Ep. 23 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Romanticism



my notes

  • Descartes: radical disconnection between mind and other minds.
  • Radical disconnection between mind and other matter.
  • Cogito Ergo Sum: all that’s left wth contact with reality is the mind touching itself
  • Even connection to self undermined because Cartesian project is so disconnected all that is guaranteed to exist is this moment of self-awareness.
  • Pascal’s response: we have lost all these other ways of knowing. All have left is spirit of geometry.
  • After Descartes: face these crises: ecological, socio-economic, political, mental health - all interlocking, profound and complex that need a fundamental transformation in consciousness, cognition, character, community in order to really restructure our sense of who and what we are in our relationship to the world
  • Increasing secularization of the world - bifurcated: also increasing attempt to nostalgically retreat in fundamentalism
  • Many return to religion in order to provide the multi-level, multivariate complex transformation that is needed to meet the crises we’re facing - but many post-religious
  • Not getting what we need. Either way want to turn, religious option not viable.

Secular Solutions

  • Secular solution for many people also no longer seems viable
  • Vervaeke: argues we face the hard problem of needing a religion that is no religion but cannot be fully secular but we don’t want to be religious and filled with this paradoxical tension and contradiction that is the hallmark of the Cartesian legacy
  • Responses to the meaning crisis that comes after Descartes, traumatized by our interest and bewitchment by these ideologies - led to warfare and bloodshed.
  • Not willing to return to a nostalgic and therefore impotent religious framework - so trapped


  • Trying to deal with fracturing of realness that Descartes has left
  • Kant brings up important question: how is it that math is so good at describing reality?
  • How do get the two sides of Descartes together: that math gives access to reality but all I really have is access to own mind
  • Radical proposal: Copernican revolution: these patterns of intelligibility aren’t actually there
  • Occam’s Razo r: all these patterns of intelligibility that think are in the world are in your mind
  • Kant: ways of measuring world mathematically aren’t the features of the world, they are the way in which experience has to be organized in order to make sense to the mind
  • Have to filter the world so that it can fit my eye and brain to make sense of it: Kant: structures in the mind that act as filtering frames - impose a structure of intelligibility on experience
  • Pattern is being imposed on the information coming in so that it will fit my mind, and make sense to my mind.
  • That’s the basis for capacity to reason about the world: I have filtered the world in such a way that mind can process it in terms of its own internal grammar.
  • Mind imposing a structure on the world.
  • Mind making sense of things.
  • V: deep way in which Kant is right.
  • Invesion of Plato. Math is about how the mind imposes structure on reality so it can reason about it.
  • What does this mean? Now the mind is imprisoned, all that can get in here must pass through filtering frame. So we can never know the thing in itself, the world as it is.

( Yes, I think that’s right. We can get an approximation, a filtered interpretation. Still pretty good).

  • Mind now no contact with the world, it’s isolated and trapped within itself.

( Wait: the information still comes in from outside the mind. The mind is in contact with that information.)

  • Math works so well because that’s the grammar of how our minds operate. Not really giving us access to the structure of the world it’s creating a structure in the world of experience that makes sense to us

  • That’s a big price to pay: get the two sides both inside the mind.

  • People are upset with this.

  • Idea implicit in Kant: information coming in from the world. Raw information from the thing in itself, then processed, then structure being imposed on it (most prevalent model in cognitive science.

  • Bottom up processing vs. Top down.

    • Bottom up: starts in perception moves to cognition
    • Top down: starts in cognition - moves to perception
  • The cat - use the knowledge of the word to disambiguate the letters and use the knowledge of the letters to construct the word

  • Same here: mind imposing a structure, and filtering and framing and structuring the information coming in from the world

  • Very powerful way of looking at things.

  • But as move into the mind, cognition becomes more rational, more mathematically, logically intelligible

  • But getting farther and farther away from contact with the world

  • Opposite of plato. Moving away from being in contact with reality

  • Makes Freud and Jung possible

  • Jung = Kant + gnosticism

  • If open mind up to more irrational, less fully processed cognition, move into the imaginary, dreamlike aspects of cognition, lose rationality, but gaining contact with the world

(I don’t get this)


  • This is the main idea of Romanticism: the idea that we can recapture contact with reality by moving away from the rational layers of cognition and into the irrational layers
  • Trying to get back to gnosis and participatory knowing.
  • Quintessential form of participatory knowing is love
  • Idea of love as an irrational force
  • Faculty that stands between perception and reason - imagination
  • imagination: mind initially imposes that order on raw data of experience
  • Distinction between imagination and fantasme (moving images in the mind)
  • imagination: how the mind imposes structure on raw date so it becomes available to reason
  • Imagination the place in which we can get closer outside of reason to access reality
  • Music and art: Access through the imagination to what’s real - they seem to impose order in which meaning made
  • Locke: mind is an empty canvas, sense experience comes in and writes on it: empiricism. World impresses itself on the mind.
  • Romantics: we don’t even know what the world is in itself, the world is an empty canvas on which imagination expresses, presses itself out
  • Expression: to press out
  • Projecting onto the world.

