Ep. 33 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - The Spirituality of RR: Wonder/Awe/Mystery/Sacredness
(Sectioning and transcripts made by MeaningCrisis.co)
A Kind Donation
Welcome back to awakening from the meaning crisis. Last time I suppose I probably taxed your attention quite a bit because we got into, I tried to keep it as accessible as possible, as jargon free as possible, but we got into some of the nitty gritty of how we could potentially give a naturalistic explanation of Relevance Realization, and see it potentially in being implemented in terms of self-organized criticality and small world networks formation in the brain. And that that in turn could help us to understand general intelligence, insight and a lot of the functionality - and I was even arguing - a lot of the phenomenological aspects of consciousness. And that gives us reason to believe that we may be able to use this machinery to elegantly explain a lot of the central features of human spirituality. We've already seen that this Relevance Realization is Transjective; it’s about our fundamental connectedness. Connectedness to the world, connectedness with mind, body together. I'll have to come back to connectedness, to other people. That Relevance Realization is always deeply affective - that at the core of Relevance Realization is a caring that is integral to your cognitive commitment of your precious cognitive, metabolic and temporal resources. That we can see a lot of the stuff that Heidegger was talking about when he was trying to get us back to this primordial sense of meaning in the Transjectivity of Relevance Realization, and that that interpretation of Heidegger comes via Dreyfus and our being in the world.
The Phenomenology Of Relevance Realization
I want to pick up on that now. Instead of just being suggestive, I want to now try and carefully unpack what I want to call the phenomenology of Relevance Realization in terms of meaning making, the kind of meaning making that, ultimately, we have gathered together by the term “Spirituality. So let's gather what we've done. (Proceeds to list all the following on the board) Okay. So we had Problem Solving, and we went over this again in more detail last time. We have Insight, Categorization… all of these things seem to be pro…/ Demonstrative Reference; that's the Finsting, and we put that within the Salience Landscaping. Consciousness, and closely tied to it Working Memory (WM). And then tied to that of course, is (g) (General Intelligence). We’ve got Inference; that was the stuff with Cherniak. We've got Communication. All of this (draws convergence arrows from all of these) is feeding into Relevance Realization (R.R.). We could give a naturalistic, structural functional organization of it in terms of Self-Organizing Criticality (SOC) and Small World Networks (SWN), where these are understood to mean families of processes, and these are deeply related together (draws circular feedback arrows between SOC and SWN). And as I've said, we've already got that this is inherently a Transactive. We've got [that] this is an ongoing Evolving [and] Involving - that's what I'm trying to get with caring and participation and how [-] the knowhow is grounded in the situational awareness of Perspectival Knowing, that's grounded in the Participatory, Transjective coupling to the world. So it's this Evolving, Involving Optimization process of your Connectedness; your Fittedness to yourself, to the world, to other people in communication, for example.
All right. (Begins a list on the RIGHT side of the diagram - the post RR divergent side.) I’ve already given you an argument about how, via Complexification this gives us an account of our capacity for Self Transcendence, our capacity to produce emergent functions. And we saw that even connected with insight. And we can see that at work directly out of this now (Indicates SOC <=> SWN + (Naturalistic Account of RR)), why self-transcendence, the capacity for self-transcendence to overcom[e] self-deception is actually endemic to your meaning making machinery. In connection with that, of course, this would also explain - these two are related - your tremendous capacity for Self Deception, for bullshitting yourself! Because this has to do with, ultimately, your Salience Landscaping, et cetera. As I mentioned - and that's part of here (SOC <=> SWN +) - the Connectedness that's so central to people's sense of meaning in life - being connected to something that is in some sense greater than them, other than them in an important way, but to whom their identity is nevertheless coupled. I've tried to show you how it gives us a nice account of Perspectival Knowing and Participatory Knowing, and how these two can come together in Procedural Knowing - we'll talk a bit more about that - but the creating of affordances, we've talked multiple times how affordances are the obviation of a transjective relationship within which my skills, my capacity to solve problems, can be reliably trained and developed. [We] talked about, like I said, that this has an aspect of deep Caring in it, so you're going to find the sense of Significance here; this is something that you care about, you bind yourself to, you commit yourself to in a very important way. I already suggested, and I tried to give you that with the account, last time, of insight, how this can help explain what's going on in Altered States of Consciousness (ASC), while you're getting both a change in your salience landscaping, the change in your Relevance Realization machinery, how it can be altering your optimal grip. Optimal gripping is also a case of optimization that fits within this (SOC <=> SWN +), helped to explain our Higher States of Consciousness.
