Maps of Meaning | Jordan B. Peterson

Summary of: Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief
By: Jordan B. Peterson


Embark on a journey that delves into the depths of human nature and our constant quest to understand the world around us in Jordan B. Peterson’s ‘Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief.’ In this adventure, you’ll gain insight into how the human mind creates meaning through stories and myths, and how these narratives influence our values and actions. Plunge into age-old tales that unveil eternal themes on life, death, culture, and the known and unknown, along with the mechanisms through which we explore and engage with our surroundings. Whatever your age, this summary will open doors to better understanding yourself and the larger world you inhabit.

Embracing the Unknown

Upon entering an unknown environment, rats tend to freeze before slowly adapting to their surroundings. Similarly, humans are driven to explore due to fear of the unknown. The world can be divided into two parts, the known (familiar territory), and the unknown (anomaly). Anomalies evoke feelings of both threat and promise, and our response to them depends on the degree of unfamiliarity they represent. Humans, like rats, have a natural inclination to explore the unknown and turn it into familiar territory through thought and action, ultimately creating the world we know.

The Power of Stories

Our emotions play a crucial role in our perception of the world. While modern science may prioritize facts, our feelings determine the meaning we derive from things and guide our actions. This is where stories come in. Shared myths and tales form the basis of human culture and provide meaning to vast and complex aspects of our experience. They allow us to understand the unknown and make it less daunting. The great myths of ancient civilization, although dismissed as superstition today, served a profound psychological purpose by giving meaning to what would otherwise be unexplainable.

The Universal Structure of Myths

Myths aren’t just ancient stories, but they offer valuable insights that can help us navigate the world. The key takeaway is that all myths share a similar underlying pattern, featuring the Great and Terrible Mother, Great and Terrible Father, and hero, who bravely ventures into the unknown to unite the opposing forces. This mythical structure of the unknown as the powerful and threatening Great and Terrible Mother, with the known and cultural Great and Terrible Father personifying protective structures, is consistent across different cultures and time periods. The hero’s journey offers a powerful behavioral model for people as they face their own challenges and fears.

Myths and Society

Myths provided a model for society and individual behavior long before formalized rules. They help societies strike a balance between tradition and innovation and inspire individuals to conquer the unknown. The heroes’ courageous acts of creative exploration serve as a guide to society. These myths also establish guidelines on how not to behave, discouraging cowardly disrespect for the divine order such as Seth’s actions in the Osiris story.

Emancipation Through Heroism

Growing up entails replacing parental protection and values with those of culture, and eventually identifying with the hero to guard against exploitation and encourage critical thinking.

As children, our parents protect us from the unknown by modeling appropriate behavior based on cultural values. However, part of growing up involves replacing our parents’ protection and values with those of culture. This means identifying with our larger cultural group, which often involves rejecting our parents’ authority to embrace the values of our friends.

However, as soon as we gain autonomy from our parents, we surrender to the rules, norms, and values of the society around us. These social rules are largely arbitrary but provide a framework of meaning for us to operate in, dividing the world into familiar pieces and, therefore, keeping the unknown at bay. The myths of a culture are crucial for encoding and sharing this framework of rules, norms, and values.

Although we should identify with the cultural framework, it should never be total, as this could lead to exploitation. To guard against this, myths encourage individual identification with the hero, who goes his own way and is not afraid to subvert the power of the Great Father if necessary. The hero serves the greater social good while remaining loyal to other humans.

The second step of our emancipation involves becoming the hero of our own story, encouraging critical thinking, and guarding against uncritical identification with our culture. Overall, growing up means learning how to identify with the group and the hero.

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