Ep. 23 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Romanticism

What follows here is a transcription of the above video by John Vervaeke (Sectioning added by MeaningCrisis.co)

Welcome back to Awakening from the Meaning Crisis. So last time we took a look at three pivotal figures. Two of them are in a dialogue with the central figure that we were talking about last time, and that's Rene Descartes. And we took a look at the debate between Descartes Hobbes and how that is so current and relevant to us today in the debate around the possible creation of strong AI and what that means both scientifically and existentially to us. And we then took a look at what comes out of Descartes' response to Hobbes. If you remember, Descartes builds a defence against Hobbes proposal for a completely materialistic artificial intelligence computer model of the mind, in terms that are drawn very strictly, and I think rigorously, from the central insights of the scientific revolution, and that seems to save the human soul from the Hobbesian onslaught! But we then note that we pay a really, really devastating price for the Cartesian defence. We have a radical disconnection between mind and body, which is radical because of how embodied your experience of yourself and your world is. A radical disconnection between mind and other minds because you only have access to other minds through bodies, and if there is no possible connection between mind and body, there's no way you can read other people's mental states off of their bodily behaviour.

And then we have the radical disconnection between mind and reality because Descartes gives us two competing models of how we get in touch with what's real. One is we track the mathematical, and then that of course was picked up by Positivism and people who advocate for science as our main access to reality. And then the other is that “Cogito, ergo sum”, that all that's left of the contact with reality is the moment where the mind touches itself, and we get this purely subjective notion of realness that's picked up by the Romantic tradition and is also prevalent in our world today. And we swing between the Positivistic and the Romantic notions of how we decide what's real, in a completely unstable fashion.

We then noted that even your connection to yourself has been undermined because the Cartesian project is so radical in its withdrawal, is so radical in its disconnection from mind, body, world, tradition, history, culture, that all the “I” is that's in the Cogito (writes a big, capital “I” on the board), all that is guaranteed to exist is this moment (clicks fingers); Self-awareness. So you end up with this completely atomic, completely autobiographically empty self, adrift in the terrifying, infinite spaces that Pascal talked about. And we talked about Pascal's response to Descartes and how Pascal was convinced that Descartes' attempts — and Pascal was right about this — Descartes’ attempts to try and deal with the anxiety of the scientific revolution by promoting a methodology of searching for certainty would ultimately come to ruin. And of course they have come to ruin, as we've said! Instead, what Pascal pointed out is that we have lost all these other ways of knowing that was so central to the Axial Revolution! All we have left is a spirit of geometry. We have lost the procedural knowing, the perspectival knowing and the participatory knowing that are so integral to the transformative experiences that have been central to our discussion of the Axial ages legacy. And of course, Pascal himself had such a transformative experience and found the Cartesian framework incapable of addressing or articulating it.

Why A Return To A Traditionally Religious Is Not Viable

I'd like to now pick up on what comes after Descartes because I foreshadowed at the end of our last episode that we are in a quite significant situation. We are radically disconnected from ourselves, both our own bodies and our own minds, from other people, from the world, from history, from culture, from sapiential institutions, from traditions of transformation. We are radically isolated and bereft, and yet we face these tremendous crises: ecological crisis, socioeconomic crisis, political crisis, mental health crisis. They're all inter-locking and we face it…/ And they are so exigent and so pervasive and so profound and so complex that we need a fundamental transformation in consciousness, cognition, character, community, in order to really restructure our sense of who and what we are and our relationship to the world, in order to address these crises.

Now, the systematic set of psycho-technologies that have brought about such radical transformations in the past have been religion. And yet part of the heritage of Descartes and the scientific revolution and the ongoing fragmentation that has followed from the Protestant Reformation is an increasing secularisation of the world. That's a little too simplistic! I mean, it's bifurcated: You get the increasing secularisation on one hand and then the increasing attempt to nostalgically retreat to a pre-scientific model, in various forms, of fundamentalism which of course is doomed, ultimately, to a complete kind of failure. But this is happening such that for many of us a return to religion in order to provide the multilevel, multi-variate, complex transformation that is needed to meet the crises that we're facing, is not available to us precisely because we are post-religious or we are myopically entrenched within a pre-scientific model of the scientific revolution that will in no way avail us with what we need in order to address these crises. So either way you want to turn, uh, the religious option is not a viable one.

Why A Secular Approach Is Not Viable Either

What I want to now explore is why a secular solution, for many people, also no longer seems viable. So what I want to argue is that we face this hard problem of needing a religion that is no religion, but cannot be fully secular, but we don't want it to be religious! And it is filled with all this paradoxical tension and contradiction that I've tried to argue is the hallmark of the Cartesian legacy. The way I want to argue that is to try and show the responses to the meaning crisis that come after Descartes, and I'm going to talk about them in terms of the “Pseudo-Religious Ideologies” and how we have been traumatised by our interest [in] and bewitchment by these ideologies precisely because these ideologies have led to Titanic warfare and genocidal bloodshed. And so we're trapped between “we can't return to religion” and “we can't move to its political secular alternatives because of the trauma that has been inflicted by their history”. And so we are stuck! “There is no political solution” to quote The Police, and yet we also are not willing to return to a nostalgic, and therefore impotent, religious framework. So we sit, trapped!

