Awakening from the meaning crisis

This is a series of videos that are worth listening to by John Vervaeke from the University of Toronto:

What am I currently doing? Why… I’m listening to this video, of course.

Hi Bob,
I started it, but then saw it was 59 minutes. Perhaps great, for me, perhaps not. Could you describe why you think this video is valuable adn what some of the main points are, or one main point. If this inspired interest then I might watch it.

I will admit up front that mindfulness is not something I consider a positive thing. I can imagine that for certain minds lacking the ability to do this at all, it might be very useful. But otherwise I think it is a problematic trend. So I got a bad taste fast. But this could be unfair.

I also heard him mention the superheros in films and ‘why is this happening now?’ Well, I actually think that’s technological. If they could have done cgi this well at any earlier point in history, this stuff would have happened then. But they could not. Now the spectacle can be created and the spectacle is distracting and addictive - I’m not immune myself.

So, I had a couple of negative reactions, early on and stopped. Just putting my cards up front. But this may all be unfair on my part. A ten minute video I might have hung in for the whole thing.

Hi, I have been listening to several of these videos and Vervaeke is building up an argument by going through the history of philosophy and religion showing where we get meaning and how can it be explained. Particularly the explanation of “Flow states” is picked up now and again, explaining what is happening when, say in the axial age, human beings start becoming aware of their awareness. The axial age is also something that Karen Armstrong picked up and described more than explained.

I admit there are a lot of videos to go through, but Vervaeke came to my attention via Rebel Wisdom where Vervaeke is asked what he is going to be doing after these publicly available videos. It may take time, but for anyone who is interested, they could jump between the videos, looking up what they are not quite familiar with. I have time on my hands and so I am going through them all :wink:

His talk on mindfulness is a critical assessment, because he doesn’t just talk about the states of mindfulness (being present, being non-judgemental etc.) but also explains the traits of mindfulness (insight and reduced reactivity etc.). He brings up the fact that the Buddhist mindfulness (sati) is not just what we consider mindfulness, but is a “recovery of being”. He points out that the Buddha myth has him in self-indulgence and then in self-denial, but both states are modes of “having” and are not opposites, it is first when you transcend these that you recover your being. It is compared to when you awaken in the morning and “recover” your personality. It is that kind of recovery.

It isn’t just the fact that CGI allows us to bring things on to the screen that were impossible prior to that, it is the fact that human beings are hooked on stories. We need them to make sense of things and the more the figures are archetypal, the more they speak to our psyche. It is in an age where the myths of old are thrown out that new ones take their place. That is where he is going with that explanation.

But what is it that grabs you about them?

But we’ve always been hooked on stories and always had films with stories. Now we can have films with superheroes that could not be made or could not be made well earlier.

Sure, and I believe that is true. I just think he is reading into the spate of superhero films ideas about what is happening in our psyche NOW as opposed to before. IOW the phase humans are in now is X and so superhero films are popular. But I think stories and myths have always been popular, but the reason they are coming in superhero films now, more than before, is because they can do it now, for technological reasons. But we don’t need to go off on a tangential issue.

Something draws you to this guy, his videos, and I am not quite sure what it is. Perhaps it has to do with the meaning crisis…

It’s the fact that he doesn’t just brush over a subject, but he takes time to build up his argument. I haven’t had a chance to go to university and so this kind of teaching has been relatively seldom in my life. He is picking up subjects that I have only intuitively felt to be correct and showing that there is that, but it is deeper and more interesting.

The connection is the fact that religion has either become ideological in many ways, or it is thrown out. This has caused a meaning crisis and explains why we have so many people who have some mental health issues. Facts and figures are not sufficient for life, they are too clinical and sterile. What we need are stories that show how people fail, like we often do, but who pick up after that and reach their goal – the heroes story.

Previously these superhero stories were told in comics and the mind can differentiate – they’re “only” comics. Reforming these stories in a kind of realism makes a large difference.

I do think that the meaning crisis is real in so many lives and it is something that jumps in my face in so many situations. So you’re probably right.

OK, but I am really looking for what particular ideas or arguments grab you. What content`?

I am not a fussy person when it has to do with forum rules, but I am going to mention one to make it clearer what I am after.

