Ep. 18 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Plotinus and Neoplatonism
(Sectioning and transcripts made by MeaningCrisis.co)
Welcome back to awakening from the meaning crisis. So last time we were taking a look at a group of people. As I said before, the Gnostic shouldn't be understood as forming like their own community or group. Although there might have been some Gnostic churches, we should think of them more like we think of existentialism or fundamentalism. You can be a fundamentalist Christian or Muslim or Jew, et cetera. It's more about a style, a way of being, a way of understanding and interpreting, and that it was pervasive during the same period as early Christianity and the two are interacting with each other. In fact, as we'll see, many Gnostics thought of themselves as Christians.
So we were taking a look at how to go about interpreting gnosticism. Why are we doing this? We're doing this because I'm presenting the Gnostic movement as the axial revolution within the axial revolution. It's taking the revolution to its culmination in many important ways that I think have direct relevance for us today. In order to do that, I'm presenting to you something like the cognitive science of what gnosis actually is. And in order to do that, we've been making use of some important work by Harry Frankfurt and LA Paul.
The basic idea is that we can talk about people being existentially trapped and that that is a result of them being existentially stuck there. They have inertia. They do not know how to engage the anagoge in order to make a worldview viable to them. And they are existentially indecisive. They are existentially stupefied because they are facing a deep transformative experience and they don't know how to reason their way through it. They don't know if they should do it. And that existential entrapment can be very, very damaging. It can fragment your world and tear apart your agency. And so people can suffer from this in a profound way, which means gnosticism as Hans Jonas and other people have seen is directly relevant to a lot of the modern confrontation with meaninglessness and nihilism because in the meaning crisis, people also similarly feel deeply, existentially trapped.
So what is needed, I argued is a recovery of serious play through the engagement in ritual behavior. This ritual play and allows us, affords an individual to engage in active analogy so that they can get into that liminal state in which they can in a perspectival and participatory manner bridge in a very apt way between the world and the self that they are now and the world and the self they want to viably become.
That enacted ritual should also afford anagoge. It should afford the transframing, the reciprocal anagogic process by which self and world are transformed such that we can go through the sensibility transcendence, which will make a worldview viable to us. That combination, that ritual combination of enacted analogy and enactive anagoge is empowered by the cognitive flexibility brought on by an altered state of consciousness, hopefully a higher state of consciousness that gives us a sense of the increased realness. The more realness of the world that we are trying to move into. So that higher state of consciousness, as we've talked about before, motivates us to go through this radical transformative experience.
Now, of course, there are dangers associated with all of this. When we are engaging in these kinds of radical transformation of our salience landscape, when we are putting ourselves and our world at risk, when we are inducing altered states of consciousness, there is a significant chance that we will fall prey to parasitic processing to bullshitting ourselves, to deceiving ourselves. And therefore it is very important, and this is also part of what is going on with gnosticism, to build up a community, a shared mythology, a shared set of psychotechnological practices, a shared social network of distributed cognition to provide sapiential feedback, guidance correction and encouragement for people when they are endeavoring to go through the kind of transformation that will release them from this existential entrapment.
So you have some higher state of consciousness, hopefully that has some aspects of being a higher state of consciousness. And that is going to be set within a ritual framing that I've been talking about. And then you want that, in turn, set within an important sapiential and supportive community that is teaching you all kinds of the relevant skills by which one can bring wisdom, the ability to overcome self-deceptive self-destructive behavior, to bear upon this transformation. When all of that is the case, this is what gnosis is, it's this kind of deeply transformative, deep perspectival participatory knowing that is ritually enframed and embedded within a sapiential and supportive community.
So what we have going on here is a project that was addressing the domocide that was still in existence, persisting from the Hellenistic domocide that w've spoken about. Also, as I mentioned, one of the reasons why Christianity took root. 'Cause while the Roman empire offered a sociopolitical solution to some of the problems in the ancient world, it didn't have a viable answer on its own to the meaning crisis, the domocide of the Hellenistic period. Things like stoicism had been generated. But Christianity is a significant response. And at the same time, this movement, this Gnostic movement arises.