Kant: How Is It That Math Is So Good At Describing Reality?

So how did that arise? So, again, we have to move rapidly and I mean, I don't want to trespass on your time! This video series is already long, but we're moving through Titanic figures here and it always is, I feel, a difficult thing to do! But I want to talk about the figure of Kant, and we'll talk about Kant in a couple places, so I need to introduce him here anyway! So Kant is trying to deal with this fracturing in realness that Descartes has left — the two sides, the inner subjective mind touching itself and the outer of mathematical — and Kant brings up a question that is very important, and there's been other people who have given voice to this, and this is an important one, which is: “How is it that math is so good at describing reality?”. Why just accept Galileo's claim that it's the language of the universe? [We have, we know law.] See, at one point we had an answer to why math is so descriptive of reality, we had the Neoplatonic answer: The idea that reality is ultimately grounded in intelligible form and those intelligible forms — you remember the Idos, the structural functional organisations — are ultimately abstract, eternal, etc, and that's the ultimate grounding. That's why many people who are realists in mathematics formally and explicitly labeled themselves as Platonists, because that is a way of trying to explain how mathematics gives you access to reality when it is nothing like spacial, temporal, material reality. I mean, why is it that something like math describes physics so well?

And what Kant was really trying to get at is “how do I get those two sides of Descartes together? How do I get the side that says math is real, math gives me access to reality, but all I really have is access to my own mind! How do I get those together?”. And Kant comes up with a really radical proposal. He calls it a “Copernican Revolution”. He thinks it's as important as Copernicus’ revolution of the external world. And the Kantian proposal is a very interesting one because what I think it does is, it really radicalises things even more!

So Kant's proposal is [that] these categories, these patterns of intelligibility we find in the world, the mathematical properties, aren't actually there! Not in the sense we think they are! So what Kant does is he basically makes use of a move that Ockham made. If you remember Ockham's razor — and remember, I often say people don't understand what they're invoking when they invoke Ockham’s Razor — Ockham’s Razor basically says that all these patterns of intelligibility you think are in the world are actually in your mind. What Kant does is [he] says, “well, these ways of measuring the world mathematically, they aren't the features of the world, they are the way in which experience has to be organised in order to make sense to the mind. So let me try and give you an analogy for understanding that. So I'm going to do a reverse on the analogy you’ve seen me use when we were talking about Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. (Takes off his glasses.) So let's do it the other way around: the world is very blurry. There's too much! And so what I have to do is I have to filter it (puts his glasses back on again). I have to filter it so that it will fit my eye and my brain, and I, can make sense of it. So these filters have to be put into place.

Getting Separated From “The Thing In Itself”

And so Kant's idea was there are structures in the mind that basically act as these filtering frames. It's kind of both a combination of a filter and a frame (writes Filter-Frame on the board). And what they do is they impose a structure of intelligibility on experience (writes “Impose a structure of intelligibility on the world of experience” below Filter-Frame). So this is opposite to the Platonic [Model]! This is why it's a Copernican Revolution. It's a complete reversal of the Platonic Model. So the idea is [that] I'm not discovering the patterns of intelligibility that structurally functionally organise the world, what's actually happening is this pattern is being imposed on the information coming in so that it will fit my mind and make sense to my mind. And that's the basis of my capacity for reasoning about the world (writes “Reasoning about the World”, off “Impose a structure of intelligibility on the world of experience”). I can reason about the world, not because the world is ultimately rationally structured, but — like Ockham said, “the world is absurd in itself” — I can reason about the world because I have filtered it in such a way that my mind can process it according to its own internal grammar.

So, see? This is why it's a Copernican reversal! I'm not discovering in the world - the mathematical properties of things. My mind is filtering and imposing a structure on them so that it can make sense and think about them. So you have to take this word and this phrase and make it really, really strong (puts real emphasis on the following): Your mind is making sense of things! And when we talk about relevance, we're going to see that there's a deep way in which Kant is, I think, right! Then you say, “okay. So yeah! I see how he's sort of completely inverting the world from Plato. I get that! So math isn't discovering reality! Math is ultimately about how the mind imposes a structure on reality. So it can reason about it”. Great! What does that mean?!? [Well notice/ we've got/ now the mind…] (Draws a small box on the board.) Remember we talked about this model of the contact with the world being withdrawn and it's being withdrawn inside the mind (touches cup, then walks back and raises an empty hand to his forehead) by Luther and then it's being withdrawn (raises the other empty hand to his head) really by Descartes? Now, not only is it withdrawn, it's in prison. The mind is in here (points inside the little box drawn on the board), and all that can get in here (draws an arrow into the box) always has to pass through this filtering frame (circles a circle around Filter-Frame - the arrow comes from here). And for Kant, that means we can never know the world as it is in itself, as he famously said, “The Thing in Itself”, we can never know the world as it is (writes The Thing in Itself below the arrow). This is why, of course, the Cartesian search for certainty is going to be completely undermined.

