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#67- Meaning and Chaos: A Conversation with Jordan Peterson

 
Nhoj Morley
 
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Nhoj Morley
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13 March 2017 17:15
 

In this episode (rematch, really) of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson discuss science, religion, archetypes, mythology, and the perennial problem of finding meaning in life.


Meaning and Chaos: A Conversation with Jordan Peterson

This thread is for listeners’ comments.

 
NL.
 
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NL.
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13 March 2017 20:00
 

It was good to see a second attempt actually work out (sort of a rare example in this day and age,) although I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was like two non-native speakers of a third, common language, attempting to converse in that language, where some amount of nuance and dot connecting is lost. Their styles of discourse are just so different.


I also got the feeling they were dancing around a center point - approaching from different poles - without ever explicitly describing that mid ground, just implying it. In the case of human sacrifice, for example - Peterson thinks people sacrificed people as something like lived art, which seems unlikely to me - and Harris thought that culture after culture after culture throughout eons of history all just randomly got the same bad idea, which seems equally unlikely (I mean come on, if all ancient religions were just random bad ideas, if nothing else what are the odds of people being that freaking uncreative? All that time and no one ever said “Hey! Instead of blood sacrifice… synchronized swimming!!!”). To me the middle ground there is the idea of a formulaic truth - something like a predictable outcome of game theory plus human psychology - that manifested in both symbolic, archetypal form and explicitly stated ideas that ended in “God said so” as justification, because Von Neumann wouldn’t appear until much further down the timeline. Ironically, both of those theories end up being ‘just so’ stories with the lack of any evidence, so I was kinda like “Geez louise, can we get a data point in here like, somewhere” (Hey, I can be very analytical and stubborn about logic when not trying to concentrate really, really hard in order to turn into a rainbow a la the Buddhist ‘rainbow body’ myth. It depends on what kind of mood I’m in.)


I think there is a lot to be said about the realm of what resonates with people and why. Obviously, there is something in religion that has resonated over a long period of time, even as certain parts (the frequent killing and plagues and such in the OT) fade into the background and other parts (Christ’s bodhisattva-like nature) resonate even more strongly. I am intrigued by the way that sometimes a certain piece of art, or literature, or theater, can really just encapsulate something so perfectly at a subjective level even while the literal details are completely different. Maybe this is a cheesy example (no Dostoevsky here,) but one scene I remember sometimes these days is the end of a Stephen King movie, The Storm of the Century, where the kidnapped-years-ago-by-a-demon son, years later, sees his parent and turns around with a dead stare, looks at him cooly, flashes his fangs, smiles just as cooly, then disappears. Something about that speaks to the feeling, I think, of being a generation on the move, knowing that while a few generations ago your parents would have picked your spouse and probably lived in your house, now you grow up and move away and join another ‘tribe’, and then whenever your hometown people and current people have a chance to view each other on social media you go like this and try to explain to your friends that while it seems totally bizarre to them, they can’t just post Planned Parenthood campaigns on your timeline because to some people in your life, that is actually kinda the equivalent of posting, all caz, “Hey, stop picking on North Korea, you haterzzzz!!”, without explanation, and then you suspect that both your friends and hometown think perhaps you are some manner of alien species. Does that mean that I literally think people see out group members as demons, or I literally think the squeaky sedan that drove me away to college was Colm Feore in bad makeup and a cape, and so on? No, of course not. The literal details are completely different. Yet at a felt level, yes, sometimes I think nonliteral representations can capture the emotional landscape better than a very similar, rather literal retelling, just as some food recipes ‘work’ and some don’t and you can’t explain the outcome - taste - logically. I think that is a kind of truth that is hard to grapple with because it doesn’t lend itself to laboratory tests or statistics, but I do think it’s there. And again, I felt they kind of got close to talking about this but never 100% got there.

 
 
czrpb
 
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14 March 2017 05:55
 

I am happy Sam spoke with Peterson again; I voted yes on the Twitter poll.