Now, these Gnostics, many of them, not all of them, saw themselves as Christians. They interpreted Jesus as somebody who had brought them gnosis. And for them, the important thing was not to believe in Jesus, but as much as possible to become like Jesus, to go through the kind of radical transformation to be at one with God, the way Jesus was. Now, whether or not we believe in that particular mythology, two things we need to note for our purposes in this course, we need to note that Gnosticism and Christianity are deeply talking to each other and informing each other, even though in many ways they'll have an oppositional relationship. We're going to see that both Gnosticism and Christianity are also in a very important dance and intermeshment with Neoplatonism.
Now, many people, and I put it out with the examples of Jeepform and therapy and martial arts, right? Many people are seeking gnosis today. Because gnosis is the kind of thing you need in order to bring about a release from the existential entrapment that we're finding in the meaning crisis.
Now, what's interesting about the Gnostics is they create a mythology for all of this. Because if you just read their stuff, it's like, man, it's like, if you were strung out on an incredible acid trip and everybody was speaking in reverse, it is so hard. Their stuff is so bizarre and weird and strange. But I think if you pay attention to some of the main themes of the mythology, you can see how it is a mythological scaffolding for bringing about gnosis.
A book I would recommend to you is April DeConick's book, the Gnostic New Age. In that, she does some good work at bringing out some of the central themes of this movement. And she also points out how much Gnosticism is prevalent in our culture today mythologically. And you may say, what do you mean by that? Well many movies and she shows this in the book actually have a Gnostic theme. The mythology of the movie, and movies are where we go to play with a lot of our mythology, actually are pretty clear versions of this Gnostic mythology.
So what is this mythology? So the Gnostics have an idea and you can see part of it comes from Plato. There's an influence from Plato. So if you remember, Plato has this idea about the everyday world is a world like the shadows and the echoes. These things are not fully real. This table, this wall, this pen, they're in a profound sense images, right? They participate in the forms. You remember those patterns of intelligibility and realness. So Plato had a problem, which is the forms are basically eternal. So you think of something like, you know, E equals MC squared, right? That's not an event. It's sort of timeless and spaceless. And then how do these eternal forms, how do they express themselves In the temporal things, the things that are changing here? So basically how do time and eternity intersect?
And so Plato proposed a mythological answer. He proposed there was a figure. He called the figure the craftsmen, the Demiurgas, the Demiurge. And what the Demiurge is he can sort of become aware of these because he's a rational agent. And what he does is he shapes things in space and time in order to make the world of becoming have some reality to it. And so it has some important similarities to the eternal world. And that means that by paying attention to temporal events, we can become aware of these eternal principles, sort of what science does right now. Now, whether all of that is true, I think in an important sense it's not true, there's a mythological point here. Plato is trying to understand mythologically the relationship. He's trying to give us a way in imagery and story of understanding the relationship between eternity and time.
Now, the Gnostics were influenced by this, but they took this notion and they did something very interesting to it because they said the temporal world, the everyday world we're in, is a world of very significant suffering. So remember they're there after the Hellenistic domocide. They are during a period both where the Hellenstic domocide is still in existence and the Roman empire has caused massive pain and suffering throughout the world. So they're looking at the everyday world and they're seeing all this suffering. They're feeling deeply trapped within it, existentially trapped in the way we've been talking about. So for them that was very clear evidence that whoever had created this world was either stupid or evil or both. They were looking around the world and saying, look at how much we suffer. Look at how much pain we're in. Look at how much we're trapped. And therefore whatever is creating the structures that we're living in is both stupid and evil. So they, in Plato, the Demiurge is basically a beneficent being. But in here the Demiurge very often becomes something like an evil overlord.
Now what's going on here? Well, what they're trying to do is articulate again, the sense of being trapped and that the socioeconomics, sociocultural, political-economic structures that they find themselves in are actually thwarting them. And now when I say it that way, it's like, Oh, maybe that's a mythological way of talking about something that you might be experiencing. You're experiencing existential entrapment. And then when you look out at the patterns of your culture, the patterns—the market patterns, the political patterns, you don't feel like they are shaping a world that is going to help alleviate your entrapment. Instead you feel that they are stupid and evil. And I know from a lot of the research we did for the book on zombies with the work I did with Chris and Filip, more and more people view their myths, their deeply repeated cultural, political, socioeconomic patterns, not as helping them, but as thwarting their efforts to be free from their existential entrapment, adding to their fragmentation and their suffering.