A New Kantian Understanding Of The Grammar Of How Our Minds Operate, At A Very High Price

So ultimately, notice how this is all coming together: The mind is ultimately only really touching itself (indicates the box). It has no contact now with the world (indicates “The Thing in Itself”). It's not only withdrawn from the world, it's isolated and trapped within itself (indicating the box again). But it does answer the question, “Well, why does math work so well?”. Well, math works so well, according to Kant, because that's the grammar of how our minds operate. That's why math, which seems such a mental and abstract and weird thing, seems to [make the world succeed that] give us access to the structure of the world - It's not really giving [us access] to the [structure of] the world! It's creating a structure in the world of experience that makes sense to human beings. Now that's a really big price to pay! The price you pay for getting the two sides of Descartes back together is to get them both inside the mind and to be radically, radically out of touch with the world now.

So you can imagine that people are upset with this! This is a very challenging idea. There's going to be some really important responses to this. There's going to be the Romantics and Hagel, but I want to concentrate on the Romantic solution because I've already mentioned it, and we'll talk a little bit about Hagel when we talk about Marx. So there's an idea here, right?
It's sort of implicit in Kant! There's an idea of information coming in from the world. (Thinking about and attempting to start adding to the above ‘box’ diagram.) The problem with this diagram is it's too simplistic. So think of the filter as having sort of levels of processing, right (starts new diagram just below the other one, to help explain the following concepts, with 5 vertical lines)? There's the raw information from the thing in itself (writes ‘raw’ on the right, near ‘The Thing in Itself’), and it's getting processed, it's coming in (gestures moving through the vertical lines of processing). [-] And then there's all of this structure being imposed on it (draws three slightly curved arrows — layers of structure — from the left, pointing back to the layers of processing).

Now this, by the way, is the most prevalent model in most of cognitive psychology and cognitive science; where you see this Kantian grammar of trying to understand the mind is in current contrast between bottom up processing versus top down (to the left, John writes ‘bottom up’ at the bottom of an up arrow beside ‘top down’ at the top of a down arrow). So the idea of bottom up processing — we talked about this when we talked about attention — is this is processing that starts in perception and moves towards cognition. Top down is processing that starts in cognition, starts from your knowledge, and move down into perception. Remember, we talked about this when we talked about how you do “this”, right (writes THE CAT on the board where each of the middle letters H and A are neither a H or an A, but somewhere between each)? The cat, right? You see this as a H and this as an A (circles them respectively), and how you do that? Well, you use the knowledge of the word to disambiguate the letters, and you use the knowledge of the letters to construct the word. And the two are completely interpenetrating in a completely self-organising manner outside of your cognitive awareness. It actually makes your reading possible for you. It's a condition on the possibility of you reading. And so this is the same model here (indicates the newer box model of the mind with the vertical layers of processing and the layers of structuring). The mind is imposing a structure, and it's filtering and framing and structuring the information coming in from the world. So this Kantian model is pervasive through all of cognitive science and for good reason: it turns out to be a very, very powerful way of looking at things.

But as I moved this way (draws a little right to left arrow below the vertical processing lines), as I move into the mind — as I get inside the framework (indicates entering the first box diagram of the mind) — my cognition, of course, becomes more and more rational (writes Rational below the diagram, below the little right to left arrow), [it] becomes more and more mathematically, logically intelligible. But think about it! Notice you've got this weird idea now! As my processing becomes more rational, more logically mathematical, I’m actually getting farther and farther away from being in contact with the world! Isn't that a... See... notice the platonic [in]version, the comp[lete]… the platonic reversion, like a complete reversal, of the platonic structure is bringing with it a reverse consequence. So for Plato, as you pursue rationality, you move deeper and deeper into reality. But for Kant, notice as I move more and more into rationality, I moving away from being in contact with reality! Now what comes to mind is, well, isn't the opposite then the case? And think about how this is going to make Freud and Jung possible! I mean, you know how you get Carl Young? Take Kant.../ if you don't know Kant, stop talking about Jung! Because Jung repeatedly tells his readers "I'm a, Neo-Kantian. I'm through and through a Kantian”. He tells you that repeatedly! And so if you don't know Kant, shut up about Jung, because you’re not understanding Jung properly! The way you get Jung is you take [Kant and you take] Kant’s epistemology and you add it to Gnostic mythology, and that's how you get [Jung]. That's the equation for Jung (writes “Kant + Gnostic = Jung” on the board)!

The Rise Of The Romantics, Romantic Love And Romanticism

So why do I say this? We'll think about this because if I go the other way (left to right), if I open the mind up to these more irrational, less fully processed parts of cognition, the boundary between the conscious and the unconscious aspects of my experience, as I move into the right, the imaginary, irrational, dream like aspects of my cognition, I'm going to lose rationality!! But notice what I'm gaining; I'm gaining back that lost contact with the world. Lachman talks about this in a really good book called The Lost Knowledge of the Imagination. And so I think this is a misunderstanding, but notice what's going on here — and this is why my attitude towards the romantics is so ambivalent — they're picking up on Pascal! They're trying to recapture the lost perspectival, participatory knowledge! The actual, involved contact with reality! But because they're inside this Kantian framework (indicates the diagrams on the board), the way that's going to happen is by moving (left to right) into the depths of the irrational aspects of the mind because those are the parts of the mind that are closer to reality. And so, of course, what Jung and Freud are going to do is they're going to take [that] what the romantics do about how to reach out into the world and they're going to make it… well at least for Freud it’s completely reaching down into the psyche. For Jung, it's reaching down into the psyche and back out into the world. We'll come back to that later.

