The Meaning(s) of Life: A Human’s Guide to the Biology of Souls
When you get right down to it, humans are incredibly complicated creatures. And yet, compared to the complex biosphere we inhabit, we’re relatively simple. How did we come to be? What does it mean to be alive?
The Meaning(s) of Life starts off with lots of rambling about biology, partially to prove the author’s scientific merit, and partially to isolate all of the aspects of how life developed on Earth – DNA, single cell vs. multicelled creatures, evolution, social development, the role of empathy in human interaction, etc. – before going after the soul itself.
It’s an impressive journey to undertake, but it made me question the author’s intended audience. He uses so much unnecessarily technical scientific terminology that he could easily lose a less savvy reader, but he couches it in a less scholarly style that would sound amateurish from a scientific standpoint.
Although it never really answers the promise of the subtitle as I interpret it – either tying the soul to human biology or describing a biological layout for the soul – The Meaning(s) of Life does provide plenty of food for thought when considering our place as cogs in the machine that is Earth.
The Fourth Dimension of Existence
We live in a three-dimensional world, and can fully understand three -dimensional occurrences. But this three- dimensional reality cannot explain our inability to answer fundamental questions. The Fourth Dimension of Existence proposes that an additional existential dimension is needed — another dimension, like the three material ones with which we are so familiar, which is an integral part of our being, which we already can sense and understand in a limited capacity, but which in us is not yet fully realized. This fourth dimension is Spirit, and by accepting that we have this particular fourth-dimensional component, we can begin to rationally understand many of these questions about our existence, if not yet their answers.
Dr. Nasr Saad begins with an overview of our understanding of the universe – basically, that we cannot comprehend it in terms of our normal reality. Although matter is finite and limited, the universe, as far as we can tell, is infinite and limitless. How can this be? He explores the historical and universal understanding that there is an immortal component to our beings, usually explained as the spirit or soul, but explains that the spirit and body are both equally present throughout and within our being. The three familiar dimensions of physical reality are no more or less omnipresent than this fourth, the spirit.
Understanding that we are not fully realized in the fourth dimension, although we can vaguely sense it, we recognize that communication from that reality must be by analogy or parable. Dr. Saad compares this to us, as three-dimensional beings, trying to interact with two-dimensional ones. (This analogy borrows heavily from Flatland, by Edwin A. Abbot, but explicates to a much greater degree than was explored in that already excellent book.) Different chapters focus more exclusively on death and immortality, religious revelations, and time and space. This last is especially fun; using the experimentally-supported conclusions of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, for example, Dr. Saad shows how a being moving at or beyond the speed of light would, to our comprehension, exist for our eternity and throughout our infinite space.
This is a fascinating book. The arguments are painstakingly, thoroughly, and solidly constructed. Although the reading can be dense and get a little confusing (as the subject is, by this book’s argument, not completely comprehensible), it is well worth the effort. The style is highly readable and conversational, and Dr. Saad is modest and respectful as he leads you to his conclusions. He does not claim to have the answers, but invites the reader to come with him in trying to understand life’s mysteries. Even if you don’t believe in an existence beyond the one we know, The Fourth Dimension of Existence provides a rational way to try to approach that belief. If you do already believe in that possibility, this book will wonderfully extend your understanding.
Seamless Subtleties is one man’s journey to understand the meaning of existence, and its tight connection with humanity amid inconceivable pain. Drawing from his harrowing past, Raymond explores his traumatic experiences to extrapolate what makes people tick discordantly. Zeroing in on the two-dimensional existence of human beings — the tangible (cerebral) and the intangible (spiritual). Raymond’s eclectic journey is replete with specific tools to help others (especially those in the unbelievably inhuman conditions) live beyond the temporal to become “more creative and more connected to who we are” — all for the purpose of achieving being “one with the energy of life.”
Michael Raymond’s debut book is a chilling memoir, with a philosophical twist. Raymond opens with background from his dysfunctional childhood, quickly followed by his theoretical viewpoints. A matter of much more than mere semantics, Raymond differentiates between the brain (a power tool) and the mind (consciousness), and that one needs to be wary of the brain’s trappings to overtake enlightenment that can eventually whittle one’s identity “to the point of feeling meaningless.” Raymond breaks that down even further with an explanation of very detailed tools: his “SEER TRAPS” system, “fourteen reasons why we should value our intangible essence,” and the difference between wisdom and knowledge.
While his is an incredibly sad upbringing, Raymond only begins to scratch the surface of his past, before delving into his eclectic findings. Readers may confuse Raymond’s truth-seeking observations as leaning toward another bizarre attempt at metaphysics, until they read the remainder of his story. In fact, this reviewer is certain that no one will be prepared for the succession of heartless and unconscionable situations that heavily lace Raymond’s account. A victim of covert surveillance and harassment and familial treachery, Raymond candidly shares how his successful career and happy marriage suddenly took a nosedive. What follows is a disturbing list of experiences. Besides incarceration and institutionalization, including the associated physical and mental torture, Raymond states, “I’ve been stalked, invaded, robbed, vandalized, harassed, humiliated, demeaned, defamed, emotionally and physically tortured twenty-four hours a day for more than ten years.”
Since Raymond’s well-written memoir reads more like a creatively gripping thriller, one may momentarily forget that his first person narrative is a work of fact, not fiction. Unfortunately, “sicken” and “sordid” are but a few descriptive words that capture the essence of Raymond’s story. Yet amidst extreme duress, Raymond miraculously finds solace in silence by seeking mental awareness (via his tools) as a means of survival.