So whether or not we believe in the Gnostics supernaturalistic way of talking about this, which I don't, we can nevertheless understand what they are articulating. We have this existential entrapment and we have sociopolitical, sociocultural patterns that are designed to further that entrapment, further our self-deception, further our self-destruction, keep us enmashed in modal confusion or keep us awashed in parasitic processing, keeping us trapped, stuck and stupefied. So for the Gnostics, they needed to try and link this to existing mythologies. And here's where they did something that is radical.
They identified all the existing gods, whether it's the God of the Jews or the God of the Romans. Instead of seeing these gods as divine beings, they saw these gods as basically the guards of our prison. So they see everything else that people had thought of as previously sacred, all the gods, as actually things imprisoning us. Even Paul was talking about this in the Bible where he talks about powers and principalities that keep us imprisoned.
Now I want you to stop and pause because this is a radical idea. This is an idea that there has been something common to all of these gods that must now be challenged. So up until now, the relationship between us and them was one of servitude, often bordering on notions of slavery. We were the slaves or the servants of the gods. The Gnostics want to invert that. They want to tell you that instead of worshiping these gods, instead of idealizing these gods, instead of giving in to these powers and principalities, these patterns that are pervasive and profound in the way they entrap us, instead of thinking how we should serve and fit into them... Think of this again, remember the axial revolution? Don't try and fit into the everyday world; you want to transcend it. Instead of serving and fitting in, we have to transcend them all. They are not divine. They are our prison guards. They may be powerful, but instead what we need to realize is that there is something in us. They thought of it as a divine spark that will actually carry us above to the God beyond all gods, which sounds like a contradiction because of course that's what they're trying to get at.
The idea here can be expressed using some of the Christian mythology that they were quite willing to—Well, it depends who you're talking to. If you're an Orthodox Christian and you see the Gnostics as perverting your mythology; if you're a Gnostics, you see yourself as disclosing by transformation what's actually available in the mythology. So for the Gnostics, this God is the God of the Old Testament, evil, jealous, vindictive, who threatens and, and bullies people, authorizes genocide, shows favoritism for no moral reason, is just—And I mean, think about it, he says, the God of the old testament, "I'm a jealous God. Don't you dare worship anybody other than me. And if you do, I'll kill you and I'll kill your kids and I'll kill your kids' kids and all this horrific stuff." And then that God is compared to the God of the New Testament. The God of agape, the God of light and love. And the idea is that God is the God beyond all gods does not want our worship, wants us to reunite with him. He wants us or she wants us to fully participate. I have to say, he and she, specifically for the Gnostics, one of the things they also challenged was the difference between the genders in the ancient world. They're famous for that, in thinking women are as equally capable of a spiritual life as men.
So we are radically not at home because this, our capacity for agapic love means we have a Gnostic potential. We have the power, the potential to remember to know that we belong here. We can sense that we don't belong here. We can sense that we belong somewhere else. We know there's something fundamentally wrong here. And then the idea is this God beyond all gods. This absolute fullness of being sends individuals down into the world of suffering to bring us the gnosis. To bring us this kind of transformative knowledge that will set us free. And what the Gnostic Christians did is they said Jesus was this individual. So the Gnostics don't put a huge emphasis on the person of Jesus and his crucifixion. Instead, the teachings of Jesus are much more important to them because what is going to happen here is Jesus is going to bring us the way of knowing gnosis of agape so that we can free ourselves from this.
So the Gnostics therefore don't see the purpose of Christianity as doctrine or dogma. The purpose of it is to give us a mythology that will free us from our existential suffering and allow us to experience this transcendence of the gods. Now this inversion, this radical inversion. This is what I mean, it's the culmination. It's the axial revolution that is finally applied to even to the whole mythological framework of the ancient world. And what it means is that the Gnostics have a very, and this is one of the things thattheir critics often leveled against them. The Gnostics keep churning out new gospels and new stories and new myths. Because for them it's not about having a final Orthodox story, a final Orthodox set of principles, it's about having engaged in, participated in our process of creating the enactive analogies, the enacted anagoge. That's what matters. That's what actually matters.
Now, this idea that spirituality is ultimately about transcending the gods rather than serving the gods is very, it's very both pertinent to us today and very radical for its time. Because you have basically the challenging of a, not even a belief, it was just an unquestioned presupposition that our relationship to the gods was one of servitude and slavery getting transformed into—no, no. The center, the core of spirituality is not worship. The core of spirituality is self-transcendence. Healing and freeing people from existential entrapment and their suffering. And that our mythology and our practices should always be in service of us reuniting to who and what we are.
