Ep. 37 – Awakening from the Meaning Crisis – Reverse Engineering Enlightenment: Part 2
(Sectioning and transcripts made by MeaningCrisis.co)
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Welcome back to Awakening from the Meaning Crisis. So last time we were taking a look at a proposal that we could now understand the sacred that which causes the experience of sacredness in terms of a transjective inexhaustibility and kind of deep Anagoge between the no-thingness of your ever evolving Relevance Realization and it’s mysterious depths and the no-thingness of reality that is ultimately combinatorially explosive and dynamically changing itself.
And that we can acknowledge the important role of the symbolic. The way it helps us to engage and activate the primordial aspects of Religio and go through processes of re-exaptation causing new emergent abilities so that as we are opening up the world, we are also opening up ourselves in response to that. But I cautioned against confusing indispensability – your own, or our collective, at times, indispensability with any kind of claims of metaphysical necessity or an absolute essence.And that was part of the larger critique that relevance can’t have an absolute essence. And therefore we shouldn’t think of the sacred ultimately as a supernaturally endowed, absolutely essential form of relevance.
So I then proposed to you that part of what we saw, at least the experience of sacredness doing was helping to facilitate the higher order Relevance Realization, that meta-realization between homing us against Domicide, the meta-assimilation, but also causing us to confront the numinous, the meta-accommodation.So the sacred is doing that. But I also proposed that we needed to look at this more deeply. We needed to look at how the sacred helps us address perennial problems. So that took us into opening up and becoming a little bit more analytic about the Meaning Crisis.
There’s two components to the Meaning Crisis. There are the historical factors, which we traced in detail at the beginning of the first half of the series. And an issue that is now one we need to focus on: the perennial problems, because, in some sense, the experience of sacredness, the attempt to activate, accentuate, accelerate, articulate, and appreciate Religio should address our perennial problems. The perennial problems are, of course, perennial because the very machinery of Religio that makes us adaptive also makes us perpetually vulnerable to self-deceptive, self-destructive behavior.
Most cultures cultivate an ecology of psycho-technologies, typically in the form of a religion for addressing the perennial problems. But that set of psycho-technologies has to be fitted into a legitimizing and sustaining worldview. In some sense, the psycho-technologies have to be integrated with sacredness. What’s of course, happening for us is – and we’ll come back to this in more detail – here, the historical factors have undermined that possibility for us. Undermined the experience of sacredness, all of the ways in which we can cultivate an ecology of psycho-technologies for enhancing Religio because we do not have a world view within which that project of meaning making, self-transcendence, the cultivation of wisdom, the affordance of higher states of consciousness, the realization of gnosis… We do not have a worldview that legitimates or encourages that. And so, people are forced, as I said, to cobble together in a dangerously autodidactic fashion, their own personal responses to perennial problems without traditions, guidance, communities, well-worked out sets of practices, well-vetted, well-developed. And so that means they’re often bereft when they face the perennial problems.
So responding to the Meaning Crisis has two components to it. And that’s why I call it ‘awakening’ from the Meaning Crisis, because it has not only the response of trying to rearticulate a new worldview in which the projects of enhancing Religio again, gets validation, is properly situated, encouraged, facilitated, legitimated, et cetera. But we also need to understand what the set of practices the ecology of psycho-technology would look like that would allow us to address the perennial problems. And I’m proposing that the scientific account of Relevance Realization and Religio – and I’ve already tried to give you some illusions to that. We’re going to come back to it full force – will give us a way of articulating a worldview in which we can resituate the project of meaning making. And of course the linchpin of that argument is the idea that at the core of the meaning making is Relevance Realization and Relevance Realization can be given a naturalistic explanation. One that, hopefully, still does full justice to the experience of sacredness.
But I want to concentrate, as we began last time, on the perennial problems because ultimately that’s the final thing. If I come up with a historical response and it does not actually afford the addressing of the perennial problems that helps people to ameliorate and perhaps alleviate the perennial problems, then this project has failed. So we need to start discussing the perennial problems and developing this thesis more extensively – that the very machinery that makes us adaptive makes us susceptible to self-deceptive, self-destructive patterns of behavior.
Different Aspects Of Religio
So we talked about looking at some of the core features of Religio, right? So we’ve got functional features (writes Functional – Self-organization) (Fig. 1), and here we have, of course, self-organization and I tried to develop that very explicitly. It’s not just vague self-organization it’s opponent processing. Opponent processing that’s making use of self-organizing criticality, the relationship between compression, particularization, and other such tradeoff relationships, et cetera. We’ve got self-identification (writes Self-identification below Self-organization), that process by which you’re creating an identity, and you’ve got self-reflection (writes Self-reflection below Self-identification), your ability to step back and reflect on your own cognition, which, of course, was made so powerfully present in the Axial Revolution with the advent of second-order thinking.
We took a look at the structural (writes Structural). This has to do with the components of the Agent:Arena relationship. The ways in which self is connected to the world (writes Self-world beside Structural), self is connected to self (writes Self-self below Self-world, and self is connected to others (writes Self-others below Self-self), right?
