Saturday, 27 July 2013

So What Is the Individual?

Hi All,

After reading and listening to what others have said about the individual - and after writing about various perspectives on the individual yourself - I would like to invite you to rethink our original questions.

These original questions were:

1. Who am I?
2. What do I want to do with my life to make it meaningful?
3. How can I use my specific skills, talents, preferences, and character traits to help others and to make a positive difference in the world?

Perhaps the following three visual "maps" will help you get started:

Or try thinking about the topic by finishing the following sentences to create true (and truthful) sentences:

The world is ...
-> please write at least 3 sentences that you think are true about the world                                       

Like everybody in my circle of friends/ community, I am ...                  
 -> please name 3 characteristics that you share with many of your friends and/or with the majority of the people in your community

Unlike everybody else in my circle of friends/community, I am              
-> please name 3 characteristics that you don't share with the majority of your friends or with the majority of other members of your community

My greatest strengths are    
-> please list 3 or more                          

My greatest weaknesses are                        
-> please name at least 3

When I was 5 I was/ could …

When I was 8 I was/ could …

When I was 10 I was/ could …

When I was 12 I was/ could …

When I was 15 I was/ could …

Now I am/can  …

In 5 years I will be (able to)  …

In 10 years I will  be (able to) …

I really love the following  [gifts/ qualities/ people/ animals/ activities/ opportunities/ etc]                                                              
-> name as many as you like but at least 10

I am grateful in particular for the following 5 (or more) gifts:             
I would like to learn in particular the following 5 skills:                        

What is it that has changed in my life?

What in my life has remained the same?

What is it that makes me me?

Who am I – and who have I always been and will always be?

Enjoy exploring yourself - and then using your insights to find your special path!

Thanks for a wonderful term!


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Perspectives on the Self from around the World, Part 1

Hi All,

In preparation for our FDU Multicultural Day on June 28th, I would like to invite you to share interesting and important views of the individual from a culture of your choice. Anything is fine: poems, stories, plays, articles, art, music, dance, religion, mythology, psychology, sociology, political science, biology, history, philosophy, etc.

Please post relevant links as well as a brief intro to your chosen text or talk or art work or performance or clip or etc and a brief statement of why you like it.

Thank you!


Sunday, 26 May 2013

Religious, Non-Religious, and Spiritual Perspectives on the Individual

Hi All,

Since our class discussion last week got us into the topic of religion, I thought I should give you the opportunity to share your reflections, observations, insights and ideas about this topic with the rest of us. After all, religion is a very personal topic and therefore deeply connected with the innermost core of the individual. However, since religion and spirituality are therefore also a very emotional topics for many people, I would like you to be open-minded and to treat people with different views with utmost politeness and respect :)

I think it is very important for all of us to learn about religious and spiritual belief systems that are different from our own in order to understand and appreciate the cultural diversity of this world. And better understanding what we commonly think of as "the other" is often a first step to realizing that "the other" is not as different from us as we originally assumed - and will therefore bring us closer to what we all want: World Peace.

Please feel free to share here aspects of any form of religion or spirituality that you find interesting. This is not restricted to the traditional religions but may include non-institutionalized religions (such as shamanism) as well as spirituality in a more general sense as well. Of course, the very opposite of religion, atheism, is part of the spectrum of possibilities as well - and should therefore NOT be excluded.

Please feel also free to include other meta-physical topics here - i.e. topics about anything that transcends the physical and that can therefore not be perceived by our 5 physical senses, such as near-death experiences, ESP, etc.

Religion, philosophy, and mythology (in its traditional sense of 'the science of sacred stories') - as well as, of course, anthropology, archeology, history, biology, chemistry, physics, literature, all forms of art, as well as language itself - are all very closely linked and contribute equally to helping us figure out who we are. I think it makes sense for us to learn as much as we can in all these areas (and in other areas as well) if we truly want to understand our innermost nature.

