Are such statements merely a play with words? Or should an effort be made to understand such statements? And is my understanding of such a statement the correct one as meant by the author? Without some training in psychology I do find some statements and theories hard to grasp.
In a nutshell, the book is about the human need to find meaning in daily life. The author believes that man doesn't ask, "What is the meaning of life?" but rather life asks man that very profound question. That's a very interesting statement, but again, is it just a play with words? Is Life a living entity, or are we the living entities contained in Life? In other words, can Life ask us questions?
For the author, the deep root of human meaning lies not in drives and desires, but in spirituality and responsibility. But what is responsibility, and what is spirituality? We all have different beliefs, and we all have different responsibilities. Is there a unifying global theory for all human beliefs and responsibilities? Such statements made it hard for me to relate to this book.
According to the author, in order to be truly whole, we must integrate not just the mind and body, but the spirit as well. Only by exploring and coming to terms with our spiritual selves will we come to be our true selves. But this is confusing. What does he mean by the body? Is the body a thinking organism like the mind, or is the mind contained in the body? And what is the difference between the mind and the brain? Is the mind contained in the brain? Not obvious, the mind could very well be in the heart, or somewhere else. And what is the spirit, and where is it? Is the spirit contained in our body, or exterior of it? Does the spirit exist at all, or is the spirit the mind? We are delving into a territory that cannot be proven by science. Science has not yet proven the existence of a spirit. If a spirit does exist, does it too die at death, or is our spirit a non-physical entity?
I think to really understand this book and enjoy it one has to first be able to define many terms used in the book, such as id, legotherapy, existential analysis, mind, spirit etc... One thing is for sure, I did get interested in learning more about psychology and Freud. But honestly, I'm still as much baffled about my true meaning of life as when I first started reading and finished reading this book. This book was not a quick fix to my ultimate meaning in life, but the publisher does claim that this book has changed the lives of millions of people. But religious books, such as the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, the Bhagavad-Gita, just to name a few, have also changed the lives of millions and given them the answers to man's search for the ultimate meaning of life.
There were some very interesting and enjoyable passages in the book that are useful in one's path to the ultimate meaning of life. For example, the author says that man has deeper motivations than pleasure or power. I do agree. We all have (I think) the need to serve something beyond ourselves. The author says that we are most fully human by loving unselfishly and/or by serving a higher cause. Isn't this the essence of all religions?
I did like the passages on the interpretation of dreams, especially those of prisoners and suicidal persons. Even criminals subconsciously search for and find the meaning to life through their dreams!
There is a nice story about a woman trying to save a scorpion from drowning. Every time she reaches out to grab the scorpion to lift him out of the water, the scorpion stings her. A man watching this scene unfold in front of his eyes is baffled at the insistence of the woman to save the scorpion. After seeing her stung by the scorpion repeatedly, and seeing her in extreme pain and on the verge of death from the scorpion's poison, he screams at her to stop trying to save the scorpion. He says, "Can't you see it is the scorpion's nature to sting you. Why are you still trying to save it?" The woman answers him, "Can't you see that it is in my nature to save it, so why should I stop trying?" In other words, because it is in her nature to save the scorpion, she can't stop herself from this act. Is our ultimate meaning in life determined by our instinctive actions?
on July 26, 2004
Man's Search for Meaning is my bible for life. I so anticipated
digging into Volume 2, couldn't imagine it could get any
better, it didn't.
You need a PHD in Pysch to read the first page and I only
made it to Chapter 4 and I couldn't figure out what he
was even trying to say. The verbage alone requires a
dictionary, but my arm got tired looking up every other
His first book was so rich in real life examples and
touching experiences I was filled with tears of joy.
This book is as if Victor lived his whole life in
the ivory tower talking to other suits.
Oh well, vita continua.
on January 5, 2009
There can be no question that Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning is a much more difficult read than Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. Is it worth it? Yes, many times over. The genesis of Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning was produced by Dr. Frankl a few months after his release from a Nazi death camp when WWII ended. This is the precious manuscript the Nazi's tore from his hands and he reproduced with notes on tiny scraps of paper in the death camp. Originally titled, "The Unconscious God," it was not translated into English until 1975. In many ways Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning is a spiritual book. Frankl informs us that "If religion is to survive, it will have to be profoundly personal." And, "... weak faith is weakened by predicaments and catastrophes, where as strong faith is strengthened by them." Regarding the spiritual unconscious, Frankl postulates a spiritual realm of thought, perhaps a superconscious mind, one that transcends the instinctive unconscious. Here dwells the higher self, the real self, the essence that cannot be observed because it is the observer. Here in the higher reaches of mind springs forth the spiritual strength to endure all things. There are many gems to be found in this book, here are two favorites. Regarding conscious ego, Frankl says "Consider the eye. The eye, too, is self-transcendent in a way. The moment it perceives something of itself, its function--to perceive the surrounding world visually--has deteriorated." Regarding prayer, Frankl says: "God is the partner in our most intimate soliloquies. That is to say, whenever you are talking to yourself in utmost sincerity and ultimate solitude--he to whom you are addressing yourself may justifiably be called God." There is much more here ... certainly worthy of the effort.