And then we looked at the developmental (writes Developmental). And I sort of left that as a placeholder, because I just wanted to give a quick overview last time, but I want to go in and draw this together because what we’ve been talking about throughout the last few lectures is the idea that your cognition is inherently developmental. It functions by developing; it develops by functioning. So because it’s inherently self-organizing, it develops by functioning (writes Develops by functioning beside Developmental). It functions by developing (writes Functions by developing below Develops by functioning), and this is qualitative development. What I mean is you get the capacity for self-transcendence. There’s not only an increase in what you know, but an increase in the kinds of things you can know, the kinds of things you can do. And this is ultimately some kind of process of optimization (writes Optimization below Functions by developing). So there’s a developmental trajectory.
And then what you can see is some of the problems we’ve already talked about: the parasitic processing (writes Parasitic Processing beside Self-organization). In the notes for this lecture, I will put references to the previous lectures, in which I have talked about these in detail. So in order to avoid useless repetition, you can go back and look at the presentation. But if you remember, there’s a bad event and it spirals off and it gets this very complex self-organizing system that takes on a life of its own, becomes very adaptively resistant to our attempts at intervention, et cetera.
Okay, so this is modal confusion (writes Modal Confusion beside Self-identification). Okay. This is from, but very much you can also see it being addressed by, the Stoics. You can see it being addressed by Buddhism as Bachelor argues. This is to get into confusion between the Having and the Being modes, the kind of “I” that you are; the are you in an “I: it”/ “I: thou” et cetera.
Self-reflection, last time we talked about this (writes Reflectiveness Gap beside Self-reflection). This is the reflectiveness gap. This comes from the fact that what we can do is we can step back and look at our own processing. And this affords us, this gap affords us, regaining our agency from the chaos of being the impulsive Wanton. But when we open up the reflectiveness gap too much we get also a loss of agency, we get the tragedy of Hamlet and, of course, some middling position is not the answer there, because at times you have to be highly reflective, at times you have to be highly immersed. How do we answer that?
The problem here with the Self-World relationship is absurdity (writes Absurdity beside Self-world). As I said, this is the Agent:Arena relationship (writes Agent-Arena below Structural). And we talked about absurdity here and made clear that all of the arguments for absurdity, like what happens a million years from now, it doesn’t matter. “I’m so small, I will die.” None of these things actually are arguments that can legitimately lead to a conclusion of absurdity because they are, in many ways – and this was Nagel’s point – they’re just bad arguments! They’re fallacious arguments.
Now, dismissing the arguments is not to dismiss the person who makes the argument. I hope I made that clear last time! If not, I’m trying to do that now, because people are trying to articulate with these pseudo-arguments, something real that is happening to them, something that is very important. So the arguments are after the fact expressions rather than the generators. And the main theme here, and this of course goes into right… (writes Clash of perspectives beside Absurdity) You can see how all of this (indicates parasitic processing, modal confusion, reflectiveness gap) is our perspectival, participatory ways of being, ways of knowing. But what’s here (back to absurdity) is a clash of perspectives. It’s a clash of perspectives. And then we did the example of Tom who’s calling Susan, and how we’ve humored that clash of perspectives can be resolved usually by playing, like equivocating, between terms or meanings or getting people to make a connection they hadn’t made before. But in absurdity – and I think there’s an overlap like this (Fig. 2) (draws two overlapping circles) where you have humor (circle on the left) as a resolvable clash of perspectives, and then you have absurdity here (circle on the right). And then there’s an overlap zone (shades in the overlap). And like I said, there’s a lot of humor [here] (indicating the shaded overlap) – my prototypical example, [which] tells my age, when I was growing up is the humor of Monty Python in which you get a lot of absurdity. But then you get what becomes [an] irresolvable clash (shades in the absurdity/circle on the right); it’s undermining Religio in some way, undermining your Agency in some way. And that’s sort of pure absurdity.
Self with Self (back to Fig. 1): this goes back to what we talked about with Tillich and anxiety, inner conflict, and what we need here is to, again, think about the ways in which this is connected to self-deception. Because the inner conflict – remember Plato – often skews your salience landscape and makes you susceptible to bullshitting. I’ll talk about bullshitting in connection to this, overall. Of course, this is alienation (writes Alienation beside Self-others). This is our inability to connect to other people. Something that is often exacerbated through social media by the way these other perennial problems in self-deceptive behavior can be magnified in social media. So we can be modally confused and think [that] by having a lot of connections, we’re overcoming our alienation and loneliness, but of course that’s not the case. We can exacerbate the social media by falling into a sort of pretend narrative and things like that.
