Welcome! Here are some links: I’ve tried to write a concise introduction to his ideas of order and chaos. The Necessity of Virtue is an excellent lecture. To watch lectures of his Maps of Meaning class (based on his book), click here. I’ve watched all of them 2-3 times. He is a regular on TVO, especially on The Agenda with Steve Paiken. His lecture on the nature of evil can be watched here and I’ve seen it likely over 20 times. He teaches three courses at the University of Toronto.
Regular readers know I love clinical Psychologist and lecturer Dr. Jordan Peterson. I took one of his classes last year and sat in on it again this out, purely out of interest. It’s different every year and you also get something new out. For example, this year, he showed the class an interview with cops of Paul Bernardo, who is a serial murderer, rapist and psychopath. Then he proceeded to dissect all the various body language/relationship dynamic games he was playing. It was mind-blowing to see this guy say with a straight face, “Fine I made some mistakes 17 years ago” as if talking about an affair, when he’s really talking about murdering many women. The scary part is no one objects–that’s how well he’s controlling the room. I spent that hour and half with my jaw literally dropped.
More recently, I took one of his courses and write an essay about what Jordan Peterson has taught me and I wanted to share his work with you. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned from about such diverse topics as improving your relationships, how to think better, how to live life in an authentic way and so forth. Here it is:
What Jordan Peterson Taught Me
Personality transformation is a key theme in the courses of Dr. Jordan Peterson. He teaches this through teaching about the nature of human beings and reality, so that the new personality is better equipped to deal with that reality. The following are some of the most important things I have learned from Dr. Jordan Peterson, my thoughts on them and how I have applied them to my life.
Winning an Argument Doesn’t Mean You’re Right
This was a comment Dr. Peterson made in a Personality Psychology class last year. He was talking about relationships and I realized that this is something I was doing with those around me. I have a fairly strong personality, and sometimes I can accidentally bulldoze over my friends’ opinions without taking the time to understand them.
Growing up in our culture, which emphasizes reason as the source of truth, made me assume that winning an argument equated to being right. That is not always the case because you can win arguments not by convincing the other person of the correctness of your position but by tiring out the other person until they give up. Dr. Peterson has been similarly critical of an over-reliance on reason. As he said, reason is a tool and it should be used as such. It is a great servant but a terrible master. He points out the many millennia that human kind survived before the Enlightenment placed reason on a pedestal a few hundred years ago. Reason, as he points out, has mythically been associated with pathology and tyrannical order. Pure rationality is great for dealing with what is already known, but it can not begin to handle not knowing what is not known. The extent of our lack of knowledge is unknown and may well be infinite, and pure reason cannot get a grasp on that. Reason as the enemy of emotion is also a mistaken dichotomy. The two work together and if one person does not have a balance between the two, they suffer.
The alternative in relationships is to figure out what the goal is and to listen deeply. Once two or more people can agree on the same goal; the question becomes, “how do we get to that goal in the best way possible?” instead of, “how can I prove I am right for the sake of being right?” If someone feels listened to, as Stephen Covey points out, then they feel a lot more receptive to listening to you. This has radically changed my relationships with other people, greatly reduced conflict and made my relationships much more productive.
Reality is not How We Think It Is
Reality has many ways of perceiving it. This is completely different from the materialist doctrine that I absorbed unconsciously. The idea that the world is composed of objects is a necessary perspective, but it is an incomplete story compared to the phenomenological one Dr. Peterson stresses.
The materialist doctrine also fails to account sufficiently for meaning, which is not a feature of the environment, but the response of a consciousness to the environment. The standard world view is “dead in some fundamental sense” as Dr. Peterson says. This problem is also faced in Cognitive Science and its attempt to understand cognition. It was separated into two problems called the paradox of mechanical reason and the problem of original meaning. How does something completely mechanical handle meaning, which is not physical at all? Despite decades of work, meaning-making machines have not been created and this points to the difficulty of understanding meaning, yet it is ignored by the standard materialist doctrine to the detriment of the people who follow it.
The phenomenological perspective is that a person’s experience is real. These things may not correspond to physical things out in the world, however treating them as real is a much better way to handle them. For example, fear is not a feature of the physical environment. This leads to response parents have to children who say they are afraid of monsters under their beds: “there’s no such thing as monsters”. If the fear was to be treated as real, as Dr. Peterson suggests, the parents would help the children check under the bed to find out that there is nothing to fear. The child would become bigger than its fear through facing it and its personality would grow and transform into something greater.
This manner of dealing with features of consciousness, especially emotions, provides a good basis for dealing with them in a healthy way, rather than repressing or disrespecting them. Treating fear and anxiety as real means that a person finds ways to deal with them and get over them, rather than simply trying to fruitlessly ignore them. This has helped proved me with greater inner peace and integration of my emotions, as well as respect for others’ emotions.
Dominance Hierarchies Are Everywhere
When I learn something fundamental about the world, it completely changes my perspective and I see everything anew. I relish these paradigm shifts. This helped me understand what Marcel Proust said, “The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Dr. Peterson has caused these shifts a number of times. One of them was learning about dominance hierarchies in human beings.
