Awakening from the Meaning Crisis

NOTES / Notes on Vervaeke’s series

These are shared, public notes. Feel free to leave comments or questions wherever you like. 

In a single paragraph (lifted from episode 45):

  • Wisdom is an ecology of psychotechnologies and cognitive styles that dynamically (and reciprocally) constrain and optimize each other such that there is an overall optimization enhancement of relevance realization. Relevance realization within inference, insight, intuition, internalization, understanding, gnosis, transformation, and aspiration. In that sense, what’s happening is overlapping with the machinery of enlightenment. Wisdom is a dynamical system that is counter-active to the machinery of self-deception, and that helps afford the self-organized transformation into a life of flourishing, a life that is deeply meaningful.”

That’s a big, somewhat unwieldy definition there. I transcribed it exactly since it seems to tie together so many of the concepts covered… but the full impact of the sentence can only really come after hearing each of the concepts within it set up expertly throughout the series. 

High level summary of notes (first pass):

  • This was an amazingly insightful 50-episode YouTube series by John Vervaeke. Every episode was additive to the overall thesis and the pace worked really well for me. 
  • Central organizing concept that gets introduced around episode 28 (though hinted at much earlier) is Vervaeke’s convergence of many threads within cognitive science, sense-making, and philosophy into a theory he coins “relevance realization”
  • “Awakening from the meaning crisis” ultimately means crafting and participating within an ecology of practices for addressing the perennial problems that is coherent with worldview attunement. This requires cultivating wisdom and skills at many levels of being:
  • Subconscious skills: relevance realization, connections being made, participatory knowing, religio
  • Conscious skills: salience landscape, connections being known, mythos, perspectival knowing
  • Cultural skills: credo, connections being shared, procedural knowing
  • Psychotechnologies move up and down, complementary relationships to each other, opposing processes. 
  • Meta-virtue of wisdom to collectively pursue.
  • We must continually reach down into participatory knowing and afford it upwards into perspectival knowing and propositional knowing.
  • He hints at the possibility of using technology to help foster this as an “open-ended credo” that functions somewhat like Wikipedia.

Raw notes

  • These are the raw notes I took while listening to the full series, usually on Breaker (series link), but sometimes on YouTube (series link). I didn’t take notes on every episode but the ones that really stood out to me are captured. They may or may not make sense because I was mostly using the to bookmark concepts that I may eventually want to return to. 

Episode 1: Introduction
  • Meant for people who are interested in this personally, not academically
  • Upper-Paleolithic transition (late Stone age)
  • Throwing spears → project 
  • Our language is all founded on the early stuff happening ~40,000 years ago
  • Calendars (phases of the moon)
  • Art, music
  • Near extinction event (end of last ice age, super volcano)
  • Lots of evolutionary pressure, come up with a socio-cognitive response (broader trading networks)
  • Develop rituals for networking cognition
  • Hanging out with lots of strangers
  • Pick up on other peoples’ internal states (metacognition, mindfulness)
  • Initiation rituals (handshakes)
  • Decentering, in order to participate in rituals
  • Exaptation: taking something that evolved for a specific purpose and using it for a new purpose.
  • Shamanism
  • Psychotechnology: We’re natural born cyborgs. We use tools to move from a physical thing to a cognitive thing (through exaptation). Psychotechnologies fit our brain.
  • The 9 dot problem

Episode 2: Flow, Metaphor, and the Axial Revolution
  • Flow and implicit learning
  • Clear information
  • Tight feedback loops
  • Errors matter
  • When in flow or psychedelic states, parts of our brain start talking to each other that normally don’t. This is our capacity for metaphor.