Now I want to start pointing out some other aspects of it that I think contribute to it being - how do I want to say this? - represented, understood, grasped as spiritual in nature. Let's take a look at some of the features of Relevance Realization that have come out of this argument. (Continuing the list on the RIGHT side of the diagram.) So these are all going to be ways in which we experience this as our Fundamental Framing of reality. But I…, [-] but that's good, but it has a sense of us standing outside! We're inside the framing. We are participating in it. Okay? It has to do with the framing is at the level of the Agent: Arena. It's not just looking out. It's the inclusive relationship. But I want to point to the fundamentality of this, what I would argue this as a way of interpreting what Heidegger means by the Primordiality of what he was talking about. I'll criticise Heidegger later - I have criticisms of him - but I'm also trying to point out how this work (indicates the entire board), which seems so technical in some sense, can be connected to some very, well, deeply existential and phenomenological philosophy.
The Fundamentality Of Spirituality
Okay, so first of all, the Fundamentality of this: So notice that this (RR) is ultimately Pre-conceptual in nature (adds Pre-conceptual to the list, off of Fundamental Framing). It has to be because it's below your level of propositional processing: In order to have concepts, you have to categorize (left side). In order to categorize, you have to have Relevance Realization. Also, in order to categorize, you have to first have demonstrative reference (also left side), which is pure pre-conceptual Relevance Realization… So this (Fundamental Framing) is ultimately pre-conceptual in a deep way. And in that important sense, it’s ultimately Pre-Propositional. If what we mean by belief - and it's often what we mean by belief - is the assertion of propositions and their implications, then Relevance Realization is taking place at a level fundamentally deeper than the level of belief. Now, you understand that I'm not proposing that this is just a bottom up process!! Of course, how we conceptualise things and how we have beliefs about things feeds back down! That's why all those diagrams have feedback down arrows in them. But, we're talking about belief ultimately as an effect, it feeds back and effects, but it is ultimately have an effect of Relevance Realization because, of course, this fundamental framing is Pre-Inferential in a deep way because inference [(indicates bottom of the list on the left)]. It's Pre-Communication. That means you can…/ “oh well, I learned this from other people!” Well, no, you can’t! There's a sense in which you can refine it from other people, but you can't ultimately learn it from other people because (indicates left side of the diagram) learning presupposes it! Being able to pay attention to your mother and pick up on how she's communicating with you and make inferences from that so that you start to categorize the world and figure out that this is a bottle presupposes this (RR). And that points to something else: this is Pre-Experiential. Not in the sense that it's happening to you before you have, like, in some previous life! What I mean is that your meaningfully structured experience, the level of common sense obviousness is a result of it. It [is] not generate[d] it by the level of common sense, obvious, meaningful world. It is generated…/ that world (SOC <=> SWN +) is generated out of Relevance Realization being coupled to the environment. So it is pre-experiential.
It is Pre-Egoic - I think in some important ways it's also Post-Egoic, but I'll come back to that - because your agency and the world as an arena in which you have a narratively structured, reliably acting ego, emerges - these co-emerge out of Relevance Realization. That's why they are primordially connected together in Participatory Knowing. So Relevance Realization is Pre-Egoic. By the time you have ‘you’ in a ‘commonsensically’, obviated world of meaningful objects and situations, Relevance Realization has already done a tremendous, tremendous amount of work. So it's Pre-Egoic. It's Pre-Normative, and that's gonna, “Oooooh!!!” some people are not going to like that. Let me… I’m got to qualify that! It's Pre-Normative in the sense that it's your primordial normativity. Before you can assess truth, things have to be meaningful to you. Before you can assess beauty, they have to be aspectualized for you. Before you can assess goodness, you have to have agency and arena. This makes possible your normative judgments as to what is true, what is good and what is beautiful! I'm not saying that those judgments are reducible. That's ridiculous! I'm not saying that, but I'm saying this is primordial to them. That was part of what I think Heidegger was going on about.
So, what I want to talk about now is doing a little bit more of filling out… Putting all of this together (indicates all of the right side of the diagram). Notice how much this points to aspects of human spirituality. You have self-transcendence but you also have foolishness. You have the connectedness, you have the perspectival and participatory knowing you have the co-creation, the co-emergence, the core determination of the agent: arena. You have the core binding together of your agency, your caring and your cognition. Think about Plato. It helps to explain the association of altered States of consciousness and especially higher States of consciousness with human spirituality and notice a lot of the features that, you know, that our spirit is somehow it's deeper, it's deep! Like we have all these deepness metaphors and profundity metaphors, because, well, look what I'm showing you: that it's deeper than your ego, it’s deeper than your judgements of truth, goodness and beauty. It's deeper than your propositional thinking. It's deeper than your conceptualisation. The way that can be spoken of is not the way! It is pre-inferential. It is pre-communication. It is pre-experiential. It is a fundamental grounding of your being and you're being connected because I'm arguing that those are one and the same.