So if you have figured out something that makes sense to you, please tell us about it. It might also make sense to the rest of us. Feel also free, of course, to share links to texts and/or videos that you find interesting in this context.

I would like to start with a few clips that I found quite interesting:

1) Following our in-class discussions about the close connections of Judaism and Islam (and also Christianity, which developed out of Judaism), I would like to draw your attention to the following youtube clips about this topic:

2) Introduction to Religion in General:

Nature of Religion:

Chronological sequence & geographical location:

Function(s) of Religion:

Living in a World without God -> Existentialist Ethics:

The Future of Religions & Spirituality in Our Global World:

Thank you!


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Additional Perspectives on the Individual

Dear All,

Please write about anything else here that is relevant for our course topic!

I hope you have learned more about yourself - as well as about the world - by thinking about the individual from different perspectives.

Have a wonderful summer!


Creative Perspectives on the Individual - Part 3: Mirrors

Please look into a mirror. Don't just look at your outward you but try to see deeper. What can you see? Feel free to answer this question in either a personal or creative way.



Creative Perspectives on the Individual - Part 2: Masks

Find the image of a mask you find fascinating (e.g. by typing into google: "mask cultural images"). Look at it carefully and try to absorb all the details.

Option 1)

Try to get a sense/feel of the spirit that the mask embodies. Then imagine you are wearing the mask and you are becoming the personality of the mask. Tell us about your new you in any genre you wish (e.g. story, journal entry, email message, poem, dialogue, description etc).

Option 2)

Do some research about the mask: culture, meaning, symbolism, cultural and/or historical and/or social and/or religious and/or mythological background and tell us about it.

This, too, is meant to be fun! Enjoy to be someone else!


Creative Perspectives on the Individual - Part 1: Archetypes

Archetypes play a role in many myths and epics throughout the world. They are also used in contemporary poetry and fiction - as well as in movies.

Option 1)

Please look at the list of Archetypes that Caroline Myss put together:

Pick two or three archetypes from the list that you find particularly interesting. Think about them - and try to imagine they are real people.

Write a story or a poem - or anything else you wish - in which your chosen archetypes interact with each other and see what happens :)

Option 2)

Read the quotations from Carl Jung's work about archetypes and think about the topic of archetypes in connection with our course topic.

Feel free to do this in a creative way.

Option 3)

Read Northrop Frye's Essay "Archetypal Criticism - Theory of Myths" and discuss its relevance of the self.

Again, you are welcome to use a creative approach!

Option 4)

Find a poem or story or movie or other creative work (art, music, dance, etc) that is based on one (or more than one) particular archetype and tell us more about it!

This is meant to be fun! Please enjoy!

Philosophical Perspectives on the Individual - Part 4: Eastern Philosophy

Please read your selected passages in the texts below [feel free to choose alternative texts!]

a) Eihei Dogen Zenji,  Shobogenzo Zuimonki

Please read around in all 6 books. Here the link to the first passage in book 1: down on the left for more)

b) Takuan Soho, The Unfettered Mind 

c) Thich Nhat Hanh, The 14 Mindfulness Trainings

d) The Hyms of the Rig Veda 

-> choose your favourite passages

or watch the youtube version of the Vedas:

e) Patanjali, Yoga Sutras 

-> choose your favourite passages

f) The Bhagavad Gita

Please use these selections to develop your own philosophy of the self further!


Multicultural Perspectives on the Individual

Please read M.G. Vassanji's novel No New Land and discuss any aspect of the book that you find interesting for our course topic (i.e. Perspectives on the Individual).

Feel also free to compare No New Land with other novels, stories, poems, or movies that address similar topics and/or compare the experiences of Vassanji's main characters with similar experiences you or one of your friends or family members may have had.

You are most welcome to comment in the form of stories or poems or other forms of creative expression :)


Thematic Perspectives on the Individual

Hi All,

The following texts (essay, talks, and stories) focus on selected thematic perspectives on the individual. Please choose one PAIR of texts and comment on what the two texts have in common and what makes them different.