In closing, this reviewer believes that Raymond pens it best when he says, “writing this was the only way to get anyone to actually become fully aware of my whole story. The reader can select how much pain they can tolerate and when. This was my only avenue of expression left.” While highly recommended as a must-read, readers, pay heed to Raymond’s words since Seamless Subtleties is undoubtedly not intended for the faint of heart.
Rational Polemics: Tackling the Ethical Dilemmas of Life
The format herein is a series of essays or musings. No attempt is expended to make weighty universal pronouncements, and, in fact, no attempt is made to use “proper” language, though the vocabulary is adult and educated. Editing is of a high level, and continuity within subjects is good. Those subjects are wide ranging and not picked for political correctness. In fact, the one word I would use to describe this ramble is “refreshing.”
Most of the ideas offered, and the explorations developed, will have some familiarity to long-term libertarians and even to many people who have simply engaged in brainstorming as sophomores. That does not diminish the book’s utility. As a direct result of Devens’ fearless approaches to intimidating topics, we are presented with an invaluable stretching tool for young minds, with a stimulus to resume thinking widely for older readers.
The writer quotes some weighty sources, but frequently just skips across a subject with the alacrity of an immortal negotiating a mine field. The fact that esoterica, like the morality of cannibalism under survival necessity and the courtesies of telephone courtship, are touched upon is an indicator of the freewheeling nature of this compendium.
I don’t want to trivialize Rational Polemics in the least. Devens has grounded his musings firmly in the rationality of freedom and free inquiry. He espouses self-ownership, the necessity of self-determination, and the sanctity of individuality.
“The Universal Farce” is his first chapter, with an exploration of the fallacies, con jobs, and irrationalities of religion, wherein the first mover/creator formula is debunked without any shyness. Devens credits the genesis of his book to long-standing disillusionment with religion. He does an admirable job gutting the fraud. In other segments, common courtesy, drug legalization, treatment of criminals, and the death penalty are addressed. Sometimes delving takes a good chapter, as on racism; elsewhere, as in drug legalization, a page and a half suffice.
If you have any interest in freedom of the mind, in personal freedoms, in thinking outside the box, this would be a good candidate for your bookshelf or for your high school or college student’s next gift.
Spectrum of Mind: An Inquiry into the Principles of the Mind and the Meaning of Life
Spectrum of Mind: An Inquiry into the Principles of the Mind and Meaning of Life is a book that explores the timeless quest for the true meaning of life, a quandary that has inspired philosophers, religious leaders, and scientists. Part philosophy, part scientific exploration, Spectrum argues “the understanding of ourselves is crucial to our lives” and strives to provide the reader not with answers, but, instead, with key concepts and methods used to search for the meaning of life. As the author explains, it is not his job to tell the reader what to think, but, rather, to provide them with what to think about, acting as a guide on a journey as a fellow mind.
A relatively short book, Yang packs a lot into these pages. He discusses not only quantum mechanics, the human mind, the role culture and religion play, but also where philosophy fits in, not leaving out the consideration of why seek meaning in the first place. Overall, the journey in seeking the meaning of life is, according to Yang, highly personal, and it is in the journey and not the destination where readers will find answers. This book is only a step in that direction along the journey.
While this is probably not a book for the casual reader, one who would rather be entertained than challenged or reflective, it is a book suited to a reader seeking to reconcile various—even conflicting—pieces of knowledge and values. Spectrum of Mind is a heavy book, but by no means impenetrable in terms of reading or concepts. Its goal is to expose the reader to various ways of thinking from the religious, scientific, and philosophic spectrum, in order to push the limits of knowledge and reason. This is a book for a reader with an interest in expanding their knowledge base and the intersection of science and philosophy, and also, of course, the reader seeking meaning on their journey of life.
Just a Bunch of Crazy Ideas
There has never been a more accurately or honestly titled book than that of Just a Bunch of Crazy Ideas. From kitty litter and calories to space exploration and the stock market, Ponnapalli ponders whatever crosses his mind in search of a solution, and those solutions run the gamut from surprisingly simple to mindbogglingly unfeasible.
I must admit, there is a proactiveness and ingenuity to Ponnapalli that is really engaging. I appreciate anyone who sees a problem and, instead of simply accepting it or bemoaning the unfairness of it all, tackles it head-on with gusto. His enthusiasm for each topic is obvious, and his willingness to appear silly or to be criticized is well-tempered by his overwhelming positivity. If you can imagine a melange of straightforward outside-the-box thinking, you’ve got an idea of Mr. Ponnapalli’s style.
He pulls from his personal experiences — including an ongoing struggle with weight management and a harrowing accident while hiking — as well as his physics and IT background in order to examine problems both trivial and crucial.
Yes, some of these ideas are pretty crazy. We certainly differ in our opinions on where the new Star Trek film should head, for example. And I don’t know about the feasibility of his building-cum-stepping-stones approach to the space elevator — for instance, where could we build it that could offer both the necessary land and the population to make it a viable workspace? — but I did experiment with both of his proposed revisions to chess with great results. The book is a bit of a mixed bag.
As a handbook of solutions to major and minor problems, it falters a bit, but as a conversation sparker, Just a Bunch of Crazy Ideas is a success.