Religio And “The Joy Of Secularism”
A lot of what is captured by your spirituality is captured by this, the way this machinery unfolds phenomenologically, prospectively, in a participatory fashion. There's these aspects of this that [are] therefore, in a fundamental sense, unconscious, but there are deep aspects of this in our consciousness and there are deep aspects in this, in how our cognition and our consciousness are connected to the world. I want to use a term here, and then I'm going to develop it, for the whole right hand side. I want a term for all of this (gesturing and flinging his arms in a semi-organised fashion at the board). So that I don't have to keep just gesturing and flinging my arms in a semi-organised fashion at the board. I'm going to use a term here. I'm going to use the term Religio, and I'm using it deliberately. Let me explain why! First of all, as soon as you see that many of you are hearing “Religion”, but I'm not using the word religion, I'm using the word Religio, but I want the associations with religion, nevertheless, to be there. Religio is one of the purported etymological origins of the word religion: ‘religare’, which means to read back - which is importantly similar. This (Religio) means to bind together, to bind together, to connect. So it obviously is pointing to this (RR), but it carries with it many of these aspects (right side of the diagram); the primordiality, the fundamental framing of Relevance Realization and all of this machinery. So when I invoke Religio, I am basically invoking the right hand of this diagram. So Religio is in that sense, I'm using the term, I'm using it in a spiritual sense but…/ okay! So the thing here, you know, Paul Vanderclay would probably say that this is a word that fudges ‘spiritual’ and I don't want to be fudging! I am trying to specify how I'm using this word in detail and in organization. Religio is… I'm using it in a spiritual sense, [in] the sense of a pre-egoic, ultimately a post-egoic, binding that simultaneously grounds the self and its world.
Now I want to pick up on that, and pick up on the evolving, involvement, caring, participant… like all of this (right side of the diagram). And I want to read you a couple of quotes from an article by Paolo Costa in a book called the joy of secularism. He has a fantastic article there called “A Secular Wonder”, and he wants to try and explain what's going on in wonder - and think about wonder; think about how it's pointing towards the insight, the sense of opening up, but also the connectedness, how it’s perspectival and participatory, how it involves your caring, how it often can merge with awe and altered States and potentially higher States!
So wonder is central, right? But notice [-] the machinery he uses to explain wonder, this is a quote: “The very ordinary fact that things always matter...” and he puts [matter] in quotes “…in some way or other to us, and that we cannot help but be affected by things as if we were immersed in a sort of bubble of meaningfulness…” Notice it's the Relevance Realization, how things matter to us, and he uses the word matter because it's that importance, that constitutive kind of Relevance Realization and we're immersed in it. (Indicates SOC <=> SWN + on the board) We're immersed in it. “…we were immersed in sort of a bubble of meaningfulness, or better in an atmosphere of significance…” an atmosphere of significance (points at the board) “…an import…” notice the word import is already here! “…that we do not create from scratch…” We do not create it, but are absorbed by! “…the metaphor of the atmosphere should see that it's not only the image of a global container, but also of a rhythm of breathing…” breathing (indicates SOC <=> SWN +) - the compression and particularization, the generalisation and the [-] specialisation, the assimilation and the accommodation… The breathing are the lifeblood of our spirit. “…The metaphor of the atmosphere should [see that it’s] not only the image of a global container, but also that of a rhythm of breathing and of a light refraction…” it's doing Relevance Realization!!! It's refracting the light, structuring the intelligibility!! “…to which a living being must…” listen to this word, “…must attune or adjust herself.” All the Participatory Knowing! This is from somebody who's commenting on secularism!
He goes on to point out there's a central consequence of what he calls a ‘bubble of significance’. This is another quote, “The experience of having a world…” hear the Heidegger in here? “…has its roots, not in a head on and focused relationship with a clearcut object…” it is not something that we have as a focal object, something that we can objectify with an ‘I: it’ conceptualisation “…the experience of having a world has its roots, not in a head on and focused relationship with a clearcut object, but in the emergence of a bubble of significance that for a Sentient Being plays the same role that is played by the atmosphere with regard to the earth.” You participate in the atmosphere; you contribute to it, but you emerge from it and you did not make it. “…It creates, that is, ‘special’ conditions of life where existentially crucial distinctions between inside and outside are drawn.” That primordial ground makes all the distinctions between the inner and the outer possible for us. The Transjectivity is deeper than our subjectivity and our objectivity because the constitution of subjectivity and objectivity require all of this machinery (indicates the left side of the diagram).
Wonder And Awe
He then goes on to argue that because we aren't aware of the atmosphere in a focal, objectified way - I mean, as a perceptually focalised object, I don't mean as an object of thought, right? - he then goes on to argue that “The atmospheric nature of the bubble of significance means that we don't experience it as a focal object, but through non-focal states such as…” and here's the point of his article “…wonder and awe.” Or, I would add, their opposites, which we'll talk about later, absurdity and horror. So wonder is that state in which we become aware in a Participatory and Perspectival way, not in a focal way, but in a Perspectival and Participatory way of the significance (indicates middle section of the diagram on the board) and our involvement and our indebtedness to, and our participation from, and our committedness to the atmosphere of Relevance Realization.