So this is the main idea of romanticism! Romanticism, ultimately, isn't about loving your sexual partner in a particular way. It's the idea that we can recapture contact with reality by moving away from the rational layers of cognition and into the irrational layers. Why does that get associated with love? Because remember, in the Neoplatonic tradition, [which] the romantics, in this twisted way, are trying to get back to — they're trying to get back to Gnosis and participatory knowing — in that Platonic tradition, the quintessential form of participatory, perspectival knowing is love. The romantics have this…/ they get that! They're remembering that! So, we move into the irrational (gesturing left to right on the diagrams on the board) and we'll regain contact [with] and, of course, that relationship to the world where we're actually in touch with the other, and there's mutual disclosure between myself and the other - that's love. And so the Romantic return to reality through irrationality gets connected with love, and that's how we get romantic love. And we get the idea of it as a fundamentally irrational force, and you get romanticism.

And then you get the idea that, well, “what is the faculty that stands between perception and reason?”. What's between.../ here's perception here (writes Perception on the board) — the part where The Thing in Itself [is], the world — and here's reason up here (writes Reason above Perception). What's the faculty in between [them], that mathematically intelligible and the sensuously experienced [faculty]? Well, it's imagination (writes Imagination between Perception and Reason).

Imagination: Expression And Impression

Imagination is where the mind initially imposes that order on the raw data of experience. See for us - And the romantics were very critical of this and this is something that they were right about! - We understand the imagination just as moving mental images around in our head. And the romantics made a big distinction between “imagination” and that faculty which they called “fancy”! Or like “Phantasm”, right? No, no, for them imagination is how the mind imposes structure on raw data so that it becomes available to reason. And so the imagination is the place in which we can get closer, outside of the reason, to the access to reality. So music and art are going to be understood as giving us access, through the imagination, to what's real. Why? Because music and art are where the mind seems to be imposing an order in such a way that meaning is made, that we can then rationally reflect upon.

So you're getting two views now that are coming into opposition. One, the older view, represented by the enlightenment — I mean that in the scientific sense, not the Buddhist enlightenment — people like John Locke: “the mind is an empty canvas and sense experience comes in and writes on it”. That's empiricism. So the mind is a blank slate. The romantics have exactly the opposite view: “We don't actually ever know what the world is in and of itself. The world is an empty canvas on which imagination expresses…” presses itself out. This is why expression (writes “ex-pression” on the board) is so important to the romantics: to press yourself, to press out, the mind in imagination presses itself onto the world. And of course that's where Jung and Freud are going to get the notion of ‘projecting onto the world’ from. So you have these two com[peting]…/ and that's why the Romantics see themselves in deep competition with the Empiricists who of course are part of what becomes known as the Scientific Model.

So what's going on here is, these two views… The mind is a blank slate upon which the world impresses itself - Locke uses the term ‘impressions’; the world impresses itself on your mind. Or the romantics, “No, no! The world is a blank canvas upon which the mind expresses itself!”. And both are wrong! I mean, I very rarely just sort of state things. But I'm really confident of this! Both of these models: the mind of a blank slate is just overwhelmingly wrong! Way too much argument and evidence against it. And this model of the world as a blank slate that we merely express ourSelf onto is also wrong.

Romanticism Becomes The First Pseudo-Religious Ideology

But what we get is we get this weird new thing: everybody is swept up in the Romanticism. So Romanticism becomes a pan-European movement. It's a movement of the arts. It's a movement in literature. Goethe writes “The Sorrows of Young Werther”. You have people like Beethoven bringing in a romantic element to music. You have lots of romantic poetry: think of Blake, think of Wordsworth. So you have this movement! It gets taken up into religion by Schleiermacher as a way of trying to understand religion. It's a pan-European movement. And it does, or it… Oh!! (exasperates), it's hard to be fair to this, but at least, aghhh… at least it appears to do what religion used to do. It integrates music and art and literature and the project of trying to find and make meaning in the scientific worldview, by giving you this whole framework of how you regained contact with reality - one of the hallmarks of the religious quest! You're going to regain contact with reality by moving into the world of the imagination, making use of art and music and poetry and literature, all of the machinery — we'll talk about this later — of religion. And what it's going to do is irrationally take you into contact with reality. So Romanticism is the first and it is the godfather/godmother of all the pseudo-religious ideology.

