Dr. Peterson and John Vervaeke Discuss the Meaning Crisis | EP 414

Dr. Peterson and John Vervaeke Discuss the Meaning Crisis | EP 414

Coming up (00:00:00)

  • Peterson's faith is a faithfulness to a process of self-correction, not to any one faculty as the voice of the Divine.
  • He believes that the capacity for self-correction can take on a life of its own and plug into transpersonal and transcendent aspects of his being.

Intro (00:00:25)

  • Peterson and Vervaeke discuss the counter-Enlightenment, which aims to rectify the meaning crisis by rediscovering the sacred and what's deep and meaningful.

2024 plans, The Philosophical Silk Road (00:01:42)

  • Peterson proposes a dependency structure among thinkers, with more seminal thinkers having more thinkers dependent on them.
  • The biblical Corpus stands at the bottom of the western Canon, with thinkers like Dante, Milton, and Shakespeare building on it.
  • The depth of a thought is dependent on how many other thoughts are dependent on it for its validity.
  • This dependency structure also works neuropsychologically, with deeper assumptions producing more entropy when violated.
  • The degree to which one can handle entropy is proportionate to their social status, as indicated by serotonin system index.

The Vervaeke Foundation (00:05:33)

  • Peterson discusses his book "We Who Wrestle with God" and his attempt to define the sacred.
  • He proposes that the deeper one goes down the assumption hierarchy, the closer one gets to the sacred.
  • Encounters that shift one's hyper priors in a positive way produce a corresponding sensation of awe, which is a dopaminergically mediated revelation of possibility.

Cataloguing John’s body of work, AI (00:06:44)

  • Peterson conceptualizes the sacred as a process, with a spirit in the Old Testament characterized as Yahweh.
  • This spirit manifests itself in different guises, with each story shedding a different light on it.
  • The underlying Unity of this spirit is reflected in the monotheistic hypothesis of one God beneath all the gods.

Mentoring the Machine (00:09:02)

  • Peterson discusses the call of the sacred as spontaneous interest or calling, which is equivalent to the traditional notion of call.
  • He also identifies conscience as the corresponding element of the Divine, which acts as an internalized voice of conscience or source of the super ego.
  • The dynamic relationship between calling and conscience is conceptualized as the holy spirit.

Staying virtuously oriented (00:10:35)

  • Vervaeke discusses three dimensions of the sacred: ultimacy, axiological, and relational.
  • Ultimacy refers to what everything is asymmetrically dependent on, which is the source of explanation and understanding.
  • Axiological refers to the valuing and loving of the ultimate, which is expressed in the Old Testament Corpus as part of the covenantal relationship.
  • Relational refers to the commitment of the whole self in love, which calls one as a complete person and involves the transmutation of the image of God within.

Entropy, perceptions, assumptions, and the sacred (00:13:40)

  • The sacred can be found in non-theistic traditions like Buddhism and Taoism.
  • The neoplatonic proposal suggests that to understand what is most real, we must find the ground of intelligibility through asymmetric dependence.
  • If there's a plurality, there are in-built contradictions and divisiveness, while an ultimate unity, though mysterious, indicates that all things can be brought together harmoniously.
  • Confusion and anxiety mark a plurality, while purity of heart is to will one thing.
  • Understanding something involves finding a unifying principle, which leads to ineffability.
  • Nicholas of Cusa's idea of God as an intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

Hyper priors, indexing social standing for the proportionality of response to negative stimuli (00:16:30)

  • Nicholas of Cusa's quote: "God is within everything but not enclosed and Beyond everything but not excluded."
  • People who come into a relationship with what they consider more real take on a loving relationship and seek to transform their identities and lives.
  • This can be a marker for the validity of the encounter.
  • There are links between attitude and underlying thriving, and it's reasonable to assume that contact with the archetypal ideal would have a healing effect.

The divine lies deeper, calling and conscience (00:18:35)

  • Systematicity of error can point to intrinsic constraints and developmental arcs.
  • Systematicity of insight can lead to a systematic transformation of one's orientation and grip on the world.
  • Baptism, shamanic death and rebirth, and the great doubt in zazen are examples of such transformations.
  • Descartes' contact epistemology and the separation of mind and world after the Scientific Revolution.
  • Descartes' emphasis on logic and insight.

