Jordan Peterson - Maps of Meaning Part 3 - Our Goals Determine How We Interpret the Present


(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.


We all have a fantasy world called the future in which we envision ourselves achieving the goals we have set. Whenever the present reality does not mach that fantasy it causes fear or anxiety. The larger the disparity, the larger the emotional affect. Redefining our goals is one approach to handling large disparities between the goal and the present condition. The meaning of the present is determined by our goals for the future.

It is for this reason that the Buddhists believe that everything is Maya, or illusion: the motivational significance of ongoing events is clearly determined by the nature of the goal towards which behavior is devoted. That goal is conceptualized in episodic imagery – in fantasy. We constantly compare the world at present to the world idealized in fantasy, render affective judgment, and act, in consequence.

When the world remains known and familiar – that is, when our beliefs maintain their validity – our emotions remain under control. When the world suddenly transforms itself into something new, however, our emotions are dysregulated, in keeping with the relative novelty of that transformation, and we are forced to retreat, or to explore once again.

The future is an image or partial image of perfection, to which we compare the present, insofar as we understand its significance. Wherever there
exists a mismatch between the two, the unexpected or novel occurs (by definition), grips our attention, and activates the intrapsychic systems that govern fear and hope. We strive to bring novel occurrences back
into the realm of predictability, or to exploit them for previously unconsidered potential, by altering our behavior, or our patterns of representation.

Normal Life - We posit a goal, in image and word, and we compare present conditions to that goal. We evaluate the significance of ongoing events in light of their perceived relationship to the goal. We modify our behavioral
outputs – our means – when necessary, to make the attainment of our goal ever more likely. We modify our actions within the game, but accept the rules without question. We move in a linear direction from present to future.

Revolutionary Adaptation - A month after you were fired, a new idea finds its way into your head. Although you never let yourself admit it, previously, you didn’t really like that bloody job. You only took it because you felt that it was expected of you. You never put your full effort into it, because you really wanted to do something else – something other people thought was risky, or foolish. You made a bad decision, a long time ago. Maybe you needed this blow, to put you back on the path. You start imagining a new future – one where you are not so “secure,” maybe, but where you are doing what you actually want to do. The possibility of undisturbed sleep returns, and you start eating properly again. You are quieter, less arrogant, more accepting – except in your weaker moments. Others make remarks, some admiring, some envious, about the change they perceive in you. You are a man recovering from a long illness – a man reborn.

The meaning we attribute to objects or situations is not stable. What is important to one man is not necessarily important to another; likewise, the needs and desires of the child differ from those of the adult. The meaning of things depends to a profound and ultimately undeterminable degree upon the relationship of those things to the goal we currently have in mind. Meaning shifts when goals change. Such change necessarily transforms the contingent expectations and desires that accompany those goals.

My Thoughts

What Peterson says is very true and there is a reason Jesus told us to seek God’s Kingdom first and connected that goal with the resultant affect of not worrying.

Matthew 6:24-34 - No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.