Awakening From the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke, Ep. 18 — Plotinus and Neoplatonism (Summary & Notes)

Mark Mulvey
5 min readJul 19, 2021

Plotinus is the grand unified field theory of ancient spirituality.

(In case you missed it: Summary & Notes for Ep. 17:

Ep. 18 — Awakening from the Meaning Crisis — Plotinus and Neoplatonism [53.44]

  • Many Gnostics saw themselves as Christians. They interpreted Jesus as somebody who had brought them gnosis; for our purposes it’s just important to remember that Gnosticism and Christianity were deeply talking to each other
  • The Gnostics created a mythology to help understand their worldview. It’s a mythological scaffolding for bringing about gnosis. Many movies, in fact, have a gnostic theme.
  • Some of the mythology comes from Plato — that the everyday world is of the shadows and echoes. The forms/patterns of intelligibility & realness. Also ideas around how time and eternity intersect. Plato proposed the figure of the demiurge, who shapes things in space and time.
  • The Gnostics took the notion of the demiurge and thought that whoever had created their world (which they saw as full of suffering which they were trapped in) was either stupid or evil or both. They saw the demiurge as more of an evil overlord. They were trying to articulate the feeling of being trapped. That somehow the sociological structures and patterns of their daily reality were actually thwarting their efforts and contributing to their feeling of entrapment.
  • They saw all of the existing gods of all the religions as the guards of our prison. This is a radical idea. That there is something about all of these gods that must be challenged.
  • The idea can be expressed with some of the Christian mythology. The evil overlord God was the God of the Old Testament. The God of the New Testament is the God of agape. The God of light and love.
  • [Note: Gnostics were famous for seeing women as being equally capable of having a spiritual life as men, so notions of “God” could be interpreted as male or female]
  • The Gnostics saw the purpose of Christianity as giving us a mythology that can free of us our existential suffering and transcending to the gods. They never settle on a single mythology though because for them it’s not about landing on a final story, but rather the process of creating the enactive analogies and anagoge.
  • “The core of spirituality is not worship. The core of spirituality is self-transcendence.” This whole idea is full of Platonic elements (trapped in a cave, bound, freed by knowledge so they can return to and see the light, etc.)
  • For them, Jesus is a teacher like what the shaman did and what our therapist does: “provides us with the keys to unlocking all the ways in which these patterns are permeated into layers of our psyches that exacerbate our suffering — fragmenting our world and ripping apart our agency.”
  • Famously, the movie the Matrix bring all of these themes together. Also The Truman Show (Note the play on words there: it’s a story of Jim Carrey’s character finding out the “true man” he is.)
  • This is the ultimate conspiracy theory. The Jews worshipped the God of the Old Testament, and Nazism is a twisted Gnostic response to the meaning crisis as being magnified in the Weimar Republic in Germany. So there’s a dark side to Gnosticism.
  • Paul Tillich talks about the meaning crisis (The Courage To Be), and that the response it is “the gnosis of the god beyond theism.” That what we need to do is discover the god as the meaning crisis destroys the mythology. Can we discover sacredness in a way that liberates us from our existential suffering? Jung too, in his work on psychotherapy. And Corbin’s great concern was that we had lost this kind of knowing and that therefore we had lost our capacity for the transformation and liberation it can bring about.
  • Chris Hedges wrote a book (American Fascists) about fundamentalist Christianity, but also wrote a book on the new atheists (I Don’t Believe In Atheists) about how they also represent a utopic perfectionism that sanctions violence. (For evidence, see [Christopher] Hitchens and [Sam] Harris for proposals on nuclear first strikes against the Islamic world, etc.)
  • (Neoplatonism is part of why the main character in The Matrix is called “Neo.” He was also know as The One which is something they focused on as well.)
  • “Plotinus is the grand unified field theory of ancient spirituality.”
  • Plotinus takes Plato’s spirituality and ideas of anagoge, all of Aristotle’s worldview and the theory of knowing, and takes from the Stoics their therapeutics project of overcoming modal confusion, and integrates them together.
  • Plotinus notes that Aristotle has levels of being — levels of realness. As we make these levels of reality viable to us (and now we draw on Eric Perl’s work…) we conform to it and are moving to a higher level of the self. As we do this we are becoming more capable of living in that higher level of reality.
  • What makes something real? This is important, because if you’re pursuing something and you don’t know what it is that’s “the gap of bullshit.”
  • It’s not just about what makes something real it’s about how we sense it as real too. What makes something real is how “one” it is — how integrated it is. “We treat the object as more real as the shadows because it’s more structurally-functionally organized.”
  • What is it to understand something? It’s when you can understand how separate things are all one, how they can all be integrated together. Things become more real to us as we integrate them together. And as we do that, we become more integrated together. We become more real. We are realized. More actualized.
  • So what is this thing that sits below (or above) and makes everything real? Plotinus calls it The One. “That by which reality is realized and our mind realizes reality.”
  • It’s not anything we can ever know, because it’s that by which everything is known. You can’t have it, you can only be it. It’s a higher state of consciousness — an awakening experience.
  • Plotinus unites spirituality, science, and therapy. All are beautifully intertwined and united together.

Next up: Awakening From the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke, Ep. 19 — Augustine and Aquinas (Summary & Notes):

List of Books in the Video:

  • April DeConick — The Gnostic New Age: How a Countercultural Spirituality Revolutionized Religion from Antiquity to Today
  • Chris Hedges — I Don’t Believe in Atheists: The Dangerous Rise of the Secular Fundamentalist
  • Chris Hedges — American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America
  • Hans Jonas — The Gnostic Religion: The Message of the Alien God and the Beginnings of Christianity
  • Eric Perl — PLOTINUS Ennead V.1: On the Three Primary Levels of Reality
  • Eric Perl — Thinking Being: Introduction to Metaphysics in the Classical Tradition
  • Paul Tillich — The Courage to Be



Mark Mulvey

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