Lectures on Personality by Jordan Peterson

I’m hopelessly addicted to Jordan Peterson’s lectures. 

02 | Mythological Representations

(Editor’s Note: Any references to Jewish or Christian mythology in this lecture were noted on my other blog post: Truths & Symbolism in Judaism & Christianity.)

The problem with being human is, you don’t know what you know.

Throughout human history, we’ve been collecting information about the world using two methods, the first is ancient—through “meaning”, and the second is more recent—through “materialistic philosophy”.

1) Meaning (Phenomenological, Subjective, Mythological, Moral)

  • Meaning | Understanding the meaning of things is ancient, and much of it is unconscious. For example, if you falling down you instinctively know you’re supposed to put your arms out to catch yourself.
  • Categorization System/Meaning of Things | You categorize things by their immediate impact to YOU.
  • Categorizing tools | We are tool-using creatures. The very fact that we even evolved to have hands means that we must possess the brain power to move them around. (For example, octopi are extremely intelligent creatures also.) Every day, you unconsciously ask, “What’s the world in relationship to me?” Your instincts are molding your body to interact with things in your environment. When you see something, your eyes are activating your motor cortex, and you perceive the manner in which you should interact with it. You see a chair, your body prepares to sit. You see a computer, you prepare to type at it. You see a bottle, you prepare to grab it.
  • Categorizing something frightening | Too hot, too cold, too bright, too loud—which might damage your sensory systems. Some things fall under the category “if you encounter this, you should FREEZE.” Alternatively, some things are categorized under “See, MOVE IMMEDIATELY and then perceive.” For example, you don’t stand around and contemplate a tiger because it is going to EAT you. Or you might shrink away from the edge of a cliff; because your eyes see “DANGER, that’s a falling-off place”.
  • Categorizing the meaning of things | You see your mother. Maybe you hate her, she causes your heart to pump faster and your breathing to quicken. Maybe she represents an unpredictable and chronic threat.  *students laugh* You wouldn’t laugh if that weren’t sometimes true. It’s called a Freudian laugh. People do this all the time when they listen to comedians. Freud would listen to the things that made his patients laugh because it would sometimes give him insight on things they might be repressing. Jokes are often about things that are taboo.
  • Culture & Stories | These forms of knowledge don’t tell us what the world is, they tell us how we should act in relationship to it. You gather this information by talking to your friends, socializing, watching movies, reading books, etc. The question you are trying to answer for yourself is “What is the ideal human being?” What is mental health? It’s not the absence of mental illness, it’s how much you deviate from the norm. What is attractive or beautiful? Symmetry. Men look for hip to waist ratio. Women look for shoulder to waist ratio.
  • College students are special because they are all extremely intelligent (85% percentile or more) “A few standard deviations from the mean”.

2) Materialistic (Objective, Scientific, Matter)

  • Materialistic Philosophy | For most of human history people were suffered because their inability to grasp objective reality. Even the ancient Greeks never really got around to positing something like an “objective reality”. People have paid for their ignorance, and one way we have managed to overcome it is by developing materialistic philosophy. Materialistic philosophy developed in the last 500 years or so, and has allowed us to advance as a species because we can predict and control certain aspects of the natural world.
  • Science | This is a great collaborative tool that allows each individual human to come to a consensus about what is real, categorize reality, and to make predictions about reality. Even better—relatively stupid people can do it once they know the formal process. Science is like a factory that produces knowledge.
  • Newton , Mechanical | Newton is the author of the idea that the world is made out of material, and the material functions in a predictable manner like a machine. (He was influenced by a time where clocks were invented.) We do still hold to this idea somewhat because it is practically useful, but it is now outdated and was replaced by a Darwinian perspective.
  • Darwin , Truth = Life | Darwin set out to solve the problem: “What is truth?”. How do you know if a tool or animal set out to do the job that it’s supposed to? How do you distinguish a useful truth and a non-useful truth? The Darwinian process answers this question through death, because there isn’t anything more real than whether or not you survive. Whatever is not useful (or “true”) dies and will not reproduce. For example, let’s say “If the pursuit of the Newtonian theory culminated in the extinction of human beings, that would be perfect evidence for its lack of truth”.
    • Darwinian Hypothesis: Reality is—and also becomes. True in relation to what? The world is meaningful in relation to you.
    • Generate random variations because you don’t know what’s coming.

Study of Mythological Representations of Meaning

Horus (Left), Osiris (Center), Isis (Right) | Wikimedia
  • Horus, Osiris, Isis | Egypt 3,000 B.C.E. | Among humans, there is no such thing as a non-culture. Every human is physiologically formed to presume that we are going to emerge into the world in a culture. This fact is so deeply embedded and long-standing, that the ancient Egyptians personified this pattern of behavior as the deity Osiris. Osiris is the god of tradition & culture—a pillar—he’s an abstraction of the patriarchal force that stands behind tradition. “Tradition” is a way of behaving and cooperating with one another, which is a pattern of behaviors. You have to unconsciously imitate the same pattern yourself or you can’t get along. If you are a law-abiding citizen, you are manifesting the body of law in your own behavior. If you don’t imitate the pattern, you are either poorly socialized or dangerous. Like it or not, you are a mimicker. Set (not pictured above) is a negative figure—Osiris’ evil brother—who is always whispering in the king’s ear.
    • Dominance hierarchies are a big part of culture. Who has access to what, at a given time. Chickens (pecking orders), wolves, chimps… Song bird is singing a pretty little song? No. It’s really saying, “This is my tree, and if you come over here I’ll peck you to death.”

Image Source: Thomas Hawk

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