Saturday, March 30, 2013

№ 121. Humanity's Search for Meaning

Celebrated Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, born on March 26, 1905, remains best-known for his indispensable 1946 psychological memoir Man’s Search for Meaning (public library) — a meditation on what the gruesome experience of Auschwitz taught him about the primary purpose of life: the quest for meaning, which sustained those who survived.

For Frankl, meaning came from three possible sources: purposeful work, love, and courage in the face of difficulty.

In examining the “intensification of inner life” that helped prisoners stay alive, he considers the transcendental power of love:

"Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance."

Frankl illustrates this with a stirring example of how his feelings for his wife — who was eventually killed in the camps — gave him a sense of meaning:

"We were at work in a trench. The dawn was grey around us; grey was the sky above; grey the snow in the pale light of dawn; grey the rags in which my fellow prisoners were clad, and grey their faces. I was again conversing silently with my wife, or perhaps I was struggling to find the reason for my sufferings, my slow dying. In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious “Yes” in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose. At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning in Bavaria. “Et lux in tenebris lucet” — and the light shineth in the darkness. For hours I stood hacking at the icy ground. The guard passed by, insulting me, and once again I communed with my beloved. More and more I felt that she was present, that she was with me; I had the feeling that I was able to touch her, able to stretch out my hand and grasp hers. The feeling was very strong: she was there. Then, at that very moment, a bird flew down silently and perched just in front of me, on the heap of soil which I had dug up from the ditch, and looked steadily at me." (Brainpickings)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

№ 120. Forced Dialogues / Conceded Diatribes


    Of the dark past
    A child is born;
    With joy and grief
    My heart is torn

Evolution is a series of successful mistakes: errors made when copying genes, which – by allowing their carriers to run faster or to live on less food – mean they do better.

    Calm in his cradle
    The living lies.
    May love and mercy
    Unclose his eyes!

Natural selection, as Darwin called this idea, comes from inherited differences in survival. It worked on us in the past – with some people better at dealing with diseases like malaria, or poisons such as alcohol – and, in time, it leads to new species (ourselves included).

    Young life is breathed
    On the glass;
    The world that was not
    Comes to pass.

The important word is differences; and they have disappeared. Now, almost every baby born in richer countries survives until they are grown up, but that is new; even in Shakespeare's time, only one in three did – and many who died young did so because their genes could not resist disease, cold, starvation.

     A child is sleeping:
     An old man gone.
     O, father forsaken,
     Forgive your son!*

Now we almost all pass the Darwin exam, we will not become a new species. But although our bodies will not change, with luck our minds – unkind, greedy and angry as they too often are – will.**

Bento Box:

*   Ecce Puer by James Joyce (Poem Hunter)
** From "Ask a grown-up: will humans evolve into a new species? Professor of genetics Steve Jones answers seven-year-old Brendan's question" (Guardian)

Monday, March 4, 2013

№ 116. Joss Stone at Malasimbo

Just three hiccups before the Sunday Malasimbo concert of Joss Stone:

First, a friend from the Dutch Embassy wished us good weather before she left for Manila. Uh oh.

Naturally, it rained.