Three dimensions of the sacred (00:23:30)

  • Thought is a form of secularized prayer.
  • The steps of thought:
    • Confession (admission of insufficiency)
    • Positing a question
    • Revelation (appearance of a solution)
    • Testing the thought (attacking it from different sides, understanding its implications)
  • This process is similar to the practice of prayer.

There is either a unity or a plurality (00:26:16)

  • Deep Revelation is a systemic Insight.
  • The work on sabbatical involves exploring these ideas further.

“The One” grounds out in effability (00:27:30)

  • Neoplatonic and Zen traditions have practices that involve asking questions and listening to the answers to get a sense of the ineffable.
  • The goal is to achieve a state of "learned ignorance" or "aporetic aperture" where one becomes aware of their own lack of knowledge and connects with the depths of reality.
  • This practice helps circumvent self-serving biases in questioning and answering by establishing a relationship with the ineffable.

Love comes from a feeling of “realness” (00:28:56)

  • The ineffable is not something that can be possessed or controlled, but rather something that can be participated in and experienced.
  • It is a falling away of representational reification and a realization that nothing is excluded or enclosed within the self.

Healing and the Gospels (00:30:00)

  • The practice of connecting with the ineffable has led to a sense of humility, hope, and resignation in the speaker.
  • Baptism is seen as an opening to possession by the ineffable, and the descent of the Holy Spirit is a consequence of this opening.
  • Christ's baptism is followed by a radical transformation of personality, symbolized by his going into the desert.
  • The temptations in the desert represent a colloquy with conscience and a journey to the bottom of things to understand the source of evil.

Piaget, Descartes, systems of insight (00:31:33)

  • The descent into the depths of the soul can reveal profound indications of error and presumption.
  • Spiritual alchemy practices involve recalling moments of hurt and humiliation to uncover pretentious projections and gain revelation.
  • This process is similar to the father who is trapped in the belly of the Beast and Jonah's descent into the depths, leading to a revaluation of ethical stance.

Thought is a form of secularized prayer (00:34:54)

  • The Bible contains powerful moments of humanity in the mix of wrestling with the numinous.
  • The story of Jonah and the sailors highlights the human capacity for compassion and selflessness.
  • The voice of conscience and the voice of the ineffable are related, as conscience can be seen as a sign of transgression against the ineffable.
  • However, distinguishing between psychological and logical indubitability is a challenge, as our inability to doubt can be driven by various factors beyond metaphysical necessity.

Nothing within or without (00:41:07)

  • Peterson does not idolize any of his faculties, including his conscience, as he believes it can be influenced by his culture, parents, or a sadistic super ego.
  • He sees the conscience as something that can be transformed through dialogue and relationship-building.
  • Peterson draws parallels between the conscience and the Socratic demonium, which Socrates relied on for guidance.
  • Socrates saw his demonium and rational arguments as deeply dialogical and convergent, rather than oppositional.

Humility and resolution (00:43:45)

  • Peterson describes his experience with Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, where he engaged in "Parts work" to dialogue with different aspects of himself.
  • He emphasizes the importance of approaching these parts with humility and curiosity, rather than demonizing them.
  • By engaging in dialogue with these parts, Peterson aims to understand their underlying motivations and help them develop in a healthy way.

The landscape of the soul, parallels to Dante’s Inferno (00:45:16)

  • During an IFS session, Peterson encountered an archetypal presence that he identified as Hermes, the god of interpretation and meaning-making.
  • He describes the phenomenology of this experience as a sense of presence and mindsight into another's awareness.
  • Peterson views these entities as neither subjective nor objective, but existing in the domain of relevance that binds together the inner and outer aspects of the self.
  • He engages in ongoing dialogue with Hermes, considering him a superordinate spirit that helps cultivate a relationship analogous to Socrates' demonium.

Idolatry, using hurt to smite pretensions (00:48:00)

  • Peterson emphasizes the importance of developing a dialogical relationship with this superordinate spirit to avoid idolatry and cultivate a balance between finitude and transcendence.
  • He draws on the Platonic proposal that humans should hold in tonos Creative tension between their finitude and transcendence to avoid falling prey to servitude, despair, hubris, or inflation.
  • Peterson sees Socrates as embodying this balance and portrays him as a maxu between the human and the Divine.