One is tempted here - and I'm worried here about being sacrilegious, so I’m using this analogously, please! But the analogy is meant to be a strong one also - this ‘atmosphere’…/ you see what Costa is doing here? He's invoking [-] what Saint Paul said “God is in whom we live and move and have our being”. I'm not claiming that Relevance Realization is God, that's ridiculous. I'm not doing that. But what I'm saying is [that] wonder and awe - which are often directed towards things like God - are ways that Costa is arguing in which we disclose the Relevance Realization and it's spiritual significance to us (indicates central and right side of the diagram respectively), the way in which within it, we live and move and have our being. Again, this is from a person who is trying to articulate a secular sense of spirituality.
Now, somebody who is aligned with this, but I don't think is secular, is the masterful work by Robert Fuller on Wonder. His book on Wonder (called “Wonder: From Emotion To Spirituality”) is just a fantastic book, and he also argues how central wonder is! Now what’s interesting [is] he does two things that align with this (Religio) so well, and I highly recommend this book [-] because it's a book “From Emotion To Spirituality”, and what he argues, what Fuller argues, is that of course wonder is responsible for some of our deepest spiritual experiences, our deepest experiences, of what I'm calling Religio. But he does that by precisely explaining the fundamental functionality of things like wonder. See wonder is basically in the Being mode where curiosity is in the Having mode. And curiosity - now I'm using these terms in their prototypical senses! We use these terms in various slippery fashions, so I'm not claiming that every time we use the word wonder, [that] every time we use the word curiosity… but I'm talking about the kind of wonder that can overlap very readily and prototypically with awe, and I'm talking about the kind of curiosity that overlaps prototypically with our solving our problems and are manipulating the world in a way that we find powerful and efficacious. See, and again, remember what I said, and it's not the one mode is good and the other mode is bad, but you've got curiosity within the having mode, and that's great! Right? Because curiosity is problem solving. It's focused, it has a focal object. Curiosity is directed: “What is that? What does that do? How does that work?” Wonder is (big gasp!!! Arms outstretched) it's non-focal, it's the opening up. It's the awe, it's the sense of the atmosphere. It's the perspectival and participatory sense of (gasping again) “Oh! Oh! Ahhh!” And what Fuller argues is - and he makes use of [-] people like Fredrickson and others - it’s this emotion, the point of wonder is, if curiosity gets you to focus in on specific features of the world, specific objects, wonder tries to get you to participate in the gestalt, the whole, how does it all fit together? Awe pushes you towards on opening, an ongoing accommodation, a sense of the inexhaustibleness, the combinatorial explosive nature of reality and the ongoing, evolving adaptability of your Relevance Realization to that explosive potential within reality itself. That's what wonder does. Wonder isn't about solving a problem. Wonder is about remembering Sati, your Being, by putting you deeply in touch - notice the language - in touch with Religio.
Now, that brings me to another aspect that overlaps with the primordiality, or what I'm calling the Fundamentality, the Fundamental Framing. But [-] think about how wonder gives you something like Da'ath again, it gives you the sense of participating, emerging from, co-creating with, the ongoing course of your world. Not as a story though! But something you can talk about with a story, like we talk about evolution as a story, but it isn't itself a story, it's grounded in something deeper. So, Wonder, Awe… It’s not about solving problems. Remember the Having mode is about solving problems, the Being mode is about confronting a Mystery. Okay, I’m going to take it that this (diagram) has been now etched into your brain, and I am going to [-] rely on the word Religio to invoke all of the right side and the fact that [that] is dependent on the argument that came from the left side as well (wipes the board clean). So think about, wonder, think about awe (writes these on the board, Awe above Wonder) and what we've been talking about and this remembering of the Being mode - which is so central to spirituality, right? So that's another aspect of this. Okay, so think about this (Awe) as Accommodation, that ‘opening up’, [-] when I accommodate, I come to know something by how I am transformed in order to come into contact with it, and in [-] my self-knowing of how I've changed and [-] the disclosure, my realization of that, what that is, are bound together. Like prototypically, when you're in love with somebody, Da’ath. Okay, so this is accommodation and it's in the being mode (underlines accommodation and adds Being mode), you're remembering Sati. And in the Being mode, you're confronting a mystery (adds mystery, off of Being mode). Do you remember, [we] talked about Marcel's idea about how a mystery - and notice the machine - we’ve got (draws a little box), here's how I framed my problem, and then I realized - there's a kind of insight - that my, so there's an insight that “Oh, that framing is, it's problematic!” And I moved to a more encompassing frame (draws another slightly bigger box around the first), and “Oh, no!” And then what starts to happen is (draws yet another encompassing box with an arrow going from inside the first box to the outer box), [Gasp!!], I'm opening up, “Ahhhhh”, right? I'm opening up, and my insight goes from a reframing to a transframing, because I stopped having insights about my focal problem [and] I start getting an insight, not about just the problem or the world, I also - remember of the sensibility transcendence; I'm also getting an insight into the inadequacies of my style of framing, my way of framing - I'm getting a trans-framing happening.