It looks like, behaves like and performs a kind of massive transformation on culture and cognition and consciousness! And people start experimenting with Altered States of Consciousness precisely because of all of this, all of this way of thinking. This is why Freud is going to take a look at hypnosis, etc... Altered States of consciousness, you know, people are taking various drugs: Coleridge and others. There's all of this experimentation precisely because of this way of looking at things! But what it does, you're paying a really devastating price for this Pseudo-Religious Ideology of Romanticism. And if you think that Romanticism is not alive in our culture, you're not paying attention to the fact that we still understand and use the grammar of Romanticism to talk about love! And we even buy into, at least for periods of time, a romantic model of how love operates: romantic comedies are these weird metaphysical perversions in which we throw away the scientific model of things and believe that somehow love is this irrational force that brings us in contact with the course of history, at least our own personal history and destiny, and that of another person! It's all so much bullshit!! Right? And it's devastatingly bad bullshit, because you are still trapped where Luther and Descartes left you. You're still trapped inside your mind (taps inside the box diagram on the board), not really in touch with things, and the only way you get in touch with them is by thinking and behaving irrationally???

You are trying to make this machinery (gestures to the board) of the imagination carry all of the Neoplatonic weight that religion and tradition and philosophy and history carried. You try to make your romantic partner take the role of all of that. No person can bear that. No human relationship can bear that burden. So we go into our romantic relationships with unreachable expectations of how the person is going to address everything that we've lost in our history. And of course they can’t! Which of course is why many people simultaneously say that their romantic relationships are the things where they find or look for the most meaning in their life and their romantic relationships are those things that precisely caused them the most trauma and suffering their life.

Pseudo-Religious Ideologies - Just Words

So these pseudo-religious ideologies are really, really important because they point to an attempt to try and get into words… try to get into words, to propositions, into ideological ways of thinking everything that religions used to do for us! Because the problem with the Romantics…/ See the romantics get this in one way! They get that the language can't do it all. And that's why they turn to poetry, right? “To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower, to see infinity in the Palm of your hand and spend eternity in an hour.” There's Blake trying to use imagery to point to a transformative experience, a mystical experience. But you see the problem is, if you don't have any sapiential traditions, if you don't have the spiritual exercises that Hadot talks about, if you don't have the systematic set of psycho-technologies, if you do not have regular and reliable methods and guides for these transformative experiences, all you have in the end are the words.

And if you're not Blake, if you're not Coleridge, when you read the poem, you don’t…/ I mean, even if you can appreciate how great a poem it is, you're not capable of getting much from it because everything has been reduced to the words. See the Romantics didn't give us anything else. They don't give us practices. They don't give us institutions. They don't give us systematic sets of psycho-technologies. They give us promises, they give us images and they give us words. It's a Pseudo-Religious Ideology. So it sweeps the continent, but it's like spiritual junk food. It's tasty, but it's not nutritious.

And so what happens to it? Well, it quickly gets translated into nastier forms. Not without first of all, of course, setting the world on fire. Romanticism plays a big role in the rise of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Don't forget Romanticism.../ Beethoven is writing music initially because he's a fan of Napoleon and when Napoleon crowns himself emperor that's when Beethoven actually abandons him. This is the time we're talking about! Why? Why would the Romantics be attracted to Napoleon? Now you see… We have to be careful here! There's some very good podcasts you can listen to comparing Napoleon to Hitler. “Ohhh! Aghhhh! Ohhhh (sounds of exasperation!)”! Right? That's your reaction! As soon I mentioned the word Hitler! …That's fine! But Why…? Of course, Napoleon didn't engage in genocide, but he drenches Europe in blood. He launches Imperial conquests. There's lots of good historians that say “maybe we only like Napoleon because more time has passed”! They like him… Look what Napoleon is doing by force of will — and that's what the imagination is — he is pressing a structure on the world! He is restructuring the world. He is painting his picture onto the world. Here is the “Isolated Self” pressing itself out on the world, imagining the world into another shape and existence.

The Failure Of Romanticism

So of course, Napoleon is defeated and science continues to move on! And what happens is there's a response to the failure of Romanticism - it ultimately fails! Now, here's the thing that we have to understand — and I've tried to indicate this to you — Romanticism fails. It fails to actually do what it sets out to do: it fails to be the replacement for Christianity [and in that], but it doesn't go away. So the way I put those two together — the fact that it fails, which I tried to show you, but it doesn't go away, which I've tried to show you — is the notion of that we live with decadent Romanticism. We live in decadent Romanticism and romantic comedies are the quintessential form of pornography in which we indulge in decadent Romanticism.

So what happens after the failure of this great Pseudo-Religious Ideology? Well, there are further attempts to try and understand these Romantic (wipes board clean mid-sentence), the irrational aspects of the psyche and this world making capacity and the way… and it’s… we’re still carrying this — member from [what] Ockham and Aquinas — the priority of the will.

Schopenhauer And The Priority Of The Will - The Will To Live

So here Romanticism very quickly passes into Schopenhauer (writes Schopenhauer on the board) who is the godfather of Nihilism — and notice that a lot of these names are not going to be German: Goethe, one of the founding figures of romanticism, is German, even though he comes to reject it later; Schopenhauer is German; Nietzsche is German; Hagel is German; Marx is German… Again, everything keeps happening in Germany and I've shown you why! Because that's where this history is unfolding. What does Schopenhauer argue? Well, He completely internalises that model of the world that we saw around the time of Ockham and even in Luther, he picks up on Kant, but he says… (readying to draw on the board) now, let's use an “up down model” (draws a domino shape vertically and starts in the top box): Here's the Rational part. Remember? And it's out of touch with reality, and like the Romantics, here's the Irrational part (writes Rational in the top box and Irrational in the bottom box).