Dominance hierarchies are a pyramid-like organization in many species. In animals, these are often regulated by size or other physical advantages. In human beings, while size hierarchies do exist (a bully, for example), we can form hierarchies over almost anything. This leads to seemingly odd hierarchy games, such as one-upmanship about how bad someone’s day way. In university, implicit hierarchies are often based on intelligence, grades or even laziness. Someone will brag to others in an effort to raise their hierarchy position and gain the approval of others. The concept of self-esteem is almost exactly dominance hierarchy positions and regulated by the same neurochemical: serotonin.
Realizing this helped me get my motivations straight. Instead of being led by my unconscious motives such as status games or self-esteem games, I learned to choose my motivations consciously towards the highest good for all or based on thoughtfully chosen goals. It became easy to tell when I or someone else was playing a status or self-esteem game and this has deepened my relationships greatly. I have been able to be sensitive to others’ egos when necessary.
Hold Your Beliefs Lightly
I learned this from both Dr. Peterson and my study of Bhuddhist thought. Both recommend not to identify yourself with your beliefs but to identify yourself with the thing inside you which changes beliefs. If you identify too strongly with your beliefs, then you are more rigid and less likely to question them, which can be dangerous because beliefs are inherently fallible. Since we are not omnipotent, we make assumptions about the nature of reality which are inherently incomplete and can be wrong. Holding on too strongly to these assumptions and not allowing them to be changed can lead to many negative consequences.
This has been very important to know in my relationships and in my personal development. In relationships, conflict often occurs around different beliefs. If a person becomes too attached to maintaining their sense of the world and proving that they are right, they may stop themselves from learning more accurate beliefs. This can sustain deep conflict for a long time, so being willing to change my beliefs and being with someone who also is resolves conflicts and creates a stronger relationship than before.
In my personal development, changing beliefs has been crucial to achieving my goals. For example, I used to believe that my grades were a direct reflection of my intelligence. This belief created many problems for me, including failing a year through deep procrastination and identity crisis. However, since I have changed this belief, my grades have skyrocketed. My only regret is that I did not let go of this belief sooner, before it hurt my academic record.
I Don‘t Know What Games I‘m Playing
I was struck by this realization recently. Despite having spent three years trying to figure myself out, I still do not understand all of the games I play. A lot of the games remain unknown because human beings are extremely complicated, and our consciousnesses simply inhabit a tiny part of ourselves with the rest being unconscious. As an example of unconscious games: a friend of mine claims his goal is to get the best grades he can, however he ignores advice such as to read books by the author of Study Hacks (http://www.calnewport.com/blog/) which I used to get a 92% on a major test with less studying. He claims he does it because he wants to figure out how to get better grades himself. This is a different game and it is likely a game to validate his sense of self-competence. Unfortunately, this game conflicts with his stated game so he does worse on the stated game, ironically lowering his sense of competence at getting good grades. Of course, I can identify this game in another person because I used to play it. There are many games that I am playing right now that I cannot identify because I am blind to them.
This realization that I play games and that I often do not know which ones I play has humbled me and pushed me to seek out my true motives. Prof. Vervaeke claims that the parts of our cognition that we are conscious of are a tiny part of our total cognition. The part that is conscious or “our self” is run similarly to a computer on a neural network, and we are only aware of the computer part, while the rest is dark to most of us. Some meditaters can access deep functions such as controlling their body heat, heart rate or brain wave activity. A lot of implicit but important patterns are formed in the unconscious parts and while our conscious minds lulls us into believing that we know what we are doing; this is an illusion.
Become Bigger than Fear, Listen to your Conscience and Be Authentic
According to Dr. Peterson, becoming a fully realized person is supremely important. An actualized individual is a powerful force that, “when they say no all of society stops”. He cites Nelson Mandela and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (who wrote the Gulag Archipelago which helped bring down the Soviet Union) as fully actualized individuals. A fully realized personality is powerful enough to stop lying in the face of tyranny and bring it down. Lesser personalities cave to tyranny and can commit horrible acts in the name of following orders. This personality is essentially the highest mode of being and an excellent goal to be aimed at.
The way to become this personality, according to Dr. Peterson, is to become bigger than fear by facing it. Hiding from fear causes the creation of a weak personality while facing fear creates a courageous one. This is important because one needs to have courage to face the big problems that challenge humanity, while being a small, vulnerable human being.
Another important way to develop a stronger personality is to listen to your conscience. Your conscience is a pretty good, though fallible, guide to what will expand your personality. So, if your conscience is bugging you a bit about something in particular, do it.
It is extremely important to be authentic to create a deeply resilient personality. Dr. Peterson suggests watching your actions and your words for a week and figure out how much of what you do and say is yourself. It is possible to feel a sort of internal rift when you say something other than what you truly believe. If, however, you communicate from this place of deep authenticity, people listen and pay attention.
To be sure, many different systems of thought have a highest sort of personality to be aimed at however there are commonalities that include Dr. Peterson’s ideas. Buddhism has the enlightened being and the Dalai Lama is certainly a powerful person within Dr. Peterson’s criteria.
I have learned a lot from Dr. Peterson. I often learn gain new insights by going over the same material again, such as his videos online. I want to continue to learn more and more from him that can help me to live my life in a better way.