I had little expectation much would come out of it. I mostly wanted it as another data point in my evaluation of Peterson. And I have to apologize to Sam for “making” him speak with Peterson again “for me”. But, I got what I wanted: Peterson is useless to me. They both seem to get very similar end-points w/r/t liberalism & free-speech, but I can not stand Peterson’s path there: Jungian, Campbell, mythologizing, etc. It seems to me he dances around the line between myth & interpretation and science & reason, which Sam doesn’t and continually asks: Why do so? What is the benefit?

So, ugh, I won’t be following/listening to Peterson anymore; I see little he offers different or additional to Sam and in order to figure out what the hell he is talking about I have to wade thru his version of mumbo-jumbo.

 
Salustro
 
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14 March 2017 06:12
 
NL. - 13 March 2017 08:00 PM

It was good to see a second attempt actually work out (sort of a rare example in this day and age,) although I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was like two non-native speakers of a third, common language, attempting to converse in that language, where some amount of nuance and dot connecting is lost. Their styles of discourse are just so different.

I have these vivid memories of my mother always using the phrase “because I’m the Mom” when attempting to get me to do something. I feel that relates to how God is looked at through the eyes of religion. God says it so it must be so, and the thought process moves from there. If you start in that frame of reference, everything after that (dare I use the pun) is fruit from the poisonous tree. You can’t ground you logic and basis in a belief system that has no practical application in the real world. I don’t think they were tap dancing at all, I do think that Jordan was given a great deal of leeway in this conversation as Sam only interjected a few times to ask pertinent questions but that (at least to me) seemed intentional due to the drudgery of the last conversation. I do think that Sam could have reigned it instead of letting Jordan ramble through his depictions of the heroic archetype.

I do see the characterization of that ideology and the striving for that heroic archetype built into our everyday society from the movies we watch (as Jordan mentioned) to the clothes we wear and the ways we raise our children. The difference between our species isn’t as grand as people seem to think. We all want to make our lives better, along with that of our children’s. Why do we have to ask God to do that when we can plainly do it ourselves with no outside help. I did enjoy the conversation as always.

 
czrpb
 
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14 March 2017 06:26
 
NL. - 13 March 2017 08:00 PM

I think there is a lot to be said about the realm of what resonates with people and why.

Yes, and I am not so sure that suggests anything good ... which is basically how I interpret Sam’s general point on religion: Why/How is it useful?

NL. - 13 March 2017 08:00 PM

Yet at a felt level, yes, sometimes I think nonliteral representations can capture the emotional landscape better than a very similar, rather literal retelling, just as some food recipes ‘work’ and some don’t and you can’t explain the outcome - taste - logically. I think that is a kind of truth that is hard to grapple with because it doesn’t lend itself to laboratory tests or statistics, but I do think it’s there. And again, I felt they kind of got close to talking about this but never 100% got there.

I just don’t understand this. Again, I think Sam is a fine example of how to analyze the world/live one’s life without resorting to believing “nonliteral representations” are “better”; in fact recognizing that they are useful but never “true”, and that science and reason are always “better”.

I have never found fiction useful beyond its entertainment value.

 
czrpb
 
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14 March 2017 06:36
 
Salustro - 14 March 2017 06:12 AM

I do think that Sam could have reigned it instead of letting Jordan ramble through his depictions of the heroic archetype.

I am very happy Sam let Peterson ramble. That is all Peterson seems to do. He can barely finish a couple of sentences on 1 topic, without switching to something/someone else by simply saying: See, its like . . . and then he is off on a (purportedly) related ramble.

Quote (Peterson): blah blah blah .. see Sam, think of it this way .. different-blah different-blah different-blah.

Quote (Sam): blah blah blah. Quote (Peterson): Right! Let me tell you the story of Cain and Able in a way you probably haven’t heard. (somewhere there is point, but I am not sure what it really was or why it had to be made with this story ...)

 
miggus
 
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14 March 2017 07:04
 
czrpb - 14 March 2017 05:55 AM

I am happy Sam spoke with Peterson again; I voted yes on the Twitter poll.

