Jordan Peterson - Maps of Meaning Part 4 - Peterson Defends Jung's Collective Unconscious


(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.


Peterson admits that Jung’s theory of archetypes was oversimplified and in certain aspects untenable, but he then mounts a defense of its basic premise - that mythology and religion are an invaluable resource for understanding the human psyche; that there are universal archetypes in the collective unconscious (so to speak) that can help us to understand how the human mind has evolved to mediate order and chaos in nature.

Nonetheless – to live, it is necessary to act. Action presupposes belief and interpretation (implicit, if not explicit). Belief has to be grounded in faith, in the final analysis (as the criteria by which a moral theory might be evaluated have to be chosen, as well). There is no reason, however, why such faith cannot be informed, and critically assessed. It seems reasonable to presume that cross-cultural analysis of systems of belief, and their comparison with the essentially literary productions of the humanities, might constitute a
means to attain such information. This was Jung’s approach. The “causal mechanism” he constructed to account for what he found – that is, the “collective unconscious” – appears fundamentally untenable, from
the modern empirical perspective (although the idea is much more complex, and much less easily dismissable, than generally conceded). This does not mean that we should dismiss his methodology, nor deride his otherwise valuable insights. Great modern minds, working in areas outside of psychology, have also concluded that stories have universal structures.

It is a meaningful but “irrational” classification scheme of this sort that Jung described as a complex – one of the “constituent elements” of the “collective unconscious”: a group of phenomena, linked together because of shared significance [which is (essentially) implication for action, or emotional equivalence]. Jung believed that many complexes had an archetypal (or universal) basis, rooted in biology, and that this rooting had something specifically to do with memory. It appears that the truth is somewhat more
complicated. We classify things according to the way they appear, the way they act, and in accordance with their significance to us, which is an indication of how to act in their presence – and may mix any or all of these attributes, irrationally (but meaningfully), in a single scheme. We categorize diverse things in similar manners, across cultures, because we share structure of memory, and physical form, manifested in observable behavior; because we share perceptual apparatus, and motivational drive, and emotional state. The imagination has its natural categories, dependent for their existence on the interaction between our embodied minds and the world of shared experience; into these categories fall particular phenomena, in a
more-or-less predictable manner. Stories describe the interactions of the contents of the categories of the imagination, which take embodied form, in the shape of dramatic characters. The characters have a predictable nature, and play out their relationships in an eternally fascinating patterned fashion, time and time again, everywhere in the world.

My Thoughts

I think it is significant in understanding Peterson’s own beliefs that he mounts a defense of Jung. Clearly, as we saw earlier, Jung helped Peterson understand his own nightmares and violent tendencies. Jung helped Peterson bring some order into the chaos of uncertainty he lived in once both traditional religion and socialism had failed him.

Unbeknownst to me, there are multiple schools of Jungianites - Peterson apparently follows the classical school. The following article makes some critiques. Of particular interest is the critique that the theory of ontogeny, which per my understanding is related to the theory that evolution generated mythological archetypes, has been debunked. The particular book this critique mentioned actually sounds like direct source material for Peterson’s interpretation of myth.

Then there’s The Origins and History of Consciousness in which Neumann states bald faced that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, an outrageous put-on that was nicely debunked (or rather demolished ) by Archetypal Psychologist Wolfgang Giegerich’s essay entitled Ontogeny = Phylogeny? A Fundamental Critique of Erich Neumann’s Analytical Psychology. Despite that powerful critique, Peterson continues to promote Neumann’s thesis, and also advertises Origins and History of Consciousness in his recommended reading list.