Here we talked about existential inertia (writes Existential Inertia beside Develops by function and Functions by developing). This is when you need to move between worldviews, make a worldview viable that you’re not currently in. We’re going to talk a lot more about the work of Agnes Callard and aspiration. But the point here, and going back again to the seminal work of LA Paul, [is that] this is basically a need for Anagoge. How do I Anagoge my way out of this worldview into another worldview? And then of course there’s existential ignorance (writes Existential Ignorance below Existential Intertia), a point made salient by LA Paul and also picked up by Agnes Callard in her book on Aspiration that we can’t reason our way through this. We can’t infer our way from a weaker logic to a stronger logic. We can’t infer, we can’t propositionally come up with the perspectival knowledge that we’re lacking with the participatory knowing that we do not currently possess and the identity that we are not currently cultivating. So all of that, of course, can come together and this was mythologized – and I mean that in a complimentary sense, right? Remember how I’m using Mythos – but this is mythologized by the Gnostics of existential entrapment, feeling trapped.
Now, a couple of things before we move towards starting to address this. This is analytic. This is for theoretical purposes that these things are being distinguished and laid out. It is often the case, as I’ve already tried to indicate, that these things are interacting and exacerbating each other. That you can be experiencing absurdity and it can be really contributing to your existential inertia. Right? You could be overthinking things and getting sort of stuck and that might be also contributing to your existential ignorance, or it might be contributing to your modal confusion because you can’t remember the Being mode because you caught up in having a lot of thoughts and trying to have a lot of beliefs! Right? I’m not going to try and map this out because the permutations of the ways in which these interact and afford and exacerbate each other is very complex, which of course is why the perennial problems are so pressing on people.
Now, what I want to try and do is to show you…(hesitates!) I want to try and show you how we can salvage from the legacy, so many psycho-technologies for addressing the Meaning Crisis. The reason why I’m hesitating is because, again, I’m – this, this is genuine – I am, there’s a hubristic element here and I’m not just trying to say, “Oh, you know, taking it from you and leaving that behind”! But again, I’m trying to get a balance between respecting where we really are and what our situation really is and respecting all of the tremendous heritage and legacy that has been given to us, and trying to get that balance is always in my mind. It’s very difficult! But, I’m going to go through these, each one… First of all I’m just going to name so you can get an overall schematic and then I’ll erase the board and I’ll talk about each one in greater detail. Okay, so be patient, please! I’m asking for your patience! I’m just going to give some indications about how we address each one of these schematically so you can see on the board and then I’ll step back and go through each one in more detail. And then, how they’re integrated together. And what’s also missing from this in an important sense.
Ways Of Addressing The Perennial Problems
So what I’m going to propose here is the way you deal with parasitic processing is – and this is why this is number one, in some sense, schematically; it’s overarching! You’ve heard me talk about it before with the idea of an ecology of practices, an ecology of psycho-technologies, right? – what you want to do is you want to cultivate a counteractive dynamical system. See, Parasitic Processing is a very complex dynamical system, and if you try and do one shot interventions, it just reconfigures itself. What you need is to cultivate a counter…/ that you internalized! It can’t just be something you think about it, can’t just be some ideological structure! It has to actually be an active dynamical system in you. And so what you’re going to do – and again, I’ll come back to this in more detail – you’re going to try and cultivate a counteractive dynamical system, because that is how you will be able to respond to the dynamical systems of Parasitic Processing. And I’m going to propose to you that a prototypical – by no means exclusive! So that’s how I’m using it – but a prototypical example of this is the cultivation of the eightfold path in Buddhism (Fig. 3) (draws a wheel beside Parasitic Processing on the board), which is very, very perspicaciously represented by an eight spoke wheel; the integration, it revolves, it evolves, et cetera. So what we’re looking for here is a Counteractive Dynamical System (writes Counteractive D.S. on the board).
Okay, Modal confusion (writes Sati beside Modal Confusion): we’ve already talked about this and this is Sati. Practices that are designed to invoke a deep remembrance of the Being Mode.
Okay, the reflectiveness gap: you need the combination, the integration, the dynamic integration. Not just a settled median point, you need the dynamic integration of immersion and creative flexibility. We know a state that does that, we’re going to come back to this (writes Flow beside the Reflectiveness Gap), but that’s the flow state. You need to be cultivating the flow state in an important way.
Okay, the clash of perspectives: this is going to take – again, so what I put on the board right now, initially, it’s going to seem like “what?”; so again, give me some time! I’m just going to put it on here – this is what Spinoza in the West called ‘scientia intuitiva’, or what in Buddhism in the East refers to his Prajñā. This is a state, in which you get the deep interpenetration of the perspectives. Alright, so I’m just going to put [it] up here (writes Scientia Intuitiva beside clash of perspectives), and you’re like, “wow, what does that mean? How you do that?”! Scientia intuitiva, Prajñā (writes Prajñā beside Scientia Intiuitiva)… but if you remember, just to foreshadow it, we talked about [how] I can scale down, I can scale up and then I can get this state of non-duality that is simultaneously scaling up and scaling down! And that actually alleviates the clash of perspectives. So we’ll come back to this.
Okay, so anxiety: this is inner dialogue (writes Inner Dialogue beside Anxiety). So this is to pick up the idea of internalizing the Sage: as the child is to the adult, the adult is to sage. [-] So an example of this is the Christian’s, “it’s not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me”, or the Buddhist’s “you have to realize your Buddha nature” or the Stoics’ “I have to internalize Socrates”. And again, if you turn these into ideas to be believed rather than practices that have actually been internalized and are integrated into the development of your identity, then you’re not hearing what I’m saying!
