Potential: Jordan Peterson TEDxUofT

So I’m going to talk to you today about a different way of looking at what real is. It’s not easy to figure out what real is because we don’t really have infinite knowledge and so we’re always making some sets of presuppositions about what’s most real And it really matters what you assume is most real because you base the decisions that you make that run the entire course of your life on those assumptions whether you recognize it or not, and if you get the assumptions wrong or even if you leave them incomplete, you’re going to pay a big price for it and the assumptions that we use in our culture, although they’ve enabled us to develop a tremendously potent technology are incomplete in ways that have also cost us, and that are extremely dangerous. Since the Scientific Age began, we’ve lived in a universe where the bottom strata of reality is considered to be something, that’s dead like dirt, it’s like it’s matter, it’s objective, it’s external and there isn’t any element of it that lends any reality to phenomena like meaning or purpose. That’s all being relegated to the subjective and in some ways to the illusory but It’s by no means self-evident that that set of presuppositions is correct, because we lack Infinite knowledge, and there’s many things about the structure of being that we don’t understand, the main one being consciousness, we can’t account for it at all and we can’t account for the role it appears to play in the transformation of potential into actuality which is a role that’s been recognized by physicists for almost a hundred years now and which remains one of the biggest unsolved mystery in science. There are other ways of looking at what’s real And these other ways have some advantages and one of the advantages that they have is that they protect us knowing these other ways of operating within reality defining reality protect us from certain kinds of Pathologies and modern people are prone to a fair number of pathologies that stem from the assumptions of their, of the systems they use to define reality and one of those pathologies is a kind of a nihilistic hopelessness which is a consequence of the recognition that, in the final analysis nothing really has any meaning And because life is difficult, and that’s a meaning that you can’t escape Being forced to abandon your belief in a positive or a transcendent meaning can leave you weak the times when you really can least afford to be weak And there’s more important pathologies that it’s opened us up to too and those are pathologies of belief, and I think we saw the most Horrifying examples of that hopefully the most horrifying examples in the 20th century where people whose belief systems were shattered at least in part by the competition between religious and scientific Viewpoints turned in large numbers to mass movements that were in error in every way as substitute ,a more rational in some sense substitute for Religious beliefs that appeared no longer tenable and the consequence of that was it was just about annihilation Because we came close to annihilation twice once in the 60s and once in the 80s and even without the totality of annihilation we lost hundreds of millions of people as a consequence of pathological belief systems in the 20th century, so if belief systems become pathological they put that Pathology can pose the biggest threat possibly to our very existence and if you’re a Darwinian in any sense You have to understand that the things that pose the biggest threats to your survival are the most real things and they have to be dealt with. Now here’s another way of looking at things, I’ll start with the definition of this word, this word phainesthai is the root word of phenomena phenomenon and phenomena are the things that appear to you, and phainesthai means to Shine forth and the phenomenologists who were interested in the shining forth of things made the presumption that the things that Manifested themselves to you as most meaningful were the most real things And I think you can make a strong case that that’s actually how your brain is wired because your brain is wired to react to things that have meaning before they construct the perceptions that you think of as objects and the reason for that is because The meaning of things is more real in some sense But more important than the view of things as objects and so for example a famous Philosopher psychologists division said that when you approach a cliff you don’t see a cliff you see a falling off place it isn’t that it’s an object cliff to which you attribute the meaning of falling off place – It’s the falling off place perception comes first and the abstraction of the object of cliff, if it ever happens at all comes much later Much later conceptually because even babies can detect cliffs and much later historically Poets have noticed this phenomena shining forth Reality and they’ve often associated it with childhood, and I think there’s good reasons for that. I think Your brain is not so much of an inhibitory structure when you’re a child before. It’s fully developed and So there’s there’s neurological reasons for noting it, but there’s also reasons that stem from the level of lived experience, you can tell when you’re around children that they’re open to things in a way that adults aren’t they’re wide eyed with wonder and Adults like being around children for that reason because although the child takes an awful Lot [of] care and is a Terrifying object in some ways to behold if you have a relationship with the child because they’re so vulnerable The part of the way they pay you back is they open up your eyes your eyes that have been closed by your Experience and that have learned to shield out the things that shine forth and when you have a child you can look through the child’s Eyes again, and to me, it’s like they’re on fire in a sense They’re like a candle or something that’s burning brightly, and I think that’s also partly because we actually don’t screen out fire We actually see fire, and that’s why we can’t not look at it when it’s around I think the same thing happens when you’re in love with someone if it’s If it’s genuine love because genuine love gives you a hint of what could be in the future if you could just set yourself Right you get a glimpse of what could be in the future if you fall in love with someone You don’t get that without work, but you get a glimpse of it And I think it’s because when you fall in love And I believe this is likely a biochemical Transformation is the perceptual structures that normally stop you from seeing people because you really don’t see people you just see shadows they did that the Barriers are