And the Romantics saw this (irrational) as imagination (writes imagination to the right, off of the Irrational piece of the domino) and they saw it sort of spontaneously happening! But it's still an act of will (writes will off of imagination) because they talk about ‘expression’, pressing out (writes expression beside will). But Schopenhauer really zeroes in on this (circles will), and he says, “no, no! What's down here is arbitrary will!” (Now on the left, writes Arbitrary [Will] off of the Irrational piece of the domino). Notice that it's like, “God” - it's like that God that we get after Ockham!! This is the will to live; the raw [-] will to live. The raw will (writes Will to Live under Arbitrary Will). This is what drives you, this is what structures, this is what filters and frame[s] all of your experience. This will to live. Of course, this is going to be important to a lot of modern discourse. It's relentless and it's pointless, because it is not rational! And here's where Schopenhauer does a twist.

It's doing this (the will acts irrationally), but not fundamentally in service of your rational mind; it makes reasoning possible. But all of this (indicates the whole domino-the rational and irrational mind)… So Kant does the Copernican revolution — he inverts Protestantism -- and then Schopenhauer inverts Kant! Kant [said] that this [irrational] is processing is for the sake of this [rational]. But what Schopenhauer says is, “no, no! This (irrational) is actually who's in charge!”. He says the will is like a huge man and the ego (gestures Rational) is sitting on his shoulders. This is a little machine in the service of this (draws a circle around rational, with an arrow pointing around and down towards irrational). And if you don't think that's Carl Jung, you better go back and read some more Jung. That's what I mean, if you don't get this Kantian heritage, you're not reading Jung very well!

So, Schopenhauer! Let's use one of Schopenhauer quotes because it really, really brings this out and you can see how it prefigures Freud in such a powerful way. Schopenhauer says that “sex is the cruel joke that the species plays on the individual”. Because what sex is, is this ‘Will To Live’, this ‘Irrational’ Will to Live and it filters and frames all of your experience and it promises you meaning and fulfilment in everything that God and religion and history pro[mise]! …and then you have it [do it!], and none of that accrues to you!!! And he says, “and then what's the difference between you who does that for 40 years and a Mayfly that does it for one day?”.

Nihilism And Machines Of Meaningless Existence; Joining Forces With Romanticism

So we're restlessly driven by these irrat[ional]… Look at how, again, everything's being drawn into the mind and now drawn into the unconscious, irrational parts.../ So this is where that Arbitrary God has now withdrawn [to] in that Lutheran, Cartesian, now Kantian, now Schopenhauer way! It's inside of you and we're just all machines! And you get Richard Dawkins: “We're all just replicating machines for our selfish genes”. It's not a radical idea! We think we're doing all of this for (indicates Rational), but it's actually all (indicates Irrational). And so for Schopenhauer it's this nihilism, it's this pessimism because he saw that once you remove the connection between Meaning Making and Rationality, you pay a very, very devastating price for it. And so what do you have there?

Well, what do you have? You have a meaningless existence because it's being shaped and framed, not in contact with reality, not even in contact with your rational egocentric way of…/ it's just an irrational, unconscious arbitrary will to live that is shaping, filtering and framing all of your experience with the world. And then you die! And what was it all for? Schopenhauer has enough of the Romantics left in him that he has this idea that, in art and music, we can become disinterested enough in our own self, we can quiet the Will To Live enough that we can get momentary breaks, momentary vacation, momentary respite from this restless pointless Will To Live. So this is how this is the Godfather, this is how Romanticism as a Pseudo-Religious Ideology, and Nihilism as an existential response become inextricably linked together. Even though most people don't realise it. Most people don't realise that, In fact, these two things, Romanticism and Nihilism, are actually deeply intertwined and closely related to each other. So think about that when Valentine's Day rolls around! Are you actually expressing the contact with reality, or are you merely being pushed around by the irrational will to live?!

Fredric Nietzsche

So Schopenhauer, of course, has a great follower, a person who is now very prominent, because if [Schopenhauer] is the godfather of Nihilism, Nietzsche is the godfather of Postmodernism (writes Nietzsche on the board at the end of an arrow coming down off Schopenhauer). So Nietzsche is a disciple of Schopenhauer. He's actually a disciple of both Schopenhauer and Wagner (writes Wagner on the board, level with Schopenhauer, with another arrow coming down to Nietzsche) and Wagner represents romanticism in music breaking down. So Wagner takes Romanticism and he sort of breaks the last vestiges of grammar - he breaks the connection to the home key, all kinds of things! He opens up the possibility for music becoming untethered from its tradition, in very powerful ways. And of course, the problem with Wagner is he's also a very vicious anti-Semite! And you might say, “what's going on? Like, why… what is going on with Germany [and] this antisemitism thing?”! Well first of all, we've seen how Gnosticism — which is running as an undercurrent, as I mentioned, underneath the Rhineland mystics and other things — has a possible, I'm not equating the two, but Gnosticism has a possible version of it that is deeply antisemitic. But more importantly, you have a connection back to Luther (writes Luther in the middle of, and above Nietzsche and Schopenhauer).