Now we love this story. Notice how, first of all, it's still got all the platonic elements here are the people trapped in the cave. They're bound. They get the secret, the knowledge that frees them so that they can return to and see the light. Right? But of course for Plato, you come back down into the cave. For the Gnostics, you try to spread the message to as many people as you can. So it has the Platonism.
It, of course, has a way of connecting that Platonism to Christianity by re-interpreting Jesus as the embodiment of gnosis rather than as a sacrifice in whom we should have faith. Jesus is a teacher who provides us with something like what the Shaman did and what our therapist does, provides us with the keys to unlocking, right? Unlocking all the ways in which these patterns, these sociocultural, political, economic patterns, ways of thinking and being are just permeated into layers of our psyche and ways of being in the world that they just exacerbate our suffering, our existential entrapment and the way it is fragmenting our world and ripping apart our agency.
So we longed for that. Now this was Hans Jonas's great insight. We longed for that now. So we go to movies that show this, right? So DeConick goes through several movies that are basically modern portrayals of this Gnostic mythology, of course, famously. And it brings both, it brings all of these elements in the Christian, the platonic, and the Gnostic. Of course, this is the matrix because the matrix is this: You're entrapped in a world of illusion. There are evil overlords who are trying to keep you entrapped. So you don't ever discover who you truly are, right? But you know, remember there's a scene in the movie? You know, like a splinter in your mind that there is something wrong and you don't belong, right? That's the matrix. Or you can see a movie starring Jim Carrey, the Truman story. Notice, of course, the play on words there? True man. Truman discovering who you really are and he grows up in a world within overlord that has manufactured it to keep him from ever actually getting his true agency, finding true love, et cetera. And what he has to do is get the knowledge in order to get beyond this God. We keep telling this story because it's a myth because it keeps pointing us to patterns that are pervasive and profound and powerful and we can't quite articulate them and we can't quite know them. But the myth, at least, gives us a moment of, at least, narrative and symbolic recognition of our suffering.
So the Gnostics are offering a radical form of the axial revolution. Now it carries with it a dark side. It keeps showing you with all of this stuff that the light side and the dark side of Christianity, right? And you probably could see how there's a Gnostic element also within Star Wars. You're trapped within the empire with the evil overlord, the emperor, and you have to get free. And you need to have the knowledge of the Force that will set you free and blah, blah, blah, blah. Like we love this and we keep wanting to do it. That's great.
What's the dark side of the Gnostic vision? The dark side of the Gnostic vision is it can, it doesn't have to and many of them, in many of the original Gnostic writers that I've read, it's not the case, but it can do this. This is ultimately a conspiracy theory. This is a grand conspiracy theory that behind—Look, one of the reasons why this is comforting is, behind all the apparent chaos and suffering, there actually is some evil overlord. I mean, one of the things that would make evil so much more tractable for us is if it was ensconced within an individual, but this is the ultimate conspiracy theory.
There's a whole system that is keeping you from realizing the truth and who you truly are. The true man that you are and how you belong elsewhere and living another way. And now you say, Oh, well, conspiracy. Well, stop and think. Look, what are the Gnostics saying? This evil overlord. Some of them say, not all of them, it's the same as the God of the old Testament. Who are the people that worship the God of the old Testament? The Jews. Here's an idea that's now being sewn into Western culture. The Jews are part of a conspiracy to keep us from realizing our true heritage. That is going to turn out to be an extraordinarily dangerous and bloodthirsty idea. Nazism is a twisted, and other people have pointed this out, Nazism is not primarily a political or even a socioeconomic movement. Nazism is a twisted Gnostic response of the meaning crisis that was being magnified in the Weimar Republic of Germany.
So there is a dark side to Gnosticism. So we should have an ambivalent attitude towards it. In order to understand it, we must think of how we can extricate gnosis from Gnosticism. How can we salvage gnosis from Gnosticism? Just like, how can we salvage the agape from Christianity? How can we salvage wisdom from the ancient nomological order?
