[Lecture Club] Awakening from the Meaning Crisis

John Vervaeke has a lecture series on YouTube called Awakening from the Meaning Crisis. I thought it was great, so I’m arranging a lecture club to discuss it here on Less Wrong. The format is simple: each weekday I post a comment that’s a link to the next lecture and the summary (which I plan on stealing from the recap at the beginning of the next lecture), and then sometimes comment beneath it with my own thoughts. If you’re coming late (even years late!) feel free to join in, and go at whatever pace works for you.

(Who is John Vervaeke? He’s a lecturer in cognitive science at the University of Toronto. I hadn’t heard of him before the series, which came highly recommended to me.)

I split the lecture series into three parts: the philosophical, religious, and cultural history of humankind (25 episodes) related to meaning, the cognitive science of wisdom and meaning (20 episodes), and more recent philosophy related to the meaning crisis specifically (5 episodes). Each episode is about an hour at regular speed (but I think they’re understandable at 2x speed). I am not yet aware of a good text version of the lectures; I also have some suspicion that some important content is not in the text itself, and so even if I transcribed them (or paid someone to) it’d still be worth watching or listening to it.

I think the subject matter is 1) very convergent with the sort of rationality people are interested in on LW, and 2) relevant to AI alignment, especially thinking about embedded agency.


  1. Introduction

  2. Flow, Metaphor, and the Axial Revolution

  3. Conscious Cosmos and Modern Grammar

  4. Socrates and the Quest for Wisdom

  5. Plato and the Cave

  6. Aristotle, Kant, and Evolution

  7. Aristotle’s World View and Erich Fromm

  8. The Buddha and “Mindfulness”

  9. Insight

  10. Consciousness

  11. Higher States of Consciousness, Part 1

  12. Higher States of Consciousness, Part 2

  13. Buddhism and Parasitic Processing

  14. Epicureans, Cynics, and Stoics

  15. Marcus Aurelius and Jesus

  16. Christianity and Agape

  17. Gnosis and Existential Inertia

  18. Plotinus and Neoplatonism

  19. Augustine and Aquinas

  20. Death of the Universe

  21. Martin Luther and Descartes

  22. Descartes vs. Hobbes

  23. Romanticism

  24. Hegel

  25. The Clash

  26. Cognitive Science

  27. Problem Formulation

  28. Convergence to Relevance Realization

  29. Getting to the Depths of Relevance Realization

  30. Relevance Realization Meets Dynamical Systems Theory

  31. Embodied-Embedded RR as Dynamical-Developmental GI

  32. RR in the Brain, Insight, and Consciousness

  33. The Spirituality of RR: Wonder/​Awe/​Mystery/​Sacredness

  34. Sacredness, Horror, Music, and the Symbol

  35. The Symbol, Sacredness, and the Sacred

  36. Religio/​Perennial Problems/​Reverse Engineering Enlightenment

  37. Reverse Engineering Enlightenment: Part 2

  38. Agape and 4E Cognitive Science

  39. The Religion of No Religion

  40. Wisdom and Religion

  41. What is Rationality?

  42. Intelligence, Rationality, and Wisdom

  43. Wisdom and Virtue

  44. Theories of Wisdom

  45. The Nature of Wisdom

  46. Conclusion and the Prophets of the Meaning Crisis

  47. Heidegger

  48. Corbin and the Divine Double

  49. Corbin and Jung