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?