The Cognitive Science of Capitalist Realism

with John Vervaeke
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Guest Introduction.

In this conversation, John Vervaeke & I discuss:

  • The meaning crisis as a crisis of interiority
  • The religion that is not a religion
  • Socioeconomic policies as forms of psycho-technologies
  • The cognitive science of capitalist realism
  • The tension between wisdom and commodification

John is a professor of cognitive psychology and science at the University of Toronto. He recently completed a 50-episode lecture series on Youtube: Awakening From the Meaning Crisis.

The series is a wonderful integration of cognitive science and ‘spirituality’, for lack of a better term. He develops a framework for understanding what wisdom is, how to cultivate it, how central the cultivation of wisdom was to societies in the past, and how the usurpation of wisdom by knowledge leaves us adrift in a meaningless cosmos, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

One way of thinking about the meaning crisis is as a crisis of wisdom cultivation. The monasteries are gone, the commodification of schools is diluting what passes as ‘education’ to mere preparation for uncertain labor markets; where else do we go for wisdom?

Time map.
  • 5 - 30 min: The first 25 minutes set the scene and introduce the arena for discussion to come.
  • We talk about John’s main interests, the difference between subjective well-being & meaning in life, and how the meaning crisis relates to the scientific enlightenment optimistic narrative of progress.
  • 33 min ~ the religion that is not a religion, the meta-crisis as a crisis of human development, Zak Stein.
  • 40 min ~ wisdom as an ecology of practices that both enhance religio, and mitigate self-deception.
  • 46 min ~ what are the structural responses to the meaning crisis? Can socioeconomic policy be a form of psycho-technology?
  • 52 min ~ distributed cognition and new patterns of social organization.
  • 58 min ~ dynamically self-organizing structures as better suited to addressing the meta-crisis than rigid, domineering hierarchies.
  • 57:00 - the cognitive science of capitalist realism. Linking together John’s work on reciprocal narrowing and Mark Fisher’s work on capitalist realism
  • 1:09:00 ~ Are wisdom cultivation and commodification at odds with each other?
  • 1:11:00 - What does play look like in adults? What are the socioeconomics of adult play? What’s the difference between fun-play and flow-play? Play that generates flow as linked to human development (meaning), while playing for fun isn’t (subjective well-being).
Links from the conversation.

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