lifted temporarily, and what’s really there Shines through and it’s overwhelming But to stay in that state well it requires a tremendous amount of Moral effort is really the right way of thinking about it Wordsworth Said about children There was a time when meadow grove and stream the earth and every common sight to me did seem apparelled in celestial light The Glory and the Freshness of a dream it is not now as it hath been of your turn where so ever I may by night or day The things which I have seen I now can see no more Earth Fills her lap with pleasures of her own yearnings She hath in her own natural kind and even with something of a mother’s mind, [and] no unworthy Aim The homely nurse doth all she can to [make] her foster child her inmate man forget the glories he hath known and that Imperial parents palace whence he came and what woodsworth means by this is [that] as? you develop as an as a competent adult which which is precisely the Direction towards which you should develop much of what you’re doing is actually closing in and narrowing you’re closing in and narrowing towards a particular goal in a particular way of being and that’s necessary because as you Develop you have to develop towards a particular way of being or you don’t develop at all and you can’t stay a child forever that goes that [goes] sour of its own accord and So human beings are destined to close their perceptions in to sharpen themselves and to focus on very little so that they can at least do that But the price we pay for that is that we start to replace the relationship? we have with untrammeled reality with the shadows that are only complex enough to let us do what we need to do and no more and In some sense although we become more competent in other ways we’ve become more blind and we kind of know how this happens That happens from the bottom up now. This is a magritte painting and the painting has an obvious meaning in a sense Which is that, we’re blinded Even to what’s right in front [of] us by the objects that we [see] and we think that seeing is letting in the light, but it’s only letting in a very small fraction of the light because we’re only capable of Contemplating a small fraction of everything whenever we’re doing any particular thing and so very much of what we’re doing is screening things out very [much] of your Cortex is inhibitory and Magritte is trying to get at [that] with that idea. It’s like. There’s a businessman there. He’s dressed in his uniform He can’t see Beyond the immediate The immediate thing that’s in front of his eyes. How does that happen well? Let’s say you’re a baby the first thing you learn you learn you build your body from the bottom up you build your Perceptual and action structures from the bottom up you learn to move your arm. You learn to close your hand Then you learn to do things that are practical with those abilities you lift a spoon [well] you have to do that to feed yourself You learn to move a plate [you] [learn] to set the table? That’s starting to become social now because you can set the table for you [and] for other people [you] [learn] to make a meal that’s a more complex sequencing of motor activities and perceptual abilities. That’s very focused as you continue to develop the things you chain together become more and more complex and and But also more specific you you have to care for your family which means there’s all sorts of other things. You’re not doing You have to find a good job Which almost everyone when they’re young experiences as the contemplation of a limitation well not everyone, but many people think oh, no You know I’m going to have to settle for this role I don’t want to only be that role but it’s better to be that role that no role at all and Maybe the way through the role to the other side is through the role not around it There’s no avoiding the responsibilities of narrow and shaping and specializing be a good parent [well] That’s a sacrifice you make for the next generation Be a good partner the same thing be a good citizen it’s easy for young people in particular to be skeptical of that because the old Society is always corrupt and archaic and blind and to become a member of that seems to be in part to To allow yourself to adopt that same aged blindness But that thing also educates you it shapes every word you speak? it’s something that you have to be grateful to even in its aged and archaic form and It’s part of the necessities of human responsibility that you become a good citizen and that Means in some sense giving up more [of] what could be at least to sustain, what is there is a satirical song from the late 1890s English. I am the very model of a modern major-general of information vegetable animal And mineral I know the kings of England and I quote the fights historical from Marathon to Waterloo in order Categorical and the satire is well. He has the knowledge. He’s an official functionary and It’s very difficult to do [that], but in the same way, it’s very limited in categorical and of course an artist would object to [that] But it’s better than nothing at all and that’s the alternative Well above that Maybe what’s above good citizen because sometimes good citizen is [not] so good if you were a good citizen of Nazi Germany are a good citizen of the soviet Union, or of mao’s China you know you were narrowed in a particular way, [but] and Then maybe in a necessary way, but also in a very pathological way And so it seems to be that there has to be something even though Adopting that restricted Viewpoint is necessary there has to be something above it, and I think that’s also the thing [that] can restore The sense you have of a true Entanglement with the the deepest and most meaningful realities of life, and that’s the issue of being a good person It’s above being a citizen it’s something else It has something to do with the development of individuality And I think we’re [also] wired for the so it looks like we’re wired to lose what we had to specialize But then once we’re specialized to reopen but once we’ve got the skills built into our body and then can hand handle reality Because we’re more adapted and more fluid and more flexible then we can start opening the doors again And I and I believe that your nervous system is setup To help you do that if [you] don’t interfere with it if you notice and you notice that by paying attention to the things that manifest themselves to you that shine forth as interesting they grab you and where you’re grabbed is where the Obscuring map you live in isn’t obscuring the reality. That’s underneath it’s like there’s a hole in the map and The light Shines through that and you’re attracted to that and that will pull