I had little expectation much would come out of it. I mostly wanted it as another data point in my evaluation of Peterson. And I have to apologize to Sam for “making” him speak with Peterson again “for me”. But, I got what I wanted: Peterson is useless to me.

I’m in the same position.

Peterson’s stance on pronouns was at first interesting to me, but I got lost when I tried to listen to his lectures on other subjects. I hoped that Sam would be able to tease out some solid ground, but I don’t think there is any to be found. There are lots of interesting interpretations and connections that appear like they may lead somewhere, but they never amount to anything concrete. So many ‘intellectuals’ adopt this ever-shifting style of dialogue that I’m starting to think that intellectual life in the humanities selects for it. Its easy to see why this would be the case.

 

 
NL.
 
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14 March 2017 08:56
 
Salustro - 14 March 2017 06:12 AM
NL. - 13 March 2017 08:00 PM

It was good to see a second attempt actually work out (sort of a rare example in this day and age,) although I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was like two non-native speakers of a third, common language, attempting to converse in that language, where some amount of nuance and dot connecting is lost. Their styles of discourse are just so different.

I have these vivid memories of my mother always using the phrase “because I’m the Mom” when attempting to get me to do something. I feel that relates to how God is looked at through the eyes of religion. God says it so it must be so, and the thought process moves from there. If you start in that frame of reference, everything after that (dare I use the pun) is fruit from the poisonous tree. You can’t ground you logic and basis in a belief system that has no practical application in the real world.


Well I’m saying, if it had no practical application in the real world, what are the odds that you would see such repetitive patterns there, just by random chance? I don’t think the idea of some kind of functionality in religions is at all controversial in sociology, and to me conversations like this represent two extreme poles on that spectrum - Harris, that religion (at least the cultural aspects) are totally meaningless and happenstance; Peterson, that he can divine its archetypal meaning based on what resonates with him. Neither of those narratives involves data, they are both ‘just so’ stories, and both outside the bounds of typical academic discourse on the topic, so far as I can tell.


I like Harris on other topics but I find his views consistently fringe-y, for want of a better word, on this one. I wish there was a nicer way to say that and apologies to Harris, who I admire, but to put it bluntly, that’s my take. Then again, I believe people reincarnate and turn into rainbows, so, we all have one or two areas where we’re a bit outside the mainstream I guess.

 
 
Otto117
 
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14 March 2017 09:04
 

The conversation was mostly a disappointment for me, but I don’t see how it could have been otherwise. Peterson’s ahistorical, re-contextualized “Christianity” is just one more attempt to sell me ‘Jesus as your savior.’ Peterson mostly couldn’t connect with Sam’s criticisms, which were probably too subtle (to Peterson, not to Harris fans). Where Sam put forth the idea that just because many people believe an idea doesn’t make it true, Peterson offered that his theory was viewed as life-transforming by his students. So it must be true, or must “resonate.” Peterson attempted to deflect Sam’s criticism that his (Peterson’s) biblical theories are no different from New Age nonsense, by claiming that the latter lacks context, but somehow Peterson’s doesn’t lack context. However, if Peterson’s theory has “context,” it is merely conventional Christianity, and no thank you. Peterson’s hermeneutic of common mythological themes and Jungian archetypes is just a grab-bag—make of any story what you will—as Sam has pointed out time and again.

I would have been more interested in hearing what Peterson’s view is on political correctness. In both talks, both he and Sam “converged” on that point, but neither stated their objections. My objections to political correctness and very different from, say, Donald Trump’s. I wonder what Peterson’s are, and what they are based on. More Jesus talk?

 

 
NL.
 
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14 March 2017 09:11
 
czrpb - 14 March 2017 06:26 AM
NL. - 13 March 2017 08:00 PM

I think there is a lot to be said about the realm of what resonates with people and why.