I am trying to get at substance to respond to. Personally that might help me decide to invest in the time of the video. In a sense the idea is not just to be relayed to sources, but to be sources - which obviously you are in other threads. After the video has gone through your mind and in your words, what strikes you are important and why

I don’t think people are taking the movies more real than the readers of the comics did. Or all the other stories in films where characters failed but picked up after that and reached their goals - heroes stories.

OK, great, so what did you learned about the meaning crisis from his videos that seems useful, true, etc, that you havent gotten elsewhere?

Karpal, what do you have against mindfulness?

Being able to notice what you are feeling and thinking from a semi-third person perspective is a healthy thing to have in any cognitive repetoire. If someone cannot do that, cannot look at their habits, lacks general introspective skills and those related to mindfulness, some training might be helpful. But Mindfullness is often more than just a short bit of training. And it brings up therefore my issues with Buddhism and to a lesser degree Hinduism. It is no coincidence that many parts of corporate america and Europe are just fine with if not positively relating to M. Getting people to detach from their reactions, to observe them rather than fully participating in them benefits systems of abuse. On an individual level it could, on the practical side, lead to staying in relations or jobs where one does not fit. On a more intra-psychic level it is part of the war on the limbic system. If someone wants to move in that direction, I say, go for it. But it carries with it a hatred - and thus a self-hatred - of being fully human. One of the many ways to be more a partial human.

And I actually think it fights meaning, for that matter…thinking of the OP.

Perhaps my suggestion belongs in another forum, although the subject matter seems to be suitable for this forum. That we need to awaken from the meaning crisis is a proposition I am making.

The argumentation for this proposition is lengthy and best presented in the videos from John Vervaeke. Therefore I will take the various subjects of those videos and make an argument for them.

  1. Introduction:
    “Why is the mindfulness revolution happening? There is an intersection between Buddhism and Cognitive Science… There is an increased interest, academically and in the public at large, in the topic of wisdom… Books from ages past are becoming interesting for people today, proposing wisdom for everyday life… There is an interest in Psychedelics and transformative experiences and the effects they can have on various disorders… Happiness has become a subject that interests people, as well as meaning… It becomes apparent that meaning in life is of paramount importance… It is no coincidence that these things are happening. We’re going through a mental health crisis, people are loosing touch with reality, expressions of nihilism, cynicism, narcissism and deep frustration are present… There is a loss of trust in public institutions… Participation has reduced, whether in clubs, churches or political organisations…”

In the selection of statements above that Vervaeke made, you can see that he is addressing a situation that, if we’re honest, we all notice is going on. We have been through a huge turnaround in the west in the 20th century, first of 180 degrees, but then we have turned back on that again, each time changing the way we conceive life and how we cope with our situation. There have been winners but also losers in this process – and a lot of disappointment along the way.

  1. Flow, Metaphor, and the Axial Revolution:
    “In the axial age (800 BCE – 300BCE) there was a great upheaval and kingdoms broke down and others started to build… The bronze age collapse was a huge catastrophe for the primitive societies existing at the time… But most effective of all, people started realising that “We’re responsible…” They discovered the double edged sword of their cognitive ability: The lack of discipline leads to violence, self deception and illusion, discipline leads to wisdom… They discovered that there was a condition under which things went well, that felt good but was also effective… We call that “flow” today, in the days of the axial revolution it was expressed in religious visions, but it led to a higher cultivation of thoughts and ideas. Agriculture developed, alphabetic literacy grew and higher civilisation became an ideal to work towards. An enhanced awareness grew…”

I think it is important that Vervaeke builds up his argument, starting when the way people looked at life started to change from a fight for survival for everyone into pockets of reflective thinking, the use of metaphor, the discovery of flow states and rise of myth. This wasn’t primitive, it was the beginning of sophistication and the use of language that today we struggle to understand properly because we have over-rationalised over the last several hundred years and lost the feeling for language that was human heritage for thousands of years. The new mystics come close to understanding, but they are ridiculed for their non-rational exegesis, using the language as a means of feeling how it was to live back then and understanding it as something existential.