Luther anti-semitically states that “we are at fault in not slaying them [the Jews].”
The treatise also argues for burning their books, synagogues, and homes, and drafting them into forced labor or exiling them.

Why would Luther say that? Well, Luther would say that because the Jews, in Luther's mind, are followers of the law and people — and remember Luther has an interpretation following Augustine and Paul and his own exacerbation of it — people who follow the law are people who are trying to earn their salvation. The point of the law is to reveal to you that you're completely incapable of earning your salvation. And so the Jews, who reject Jesus, reject faith and salvation in terms of the law. So the Jews are evil! It's interesting that the two great people (draws a vertical, double ended arrow between the two), the people who are consider to have created modern German style are Lutheran and Nietzsche (indicates them both on the board respectively).

Nietzsche, The Will To Power And A New Self-Transcendence

What does Nietzsche do? Does he give up all of this (indicates the diagram on the board)? No, he takes it and he tries to invert it. He keeps the notion of will. He keeps the fact that it's deeper than r[?/]. He keeps that it's framing the world, filtering. He keeps all of that, but he rejects a lot of the Kantian stuff. He rejects the Platonic stuff. He famously says, “I hate Socrates! He's so close to me, I'm always fighting him”. He's got this deep conflict with the Axial Revolution. Why? Because he comes up with this way of responding to the nihilism of Schopenhauer with the “Will To Power” (written under Nietzsche). It shares some features with somebody we'll talk about later, another important Cartesian thinker we're going to come back to, Spinoza - The notion of conatus. So the idea here (indicates the domino diagram) is that everything has a Will To Live. Here, for Nietzsche, everything has a Will To Power. Everything is pressing itself out. And the thing about Nietzsche is, he thinks that this is not just a feature of our minds. This is a feature of reality itself. That when we're…/ So Schopenhauer had the idea “when we're in touch with the will to live, we're actually in touch with that ‘driving force’”, because again, the most irrational part of us is the part that's in touch with reality. Then you get this Will To Power, this irrational, filtering, framing thing. But whereas here (Domino, Will To Live side) it's pessimistic because it's wearying and it's relentless and meaningless (makes a series of inward, withdrawing gestures), here Nietzsche says, “no, no! Turn it around. Stop! Stop being…” and this is going to be his point, “stop being so Christian! Stop thinking about all that negotiation as what's right! This will to power, this pre-Christian desire to extend and create and master oneself in the world (makes a series of grand, outward gestures), that's what we need!”. Because Nietzsche sees in it something, and there's a deep insight here! And if we're going to criticise Nietzsche and the postmodernists — I don't understand people who advocate for Nietzsche and criticise postmodernism! You've got to spend more time getting that working out together, right? — But Nietzsche sees something here. He sees a way of getting back something that was lost in this whole history (draws a big arrow from Will To Power and writes Self Transcendence and underlines it). How can we get self-transcendence?

Because Nietzsche tries to understand the Will To Power as exactly that desire from the Axial Revolution to transcend oneself, to go above oneself, to create beyond oneself (again, makes a series of grand, upward and outward gestures). And he had, his father was a Lutheran pastor. Hmmmm? So he understands Christianity in a totally Lutheran way: that Christianity is about suppressing this capacity for self transcendence. It's an unfair reading of Christianity - it certainly doesn't capture Neoplatonic Christianity! Nietzsche is deeply influenced by the Stoics and a lot of Axial-age thinkers and he's trying to bring it back, but he's blocked in some important ways by this Lutheran interpretation of Christianity. So Nietzsche says Christianity represses this (Self Transcendence), and that is why we suffer! But if we remove the Christian condemnation of this (Self Transcendence), then the pessimistic, world wearying, will to live becomes the active, creative act of self transcendence, and we can get back the meaning that was lost in the Meaning Crisis.

A Near Complete Model, Dangerously Thwarted By Self Deception

But, that's a very dangerous way to start thinking - in a lot of ways! Because here's my deepest critique of Nietzsche — and it's really hard to critique Nietzsche because he doesn't have a single voice! He has many voices and they undermine and criticise each other. It's maddening! And that's why, if anybody says they have sort of a single interpretation of Nietzsche, you have to really be careful and cautious about it, because reading Nietzsche is like reading the Bible - purposefully! He purposefully modelled himself… He wrote “Also sprach Zarathustra” to try and replace the Bible because he understood the role of myth and imagery and symbol, because he's still influenced by the Romantics! — But here's my criticism: See, Nietzsche gets this… He understands how self deceptive we are. He constantly is criticising human beings for being self deceptive, but he can't do anything about it! He can't do anything about it because he has reduced, in his mind…/ reason has gone through this Kantian thing, and this Cartesian thing, and reason is this logical framing thing. He's lost something! …because the problem for Nietzsche is you have self-transcendence without the machinery of dealing with self deception, because what's the machinery for dealing with self deception from the Platonic tradition that Nietzsche rejects? That's what Rationality really is. Rationality is ultimately about the set of psycho-technologies that afford self-transcendence by training you, skilfully, to overcome Self deception.

