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Maps of Meaning
Why have people from different cultures and eras formulated myths and stories with similar structures? What does this similarity tell us about the mind, morality, and structure of the world itself? From the author of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos comes a provocative hypothesis that explores the connection between what modern neuropsychology tells us about the brain and what rituals, myths, and religious stories have long narrated. A cutting-edge work that brings together neuropsychology, cognitive science, and Freudian and Jungian approaches to mythology and narrative, Maps of Meaning presents a rich theory that makes the wisdom and meaning of myth accessible to the critical modern mind.
So, I’m going to take a stab at briefly reducing some of the overarching themes found in the book for someone thinking about picking it up. Although, don’t expect the book to be reduced; it’s quite technical in parts.
The world can and should be viewed as a place made up of experiences or tools, rather that objects, which is how we’ve been trained to do as post-Enlightenment human beings. That’s the primary difference between a person in 2017 CE and a person in 2017 BCE. It’s not intelligence; it’s a matter of viewpoint.
Thus, if you asked an ancient Sumerian to describe a coffee cup, he’d probably say something like: “It looks like a nice place to store my liquid.” If you asked a man today, he might say: “Well it’s a small object made out of glass with a handle on it.”
Maybe you’re thinking so what: What difference does that difference in mindset make? Actually I think it’s central to Peterson’s views. A modern atheist, for example, may say, “look there’s a coffee cup; I can see it; I can touch it; I can break it; therefore it’s real! I can’t see God and I can’t touch God, therefore there is no God.” Peterson argues that of course modern people often come to that conclusion. We’ve been trained to think differently than the people who wrote the Bible, for example.
But they didn’t see the world as a place that was made out of objects. They were interested in handing down collective wisdom and experiences to the next generation. Stories like Genesis, for example, which find earlier versions of itself being told by Zoroastrianists, may have been handed down via the oral tradition for tens of thousands of years before that. Our ancestors were handing down a psychologically correct blueprint for how to live. Why is it psychologically correct? Well, look around you. Is there evil in the world? He cites the logic of Solzhenitsyn and Jung to answer that question with an emphatic yes!
For example, Jung said “…inasmuch as I become conscious of my shadow I also remember that I am a human being like any other.”
The shadow Jung refers to represents the capability of man to do malevolence. Jung is telling us that if we understand our capacity to do evil, we have a real shot at harnessing our capacity to do good.
So there’s good and there’s evil, neither of which can be quantified or measured by science. But if we live in a scientific world and there is no way to measure or quantify evil, then does that mean nothing is good, and thus, nothing is evil?
This leads me back to Peterson’s idea that mythology found in the collective unconscious and handed down via religious stories is psychologically correct and since it has formed the basis for western civilization for two millennia now, pulling the rug of Judeo-Christian ideas out from underneath our feet has been/will be disastrous for our future.
It’s very difficult to reduce the concepts into something reasonably small, because there’s so much more, and I butchered half of what I did write. But at least this may give you an idea of what to expect in the book. Big thanks to Peterson for putting his lecture videos up on Youtube. I recommend watching those as a companion to the book.
Also, there is a brand new abridged version of the book available through PDF, released for free today, and it’s only about 15,000 words. That’s about the equivalent to a 75 page paperback book. For a lot of people, that’s going to be much preferable to his 500+ page unabridged version.
Dr. Peterson is actually giving away the full book on his website at Jordanbpeterson.com. (edit: I first wrote this review back in July of 2017, so I’m not certain these last two statements are still true)
Check it out.”Amazon Reader
Maps of Meaning PDF
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