Okay. So alienation: I haven’t talked as much about this, but I’m going to come back to this more. This is to cultivate what Turner (writes Communitas beside Alienation) and other people called communitas. This is the sense of connectedness to other. And part of that is to try and recover what we had in Platonic dialogue. And what’s happening right now is a whole movement called authentic discourse; I’m going to talk a lot more about that – the Authentic Discourse Movement, right? (Writes AD beside Communitas) Authentic Discourse Movement, but we just need authentic discourse (AD) here. Something like what we had in Platonic dialogue, something like therapy, sort of “both/ beyond”; I’ll come back to that, because this is a primary way of doing this (indicates Alienation). I gave you an extended argument (draws an arrow beside Existential Entrapment) for how you respond to existential entrapment and of course this is Gnosis (writes Gnosis beside the arrow) and that this Gnosis is going to have a connection to higher states of consciousness (HSC) (writes HSC below Gnosis).
There’s something that’s missing, right? And what’s missing is we need, of course, an overall framing of these things, the way we’re pursuing all of these and the way we’re trying to integrate them together: [-] all of this (draws a bracket on the left side of the diagram) has to be within a wisdom framing. We’re going to talk more explicitly (writes Wisdom beside the bracket); we’re going to devote quite a bit of time to try and get at “What can we now think about wisdom given all the current work within psychology and cognitive science and even neuroscience on wisdom?”(Fig. 4). Because throughout all of this, we have to have a cognitive style in which the amelioration of self-deception and the affordance of self-optimization are paramount. Okay? So I want to go through each one of these in more detail. This is the overarching structure, and then trying to bring it together…
Reverse Engineering Enlightenment
What is it I’m proposing to you? And see, here’s where my concern about hubris is here, although I think there is a legitimate point I’m making: I’m trying to argue for a way in which we can reverse engineer enlightenment. Instead of keeping enlightenment as an obscure state surrounded by mystique and nostalgia, we need an account that recognizes what that mystique pointed to, but exaggerates, which is the difficulty of enlightenment. Right?
But ultimately, if we have a kind of Being, an ecology or psycho-technology that reliably and systematically, individually and collectively, allows us to address the perennial problems, I’m going to propose to you that that’s what we should call Enlightenment. If enlightenment is something above and beyond that, then I don’t know what it’s value is. And if enlightenment is not directed towards this (gestures towards the board), I would say it is not something of value. So I’m going to propose to you that, insofar as we can give – using the theoretical tools we’ve cultivated together; Relevance Realization, [-] the work we’ve done on mindfulness, the work we’ve done on flow, et cetera, right? All of it (gestures towards the board) – insofar as we can give an account of this in terms that are ultimately naturalistic, that can be subject to scientific investigation, we will have – and is this the final ‘challenge’ to the division given to us in the enlightenment? – we will have a scientific theory of enlightenment and what it can mean for us. (erases the board)
Cultivating A Counteractive Dynamical System
Alright. So let’s talk about – some of these, I’ll talk about it at length ‘cause they’re more novel; others, I’ll talk about more briefly because there’s an extended discussion of them. So again, let’s start with this notion of dealing with parasitic processing, which is an overarching thing. And the idea here is, as I said: to cultivate a set of practices, and that’s what you have with something like the eightfold path (draws a wheel) (Fig. 5) where you’re trying to remember all of these: right aspiration, right mindfulness, right concentration, et cetera. Remember that the right is not moral righteousness; the right is right-handedness, it’s dexterity. And now to use language that we’ve developed: it’s right fittedness, it’s optimal fittedness. It’s enhanced Relevance Realization within each one of these. And what you have is a set of practices that are interdependent with each other, mutually supporting and self-rolling, becoming a self-rolling wheel. And if I have a set of practices that can take on a life of its own. And you have the metaphors in Buddhism like where you entered the stream, it takes on a life of its own. And initially what I’m doing is I’m cultivating this practice and this practice and this practice – but then they start to implicitly interact, reinforce, develop, and it starts to become a counteractive dynamical system in me.
The Buddha told the famous parable about how to understand this (indicates Fig. 5). He talks about the goldsmith and the gold is something inherently valuable and you should think of your mind as something inherently valuable, right? And he says, okay, so take a look at the goldsmith. The goldsmith just looks at the gold; no changes, right? So if you’re just sort of doing meditation and reflecting, nothing happens, right? The goldsmith has to heat up the gold there, right. There has to be this right effort, the energy put in, maybe something like flow. But if the goldsmith just heats up the gold, the gold just melts and goes away, right? And then also there has to be the shaping. There has to be the reconfiguration. There has to be the cultivation of new skills, new abilities, new virtues. If you just hammer the gold, you’ll smash it and wreck it. If you just heat it, it will melt. If you just look at it, you won’t notice its imperfections – sorry, you will do nothing but notice its imperfections, but nothing will change.
