Ep. 18 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Plotiinus and Neoplatonism



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my notes

  • Gnostics not their own group, more like fundamentalism: a style, way of being.
  • Pervasive during early Christianity
  • How to interpret Gnosticism: axial revolution within the axial revolution
  • People existentially trapped - existentially stuck, don’t know how to engage the anagoge in order to make a worldview viable to them. Existentially indecisive, facing deep transformative experience, don’t know how to reason through it. Can fragment world, tear apart agency.
  • What is needed is recovery of serious play through ritual behaviour, enactive analogy, get into liminal state, so perspectival and participatory manner bridge in an apt way btw world and the self that are now ,and the world and the self want to become
  • Enactive ritual should afford anagoge: transframe the reciprocal anagogic process by which self and world are transformed, such that we can go through the sensibility transcendence to make a worldview viable to us,
  • Altered states of conscious helps this
  • Increased realness of the world trying to move into.
  • Dangers: when putting ourselves and our world at risk, chance fall prey to parasitic processing, bullshitting ourselves, deceiving ourselves -> important build a community, shared mythology, network to provide feedback, guidance, correction, feedback
  • Higher state of consciousness set within ritual framing set within central and supportive community

(he really doesn’t want us doing this on our own)

  • gnosticism: deeply transformative, deep participatory knowing. Ritually enf ramed, embedded sapiential informative community
  • Project addressing domicide going on
  • Christianity and gnostics both a response
  • Gnostics saw themselves as christian - Jesus brought them gnosis
  • Important not to believe in Jesus but to become like Jesus
  • For our purposes: gnosticism and christianity deeply talking to one another and informing one another, along with neoplatonism
  • Gnosis is the kind of thing need to bring about release from existential entrapment
  • Like an acid trip, their stuff so bizarre - but main themes of mythology its a scaffolding to bring about gnosis
  • Book: the gnostic new age:
    • Movies have gnostic theme.
    • Mythology of movie is where we go to play with our mythology.
  • Mythology Plato:
    • Everyday world like the shadows and the echoes. Images, participate in the forms. Patterns of intelligibility and realness
    • E=MC2 not an event, how do the forms express themselves in the things that are changing
    • craftsman: Demiurge: rational agent shapes things in space and time to make the world of the coming have some reality to it
    • Mythological point: understand mythologically the relationship between eternity and time
  • Gnostics:
    • Took this, seeing all this suffering, feeling trapped
    • Evidence that whoever created this world was stupid, evil or both
    • In Plato the demiurge is benificent, here evil overlord
    • Trying to articulate the sense of being trapped, sociopolitical structures thwarting them
    • Maybe that’s a mythological way to talk about existential entrapment, look at the patterns of culture, don’t feel like they are shaping a world to alleviate entrapment, rather, stupid evil

(I like this way of looking at myth. Stories we tell to emphasize patterns)

  • People view their myths not as helping them but as thwarting their efforts to be free from existential entrapment.

(hmm, this ties into #USvsTHEM. We craft myths (strawmen) and paint the other side as “stupid and evil” - more importantly its the other who is attempting to thwart our efforts to alleviate suffering. Each side crafts similar myths about the other. )

  • socio-political, socio-cultural patterns that designed to further that entrapment, further our self-deception, further out self-destruction, keep us enmeshed in modal confusion, parasitic processing, stuck and stupefied
  • Gnostic Myths:
    • Identified all the existing gods, saw them as basically guards of our prison
    • They see what people saw as sacred as imprisoning us.
    • Radical idea: something common to all of these gods that must now be challenged.
    • Up to now: servitude and slavery to the gods
    • Gnostics want to invert that
    • Don’t worship them, idealism them, give in to these patterns, to serve and fit into them -> transcend them all
    • They are not divine, they are our prison guards.
    • Something in us - carry us above, to the god beyond all gods
    • God of OT: evil, jealous, vindictive, genocide, favouritism for no moral reason
    • God of the NT: God of agape, god of light and love (hell?)
    • Does not want our worship, wants us to reunite with him or her
    • They challenged gender roles: women just as capable
    • We have the power to sense that we don’t belong here, we belong somewhere else, know something fundamentally wrong here
    • God of all gods sends us into suffering to get gnosis: transformative knowledge to set us free
    • Teachings of Jesus more important: brings us the way of knowing agape to free ourselves from this
    • Gnostics see christianity to give us mythology to free us from existential suffering
    • Gnostics keep churning out new gospels, new myths: it’s about having engaged in the process of creating the enactive analogies, enacted anagoge, that’s what matters.

( Again highlighting the usefulness of myth - not important as literal, but very important in terms of experiencing these patterns, taking them in, feeling them, understanding them, knowing them. We should therefore be open to developing new myths. My question is did they do this consciously or unconsciously?)