on March 21, 2009
A central peculiarity of Frankls medical science is its harmony with the image of God and man in the Christian and Jewish Bible. Man is according to Frankl designed for the realization of a meaning of life. Mans longing for meaning reveal his longings for God. The questions which arise in the life of everybody are questions of transcendence and originate in God. That meaning of life is most profoundly executed in a life in responsibility in front of God. Frankls philosophy and his Logotherapy stood the test of life in his whole life and especially in his sufferings. This is always a sign of a realistic and true philosophy, that it is reliable and practical in daily life. A truth not meant to be destructive! Some misguided people of today think to have found their meaning in the realization of non-sense or mad-sense. They miss the point of life.
To be human means to come into confrontation with situations which are at the same time opportunity and challenge. This can also mean to bear with courage and dignity a seemingly hopeless situation, or the loss of a beloved one. This is also the message of Hiob. Even if not especially in sufferings the meaning of life is developed.
This attitude which Frankl called a power of defiance helped him to survive 3 years in 4 concentration camps. The credibility and the attraction of his Logotherapy is not at last grounded on this probation in the extremes. For many people his psychotherapy proved to be of great help.
Everybody who has to do with psychotherapy should have read this book!
on November 2, 2008
Here Frankl continues the existential quest begun in his earlier book "Mans Search for Meaning." The reader may recall that it was this earlier book that launched his foray into a new form of analysis he invented and coined "Logo-therapy."
Here, as Jean Paul Sartre had done before him, Frankl draws a bright line between his solidly existentialist views, and its instrumentality, Logo-therapy; and Freud's psychology, and its instrumentality, psychoanalysis. The essential distinction that Frankl draws between them is a philosophical one: For him, the deep roots of human meaning derive not from drives, desires and intuited mechanisms, however carefully they may be framed, but from "carrying out responsibilities" to something larger than oneself.
Frankl's essential message thus remains unchanged: In the end, life is not just about power, self-absorption and self-gratification. Man's search for meaning lies in achieving self-awareness, and self-mastery, not in ego massaging, manipulation or management.
To be whole, man must transcend himself or else the quest for meaning will come up an empty hole. It will, inexorably be futile and end in meaninglessness. In order to be truly whole man must integrate his mind and body with a spirit connected to the larger universe. And while this message, of coming to terms with ones spirit, sounds a lot like what one is likely to hear inside the walls of a church or temple, Frankl's interpretation is a great deal more worldly than what we have come to recognize as traditional religious parochialism. Frankel's view is that man cannot be fully actualized (or even fully human) by simply having a "personal God at ones every beck and call," but in using his own self-knowledge and love for his fellow man to serve a higher self-transcendent purpose.
From one who survived Auschwitz, this is not just leveled-headed advice, but it also captures the best of all the wisdom that we so far know of.
on April 14, 2012
Do NOT confuse this book with Frankl's much more popular and approachable "Man's Search for Meaning", which is both a quick read and a well-grounded discussion of the origins of Frankl's ideas from his experiences and observations as a holocaust survivor.
This book, "Man's Search for _Ultimate_ Meaning" (underscores mine), is apparently intended for therapists already familiar with logotherapy, Frankl's theory of psychology. Unfortunately the volume is a hopelessly impenetrable text with discussions couched entirely in terminology with which I am utterly unfamiliar, despite having a psychology degree. Nor will membership, nor even _former_ membership, in Mensa indicate you are qualified to understand this tome.
I would say that the book is nonsense, except that firstly, it beggars belief that Frankl would knowingly write a volume were that so and secondly, because I am a limited human being and there are some ideas which I will likely be unable to understand despite my best efforts.
(I do however leave open the possibility that the author _unwittingly_ wrote a volume of nonsense.)
tl;dr Read Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning", avoid Frankl's "Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning".
on January 31, 2016
Frankl's insightful analysis of the motivation of man's search for meaning is a compelling read. While this is a more scientific analysis of his "logotherapy" approach to analysis, it is nevertheless a great read