I discovered John Vervake on the Jordan B. Peterson Podcast. He appeared very passionate about his knowledge and demonstrated this in his expression. I didn’t immediately dive in to learn more, but I did get a recommendation for the YouTube algorithm (I know, I know…they scanned my brain) on a video series entitled Awakening From The Meaning Crisis.
In The Meaning Crisis, Vervake traces the roots back to key idea leaders, societal developments and trends, philosophical ideas, religious institutions, psychological themes, and more, attempting to uncover how we arrived in the current state of the meaning crisis. In fifty-plus videos, Vervake explores a lot of territories. He poses ideas such as we should not limit what we believe to what we know.
It is interesting that while he is building to a modern look at meaning and the crisis therein, it is clear that humanity has always struggled with the idea and that the current state of the crisis is only new in the sense that it sits in a new point in history.
Vervake begins the series in ancient societal archetypes and their functions, traveling from ancient Greece to India and to modern culture, psychology, perception, language, and our current ideas in and of meaning.
Axial Age- the period when, roughly at the same time around most of the inhabited world, the great intellectual, philosophical, and religious systems that came to shape subsequent human society and culture emerged.1
Agape- the highest form of love, charity.2
Flow State- a state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.3
Psychotechnology- an application of technology for psychological purposes (as personal growth or behavior change)
Socratic Method- a form of a cooperative argument between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presupposition.5
Phila Sophia- “philia” meaning “love,” and “Sophia” meaning “wisdom.”6
Myth- a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.
Anagoge- a Greek word suggesting a “climb” or “ascent” upwards.8
Structural-Functional Organization- “form” doesn’t primarily mean its shape. It means something more like the structural organization of a thing.9
Sati- Remember, to remind, to bring to mind. Modal memory. Remembering the being mode.
Global Workspace Theory- a simple cognitive architecture that has been developed to account qualitatively for a large set of matched pairs of conscious and unconscious processes.10
Salience Landscape- a map that details the emotional significance of everything in the individuals environment.11
Optimal Grip- a primarily phenomenological notion that signifies the way a skilled individual acts in a familiar environment in order to improve its grip on the situation.12
ASC- Altered State of Consciousness – An altered state of consciousness is a change in one’s normal mental state as a result of trauma or accident or induced through meditation, drugs, some foods, etc.13
Gnosis- Common Greek noun for knowledge used in various Hellenistic Religions and philosophies best known from Gnosticism where it signifies a spiritual knowledge or insight into humanity’s real nature as divine, leading to the deliverance of the divine spark within humanity from the constraints of earthly existence.14
Relevance Realization- A set of pervasive constraints on processing rather than a specific machine for realizing relevance.15
How Reading Changes Perception and Self-Knowledge
Vervake presents the idea that when common people begin to read, the psychology of humanity changed. This is referred to as psychotechnology. Previously, reading was done aloud, communally. It was often a recitation. It brought to bear the means for individuals not only to express their inner selves, but to have an individual experience, thought, and world. Before this, humanity was limited by the expression and deepening of the experience of being. This had the power to alter the reader’s sense of identity and the way they experience and make meaning out of the world. The idea of reading was a vessel for the internal growth of an individual. It provided the opportunity for the reader to be moved by what s/he read.
The Function of Consciousness
There are all kinds of theories about what consciousness really is. Is it universal? Does my chair have consciousness? Does my cat?! Helpful to understand what’s happening with consciousness is understanding what its function is (though it should be noted that this is different than what it actually is).
We participate in our consciousness. We, however, don’t know what our brain is doing to allow us to speak. But we know it is doing something. The leading theory on the function of consciousness is the Global Workspace Theory. This theory says that our consciousness is functioning as a desktop on a computer. There are files on the desktop and activate files and broadcast back to any file you wish. You pull up the unconscious data in your mind and broadcast it back to where you’d like to. This allows you to not have to activate all of your data at once and make new information by combining different data.
The architecture is designed to help us zero in on relevant information. There is an astronomical amount of information available and so we have to have a way to make it all relevant and discernable. The possibilities are near-infinite.
The Significance of St. Augustine
A well known-saint, to those raised as a Catholic, I would not be able to point to Augustine’s significance. Augustine had a mystical experience while reading the Greek philosophy of Plotinus. He was depressed that he could not stay in the experience of this mystical happening.
He famously wrestled with his demons, right and wrong. He had a predilection to lust and the behaviors and activities that arise from this. He knew what was good yet often chose to do the wrong thing. The ‘Darkness’ drew him in.
In his reverie, Augustine hears a child one day call out “pick up and read”! Near him, a bible opened to the story of Paul. He finds great value in the redemptive story of Paul. Augustine comes to philosophize that the heart of reason is love. And to address his draw to the darkness, he need only address the way he loves. He latches on to this philosophy.
Augustine synthesizes Christianity, Gnosticism, and Neoplatonism. He does it as the first autobiography – his story. Instructions on how to go through what he has gone through to experience meaning.
One of the first to ask, “Who Are We?” and a relatable figure attempting to urge others to “self-help”.
The Importance of a Shaman in Culture
Shamanic practice is ritualized throughout history. They are characters like Yoda, Merlin, and Gandalf in modern fiction. In reality, they are medicine men, taking care of the sick and injured. They are those who can control their minds in such a way and teach others to do so. They enhance the abilities of hunter-gatherer communities to hunt, using paradigms of thought instead of a physical conflict. The emergence of Shamanism seems to explain the surge of cognition.
This is a “software” upgrade in the use of the human mind through psycho-technologies. Vervake argues that much of this upgrade is due to the presence of Shaman and their experience with the “higher-self”.
Flow and Flow Induction Machines
Vervake addresses the idea that what we create in our modern world are mechanisms of Flow induction. Flow is the state of heightened awareness where we perform our best and feel our best. We lose a sense of time, our executive centers in our brain turn off, and we are hyperfocused on the activity at hand. Video games are an excellent example of this. Addictions run off of machinery in the brain (closely related to Flow) that is evolutionarily developed. Other examples are musical instruments, sports, rock climbing, and more.
While being heavily influenced by Plato, Aristotle focused much more on growth and development than simply how we perceive things as they are. He uses analogies based on biology rather than mathematics, as Plato had. For example, Aristotle wasn’t as interested in why we see a block of wood as a block of wood, but why the wood behaves differently when we use it to build a chair. Thus it’s different both in form and perception. Aristotle believed this was a good analogy for the growth and development of biological organisms such as humans. He introduced the idea that the wood was potential – a word Aristotle actually invented. A chair making itself is an analogy for human beings. Food is potentially us once we eat it. We are making ourselves as we go.
The word information is related to this idea. Aristotle was one of the first to create parameters around what we perceive and hence find meaning in.
I am just at episode 30, but this is a very important and interesting video series sure to shift your paradigm.