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Course Outline

The "Our Search for Meaning" course is very much a work in progress. Expect changes as the course material is developed. The following table provides a current snapshot of the planned material to be covered.

General References

End of course notes:

Further Explorations


Session One
  • Introductions
    The moderators will introduce themselves, and class participants will have a chance to explain what they want from the course.
  • Course Operation
    Participation encouraged. Next week's topics introduced. References available online. The next session begins with an open discussion.
  • Scope of Subject
    Meaning crops up in all sorts of places. One of the major challenges is to limit the scope. Typically, chapters of interesting books will be provided. Participants are encouraged to go further.
  • Limits to Knowledge
    The social sciences are "interesting". But their truths are all too dependent on the context. The contextually sensitive foundation must be our life-world experience.
  • Roadmap
    The logic of the courses is simple. Topics: Setting the scene; Model for the mind; Social context; Patterns & places; Summing up.
  • Session Two Topics
    Modernity; The Third Age; Free Will; Free Will

Session Two

  • Participant Comments
    Open discussion of what people have read and discovered.
  • Modernity
    The world has changed in our lifetimes. Where it all goes is unclear and uncertain. The rational, scientific model dominates, but at what cost? Should autonomy be the goal? We may have gone too far.
  • Third Age
    We are in the leading wave of the Third Age cohorts, just now hitting the developed societies. The social (and economic) impacts have yet to be seen.
  • Free Will
    Most of us believe in free will. If the mind is embodied in the brain, how does choice happen?  Uncertainty can be used to provide an answer.
  • Session Three Topics
    Psychological motivation; Psychotherapy view of motivation; Role of Meaning; Transcendence.
Session Three
  • Participant Comments
    Open discussion of what people have read and discovered.
  • Understanding Motivation
    After World War II, Maslow advanced a simple needs hierarchy to explain what motivates us. It was persuasive “folk” psychology. And was a refreshing alternative to the deep and dark explanations of the early psychotherapists. Unfortunately, there is no one “right” theory to explain the forces driving us to action, and inaction. But the existential model makes, or made, considerable sense.
  • Meaning & Transcendence
    Frankl argues that meaning is a universal need. Existential psychology recognizes it as one of our basic needs. But to move from pleasure to meaning requires an external frame, ... a kind of transcendence.
  • Session Four Topics
    Looking Glass Self; Cultural Animals; Transcendence.
Session Four
  • Participant Comments
    Open discussion of what people have read and discovered.
  • Sense of Self
    We define ourselves by the reactions we elicit from others. Our sense of self fundamentally depends on others and on a social context
  • Cultural Animals
    Human are obviously social animals, but we're significantly different. We don't just interact within social groups, our groups develop cultures. These human cultures distinguish us from other animals, and give us a way to develop and evolve that does not depend on physiological change.
  • Transcendence
    Many want to escape the isolation arising mankind's push for modernity. We seek a link to something greater. Religion can provide such links, but so can community.
  • Session Five Topics
    Place as a possible way to contribute (and find meaning); Patterns as basic to thought; Places using good patterns.
Session Five
  • Participant Comments
    Open discussion of what people have read and discovered.
  • Contributions
    Meaning for many is rooted in contribution. One can contribute to family, to church, to social group. The nature of possible contribution is wide-ranging. Place and our contribution to place will be used as an example.
  • Mental Patterns
    A basic part of our brain forces us to think in terms of patterns. To make any sense of what confronts us, we "organize" the sensory information. We can's separate patterns from perception. And the most important patterns are those that provide solutions to a class of problems.
  • Places
    We connect to reality importantly through our connections to Place and Space. Man-made (and natural) places can have great significance. Hypothesis: Great Places are built using harmonious and pleasing patterns. We connect to such places and value the contributions of those who have helped to make such places.
  • Session Six Topics
    What have we missed? What should/could have been added? How to sum it up?
Session Six
  • Missed Material
    Class participants encourage to introduce topics that they feel ought to be included. How would they have shaped the course?
  • Summing Up
    The course touched on a number of topics. My goal was to find a way to weave that material into a justification for my preferred view of meaning. It works for me. Do you have alternative meanings that are more appropriate for you?
    • My Argument
    • Your Comments
    • Your Arguments
  • Social




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May 6 – June 10 (6 sessions) Time: Wednesdays, 10:10 a.m. – 11:55 a.m. Location