Aidan's Infinite Play 43 Find Meaning in College Book Summary of Transcend Part 1

Aidan's Infinite Play 43 Find Meaning in College Book Summary of Transcend Part 1
Photo by NASA / Unsplash

Hello players!

We are in the midst of a modern-day meaning crisis.

In many countries, anxiety and depression are worse than ever before, the rise of AI is making many feel obsolete, and climate change threatens to destroy us all.

College students like me are some of the most affected.

John Vervaeke explains in his phenomenal lecture series, Awakening From The Meaning Crisis, that we are experiencing this for three main reasons:?

  1. We are confusing our having needs with our being needs. Consumerism in the West makes us feel that if we have sex, then we can love; that if we have money, then we can gain respect; and that if we have a Ferrari, then we can be cool. As explained in Dopamine Nation, many first-world countries have created societies meant to hack our brains to prioritize short-term gratifying activities over long term. As a result, our having needs are expressed over our being needs.
  2. We feel our lives make no sense. They are absurd. With more secular people than ever, we don't have religion to help us navigate the terrors of daily existence. Nihilism and Cynicism are at a new-time high. In the digital age, there are too many choices and an overwhelming amount of information leading to analysis paralysis. Anxiety and depression are worse than ever, especially in this generation.
  3. We have lost touch with character. As David Brooks illuminates in his book The Road To Character, in American society, the culture of improving character present for most of history has largely been lost. As a result, people feel like they aren't realizing their potential, fulfilling their purpose, growing their character.

These three things are combing to create a modern-day meaning crisis.

To overcome the meaning crisis, we need one thing:

Peanut butter.

Ahem, we need a system with clear goals, rules, and feedback for attaining meaning in our lives. In other words, clarity on how to self-actualize.

The problem is our historical notions of self-actualization fall upon Maslow's Hierarchy of needs which has many problems. Maslow's Hierarchy of needs is typically depicted as a pyramid-like structure. It looks like this:

The idea is that when we fulfill our baser-level deficiency needs, humans can begin to work on their growth needs.

The problem is this makes self-actualization seem like a video game.

We complete one level, say safety, and then unlock the next level, never having to return and work on safety again. In reality, self-actualization is a constantly fluctuating process in which we often take two steps forward and one step back, working on growth needs and deficiency needs simultaneously (Kaufman, S.B. 2020). This video game pyramid metaphor makes it seem as if those who can't fulfill their deficiency needs are doomed to never self-actualize.

Clearly, to solve the meaning crisis, we need a new metaphor for self-actualization

Luckily I know just the book, The Communist Manifesto, cough, Transcend: The New Science of Self Actualization by Scott Barry Kaufman. In it, Kaufman provides a new model of self-actualization adapted from Maslow's old pyramid model. He explains that by integrating all aspects of oneself in the model, one can self-actualize and then transcend, focusing on helping others self-actualize.

This book clarified what transcendence means and what is involved in pursuing it.

In this two-part series, I will be giving a book summary interpretation of Kaufman's Transcend to fight against the modern-day meaning crisis.

In this first part, I will be going chapter by chapter through Kaufmann's book, starting with:

  • Maslow's Modified Hierarchy Of Needs
  • Deficiency Needs
  • Chapter 1: Safety
  • Chapter 2: Connection
  • Chapter 3: Self-Esteem

In part 2, I will explore the growth needs posted in the book by diving into:

  • Growth Needs
  • Chapter 4: Exploration
  • Chapter 5: Love
  • Chapter 6: Purpose
  • Chapter 7: Peak Experiences
  • Chapter 8 Theory Z: Toward the Farther Reaches of Human Nature

My pretentious goal is to use Kaufman's Transcend to attempt to solve some aspects of the meaning crisis we are experiencing in the modern era. That's right; a 19-year-old is trying to solve the question of meaning! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, let's jump right into it!

To infinity and beyond!

The New Hierarchy of Needs

Instead of envisioning Maslow's Hierarchy as a pyramid, Kaufman proposes we use the metaphor of a sailboat:

The foundation of the boat represents deficiency needs, security, connection, and self-esteem, while the sale makes up the growth needs of exploration, love, and purpose.

This boat metaphor works much better than the hierarchical pyramid metaphor attributed to Maslow because it allows humans to work on their deficiency needs and growth needs simultaneously.

The foundation of a boat determines it's strength amidst hard waves, which showcases how fulfilling deficiency needs helps prepare people for storms that will inevitably come in life. The growth needs on the sail symbolize how the more we work toward our growth needs, the more effectively we can sail through life. But it also represents the danger and vulnerability in opening our sails and working on growth needs, as doing so puts us at the will of unpredictable wind. Showcasing this as a sailboat rather than a pyramid shows how we can work on these needs simultaneously rather than in a linear video game-like fashion. It also emphasizes how healthy integration of our whole self is the path to self-actualization and then transcendence because a whole sailboat needs to work in tandem to sail well.

Finally, transcendence is at the top.

According to Kaufman, "Healthy transcendence is an emergent phenomenon resulting from the harmonious integration of one's whole self in cultivating the good society" (Kaufman, S.B. 2020, p. 217).