So on one side, you can see the dangers. Why did this happen? It's a long, complicated story. But part of the problem, part of the reason is the emerging Orthodox church. It wasn't even an Orthodox church at that time. It called itself the Apostolic Church, the church that thought Jesus was absolutely unique. And the point was to worship him. And that faith is what was crucial. Faith in the sense of believing in him as a sacrifice, persecuted. And I mean that literally persecuted. The Gnostic form of Christianity and drove it underground. And as underground, it became enmashed with any type of group that was trying to challenge the established order. And that's how it tends to surface again in Nazism. We'll see that there are more things that feed into Nazism, but that's all we need for right now.
Gnosticism, of course, is also deeply influential in some very important people. So here are three people we're going to start talking about more and more. You've already heard me talk about Tillich. Tillich is one of the great theologians. Tillich talks about the meaning crisis in a classic book, that I highly recommend to you, called The Courage To Be. And he talks about that the response to that is a way of discovering, and it's clear because of how he talks about symbols and he talks about transformation, although he does not use the term, but he's talking about gnosis. He's talking about that the response to the meaning crisis is the gnosis of the God beyond the God of theism. That what we need to do is discover the God, who of course is not a God, because it's the God beyond the God of theism. As the meaning crisis destroys the mythology of the theistic mythology of God, can we discover, rediscover sacredness in a way that liberates us from our existential suffering? This is the core. Now, Tillich thought that Christianity could play a significant role in that. And one of my friends and colleagues, Jonathan Pageau thinks that Christianity will in fact, go through this kind of self-transformation so that it can move beyond the meaning crisis. I'm not convinced of this, but I do respect these points.
Many of you have heard me already mentioned Jung. Jung basically was deeply—Jung is to Gnosticism what you know, cognitive behavioral therapy is to stoicism. Jung is basically a transformation into psychotherapeutic context, the Gnostic mythology. And you should understand why that is not a coincidence. The Gnostic mythology is a way of giving us a scaffolding for enactive analogy, enacted anagoge, which, of course, are so central to therapeutic processes.
The person you haven't heard me mention and I'll talk about more later, is Corbin. Corbin was very much about trying to recover this kind of knowing because his great concern was that we had lost this kind of knowing and therefore we had lost our capacity for the transformation and the liberation that it can bring about. And we can get trapped in these historical patterns that fragment our world and tear apart our agency. So because they represent the radicalization of the axial revolution, there is much to learn from Gnosticism. But I do not, I am not advocating and attempt to resurrect it or bring it back. What we need to do is understand and that's what these individuals represent. And notice that at least one of them was one of the most courageous opponents of the Nazis. Tillich was the first non-Jewish academic to be fired from the Nazis because from the very beginning and consistently he identified them and resisted them.
So keep this whole framework in mind. Can we salvage from gnosticism gnosis and some of its radical message about how we can reconfigure how we can have a non-theistic, non-super naturalistic understanding of sacredness? Can we do that and avoid the conspiratorial way of thinking that can be so damaging and has been? See, one of the things that Gnosticism can quickly ally into is that those utopian, they're so enticing, right? Those utopian ideologies that give you the great conspiracy theory and tell you that you belong to the chosen few, the chosen race or the chosen class, right? And that violence is acceptable because the system is evil and must be destroyed.
I point you to the work of Chris Hedges because he's criticized both sides. He wrote a book, American Fascists about Fundamentalist Christianity and it's pervasive portrayal of a grand conspiracy. But he also wrote a book on the new atheists and how they also represent a utopic perfectionism that sanctions violence. And if you don't believe me, take a look at Hitchens and Harris and the proposals for nuclear first strikes against the Islamic world, et cetera.
So I'm suggesting to you, and I'm trying to give you an argument for it, how we should have an ambivalent attitude towards Gnosticism. Let's put it back in the historical picture. 'Cause I told you about the three that are crucial and how they're intermeshed with each other. We have the emerging Christianity. We've seen this by taking a look at Jesus and John and Paul. And we've seen how it's interacting with Gnosticism. We've already seen how Gnosticism is influenced and influencing Platonism and in particular I want to look at Neo-platonism because it is also deeply enmeshed with Christianity. This triangle is going to be necessary for understanding the final elements of the orders of meaning, the grammar, as I've put it before, of meaning. We've got the nomological order.
What is Neo-platonism? By the way, Neo-platonism is also why the main character in The Matrix is called Neo, for Neo-platonism and he's often referred to as The One because The One is the central thing within Neo-platonism. Again, there's a reason why all of these mythological patterns keep being so attractive to us.
