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Maps of Meaning 10 Notes

My Notes For Maps Of Meaning (2017) – Jordan Peterson

Gautam Buddha
Gautam Buddha

In this lecture, Peterson explores the archetypal similarities across the Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Christian and Buddhist myths.

Belief Systems

You have a mode of being – this is how you operate in the world. When other people accept your mode of being, your emotions are regulated. That’s why people defend their belief systems. A conflict of belief systems will end up in a fight or subordination.

Marxism vs Capitalism make different claims, but are both claims equally valid? No.

A closer look at Western thought has mythology underpinning it. Communism has no mythology – it is a recent product of rationality. Equality of outcome is technically impossible, but the idea of communism is making a comeback.

If metaphysical presuppositions are removed from beliefs, everything collapses. Meta presupposition = god (Nietzsche). Dostoevsky also contends with this idea in Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov tries to rescue his sister and mother, and he goes to a pawn broker who has a slave she is horrible to. He rationalizes that by killing the pawn broker, he will do society, himself, and his family a favour. And the book is an exploration of his thought before, during, and after this event.

According to Dostoevsky, if there is no God, then anything goes – then Raskolnikov would have happily killed the woman and not suffered. There would be nothing irrational about psychopathic tendencies (naked self-interest). The new atheists (Dawkins, Harris) live in a world so wrapped up in these metaphysical presuppositions that they don’t even notice it.

What’s at the bottom of a transcendent value?

No one seems to know about what happened in Soviet Russia (Solzhenitsyn) and China – it’s a hole in the education system. The Gulag Archipelago suggests that a religious revival is necessary for rebuilding Russia. Without God, there was no defense against pathological ideologies.

The Gulag Archipelago Abridged: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (P.S.)Maps of Meaning 10 Notes 1

Jung came after Nietzsche. Nietzsche posited that we would need to invent our own values – hence the uberman. But that’s a problem. If there is nothing to humble you, then what stops you from trying to make everything subservient to your will? What stops you from becoming a pathological dictator? The destruction of society is not an irrational idea.

Jung was also a prophetic type and understood what was wrong with Nietzsche and came to his conclusion through Freud. Dream analysis is the major contribution of Freud. And while some people think dreams are random, but they are far from it. Freud believed that they were essentially wish fulfillment, and that human motivation was ultimately sexual (oversimplification).

Jung disagreed with Freud. He didn’t believe that sex was the only motivator. He thought of dreams as having a narrative structure imposed on you involuntarily by nature. Something was thinking in you that wasn’t the conscious you. A dream consists of a network of ideas. Freud thought that these ideas were repressed thoughts, but Jung thought that dreams were the birthplace of thought and that the developmental pathway of your thoughts starts when you dream. As you consciously utter thoughts – they come from your subconscious.

Nature and culture (unless culture becomes pathologized) are participating in the co-creation of human beings.

And then there was Piaget – who wanted to reconcile the conflict between religion and science. He studied children and noted their patterns of behavior. The voluntary transcendence of suffering is the top value of the dominance hierarchy that is present across all societies. There is a way of being that pushes you up dominance hierarchies.

Rediscovering the nature of human beings can be found in the depths of your imagination. When there are gaps, you project your fantasies, and those aren’t random.

Speech and vision (the story of Marduk) are at the top of dominance hierarchy. Your heroic willingness to encounter the unknown and share it with people should be what you subordinate yourself to. And that has practical value. You will be respected by men and selected by women. If you live in a society that is not pathologically corrupt – you will earn practical rewards from encountering the unknown and articulating it.

But encountering chaos and slicing it into pieces in an incomplete story. It only deals with the terrible mother (chaos) but there is also the tyrannical father (pathological order). That’s what fascist totalitarianism is.

There are two things the hero must do. One is to encounter chaos and make order, but the second is the descend into the underworld, and implement tradition and order in chaos, and allow it to re-emerge again. That’s how you rescue your archetypal father from the belly of the beast.

That’s what Nietzsche missed. He recognized pathological order but didn’t consider the fact that you were supposed to rescue your father. And that’s what Eliade and Jung talked about.

The Bible

The Bible is a collection of books (a library). And what it represents is the articulation of what our ancestors believed about how we acted. We acted, and then we dreamt about what we acted, and then we organized what we dreamt about how we acted, and that’s what these stories are. It’s bottom up (mostly), not top-down (which is like Piaget’s idea of the emergence of moral systems).

And it’s important to understand that these stories are approximations of how we should act. If you think of yourself, you are much more than you think you are. And the only way to act in the world is to dream up some approximate idea of how to act, and to do it. The truth is incomplete, but it’s a truth nonetheless.

These stories are accumulated from many different places and are messy and contradictory (similar to dreams), but they contain a much richer picture of reality. A precise thought sacrifices completeness for coherence, while a dream sacrifices coherence for completeness. Note that this is also like the way our right-brain and left-brain hemispheres work. We need both completeness and coherence, so we need to use both.

The Bible is half complete, and half coherent.

There are things in these stories that you must act out. What doesn’t get acted out is lost. Those are the things that you should keep from these stories. That’s Piaget’s idea of the equilibrated state. Think about being in a family. You want to be in a situation where being part of the family benefits you, and you can benefit the rest of the family – in terms of health, development, well-being.

It’s the same with music. It’s the stacking of different entities that can harmoniously exist. Each member of an orchestra serves a specific function that contributes to the betterment of the entire orchestra and themselves simultaneously. And the idea of co-existing harmoniously is a deep idea. Mate selection can happen through dancing. When you’re dancing, you are not aware of everything that’s going on, you are only enjoying the moment. And being able to do so gracefully with a partner in a blissful, celebratory time could inform you of the ability to manifest that pattern of behaviour outside of that context.

