What’s my Woe?


I am not a even a quasi specialist in any subject. I am an uber generalist. The skills I have are – how to structure a problem and how to solve it using the tools which are available. Now, as you might imagine, these are the exact skills required for any job but the fact is that if you are a specialist (or even a quasi one) , you know which field to apply this skill in. I can go into any number of fields – so to speak – but there, I am met with people who have these same skills plus some more, which is, the knowledge of the history/geography/politics of that particular field. Don’t get me wrong, I think the flexibility of moving in any direction is a major plus but if it becomes so flexible that you are not even able to choose or decide, then it’s a problem.

So, the answer to the question I asked (What’s my Woe?) is that I can’t decide which field to put myself in and battle it out. That, is my woe.

It is like standing outside a park and seeing n groups of children playing n different interesting games and if you want, you can go and play any of it but you are not friendly with any of the groups and from this distance you can’t really decide which game would be the best. To complicate matters, time is running out and darkness approaching. Soon, you will have to choose or you will be kicked out. 

Which game do I choose to play? Which one?

 

The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins


Given the normal Hindu upbringing that I had, I had grown up hearing and knowing about all the innumerable gods we have. Then, my education in a convent school for a few years of my life exposed me to the Christianity as well and a couple of my friends as well as family friends being muslim showed me that way of thinking too. In short, I knew about 3 religions and how they functioned. I loved the mythology. I loved the stories of Gods – more like superhuman beings. There wasn’t much I questioned early in life. It is when I came in higher class in school – around class X or so..that I started reasoning for myself and found many incompatibilities. It was just flabbergasting to believe what mythologies were saying and what science had actually proved. It did not go together and that is when in the hearts of my hearts I accepted that God – be it any religion – was a superhuman character in an elaborate plotline with earth as center.

The book asserts as much and tries to argue rationally. Dawkins is a charming speaker and a gifted writer and he is very passionate about the subject. It is indeed a touchy topic and he starts by pointing out how religion gains much more immunity than anything else (in terms of offence).

I came across Dawkins and his quest for Atheism when I was in college – 2nd year I think. I have been thoroughly convinced since then, of course but reading this book was just a reassertion of the fact that if one begins to see the world through scientific lens and tries to accept the unknown/fuzziness as such , which is as yet unknown, rather than devising supernatural story plots, there would be so much more beauty to be seen!

Rationality is a gift we all have but the choice to use it is what makes a difference. Sadly, most of us choose to believe in something which is incompatible with rationality, science and evidence.

If you want to give even an iota of a chance to see the argument for not believing in a supernatural – This is the book.

Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl


(Might contain spoilers)

Before yesterday, I had often come across recommendations for this book. They all said how it was so inspiring and had been written by a Nazi concentration camp survivor. Now, I have read a bit about the era and seen movies about Nazi tortures. It was a painful time. It saddens me to read about it and I did not want to get depressed again reading about the worst possible dimension of human nature. It was for this reason, I just kept delaying reading the much touted Frankl’s book.

Yesterday, I eventually got it on my Kindle and started reading and I only stopped when my eyes completely surrendered and started once again as soon as I got up. It is a small book. But it’s power is enormous. Yes, It is about the concentration camps and torture but its not dispiriting. Instead, its uplifting and that is why it is a great book. Victor Frankl is an extraordinary man who not only survived the camps but at the same time used that experience to understand one of the man’s most basic survival skill as well as his innate desire – that of a meaning in life. Throughout the book he describes how those who were determined to allocate a meaning to their lives were the people who survived the unimaginable brutalities. As soon as any one gave up that trust in the meaning, they gave up all hope and were quickly consumed by death.

Through his and other’s struggle and survival, Frankl makes a case for having a meaning in one’s life. He asserts that it is not the will to pleasure (as advocated by Freudian School of Thought) or the will to power/money (as advocated by Adlerian School of Thought) but the will to meaning which is the most powerful driver of a human’s satisfaction and actions. He has christened this school of thought as ‘logotherapy’. He emphasizes that people can be helped more by focusing on their future and the actions which make that future possible than by delving deep into hidden desires and intents.

There is also much discussion about free will and liberty of man in the book. His view is that while man is not free of the situations and the difficulties he might have to face, he is free to choose his actions and the attitude which he will adopt in every possible circumstance – favorable or not.

He also suggests self transcendence as the best way to live a meaningful life and also having therapeutic value where one shifts his focus from himself to something outside it. This resonates with Bertrand Russell’s thought that a man’s locus should be external to his being. Being the locus of oneself forces one to constantly watch, evaluate and criticize one’s actions which can get very tiring and frustrating soon enough. So, one has to choose meaning which is external to self.

More than once he quotes Nietzsche’s words ‘ He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how’ which forms his credo as well. Here are a couple of lines from the book regarding Logotherapy –

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.3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

He concludes with a thought that it is not happiness which man finally seeks but a reason to be happy – which means a meaning for his life and happiness is but a by-product of that. Also, meaning is not some generalized abstract concept but is unique to each and every person and should be tailored by answering the questions which life asks of us at different points in our lives.

All in all, it is indeed a very inspiring book and should be read at least once. I am glad I finally did.!