( this seems to mix it up a bit. The fact that we don’t have unfiltered access to the world doesn’t mean that it’s blank. We just can’t experience it as it is. We have to pass through our filter).

  • Both are wrong:

  • Mind as blank slate overwhelmingly wrong. So is world as blank slate.

  • People swept up in romanticism. Pan-european: Bethovan, poetry (blake, woodsworth), religion (Shlurmaker)

  • It appears to do what religion used to do: integrates: music, art, literature - give whole framework of how to regain contact with reality. Move into the world of imagination.

  • Irrationally take into contact with reality.

  • Romanticism: godfather of all the pseudo-religious ideologies

  • Massive transformation on culture and consciousness

  • But there’s a big price: so much bullshit: romantic movies. Trapped where Luther and Descartes left us: trapped inside our mind, only thing left with is to behave irrationally.

  • Making machinery of imagination carry all the weight of tradition, religion, philosophy - no human relationship can bear that burden

  • Romantic relationships: unreachable expectations.

  • Look for romance for most meaning, but causes the most suffering

  • Attempt to get into words, propositions, ideological ways of thinking everything that religions used to do for us.

  • Get that language can’t do it all, so turn to poetry

  • Try to use imagery to point to transformative experience.

  • BUT if don’t have sapiential traditions, spiritual exercises, psycho-technologies, regular and reliable methods for these transformative experiences all you have are the words

  • When read the poem, not capable of getting much from it, because reduced to the words.

  • Romantics didn’t give us anything else. Didn’t give us institutions or practices. Pseudo-religious ideology.

(boy does he hate Romanticism!)

  • Spiritual junk food, tasty but not nutritious
  • Gets translated into nastier forms.
  • Rise of the F rench Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars
  • Romantics attracted to Napoleon
  • By force of will, Napoleon pressing a structure on the world, painting his picture onto the world
  • Isolated self pressing itself out onto the world. Imagining the world into another shape and existence.

Response to failure of Romanticism

  • Romanticism fails, not the replacement of Christianity. But doesn’t go away
  • We live with decadent romanticism: Romantic comedies
  • Attempts to understand the irrational aspects of the psyche and world-making capacity
  • Priority of the will

Schopenhauer :

  • godfather of nihilism

  • Up-down model. Rational part and irrational part.

  • Zeroes in on will: arbitrary will. The will to live. The raw, drive.

  • What drives you, what structures, what filters and frames

  • Relentless and pointless because not-rational

  • The will like a huge man and ego sitting on shoulders. Rational is in service of irrational

  • Schopenhauer: sex is the cruel joke that the species plays on the individual. Sex = will to live, filters and frames all experiences, promises meaning and fulfilment then have it and none of that accrues to you

  • What’s the difference between you doing it for 40 years and a fly doing it for a day

  • All machines. All just replicator machines: Richard Dawkins

  • Nihilism and pessimism: once remove connection between meaning making and rationality pay a devastating price for it.

  • What do you you have there? Meaningless existence. Shaped not by contact with reality, shaped by irrational will to live, then you die

  • What was it all for?

  • In art and music can quiet the will to Iive enough for momentary breaks from will to live

  • Romanticism and nihilism become inextricably linked together. Intertwined

(Is contact with reality equivalent to meaning?)


  • Godfather of post-modernism
  • Disciple of Schopenhauer and Wagner.
  • Wagner breaks music down. Opens untethers music to its tradition. Vicious anti-semite
  • Why Germany anti-semitic. Gnosticism has a history. Connection back to Luther:
  • Luther : “we are at fault in not slaying [the Jews]” burning their books, synagogues, homes, drafting them into forced labor or exiling them.
  • Jews in Luther’s mind are followers of the law, people who follow the law are people trying to earn their salvation. Jews reject Jesus, Reject salvation, so are evil.
  • Nietzsche:
    • Keeps the notion of will. Keeps that it’s faming the world, filtering. But rejects a lot of Kantian stuff. Platonic stuff.
    • Will to power
    • Everything has a will to power. Everything pressing itself out. Feature of reality.
    • Will to power, pre-Christian power to extend, to create, to master oneself in the world.
    • Sees way of getting back self-transcendence
    • Will to power as the desire to transcend oneself, go above oneself
    • Create beyond oneself
    • Lutheran interpretation of Christianity - repressed this, but if remove it will to Iive lets us get back the meaning that was lost in the meaning crisis
  • Dangerous way to start thinking.
  • Nietzsche understand how self-deceptive we are, but can’t do anything about it, because reason is a logical framing thing, lost something. Self-transcendence without machinery of dealing with self-deception.
  • Rationality is the set of pscyho-technologies that afford self-transcendence by training you to skillfully overcome self-deception.
  • He’s aware of self-deception - he wants self-transcendence but can’t provide machinery to over-come self-deception other than endless critique, satire, undermining himself
  • honest, but not capable of the rationality that is the core of addressing self-deception.
  • One sided model of self-transcendence emeshed in a will to power - dangerous

pics for notes