In other words, transcendence involves helping others self-actualize. Now that we know the sailboat metaphor of transcendence, we can explore the nuances of the deficiency and growth needs of the sailboat. As you read this summary, you must realize the question should not be how do I self-actualize but what is self-actualization to me, and what are the characteristics of those who achieve it? While I give action items at the end of each section on how you can foster that need, there is no cookie-cutter way to self-actualize, no shortcut. Everyone's journey is different, and that's what makes it beautiful.

You can take this summary as a guide, but it's ultimately up to you how you make your journey.

In addition, Self-actualization IS NOT the same thing as making money or success. Maslow was once asked about who he thought was the most self-actualized person he knew. He said to his mom. Someone that didn't have any notable achievements in the world.

They just glowed with a certain radiance in the rooms that they were in.

This is because many things that motivate self-actualized people don't correlate with money or success. Some items even are negatively correlated. So if you are reading this post to learn how to climb up the career ladder and make tons of money, you can leave now.

Self-actualization isn't for the faint of heart.

Chapter 1: Safety

Human beings have a fundamental need to feel safe in their environment.

When we feel safe, we are most comfortable exploring and learning about the world. However, things can go bad when we don't meet our safety needs. For example, research done by John Bowlby and Marry Ainsworth has shown that as children, we can develop one of four different Attachment styles based on our relationship with our primary caregivers. The four different types of attachment styles we can develop are secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized.

If our caregivers are responsive to our needs in early childhood, we can develop a healthy, secure attachment style where we feel we can trust others to take care of us and we are worthy of love. But if they aren't, we might develop an unhealthy attachment style like avoidance in which we have difficulty being intimate or close to people.

Our childhood attachment styles can even carry into our adult relationships, but luckily just like with any of the other needs, we can change our environment or perceptions for the better.

Growing up, I developed a secure attachment style.

My parents were very caring, taking my twin brother and me biking around our small town of Hamilton, going on traveling adventures, and telling us they would always love us no matter how we did in school. I remember one day when we walked into the Pool and found one of my friends having a birthday party without my brother and I being invited. To make us feel better, our mother brought us to the local bakery, the barge, and got us the biggest cupcakes you have ever seen.

Because of my secure attachment style developed in childhood, I feel safe exploring and learning while in college.

Safety can be just as bad in the other direction when we are too safe, explored in the The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff.

In their book, they illuminate how K-12 teachers, parents, professors, and Universities have unknowingly been spreading three great untruths among the most recent generation leading to more anxiety and depression than ever. These three great untruths are that what doesn't kill you makes you weaker, you should always listen to your feelings, and the world is made of good and evil. They explain that one of the main facilitators of these untruths is the degree of safety being spread by parents, teachers, professors, and universities.

The IGeneration is being protected more than any other generation ever from violence, going outside unsupervised, bullying, and so much more.

However, the authors argue this paradoxically makes the IGen more anxious and depressed than ever because they don't build the resilience and mental fortitude fostered through struggle.

Successfully overcoming disorder makes a system what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls Antifragile, a system that gains from disorder. If we never expose ourselves to disorder, we become complacent and fragile against it. In this way, too much safety can make us weaker.

As a kid, my parents allowed my brother and me to explore the rural streets of Hamilton from the age of eight and would often have us bike the 3 miles from central town back home alone. While at the time I hated it, I'm so grateful they had us do things like this because it prepared us for the difficult things we would experience as adults.

The extremes of both sides of safety make creating meaning difficult.

Having a lack of safety makes building connections, self-esteem, exploring, showing love, and finding purpose hard because you don't have a safety net to catch you if you fall. But too much safety also makes it difficult as we don't build the resilience and mental fortitude we need to survive during adversity.

How To Build Safety (Or Break It Down)

To fulfill our need for safety or break it down, we must find ways to build a secure attachment style if we don't have it already.

First, you should define your attachment style from the attachment styles mentioned above using this test. Then, create action steps to build a more secure attachment style based on that.

On the other end, if you have too much safety, you need to find ways to step out of your comfort zone so you can introduce disorder into your life. As yourself, what are you afraid of? Write down an extensive list. Make an effort to do at least one of those things every week.

Chapter 2: Connection

Humans have a deep-seated need to feel not only belonging--being accepted by some people or groups--but also intimacy.

Intimacy means having unconditional positive regard, mutual trust, openness, and a willingness to grow with another person. Importantly, it doesn't require that you agree with everything the other person stands for. It simply means you respect them for who they are.

A prominent reason for the meaning of crisis is that we have an abundance of belonging with no intimacy, which has created a loneliness crisis.

According to a 2022 study by The Cigna Group, 79% of young American adults aged 18-24 and 41% of those older than 66 are classified as lonely, meaning they reported feeling lonely more than once or twice a month. These numbers are much higher than pre-pandemic and tens of percentiles higher than loneliness levels before the 2000s. Loneliness is only getting worse.

