Jan 142013

Jordan Peterson is one of three life changing profs at UofT as rated by the students. He’s very unconventional. For example he tells students not to take notes and just listen. If he did everything like other profs do, then he obviously wouldn’t change anyone’s life. Because of this, students have a tough time figuring out how to do well in his class because it’s different from other classes they’ve taken. In particular, the Straight-A Method (LINK) doesn’t work as well for him. So, how does one do well in his class?

First, you have to understand that most classes are oriented towards cramming knowledge into your brains, a few are oriented towards helping you develop the skills of manipulating that knowledge and very few are oriented towards changing the very way you look at the world. The first would be memorizing arguments from past scholars, the second would be learning to form your own arguments and reason from past arguments, and the third is learning to see the arguments presented by people around you all the time and critically evaluate them. These could be arguments presented by scholars, marketers, or even the guy walking down the street asking for a signature. Even most humanities courses are little better than the first category.
Jordan Peterson falls into the third category. He doesn’t really care too much if you know specific facts. In fact, his tests and essays are fairly leniently graded and I got over 80% on his multiple choice tests just by skimming the readings a day or two before, and by attending the lectures.

He’s more interested in giving you that moment of insight that changes the way you understand and interact with the world. The moment you realize dominance hierarchy behaviour isn’t just things chimps do and that status rules human behaviour and motivation. The moment you realize that order and chaos shows up quite literally everywhere, across disciplines and across our understanding of the world. His readings aren’t setup to teach you knowledge or memorize information about past ideas but to help you change your life.

That’s why I have returned to his classes again and again. That’s why I have sat in three times for one course, two times for another and watched his videos countless times. I want to learn the many different lenses on the world Jordan Peterson uses to understand the world. The lenses are so complex that I have returned again and again and had new moments of insight with the same information. That might because I am slightly different now than I was when I first heard the information, or different events are happening around me that bring forth the relevance of his words, or just random, dumb luck.

Sure, you can get good grades by taking close notes and memorizing the arguments, but you may miss out on the life-changing insights that can help you to understand yourself, the people around you and the world much better. You’re much better off recording the lectures and listening to them until they click. And, you’ll probably get good grades, too.

Pick a topic that looks interesting to you and prepare to have your mind blown! I particularly like his talk on the nature of evil.