Maps of Meaning 9 Notes

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


Patterns of Symbolic Representation

In this lecture, Peterson explores the nature of the unknown through mythological symbolism, and explains why the unknown is necessary.

The Antidote to Nihilism

It’s not enough to just be lawyer or plumber, you need to ground yourself in something greater to help you fight against nihilism. Mythology provides a bulwark against totalitarianism since you know the whole story – you’re not susceptible to falling for half stories.

Sam Harris’ post-hoc criticism of Peterson was that it was possible to derive meaning from any event after it happens – no matter how mundane. In his conversation with Peterson, he gave the example of deriving philosophical meaning from the ingredients he found for a meal in a cookbook. His point was that you could pull out any piece of random information and make it seem more meaningful than it is.

Peterson’s rebuttal is that there are multiple levels of analysis that point to the same thing simultaneously. Neuropsychology, psychology, biology, sociologically all point to the same story that mythology points to. There is always the knower, known, unknown, and the existence of the dominance hierarchy.

You don’t want to win the game but you want to win the set of infinite games. To do so, you need to confront the unknown voluntarily. You need to make sacrifices. Don’t just think about how to survive in the present, but in the future.

Bigger brains led to a bigger group, which, in turn, led to bigger brains. Behavior occurs, patterns are extracted in retrospect. We extrapolate the best way to behave and constantly try to converge our behavior to that pattern. And as society evolves, the best patterns are reinforced and followed more precisely. These loops throughout long spans of time have led to the creation of more sophisticated civilizations.

In mythology opposite categories exist simultaneously. An intimate relationship with someone can sometimes be too complex. They are pulled by multiple directions – it makes it difficult to co-exist with them.

The Necessity of the Unknown

Moses was the king of water (chaos) and was born in water (and nearly drowned) . The Egyptian Pharaoh was the king of arid, dry land (order). Sometimes, it’s necessary to ground yourself on solid ground, but other times, something more fluid is necessary.

Every time you learn something painfully (which is real learning) – you have sacrificed something old. There is no learning without sacrifice. Low Resolution stays low resolution unless you sacrifice what you know – and that’s how it becomes more high resolution.

You usually don’t like to have conversations with people that challenge you because you are being thrown into chaos. You are forced to grapple with too much of the unknown. But you then make the mistake of avoiding the unknown too much – choosing to only stick with what you know.

But don’t be too sure that what you know is your friend, and what you don’t is your enemy.

The opposite is most likely correct. The unknown is what updates you and makes you more competent and corrects your errors. It’s better to make friends with the unknown. But do so carefully so as not to be overwhelmed. For example, by exposing yourself to the unknown little by little. You want to tear down the walls, expand, and rebuild – gradually. And remember that you are precisely what can move into the unknown and – as a result – develop.

There are two types of unknown – latent and manifest. Trouble brewing ahead is latent unknown. You want that. Two individuals need to grapple. The person who maintains peace is being submissive and the one who wants the other to always be peaceful is a tyrant. The struggle is what constantly updates and improves.

The Forms of the Unknown

There was a chaotic city of sinful people. God tells Jonah to go there and tell them why they’re stupid and wrong. Jonah refuses, and hops on the boat and goes away as far as he can. He gets caught in a storm with the other people on the boat. They figure that they are suffering because one of them displeased God. They drew lots to throw someone over, but Jonah finally convinces them that it’s him who God has a problem with, so they throw Jonah overboard and a whale swallows him.

God abandoned Jonah, because Jonah abandoned his destiny. That’s what happens in real life when you abandon your destiny, chaos eats you. Finally, Jonah emerges into land with a halo over his head. The illuminated human being who comes out of the fish has a halo. It’s the same archetype again – he who emerges from the unknown is illuminated.

Peterson refers to The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, and the Hindu goddess/s Kali as amalgams of the unknown.

Men and Women

There are men who formed groups together in opposition to women. These men believe that legal systems are heavily biased towards women, and that the most logical course of action will lead you to abandon romantic relationships with women altogether. Peterson suggests that if you make the right sacrifices, you won’t have to deal with that problem. It’s less likely that the problem is with all women if you’re a man, or the problem is with all men if you’re a woman.