  1. Continuous Cosmos and Modern World Grammar
    “Myth was important in both before the axial age and afterwards, but not a “falsehood” as we understand the word today, but as symbolic stories of perennial patterns that are always with us… The Continuous Cosmos alludes to the deep connection between the natural world and the cultural world, and between the cultural world and the world of the gods… They express differences in power, the gods are something more powerful than a human being… “Glorious power” doesn’t mean anything moral, the greeks gods are far from moral examples… The Pharaoh is also glorious and powerful so he must be a god or god-like… Life was experienced like a circle, similar to the seasons; rituals tried to tap into this continuity by re-enacting the story or myth… There is a desire to be in harmony with these cycles, not change them… The new mythological view after the axial age was a vision of two worlds, an “everyday” world of violence, self-deception and illusion, and the “real” world where the trained mind or the wise mind is in touch with reality… People wanted to transcend the everyday world and reach the new real-world… Wisdom told how to make that transformative leap… Previous to the axial age, it was important to fit in, whereas after the axial age it was about transcending the self. Our problem today is that these old mythologies are not liveable, even if we express ourselves using the mythologies and metaphors of old…”

Building on the last video, Vervaeke makes the point that the language of today is influenced by the mythology of old. This goes back a long time and is therefore ingrained in our language. I think that it is more than that. Our psyche needs images which rationality often fails to produce. This makes us very “heady” and rationalising everything. The result is that people who are guided by the psyche are regarded as eccentric, such as the artists of various disciplines. At the same time, we appreciate their art but have no idea of how they get there. This started long ago and these people accepted as prophets, shamans etc. The go-betweens were priests and they guided the society as well as their leaders towards transcendence. The gods were not what we conceive them to have been, and were symbolic of the powerful influences in our lives that they couldn’t grasp. Today, of course, with the use of rationality, we can name many of these, but the names don’t help us feel intuitively, and spiritual intuition has even become suspect in our society.

I think I have given an indication above, although it was quite a lot of work and I had things going on here that occupied me. I couldn’t go into more videos, but I will carry on if it is of interest.

Watching the series, thanks for the link bob. Get back to you in a couple of days.

Thanks for doing this. I didn’t mean it had to be huge, just something that mattered to you from what he said. Yes, I think life is a lot worse nowadays (this in agreement with the latter part of his quote above) than metrics would show. We have a lot of stuff, but we have more stress and the stuff we have often causes that stress. I think our lives suit us less well, though we have better food available and in some senses better health care, but less nature, less meaninful work, more distance from others, addictive media that are generally not considered to be addictive. We have the same bodies and souls, but much of modern life is just acting like better preservatives. We’re pickled and live longer, but the lives we have don’t suit those bodies and souls.

I know that’s just a portion of what he wrote but I can’t get it. Flow and discipline it seems to me are counterpatterns. Not that one cannot have both, of course, but how these things work together is not clear. I think there was myth outside of civilization, as indigenous groups all have myths. I take certain myths literally, myself.

I live with a shaman. I agree with the above, though to me it has the feel of a jungian approach, in the sense that really this was poetic language, meant to elicit experiences, and not in that sense like, say, scientific language. I think most shamans would disagree, certainly the one I live with would. I do think that poetic language is also needed as metaphorical approaches to things and not as literal. But, there is an underworld.

I just watched the flow episode. I think he meant the discipline part precedes the flow state, setting it up rather than working at the same time. Discipline in this sense is like muscle memory for the mind.

Like the jazz musician example of flow-state, it did forget to mention that before you become a great flow-state improvisor jazz musician, you have to spend the customary 10,000 disciplined hours to actually become musically competant, before you finally go on stage, and then drop that disciplined state for a flow state.

Or like the free-climber example, a beginner, however much in the flow-state they might be, will still fall to their death. You still need the embedded remnants of previous disciplined learning to inform and contextualize the flow.

Hah, ok - the flow is the river, discipline is the banks. :smiling_face:

Jazz pianist Kenny Werner calls it" effortless mastery" in a book and meditation CD by the same name where he counsels on how to achieve it.

Great stuffs.
There are loads and tons of diversify of information that need to be filtered with critical thinking.
I went through a few videos, i.e. 1. Intro, 6. Aristotle, Kant, … 8. Buddha and Mindfulness, 9. Insight.

I like Vervaeke’ perspective of mindfulness [Vispasana] and its mechanisms within the mind and what “insight” and “contemplation” meant.

I gathered beside being an academic professor, Vervaeke also teaches Vispasanna [Mindfulness] and Tai Chi. He stated he is not promoting Buddhism.

What I noted is Vervaeke did not organize the videos [I heard] to a specific main theme - perhaps that was not his intention. In many cases, he merely delved on certain areas and philosophers by merely brushing the ‘tip of an iceberg’.

