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).
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.