This conversation is closed.

Can the over-examined life be fully lived? What is a good gauge of crossing the line?

Meidan Koresh posted a question that sparked discussion [jan 2014] from Socrates' statement that an examined life is not worth living.

For some time, I have asked what I see as a corolary question; well, really I have thought of it as a statement:

The over-examined life cannot be fully lived.

As I read through the exchange related to Meidan's question, I did not find many cautions against examiniation that precludes living. I wonder, then, do TED adherents (if that is an acceptable characterization) are simply those that are well balanced in living and avoid the black hole of excessive, possibly paralyzing introspection?

Is some fraction of the mental health community devoted to this balance point? (And some, possibly similar, fraction of self-help bookshelf space?)

The smattering of happiness research I think I am familiar with stresses community, family, leisure, and pleasure. Where within these spheres does the well examined life fall? (I allow for some degree of introspection that may result for the interpersonal dynamics of many human communities yet the counter to that allowance seems to be that the happiest of peoples spend quite a small amount of time with therapy.)

Colleen Steen and some others touched on this in the earlier exchange.

Some responses that would I'm interested in:

a) is a response an indication of an over-examined life?
b) is a mindful routine (as with exercise, mediation, etc.) to reflect healthy?
c) is there a clear point (if so, what are the indicators) of reaching an over-examined conditon?

  • Apr 12 2014: "Socrates' statement that an examined life is not worth living"- Kip Pheil
    The whole premise of your argument is flawed because you misquoted Socrates.
    Socrates said an "unexamined life is not worth living" which is pretty much the opposite of your miss quote.
    • thumb
      Apr 12 2014: Good eye Keith! I guess I'm in good company for being misquoted huh??? LOL:>)
      • Apr 12 2014: People see what they want to see:)
        "The mind is a stream of images that we act upon as if they were true"- Keith W Henline
        "To err is human; to forgive, divine"- Alexander Pope
        "Teach me to feel another's woe, to hide the fault I see, that mercy I to others show, that mercy show to me"- Alexander Pope
        From the Odyssey by Homer as translated by Pope. A little Greek Mythology.
    • Apr 14 2014: Thus, the (poorly) examined post may not be worth posting?
      • Apr 14 2014: Are you kidding Kip, have you read some of my posts? Sometimes "nobody" in here agrees with me! Does that mean I am wrong? When that happens I have to go back and re-examine my stance and if I am wrong, admit it. It is hard to admit I am wrong because my ego tells me I am never wrong. If after re-examining my stance I still feel I am right then let's go to the mattresses:)
  • Apr 13 2014: If you plan too much and not enjoy the moment, you are living a life that is too examined/planned. You should be able to live in the moment and enjoy it, sunrises, sunsets, rain, snowy days, foggy days, rainbows, etc. both in happiness, peace, and sadness.

    I saw a play eons ago. In it two characters were discussing religion and the everyman/innocent saw a rainbow and said how beautiful was it. The other character said it was a rainbow and started to explain how it was created. The everyman/innocent said stop, lets just enjoy it. without naming it or examining it.
    • thumb
      Apr 13 2014: Great point Wayne.....there is a time for serious exploration, and there is a time to sit back and simply enjoy the experience in the moment.....balance:>)
      • Apr 13 2014: Great word balance - oh how we try 8>))
    • Apr 14 2014: Thanks, Wayne, that's a good way to frame the question(s).
  • Apr 12 2014: Good morning Kip,

    A thorough examination of Life will lead to the end of that Life, as it is perceived by You. Therefore, examine the You that examines this Life. If there is still a 'You' that is perceived as separate from, or perhaps immersed In, this Life, then you have not examined thoroughly. You remain in the leaves of the tree.

    Find the Questioner and your question will become irrelevant. Examine the leaves of life, or dig for the root. You are not who you believe yourself to be.

    It is the ego that searches for safety gauges and policies. Are you this ego?
    • Apr 12 2014: This will be fun to ponder as I try to clean house today.

      • Apr 12 2014: I dig it. Who is that who cleans the house?
        • Apr 14 2014: Since housecleaning is mostly physical work, the examiner is the house cleaner.
    • thumb
      Apr 13 2014: Yes.

      Who is this who is experiencing this life I think of as me, who feels like me, who acts like me?

      Who is the one who is watching, examining?

