Maps of Meaning 6 Notes

My Notes for Maps of Meaning (2017) – Jordan Peterson

Maps of Meaning 6 Notes 1

Story And Meta-story (Part 2)

Peterson’s sixth lecture covers the evolution of our traits, dominance hierarchies, motivational systems, and our sense of meaning.


Complexity is mitigated through cooperation. While society can be oppressive, it’s better to succumb to its rules than to live in chaos.

It’s possible to inherit acquired traits – the theory of evolution is not complete. Environmental shifts in the direction of mutation – (randomly) – creates advantages. The reason your cells mutate is the existence of background levels of radioactivity (consequence of solar activity). The only way to beat a random environment is through randomness. Mutations happen incrementally and randomly, and that’s how they were able to create species able to survive in a highly complex natural environment.

Dominance Hierarchies

The dominance hierarchy is a social construct, but when something lasts long enough, it becomes part of the environment. Males are selected for their ability to move up a dominance hierarchy. Selection by females is not random. Animals (peacocks) develop attention seeking traits (tails with eye shapes on it). We also use symmetry to select mates. Females select from mates across and above them in the hierarchy, while men select from mates across and below them. Both select for intelligence, personality, attractiveness.

Selection pressure is directed towards men who climb dominance hierarchies. The difference between humans and animals is that animals are uni-dimensional in their selection. For example, animals select for power (elephant seals) but we only partially select for that. They have developed more complex dominance hierarchies.

You can leverage your unique predispositions to climb different dominance hierarchies.

  • Agreeable = Intimate relationships
  • Extroverted = Social interaction
  • Disagreeable = Competition
  • Neurotic = Security
  • Openness = Creativity

What drives selection is potential for success across multiple dominance hierarchies. The hero myth emerged from this. It is the representation of human desire to climb dominance hierarchies. Humans are general purpose animals, no single competency. We are like cockroaches or rats. We can go anywhere and thrive – a canonical element of hero mythology.

All of this is to explain how we’ve dealt with complexity. The only way to deal with complexity is to generate variance – or to fight complexity with complexity.

Motivational Systems

When you plan, you produce avatars and your thoughts can die instead of you. You can test your avatars out. We have been selected for the ability to think about the future abstractly and safely.

Perception is mapping patterns onto patterns. You sense fear in a person who is afraid before you consciously recognize it. It happens so quickly. Darwin and the snake example: Darwin couldn’t resist the urge to jerk backwards as the snake sprang at him from the other side of the glass door.

Moore’s law: started in the 1400’s is like evolution. Starts out very slow, but when later begins to pick up pace, and becomes very fast. The motivational systems that have emerged from evolution – at different times – have all been conserved. Our snake reflex that is only 3 neurons long is preserved.

You consciously manifest an automatic routine. But when an error occurs, you stop. You reassess the situation and you create a new automatic routine. Your consciousness is constantly trying to re-adapt your procedural unconscious.

You don’t need to be conscious of things like breathing or digesting. Consciousness is an error rectification system. Practicing being conscious means you’re attending to your errors. That’s why it’s a good idea to pay attention. You are improving your unconscious state.

You attempt to transform your current state to a desired goal through behavior. You will perceive objects in a way that keeps with your goals, and everything else is blurred out. Perception includes current state, desired goal, and behavior.

The classical view says that the world is full of objects, you see them, evaluate them, and then act upon them. But that’s wrong. The world is made of tools and obstacles – not objects. Our minds have more to do with what we see than we think. Why? Because you can’t perceive the world in a way that is not in relationship to you.

There is an infinite number of ways to describe a room. There is an infinite number of ways to describe reality. The way you choose to define it relates to your own subjective experience of it. If you had to describe a room, you describe the things that are relevant (tools). You will talk about tools or obstacles but not irrelevant things – and that’s the biggest category. Everything that is happening (almost) in the external world is ignored by you. But when something goes wrong – chaos ensues.

“An indeterminate set of those irrelevant entities has now become relevant.”

People are entities that can be ignored – when you go in public. Unless someone acts extraordinarily, they appear like blobs to you. We live in a landscape of relevance – not facts.

This explains Peterson’s idea of truth.

The basis of your cognitive knowledge is what to ignore.

When you see an obstacle, you are annoyed before you are consciously aware of the obstacle. Your feeling of annoyance is faster. It’s not that you see an object, process its existence and then get annoyed. You get annoyed before you’re even consciously aware of the existence that object, and then you become aware and you understand why you got annoyed and express it through language – or perhaps profanities.