Conscience and the ineffable (00:49:41)

  • Peterson integrates the Socratic spirit with Hermes as a psychological and biological presence, viewing them as deeply Allied to each other.
  • He compares this process to a conscious equivalent of a dream, filled with both logos and Mythos.
  • Peterson acknowledges the mysterious and ineffable aspects of this discourse, emphasizing the need for constant openness to self-correction and avoiding idolatry of any one faculty as the voice of the Divine.
  • He suggests that the opposite of self-deception is a continual process of self-correction and faithfulness to that process, rather than a fixed stance on truth.

Vervaeke’s Daemons (00:54:11)

  • Vervaeke's daemons prioritize attention towards the highest ineffable good.
  • Conscience and calling are part of the dynamic process of attention that allows true attention to rise.
  • Moses' encounter with the burning bush can be seen as an example of a calling.
  • Calling can emerge from possession by an ideological spirit or as a manifestation of the real thing, and it requires careful discernment.
  • The interplay of conscience and calling is more reliable, especially when shared with others.

The appearance of Hermes, transjective presence (00:57:32)

  • The fire in the Exodus story burns but does not burn up, representing an inexhaustible fountain of intelligibility.
  • Plato's Republic is an example of a sacred text that offers an inexhaustible fountain of intelligibility and transformation.
  • The sacred is associated with the neoplatonic notion of an inexhaustible fountain of intelligibility.
  • Reading sacred texts can be transformative and nourishing, providing a reciprocal opening between the text and the reader.

Embracing the relationship (00:59:48)

  • The sacred can be found in relationships, such as the commitment between partners, which is sacred but not the ultimate.
  • Idolatry is a concern when experiencing the sacred, and a careful usage of terms like "the one" or "God" is necessary to avoid it.
  • The commitment to representation while pushing towards that which is below representation is important in understanding meaning.
  • Meaning can be understood as religio, connecting to something with reality and value beyond one's existence.
  • As we receive nourishment from the sacred, we become more capable of turning the arrow of relevance outward, focusing on how we can be relevant to others.

The eye at the top of the pyramid (01:05:06)

  • The speaker discusses the importance of having a sense of meaning in life and how it can be found through a connection to something greater than oneself.
  • The speaker shares their personal experiences of finding meaning through their work and their religious beliefs.
  • The speaker emphasizes the importance of finding what is truly meaningful and not just what brings immediate pleasure or satisfaction.

When a text is inevitably transformative (01:09:48)

  • The speaker discusses the importance of involving the whole psyche in the pursuit of meaning and avoiding self-involvement and suffering.
  • The speaker highlights the importance of establishing harmony in existence and relationships as a source of meaning.
  • The speaker uses the example of parenthood to illustrate how transformative experiences can lead to a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.
  • The speaker emphasizes the importance of maintaining faith and allegiance to what is highest, even in the face of adversity.

Sacred but not the One, searching for ultimacy (01:14:52)

  • The speaker discusses the Book of Job and the moral proposition that one should maintain faith in the essential goodness of existence regardless of immediate circumstances.
  • The speaker shares a personal interpretation of the movie "Joe Versus the Volcano" and how it illustrates the power of gratitude and the numinous in finding meaning.
  • The speaker discusses the relationship between the transcendentals (the true, the good, and the beautiful) and how they contribute to a sense of meaning in life.
  • The speaker highlights the importance of sensory-motor mastery and the distinction between morality and meaning in life.

A metaphysical concern with evil (01:19:36)

  • Morality is not reducible to emotional state.
  • Meaning in life cannot be satisfied just by being a highly moral person.
  • Connectedness has three dimensions: sensory-motor mastery, production/promotion/protection of personhood, and a connection to something meaningful.
  • Morality and meaning can come apart.

Plato’s pivot problem (01:21:50)

  • Seminars in the gag archipelago were a meaning endeavor, not a moral one.
  • Morality is a commitment to a sense of duty born from something like the categorical imperative.
  • Kant argues that doing something out of love is not a moral act because it is not done for the sense of duty.
  • Christ's ethical striving exceeds that of the Pharisees and is not dissociable from meaning.
  • Paul wrestles with the difference between law and love.
  • Job recovers a gratitude for his life through a connection with the numinous, not through moral reasoning.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder may be a violation of the hyper prior of a just world hypothesis.
  • Meaning-generating practices can help heal trauma by restoring people's sense of religio connectedness.

Job’s proposition (01:25:02)

  • Depression can be a result of a terrible life, not a failure of embedded structures of meaning.
  • Anti-depressants may be effective for people whose depression is not a consequence of the failure of embedded structures.
  • Treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder may involve expanding the person's explicit representation of the world.

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