So I need to look in order to notice, but I need to balance that, integrate that dynamically with heating and with hammering – and notice what I’m doing: I’m creating this higher order skill of being a smith by getting a set of practices that have a complementary relationship to them. Each one has strengths and weaknesses and the strengths and weaknesses are fitted together. So you get something overall that can produce something that the individual skills can’t do. So by getting this fluid ecology of looking, of heating, and of shaping, then the gold becomes well-shaped and it becomes, as he says, wieldy. You can wield it very well. You can, it fits your hand and extends your capacity so well.
So what you’re getting there is a strong recommendation for looking at this as cultivating an ecology of practices, getting sets of practices, sets of psycho-technologies that have complementary relationships to each other, organizing them together. And we do this all the time.We constantly take constellations of lower order skills and techniques to build higher order skills and techniques, but we build it as a dynamical system, the counteractive dynamical system that can operate in many ways, on many levels of our cognition and our consciousness and our being. So the way to deal with parasitic processing is to cultivate a counteractive dynamical system. (erases the board) And this is why this is an overarching thing.
So modal confusion. We’ve already talked about this. We’ve already talked about the way in which mindfulness practices and other practices like that can be drawn from stoicism. Like the view from above or objective seeing can help us to remember Sati, the being-mode. Again, not as an idea, not as a belief, but as an existential mode that we can reliably reactivate and reenter into in a viable and enriching manner.
Getting Into The Flow State
Okay. The reflectiveness gap and flow. So if I were to just speak this lecture, impulsively, wantonly. It’ll become chaotic, right? It’ll tend to probably fall into self-contradiction. It will be confused and therefore confusing. But if I’m constantly stepping back and reflecting on what I’m saying and engaging in self-criticism, and then thinking – I’ll choke.
So what do I do? Well, I try to get into the flow state because the flow state is a state in which I am both – and Velleman, by the way, argues for something very similar, he proposes Daoism and Daoism as a solution to the reflectiveness gap. And, of course, as I’ve argued, Daoism is basically the religion of flow in many ways, the yin and yang, the out and the in, right? The making frame and breaking frame, et cetera. So what you’re trying to do is set up the practices that will afford flow, set up the conditions that will afford flow. And remember, we talked about the right kinds of conditions and also – and this is where we’re going to have to come back to wisdom – wisely cultivate your flow; where and when and in what domains are you learning to flow?
So I’m trying to get into the flow state here that will keep me sort of immersed and engaged with the material, but also, make me, hopefully, very sort of flexible, and capable when needed. I don’t mean to be self-congratulatory, but you know, when it’s needed, hopefully insightful, that this is not just mechanical, that there’s a flow to it. Almost like jazz; jazz with concepts and jazz with argumentation.
Okay. So let’s come back to absurdity and come back to Prajñā – talk about this again. We did talk about this before, but I want to remind you of it and that you are very capable of this because your cognition is capable because of the way attention works. Because attention, we – I’ve put it up multiple times – the cat and everything. Your attention is simultaneously bottom-up from the features and top-down from the Gestalt, right? And your attention – the way you are related to the world is one in which the world and you can be co-creating. This is actually something that Spinoza talks quite a bit about in the Ethics. How your experience is co-created by the body and by the world.
So if you remember, Spinoza talks about this idea. When you’re reading an argument and his whole book the Ethics is an attempt to bring back blessedness and a sense of, I would argue, sacredness within a Cartesian scientific worldview. That’s why it’s called the ethics. It means ethics in the older sense of becoming the best person leading the best kind of life, not just doing the morally correct thing, but Spinoza talks about this kind of knowing and what I realized when I was reading the Ethic[s] – well, studying the ethics, you have to almost do Lectio Divina with the ethics. You have to read it. You have to really let it soak into you. You have to try and get that worldview attuned – what’s it like to see the world as Spinoza did? So you have to sort of study and practice the ethics. So it’s an extended period. And then he talks about this. And then I realized that the ethics was actually designed to do this. You have this tremendously tight logical structure, but the logical structure is trying to afford what he called scientia intuitiva, this sort of deeply intuitive knowing.
And what he means by that is that you’ve got this tremendous argument that reaches up to the sort of the largest scale of reality. But there’s individual premises along the way. And the idea here is – here’s the analogy (Fig. 6). So the premise is like the letter (writes Premises – Letters) , the premises are like the letters. And the argument of arguments, all the arguments constellated together (writes Meta-argument). So I’m going to call this the meta-argument, the arguments of argument. So these (indicates Premises) go up into arguments (draws an upward arrow from Premises and writes Arguments above) and then the arguments (draws an arrow from Argument to Meta-Arguments) go up into the meta-argument. And this (draws an upward arrow from letters) of course is like the words (writes words beside the upward arrow) into sentences kind of thing (writes sentences above the upward arrow). I remember we talked about how your attention is multiply-layered in this way. And what can happen is if you practice the ethics, you get to a place where you see the whole of the argument in each meta-argument in each premise (draws an arrow from Meta-argument to Premises), and you see how each premise and each argument fit into and contribute to the whole (draws an arrow from Premises to Meta-argument), just like you’re seeing the words in terms of the sentence and the letters in terms of the words. And it’s simultaneously bottom-up and top-down in a completely interpenetrating fashion. And what you get is you get a cosmic perspective that is interpenetrating with the perspective of your individual moment of thought that’s scientia intuitiva. There is a complete interleaving of the perspectival knowing.
