Discovering Jordan Peterson


As with all great educators, Professor Peterson is not only a deep repository of knowledge, but also a rather quirky entertainer. Watching his lectures, one cannot help wondering when and how did his quirks arise.. We continue with our notes from his latest lecture to make it in TVO’s Big Ideas.

Let us continue presenting our "Chaos & Reality" lecture notes.

  • we’re still inhabiting a walled city – things that are IN, stay in; the wall keeps what’s out, OUT
  • we interact with a computer only when it crashes; otherwise, with kb & scr
  • we don’t register the complexity of smthg until it stops working
  • the room tells you what to do – the lecture is a dramatic act
  • you’re aided by tons of processes we take for granted – we’re protected
  • tao dao yin yang dao: the world is made of chaos and order; chaos is what we don’t know and attracts attention
  • you fail – your world falls apart – chaos
  • betrayal – affair – world upside down – emergency prep – you’re ready to do anything, you’re not thinking of the future; the orderly structure has disappeared
  • tao: if you live your life properly, you’re with one foot in order and one foot in chaos
  • if everything is order – fascist and boring; if chaos, can’t deal with it
  • dao: an optimally meaningful life at the border of chaos and order – you’re not bored but you’re productive
  • medieval Christian representation – outside Virgin Mary, inside God Father supporting Christ –> walled city, dividing order from Nature
  • chimps need order as well, otherwise they’d be constantly fighting each other
  • though we need tradition to guide us, sometimes they become archaic, outdated and counterproductive, inhuman – worse threat than chaos itself: Hitler, Stalin & Mao’s internal repression millions kiled (6, 60, 100)
  • Medusa: faced with a predator, we turn to stone so that we escape
  • Primary Buddhist dictum: Life is suffering
  • finite – you’re in a battle that you cannot win
  • alchemical dao – multiple layers of order /disorder (matroska)
  • mother nature – nurturing chaos, holy father – security in tyranny, christ – christian representation of the individual - suffering
  • before crucifixion, Christ has an argument with God: “do I really have to do this?” - “no, but if not, there are consequences”
  • if you voluntarily accept your suffering you can simultaneously transcend it
  • anxiety treatment – get patient to voluntarily approach what he’s afraid of then there is no more stress
  • people have evolved two modes: voluntary vs panic stricken paralysis + fight or flight
  • St. George – Mesopotamian imagery the oldest story we know, features a God who confronts the dragon of chaos, cuts her to pieces and makes the world:
  • they were trying to figure out the nature of individuality and consciousness
  • they thought in stories, unlike us, who think in explicit terms
  • dragons always breach the walls of order, throughout human history
  • still, tradition should not be abandoned, because without a foundation, you fall into chaos, which is indistinguishable from hell
  • if you spend long enough in that state, you become bitter and cruel; that’s what happen to people who suffer endlessly
  • dragons – strange creatures – don’t exist, hoard gold, trap virgins in their lair
  • St George kills the dragon & gets the girl – the things that terrify you also contain things of value
  • those who confront chaos when tradition is crumbling are more likely to find a mate :)
  • Jonah – swallowed by a medieval whale – what lurks underneath in water comes out to swallow you, but if your attitude is proper, you can come out on the other side changed
  • cool parallel with relationships – out of hardship comes the possibility to rebuild the structures that help you understand the world
  • talking to people who tell you what you know is like walking around in the desert
  • overcoming things you don’t understand is what gives life meaning
  • Buddhists / if life is suffering, why bother with it?
  • easy explanations: people become suicidal because they cannot bear the conditions of their own existence / genocidal because they can no longer accept human limitations and they’re rather eradicate it
  • suffering is real and inescapable – watch your life for a week, pretend you don’t know who you are
  • MEANING OF LIFE: find a mode of being that is so meaningful that the fact that life is suffering is no longer relevant
  • people know when they’re doing that – they’re no longer resentful
  • timelessness <=> brief habitation of the kingdom of god
  • excess of order is as bad as the excess of chaos
  • old Jews idea: man & God are twins
  • classic attributes of God: omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence – opposite: limitations
  • reality: an emerging consequence of the interactions between something that’s painfully limited, like us, and whatever the absolute is: something without borders
  • without limitations there’s no being; with limitations there’s suffering; hence, without suffering there’s no being
  • at University, your job is to figure out how to be a human being
  • life is unknown – you’ll never know enough, your foundations are shaky, there’s chaos & order

serve as a mediator between the chaos and order; do this well and the dismal circumstances of your life manifest to you as eminently acceptable; you have placed yourself and nature in a position of harmony – that’s the place to aim for

The questions that come to mind watching him are not entirely philosophical. While the Yin-Yang dichotomy / dynamic equilibrium is a concept dear to me and many others, this diatribe on the meaning of life and importance of limitations is not really addressed to me, but rather to young minds trying to find direction. For them, this is a godsend (pun intended) if they care to listen. Even for me, the manner and style of Professor Jordan are quirky and entertaining.

I can’t help wondering if he developed his “troubled frown” as a sign of existence of his own demons, or rather because he realised that in order to hold the attention of his students he had to perform a drama act. He himself states in his lecture that the lecture is a dramatic play which makes himself an actor. Regardless, it is quite apparent that his presentation skills, the way he enunciates words, the way he pauses and the way he turns the phrase suggest that he purposely trained to become a better public speaker. He has definitely succeeded!

It’s not just the substance, but appearances do matter. Compare with this earlier presentation on the Meaning of Music:

Sources / More info: tao, amazon-book

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