      Who is asking "Who?"

      Who am I?

      Who was I?

      Who am I becoming?

      Who are we?
  • thumb
    Apr 12 2014: Kip,
    I am not sure what you are referring to when you write..."Colleen Steen and some others touched on this in the earlier exchange." It would be helpful to clarify what exactly you think I and some others touched on in another conversation. Otherwise, your reference to me in your introduction is meaningless.

    Questions that have already been asked in this conversation.....
    What do you mean by an "over examined life"?

    I agree with those who have responded...I don't think there can ever be too much self awareness because there are several levels of self awareness, which is supported by examining/evaluating our lives with introspection.

    You ask..."What is a good gauge of crossing the line?"
    What "line" are you referring to?

    I suggest that one important factor with self awareness, examining/evaluating one's life and introspection, is to USE the information productively and beneficially in one's life experience. One can continually evaluate, examine and explore while failing to APPLY the information and practices to one's life.

    An example of this idea may be some religious extremists who say they are representing their religious beliefs and a god by killing and oppressing other people. In that example, it seems like those folks are doing some evaluation/examination/introspection, which simply supports their need to be violent. I do not see it as adequately, reasonably, accurately APPLYING the information.
    • Apr 12 2014: Thanks, Colleen.

      When I revisit the earlier strand, it is fairly clear that I misread the balance of your view on this question. I linked my remarks about research on human happiness (‘community, family, leisure, and pleasure’) to your response to Amily [30jan] which included this:

      "… living very simply in very rural parts of our world, seemed more in tune with themselves and with nature, than some people who live a more complex life without evaluation."

      I read into this that those living simply are not actively engaged in an examination of their lives. They are simply living. I see your point, perhaps more, as being that those folks are engaged so directly that they constantly examine their lives. I suspect they have an inherent wisdom about living but also suspect it comes without a dedicated intent to examine their lives.

      Your point about ‘failing to APPLY the information’ is where I think crossing the line comes in to play; if a person slides into unremitting analysis, they will preclude the option to apply what they have discovered. A parallel would be to attempt to plan a three-month trip down to the minute with good accuracy. The effort to do so probably will mean that the trip can never occur.
      • thumb
        Apr 12 2014: My statement seems clear Kip, which is why I do not appreciate it being used out of context. It is not appropriate to use what you "read into" something and use it in another conversation out of context. I would appreciate it if you remove your reference to me in your introduction....thank you in advance.

        My own experience of "examining life" is simply a part of the living experience in every moment, and that is my observation of my own life, and many people who live simply, and simply live.

        There can certainly be more or less intense explorations within oneself at different times in ones life.....trauma and death seem to trigger some exploration.

        "One of the great difficulties in the new order of thought is that we are likely to indulge in too much theory and too little practice"
        (Ernest Holmes - The Science of Mind)
        • Apr 14 2014: Sorry that I gave the impression that your comments endorsed, in any way, my musing on "happiness research [which] stresses community, family, leisure, and pleasure."

          Your comments and some of the others did help trigger some of my thoughts.

          I looked for a means to alter my original post but don't see how I might do that.
      • thumb
        Apr 14 2014: Thanks for your note Kip.....I really appreciate it.

        If you want to edit your original post, I believe you can go back to the page where you originally set up the conversation and edit.
  • Apr 12 2014: There's no such thing as an over-examined life, too much self-awareness.
  • thumb
    Apr 12 2014: What is a fully lived life ?
    I think that's something very subjective and can only be decided by each and every person for her/himself.
    As to introspection, I would assume that too much of introspection leaves no time for anything else, hence at some point one stops living a life as such. Where is the limit ? Again, something that everybody has to answer for himself.
    Another question that comes to my mind is, what is to be gained be (excessive) introspection ?
    • Apr 12 2014: This is where my thoughts are, if I can recast your question back:

      When does the effort of introspection overwhelm the benefits?
      • thumb
        Apr 12 2014: "When does the effort of introspection overwhelm the benefits?"
        I think the threshold is when introspection interferes with your functioning on a day to day basis.
        For example, if you spend your time with introspection instead of doing your job, that most likely will lead to problems.
        • Apr 14 2014: Enough introspection, "instead of doing your job" reminds me it is time to move on.
  • thumb
    Apr 15 2014: Misquote aside, I personally believe that the over-examined life is much more fulfilling than a life that is under-examined or unexamined (which I would imagine is impossible to do). However, I am a rather biased source considering that I tend to over-examine my life.

