Ideas from Dr. Jordan B. Peterson’s lecture Maps of Meaning: Story and Metastory

I am currently going through Jordan B Peterson’s maps of meaning lecture from 2017 that he posts on his youtube channel. I began taking notes while watching and clean them up afterwards as both a learning and writing exercise. These are my notes and thoughts on video number 5 and 6 Story and Metastory.

One of the main existential problems human face is the ongoing struggle with complexity.

You always assume way more complexity in stories and ideas you hold personally than the stories and ideas of others. Unless of course they coincide with your own. For example: Greedy business man shuts down factory and lots of people lose their income and stability. You side with the workers and you immediately see a lot of complexity in their situation. Do they have kids to feed? Was this the family’s only income etc. But in the greedy business man you see only that, a simple greedy man working only for his own gain. You won’t switch sides in order to unravel the complexities that hides behind his decision to shut down the factory.

The world is infinitely complex yet we live and operate in it. How do we best do that? It is a very hard and probably impossible problem for an individual to solve on its own. We are limited both physically and cognitively and are therefor incapable of observing and understanding all the complexity in the world. One way we try to solve it is by working together. Sharing resources for and knowledge instance. One way the brain try to solve the complexity problem is by compressing information by reducing the resolution of the space it observes.

In order to act and you could say compute the world quickly enough we compress the information we receive into manageable chunks. When you enter a room you immediately make a distinction between objects you can grab with one hand and objects you can’t. Then you have reduced a vast amount of complex objects into two states, can grab with one hand and can’t grab with one hand. That is an impressive feat to do so quickly, just imagine the complexity objects in a modern room holds. It consists of TVs, mobile phones, furniture, decoration, yet we instantly categorize them. The information about the intrinsic complexity of the different objects is discarded.

Humans are not niche animals.

We are multipurpose in every aspect of our being. We have hands that can be used for a wide variety of things. We can learn to operate our bodies in a multitude of different ways. A marathon runner and a strong man champion are the same animal species, but their bodies are tuned to be good at completely different things and one is not capable of competing in the other ones domain at all, but you still acknowledge their mastery at being human. Because the have tamed and master one element of human capability.

It is this incredible physical and mental adaptability that has made us the dominant species on the planet. No other animal is even remotely close to challenge our dominance. Even with limited technology we manage to spread across the entire world. We survive and thrive in almost all the environments that exist on earth.

Our brains are game engines.

A game engine is a piece of software developers use to create games. Game engines can be general. Which means they can be used to create a wide variety of games, or they can be specialized towards a specific genre. The brain can be viewed as a computational machine that is specialized at making games. Your brain produces an avatar (game character) that is you. It produces a view of a world that that avatar exist in. And it creates rules the avatar must follow and finally it creates objectives for the avatar to accomplish. Eat food, reproduce, defend yourself, find a social group to identify with etc.

The brain can also produce multiple avatars and multiple worlds (multiple games). That’s dreaming of different outcomes for the future. You can construct a fictional game in your head that can be a possible future for you. And then you can walk that avatar virtually through the game using daydreaming and see what would happen. If you then conclude that the avatar and world is bad for you. You can kill that avatar instead of yourself and then focus on, or create a new avatar instead. Maybe the game that avatar is playing is better.

Religion and science convey truth in different manners

Science tries to convey truth through the scientific method. You create a hypothesis; you test the hypothesis and if it stays true long enough it becomes a theory. Theories have more weight but they are still not considered absolute truths. Religion convey truth through stories. Myths. Why? Because humans didn’t always have the scientific method. The way we first articulated human discovery was through stories. And the stories that survived were the ones that held true over long periods of time, similar to how scientific theories survive. There is great wisdom to be found in religion, but you need to know how to extract it. Which isn’t always obvious.

There is an infinite amount of facts in the world. Even when you look at a hyper constrained portion of something. You can always go deeper and find more complexity, and once you get to the quantum level the world start to act in a probabilistic way so facts change all the time. Physicist have even found that just by observing something you change it or even make it exist. In quantum mechanics, stuff exists because you are observing it. This goes back to the problem of complexity.