Maps of Meaning by Jordan Peterson

Summary

  1. Peterson explores why people from different cultures and eras have created myths and stories with very similar structures. He discusses into why this matters, what it tells us about human nature and our psyche and morality. This deep dive helps make approachable why myths matter and what they can teach us about ourselves.

Key Takeaways

  1. We need to know what things mean – not merely what they are – as this has profound impacts on how we act. We need to know what things are so that we can keep track of what they mean and how that influences our behavior. It is not effective to separate what things are from what they mean. They are inextricably intertwined. Meaning provides a useful guide for how to behave
  2. Morals and symbols and meaning are not “matter” that science so effectively deals with, but this does not make them less real. Our existence is so complex that we often don’t even know exactly what we’re saying in our mythology. We can express more than we know and stories help us work through this and communicate this. Myth can be thought of ways to understand what the world signifies and how that impacts our actions. A place to act and not to perceive or measure.
  3. We need an equivalent moral lens as our scientific and descriptive lens. A universal comparative study of the world religions, myths, and epics can help us derive a valuable guide to how to successfully live, helping us move to the ought from the is
  4. Myths help us define the known and unknown, chaos and order. Through this, we can derive meaning and it helps mitigate disputes and increase trust
  5. We can say that everything contains two final sources of information: sensory and affective. It is not enough to know when something is but we must also know what it means, the emotional meaning. It is useful to map objective reality, but we MUST model what it means or else we would quickly die. This mapping of meaning of current state, ideal future state, and behavior and actions we need to bridge the gap, help us navigate the world. Constantly compare where we are with our ideal future state and this helps determine our behavior and emotional state. If we are progressing nicely he’ll future state we are happy and satisfied and if not if they chaos and the unknown are too great and taking us off our path we get stressed and unhappy
  6. We have the pattern way of dealing with everything that is unknown – in other words chaos – as these are best dealt with their narrative form which is where our mythologies an epic stories have deep value and meaning
  7. Things do not have an absolute and objective value. They depend upon our goals and personal preferences. If our goals and preferences change, the meaning which we derive from things and situations also changes
  8. It is the exploration of the unknown, the unpredictable of chaos, that leads to all learning, growth, and wisdom. It pushes the boundaries and allows us to see a little bit more and a little bit more clearly than we were able to before. Successful exploration of the unknown needs to be expected and desired. Increasingly accurate maps bring confidence and help us more accurately navigate the world. This shows us that fear is in the and that security is learned overtime through successful exploration and the turning of the unpredictable into the predictable
  9. A story is a map of meaning that helps us understand how to act, helping us keep, transfer, mimic, and iterate upon what was learned and passed on before. This is to say we acquire wisdom for the proper way to act far before we can effectively communicate it or understand what it is we are doing. Myth and culture are the intermediaries between knowing what and knowing how they help us move from unconscious acting out to conscious understanding. Our actions beliefs and behaviors get coded into characters admits that are told and retold and refined overtime so that we get every closer to a deep understanding of what it is we are doing. In this way, story contains meta-truths and meta-skills – the synthesized truths and skills across thousands of years and millions of people. This can allow for the ability of each to become the capability for all
  10. Action requires exclusion of all things but ONE
  11. Good stories can be read at multiple levels at the same time, all holding true depending on your level of analysis. A helpful question is to ask at what level are these things the same and at what level are they different. The best stories provide clues on how to behave in the widest possible territory
  12. A good theory is beautiful. Efficient. It lets you use things for desirable ends, even things that you thought were useless before
  13. We come to understand the unknown, the unexplored by how we react to it. This is how we can define and categorize things. When I see a dog, I pet it and play with it. When I see a chair, I sit, etc. we observe our behavior and come to understand more than we did. This moves the promise and threat of the unknown into the potentially useful predictable and noun expanding our horizons and understanding only through coming into contact and playing with the unknown
  14. The beginning of wisdom is the seeking of instruction. Wisdom should be the highest good we seek to serve above money status or wealth for with it all other things come
  15. The threat or potential of the unknown depends a lot on how you approach it. If approached voluntarily that is to say you you believe it to be beneficial it’s positive manifestation is more likely to present itself. Those things that appear to us suddenly and unpredictably are more likely to be seen as a threat if we reject them they become negative but if embraced they can be greatly beneficial