  • this idea that spirituality is about transcending the gods pertinent to us today, and radical for its time
  • Core of spirituality is not worship but self-transcendence. Healing and freeing people from existential entrapment and mythology and practices should be about reuniting us with who we are.

(I think many Christians will hate this idea)

  • We love this story today.
    • Platonic elements: people trapped in cave, bound, get secret knowledge frees them, return to see the light, then come back to the cave spread the message
    • gnostics: has that platonism, Christianity - Jesus - as embodiment of gnosis rather than as a sacrifice in which we should have faith
    • Jesus teacher who provides us something like what the shaman did.

(I think it would be interesting to read the NT with this filter. See if I get more out of it)

  • Provides the keys to unlock all the ways in which these patterns, ways of thinking and being, exacerbate our suffering. Existential entrapment.
  • Movies:
    • Modern portrayals of gnosticism:
    • Matrix: entrapped in world of illusion, evil overlords, don’t discover who really are, know splinter in mind something wrong.
    • Truman Show: Tue-man. World with overlord, keep him from getting his agency. He needs the knowledge to get beyond this god.
    • We keep telling this story because its a myth - keeps pointing to patterns that are pervasive, profound and powerful - we can’t quite articulate them, can’t quite know them, but the myth gives a moment of narrative and symbolic recognition of our suffering.
    • Star Wars
    • (Lego Movie)
  • Dark Side to gnosticism:
    • It can lead to conspiracy theory
    • Behind all the chaos and suffering there actually is an evil overlord.
    • Ultimate conspiracy theory.
    • God of the old testament = evil overlord -> jews worship god of OT: Jews part of conspiracy to keep us from realizing our true heritage. Very dangerous, and bloodthirsty idea.
    • Nazism : is a twisted gnostic response to the meaning crisis magnified Weimar Republic
    • We should have an ambivalent attitude to it. How we can extricate gnosis from gnosticism>
    • How can we salvage Agape from Christianity
    • How can we salvage wisdom from the anicient nomological order.

(there it is: the secular extraction of meaning from all these traditions)

  • Orthodox Church - worship Jesus and faith crucial persecuted gnostic form of Christianity, drove it underground. Enmeshed with other groups who challenged social order
  • Tillich: great theologians:
    • The Courage to Be: way of discovering the gnosis of the god beyond theism.
    • Have to discover the God as the meaning crisis destroys the theistic mythology of God, can we rediscover sacredness in a way that liberates us from our existential suffering. Tillich thought christianity can play a role in that.
  • Jung:
    • Deeply gnostic. Transformation into psychotherapeutic context the gnostic mythology
    • Scaffolding to give us enactive anagoge, central to therapeutic processes
  • Corbyn:
    • Recover this kind of knowing
    • Concern we had lost this kind of knowing. Lost this kind of capacity for this kind of transformation. Trapped in these historical patterns.

(So our goal should be to accurately assess the patterns. Not in a conspiratorial way.)

  • Not advocating an attempt to resurrect gnosticism.
  • Tillich: opposed Nazis.
  • Can we salvage from Gnosticism: Gnosis? Radical message of how we can have a non theistic, non supernaturalistic understanding of sacredness?
  • Avoid the conspiratorial thinking that has been so damaging.
  • Has been damaging; gnosticism can ally into the utopian, enticing, ideologies, great conspiracy theory, tell you you belong to the chosen class or race, the system is evil and must be destroyed.
  • Chris Hedges: American Fascists: Fundamentalist Christianity
  • I believe in Atheists: also New Atheists represent utopic perfectionism that sanctions violence
  • Hitchens, Harris, nuclei first strike against islamic world
  • Ambivalent attitude towards Gnosticsm.
  • Historical picture:
    • Emerging Christianity
    • Interacting with Gnosticms
    • Platonism - neoplatonism
  • Triangle necessary to understand final piece of grammar of meaning.

Neo-platonism and Plotinus:

  • Matrix: Neo often called the One, the One is the central thing in Neo-platonism
  • Reason these patterns keep being so attractive to us.
  • Analogy: intergration QM and relativity, if success will have grand unified theory.
  • Plotinus : grand unified field theory of ancient Spirituality
    • Plato’s spirituality - Anagoge.
    • Aristotle’s theory: worldview, theory of knowing.
    • Takes from Stoics: therapeutic project
    • Integrates them together in powerful way:
    • Can start with any one of these and get to the other two.
    • When reading him, undergoing spiritual exercise, transform state of consciousness and cognition
    • Aristotle’s conformity theory:
    • know something by sharing same structural, organizational function with it. Plotinus says: also levels of being. Potential to Actual. Levels of reality. Levels of realness.
    • As we know (participatory) as we make these levels of reality viable to us, livable to us, we conform to them and we change.