Yes, and I am not so sure that suggests anything good ... which is basically how I interpret Sam’s general point on religion: Why/How is it useful?

NL. - 13 March 2017 08:00 PM

Yet at a felt level, yes, sometimes I think nonliteral representations can capture the emotional landscape better than a very similar, rather literal retelling, just as some food recipes ‘work’ and some don’t and you can’t explain the outcome - taste - logically. I think that is a kind of truth that is hard to grapple with because it doesn’t lend itself to laboratory tests or statistics, but I do think it’s there. And again, I felt they kind of got close to talking about this but never 100% got there.

I just don’t understand this. Again, I think Sam is a fine example of how to analyze the world/live one’s life without resorting to believing “nonliteral representations” are “better”; in fact recognizing that they are useful but never “true”, and that science and reason are always “better”.

I have never found fiction useful beyond its entertainment value.


I’m saying that verbal logic is only one organizing paradigm, and clearly there are others. And you could liken emotions to a sense like taste. I am 99.9% sure that you do not, for example, organize what you eat based entirely on logic (I don’t even know how you’d do that - maybe look for foods that matched geometrically or by atomic composition or something?). I am 90% sure that you have never eaten a peanut butter and broccoli sandwich, or asked for mayonnaise on your pizza instead of tomato sauce, or had a salad with lettuce, croutons, and grape jelly. Or go as extreme as you want with this example - thrown everything in your pantry together in a casserole dish, burnt it to a crisp on purpose, slathered it with pickle juice, and eaten it for dinner (Ok, outside of college. College does not count in this example.)


And why? Because of logic? No, because of taste. You can’t describe taste logically, you can only experience it. And while some people are more attuned to them than others, and that’s totally fine, I think emotional configurations are very similar. You can’t tell if a ‘recipe’ in art works via logic, you have to take in the final product and see how it resonates, feels, whatever you want to call it.


I think that while we tend to divide the world into ‘logical’ types and ‘emotional’ types, you simply cannot unentangle them. I actually don’t think you can learn language fluently without some of the emotional pattern recognition I described above. Consider what happens when a baby says a first word like ‘Uh oh!’. It seems like the simplest thing in the world, but in order to understand such a concept, they have to understand:


1. What a desirable outcome, as understood by both of you, is in a given situation (i.e., what you want to happen is for the blocks to go in a tower-like formation)


2. When an action has disrupted the outcome that you both wanted vs. simply being background noise (i.e., you say ‘Uh oh!’ when the blocks fall, not when a piece of lint falls on them or the cat walks into the room or when you stack three red blocks in a row - that is noise, not emotional signal. You perceive it, but it is not salient to the word.)


All of that requires fairly sophisticated understanding of emotional paradigms / patterns, even in the youngest minds - so I think it’s another sense that we incorporate, like taste, not an either-or proposition.

[ Edited: 14 March 2017 09:19 by NL.]
 
 
Ola
 
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14 March 2017 09:11
 
czrpb - 14 March 2017 06:26 AM
NL. - 13 March 2017 08:00 PM

I think there is a lot to be said about the realm of what resonates with people and why.

Yes, and I am not so sure that suggests anything good ... which is basically how I interpret Sam’s general point on religion: Why/How is it useful?

NL. - 13 March 2017 08:00 PM

Yet at a felt level, yes, sometimes I think nonliteral representations can capture the emotional landscape better than a very similar, rather literal retelling, just as some food recipes ‘work’ and some don’t and you can’t explain the outcome - taste - logically. I think that is a kind of truth that is hard to grapple with because it doesn’t lend itself to laboratory tests or statistics, but I do think it’s there. And again, I felt they kind of got close to talking about this but never 100% got there.

I just don’t understand this. Again, I think Sam is a fine example of how to analyze the world/live one’s life without resorting to believing “nonliteral representations” are “better”; in fact recognizing that they are useful but never “true”, and that science and reason are always “better”.

