Jordan Peterson - Maps of Meaning Part 2 - How Myth and Science are Both True


(SeanO) #1

This is a series of post on Jordan Peterson’s book ‘Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief’. It provides clearer insight than his more recent book into what Peterson actually believes. Each post will be on a specific chapter or section of the book and the hope is that we can engage in conversation over these matters. I hope to represent his thought accurately - but due to being human may not always do so.


In this chapter Peterson lays out his ‘metamythological cycle of the way’ - his interpretation of mythology as an attempt to mediate order and chaos through story. According to Peterson, myth and science can both be true. Science is true empirically. Myth is true because it provides a way for humans to mediate order and chaos - to live a life of meaning and purpose in the midst of a tumultuous and uncertain world. Science tells us facts - what is - myth tells us what should be - infuses the factual world with value and meaning. He then proceeds to suggest that these myths suggest to us that humans must maintain an order stable enough to give them security in the midst of uncertainty and yet flexible enough to change whenever it is necessary. That is the way that all myths teach us and how we can have a sense of purpose and meaning even after Nietzsche, who declared that God is dead.

We have become atheistic in our description, but remain evidently religious – that is, moral – in our disposition. What we accept as true, and how we act, are no longer commensurate. We carry on, as if our experience has meaning – as if our activities have transcendent value – but we are unable to justify this belief intellectually

We have made the great mistake of assuming that the “world of spirit” described by those who preceded
us was the modern “world of matter,” primitively conceptualized. This is not true – at least not in the simple manner we generally believe. The cosmos described by mythology was not the same place known to
the practitioners of modern science – but that does not mean it was not real. We have not yet found God above, nor the Devil below, because we do not yet understand where “above” and “below” might be found.

Myth is not primitive proto-science. It is a qualitatively different phenomenon. Science might be considered “description of the world with regards to those aspects that are consensually apprehensible” or “specification of the most effective mode of reaching an end (given a defined end).” Myth can be more accurately regarded as “description of the world as it signifies (for action).” The mythic universe is a place to act, not a place to perceive. Myth describes things in terms of their unique or shared affective valence, their value, their motivational significance. The Sky (An) and the Earth (Ki) of the Sumerians are not the sky and earth of modern man, therefore; they are the Great Father and Mother of all things

It has become more or less evident that pure, abstract rationality, for example, ungrounded in tradition – the rationality which defined Soviet-style communism from inception to dissolution – appears absolutely unable to determine and make explicit just what it is that should guide individual and social behavior.

Proper analysis of mythology, of the type proposed here, is not mere discussion of “historical” events
enacted upon the world stage (as the traditionally religious might have it), and it is not mere investigation
of primitive belief (as the traditionally scientific might presume). It is, instead, the examination, analysis and subsequent incorporation of an edifice of meaning, which contains within it hierarchical organization
of experiential valence. The mythic imagination is concerned with the world in the manner of the phenomenologist, who seeks to discover the nature of subjective reality, instead of concerning himself with description of the objective world.

myth presents information relevant to the most fundamental of moral problems: “what should be? (what should be done?)”

(1) Myths describing a current or pre-existent stable state (sometimes a paradise, sometimes a tyranny);
(2) Myths describing the emergence of something anomalous, unexpected, threatening and promising
into this initial state;
(3) Myths describing the dissolution of the pre-existent stable state into chaos, as a consequence of the
anomalous or unexpected occurrence;
(4) Myths describing the regeneration of stability [paradise regained (or, tyranny regenerated)], from the
chaotic mixture of dissolute previous experience and anomalous information.

When we are in the domain of the known, so
to speak, there is no reason for fear. Outside that domain, panic reigns. It is for this reason that we dislike having our plans disrupted. So we cling to what we understand. This does not always work, however, because what we understand about the present is not always necessarily sufficient to deal with the future. This means that we have to be able to modify what we understand, even though to do so is to risk our own undoing. The trick, of course, is to modify and yet to remain secure. This is not so simple. Too much modification – chaos. Too little modification – stagnation (and then, when the future we are unprepared for appears – chaos).