The Buddhist talk about something similar to this: Prajñā, a kind of self-liberating state of wisdom. And it’s a state, in which, as DT Suzuki says, you’re sort of simultaneously looking as deeply in as you can, and simultaneously looking out as deeply as you can. And he quotes at heart, a Christian Neoplatonist, as a way of explaining this. The eye by which I see God is the same eye by which God sees me. So the perspective that reaches out and upwards to what’s ultimate is the same as the perspective that is coming deeply into me. And what you get is you practice – you practice sort of scaling down as deeply as you possibly can towards something like the pure consciousness event, and scaling down. And you practice scaling up to this sense of profound resonant at one-ment with everything. And then what happens is you get – I mean – when in practice, you’re alternating between them. But then, as I mentioned, what eventually happens is you get non-duality. You’re simultaneously as deeply in, and as deeply down – sorry for these metaphors – as you can be. But as I said, they’re often indispensable. You’re simultaneously as deeply down and as deeply in, and as simultaneously as out and as up as you can be. You’re sort of at maximal breaking frame and maximal making frame and they are optimally, dynamically integrated, like they are in the most optimal, profound insight you can have.
So that state (indicates Prajñā) is a place that addresses absurdity. And you say, “But it doesn’t answer any of the arguments for absurdity.” But that’s the point. There is no argumentative response to absurdity because the arguments that are supposed to be generating absurdity, don’t generate absurdity. They’re after the fact expressions of absurdity. What drives absurdity is perspectival clash and if you can reliably realize a state in which you overcome the perspectival clash. And remember, you can overcome lower order perspectival clash in humor and humor has at the core of it, a kind of insight and a kind of joy in that insight. You can have something like that. There’s a continuum. You can have the overcoming of the perspectival clash with this Prajnic state of non-duality that carries with it, a kind of joy, a kind of insight, a kind of scientia intuitiva, a deep, intuitive knowing. And so that is very doable for us. (erases the board)
Indwelling The Sage
So anxiety. So what anxiety is about is there’s a nebulous sense that something is wrong and it’s connected to inner conflict. We see both. We see this in Christianity, the inner conflict, Paul. We see it in Plato, the inner conflict. There’s different centers working according to different goals and they’re at war with each other and we suffer. And it’s a dramatic sense of threat, but it has no specific target, of course, as fear does, because, of course, anxiety, the threat is endemic to you. So no matter where you go, you’re sensing the threat, but there’s nothing that the threat can particularly attach to because the threat has to do with the state of being at war within yourself.
So we see across the traditions, the idea of internalizing the sage to create an inner dialogue that helps to coordinate the various centers, gets them to talk to each other. And I think this is something where cognitive science can actually give us tremendous help. We’ve had a lot of increase in our knowledge of the various/different areas of cognition, even different kinds of centers processing in the brain and how they work and how they’re operating and what we need is an internalized representation. A model. A role model and a role as a way of taking on a new identity, right? We need a role model for how we can engage in dialogue. and the proposal here – which is, of course, the platonic proposal we already saw – that if I can internalize my capacity and, developed by the Stoics, my capacity to interact with the sage, eventually I get that ability that I have only with the sage. I can have it with myself, within myself. And it means therefore that it becomes part of my metacognitive machinery, the way I dialogue with myself and get the various aspects of myself, the very centers to dialogue with each other. And you can see various versions of this. You can see Jung’s use of active imagination as a way of trying to create an inner dialogue between different centers of the psyche. You can see practices like Lectio Divina, where I am reading the text and I am trying to get the text to speak to me, is also allowing aspects of the different aspects of the psyche to talk to each other through the text. So there is a lot we can do.
So, as I mentioned to you, the process of identification (writes Identification), where you’re identifying with something like the sage, right? Obviously, it makes use of our capacity for internalizing the perspective of others (Fig. 7) (draws an arrow from Identification and writes Internalization below it), but it also requires what Polanyi called the capacity for indwelling (draws an arrow from Identification and writes Indwelling below it), right? So remember indwelling is when (taps his whiteboard marker against the whiteboard eraser) I’m proceeding through the pen, I’m indwelling it. So you not only have to internalize the sage, but you have to indwell – you have to practice and that fits within with others – to practice trying to – what does it look like, right? What is it like to see things the way the sage does? You have to seriously play at being the sage without pretense or arrogance or inflation.
That’s why wisdom is going to matter to all of this, right? So I practice indwelling the sage, right? And yet, people like, what would Socrates do? What would Aristotle do? What would Jesus do, right? And you have to regularly practice. So you practice indwelling and then you practice internalizing and you practice indwelling and then you practice internalizing. And that is (indicating Fig. 7) how you basically start to afford the internalization of the sage and the creation of your ability (erases the board), as Antisthenes said, what he learned from Socrates so long ago: to converse with yourself, to get, to enter into something like platonic dialogue with yourself.