You get this Trajectory Of Transframing. It doesn't stabilise, and that's the point! It can't land on a focal object! All it's disclosing in the trajectory of transforming is the machinery of Religio. And yet you find that - like flow - you find that deeply meaningful. To a point. If it's pushed too far it becomes deeply meaningful in a negative sense, of horror. Now think about this. Think about how - and we have to be really careful here - I want to talk about the mystery of Religio (writes Religio off of mystery). But I need to make a distinction here and it’s a distinction I've discussed before, but let's go over it very carefully. There's a distinction between something being a phenomenological mystery and it being something that I can not theoretically explain. To equivocate them is to equivocate between Propositional and Perspectival Knowing, for example, and we should not equivocate between them because they're not identical. So for example, it is phenomenologically impossible for me to Perspectively know what it is like to be dead, because whenever I try to conjure up a frame (indicates the smallest, central box in the diagram), “Oh, I'm in a dark room! But wait, I'm still there in the dark room. There's the hereness and the nowness… Oh well, then I'm nowhere! Well, then I'm just an empty…!” No matter what I do, I can't get a framing that has within it my own non-existence, perspectively. But that is not proof that I'm immortal. It is not proof that I've existed for all time. Of course not. That's ridiculous! That's a mistake. That's an equivocation. So when I'm talking about mystery, I'm not talking automatically…/ you need an additional argument. You need an additional argument to go from phenomenological mystery to the claim of theoretical inexplicability. They do not follow because they are not identical for the deep reason that Propositional and Perspectival Knowing are not identical. That is an equivocation.
So I'm talking about a phenomenological mystery here. Well, what is at the core of Religio? Well, the death example actually points to something more primordial! It points to the fact that I can never make a focal object of my framing, my capacity for Relevance Realization. I mean, Perspectively. What I mean by that is whenever I am thinking or doing anything, [-] it's always framed because if I'm unframed, I'm facing combinatorial explosion, which is not intelligible to me. So whatever I'm thinking of is inside the frame (draws another little frame/box). But what is precisely not inside the frame is the framing process (draws a little arrow connecting to the frame/box). So here's the frame, or here's the framed - even better! (Writes framed inside the box.) And here's the framing (the arrow), and what's not in there is the framing! “OH!!!” you say, “Oh, what I'll do is I'll do this. (Draws a bigger frame around the framing + framed diagram, encompassing it all) HAHA! That was easy, John!!! HAAA, John! I got you! That was easy!!!” NO! You didn't get me because (changes Framing to another Framed and draws another arrow outside the bigger box, connecting to it) what's outside here still is… what is framing that? You cannot have this… You can't have it as a focal object. It is mysterious. It is phenomenologically mysterious. James pointed to this in a wonderful distinction between the I and the Me (I: Me). These are the aspects of you that you can bring into view. “Well, who am I? Well, I'm John Vervaeke and this is what I look like” - here's an image in my mind - and what's not there is whatever it is that's generating that name and that image. And then I go deeper and say, “Ah, but here's the part [-] that was generating the part that was… (gesticulates a regression)” [-] I can never see - and the pun again, right!? - “I can never see the I, I’m always seeing by means of the I”. It is phenomenologically mysterious to [us], but it doesn't mean that I'm unaware of it. I always have - to use older language, from the course I mean - I always have a subsidiary awareness. I'm always aware through my “I” of my “me”. I'm always aware through my framing of my framed. I'm not completely out of touch with it. It is not inaccessible to me, but I cannot focalised it. I can not make it a focal object. I cannot frame it. The machinery of Relevance Realization is in that sense, deeply phenomenologically mysterious to me. It doesn't mean I can't talk about it theoretically. I've just been doing it! But it has a deep phenomenological mystery to me! The fact that it grounds, it makes possible my subjectivity and the objectivity, where what I mean by that is things constellated into objects that we can make inferences about, et cetera (writes subjectivity and objectivity on the board and triangulates them with RR transjectivity). I can't use the grammar of subjects and objects, subjects and predicates, conceptual categories to talk about this (RR transjectivity) in the sense of exemplifying it! I can use words to talk about it in the sense of pointing to it, but I can't produce it in subjective and objective categories precisely because the whole argument points towards its transactive nature. Again, that only [-] makes it phenomenologically mysterious. It doesn't make it a theoretical inexplicability.
