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Maps of Meaning

September 13, 2015

One book that I’ve read many times is by Jordan Peterson.  It’s called Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief.  This book is extremely wide-ranging, covering aspects of psychology and aspects of religion.  At first I believed that once I had read it, I could summarize it in a few paragraphs.  I’ve never been able to do this.  It’s scope is just too large.  Nevertheless, I have incorporated some of its ideas into my own understanding of myself and other people.

The book actually contains a good summary, in the form of a letter that the author wrote to his father.  In this letter, the author explains what he had been doing for the past seven years.  He had been attempting to answer a number of questions.  One of these questions was why we still follow the principles of a religion that we no longer believe in.  Another is what prevents us from killing another person.  The letter includes brief answers to these questions, although they are described in much greater detail in the rest of the book.

The basic idea is that our beliefs determine our actions.  I already understood this aspect of the mind.  The author focuses on the origin of our beliefs, explaining that some of them are hundreds of years old.  These beliefs have been passed down to us through many generations of ancestors.

Our morality is simply the rules for living our life, rules that we have acquired from many different sources.  They are based on our beliefs, of course.  They are our actions.  They are how we affect other people and society as a whole.

We describe the world, including ourselves and other people, in terms of stories.  The simplest story contains three elements: the unbearable present, the desired future, and a way to transform one into the other.  The book presents many such stories, as well as how a story can be disrupted or destroyed entirely.  Because of an obstacle we sometimes have to re-evaluate our path or our goal.  Sometimes our whole world is turned upside down, making our story irrelevant.  In this case, we have to rebuild ourselves to create a new present before we can proceed to imagine the rest of the story.

Mythology is a major part of the book, especially creation myths from various cultures.  Ideas and symbols from ancient cultures are carried forward and incorporated into new cultures and religions.  The most common story from mythology is a story of the fall and the resurrection, where a person’s whole life is destroyed; they construct a new life from fragments of the old one and continue from there.

The book introduces three mythological figures that are common to many religions and cultures.  All three have both beneficial and destructive aspects.  The figure of the Great Mother symbolizes nature, providing life and nurture to people.  The Great Father symbolizes culture, providing protection.  The Divine Son is the explorer, the one who provides new knowledge.

There’s so much to absorb that I can’t take it all in, especially with my skeptical nature.  I can understand it all.  It all makes sense.  Still, only some of the ideas presented in this book have become a part of me.


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