- Paperback: 564 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (March 26, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415922224
- ISBN-13: 978-0415922227
- Product Dimensions: 7 x 1.3 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 204 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief 1st Edition
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"The book reflects its author's profound moral sense and vast erudition in areas ranging from clinical psychology to scripture and a good deal of personal soul-searching and experience...with patients who include prisoners, alcoholics and the mentally ill."
"This is not a book to be abstracted and summarized. Rather it should be read at leisure...and employed as a stimulus and reference to expand one's own maps of meaning. I plan to return to Peterson's musings and mapping many times over the next few years."
-"Am J Psychiatry
..."a brilliant enlargement of our understanding of human motivation...a beautiful work."
-Sheldon H. White, Harvard University
..."unique...a brilliant new synthesis of the meaning of mythologies and our human need to relate in story form the deep structure of our experiences."
-Keith Oatley, University of Toronto
From the Inside Flap
Why would people in different places and times formulate myths and stories with similar symbols and meanings? Are groups of people with different religious or ideological beliefs doomed to eternal conflict? Are the claims of science and religion truly irreconcilable? What might be done to decrease the individual propensity for group-fostered cruelty? Maps of Meaning addresses these questions with a provocative new hypothesis that explores the connection between what modern neuropsychology tells us about the brain and what rituals, myths and religious stories have long narrated. Peterson's ambitious interdisciplinary odyssey draws insights from the worlds of religion, cognitive science and Jungian approaches to mythology and narrative. Maps of Meaning offers a critical guide to the riches of archaic and modern thought and invaluable insights into human motivation and cognition.
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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 than simply 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.
Update December 2018:
My brother recently finished this book for the second time. He told me that it changed how he sees the world overall. That it helped him understand why he did what he did. And how he could change for the better. That he is capable of the evilest of evils. But also that he is capable of the best of the good...
My brother and I lost our father suddenly in 2016. He had a terrible time with it as he could not attend my Father's funeral service as he was sentenced to a 10-year prison sentence. I had a hard time myself. But I made it a point to be the strongest and most reliable person at my fathers funeral. I felt like I had no other choice, I was the oldest and legally had to take care of a lot. Then Jordan Peterson came on the scene. You know, that famous JRE episode in 2016. It validated so much for me. Why I was having a hard time at university (SJWs). And how I conducted myself with my father's death. Then I looked up this book and immediately sent it to my brother. To my surprise, he read it within a few months. When he called to tell me about it, I was not only impressed with how much he grasped, but also how he saw himself in everyone; how he saw everyone in himself; it surprised me how much of an intellectual education he gained as well as a spiritual one.
I am proud to say that he has been on an upward spiral. My brother's positive changes can't all be blamed on Jordan Peterson's Maps of Meaning, but it certainly is high up on the hierarchy of things that motivated him to change. Now he is the chaplain's assistant, he mentors and leads groups for men in prison, he has lost a significant amount of weight through his cross-fit regimen, and he finds meaning in some of the most mundane tasks. In fact, yesterday he called and said he had to clean toilets. The worse job in prison. But he decided to be the best toilet cleaner he could possibly be. Interestingly, he felt peace. He found meaning doing that.
So what's the conclusion? Well, time will tell. But I will say this, I just paid to higher him a parole attorney. It is possible after serving 4 years in prison that he might get out in 2019. If he can find peace, meaning, and perspective in prison then I believe he will do great things out in the real world.
If you read this Dr. Jordan Peterson I want to thank you for the influence you have had on life of my brother and myself. I finally have my brother back.
It is very dense and takes commitment to get through and understand, but it's worth it.
Maps of Meaning is the type of book you read a little of then go on a walk to process. Because it is about the fundamental meta-myth which underlies culture you begin to see JPs model everywhere.
Reading these other reviews, and the quotes on the back of the book I feel like a lot of people didn't get it. Or maybe they read it like a novel: not pausing when they stopped absorbing the full depth of the words. It's a deep work and connected a lot of the other works I have read in this field.
I'd strongly recommend Jordan Peterson's YouTube channel as an accompaniment... or if you decide MoM is a bit too much.
Definitely a book I want a hard copy of on my shelf.