  16. We are more complex than we can understand, so the best we can do is react to the situation at hand, observe our actions, try to understand that after the fact, and then learn and adjust in order to more effectively and consistently reach your aims. Stories are so effective at helping us do this because they amalgamate and generalize behaviors and beliefs over the eons, aiming to make useful patterns of behavior and meaning universal and valuable across time and context. 
  17. The Enuma Elis is the oldest mythical story in our possession and it tells of the annual ritual where the king would step outside his kingdom once a year get naked in the high priest speaking for the gods would ask him what he’s send. His voluntary subordination it’s common for every religion across the world that is the basis of a successful marriage for each person volleyball voluntarily subordinates some of their individual goals to the idea of marriage
  18. Culture is the accumulation of beneficial behaviors and actions that are passed down through the generations. Culture binds nature by limiting the scope of behavior that is acceptable in your community and by laying the groundwork and providing stories that help people live successful and long lives
  19. A common moral is to beware arrogance for if you do not know where you are going you should not presume you know how to get there. In this state you don’t know who or what is important so you need to be humble enough and kind enough and open enough to people and things that might just help you in your journey
  20. An integrated state or person’s imagination and explicit verbal descriptions are isomorphic – they match at various levels of analysis.
  21. Change and chaos, if embraced, understood, and integrated helps us move forward. This is where progress comes from and rests on the belief that perfection is attainable
  22. The revolutionary band plays outside the rules of the game. This threaten the stability of individuals in that game as well as the nation itself. This means the revolutionary man face is not only total chaos but the wrath of his citizens. This is a difficult quest but is vital for the progress and deeper understanding of the human race
  23. Wisdom alone is not enough. It must be taught and integrated into the whole community. Salvation for one does not exist if there is still suffering in others
  24. It is a scary destructive yet desirable part of maturation to meet chaos. Without it, we cannot truly grow nor learn and this is part of the human condition
  25. Lucifer is portrayed as the angel of reason, the angel closest to God before he gets thrown into hell. The idea is that reason can be dangerous and can lead you to hell
  26. Must transcend the group or risk stagnation and dogma, similar to how you must transcend childhood if you are to become an adult
  27. Integrating the complete unknown is what  Christ did. Must fully embrace and run toward the unknown, make it work for you and strengthen you. If you runaway, the ambivalent unknown becomes the terrifying and unconquerable unknown
  28. The good is anything that allows for moral progress across various dimensions and context. Evil  is anything that stands in the way of that creative progress and the hatred for the good and courageous
  29. Failure to understand and control the nature of evil leads to it’s eventual success. This has been known since the Egyptian times but thousands of years later we still fail to understand this
  30. Alchemy deals with turning the unknown – matter – into something useful. Today’s equivalent could be termed “information.” Alchemy is the heroes journey – a voluntary search, discovery and integration of the unknown. This is the purpose and meaning of life – an integrated and subjective person who actively manipulates the nature of the unknown for their benefit. Alchemy is an active myth, the idea of the individual man as redeemer. It is not enough to worship the divine, but to identify with it. These idea must be voluntarily incorporated and acted out, not simply believed in. This is exactly what we all want to hear. Perfect yourself, follow hour heart and what makes you you and you will benefit all of humanity if the aims are noble and good
  31. It is often easier to know what not to do but as you transcend it becomes increasingly important to define what to do


What I got out of it

  1. A really deep book that helped me better understand Jordan’s other book, 12 Rules for Life. A deep dive into religion, philosophy, psychology, wisdom, and more. “A story is a map of meaning that helps us understand how to act, helping us keep, transfer, mimic, and iterate upon what was learned and passed on before. This is to say we acquire wisdom for the proper way to act far before we can effectively communicate it or understand what it is we are doing. Myth and culture are the intermediaries between knowing what and knowing how they help us move from unconscious acting out to conscious understanding. Our actions beliefs and behaviors get coded into characters admits that are told and retold and refined overtime so that we get every closer to a deep understanding of what it is we are doing. In this way, story contains meta-truths and meta-skills – the synthesized truths and skills across thousands of years and millions of people. This can allow for the ability of each to become the capability for all”