Maps of Meaning 8 Notes

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

Neuropsychology of Symbolic Representation

Jordan Peterson’s eighth Maps of Meaning (2017) lectures discusses the neuropsychology of symbolic representation (how our brain’s right and left hemispheres process the known and unknown differently), and the story of Mesopotamian myth of Marduk.


What are most real categories?

  • Science: Protons, electrons
  • Mythology: Darwinian truths (conducive to survival)

It’s unclear if abstract ideas are more or less real than material reality. Are numbers more real than what they represent or less real?

The materialist view is wrong according to Peterson. The most real category is not matter, the most real category is “what matters.”

It’s the mythological viewpoint that is able to represent what is most real.

The mythological hypothesis is: There is a knower, what it knows, and the unknown (what it needs to know). And the story is that your consciousness can work with nature and culture to bring itself forward. But all aspects have positive and negative elements. Unlike ideology – which states that things are uni-dimensional (for example: culture is bad, nature is good).

It’s important to understand the duality of these categories for self-protection. A naive person who encounters true evil becomes devastated.

What is beyond our understanding is the dragon hording the treasure. We use this idea to encounter unknown conceptually. We are both predator and prey. We can kill or be eaten by the unknown – but we know that it contains something valuable.

The Limitations of Our Categories

We can’t say our categories of the world is exhaustive – it’s constantly changing. The world is too unpredictable. For example, Henry Ford created the assembly line to build cars, but he had no idea what the repercussions were. Societies transformed, he brought about the industrial age. His efforts led to displaced populations, pollution, countless deaths, rapid progress etc.

A car also has individualistic presuppositions. You can choose to go from point A to B without anyone’s permission. This is counter to communal thinking. Soviet Russia could not adopt cars without accepting the underlying economic and political presuppositions. A mechanical invention led to not only material changes in its immediate environment, but conceptual, and social changes globally.

The Brain

The more different ways there are for discovering the same thing, the higher probability of its truth. Sensory input and motor output are inseparable. You don’t passively take in info from the world. You are active in doing so. Your brain is selective in parsing out what it wants to process. For example, you suddenly notice the fridge’s noise when the electricity comes back on. Otherwise, you are unaware of the sound.

Raw empiricists think that data imprints itself on you – and that you’re a blank slate. But this isn’t true. Kant recognized this in “The Critique of Pure Reason” – when he said that you cannot process sense data without a priori conceptions.

Critique of Pure Reason (The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant)Maps of Meaning 8 Notes 1

You use your pre-frontal cortex to generate an abstract map out the world, and then to plot out motor strategies before implementing them. That’s what abstract thinking is. It’s the hypothesis of abstract action, the analysis of the outcome, and the implementation of the outcome.

That’s something that separates intelligence from conscientiousness. The correlation between intelligence and conscientiousness is zero. Intelligence defines the ability of abstraction – whereas conscientiousness defines the probability of implementation.

And those are different problems.

It takes willpower to transform abstraction into implementation. It’s easy to see why it’s tempting to do nothing. The body, in default mode, would only require food and expend the least amount of energy possible. You need a very good reason to force yourself to act.

Piaget discovered that children act out their behavior – they play games, but don’t articulate the rules. We act things out. Information is coded in behavior. That’s a major thing to understand. That helps explain how you can get information from dreams that are not fully articulated representations of your thoughts. It’s like how chimps understand the dominance hierarchy without being able to articulate it. It is how Moses – through spending thousands of hours as a judge who solved conflicts between his people – was able to finally articulate the best pattern of behaving through a set of rules.

The Hemispheres

A big debate politically is how modular vs integrated should the world be. The far-right movements argue that there should be more modularity while the left thinks there should be more integration. There can’t be too much of either, there has to be a balance – but it’s not clear what that balance is. That’s why this is an unsettled debate.

Peterson shows us a similar dichotomy between our left and right brain hemispheres.

Consider the characteristics of both brain hemispheres.

The Left Brain:

  1. Operates in explored territory
  2. Positive Affect
  3. Active Behavior
  4. Linear Thinking
  5. Detail Recognition
  6. Detail Generation
  7. Fine Motor Action

The Right Brain:

  1. Operates in unexplored territory
  2. Negative Affect
  3. Inhibition of Behavior
  4. Image Processing
  5. Holistic Thinking
  6. Pattern Recognition
  7. Pattern Generation
  8. Gross Motor Acton

Peterson then goes to explain these in more detail. For example, Fine Motor action is associated with your left brain. You use fine motor action when writing, for example – if you’re a right handed male (for simplicity). And you use Gross Motor Action for actions that require more holistic thinking. For example, when opening a jar, a right-handed person will use their left hand to twist the lid (using their right brain).

