Thursday, February 13, 2014

Book quotes: The Doctor and the Soul by Viktor E.Frankl (1/2)

Here are some notes and quotes from the The Doctor and the Soul, reviewed earlier. More to follow.

Logotherapy is ultimately education toward responsibility; the patient must push forward independently toward the concrete meaning of his own existence.
 …man is by no means a product of heredity and environment . There is a third element: decision. Man ultimately decides for himself!

..the aim of the psychotherapist should be to bring out the ultimate possibilities of the patient, to realise his latent values  - remembering the aphorism of Geothe, which might as well be adopted as the maxim of psychotherapy: “If we take people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat them as if they are what they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming”.

Erwin Straus … has shown that the reality of man’s life … is inconceivable apart from the historical time factor. This is especially true in neurosis where man “deforms” this (sense of time). One type of deformation is the attempt to desert the original human plane of being. Straus calls this attempt “presentist” existence. He is referring to the attitude which repudiates any sense of direction in life; to behaviour , in other words, which is neither based on the past nor guided toward the future, but related only to the unhistorical pure present. Thus many a neurotic expresses a preference for living “far from the struggle for existence” upon some solitary island where he would have nothing to do but lie in the sun.  That may be fitting for animals, but not for men. Only in his self-forgetfulness can such a person imagine that in the long-run … such a life would be human, worthy of man, and tolerable. The “normal man” may and can only take a presentist attitude only at certain times, and then only to a degree.
The time and occasion for this is a thing of conscious choice. …This (the bourgeois) class is swelled by those vast numbers of human being who, hard at work all week long, on Sundays are overwhelmed by emptiness and lack of content of their lives, which the day of idleness brings into consciousness. Victims of “Sunday neurosis”, they get drunk in order to flee from their spiritual horror of emptiness.

How crucial is an affirmative attitude toward life.

Pleasure is not the goal of our aspirations, but the consequence of attaining them. Kant long ago pointed this out. … It is evident that adopting the pleasure principle would, on a moral plane, lead to a levelling of all potential human aims. It would be impossible to differentiate one action from another, since all would have the same purpose in view. (Frankl goes on to say that under the pleasure principle a person might with equal justification spend their money on a cake as a book, as they both yield pleasure – imo, this is a gross simplification of the idea of short-term utility, which surely allows for lots of different types of pleasures.). 

When we set pleasure up as the whole meaning of life, we insure that in the final anlaysis life shall inevitably seem meaningless. Pleasure cannot possibly lend meaning to life. For what is pleasure? A condition. The materialist …would say that pleasure is nothing but a state of cells in the brain.

Life itself teaches most people that “we are not here to enjoy ourselves”. Those who have not yet learned this lesson might be edified by the statistics of a Russian experimental psychologist who showed that the normal man in an average day experiences incomparably more unpleasure sensations that pleasure sensations.

How often one of our patients bewails his life, which he says has no meaning since his activities are without any higher value. This is the point at which we must reason with him, showing that it is a matter of indifference what a person’s occupation is, or at what job he works. The crucial thing is how he works, whether he in fact fills the place in which he happens to have landed. The radius of his activity is not important; important alone is whether he fills the circle of his tasks. (there is some truth to this but to me the idea doesn’t really hold water  - one to investigate further, perhaps Camus’ take on Sisyphus is of use?).

… life proves to be meaningful even when it is neither fruitful in creation nor rich in experience. The third group of values (first was creative values, second was experiential value ) lies precisely in a man’s attitude toward the limiting factors upon his life. His very response to the restraints upon his potentialities provides him with a new realm of values which surely belong among the highest values.

At one time we are called upon, as it were, to enrich ourselves by our actions, another time to enrich ourselves by our experiences. Sometimes the demand of the hour may be fulfilled by an act, another time by our surrendering to the glory of an experience. Man can be “obligated” to experience joy. Frankl describes a man sitting in his car, reading a newspaper, instead of looking up to enjoy the sunset or breath in the nice smell of flowers, as someone who may be described as being negligent to this obligation.

..human freedom is not a “freedom from” but a “freedom to” – a freedom to accept responsibility.

The rules of life do not require us to win at all costs, but they do demand that we never give up the fight.

…in view of the task quality of life, it logically follows that life becomes more meaningful the more meaningful it gets.

But if the patient should object that he does not know the meaning of his life, that the unique potentialities of his own existence are not apparent to him, then we can only reply that his primary task is just this: to find his way to his own proper task, to advance toward the uniqueness and singularity of his own meaning in life. As for the matter of each man’s inner potentialities – in other words, how a man is to go about learning what he ought to be from what he is – there is no better answer than that given by Goethe: “However can we learn to know ourselves? Never by reflection, but by action. Try to do your duty and you will soon find out what you are. But what is your duty? The demands of each day”.

No man can ever know what life still holds in store for him, or what magnificent hour may still await him. No man is justified in insisting on his own inadequacies – that is, demeaning his own potentialities.

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