In Psalms and in the Book of Job, the archetypal idea of the hero conquering the unknown and making order out of it is expressed. It is a derivation from the story of Marduk.

The individual should be super-ordinate to the group. Even though there must be an interplay between group and individual, the group must serve the individual first so that the individual can later serve the group (by revivifying it). The alternative is that the individual becomes subordinate to the group and the group stagnates as a result. Thus, the group must subordinate itself to allow the individual to have vision. The Mesopotamians and Egyptians figured that out, so did Christianity, but we don’t know that we figured it out.

“There is an idea at the root of our legal system – our articulation of patterns by which to live. It is a system that is evolved and culturally constructed. It is predicated on the idea that there is something about the individual that the law must respect. The question is: Is that just an arbitrary supposition?”

(Same question as whether western civilization is founded on something that is a rock or mere opinion?)

This idea is a strange thing for a system to think up. Because the idea that even if you are the ultimate transgressor, you still have sovereign value is such an unlikely thing for human beings to come up with. You have to wonder for a long time how that idea came about.

The Story of Adam and Eve

In the story of Adam and Eve – they are both naked and feel no shame. This could be interpreted as a state of unconsciousness. This is a Jungian idea. 

They don’t have the capacity of self-reflection. Why? Because human beings stand upright unlike other animals. And when they do without clothes, they are exposing the most vulnerable parts of their body. When you stand naked, you are also displaying your sexual organs – in addition to all of your imperfections and insufficiencies, so to do so unashamed implies you are not in a conscious state.

The serpent then tempts Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge. And why did the serpent try to tempt Eve? Women are more self-conscious than men and babies made women self-conscious (because women had to figure out how to make sure their child was protected). Consider the thousands of years human beings have had to battle against snakes and were forced to contend with the idea that they were vulnerable.

The snake told Eve that the fruit would not kill her. Eve then ate and shared the fruit with Adam. Eating the fruit allowed us to see, not just with our eyes, but with our imagination too. Conceptualizing the future meant that we could see the inevitable difficulties we were going to face. Adam and Eve saw that they were naked, they realized that they were vulnerable, and put fig leaves on as clothing. To clothe yourself is to recognize your vulnerabilities. God then speaks to them, but they hide. They didn’t hide before.

What does that mean?

You are supposed to be endowed with a spirit that enters the unknown and tries to conquer it. What would stop you from doing that? Knowledge of your insufficiencies. God then calls Adam out, and the first thing Adam does is blame Eve. God then asks the woman what she did, and she blames the serpent (the serpent is later represented as Satan and evil). God then puts enmity between snakes and women. He then told her that he would multiply her sorrow in conception and will be ruled by man (this was a statement of destiny rather than a statement of ought).

Why knowledge of good and evil (of morality)? Because once you are conscious of your own vulnerability, you can imagine how to hurt (and torture) other people.

The story of Adam and Eve: You have unconscious beings living in a protective space (walled garden) and a being in form of serpent reveals death. Paradise ends. Humans don’t get to come back – there are angels guarding the walled garden.

The story of Buddha

A ruler wanted his son to become the greatest ruler the world has ever seen. He decides to do that by getting his son to fall in love with the world, because that way – he would want to stick to practical paths. He builds a city of perfection with no traces of suffering or unhappiness. This makes sense – as good fathers suppress things from their children for their own good (such as violent or unpleasant TV shows). But Buddha is raised to become healthy and becomes curious. Children do that all the time. Breaking the rules is necessary, but not all the time. If they don’t break the rules, they become too timid. And if they break all the rules, they become antisocial.

The Buddha sees the walls and figures there is something outside the walls. He asks his father to go outside but his father says no. But his son insists. Finally, the father arranged for his son to leave the garden but to be met with an artificial reality to help preserve the image his father created inside the confines of the wall.. Unbeknownst to the father, the person that drove the Buddha in a carriage was divine (like the serpent). As the Buddha encounters reality, he sees that old age and disease existed by encountering several people, and that tragedy was inevitable. That he too would become sick and die. Buddha was then unable to enjoy festivities or entertainment. He could not stop contemplating what he had been exposed to.

The story of the Buddha contains many of the same elements found in the Bible and the Mesopotamian and Egyptian Myths. The question is: After knowledge of death and suffering, could there be any redemption?

The answer, according to Peterson, is: Yes, the identification with the spirit that brings chaos from order.

Summaries of The Maps of Meaning Lectures

Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of BeliefMaps of Meaning 10 Notes 2

2 replies on “Maps of Meaning 10 Notes”

Excellent synthesis of JP’s ideas! I was trying to articulate in my mind what was represented by the treasure/prize guarded by the beast (or piece of the beast the hero keeps which they often draw on later). I think your explanation of JPs explanation makes sense, that it is the product of having successfully contended with chaos, the product of which is in itself the prize and resides within you. It is the strength (weapon or piece of the beast) that you can draw on in the future to help you, and at the same time share with the collective, which gives you value in the group.

Rescuing the archetypal father now makes sense too. Like when Luke suffers the loss of Obi Wan Kenobi or Yoda, it means that tradition alone will not get you through the modern day challenge. Tradition must be expressed uniquely via the individual, through which you honor/rescue the father, much like how Horus rescued and then ruled with Osiris.

Thanks for the insights!

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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