My Thoughts

I sense that Peterson wants to affirm naturalism and materialism while still providing a ground on which people can find meaning and purpose in life. C. S. Lewis, I think, would have pointed out that the fact that we behave as if morality and the supernatural exist even though we have quit believing in them suggest only one thing - that they do exist. And that Christianity is the one true myth - the true archetypal story of the God-man rescuing humanity and delivering us into from sin and death unto the paradise of God.

Peterson wants to have his cake and eat it to - Lewis (not to mention Nietzsche) recognized that one cannot do so. If Christianity is not true in the scientific and historical sense, then it is of no consequence. If true in every sense, of ultimate consequence.

(Marvi Rafael Montecillo) #2

" If Christianity is not true in the scientific and historical sense, then it is of no consequence. If true in every sense, of ultimate consequence."

Pardon me, I’m new here. I used to be an anti-theist (right now, perhaps a cultural christian and joining a few religious groups here in the Philippines).

Somehow I disagree with the first sentence. Despite Christianity not being scientifically true - in a materialistic way- or even historically accurate (Noah’s ark, garden of eden), I still think Christianity is true in the pragmatic way, that is, it satisfies the mind for its meaningful myth and creates a social reality that helps humans thrive.

What are your thoughts on that petersonian “truth”…

I’m halfway with Mere Christianity, and I’m stuck in page 32 and trying to understand Lewis’ arguments as I try to remain to have a secular paradigm.

(christopher van zyl) #3

I believe Christianity is especially true, scientifically. It was because of Christianity that science really got going in the first place.
As cs Lewis says, men became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a law giver.

Now to do science in a purely materialistic framework does not work. One of the fundamentals of sciences is inference. You expect the future to be like the past, and you need the uniformity of nature. The materialistic framework gives you no reason to believe in this. You cannot, in fact, believe in this. If you cannot, how can you do science? If you cannot do science, how can you disprove the Bible scientifically?

But leaving this aside, why do you think it is not scientifically true?

I respect where you are coming from, because I have had to think through these same thoughts too! :blush: I’m excited to discuss this more with you and hear input from others.

Ps Mere Christianity is one of my favorites. What has stood out for you so far?

Also, glad to have you with us @Marvi_Rafael_Montecillo

(Stewart Andres) #4

@c3vanzyl could have not said it better myself 2 thumbs up.

(SeanO) #5

@Marvi_Rafael_Montecillo What do you mean by the word ‘thrive’? Who gets to decide what it means for humans to ‘thrive’? What does it mean for something to be ‘meaningful’?

For example, Nietzsche believed that life would be meaningful if we all tried to produce the ‘superman’ or Übermensch. A woman’s life would be meaningful only in so far as she helped the next generation to produce the superman who could lead the human race forward. This philosophy led to many atrocities - to bigotry and to slaughter - and yet if Christianity is not historically and factually true who is to say that we should not be pursuing the ‘superman’? Whose meaning is right? What does it mean for humanity to thrive?

The problem with pragmatism is that the pragmatist must assume certain things to have value or worth in order to determine what actions are pragmatic. But what do you do when people do not agree about what is valuable or worthy? If nothing is historically true - there is no factual basis for saying whose myth - whose story - whose values - are good. Pragmatism falls apart and becomes the ‘will to power’ - whoever holds the most power determines what is good and therefore determines what is pragmatic at a societal level.

(Jimmy Sellers) #6

I hope this will make some sense, but this discussion reminds me of an article I read 35 years ago in Parade Magazine, it was part of the Sunday paper in my home town. The article was written by Carl Sagan in 1993. At the time I was a fan of Sagan and his Cosmos series which had caused me to take a deep breath about what I thought I believed.

In making such decisions, we’re concerned not only with doing right but also with what works - what makes us and the rest of society happier and more secure. There’s a tension between what we call ethical and what we call pragmatic. If, even in the long run, ethical behavior were self-defeating, we would not call it ethical, but foolish. (We might even claim to respect it but in practice ignore it.) Bearing in mind the variety and complexity of human behavior, are there any simple rules - whether we call them ethical or pragmatic - that actually work? Let’s look at some of the rules we’re taught:

Sagan goes on to compare:

The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you have them do unto you. (Jesus)

The Silver Rule: Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.(Gandi, MLK)

The Brazen Rule: Repay kindness with kindness and evil with justice.