And because, although he is so aware of self deception because of this heritage (Will To Live diagram) and because he is so attracted to Self transcendence, there's a tragedy in Nietzsche — which is why I believe he was attracted to tragedy — because although he wants self-transcendence, he could not provide us with the machinery of overcoming self deception, other than endless critique, endless satire, endlessly undermining himself. He is honest. But he's not capable of the rationality that is actually the core of addressing self deception. And therefore he has a one sided model of Self-Transcendence enmeshed in a Will To Power. And that is going to be a very dangerous thing and we're going to take a look more at that when we take a look at more Pseudo-Religious Ideologies and how they drenched the World in post-Napoleonic blood next time.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.


Episode 23 Notes

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“there is no political solution”
from a song by The Police
"Spirits In The Material World"
There is no political solution
To our troubled evolution
Have no faith in constitution
There is no bloody revolution
We are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Our so-called leaders speak
With words they try to jail you
They subjugate the meek
But it's the rhetoric of failure
We are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Where does the answer lie?
Living from day to day
If it's something we can't buy
There must be another way
We are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world

The Police
The Police were an English rock band formed in London in 1977. For most of their history the line-up consisted of primary songwriter Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland. The Police became globally popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s

Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher and one of the central Enlightenment thinkers. Kant's comprehensive and systematic works in epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics have made him one of the most influential figures in modern Western philosophy

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a German philosopher and an important figure in German idealism. He is considered one of the fundamental figures of modern Western philosophy, with his influence extending to the entire range of contemporary philosophical issues, from aesthetics to ontology to politics, both in the analytic and continental tradition

Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary. Born in Trier, Germany, Marx studied law and philosophy at university. He married Jenny von Westphalen in 1843.

Gary Joseph Lachman, also known as Gary Valentine, is an American writer and musician. He came to prominence in the mid-1970s as the bass guitarist for rock band Blondie. Since the 1990s, Lachman has written full-time, often about mysticism and occultism.

The Lost Knowledge of the Imagination - Buy Here
The ability to imagine is at the heart of what makes us human. Through our imagination we experience more fully the world both around us and within us. Imagination plays a key role in creativity and innovation. Until the seventeenth century, the human imagination was celebrated.

John Locke
John Locke FRS was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the "Father of Liberalism".

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer and statesman. His works include: four novels; epic and lyric poetry; prose and verse dramas; memoirs; an autobiography; literary and aesthetic criticism; and treatises on botany, anatomy, and colour.

The Sorrows of Young Werther
The Sorrows of Young Werther is a loosely autobiographical epistolary novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. First published in 1774, it reappeared as a revised edition in 1787. It was one of the most important novels in the Sturm und Drang period in German literature, and influenced the later Romantic movement.
Book mentioned - The Sorrows Of Young Werther - Buy Here

Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist whose music ranks amongst the most performed of the classical music repertoire; he remains one of the most admired composers in the history of Western music. His works span the transition from the classical period to the romantic era in classical music.

William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age.

William Wordsworth was an English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their joint publication Lyrical Ballads.

Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher was a German theologian, philosopher, and biblical scholar known for his attempt to reconcile the criticisms of the Enlightenment with traditional Protestant Christianity.

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. Freud was born to Galician Jewish parents in the Moravian town of Freiberg, in the Austrian Empire.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, literary critic, philosopher and theologian who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. He also shared volumes and collaborated with Charles Lamb, Robert Southey, and Charles Lloyd.

Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher. He is best known for his 1818 work The World as Will and Representation, which characterizes the phenomenal world as the product of a blind and insatiable metaphysical will.

Nihilism refers to a number of different views in philosophy, all of which express some form of negation towards common philosophical concepts, such as knowledge, existence, or the meaning of life.

Nietzsche was a German philosopher, essayist, and cultural critic. His writings on truth, morality, language, aesthetics, cultural theory, history, nihilism, power, consciousness, and the meaning of existence have exerted an enormous influence on Western philosophy and intellectual history.

Richard Dawkins 
Richard Dawkins FRS FRSL is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and author. He is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, and was the University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008.

The Selfish Gene (passively referenced)
The Selfish Gene is a 1976 book on evolution by the biologist Richard Dawkins, in which the author builds upon the principal theory of George C. Williams's Adaptation and Natural Selection.
Book Mentioned - The Selfish Gene - Buy Here 

Postmodernism is a broad movement that developed in the mid- to late 20th century across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism, marking a departure from modernism. The term has been more generally applied to describe a historical era said to follow after modernity and the tendencies of this era.

The notion of conatus.
Conatus is a central theme in the philosophy of Benedict de Spinoza (1632–1677). According to Spinoza, "each thing, as far as it lies in itself, strives to persevere in its being" (Ethics, part 3, prop. ... 5); each thing, therefore, "is opposed to everything which can take its existence away" (Ethics, part 3, prop.)

Also sprach Zarathustra
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 is a tone poem by Richard Strauss, composed in 1896 and inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical 1883-1885 novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The composer conducted its first performance on 27 November 1896 in Frankfurt. A typical performance lasts half an hour.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None (German: Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen, also translated as Thus Spake Zarathustra) is a philosophical novel by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, composed in four parts written and published between 1883 and 1885

Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Additional Notes on Bevry

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