Awakening From the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke, Ep. 20 — Death of the Universe (Summary & Notes)

Mark Mulvey
5 min readJul 29, 2021


“It’s important to understand how this ‘God’ grammar developed, and woven its way into our culture and our cognition.”

(In case you missed it: Summary & Notes for Ep. 19:

Ep. 20— Awakening from the Meaning Crisis — Death of the Universe [54.02]

  • There were immediate consequences to people picking up on Aquinas, seen clearly in two figures: Meister Eckhart & William of Ockham (the latter is where we get “Ockham’s Razor” from)
  • Germany is going to be central to this (both are from Germany). Eckhart represents a group of people called the Rhineland Mystics.
  • The Crusades were happening at the time, against what was effectively (arguably) a huge Gnostic revival, and Eckhart + the Rhineland Mystics pick this up and develop a re-understanding of the normative order. Self-transcendence disappears from spirituality, as does the connection between spirituality and wisdom. Instead of an ascent upward, God descends down into you.
  • They say that it’s not that love moves the will, it’s that the way the will moves is love. This is an important change. They pick up on the sacrificial aspect of love. The will is negating itself — to make a space so that God can flow in, unresisted.
  • Being in perpetual conflict with yourself starts to become valorized.
  • Ockham sees God’s will as his primary faculty. “It’s important to understand how this ‘God’ grammar developed, and woven its way into our culture and our cognition.” Whether or not you believe in a God is irrelevant to what this is all about.
  • Your model of God has a tremendous influence on how you understand yourself and reality. God’s will supersedes his reason. It means God is not bound by rationality. Reason isn’t central to God. Ockham concludes that we are like God.
  • e.g. take a bunch of books sitting on a table. We think of them as a group of books, but Ockham says no. It’s only the language we use and the categories we create in our mind that causes them to be “books” to us. There is no universal “book-ness.” All that’s out there is raw individuals. All the order is in our minds. The world is now, in a very real sense, absurd. It’s not intelligible in itself.
  • What happens next is the Black Death. The bubonic plague. It lays waste to 1/3 of the Earth’s population. In fact, the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation (pestilence, famine, war, & death) are all in play: there’s an extended wet period so the crops are dying, there’s the 100 Years War & Crusades…
  • People’s confidence in the worldview they had is being undermined — they think it’s the end of the world. People start moving around and then there’s a labor shortage. People start to be able to sell their labor for more money. They can start to change their status through their own effort. “By my willpower I can change my status. I can make myself something different.” A new view in which reality is seen as a chaotic backdrop on which a battle of wills is occurring.
  • This rise of a more entrepreneurial spirit brings about a rise of commercialism. Banks are created, insurance companies… risk is distributed. Multiple bodies are “in-corp-orated” and made into one, and profits are shared so there become “shares” in a company which gets divided in the end as “dividends.” The state is also going to start protecting contracts and enforcing rules on these social institutions. We see the rise of corporate capitalism and the corporate state.
  • This means people have a place for norms to govern their behavior that have nothing to do with the church or the aristocracy. This means people are creating a secular alternative. A secular version of power, wealth, and prestige. The supernatural world is largely irrelevant.
  • New psychotechnology: algebra. Replace roman numerals with Hindu-Arabic numerals. It speeds up your ability to calculate and process information faster. The concept of zero gets introduced, and also negative numbers because there becomes a need to think about debt.
  • They also improve their celestial navigation, which arises naturally as a way to help prevent endeavors involving shipping and trade have a better chance to succeed. It draws on the new algebraic psychotechnology. People start to discover how chaotic the heavens actually are.
  • Copernicus comes along and says the math is better if you put the sun at the center. The Copernican revolution calls into question the things that we can all see. (We all see the sun rise and set but that’s not really what’s happening. The sun’s not actually moving.) What else is an illusion? What else isn’t real? Your sense experience isn’t putting you in touch with the world. This is terrifying to people.
  • Galileo comes and puts this new way of observing and reasoning into practice and starts using geometry in an abstract fashion. e.g. he’ll use a triangle to make a calculation about speed but a triangle doesn’t actually have anything to do with speed, he’s just making an abstract calculation using the triangle. There’s no conformity between the triangle and how we experience speed in the real world.
  • Galileo kills the universe. He learns about inertial motion. Things move because they are hit by a random external force, and they will continue moving like that until another random external force interrupts it. After Galileo, there is no inner life to things. “You are now a little island — a corpus in a vast desert of purposelessness. You are alone.”
  • The heart of the word “inertial” is “inert.” Dead. Lifeless. Not capable of moving itself.
  • By making matter an actual substance rather than a potential for information, Galileo removes there being any basis for evil. Matter is now just this resistant inert “stuff.” Which means we’ve lost a way to talk about evil. What is evil?
  • Galileo gives us the scientific method, which is a way for overcoming our willful generation of illusion and self-deception. This gives a huge power to the scientific method and to math. Anything I can measure mathematically is real. It is in the object, or as we come to say: “objective.”
  • What about all the things we can’t measure mathematically? How sweet the honey is, how beautiful the sunset is, how meaningful these words are.. where is all that meaning? It must be inside the mind. It’s subjective. “Created by your meaning-making mind, and its willful self-deception.” The orders are breaking down. Nothing is real. I’m not real. You’re not real. These are the types of thoughts we still have today, at 3am, in bed, to ourselves. The universe is inert and indifferent to me.
  • The Protestant Reformation then occurs in Germany. Many other things will continue to occur in Germany…

Next up: Awakening From the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke, Ep. 21— Martin Luther and Descartes (Summary & Notes):

List of Books in the Video:

  • Mark Taylor — After God



Mark Mulvey

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