John Vervaeke - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Episode 4 - Socrates and the Quest for Wisdom - Summary


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

Axial Revolution > Ancient Greece > Socrates

Part of the cognitive and existential grammar of the west.

pythia is an oracle through which people believed they could speak to the gods. Probably in some kind of psychodelic state. Stay in business by not giving clear answers, e.g.:

It might provoke an insight on you. You can often retrospectively reinterpret later events as having being consonant with the oracle.

Socrates’ friends ask the oracle: is there anyone wiser than Socrates? Expecting obscure answer like the snow melts farther in the south. Instead they get a clear answer: no, there is no human being wiser than Socrates.

confirmation bias is seeking information that confirms our beliefs, while avoiding information that challenges them.

Upon hearing the answer, Socrates is not self-congratulatory, instead he challenges it.

Socrates transformed the Greek gods into moral exemplars. For Socrates, gods can not lie.

know thyself means understanding how you operate, it is like your owner’s manual.

Socrates makes know thyself his personal slogan for life, makes this kind of self-knowledge central. He is convinced that he is not wise.

Dilemma: how can it be that he is the wisest human being, when he knows that he is not wise?

Two group of people accredited as being wise: natural philosophers (truth without relevance) and sophists (relevance without truth).

natural philosophers, like Thales, start thinking scientifically, looking for rational explanations based on observations. 3 main points:

substance means stands under, another metaphor.

psyche originally means your capacity to move yourself and make other things move.

ontology is the study of being, the structure of reality.

ontological analysis is when you use reason to try to get at the underlying structure of reality.

ontological depth perception is seeing with the mind into the depths of reality.

Our scientific worldview, while giving us knowledge, does not give us wisdom.

sophists invented the psychotechnology of rethoric, influencing skills. They separated the technology from any kind of moral commitment. Modern example of rethoric is advertising.

Lying depends on the fact that people are committed to the truth. bullshit works by making you unconcerned by whether or not something is true.

You can not lie to yourself, it makes no sense, but you can bullshit yourself.

Believing is not something you directly do. For example, you would like to have the belief that everybody loves you, but you do not believe it. You can hope or wish, but you can not decide to believe in it, it is not a voluntary action. That is why you can not lie to yourself.

You can direct your attention to something and make it more salient to you. Your attention can be caught, something can capture your attention. This 2 things feed on each other until your attention is attached to something, this something is super salient to you, it is highly relevant to you, and you lose the capacity to notice other things, stop caring whether or not it is true or represents reality. That is how you bullshit yourself.

Socrates wanted truth and relevance.

Socrates would go about questioning people, using the socratic method. Example:

aporia is not knowing what is going on, like falling into a magician’s spell.

Socrates is trying to make you realize how much we are bullshitting ourselves all the time. We pursue things way before we understand them. We are always making ourselves susceptible to bullshit because we are being driven by powerful motivations that are greatly in excess of our understanding of their truth.

The answer to the dilemma, why Socrates was wiser than everyone else, is that he knew what the did not know, in a way that allowed him to directly confront his capacity to bullshitting himself.

Socrates was accused of teaching strange gods and went to trial. They would let him go if he agrees to stop doing phylosophy but he says: the unexamined life is not worth living.

ta erotika is knowing how to love well, what to care about, caring about with what is real.

Socrates would walk into the market place and say: look at all the things I do not need. He would say: how much time did you spend fixing your hair this morning, and how much time fixing yourself?

We need to put reason and love together, to rationally know what we should care about.

Socrates was found guilty on the trial and he was put to death.

Plato will put together Pythagoras and Socrates.


Next: episode 5.

Previous: episode 3.