I can… look, you cannot confuse properties of your theory with properties of what your theory is about. If I have a theory of light, it itself isn't light! If I have a theory of war, my theory isn't itself an instance of war. If I have a theory of gravity, my theory isn’t itself generating gravity! My theory of vagueness doesn't itself have to be vague! In fact, my theory of vagueness should be clear. My theory doesn't have to exemplify what it's talking about, and there are cases where it cannot exemplify what it is talking about. But that doesn't mean I can't talk about what I'm talking about. It has to be that I have to understand the limitations that are given by the differences between the kinds of Knowing and also the ways in which I can and cannot bridge between these kinds of Knowing.
So there's something deeply phenomenologically mysterious. And in that mystery, the mystery opens up an affordance of a trajectory of transframing that allows us to participate in, perspectively, the kind of wonder and awe of Religio. You can get into something very much like a transjective trajectory flow state in which we are basically celebrating, in flow, our participation in Religio. And we do this, I would argue, for the very good reason that to make significant, to reflect upon, to celebrate and enact Religio is to fundamentally enhance our agency, the disclosure of the world and our connectedness to it. And what else could be more valuable to us? What else could be more valuable to us? (Board is wiped clean.)
The Sacred and Sacredness
So I think there is now a major objection that could be levelled against the argument that I am building. And I take this objection very seriously. This is the argument that, “Yes, John, I will grant you [that] with Costa there's all kinds of wonderful, spiritual, meaningful things on this side. And you're capturing a lot about mystery and self-transcendence and also the negative capacity of bullshitting ourselves and reciprocal narrowing and falling into despair and addiction. That you're capturing all of that! I'll grant you all of that. Perhaps you're not, but just for the sake of the argument… So I'm granting you all of that…” But there's still something missing that I think is central to how I use the word spirituality and what I would say [is] missing from Religio that's found in religion is to confront The Sacred (writes The Sacred on the board). I'm trying to use a term as neutral as possible here because it's unclear, I think, if we should apply the term divinity, for example, to the Buddhist notion of Śūnyatā or the Taoists notion of the Tao. I don't think calling it divine is a plausible interpretation. Whereas God is divine, I don't think you should call the Tao divine, but the Tao is clearly sacred in an important way. And I think for many versions of Buddhism the Śūnyatā has a kind of important kind of sacredness. So the thing here is there's two things we have to talk about and we have to talk about them carefully; keep them distinct, but also show how they're connected (writes The Sacred and Sacredness on the board). So The Sacred is typically when we want some account of the metaphysics of what grounds our experience of sacredness. So this is basically a metaphysical proposal (writes this under The Sacred). A standard Western proposal - although I've already given you an indication that it's not universal; it’s not in things like Buddhism or Taoism - is that the sacred[-] is grounded, the metaphysical proposal is grounded in being supernatural in some sense, and of course that's a very loaded term (adds Supernatural under metaphysical proposal). I'm going to use it in the way I've argued for in this video series, something that is historically constructed, running through people like Aquinas and beyond.
[-] So [that] is the metaphysical proposal, and then you ultimately have a psycho-existential proposal over here (writes psycho-existential proposal under Sacredness) which is… well, this is what it's like to experience sacredness. This distinction comes to the fore, for example, historically - and there's so many people, right? I wish I could talk about more. I need, you know, I need three more series!! But if I tried to run this for 150 episodes, my crew would kill me and then, then there'd be a tragedy! They’d end up in jail! It would just be a mess!! So I'm going to stick to the 50, right? - But [these] proposal[s], pulling these apart, you find this, of course, prototypically, in the work of Schleiermacher where he puts aside this proposal (The Sacred/Metaphysical Proposal) because it's coming into serious disrepute because of the advent of the scientific revolution, and he shifts towards, “well, but what's the psychological, existential experience of sacredness?” and his proposal that it's the experience of absolute dependence coupled, I would argue, with things like wonder and awe. But that distinction came to the fore in work by Schleiermacher. And you can see a lot of theological debate, I would argue - I can't do the argument here - but you could see [a lot of the] theological debate as the debate between a side that wants to emphasise sacredness and a side that wants to emphasise the sacred.