(this is what I mean when I understand something intellectually but don’t grasp it. I think I mean I don’t have a participatory knowing to it. I’m getting more what he means by participatory knowing.)

  • As we conform to make this level of reality real to us, moving to a higher level of the self
  • As wee conform also altering what level self is at (Anagoge of Plato)
  • More capable of living in that higher level of reality.
  • Helps us deeply remember the being mode.
  • What makes something real?
    • How much time have put into that?
    • If we are driven by a pursuit of realness and don’t understand what it is, that’s the gap of bullshit.
    • For Plotiunus: how do we sense what is real, and how it’s organized: is how One it is. How integrated it is. How structurally functionally organized it is.

(hmmm, my gut feeling is there is a problem with this. But maybe it only works for abstract concepts?)

  • How One it is. How integrated it is. How much it is structurally, functionally organized.
  • We treat the object as more than the shadows because it is more structurally functionally organized.

(but the shadow is still real.)

  • What is it to understand something. Bunch of things and when understand it they are all one. I understand how they are integrated together.

(I agree with this. But that’s talking about understanding what is real. It’s critically important but I don’t know… something not jiving with me here. Have to sit with it.)

  • The more integrated, more real.

(or more real to me. More salient).

  • Things are more real to us as more integrated together. And more real as things as they are integrated together.

(Ok, yes, this I get. A thing is a collection of things. So what makes a thing real is how it is integrated. That makes sense. That doesn’t mean the parts are less real though.)

  • As we try and find the deeper more underlying principles that integrate things together, we become more integrative together and we become more real.

(the pull of conspiracy theory - the danger - is just so real here!)

  • We become more integrated together. We are realized, more actualized. Become more real
  • Plato’s anagoge: inner conflict reduced. Become more real as I’m becoming more integrated and that is allowing me to make viable and real those more integrated deeper levels of reality.

(I’m just uncomfortable with the use of the word “real” here. It seems like it means better functioning. But every level is real. )

  • Move from where things are only potential to having the greatest structural functional organization they can.
  • Change in existential mode, becoming more real.
  • But what is down there? What’s the deepest level? The principle that makes everything else real. That integrates everything else together. Plotinus calls this the one.
  • That by which reality is realized and our mind realizes reality.
  • The one is not anything we can ever know. It is that by which everything is known.
  • So how do you reunite with it. Not thought because thought breaks everything apart. Can’t know it or have it. Can only be it. Can only have gnosis of the one by being One. Higher state of consciousness, awakening experience.
  • Integrated with the best science and psychotherapy of the time. No division between spirituality, science and therapy. All integrated together.

my notes

Gnostics were bringing about an ultimate culmination to the axial revolution.

(seems like they were rebelling against everything via Platonism, to become the god above all gods)

Lot of movies (what we use to play with our mythology) follow a Gnostic theme, where, by rational understanding of the timeless principles, we can shape the world. Such as the matrix or truman show, star wars

Because the world features suffering, this is an indication that the creator of the world was either stupid or evil or both. The petty God of the old testament.

The gods keep us imprisoned (similar to Paul’s usage of the powers and principalities that we battle against)

The dark side of gnosticism is the allowance for destroying the evil-pawns of the dominating power or underlying power. Such as The Jews for the Nazis, or The Capitalists to the communists with the whole ‘profit is theft’ or “there is no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism”

Tillich and Jung were prominent people trying to have a non-theistic understanding of sacredness WITHOUT the dark side.

Gnosticism is so susceptible to a utopian vision for the future, where YOU’re the special exclusive Knower of The Truth, giving you greater justification for otherwise unreasonable.

Creating a cult in which YOU are just as much a monumental figure as Jesus was.

Plotinus has the grand unified theory of philosophy, by taking from Plato, Aristotle, and Stoicism.
Where you can start from any of these three positions, through Plotinus, to get to the other two.

Plotinus: there are the gradations of being, potentiality at the bottom, and pure act at the top. When we participatorally interacting with the lower, we alter our level of the self to become capable of living at that higher level of reality.

What makes something ‘real’? If you don’t know what makes something real, but you’re still intent on following what’s real, you’re bullshitting yourself.

What makes something real is how ‘One’ it is. To understand something is to see how a bunch of separate things are ‘one’ in someway, due to their structural function is organized.

By having an understanding of what’s real, and allowing that to change me, creates an ‘ANAGOG-ic relationship’ RATHER THAN, the naivety of Gnosticism, where WHO YOU ARE RIGHT NOW, has direct access to the underlying reality.

Becoming more real, and becoming more aware of what’s more real.

The ‘principle’ which makes everything real has to be singular, otherwise rationality is impossible. it is, THE ONE. (Vervaeke’s bit of sucularizing terms by calling God a principle)

You cannot know the One, it is rather by whom all things are known.

There is no division in Plotinus between the best science, psychological therapy, and philosophy.