Participating In Communitas
Alright. What about alienation? So alienation takes us towards something talked about by Émile Durkheim and Victor Turner and others’ communitas (writes Communitas). Communitas is what you feel when you’re watching with other people – what’s happened recently, the Raptors and everybody was gathered together and we have shared attention and we are getting in sync together and we have that sense of communing and communicating with each other. And there is a shared spirit amongst us all. That’s communitas. That’s communitas. Communitas is basically a way of getting collective flow going, but it’s also something else. It’s a collective flow in which we feel like there is real communication between people and something deeper. There’s real communion. There’s a sense of participating in a shared identity of some kind. So this has to do with taking a careful look at the way in which our practices of communication and communing have been so undermined by bullshitting and modal confusion and an adversarial, political culture, et cetera.
And so what’s been happening. And as I said, part of the gift of the video series is, I’ve gotten to meet more and more people who are trying to do this. They’re trying to – they’re putting real time and talent into cultivating, individual and communal responses to the Meaning Crisis. So I’ve got to interact with, for example, Peter Limberg, who’s been introducing me to authentic discourse, authentic relating practices. I will talk a little bit about this in a minute. And then, for example, I’ve got to meet, and have some interesting dialogue – the one interview – not one interview, sort of one dialogue with him is out and there’s another one coming. Because what Jordan Hall is trying to do is he’s trying to do two things in an integrated fashion. I see him trying to do – he’s trying to free communication from the cultural grammar that has got us where we are. In that sense, he’s trying to respond deeply to the history, not in theory, but in the actual practice.
And that is bound up with, as my argument has tried to show, that is bound up with the project of trying to reaccess, in a powerful and perspicacious manner, these other kinds of knowing and that making our communication or our communion not just a matter of propositional exchange or conflict, but trying to tap into the underlying procedural knowing. And how that procedural knowing is dependent on the underlying perspectival situational awareness, the perspectival knowing and how that is ultimately dependent on the participatory process of our ongoing evolving attunement from which the agent and the arena co-emerge. And so I see him trying to do that. I see him trying to create a way in which we can get what he calls coherence. A kind of communitas, I would say, that is directed towards engaging the collective intelligence of distributed cognition and, remember that most of our real world problem solving contrary to the bullshit we tell ourselves about how we’re self-made individuals, most of our problem solving is done in concert – serious play concert music – is done in concert with other people. And so what he is trying to do is create a stance towards a state called coherence in which we are creating a kind of communitas that is marshaling distributed cognition and it’s collective intelligence for simultaneously freeing us from the ways in which we are boxed in like the nine dot problem by our historical, cultural, cognitive grammar. Access the other kinds of knowing and bring that to bear on the problems that we are facing.
So I want to talk a little bit, I’ll just introduce the idea. There’s a book, Cohering the Integral We Space: Enabling Collective Emergence, Wisdom and Healing in Groups. I’ve gone to a circling practice already. I’m not an expert in it. I want to become one. I want to take it seriously. So I’m only gesturing towards it, but it is a communal practice in which – this is my best way of trying to explain it to – you’re engaging in a mindfulness practice, something like platonic dialogue. And you’re creating something like a collective flow state, so that what emerges is a dynamical system. And as I basically have been proposing throughout this, the last few lectures that the word spirit is basically pointing towards dynamical systems that are evolving.
We create a dynamical system that gives people the resources to address their capacity for being in touch with themselves in each other. It’s not therapy, although it overlaps with some of the gnosis in therapy as well. You know this, you know that when things are right and you get in sync with another person or another group of people there’s – and we talked about this with platonic dialogue – something emerges. There’s a collective that emerges there that takes your cognition and everybody else’s in places that you can’t go individually, you participate in that, but you don’t make it. You’re not just a passive recipient of it. You’re not just a patient of it. You’re participating in it. And so I want to know – I want to learn more about this, but there is a growing – and the circling practice overlaps with other practices that Peter and I are learning about, where Peter talks about a process he calls the anti-debate where we turn adversarial debating. We have techniques for turning it into authentic relating where we’re trying to get insight rather than victory in our debating processes. There’s lots of books coming out on this, like, you know, Verbal Aikido and Verbal Judo. So there is the beginning of a whole set of practices for bringing about authentic discourse that can really address the issues of alienation. Okay.
Now, of course, as I said, the response to existential entrapment is gnosis and we had extended discussion about that and its interconnection with higher states of consciousness. So I’m not going to talk about that at great length, please go back and look at that: that gnosis. But what I would say is that gnosis seems to need, and you see this with Jeepform and you see this in therapy. It needs that open-ended mythos that the Gnostics talked about. I’m not advocating their particular mythos. I’m not saying their metaphysics is correct – but that transgressive, the open-ended ongoing symbol, the ongoing mythos, these seem to be needed for the cultivation of gnosis. And so I would recommend that to you.