Men are now doing worse than women academically. Take the case of the conservative woman who is conscientious and hard working. She does well in school and college. She is also agreeable, dutiful, and intelligent. She wants to please and will do what she’s told. She ends up becoming a lawyer (as a typical example).

“One thing that predicted grades better than IQ and consciousness was agreeableness.”

Women are outperforming men because they’re more likely to do what they’re told. Imagine a borderline student (male), rebellious and antisocial. His professor will fail him. But a woman with the same grade profile who is likeable will pass. The positive elements of being agreeable are there at first since people will help you move forward quicker, but you will encounter the negative elements of being agreeable later in your career.

She (the lawyer) ends up doing really well, she nails standardized tests and makes partner. She works seventy-five hours a week, and she will not say no to her client no matter what time it is (because of competition). What happens to these women is they leave – because who in their right mind would work that hard? Some men will because they want to hit the pinnacle of a certain dominance hierarchy. They are completely career obsessed. They are smart, disciplined, and work all the time. They are also disagreeable and hard to be in a relationship with. They are the people that run things, and they are incredibly competitive. Women who make it to that point become invaluable to law firms, but they can’t sustain it. The women figure out that it’s no longer worth it – and generally because they’re married and realize there’s more to life. They find a less demanding job.

As a society, we are asking the wrong questions. It’s not:  why aren’t there enough women in positions of power? The question we should be asking is: Why is there anyone in these positions at all? Why would anyone want to have that kind of life?

Yes, it’s a position of power, but it’s a position of overwhelming responsibility. You cannot afford to make a mistake.

“I don’t know what people think – as if these people are sitting in their offices smoking a cigar with their feet up. But it’s fine to be that way. Some people are hyper industrious. If you put them in a forest they’ll just chop down trees. But the right way to think about it is to think about building a family. Men’s interest in their careers starts to go down at 35-40 – and it would make sense to have children at that age.”


The more responsibility you have, the deeper the meaning you get out of life.

“Young people are starving for that. You’re way more than you think. Stand up, burst out of your bonds, do something difficult and heroic. That’s a good message. That’s a necessary message. Because we have to be more than we are. If we aren’t we aren’t going to survive.”

Captain hook is terrified from the crocodile with the clock (terrified by the clock) but is vicious and ruthless. That’s the negative father figure in Peter Pan. Peter Pan doesn’t want to sacrifice innocent youth to become like terrible Captain Hook – so he stays king of the lost boys (the king of the damned).

There is the positive and negative father. The positive father is the one who provides order and security, and the negative father provides tyranny.

Listen to Your Nervous System

Our nervous systems can tell us when we’re doing the right thing. It’s when all the structures are stacked up. For example, being a father and husband is nested inside “The Middle-Class Businessman” nested in “The Capitalist Personality” in “The American Personality” in “The Humanistic Western Personality” in “The Judeo-Christian Personality” in “The Exploratory Hero.”

When all of these are stacked up, organized, all the way up and down – your physiology becomes organized and you can feel that. That’s what happens when you’re engaged in something meaningful. It’s a kind of strength that pushes you forward instead of backwards. Your nervous systems are very sophisticated. They orient you in time and space and people love that, and you experience that when you listen to music in a cathedral or in a rock concert- they are both religious experiences.

”People have been gathering in groups and transcending the limits of their pathological individuality through music since the beginning of time.”

When you lie, you warp your own conscience. That’s why people make confessions – it’s a therapeutic technique. You ask yourself “What stupid things have I done last week, that I can avoid doing next week.” And that makes your life better.

You can lie by omission too. But because lying pollutes corrupts your conscience as a guiding mechanism – it becomes unreliable. So, you should tell the truth – or at least, don’t lie.

The Maps of Meaning Lecture Summaries 

Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of BeliefMaps of Meaning 9 Notes 1

2 replies on “Maps of Meaning 9 Notes”

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

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