Here the selection:

1.1. Pico della Mirandola, "Oration on the Dignity of Man": Jesus - transcribed by author of Gospel of Matthew, "The Sermon on the Mount":

2.1 Tillie Olsen, "Tell Me a Riddle" (short story OR movie) - NOT available for free -> see: Deepak Chopra, "Life after Death" (youtube):

3.1. Anne Fausto-Sterling, "The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough": Helen Fisher, "Why We Love, Why We Cheat" (TED talk):

4.1. Franz Kafka, "Before the Law" (youtube-movie in German - but you can click on the English text in the comment section): text also at: Yukio Mishima, "Swaddeling Clothes" (short story): 

5.1. Arcadii Averchenko, "The Young Man Who Flew Past": Hermann Hesse, "The Poet":

Feel free to add other pairs (complete with links) if you wish!


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Philosophical Perspectives on the Individual - Part 3

Key Questions in Philosophy about the Self

1) Who am I?
2) Why am I here? What is my purpose/mission in life? 
3) Where do I come from and where am I going to? -> implies another question, namely:
  -> What is the nature of the world/ of reality?

Three Major Strands in Philosophy: Monism - Dualism - Pluralism


From “mono” = ‘one’
* everything is an expression of one and the same substance (i.e. spirit or mind or matter)
* the fundamental nature of the universe is therefore unity
(cf. word “uni-verse” = ‘one’ & ‘turned into’ -> ‘all turned into one’
 similar to Greek holon = ‘whole’)


From “duo” = ‘two’
* dichotomy of world into two different substances,
   i.e.: everything belongs either to one or the other of two
* this implies a fundamental separation or split
  (for example into good vs evil, mind vs matter or mind vs body; us vs them)


From “plus, pluris” = ‘more [than one]’
* world composed of many different substances   
* there is no one truth/ reality but many truths/ realities
* all truth is therefore seen as relative

Monism in Philosophy Can Be Subdivided into 3 Different Kinds

1) IDEAS  (which are an expression of the mind/spirit) are the basis for everything else
=> Idealism
a  mental image
the spoken word

2) MATTER (i.e. something that is manifest in physical reality) is the substance that underlies everything else
=> Materialism

3) Some kind of ENERGY underlies everything:
apeiron = 'the undefined infinite' = something undefinable (Anaximander);
change (Heraclitos)
some eternal, static reality  (Parmenides),
the divine syllable Om, the cosmic vibration that underlies all existence (Upanishads)

Please note: Pantheism and Panentheism are both forms of Monism!

“pan” =  ‘all’ –  “theos”  = ‘ god’
everything is a manifestation of the divine -> god is in everything

“pan” =  ‘all’ –  “theos”  = ‘ god’ – “en” = ‘inside’
everything is in god (i.e. god is all there is, and the universe & we all are all in him/her)

-> Please look at the texts that we have read this class and figure out if you can see elements of Monism, Dualism, and/or Pluralism in any of them!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Literary Perspectives on the Individual - Part 3: The Romantics

Dear All,

The Romantic Movement in Europe is crucial for our present understanding of the Individual. Please watch the following Introductions to Romanticism and then read the suggested poems.

Introductions to the Romantic Period:

BBC Series (on British Romanticism)

(1) The Romantics - Nature:

(2) The Romantics - Liberty:

(3) The Romantics - Eternity:

The Romantic Spirit - Series in Several Parts

"The Golden Age"

"Paradise Lost"


"Triumph of Death"

"The Romantic Hero"

"The Romantic Explosion"

"The Triumph of Romanticism?"