So Plotinus. Let me give you an analogy. I think this is a helpful analogy. Scientists right now are trying to integrate quantum mechanics and relativity, the two great theories. And if they come up with it, they'll have the grand unified theory. Einstein tried and failed. Many people think they've had the answer and then it collapses. By analogy, Plotinus is the grand unified field theory of ancient spirituality because what does he do? Well, he takes Plato's spirituality. He takes the whole idea of anagoge from Plato. He takes Aristotle's theory, the whole Aristotle worldview, the theory of knowing, the theory of the structure of the world. We've talked about that. And he takes from the Stoics, that whole therapeutic project. Overcoming modal confusion. And what he does is he integrates them together. He integrates them together in powerful way. How does he do that?
Well, he talks about, first of all, he says—well, you can start anywhere. You can start in any one of these places and Plotinus's writing and then get to the other two. It is such a powerfully integrated system. And when you're reading Plotinus, you're not just reading an argument, you're also undergoing a spiritual exercise that is trying to transform your state of consciousness in your cognition. So what's the main theory here? Let's start here. So if you remember we have Aristotle's conformity theory. We know something, remember this, by conforming to it, by sharing the same structural functional organization with it. And then Plotinus says, Oh, wait a sec. Aristotle also has sort of levels of being. And we talked about this. We talked about at the lowest level, there's pure potentiality and at the highest level there's pure actuality. And we don't need to get into the metaphysics. But here's the idea. There are levels of reality, levels of realness. As we know, and this doesn't mean intellectual, this is participatory, this is very much like gnosis. And he's in discussion with gnosis. We know that Plotinus has Gnostic students. He's also critical of them, but this is not just intellectual knowing. This is deeply participatory knowing. As we make these—and listen to my language—as we make these levels of reality viable to us as they become livable to us, we conform to them and we change. And this is Eric Perl's brilliant idea. All of his stuff is so good. As we conform and make this level of reality real to us, we're conforming to it and we're also moving to a higher level of the self. As we conform, we're also altering, and this is the anagoge of Plato, we're altering what level the self is at. And of course, as we alter the level that the self is at, we're more capable of living in that higher level of reality. What this does for us is it helps us deeply remember the Being mode, who we really are.
Let me try and put this all together with an example. What is it that makes something real? And think about this. Think about Socrates here, right? Socrates, what do you mean by real? We care about whether or not things are real. Like it really matters to us—look at the word 'really.' It really matters to us. And yet what is it that makes something real? How much time have you put into that? Because if you are driven by a pursuit of realness and you don't understand what it is, if it's something you're pursuing and you don't understand, remember what that is? That's the gap of bullshit.
So what makes something real? And notice for Plotinus and again, Eric Perl, especially in his book, Thinking Being, just a fantastically brilliant book, can't recommend it enough. It's not what makes something real, it's how do we also sense it as real? So it's both what structurally, functionally organizes it to be real, two sides of the worldview, and how do we sense it? How does it make us be able to sense it as real? And here's the answer. And it in some sense it's basic, but in other sense it's profound. What makes something real is how one it is. How integrated it is. How much it is structurally, functionally organized. So we treat the object as more real than the shadows because it's more structurally, functionally organized. That's talking about the object. What is it to understand something? Well, here's a bunch of separate things and when I understand them, I find how they're all one. How they can all be integrated together. When I understand some thing, I understand how all of its parts are integrated together. And then what we do is, "Okay, these things have been integrated here." And then, "Oh and I can integrate these here and I can..." And, "This is more real. What's one behind all of these various things?" And then I can, of course, find what's underneath all of this and what's underneath this and what's underneath this. Things become more real to us as we integrate them together. And they're more real as things as they are integrated together.
So as we try and find the deeper underlying principles that integrate things together, we become more integrated together and we become more real. We are realized. [-] We're getting to what's more real. And we, as we become more integrated, more actualized, are becoming more real. I'm becoming more integrated. And you can see this in Plato's anagoge, right? The inner conflict within me is being reduced. I'm becoming more real as I'm becoming more integrated. And that is allowing me to make viable and real these more integrated, deeper levels of reality. And then the whole thing spins anagogically.