you along And that’s when your interest is seized by something. That’s your nervous system doing that you don’t do that It’s it’s an unconscious Force You could even say it was the world itself talking to you and the phenomenologist didn’t feel that way and it’s a real phenomena It’s not a secondary thing and you know that because you can’t live without it You die is stultify you get cynical you get nihilistic Or you adopt some wild belief system. If you don’t have the attachment to some genuine Life-giving meaning in your own life, and it’s a hard [thing] to follow that because it doesn’t necessarily put you into perfect Juxtaposition with society because it’s not society it’s not being a good citizen. It’s something else. It’s [also] the thing [that] Rebuilds how you would be a good citizen? The egyptians knew about this a long time ago. They didn’t really know they knew Because they acted things out in drama and portrayed them mythologically because they didn’t have the capacity to articulate the ideas fully, but the egyptians worshiped the human eye and They worshiped the eye because they knew the eye was the thing that paid attention like we’re really visual creatures and your eye is automatically Attracted to the things that manifest themselves or shine forth in front of you, and you have to look at them if you pay attention to the things that Shine [forth] Because what you’re seeing is the reality instead of the map You’re gaining access to the real information. That’s in the world. It’s not prepackaged information because that can be false It’s the real information flowing out [from] the ground of being and if you pay attention to that It will help you move towards the goals that you’ve already Established for yourself as a good citizen that are part of the inbuilt value structure that you’ve adopted but at the same time it will Do something else it will lead you to Transform the Nature of those goals because as you pursue the thing that guides your interest and More and more information [is] revealed then by absorbing that information which is learning essentially You build yourself into a different [person] a stronger and more informed person and a more intact Person a person with more integrity and with more strength and with more direction and at the same time you Differentiate your map, and so you’re living more and more in the real world so as you approach your specific goal Even if it’s a culturally conditioned goal the learning that you do along the way Transforms you [and] it transforms the nature of your goal Things Shine Forth And there’s a reason for that, and you know that because when you’re attending to something you’re interested in and you’re engaged it That’s when you’re alive. That’s when life is worthwhile [it’s] so worthwhile that in those moments You [don’t] even ask the question about it the question itself goes away Because the meaning that your united with is so powerful that it [can] push back the adversity that would otherwise characterize Life. Nietzsche said the person who has a why can bear any how and And that’s a really useful thing [to] know because you think well We’re [very] vulnerable creatures in our life and catastrophically and and terrible things happen And how [can] we bear that? and the answer to that is and always has been that you have to be in sync with something that’s beyond you because that synchrony gives you the strength that you need to bear your terrible limitations you [see] this played out people know this everyone knows this. It’s just that our culture isn’t good at articulating it We’ve lost a lot of this we haven’t developed our knowledge about this as much as we’ve developed our Knowledge of the objective world and we’re paying [for] it you see in weird places on the on the right here There’s an old symbol at the bottom. It’s called the round Chaos When the alchemists believed that the round Chaos was the thing that held What was what the world was ultimately made of the thing that was most real and they conceptualized it as something like information They thought about it as a combination of spirit and matter and it was a combination of spirit matter which is what information is in The sense because when you interacted with it you took some of the information and you built yourself out of it So that was the spiritual element and you took some of the information and you built the world out of it and that was the material element and they thought of the reality itself is something that preceded the spiritual in the material and that that reality was what shined forth and that’s being dramatized and Entails Modern tales of transformation the most interesting places popped up is in the harry potter stories where Central to the Harry Potter theme is a game called quidditch and in quidditch Which is a game the way you win. The game is by playing a game that’s sort of outside the quidditch game you win the quidditch game by Finding following this thing that beckons this golden thing that glimmers and moves around you if you catch that then you win, the game and so does your whole team and Inside that is it is the resurrection stone. It’s up. It’s a diamond. It’s a it’s a jewel the idea is that If you follow the thing that manifests itself to you as interesting It will lead you through adversity lead you to do things that are difficult and as that happens But not beyond your capacity because it’s tempered for that what will happen is as you hit yourself against the world Pursuing what you’re interested in you’ll tap yourself into alignment Your molecules your structure internal structure will become noncontradictory [like] the internal structure of a jewel which is something that reflects light that makes you hard and Durable and able to bear the terrible conditions of existence without becoming corrupt ts Eliot said something about this we shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time and That’s a five line summary of the most remarkable elaboration of the Nature of the relationship between the individual human consciousness and reality itself that’s ever been penned and the culmination of a System of thought that’s been developing over thousands and thousands of years which we have lost and cannot properly articulate Follow what you’re interested [in] It’ll take you to adversity and then through it it’ll transform you from a citizen into an individual and then the doors will open again and At that point you’re strong enough to have your life And at that point you’re strong enough not to fall prey to pathological belief systems and work towards the destruction of things Thank you

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