Thursday, October 17, 2019

Meaning Making and Liberty

In Episode 38 of his pursuit to develop a religion that is not a religion, John Vervaeke has come to the heart of it.  In the search for meaning, he has come to agape!  All quotes are from Vervaeke (paraphrased, given the source is video), unless otherwise noted:

Agape is to love for its own sake the process of meaning making and the process of meaning making is the process of being a person.  This is agape.  The sense of being connected to other people, agape-ly.

What does this have to do with a search for liberty?  We will come to the intersection of the meaning crisis and the root of Natural Law, as the two are grounded in exactly the same place.

First, some expansion on the word agape; from Wikipedia:

Agape is a Greco-Christian term referring to love, "the highest form of love, charity" and "the love of God for man and of man for God". … it embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance. It goes beyond just the emotions to the extent of seeking the best for others.

Although it is a Greek word, “There are few instances of the word agape in polytheistic Greek literature.”

Next, from a Christian source:

The word "agape" is used 106 times throughout the New Testament. … the Greek word agapē which is supposed to be the highest expression of love—a pure, selfless, unconditional thing.

Recall beatitudo, the end or purpose of man.  In English, we translate this word as “happiness,” but it is much deeper than this:

Beatitudo: (Beatitudo = happiness or blessedness). The happiness that comes from seeing the good in others and doing the good for others. It is, in essence, other-regarding action.

And here is the connection to Natural Law, and hence the foundation for natural rights which then can withstand assaults on liberty.  I cannot give you a theological or academic explanation of the subtle differences between the words agape and beatitudo.  The best I can do: we must act with agape in order to achieve beatitudo; we must act with unconditional love in order to reach the proper end or purpose of man – happiness.

Returning again to Vervaeke:

That exists independently of me, you, us, a group. Because agape precedes, permeates and follows us. 

It seems it is not something that each of us, as individuals, can create or invent.  It exists, we must discover it and mature it in us.

Whatever machinery we craft together for addressing the perennial problem has to be integrated and grounded in an agapeic way of being.  We have to care about the conditions that make any caring possible.

It points to caring about something that is inherently transjective and has a value independent of my valuing of it.  I emerge from it and participate in it; I am not the source or maker of it.

Well, you ask, then who – or what – is the source?  No, in this lecture it will not be the answer that comes naturally.  But more on that later.  I had to look up transjective.  This is a new term in philosophy, revising the subject-object definition:

…it is the subject-mind and material body of which it has an inner sense. It is the subject and the subject’s body together. You are the only being that can describe yourself as a transject. You can only describe yourself as being transjective.

Returning to Vervaeke, he will use third generation cognitive science to address this.  Apparently, it is OK to ground this in – or have resonance with – Buddhism.  It is, apparently, not OK to ground it in Christianity – the only religion that has offered us the archetypical example of agape and beatitudo. 

Vervaeke then presents the four “E”s of cognitive science:

The first E, can be represented by these four words: embodied, embedded, enactive, extended.  It undermines the way that Descartes severed everything: the mind and the body are not disconnected – they are in a deep continuity; the mind and the world are not disconnected – they are in a deep continuity of embeddedness and enactive processing.

Next, emergence: This means we are starting to get a vertical dimension back to our ontology: not a two-worlds vertical dimension, but the idea of emergence through complexification.  It is self-organizing (fire, combustion, a tornado, evolution, all are self-organizing).  Not just self-organizing but self-making.  These can then become self-identifying things.

So, no two-worlds (heaven and earth?  God and man?).  Self-organizing and self-identifying.  I must be in control – mind, body…and soul?

It is self-transcendence.  A normative order is being given a metaphysical backing. 

I am the metaphysical backing for my self-transcendence.  (Toward the end of the series he will discuss this bottom-up emergence, and if it needs to be complimented by the metaphysical idea of a top-down emanation.)

The third E, emotion: reason without emotion leaves one incapacitated as a cognitive agent.  We have to take care; ultimately, we have to take care of ourselves.  Without emotion combined with reason, we are vulnerable to combinatorial explosion. 

I am not sure I comprehend the connection of emotion to the issue of relevance realization – the necessary ability to avoid combinatory explosion.  In any case, Vervaeke labels this “caring-coping.”  He envisions that the further we move toward general artificial intelligence, machines will have to be given something approaching emotions.

The fourth E is excellence: connections between 4E cognitive science and positive psychology – a way of doing psychology that studies the mind in how it excels beyond the norm (happiness, meaning of life, wisdom).  As opposed to standard psychology, evaluating how things break down or fall apart.

By seeing how the mind excels, we reveal properties and powers that we don’t see in the norm.  it’s one thing to have this knowledge; we need the wisdom of how to use it best.  We can then cultivate enlightenment. 

We need transcendence – but not from above, not from the two-worlds mythology; we need transcendence into the depths of the psyche.

What remains to be dealt with is the narrative order – it points us to the telos.  Thus far, Vervaeke’s relevance realization is non-teleological.  Hence, he suggests that we should think differently about the narrative order; we should think of it as gnosis: an open-ended optimization. 