Examples of Romantic Poetry in England

William Blake (1757-1827)

Visual Art


"Love's Secret"

"Mad Song"

"The Tiger"

"To the Evening Star"

Video about Blake

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

"Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood"

"Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey"

"Resolution and Independence"

"I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud"

"To a Skylark"

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"

Illustrated youtube version in 5 parts:

"Kubla Khan"


"The Eolian Harp"

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824)

"Stanzas for Music"

"She Walks in Beauty"


John Keats (1795-1821)

"Ode on a Grecian Urn"

"Ode to a Nightingale"

"Ode on Melancholy"

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)


"Ode to the West Wind"

"To a Skylark"

"Love's Philosophy"

"Prometheus Unbound"

Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

Frankenstein - or the Modern Prometheus (novel)

In Germany, there was a pre-romantic movement that promoted similar ideas, called Sturm und Drang (1760s to 1780s). The most prominent representatives of that movement were:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

-> bilingual handout (with my translation) or check out a different English translation at:
(scroll down to the very bottom of the page!)

-> bilingual handout (with my translation) or check out a different English translation at:
(scroll down to the very bottom of the page!)

The Sorrows of Young Werther

Goetz von Berlichingen

Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805)

The Robbers

Intrigue and Love

Don Carlos

"Ode to Joy"

... and there is much more....



Sunday, 7 April 2013

Philosophical Perspectives on the Individual - Part 2 - The beginning of Western Philosophy

Dear All,

Among the most famous thinkers of Western Philosophy are Socrates and Plato. Unfortunately, Socrates didn't write any books. What has survived of his philosophy has been written down by others, in particular by Plato, who was Socrates's most famous student as well as the most influential Greek philosopher of all times.

Please find below some introductory information to Socrates, Plato, and their Time.

The Background: Ancient Greece

Greek Mythology

The Greek Gods - Part 1:
The Greek Gods - Part 2:
The Greek Gods - Part 3:
The Greek Gods - Part 4:

Historical & Cultural Background

Athens - Part 1:
Athens - Part 2:
Athens - Part 3:


Introduction to Plato - Part 1:
Introduction to Plato - Part 2:
Introduction to Plato - Part 3:
Introduction to Plato - Part 4:

Plato's Cave Allegory (from Book 7 of his Republic) - Animated Version:

Conversation about Plato:


Play about his "Apology":

Alain de Botton - Happiness Series: Socrates on Self Confidence

Interesting Student Project about Socrates:

Movie about Socrates (in Spanish):

The Texts for this Class

Plato - "Euthyphro":

Plato - "Apology":

Plato - "Crito":

Also really interesting:

Plato - The Republic: about his Vision of the Ideal State:

Plato - Symposium: about Love:
Written Text:
Audio Book:

Making Connections:
Please compare Plato's Cave Allegory (from Book 7 of his Republic) <>
with Michael Talbot's ideas about "The Universe as Hologram" <>
Do you think there are connections? Explore them!



Monday, 4 March 2013

Literary Perspectives on the Individual - Part 2: The Epic of Gilgamesh

Hi All,

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest literary works we have.

Here some introductory information.


Civilizations - Mesopotamia:

Mesopotamia - the First Civilization on Earth:

Sumerer - Wikipedia (youtube)

Introduction to the Epic of Gilgamesh

Introductory Lecture:

Overview (2 parts):  &

Wikipedia Article:

Gilgamesh Project (in Spanish)

Spark Notes:

Text of Epic of Gilgamesh & Conversion of the Text into Other Media

Official Course Text:
Translation of Gilgamesh by David Ferry (available for $9 from Amazon):

Text of first 11 Tablets:


Full Text (including Tablet 12):

Audio Version of the Story (11 parts):

Animation of the Story (short summary):

Short Movie (summary):

Gilgamesh Modernized Movie:

Music Inspired by the Epic of Gilgamesh:



Sunday, 24 February 2013

Scientific Perspectives on the Individual

Dear All,

Some of the findings and theories of modern science, in particular quantum mechanics, question dramatically the traditional western view of the individual - as well as of reality.