And what I have is I move from where things are only potential, they don't have much form, like in Aristotle, all the way up to as having the greatest structural functional organization they can. And all of this isn't just, it's not just a theory, it's a change in my existential mode. I am becoming more real. That's why I use the word realization. It's simultaneously a making more real of the world and me and becoming more aware of what's more real. But what is it? What's down here or up? Depending on which way you want to draw these lines. What's here? Well, it's gotta be the principle that makes everything else real, that integrates everything together. It can't in any way be multiple.
So Plotinus calls this The One. He doesn't mean the single. This is that by which reality is realized and our mind realizes reality. Plotinus uses the metaphor of light. Just like light is itself invisible and makes everything seeable, The One is not anything we can ever know. You can't know The One because it is that by which everything is knowing. It is that by which everything is. So how do you ever reunite with it if you can't know it? If it is beyond all possible thought, because thought breaks things apart. If it's beyond all possible, how do you know it?
You can't know it. You can't have it. You can't have it even in though. You can't have it even in the most beautiful theory. You can't have it. You can only be it. You can only have gnosis of The One by being one. So at the pit, at the height of Plotinus's system is a higher state of consciousness, an awakening experience. But notice it's completely integrated with the best science and the best scientific psychotherapy of the time. There is no deep division in Plotinus between spirituality, science, and therapy. They are all beautifully, mutually supporting, interwoven, enmeshed together. It's the culmination of everything from the Greek axial age.
Next time I want to talk about how all of these currents, Christianity, Gnosticism, and Neoplatonism are going to be taken up by Augustine. Thank you very much for your time and attention.
Episode 18 notes
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Hans Jonas was a German-born American Jewish philosopher, from 1955 to 1976 the Alvin Johnson Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City
Book mentioned - The Gnostic Religion - Buy here
The rejection of all religious and moral principles, in the belief that life is meaningless. Philosophy the belief that nothing in the world has a real existence. SapientialRelating to wisdom.
April D. DeConick is the Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She came to Rice University as a full professor in 2006, after receiving tenure at Illinois Wesleyan University in 2004. DeConick is the author of several books in the field of Early Christian Studies and is best known for her work on the Gospel of Thomas and ancient Gnosticism.
Book mentioned - The Gnostic New Age - Buy here
In the Platonic, Neopythagorean, Middle Platonic, and Neoplatonic schools of philosophy, the demiurge (/ˈdɛmi.ɜːrdʒ/) is an artisan-like figure responsible for fashioning and maintaining the physical universe.
Book mentioned - Zombies in Western Culture: A Twenty First Century Crisis - Buy here
Authors: John Vervaeke, Christopher Mastropietro, Filip Miscevic
Hans Jonas (/ˈjoʊnæs/; German: [ˈjoːnas]; 10 May 1903 – 5 February 1993) was a German-born American Jewish philosopher, from 1955 to 1976 the Alvin Johnson Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City.
Book mentioned - The Courage to Be - Buy here
Paul Johannes Tillich (August 20, 1886 – October 22, 1965) was a German-American Christian existentialist philosopher and Lutheran Protestant theologian who is widely regarded as one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century.
Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology. Jung's work was influential in the fields of psychiatry, anthropology, archaeology, literature, philosophy, and religious studies. Jung worked as a research scientist at the famous Burghölzli hospital, under Eugen Bleuler.
Christopher Lynn Hedges (born September 18, 1956) is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Presbyterian minister, New York Times best selling author and television host.
Book - American Fascists - Buy here
Book - I Don't Believe in Atheists - Buy here
Christopher Eric Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011) was an English-American intellectual, polemicist, and socio-political critic who expressed himself as an author, orator, essayist, journalist, and columnist. Hitchens was the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of over 30 books, including five collections of essays on culture, politics, and literature.
Samuel Benjamin Harris is an American author, neuroscientist, and podcast host. His work touches on a wide range of topics, including rationality, religion, ethics, free will, neuroscience, meditation, psychedelics, philosophy of mind, politics, terrorism, and artificial intelligence.
Plotinus was a major Hellenistic philosopher who lived in Roman Egypt. In his philosophy, described in the Enneads, there are three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas, who was of the Platonic tradition.
Eric D. Perl is a Professor of Philosophy in the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts at Loyola Marymount University.
Book mentioned - PLOTINUS Ennead V.1: On the Three Primary Levels of Reality - Buy here
Book mentioned - Thinking, Being - Buy here
Plotinus' description of the base of all knowing.
Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Summary and Transcript on awakeningfromthemeaningcrisis.com