According to Lunstad et al. (2010), loneliness damages our bodies::

  • Equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day
  • Equivalent to being an alcoholic
  • More than not exercising
  • Twice as harmful as obesity

One of the main reasons for the lack of intimacy is because of smartphones and social media. As is illuminated in Cal Newports Digital Minimalism, social media has simultaneously enlarged the number of people we can connect with, increasing belonging, while making it harder to form meaningful intimate relationships. Newport explains that this isn't because we can't use social media as a method of genuine connection but because it's too easy to resort to low bandwidth texting and photo posting rather than intimate phone conversations or physical meet-ups.

How To Build Connection

To fulfill our need for connection, we must find ways to foster fantastic friendships at college once again.

I explore how to do this more in my article Beyond Likes And Follows How To Create Deep Friendships In College To Combat Loneliness.​

Chapter 3: Self-Esteem

The two main aspects of healthy self-esteem are self-worth--how much we like ourselves, often indicative of how much others like us, others whose opinion we care about especially (like our closest relationships)--and mastery of how competent we feel in pursuing and achieving what we want.

Like safety and connection, having high self-esteem helps gives us the confidence to pursue our goals without fear of disaster.

Self-esteem is heavily influenced by our perception of ourselves.

This is because Expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies. If we don't think we have what it takes to do something, we probably won't be able to do that thing. This can cause us to develop a sense of learned helplessness and, eventually, depression. That's why one of the key markers of depression is feeling a lack of control over your life.

However, like safety, self-esteem can go wrong in the opposite direction by veering into narcissism.

Narcissism is NOT the same thing as having high self-esteem. Having high self-esteem means you have confident humility. You are confident in your capabilities and direction but, at the same time, humble in allowing them to change. Narcissism means you feel entitled to pursue those goals and get recognition for them above others. The problem is narcissism is a never-ending loop. There is rarely a time when you feel satisfied with how much recognition you have gotten because of Hedonic adaptation.

Kaufman identifies two main types of narcissism:

  1. Vulnerable narcissism
  2. Grandiose narcissism

Grandiose narcissism is more traditionally associated with narcissism.

Grandiose narcissists love the spotlight, getting recognized for achievements, but hate criticism.

Vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, shudder from the spotlight, hate criticism, want to be recognized for their achievements and struggle with failure.

How To Build Self-Esteem

I'm not part of the camp that says you should have high self-esteem no matter your situation in life.

If you are someone that doesn't show up to what they claim to care about and consistently fails at what they set out to do, why would you have high self-esteem?

Instead, I think building self-esteem comes through doing two things:

  1. Changing your mindset
  2. Doing actions that reinforce self-esteem

One of the best ways to improve self-esteem is to change your mindset. Develop what Carol Dweck in her 2006 book Mindset calls a Growth mindset.

People with a growth mindset believe they can improve their skills through hard work and striving towards failure. People with a fixed mindset believe their skills are fixed and shudder from failure and challenge. Fortunately, we can ingrain a growth mindset even if we have a fixed one, and our community and peers affect the ease at which we do this.

Secondly, we can begin to do actions that reinforce self-esteem.

Behavior often precedes feelings and thoughts.

I think cultivating good self-esteem is better done by behaving in a way that changes our view of ourselves, and showing up for what we set out to do. The best way I have found to do this is to try and understand who I am by defining my values and doing actions which exemplify those values. I do this through a process I call Lifestyle Design MOC, the art of creating and adapting your life to resonate with you. If you want to learn more about how I do this, check out my video, Creating My Best Average Day With Obsidian Periodic Notes.​

We have now learned all three deficiency needs encapsulated in the sailboat metaphor of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. We are getting closer to uncovering why we are experiencing a meaning crisis in the modern era.

Check out the second part of this series to learn how to integrate these with the growth needs to transcend.

Here's what I would like to share this week.

πŸ“ΈNews From The Channel!

πŸŽ™οΈLatest On De Podcast - E23 Dr. Lynne Kelly: How To Supercharge Your Memory Like Indigenous Cultures: Dr. Kelly is a science writer and Adjunct Research Associate at LaTrobe University, specializing in the study of memory methods used by oral cultures, particularly indigenous societies. She is a mnemonist and uses indigenous memory technologies to commit large amounts of information to memory. She has authored several books, including "The Memory Craft," "The Memory Code," "Song Lines" and "Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies." She has a diverse background in engineering, physics, mathematics, information technology, and gifted education.

In this podcast, you will learn:

  • The techniques indigenous cultures used to memorize vast amounts of information
  • How we can use the techniques today
  • How to fall in love with your learning

πŸ’‘My Best Insights:

πŸ“–Book - The Female Brain: Have you ever wondered the differences between the male and female brains? I got interested in this question when my mom started experiencing worse moods entering her 50s. I think every guy should read this book to understand how females are wired differently to guys so they can be more empathetic to them in society.

πŸ“°Blog Post - A Non-Definitive Guide to Non-Duality: You may have heard about non-duality and thought it sounded kind of wah wa wee wah. But having done meditation for a couple of years now, I can ensure you there are many reasons you should consider checking it out. This article does a great job illuminating some of the benefits of non-duality, the practices, and the drawbacks.

πŸŽ™οΈPodcast - How Minimalism Can Change Your Life The Minimalists: I particularly like this guide to minimalism because they talk about minimalism as a philosophical and spiritual practice.