So what I want to do next time is come back and put this all together, what it looks like, and then start talking about the overall framing of this, the way we frame, how we cultivate the individual psycho-technologies, the individual practices, and how we constellate the ecology of those in a state of enlightenment within a wisdom framing.
Thank you very much for your time and attention.
– END –
Episode 37 Notes
Eightfold path in Buddhism
The Noble Eightfold Path is an early summary of the path of Buddhist practices leading to liberation from samsara, the painful cycle of rebirth, in the form of nirvana.The Eightfold Path consists of eight practices: right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi (‘meditative absorption or union’)
(Other names: Benedictus de Spinoza)
Spinoza, Baruch (1632–77), Dutch philosopher, of Portuguese-Jewish descent; also called Benedict de Spinoza. Spinoza espoused a pantheistic system, seeing ‘God or nature’ as a single infinite substance, with mind and matter being two incommensurable ways of conceiving the one reality.
Ethics – Buy Here
Prajñā is a Buddhist term often translated as “wisdom”, “intelligence”, or “understanding”. It is described in Buddhist commentaries as the understanding of the true nature of phenomena.
In Western Christianity, Lectio Divina (Latin for “Divine Reading”) is a traditional monastic practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s word. In the view of one commentator, it does not treat scripture as texts to be studied, but as the living word.
Communitas is a Latin noun commonly referring either to an unstructured community in which people are equal, or to the very spirit of community. It also has special significance as a loanword in cultural anthropology and the social sciences.
Victor Witter Turner was a British cultural anthropologist best known for his work on symbols, rituals, and rites of passage. His work, along with that of Clifford Geertz and others, is often referred to as symbolic and interpretive anthropology.
Edith Turner was an English-American anthropologist, poet, and post-secondary educator. In addition to collaborating with her husband, Victor Witter Turner, on a number of early socio-cultural research projects concerning healing, ritual and communitas, she continued to develop these topics following his death in 1983, especially communitas.
Communitas – Buy Here
L. A. Paul
Laurie Ann Paul is a professor of philosophy and cognitive science at Yale University. She previously taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Arizona. She is best known for her research on the counterfactual analysis of causation and the concept of “transformative experience.”
A Transformative Experience – Buy Here
Agnes Callard is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago. Her primary areas of specialization are ancient philosophy and ethics. She is also noted for her popular writings and work on public philosophy.
Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming – Buy Here
Jeepform is a label used for contained, experimental and sometimes controversial roleplaying games in the freeform tradition, as designed by the larpwright group Vi åker jeep. Many jeepform games are documented by manuals, allowing them to be re-run at the convenience of the reader
J. David Velleman
J. David Velleman is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Bioethics at New York University and Miller Research Professor of Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. He primarily works in the areas of ethics, moral psychology, and related areas such as the philosophy of action, and practical reasoning.
The Way of the Wanton
Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki was a Japanese scholar and author of books and essays on Buddhism, Zen and Shin that were instrumental in spreading interest in both Zen and Shin to the West.
Mysticism, Christian and Buddhist – Buy Here
Eckhart von Hochheim OP commonly known as Meister Eckhart or Eckehart, was a German theologian, philosopher and mystic, born near Gotha in the Landgraviate of Thuringia in the Holy Roman Empire.
Paul the Apostle
Paul the Apostle, commonly known as Saint Paul and also known by his Hebrew name Saul of Tarsus, was a Christian apostle who spread the teachings of Jesus in the first-century world.
Plato was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.
Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology. Jung’s work was influential in the fields of psychiatry, anthropology, archaeology, literature, philosophy, and religious studies. Jung worked as a research scientist at the famous Burghölzli hospital, under Eugen Bleuler
Active imagination is a conscious method of experimentation. It employs creative imagination as an organ for “perceiving outside your own mental boxes.”
Michael Polanyi was a Hungarian-British polymath, who made important theoretical contributions to physical chemistry, economics, and philosophy.
Antisthenes was a Greek philosopher and a pupil of Socrates. Antisthenes first learned rhetoric under Gorgias before becoming an ardent disciple of Socrates. He adopted and developed the ethical side of Socrates’ teachings, advocating an ascetic life lived in accordance with virtue. Later writers regarded him as the founder of Cynic philosophy.
Émile Durkheim or David Émile Durkheim, was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline of sociology and, with Max Weber, is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science.
Collective Effervescence and Communitas: Processual Models of Ritual and Society in Émile Durkheim and Victor Turner
Cohering the Integral We Space: Enabling Collective Emergence, Wisdom and Healing in Groups
This peer-reviewed anthology brings together an overview of we-space practice within the global integral world. Intended to catalyze and further clarify this emerging field, the book offers an in-depth look into current practitioner voices and international perspectives on the subject.
Cohering the Integral We Space: Enabling Collective Emergence, Wisdom and Healing in Groups.” – Buy Here
Peter Limberg is a writer from Toronto, Ontario who co-founded Stoicism Toronto.
Verbal Aikido or Verbal self-defense is the art of using one’s words to prevent, de-escalate, or end an attempted assault.