The Iron Rule: Do unto others as you like, before they do it unto you.

Then we have 2 mixed rules:

The Golden Rule for superiors: Suck up to those above you.

The Iron Rule for inferiors: Intimidate those below.

the Golden Rule for relatives: Give precedence in all things to close relatives.

The Iron rule for others: Do as you like to others.

According to Sagan each rule has a defeater and he turns his attention to:

THE PRISONER’S DILEMMA. The scientific field that deals with such matters is called "game theory." It’s used in military strategy, trade policy, corporate competition and the limiting of environmental pollution. The Defense Department has its own gaming agency. The paradigmatic game is the Prisoner’s Dilemma. It is not zero-sum. Win-win, win-lose and lose-lose outcomes all are possible. It is wholly pragmatic and amoral:

I have included his last paragraph because for me it sums up what I believe many people consider to be practical living. I don’t agree with these final points but like a lot of the “rules for life philosophies” they do have an appeal to people and it you add some myth and mysticism sadly, they will come.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a very simple game. Real life is considerably more complex. But its central lessons are striking: 1) Be friendly at first meetings . 2) Do not envy . 3) Be generous ; 4) forgive your enemy if he forgives you . 5) Be neither a tyrant or a patsy . 6) Retaliate proportionately to an intentional injury (within the constraints of the rule of law) . And 7) make your behavior fairly (although not perfectly) clear and consistent . What would the world be like if more of us, individuals as well as nations, lived by these

(Marvi Rafael Montecillo) #7

Hi, I totally forgot about this website. Apologies for the late reply.

Somehow I agree with the first 3 paragraphs, that’s why I’m not a materialist. Maybe I haven’t meditated about this completely and I am not yet aware of my biases (that’s why I’m here). But as a farmer and a businessman, my usual view of the world is “pragmatic”- that is, i try to see what works. (My respect for Christianity and the idea of God comes from the fact that it works.) Consequently, I don’t entertain supernatural explanations not only because I have seen no evidence for it but because I have no need of it.

“But leaving this aside, why do you think it is not scientifically true?”

My mind tells me that I were to accept that the bible is scientifically true, I have to believe in the supernatural, the literal resurrection of Christ and creation of Adam and Eve. My logical mind can’t accept it.

“Ps Mere Christianity is one of my favorites. What has stood out for you so far?”

i am reading it again and might try to post something here in the future.

(SeanO) #8

@Marvi_Rafael_Montecillo Here are a few thoughts in response to the idea that miracles are in contradiction to logic and that science disproves the supernatural. I hope you find them meaningful in some way. I do see your point about pragmatism. It is so easy to just live our lives and there is a great deal to enjoy in doing so. And when living our lives that way, it is easy to feel God unnecessary. But I think that when we live that way we miss out on the greatest adventure of knowing God Himself - the adventure for which we were made.

This article from CARM points out that miracles do not contradict the laws of logic. If there is a God who created the universe and who is beyond it, then there is nothing illogical about the supernatural.

Now, you might object that science has showed God to be unnecessary as an explanation and therefore unlikely to exist. However, in this video by John Lennox he points out that this understanding of science is false. Science explains how the world works; not why it is here or how it came into being. The laws of science explain how the motor car functions, but it was Henry Ford who created it. In the same way, the laws of science explain how the universe operates, but it was God who created it.

Now you might object that even if science does not disprove God and miracles are not irrational, you still find God unnecessary for daily living. In the following thread I make a case for God being key to truly living the ‘good life’. But apart from this argument there are two simple points to be considered:

  1. According to the Bible God sustains all things. If God ceased to uphold the universe, it would simply cease to be… In that since, God is quite necessary for daily living. Each breath we take is dependent upon His graciously maintaining the created order.
  2. Every good and perfect gift comes from God. God created this world as a good and beautiful place. And all of the good and beauty we find in sitting around a campfire with friends gazing at the stars or attending a concert or doing meaningful work has its source in God. Why then would we not seek out the source of the goodness that we enjoy? Why not reach out to the Creator?

Video directly addressing if belief in supernatural is irrational.