Please watch first either the full version of the movie What the Bleep Do We Know

or the slightly expanded What the Bleep - Down the Rabbit Hole

and then familiarize yourself a bit further with Quantum Physics/ Quantum Mechanics and its implications by watching one of the following documentaries:

Brian Green - Quantum Mechanics Explained

Michio Kaku on Quantum Mechanics

HD The Universe Season 7 - Quantum Mechanics

Michael Talbot - in Thinking Allowed  - "Synchronicity and the Holographic Universe"

Please also read the following two articles:

"The Universe as Hologram":

"Cosmology and the 21st Century Culture":

Then think about the implications of these new scientific theories and ideas for your own life :)

Thank you!


Sunday, 17 February 2013

Psychological Perspectives on the Individual - Part 2: Manipulating the Masses - the Story of Consumerism

Dear All,

Please watch the following two videos:

* The Happiness Machine

* The Story of Stuff

* The Story of Change

Feel free to think about your own habit of "buying stuff" and try to analyze it critically.

Please also ask yourself the following questions:

  • What makes you buy something and decide which of many similar products you decide on? 
  • How long are you, on average happy about a particular product? 
  • Do you follow what is "in" or fashionable? If so, why - if not, why not? 
  • How does following fashion take away from your individuality?
  • What does following fashion take away from your own natural beauty (as opposed to some abstract beauty ideal that someone has decided on)?
  • What role do the mass media play in controlling the behavior of the masses?

Another side of consumerism is, as Annie Leonard pointed out in her video, the destruction of the environment. Please think a bit more about how consumerism ultimately creates the following:

  • piles of garbage (including dangerous plastic and nuclear and chemical waste), 
  • pollution of water, earth, and air, 
  • shortage of drinkable water, 
  • problems with crops and thus a shortage of food
  • global warming - and consequent changes in weather patterns and activities that will lead to a destruction of large area of current habitat,
  • the destruction of many species (some of which are crucial to the survival of humans), 
  • the destruction of the whole ecosystem - including us.
Please also watch the following:

* Severn Suzuki's speech at the UN

* The Destruction of our Planet

* Article in National Georgraphic (2004):

* The End of Consumerism

* Some Facts about the Current Situation:

* If you think that a healthy environment should be a basic human right (just as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are basic human rights according to the American constitution), please check out David Suzuki's petition - and sign: 

Thank you,


Psychological Perspectives on the Individual - Part 1: Freud and his Time

Freud is on of the most famous Psychologist and has shaped the Western view of the Self substantially. However, he, too, is a product of his culture and time - and his way of thinking makes only sense in that context.

If you are not familiar with that context, please click on the following link:

Some of Freud's main ideas can be found in his Civilization and Its Discontent. Please read this famous essay collection carefully and feel free to comment on it.

Please also have a look at the following videos about Freud:

! Introduction to Freud's Theory of Human Nature  (in Comparison to Marx's Theory):

! Illustrated  Introduction to Freud's Theory about the Id, Ego, and Superego

! Introduction to Freud's Theory of Dreams: 4 parts

Short Introduction to Freud and his Theories about Sexual Development:

Open Yale University Introduction to Freud:

Extremely interesting also: Freud's contemporary, Carl Jung. You can get a basic idea of some of Jung's main ideas by watching the following videos:

Short into to his main ideas:

! Documentary about his theories and work:

Short Clips about Jung's Ideas about Anima, Animus, and Archetypes:

Talk by Jung:

About the Hero's Journey (based on Jung):'s-Journey.html

Feel free to post your thoughts about Freud and Jung below!

Thank you,


Literary Perspectives on the Individual - Part 1: Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale

Dear All,

What happens when individuals when they are put into a totalitarian political system in which ideology (in this case, the christian religion) is used to reduce women to their wombs? Please explore this question and other issues further in Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale.

Some material you might find useful in this context:

* Definition of Dystopia (from: Read * Write * Think):

* Handmaid's Tale - movie version: 

* Selected Interviews with Margaret Atwood:

* Selected Video Projects about the Handmaid's Tale

Please also read Margaret Atwood's short literary essay, "The Female Body" in this context:

... as well as her poem "Spelling":

I hope you find the novel as well as the additional material interesting!