So I want to talk about this (Psycho-Existential Proposal), but I want to talk about this in a way that reflects back on that (Metaphysical Proposal). Why do I start here (Psycho-Existential Proposal)? I start here because, of course, I've argued that Religio is exactly a psycho existential. Very powerfully read this though (underlines existential boldly). This has to do with modal, with the Being mode, it has to do with your modal existence. It has to do with transjectivity, it has to do with primordiality. You have to read this in a deeply Heideggerian sense, but that's what I mean… And psycho (underlines also) meaning having to do with cognitive processing, all the kinds of knowing, your embodiment, your ‘embededness’… So reading psycho - psychological - in also a very comprehensive way. But I'm clearly arguing that Religio [is going] on here (psycho-existential properties). So first of all, I should start here because that's where I'm starting from (Sacredness). And I want to talk about Sacredness within a psycho-existential sense. And then if I can, if - because I’ve already done this (Religio); [I’ve] ground this in RR (writes RR beside Religio), Relevance Realization - then I'm going to make proposals about what this (indicates Metaphysical Proposal & Supernatural) tells us about the kinds of constraints that are available to us in our metaphysical proposal. And I'm going to propose an alternative to this (again indicates Metaphysical Proposal & Supernatural) which I imagine will be controversial, but I hope that the controversy will be constructive rather than merely adversarial. All right, [-] I'm going to start here (Psycho-Existential) and I'm trying to be honest with you, I'm trying to be clear about what I'm trying to do. I'm not trying…/ I don't want to be shuffling any cards from the bottom of the deck here. Right. I'm trying to be as upfront as I possibly can be. Of course I'm not unbiased, or any kind of magical claim like that, but I'm trying my best to put the machinery that I'm aware of using and that I'm deliberately putting into play out front so that we can talk about this as clearly, and as honestly as possible. (Cleans board.)
Okay. So let's talk about Sacredness as a psycho-existential thing. And where I want to start is in the machinery of the agent: arena relationship (writes agent - arena on the board). And I want to bring back the work of Geertz, and we talked about the work of Brian Walsh and we talked about this when we talked about domicide, and domicide as the loss of something. And this points to a very central feature of sacredness, that is so, so central that we can… it’s so backgrounded that we can, I think inappropriately, trivialise it. But remember [-] how disastrous domicide is, remember what happens if you actually experienced domicide: if [-] I fling you into another culture and you experienced deep culture shock, or I isolate you in solitary confinement. Okay. So that deep loneliness, that deep homesickness, that deep cultural shock, that's domiciled. And so part of sacredness, Geertz argues, part of sacredness is ‘to home the world’. That’s… I mean, I understand why he puts it [that way], but it's not homing the world, it's homing us and the world together. Right? [-] We are homed into the world and the world homes around us very much like Costa’s atmospheric bubble. So this is the idea that one of the functions of sacredness is what Geertz called a Meta-Meaning Function. Now he talks about this in his work on religion, but he's definitely in the Schleiermacher side of things. So this is not inappropriate for me to do it this way. And this is something that fits in with our argument very well. Geertz argues - and be careful here because people jump…/ - he argues that religion isn't a system of meaning - “Ooooooooh no!!!” Okay, wait, wait! He thinks it's a system of Meta-Meaning. So, whatever distinct meaning systems we make - here's a legal system, here's a moral system, here's a fashion system, here's an entertainment system - we have all these meaning systems, but notice the argument that we've already made: those are all dependent on the primordiality of the transjective relationship between the agent and the arena. If that relationship doesn't hold, none of those other systems can work, which is why when, if you go to another culture and you don't go through the participatory transformation, right? If you don’t, and you're just experiencing culture shock - domicide - the agent arena relationship isn't in place! Then none of those other meaning systems can work for you. There'll be absurd. They won't make sense. That's what he means by it being a Meta-Meaning system. What it does, he argued, [is] that religion - I would argue what the experience of sacredness is because, again, the word religion fudges between, ‘are we talking about the Schleiermachian sense’, or are we talking about ‘the Metaphysical Referent’? Okay? So, remember, I'm pulling these apart to try and avoid that confusion. So, but what Geertz is talking about here is that if you don't have that (agent/arena), that none of your individual meaning systems work, and ‘religion’, in the sense of the experience, the cultural and individual experience of sacredness, is what gives us the Meta-Meaning system that protects us from domicide. It protects us from the horrors and the absurdities of domicide. So one of the functions of sacredness is the Meta-Meaning process of homing us against horror (Meta-Meaning => Sacredness => Homing Against Horror) where horror would be to be overwhelmed by loneliness. Would be overwhelmed by homesickness, cultural shock and a tremendous sense of alienation, absurdity, and anxiety.
Now that's important! I think that's a very important function of sacredness. What we do when we go into a sacred setting, is we play with Meta-… We have psycho-technologies - and I'll come back and give a [-] clear definition as we work that out, of a psycho-technology - but we have psycho-technologies that allow us to do this serious play with sacredness so that we are constantly being homed against horror. And of course, many of you are aware of all the research showing that people that belong to religious communities or spiritual pathways are much more resilient in the face of the tragedies and horrors of life. That's a reliable finding. [-] You have to seriously consider the other costs, but one of the ways in which you can improve your capacity to make your way through the world is to be committed to a spiritual community and a spiritual path. And presumably it also has a history behind it. It has institutions, et cetera, and that would make it, more prototypically, like a religion. Again, you know me by now, I'm not advocating for a nostalgic return to religion! I'm trying to point out, though, the functionality. So, Worldview Attunement (adds this: Meta-Meaning => Sacredness => Homing Against Horror=>Worldview Attunement). Homing us against horror. Remember Costa even used the word attune in there. That's definitely a function of [Sacredness]. [This is definitely a function of sacredness.]