I have never found fiction useful beyond its entertainment value.

How about Poetry? Or analogy? Useless?

 
AxMachina
 
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14 March 2017 09:47
 

I have to admit, this was one of the most painful podcasts to listen to on record. I especially got lost in the stories of the babbling proto Christian host. Wish I had not cast my vote for the encore. I’m just mind boggled that SH would stoop to pressure and ease off JP to the extent of turning into a possum. Painful.

[ Edited: 14 March 2017 14:21 by AxMachina]
 
czrpb
 
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14 March 2017 09:54
 
Ola - 14 March 2017 09:11 AM
czrpb - 14 March 2017 06:26 AM

I have never found fiction useful beyond its entertainment value.

How about Poetry? Or analogy? Useless?

Poetry? No, but I “enjoy” reading some. Analogy? Do it a lot, maybe. I am defining analogy here as making a comparison between two “real” things. I am a computer programmer. So, when I am designing a system, I like to try to find a “real world” example of something similar.

So, say you are designing the software for the network switches that control the internet. a cool real world example to learn from is the train system. they had to figure out how to “route” trains and have “switching” stations, etc. so i find the “analogy” there useful.

but, i have never found in my life (job or otherwise) it to be helpful to “analogize” something in the “real-world” to say Dune or Enders Game (I tend to read sci-fi.) and the other “proper” fiction (aka “lit”) that i have read hasn’t help either. (for example ethan frome, god what a horrible book; not entertaining or useful.) i have three kids. when they pass through high school (which 1 has, 1 currently is, and 1 in middle school), they have to read catcher in the rye. I hate that book too. doesn’t “speak” to me, and cant really handle participating in discussing them.

i will stop there as i probably have dug a deep enough hole now! grin!

 
Nhoj Morley
 
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14 March 2017 10:48
 

I’m 35 minutes in and have discernably chuckled four times now.

Try to imagine a stretch of Mr. Peterson’s monologues typed out and posted here at the forum by an unknown newbie called JP. The response would be without mercy.

I still hope to figure out exactly what this guy brings to the arena aside from having nailed the dancing around the ring part.

 
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14 March 2017 14:14
 

The is - ought again. I can understand how philisophical discussions get tiresome. I am a fan of both fellows and have been, long before they were internet sensations.
To me Sam articulates the “is” of a conversation and this is reassuring because we can all feel comfortable in knowing something. When I start to take too muchof it for granted; I reset by sitting back and listening to an old story (well told) about how one ought to think about what is…
To continue searching for what useful knowledge there is in the world and where you might find it.
Some here find that boring but I often find Sam’s ‘a matter of factness’ just as uninteresting.

Ps. this is not a “Christian” thing. I am only an unconsciouly biased product of my WASP privledge and upbrining.

[ Edited: 14 March 2017 14:20 by Pistol_Pete]
 
czrpb
 
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15 March 2017 06:09
 
Pistol_Pete - 14 March 2017 02:14 PM

The is - ought again. I can understand how philisophical discussions get tiresome. I am a fan of both fellows and have been, long before they were internet sensations.
To me Sam articulates the “is” of a conversation and this is reassuring because we can all feel comfortable in knowing something. When I start to take too muchof it for granted; I reset by sitting back and listening to an old story (well told) about how one ought to think about what is…
To continue searching for what useful knowledge there is in the world and where you might find it.
Some here find that boring but I often find Sam’s ‘a matter of factness’ just as uninteresting.

Ps. this is not a “Christian” thing. I am only an unconsciouly biased product of my WASP privledge and upbrining.

OT to this thread, but Sam’s “matter of factness” is causing him to address issues such as: quantum physics, (super)human-equivalent AI, guns and violence, islam, mindfulness/meditation, politics, and the occasional tar pit of the nature truth, etc.

i know of no other blogger, podcaster, author, etc that is more interesting!!

 
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