I understand open-ended optimization if I am using Jesus as the Form of the Good made manifest and therefore living the perfect example of the telos for human beings: we can never achieve the perfection of Jesus – but we do have an ideal target at which to aim our focus.

But Vervaeke isn’t going in this direction despite his colleague recognizing that Jesus is the archetype for humans.  Vervaeke is leaving it – presumably to each individual – to figure out his own open-ended optimization.

Returning to Vervaeke: we may have indispensable need for symbols and stories to afford that, but we do not need to think of those symbols and stories as existing independently in the structure of reality.  We certainly don’t want to get back to utopic visions, as these have been the source of a lot of suffering and distress.

But if we leave this telos to our own open-ended optimization, what stands in the way of utopic visions?  One thing of which I am certain: the example given to us by Jesus of how to live – and die – conforms to no man-made utopia of which I am familiar.

Instead of Jesus (because recognizing Jesus puts put someone besides me in charge), Vervaeke finds this in Buddhism: we do not need a narrative of a grand purpose that is connected with the history of the cosmos, but by getting beyond a narrative form of reality we should achieve a higher state of consciousness, feeling deeply connected with ourselves and reality.

We move from fluency to insight to flow to mystical experiences to mystical experiences that drive the higher states of consciousness.

In other words, we have to be in charge.  Modern science requires this, scoffing at any other possibility.  Yet, the more this current conversation evolves, the more it becomes clear that there is no other explanatory answer: someone or something else is in charge.  We see it in this discussion of Mind over Matter; we see it in this video, where Bret Weinstein has no logical foundation for his religion that is not a religion but that sounds a lot like Christianity.  We see it in the way that Jordan Peterson exploded on the scene precisely because of this conversation and his metaphysical view on it.


So, back to liberty.  Liberty is a state that allows man to reach his proper ends – ends that accord to his nature; Natural Law.  Further, at least in my view, it is a state where non-aggressive violations via acts that are not aimed toward man’s proper ends are not punishable by physical force.

Man’s proper ends are happiness, meaning beatitudo – other serving action.  Call it the Golden Rule.  Certainly, agape moves man toward desiring such action.

Liberty is a state built on Natural Law.  Liberty is protected precisely by NOT placing man in charge – a condition certain to result with you not being the one in charge.  The ultimate authority must be out of the reach of man.

Vervaeke fears the utopias born of a two-world view; I fear the utopias born of a one-world view.  Far and away, the latter have been the more deadly.


  1. Sounds like new agey, existentialist, gnosticism, but heavy on the gnosticism.

  2. "Yet, the more this current conversation evolves, the more it becomes clear that there is no other explanatory answer: someone or something else is in charge." - BM

    When I went through my period of doubting God's existence in my late teens and early twenties, I was basically governed by an emotional, rebellious, self-centered and non-rational attitude. When I regained my faith, it was only after turning on the rational part of my brain again and purposely seeking the truth of my existence and its relation to the community of souls around me (the living, the dead, and the yet to be). I think there is a 'macro' parallel here to my 'micro' situation, and you crystallized that for me in the above sentence.

    The more we set our brains to discovering the scientific truths of reality the more we discover how profound the professed religious truths of Christianity really are. Sadly, many like Vervaeke, Peterson, Nietzsche, Jung, and especially Rothbard, though they properly recognize the need for the role Christianity serves in a healthy society, especially as a bulwark against totalitarianism, cannot humble their hearts enough to believe in Christ's salvation. They cannot believe that He walked on water, that He performed miracles, or that He was the Son of God who died on the Cross for our sins.

    "Vervaeke fears the utopias born of a two-world view; I fear the utopias born of a one-world view. Far and away, the latter have been the more deadly." - BM

    Here here!

    1. When I began this journey - which should be dated from the first blog post, I guess - I never thought that my search for liberty would intersect with Christianity...sounds dumb to me now, but there you have it.

      I guess somewhere in me I knew it - I recall thinking that people like Lew Rockwell were doing God's work - but while it felt right to think this, it sure sounded weird to me.

      Then when I first started working through the relevance of Jordan Peterson to my search, I almost felt as if this might cost me my faith in some way. Instead, it has both strengthened my faith and made clear the absolute necessity of Christianity to liberty.

      I know that I stole the following from someone - I just don't remember from whom: God is the author of reason and faith. Why should there be any conflict, and why should we fear any?

  3. You're tracking with me that telos is in fact the perpetual structural weakness of all of these secular approaches. Relevance realization is comparable to JBP's meaning as internal compass but whether either of these direction finders out of immediate problems can generate or even point to lasting or dare we say "eternal" fixed points is a whole other question. I imagine contemporary skepticism simply says "we can neither afford nor justify any such hope" but yet I come back around to asking "on what grounds can we then call it out of order" for we can neither point to nor justify that order either. Thanks for your post.

    1. Paul much of my "tracking" is thanks to you.

      You said something recently that caused me to stop. While I have been careful in my discussions of Vervaeke's work (given how respectful he is of other traditions, including Christianity), I have not fully recognized his value to that which is valuable to me.

      You said something like: he is helping to give scientific grounding to Christianity (and I am greatly paraphrasing, I am sure).

      In my own words, his work is proving even more the necessity of putting Christ in the middle of the picture.