Awakening From the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke, Ep. 11 — Higher States of Consciousness, Part 1 (Summary & Notes)

“The act of making sense actually makes people experience their lives as more meaningful.”

(In case you missed it: Summary & Notes for Ep. 10:

Ep. 11 — Awakening from the Meaning Crisis — Higher States of Consciousness, Part 1 [58:12]

  • In these higher states of consciousness let’s ask 3 questions: 1. How is the world being experienced? 2. How is the self being experienced? 3. How is the relationship between the world and the self being experienced?
  • 1. The World: people report a tremendous sense of clarity — the world seems extremely clear to them and makes sense to them in a way that it hasn’t before; Described as “bright” or “shining” (which is the original meaning of “glory”); they talk about an expansion of vision but also finite details; deeply “beautiful” and “alive”; all of this comes together into a sense of “one-ness.”
  • 2. The Self: people report a profound sense of peace — often “the greatest sense of peace they’ve ever experienced in their entire life”. Like Plato’s anagoge, a state of inner harmony; people also report experiencing profound joy — not the experience of fun or pleasure, but the positive emotion you feel when you experience a deep connection to what is good; that their normal sense of self has disappeared, and that they remember their “true” self; that they have a tremendous sense of vitalogy and energy, akin to the flow state; and a sense of insight and understanding, that they’re sharing identity with the reality they’re experiencing.
  • These states are often preceded by disruptive strategies. These can be long-term of short-term. Fasting, sleep deprivation, exposure to drumming/chanting, etc. And, of course, psychedelics.
  • 2017 experiment: 701 participants, and 69% reported this sense of ‘ontonometivity’ (‘enhanced realness’) and this was actually predictive of significant improvement across many dimensions of their life. (family life, health, sense of purpose, spirituality, and a release from the anxiety of the fear of death)
  • The study also highlighted the prevalence of ‘de-centering’ — from ego-centric (first-person) perspective to an allocentric (third-person) perspective. “It’s like the salience of reality is finally capable of eclipsing the narcissistic glow of our own ego.” For a moment we get release. (note: ‘nirvana’ means to blow out or extinguish. A kind of release.)
  • There is experimental evidence that if you give people a series of scenes that make sense to them, where they can determine an underlying pattern, and then ask them how meaningful their lives are, they will rate their lives as more meaningful. “The act of making sense actually makes people experience their lives as more meaningful.”
  • Insight is a fluency spike. (Related, but different than flow) Fluency is how accessible (and therefore easy to process) information is to you. “How well your system is zeroing in on the relevant information.” Efficient processing of information.
  • When you have an insight experience, since you have a fluency spike you’re also more likely to judge it as more real. It’s actually generally the case (not always!)that in real-world situations this is true, so it’s a good strategy for your brain to have from a evolutionary standpoint.
  • Why do we do this? We do this because we want a scientifically legitimate explanation of what’s going on when somebody claims enlightenment. Here’s a continuity hypothesis for the above: So we have a good justification for why one should follow such a person.
  • Fluency → insight → flow → mystical experiences → transformative experiences. The same machinery is being used for each, but is being progressively exapted.
  • In flow there has to be relevant skills and expertise. So what’s “flowing” in these higher states of consciousness? What kind of expertise?
  • Dreyfuss and others talk about optimal grip. A lot of perception has to do with finding the right balance of detail/focus and overall sense of the whole thing, and flow is all about getting dialed into that balance. Similar to martial arts too. And balancing it with your perception of your own body too.
  • You do this cognitively too. You’ll usually categorize a “cat” before you go a level up and think of it as a “mammal” for example. Why do we default to this basic level? This is how we get our optimal grip. you want as much similarity in the category as you can get, but also as much difference between two categories.
  • You try to get an optimal grip on things all the time, whether you’re swimming or reading or going on a date (Smile… but not too often. Ask questions… but not too many. Make eye contact… but not too much. Etc.) You’re so good at this that know how close to stand to somebody!
  • “In a higher state of consciousness people are flowing in their cognitive capacity to perceptually — and even with the very machinery of their self — get an optimal grip on both the world and themselves.”
  • Mind-wandering may even enhance your capacity for insight. By distracting you from how you framed a situation it can help you return and break up that fixated frame. (“Go for a walk,” “sleep on it,” “take a shower”… all techniques to induce this type of distraction where insight becomes more possible)
  • Deautomatization: breaking your automatic way of seeing/doing things. (similar to the connecting dots problem awhile back, where you literally had to think outside the box to solve it) These disruptive strategies increase the variation in your processing, often by introducing a lot of noise and entropy.
  • This increase in variation gives you more awareness of whats invariant. Of what’s not changing, what remains constant. These invariants become more “real” to you.
  • Two kinds of invariants: good and bad. The good are the real patterns you observe, the bad are ways in which you’re formulating your problems in a way that are preventing you from solving it.
  • Notice invariant heuristic: “What am I not noticing in these failures?” “What am I not changing in all of my reframings?” This is probably part of why there’s a deep connecting between humility and wisdom.
  • Children do this. They make a series, a system, of errors as part of their development. They learn to figure out what change they can make that will correct several interconnected errors. Once they find that nexus of errors so they can intervene on themselves they undergo developmental change, and they grow up. They mature. That’s what could be going on in the enlightenment experience too.

Next up: Awakening From the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke, Ep. 12— Higher States of Consciousness, Part 2 (Summary & Notes)

List of Books in the Video:

  • Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Taylor — Retrieving Realism
  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty — Phenomenology of Perception
  • Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman — How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain: The New Science of Transformation
  • Elaine Scarry — On Beauty and Being Just

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