Read An Ecological Approach to Visual Perception by Gibson. He talks about Affordance.

The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (Psychology Press & Routledge Classic Editions)Maps of Meaning 6 Notes 2

You only see the facts that are relevant to you. When two people of different political ideologies argue, they don’t have a difference of opinion, they literally see different facts.


Consummatory reward is different from incentive reward. Consummatory reward is satiating. But the dopaminergic rewards come from incentive rewards. You are moved by goals. It’s the constant moving ahead and validation of your value system that keeps you motivated.

Post modernists want to flatten the value system, but you don’t get rid of suffering that way, you only get rid of positive emotion. A truly meaningful event is getting through a step and knowing that it will make it easier for you to get through all the next steps.

It’s not enough to be satisfied with what you have. You remain permanently vulnerable – things might not last. The problem of problems will never be solved.

“Sisyphus should be happy” – Nietzsche

Instead of complaining about the existence of obstacles, resolve to do something about it – as impossible as it may seem. Doing something is better than doing nothing.

Clean Your Room

You should clean your room because you want to make it as easy as possible for you to use your space for whatever intentions you have. When your room is messy and chaotic, you will feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed. You are making it harder to operate efficiently. After you have cleaned your room, you can think about making it beautiful. 

Pandora’s Box

You want desired outcomes to produce pleasure and avoid undesirable outcomes that produce threat and anxiety. Not only that. When you don’t get what you want, you unlock a whole flurry of emotions that cause you to feel depressed, anxious, curious, upset. What was irrelevant before is now relevant and you don’t know what to do about that. Example: You get into an accident, and a whole new world unravels.

When things you expect happen, you move forward, and you feel good about it. But you also feel good about the frame you’re operating within. If you get a bad grade in university, you might question what the point of university is anyway. If you get a good grade, you feel good about the grade, but you also feel good about the fact that you’re studying in university and are basing your feelings on how well you perform in exams. The integrity of the entire value system can be determined by these micro events.

But in the former case, you’re not doing yourself any justice, you need to limit the extent of your response. If you questioned your entire motivational system every time you failed, you will never get anywhere. When you get upset with someone, you don’t tear down their entire character, and say they will never be good for anything and never were. You find the narrowest framework of interpretation through which you can understand a setback and figure out the simplest thing you can do to turn things around.


Meaningful activity is not an epiphenomenon, or a by-product of experience. It’s a real thing. When you’re engaged while doing something, you are serving multiple purposes simultaneously. You are doing something positive for society, and something good for yourself in that narrow slice of time that you happen to be experiencing. That’s a powerful argument against nihilists. A nihilist could postulate that nothing is meaningful, it’s all just an illusion, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Meaning does in fact exist in a fundamental way, and this is the argument that we will be developing.


A shocking, undesired event is both positive and negative. It creates hope and threat.

One way to mitigate for shocking news that can potentially tear down your entire motivational system is to have more than one plan. Have a plan B in case things don’t work out.

Some people focus all their energy on their careers. It may be the case that the only way to be exceptional is to do that – because of competition. And perhaps they enjoy doing that, but it’s also dangerous. It’s better to spread your bets. Have hobbies you enjoy doing outside of work, spend time with your family and friends. That will orient you a lot better. If one thing collapses, you don’t lose everything.

Jung said, “Men go after perfection, Women go after wholeness”.

It might be hard to be exceptional at one thing if you spread your bets, but it’s worth it if that’s what you want to be doing. The reason men are more likely to concentrate their energy on a narrow domain is because they have a longer time frame, and socioeconomic status elevates them with respect to the opposite sex whereas that’s not true for women.


You have a frame, it governs your perceptions and motivation. Things can validate or invalidate your frame and put you into order or chaos.

You will incur a large cost if you need to constantly re-evaluate your entire frame.

When you perform a micro action that you enjoy and it benefits society, then you’ve set up an optimal value system. You cannot isolate social considerations from your value system, and you cannot isolate your need for a sense of engagement with the micro-tasks – only to fulfill the values imposed on you by society. If you want your value system to last, you need to integrate both considerations into your framework.

In other words, you need to be a little selfish, you can’t just think about what’s good for society. And vice versa. 

The Maps of Meaning Lectures 

Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of BeliefMaps of Meaning 6 Notes 3

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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