Awakening From the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke, Ep. 33—The Spirituality of RR: Wonder/Awe/Mystery/Sacredness (Summary & Notes)

Mark Mulvey
6 min readFeb 8, 2022

“Awe pushes you towards an opening, an ongoing accommodation. A sense of the inexhaustibleness — the combinatorially explosive nature — of reality, and the ongoing, evolving, and adaptability of your relevance realization to that explosive potential of reality itself.”

(In case you missed it: Summary & Notes for Ep. 32:

Ep. 33 — Awakening from the Meaning Crisis — The Spirituality of RR: Wonder/Awe/Mystery/Sacredness [59:44]

  • This whole “being” mode of RR (remember, the other side is the “having” mode) is a fundamental framing — but remember, we are inside this framing not on the outside looking at it — and is pre-conceptual. It’s also pre-propositional.
  • “If what we mean by belief is the assertion of propositions and the implications, then relevance realization is taking place at a level fundamentally deeper than the level of belief.”
  • This fundamental framing of RR is also pre-inferential, and pre-communication — you can’t learn it from other people because learning pre-supposes it.
  • It’s also pre-experiential, i.e. in your meaningfully structured experience, your level of common sense obviousness is a result of it. That world of obvious understanding is generated out of RR being coupled to the environment.
  • It’s also pre-egoic because your agency + the arena relationship in which you have a narratively structured, reliably accurate ego co-emerge out of RR.
  • It’s also pre-normative, in the sense that it’s your primordial normativity. “Before you can assess truth, things have to be meaningful to you. Before you can assess beauty, they have to be aspectualized for you. Before you can assess goodness, you have to have agency and arena. This makes possible your normative judgments as to what’s true, what is good, and what is beautiful.”
  • Vervaeke argues that your being and your being connected are one and the same.
  • Religio: this is not the word “religion,” but Vervaeke chooses this word to describe half of the RR system deliberately so that association is there. But religio means “to bind together; to connect” So when he refers to religio he’s referring to all of these pre-conceptual, pre-propositional, pre-inferential, pre-communication, pre-experiential, pre-egoic, pre-normative systems and principles in the RR framework.
  • “I’m using religio in a spiritual sense, as the sense of a pre-egoic (and ultimately post-egoic) binding that simultaneously grounds the self and its world.”
  • A quote by Paul Acosta from his essay “A Secular Wonder” in the book The Joys of Secularism: “The very ordinary fact that things always ‘matter’ in some way or other to us, and that we cannot help but be affected by things as if we were immersed in a sort of bubble of meaningfulness, or better: in an atmosphere of significance and import that we do not create from scratch but are absorbed by. The metaphor of the atmosphere should suggest not only the image of a global container but also that of a rhythm of breathing and of a light refraction to which a living being must attune or adjust herself.” This was written by someone commenting on secularism (!)
  • Another quote: “The experience of having a world has its roots not in a head-on and focused relationship with a clear-cut object but in the emergence of a bubble of significance that for a sentient being plays the same role that is played by the atmosphere with regard to the earth. It creates, that is, special conditions of life where existentially crucial distinctions between inside and outside are drawn.”
  • “The atmospheric nature of the bubble of the significance means that we don’t experience it as a focal object but through non-focal states such as wonder and awe.” (Vervaeke would add, which we’ll cover later, its opposites: absurdity and horror.)
  • Vervaeke: “Wonder is that state in which we become aware in a participatory and perspectival way of the significance and our involvement (and our indebtedness to the two), and our participation from and our commitedness to the atmosphere of relevance realization.”
  • This atmosphere comparison calls to mind religious writings (St. Paul) that talk about God as that in whom we live and move and have our being. Not to say that RR is God but that wonder and awe (which are often directed at God) are ways in which we connect to RR and its deeper significance to us.
  • Robert Fuller in his book Wonder also argues that wonder is responsible for some of our deepest experiences of religio but he does so by explaining the underlying functionality of things like wonder.
  • You have things like curiosity in the “having” mode (we can think of curiosity as problem-solving — it has a focal object, it’s directed at things), but wonder is more diffuse an experience and non-focal. It’s more of an opening up and the awe that comes from the perspectival/participatory knowing of the atmosphere.
  • Fuller argues that the point of wonder is to try to get you to participate in more of the gestalt — the whole. The how-does-it-all-fit-together.
  • “Awe pushes you towards an opening, an ongoing accommodation. A sense of the inexhaustibleness — the combinatorially explosive nature — of reality, and the ongoing, evolving, and adaptability of your relevance realization to that explosive potential of reality itself.”
  • Wonder (awe) helps you remember and put you in touch with religio. It gives you a sense of participating. Emerging from, co-creating with.
  • The having mode is about solving problems, the being mode is about confronting a mystery.
  • All of this that we’ve talked about so far gives you a trajectory of transframing. It doesn’t stabilize (it can’t land us on a focal object), all it’s disclosing is the machinery of religio. But you find this deeply meaningful. However, pushed too far and it becomes deeply meaningful in a negative sense: horror.
  • There is a difference between something being a phenomenological mystery and it being something I cannot theoretically explain. “To conflate them is to equivocate between propositional and perspectival knowing.” An example to illustrate: it is phenomenologically impossible for me to perspectivally know what it is like to be dead.
  • William James made a similar distinction when he made a distinction between the I and the Me — subjectivity and objectivity. Vervaeke, on the pun: “I can never see the eye (I), I can only see by means of the eye (I).”
  • Don’t confuse properties of your theories with properties of what your theories are about. Theories don’t need to exemplify what they are talking about.
  • At this point there could be a major objection against this whole argument: what’s missing from religio that’s found in religion is to confront the sacred.
  • “The sacred” is a metaphysical proposal, grounded in the idea that it is supernatural. And “Sacredness” is a psycho-existential proposal, i.e. what it is like to experience the sacred. Religio is associated with the latter. (psycho- having to do with cognitive processing, all the kinds of knowing, etc., and existential by definition has to do with the being mode, transjectivity, etc.)
  • Starting with Sacredness: a very central feature, so central that it’s easy to trivialize, is a meta-meaning function. That is, sacredness (and religion, which get conflated and blend into one another) is “homing us against horror.” Preventing us from the alienating effects of culture-shock (what Vervaeke calls “domicide” — feeling estranged and untethered from a culture, such as when you travel to a foreign country). ‘Horror’ here meaning to be overwhelmed by loneliness, homesickness, cultural shock, and a tremendous sense of alienation, absurdity, and anxiety. It’s helps us to be more resilient in the face of the tragedies and horrors of life.
  • Vervaeke thinks that this protective feature that sacredness has of homing us against horror is a necessary feature but not a sufficient one. To return to Gnosticism and the Gnostics: “the trajectory of transframing is ultimately understood as transgressive. It’s trying to overturn the grammar of a worldview.”
  • This points to something else the sacred does for us, which comes from the work of Otto (which in turn was influenced by the work of Kant): The idea of “holy” is etymologically linked (non-obviously) to “health” but also associated with notions of moral righteousness and glory. This whole web of associations around the idea of “holy” is something Otto called the numinous. This was derived from Jung, used to describe the fundamental experience the transgressive side of the sacredness — how it opens us up in wonder and awe and even takes us to the horizon of horror.

Up next: Awakening From the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke, Ep. 34 — Sacredness: Horror, Music, and the Symbol (Summary & Notes)

List of Books in the Video:

  • Robert Fuller — Wonder: From Emotion to Spirituality
  • George Levine — The Joy of Secularism: 11 Essays for How We Live Now



Mark Mulvey

Arts • Investing • Games • Tech • Philosophy • Bitcoin |