You spend most of your live trying to stave off the unknown – suppressing right brain use. You do so to avoid becoming overwhelmed. You only expose yourself to new knowledge tentatively.

Happiness as Success Formula

The people who think the key to success is happiness are completely off the mark. Too much positive emotion is bad. The reason you suppress your desire to chase after the unknown incessantly is because of your inhibitory right-brain. If you are active in seeking out new information constantly, then you’re manic. And what happens to people who are manic is they get really excited and want to have all the good things now but end up burning themselves out and fall into a depressive state a week later.

Damage to your right-brain can cause you to experience mania (no inhibition) and live impulsively – while damage to your left-brain leads to a permanent state of depression (no action, no positive emotion). When you stay in known territory for too much – you become depressed. When you spend too much time in chaos – you become manic, impulsive. The idea again here is finding the appropriate balance.


If you make a mistake, it’s not just that you need to change your behavior. You make need to change your perception too. If someone betrays you, for example, you will see them differently. You make even see yourself differently (as naïve, foolish). The world does not manifest itself in an objective way – but according to your preconceptions.

Confrontation of Chaos

The process of learning involves several stages.

  1. Freeze
  2. Emotion
  3. Imagine
  4. Explore
  5. Differentiate
  6. Master

In the Mesopotamian story of Marduk – which will be discussed more soon, Marduk transforms chaos into order. He makes ingenious things from his confrontation with Tiamat. What is on top of all dominance hierarchies is the mythological hero who confronts the unknown and creates order. (the eye on top of the pyramid that pays attention).

If you go to a party and feel anxiety, you will display a low dominance stature. “I am harmless, don’t mind me.” Not great for being selected by a mate. The solution is to stop thinking only about oneself, and to direct attention towards other people. You focus on an individual instead of an entire group and you talk to them or confront them.

You should not run away from what scares you, but should confront it. It’s the terrible predator who has the gold. It’s your enemies you need to be speaking to. They have the information you don’t want to hear, but really need to hear.

The Mesopotamian Myth

Abzu is the God of fresh water (order). Tiamat is the God of salt water (chaos). There were other gods that represented different kind of human emotions such as anger. The reason they are called Gods was because they are eternal and could grab a hold of you against your will.

Tiamat is referred to as a woman, and after mating with Abzu, she gives birth to new deities. They kill Abzu, and to get revenge she goes to war with them.

Tiamat creates 13 monsters, and elects Kingu (Satan) as the leader of the monsters. They go to war with the gods, and each god that confronts Tiamat and her monsters lose. Until one day, Marduk (the god of thunder) decides to confront Tiamat. Marduk has eyes all over his head and has the ability to speak. (This is a major discovery – that what is on top of the hierarchy is language).

Marduk only agrees to fight Tiamat on the condition that he controls destiny if he wins. The other gods agree. So he confronts Tiamat and defeats her by catching her with a net, blowing his wind into her, and then piercing her with an arrow. (The image is like how one captures chaos by formulating it in an ideological structure). Marduk cuts her into pieces and creates the earth and the skies. (similar to how one creates something useful with chaos). He then kills Kingu (Satan) and removes the tablets of his destiny from around Kingu’s neck. He then mixes Kingu’s blood with earth and used the clay to mold the first human beings. (In Genesis, Adam and Eve have awareness of evil and malevolence when they eat the fruit – the parallel is human being’s intrinsic relationship with evil).

The myth displays what is required to become a worth god emperor. It’s not through strength, but by being like Marduk.

Overcoming Suffering

The voluntary acceptance of suffering by Christ as key to its transcendence is an idea that is also grounded is psychological evidence. If you want to confront your fears or get rid of your phobias, you need to confront them. And there is no limit to what extent you can overcome your fears by voluntarily confronting them.

After Moses’ people misbehave, God sends snakes to bite them all. Moses asks God for help, and God’s response was to build a bronze image of a snake on a stick, and that everyone who sees that image will not be bitten. The confrontation of suffering and evil is how you can avoid it.

Christianity’s Moral Contribution

Christianity took the Egyptian ideas of Osiris and Horus and applied it to all people. Before Christianity, those who were able to embody the ideals of vision, and the wisdom of culture were the top rung people of society. Christianity insisted that even the downtrodden, the prostitutes, tax collectors, and criminals could embody those ideals. And that later became the foundation of the Western legal system.

2 replies on “Maps of Meaning 8 Notes”

Hi! Thank you for posting this summary. I found it concise and useful. There is one error in the above article. The characteristics of right and left hemispheres is switched. The right hemisphere deals with the unexplored territory, and it is responsible for negative affect and so on.

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

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