What I can gathered is “Awakening from the meaning crisis” is most appropriate be ‘awakening from the meaning of the existential crisis’ which is the core.
Vervaeke mentioned “existential crisis” [existential anxieties] in relation to the Buddha’s quest but did not follow up with this in the other lectures.

I believe below is the central theme of Buddhism-proper in resolving the existential crisis;

Buddha’s 4NT-8FP -A Life Problem Solving Technique

I mentioned in the above, which Versaeke emphasized as well;
“The above model works best when the Buddha story is deemed as a myth, where one’s effort is focused on the model and the Buddha’s core principles.”

Whilst Vervaeke emphasized “mindfulness” it is only one critical element [within the Noble Eightfold Path] in the above model.

Generally, I believe all the lectures are worth it for those who has the time.

I’m not sure life is worse, it is just differently bad, if you get what I mean. There are many things that we don’t have to suffer, but others things take their place which are subtle and not so apparent. The worse thing in my mind is the fact that we, as a society, are doing it to ourselves fully aware of what we’re doing, even if the individual isn’t clear what’s happening to him-/herself.

I had a job that was meaningful (geriatric care) and then in came the technocrats and wanted to cash in on the elderly with various ailments. It is, despite the need for profit, an immoral undertaking and I suffered, like any other person who is trying to fulfil some ideal.

I like the “pickle” idea.

I think the discipline he is talking about enables flow, because inefficiency blocks it.

Myth is at the centre of civilisation, which grew out of indigenous groups. I think that is how we should look at it. Lowly beginnings have led to larger groups as time goes on and the group has a central myth (or myths) with which it can work. Taking them literally is, as I have numerously explained, like jumping into a vehicle for the ride. They take us places where we can feel how it feels, and this speaks to the psyche or soul at a deep level of subconsciousness.

I can imagine that living with a shaman is exciting and disconcerting at the same time. Having a different perception of life is not easy in the current atmosphere of nationalism and bigotry. Attempts to help can soon backfire and the “difference” can become the place at which criticism is pointed.

Very good! :wink:

This is one of the advantages of having this diversity open to us. I see Vervaeke as one of these people who incorporate many aspects into his life in the attempt to have a “whole” experience. I like the way he touches on the various teachings or insights and builds them into an explanation why there is a meaning crisis.

I think it is, as you say, obvious from what he said that the meaning crisis is an existential crisis. He doesn’t use the word but in much of what he is saying it is implicit.

I think he, and you, is absolutely correct to regard the “life story” of the Buddha as a myth. As he showed us, it is exemplary for the process that is necessary for many people to reach an understanding of the Four Noble Truths and consequently of the Eightfold Path in order to discover the “Buddha nature” within. In the same way, the Gospel of Mark is written like a Greek tragedy, with the transfiguration as the turning point and an open end. Much of Christian liturgy is based on this story and holds the “complete” “Christ nature” up before our eyes.

I thought so too. :wink:

Yes, frog in slowly heating up water stuff.

A lot of it is intentional. And a lot of it is conceived as improvement. Some of it is coming out of the corporate world and they know they are being selfish.

This is happening in a lot of fields.


Yes, and Tab’s answer, as you noted, was a good one.

Living with anyone, let alone being married to them, is like this, lol.

This is true, though actually where we are the main unpleasantness comes mainly from the educated classes.


Socrates’ principle of ‘know thyself’ has been very important to me since I started thinking and reading and spouting nonsense about 15 years ago. Sounds very unphilosophic but I did it by reading up on everything from neurophysiology to geopolitics.

I took ‘thyself’ to mean ‘human’ rather than ‘myself’. I think only other people can really ‘know’ you in the traditional sense, your own model of self is too biased. From getting an idea of how a human functions as a singular being I moved onto how humans function in groups.

I have noticed what the guy spoke about in lecture 5, when knowing more about the realities of what I am/we are both feeds into itself and reduces stress. Most of that comes from being wholeheartedly able to forgive some of my personal mistakes in the past, as well as those who have trespassed against me. :smiley: If an agnostic can borrow from the Lord’s prayer for a sec.

The same goes for the hoary wisdom of “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.” It’s galling to me to have arrived at the same places via vastly more complex routes. It’s like I set off on a footrace with a monk 15 years ago, ran like a bastard all the way, only to find the guy already at the finish line, thumbing through his bible, and mumbling bits of the dao de jing.