    All in all, introspection is perhaps one of the more powerful capabilities of the human mind. Introspection allows for us to develop our concept of self, and greatly assists us with developing our own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Without examining one's life in greater detail, one essentially is walking through life quite blindly. With this metaphoric blindness, individuals are more likely to fall victim to bias, misinformation, and unfounded beliefs. To the individual who over-examines life, this might appear to be a "bad" thing, but to individuals who under-examine their lives... well, they don't actually "know" anything different (i.e. ignorance is bliss).

    As for practices and exercises in "mindfulness," I honestly find that participating in these TED forums is a great way to formulate one's own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Journaling one's thoughts is also a great alternative. Beyond that, if one has a tendency to "over-think," meditation appears to be quite an effective means of decluttering one's mind.

    On the topic of reaching the "point of no return" of an over-examined condition. Well, if you have read this entire post of mine, than you might be over-examining your life too much and have reached the "point of no return." All kidding aside, what one will find if they have a tendency to over-examine their life is that one will most likely bore friends and family with philosophical discussions and one-sided debates. One will occasionally find like-minded individuals to socialize with, but these individuals are oftentimes few and far between.
  • thumb
    Apr 15 2014: If one is to examine one's life, what would/should be the basis of such examination?
    The basis makes the difference between healthy examination and the sort that could lead to depression.

    Most people examine their lives based on the TV/Film/pop culture inspired fantasy.
    Socrates is right. Kip should be careful with his quotes. Multinationals have lost billions of dollars just for a spelling mistake.
  • thumb
    Apr 13 2014: i read somewhere in a band biography something that kind of relates: "In rock n roll, the more you think, the more you stink". via Neil Young.

    to live with eyes closed is easy, we were told by John Winston but the devil is in the details.

    know thyself is good advice but so is Billy Joel's "Should I try to be a straight 'A' student? / f you are then you think too much."

    there's a balance.
  • thumb
    Apr 13 2014: As Keith Henline pointed out, Socrates said "An unexamined life is not worth living."

    And, as Rodrigo Paulo said, "There's no such thing as an over-examined life, too much self-awareness."

    However, there are various understandings or mis-understandings people might have about what an "examined life" means.

    Examining one's life does not mean reviewing or replaying past events in one's life, especially the painful experiences one has had, ad infinitum which only results in digging one's own hole deeper and increases one's sense of things always going wrong: everyone always picks on me; everyone is against me; no one ever pays attention to me; no one loves me; "they" are after me, watching me, following me; I'm a total klutz; I always make mistakes; I fail at everything I do; I have a diagnosis of xyz that keeps me from being successful; I know I cause trouble but it's because I have xyz so I can't help it; etc. This is not self-examination, it is self-indulgence; "oh, woe is me" self-pity. This is all completely unhelpful and more typically self-harmful.

    One can also be self-indulgent in a self-aggrandizing way: I know more than my co-workers, and even my boss; I'm faster than anyone; I've got a nicer house, better car, better looking wife/husband; I've got more money; I'm better than you; I go to the right church and what I believe about God is right; etc.

    Alternatively, one can become more self-aware of who one really is in terms of capabilities and potentials. Am I my body, my feelings, my thoughts? Who is living in this body and having these thoughts and feelings? What is this mystery of life? What can I do with my life? What are my highest ideals? When I fall short of my high ideals, what can I learn about myself from that and how can I strive to do better? Who is my neighbor? How big is my neighborhood, my community? What is my relationship with others? How can I help others so we can all succeed together? Am I loving and compassionate? Who am I becoming?
  • Apr 12 2014: A well examined life will be miserable, because ignorance is the origin of happiness.
    • Apr 12 2014: Yes, this seems a variant of the, perhaps, Buddhist belief / statement / axiom that suffering comes from wanting.

      Because ignorance is bliss and enlightenment is bliss it seems that the path between those two states of being is where the trouble lies. If that journey is a grand loop, the clever among us could step backwards from ignorance to enlightenment and avoid the mixed joy and pain of growing self-awareness, yes?
  • Apr 12 2014: What is an over-examined life? I can't imagine what you are referring to. Self-awareness is not crippling. It is FREEING!!!!