Awakening From the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke, Ep. 2 — Flow, Metaphor, and the Axial Revolution (Summary & Notes)

“Metaphorical cognition is at the heart of both science and art.”

(In case you missed it: Summary & Notes for Ep. 1:

Ep. 2 — Awakening from the Meaning Crisis — Flow, Metaphor, and the Axial Revolution [58:04]

  • The flow experience (“Being in the zone”), where the demands of the situation just slightly beyond your skill abilities. If skills exceed demands you fall into boredom. If demands exceed skills you fall into anxiety
  • “Video games are one of the most reliable ways of inducing the flow state in people.” (part of the reason they’re actually considered an addiction by the World Health Organization — addictions run off of the machinery that is evolutionarily adaptive) Jazz, martial arts, rock climbing… other examples of things people do to get into the flow state. It’s deeply positive and not the same as physical pleasure. More connected with meaning/well-being in life
  • The flow state is also a universal. Culture, socioeconomic groups, genders, language, environments, age groups… all describe flow states in the same way. When you’re in the flow state you feel like you’re deeply at one with things. With this comes a spontaneity.
  • And like the shaman, you know there’s all this metabolic energy being used and yet… it feels effortless. Your sense of time and self are different too. Self-consciousness disappears.
  • There’s also a brightness and vividness to things (much like in a video game!), and life seems more intense. And people like this flow experience, and it’s where people tend to do their best work.
  • People with training in mindfulness have an easier time getting into the flow state.
  • This flow state of repeated improvisations (rock climbers, jazz musicians, etc. moving effortlessly from one pattern to the next) can also be described as a cascade of insights. “The more you flow the more you’re training your ability for insight.”
  • Implicit learning — “A lot of what looks like ‘psychic abilities’ are your ability to pickup implicitly on complex patterns in the environment without being aware of it.” Your intuition is a result of your implicit learning.
  • example of thing you know without realizing you know it: you know how far to stand from somebody!
  • It’s not all good though: “The bigot has got ‘intuitions’ about races that are wrong.” There are many patterns in the world that are illusory. Lots of spurious correlations. The bigot has picked up on correlational patterns, not causal ones. “Science is a way of distinguishing causal patterns from correlational patterns.”
  • What’s happening in this flow state is that your brain is learning to get areas to talk to each other that don’t normally talk to each other. If you look at brain scans of those undergoing a psychedelic experience this is what’s happening. Normally this type of thing would just be noise, but if you have enhanced insight & intuition you can connect them. You take it for granted, but what this is is your capacity for metaphor.
  • You need to understand how pervasive metaphor is. (“Do you see what I’m saying?” Do you get my point?” “Can you grasp it?” “Do you understand it”” These are all metaphors.) It’s pervasive and profound. Your cognition is filled and functions through metaphorical enhancement.
  • Metaphors are how you make creative connections between ideas. “Metaphorical cognition is at the heart of both science and art.”
  • “One of the ways in which your cognition, and meaning, and altered states of consciousness come together is in how your embodied mind is generating metaphor in order to make insightful connections.”
  • Metaphorical thought → Problem-solving ability
  • If you’re a hunter-gatherer group that has a shaman you’re going to out-compete group that don’t
  • “oversight” “supervision” these are ‘little echoes of shamanic flight’
  • We don’t feel Bronze Age civilizations are not as relevant to us(e.g. Epic of Gilgamesh, Egyptian mythology, Sumerian, Mesopotamian… you probably haven’t read these) but Bible, Plato, Buddha, Confucius are somehow more relevant. Why?
  • Around 800–300 BCE there was a great change. “Something happened here that is formative of us.” as Western Civilization (Much like the upper Paleolithic transition was formative of homo sapiens)— this is known as the Axial Age.
  • The fall of the Bronze Age is the greatest collapse of human civilization the world has ever known — the fall of the Roman Empire was nowhere near as devastating as this. It’s the closest thing to an apocalypse we’ve experienced.
  • What seems to have been invented in one of the small tribal places that remained, Canaan (what is now Palestine) is a ‘new kind of literacy.’ (Literacy is a powerful psycho-technology.) What gets invented is alphabetic literacy. Seems to have gone from Caanan → Phoenicians → Greeks. Archaic Canaanite characters turn into ancient Hebrew.
  • Alphabetic literacy is way more learnable. People can learn and share more easily, so the amount of people that can be literate expands. Literacy offers a big advantage. “If I can write my thoughts down I can come back to them and I can reflect on them.” You can be more aware of them, correct them…
  • Metacognition — being aware of your own thinking (e.g. you can tell people whether or not you have a good memory)
  • Second Order Thinking — When you internalize a psychotechnology into you metacognition to allow you to improve/correct your own thinking. This emerges because of alphabetic literacy
  • Coinage — money — also emerges at this time. Money teaches to think in an abstract symbol system. It also teaches you numeracy.
  • Psychotechnologies are training skills that are ready for exaptation. People can now become aware of how self-deceptive they are. And as we’ve seen they’ve also seen how they can self-correct.
  • The Dhammapada: “there is no enemy greater than your own mind, but there is no ally greater than your own mind” Self-deception: leads to destruction. Self-correction: leads to transcendence.

Next up: Awakening From the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke, Ep. 3 (Summary & Notes)

List of Books in the Video:

  • Karen Armstrong — The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions
  • Robert Bellah and Hans Joas (Editors) — The Axial Age and its Consequences
  • Eric Cline — 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi — Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
  • The Dhammapada
  • Robert Drews — The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 B.C.
  • Robin Hogarth — Educating Intuition
  • Karl Jaspers — The Origin and Goal of Hist
  • George Lakoff and Mark Johnson — Metaphors We Live By
  • Steven Pinker — The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
  • Arthur Reber — Implicit Learning and Tacit Knowledge: An Essay on the Cognitive Unconscious
  • Joseph Schear (Editor) — Mind, Reason, and Being-in-the-World: The McDowell-Dreyfus Debate

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