Now here's where I want to criticise Geertz. I think that while this is definitely an important part of…/ [-] I think that there is a mistake if we think that sacredness can be reduced to, or identified solely with, the machinery of Worldview Attunement and homing us against horror. It's very plausible to me that this is a necessary feature of sacredness, but I do not think it is a sufficient feature. So if we go back to Hellenistic domicide, if you remember, we talked about the different kinds of responses. There was syncretism, and then there was things like stoicism and the remembering of the being mode. But there was also Gnosticism. And Gnosticism keeps reverberating, right? It keeps reverberating through everything we're doing here! And Gnosticism, of course, is a way of trying to awaken us to the primordiality of, and the mystery in some important sense, of Religio. That's definitely what's going on, but there's something interesting about the Gnostics and that's the element that Decoda emphasised: that the trajectory of transframing is ultimately understood as transgressive. It's trying to overturn the grammar of a worldview. It is transgressive in a deep, deep sense. And I think that that points towards something else that the sacred does for us. And this goes towards the work of Otto - deeply influenced by Kant! I hope you see how, in a way, my work is deeply influenced by Kant, also by Hegel.
But Otto, in his book, which [has] translated the idea of The Holy - [a] very bad translation! Many people argue [that] a better translation would be something like the experience of the Numinous, because Otto's argument is precisely [that] this notion (Holy) has become very clouded for us. Okay. It is plausibly related to notions of wholeness and completeness. There's probably connections to words like health which people wouldn't automatically think of. But we know that people typically think about this connected now in terms of a moral term or righteousness (writes both health and moral righteousness off of Holy on the board). But this association (health) says “well, something else is going on here!!” Again, the etymologies are contested. Of course, with a word like that (Holy)!! We know that this (Holy) is also weirdly associated with this (Glory), and I mentioned this before: glory; the “glory of God”, which is the predicate most often applied to him in the old Testament. And that's not a moral term.
So what we've got to get to is what's going on here in this experience of the Holy (circles Holy with Health, Moral Righteousness and Glory coming off it) and Otto created this term, the Numinous - picked up of course, by Jung - to describe what the original, the primordial experience of the numinous is. Before all of these (circled terms), but what this (Glory) is most pointed towards. A little bit of this (Health), not so much this (moral righteousness). What the numinous is, is the fundamental experience.
And here's what I'm going to talk about next time: that the experience of the numinous is ultimately to experience the transgressive side of the sacredness, how it opens us up in wonder and awe, and even takes us to the horizon of horror.
Thank you very much for your time and attention.
Episode 33 - Notes
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Christopher Cherniak is an American neuroscientist, a member of the University of Maryland Philosophy Department.
Paul Vanderclay / Vanderklay?
"Paolo Costa [contributing to] a book called the joy of secularism"
Book Mentioned:The Joy of Secularism - by George Levine - Buy Here
He has a fantastic article there called a secular wonder: (PDF) A Secular Wonder | Paolo Costa - Academia.edu
Book Mentioned: Robert Fuller; his book on Wonder - Buy Here
"Marcel's idea about how a mystery…"
Marcel argued that scientific egoism replaces the "mystery" of being with a false scenario of human life composed of technical "problems" and "solutions".
Book Mentioned: The Mystery of Being: Reflection and Mystery - Buy Here
The Mystery of Being contains the most systematic exposition of the philosophical thought of Gabriel Marcel, a convert to Catholicism and the most distinguished ...
"James pointed to this in a wonderful distinction between the I and the me (I: Me)"
William James was an American philosopher and psychologist, and the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States. James is considered to be a leading thinker of the late nineteenth century, one of the most influential philosophers of the United States, and the "Father of American psychology".
Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher was a German Reformed theologian, philosopher, and biblical scholar known for his attempt to reconcile the criticisms of the Enlightenment with traditional Protestant Christianity.
Clifford James Geertz was an American anthropologist who is remembered mostly for his ... Worldview and the Analysis of Sacred Symbols", writing that "the drive to make sense out of experience, to give it form and order, is evidently as real…
Brian J. Walsh serves as the Christian Reformed Church chaplain to the University of Toronto. With Richard J. Middleton, he wrote The Transforming Vision and Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be
Book Mentioned: Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be - Buy Here
“there's something interesting about the Gnostics and that's the element that Decoda emphasized”
Decoda - ??
Rudolf Otto was an eminent German Lutheran theologian, philosopher, and comparative religionist. He is regarded as one of the most influential scholars of religion in the early twentieth century and is ...
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