John Vervaeke - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Episode 2 - Flow, Metaphor, and the Axial Revolution - Summary

The following are my main takeaways from the video, quoting and paraphrasing the content.


flow state also described as being in the zone. The challenges of the situation go just slightly beyond your skills. Surplus skills lead to boredom. Surplus challenges lead to anxiety.

Deeply positive for people. Not the same thing as physical pleasure. Connected to meaning in life. The more often you get into the flow state, the more likely you will rate your life as meaningful and the more you will experience well being.

You fell like you are deeply at one with things. Actions flow out of you. At one level you are making a lot of effort but at another level it feels effortless. Altered sense of time and self. Self-conciousness disappears. Super salient, the world seems more intense.

Universal, across cultures, socio-economic groups, genders, languages, environments, age groups.

Optimal experience in two ways:

Training in mindfulness increases your capacity to get into the flow state.

flow induction machines such as video games, jazz, martial arts, rock climbing:

Cascade of insights. Get stuck, break frame, restructure, change what you are finding relevant and salient, change yourself, make progress, repeat. flow trains your ability for insight.

shamanism is probably a practice to get into the flow state.

Implicit Learning

implicit learning is your capacity, outside of conscious awareness, to pick up on very complex patterns in your environment.

Experiment: generate arbitrary set of rules, generate letter strings following the rules, show them to people. Then generate a second set following different rules, mix both, and ask people if strings belong to first set or not. People answer better than chance. When asked why, they say they do not know (they just feel it) or they give wrong reasons.

intuition is the result of your implicit learning.

For example, you know how far to stand from somebody. When people do not know how to do it, it creeps you out.

Two kinds of patterns in the environment: correlation and causation.

For example, there is a correlation between how large your wedding is and how long it will last. If you have a bigger wedding then your marriage is more likely to last longer. Not causation. Reflects bigger social network, more financial resources, which are the real causes.

Bias or prejudice is incorrect intuition based on correlation instead of causation. You want to train your implicit learning to pick up on causal patterns, that are real, and not on correlational patterns.

Conditions for good intuition are the same as the conditions for flow.


In a shamanic ritual your brain is learning to get areas to talk to each other, that normally do not talk to each other. This is specially the case if you have gone through a massive disruption strategy, like fasting, social isolation, taking psychedelics. Brain scan of someone having a psychedelic experience shows it.

metaphor is your capacity to get different areas of your brain to talk to each other. The word metaphor is itself a metaphor, it means to bridge, to carry over, to connect things that are normally not connected.

I want you to reflect (metaphor) now on how your thoughts and language are filled (metaphor) with metaphor. Do you see (metaphor) what I am saying? Do you get my point (metaphor)? Do you comprehend (metaphor) it? Can you grasp (metaphor) it? Do you understand (metaphor) it? I am about halfway through (metaphor) this talk. I hope it is not too hard (metaphor) for you.

metaphor is how you make creative connections between ideas. metaphorical cognition is at the heart of both science and art.

shamans often experience soul flight, as if they are flying over the world. This is the origin of getting high. More comprehensive grasp of more complex patterns, experiencing it mostly intuitively and metaphorically.

When you get a bigger picture of things, you are above them. Someone who is in charge of things has oversight of them, has supervision of them.

Axial Revolution

Around 800 BCE - 300 BCE. After the Bronze Age collapse.

People invent a new psychotechnology: alphabetic literacy. Much easier to learn, more effective and efficient.

metacognition is your awareness of your own mind.

second order thinking is when you internalize a psychotechnology into your metacognition and it improves your capacity to critically examine and correct your own thinking.

People invent coinage. Teaches you to think in an abstract symbol system. Also numeracy, you have to start thinking mathematically.

People get a clear sense about two things in their cognition:

Start to realize a more personal sense of responsibility. For example, taking responsibility for the violence in the world.

There is no enemy greater than your own mind, but there is no ally greater than your own mind.

People start understanding this double-edged sword of their cognition:

Next: episode 3.

Previous: episode 1.