How we find meaning in life has been a question that has vexed philosophers and intellectuals for centuries, and continues to offer up no clear answers. And yet our capacity to find meaning in our lives is central to our mental and emotional well being. Anyone who has suffered from depression knows the anguish that a radical loss of meaning can generate, where the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other has lost all sense of purpose.
For humans born in the twentieth and twenty-first century Western world, we also have to make sense of a world in which the ancient religious, spiritual, and wisdom traditions that used to provide a framework for finding meaning have broken down and lost their power. Instead we have grown up under the auspices of a scientific and materialist worldview that tends to break everything down into their constituent parts and provides a level of technical mastery over the world, but fails to offer much guidance as to how we should go about living in that world. Many of us subsequently find ourselves with much greater relative freedom than our ancestors, but with correspondingly greater levels of anxiety and confusion over how to use that freedom.
In the lecture series below, psychologist and cognitive scientist John Vervaeke takes us through a comprehensive exploration of the question of meaning, taking cues from ancient philosophy, eastern and western spiritual and religious traditions, as well as modern cognitive psychology. It’s a huge and expansive piece of work, but certainly worth dipping into.