Jordan Peterson

Comment: The following is a transcript of a video located at the bottom of the page of one of Jordan Peterson's many talks on human psychology, in particular dealing with thoughts of depression and suicide. He's a modern day Intellectual who teaches practical and useful advice on how human beings can orient themselves to the often times harsh environment around us.


You want to stay inside this little map because it's working. You want to get from point A to point B - and this is good. This indicates that you are moving forward, and the second thing it indicates - and you'll never hear this from behavioral psychologists - is that your map is correct. So every time you move a little bit forward and something that you want happens, it say's 'Oh, the game I'm playing is the right game.'

Not only does the reward indicate progress, it indicates that the frame in which progress is being calculated is the right frame. And that's good because it's the frame that makes things irrelevant. And you want them to stay irrelevant. So if you don't move forward and you start to question the frame, that's way worse then merely not moving forward. You get a bad exam grade and think 'What the hell am I doing in University anyways?' That's probably not the first place you should go with that piece of information.

Why is that worse? As far as I can tell, your map of you as a university student is a comprehensive representation. It tells you what you're doing everyday and kind of tells you where you're going in the future. And if something emerges as an anomaly - you get a worse grade then you expected - and you blow that whole map. What have you been doing these last four years? What kind of high school student were you? How clueless are you about how you are arranging your future? What's your identity going to be if you're not going to be a student? Where are you going to end up in five years?

So that bad grade is like a portal through which snakes can crawl, and that's exactly how you respond to it, especially if you open the door too much. Maybe this means that I shouldn't be in university. You want to constrain the anomalous event to the minimum necessary domain. It's really important. You also want to do that when you're arguing with your partner, which you'll do all the time. We have an argument, "I should never have married you." That's a bad response. Or here is a really good one, "You've always done that sort of thing and you always will." Oh great! The only answer to that is to hit someone because you're done. You're like that and you've always been like that, there isn't a chance you can be repaired and none of it is acceptable.

The person is going to fight with you right away because what else are they going to do? So you want to minimize it - not rationalize it. This person did something that disrupted our joint map. What's the smallest possible thing they could do to put it back together? And you have to know. You need to make a plan or have a discussion so they know it wasn't a good thing to do, but that you won't go after their whole character about it. Like when you come home and I'm watching TV, just come to the door and say hello, not 'You don't love me' or something like that. Just walk to the door and give a hug and that's good enough.

The other person might be able to tolerate that much corrective information if you are kind of nice about and if you understand that they will have something equally horrible to say about you in the next 15 minutes because you are going to do something stupid. You don't want to open the door so that every possible snake comes crawling through, because that's a pathway to depression. Because every small event produces a cascade through their entire value system and they end up saying that's just another reason that I should jump off a bridge.

And they really see it that way. It's awful because they have no defenses:
  1. I didn't get a good mark on the exam
  2. I'm going to get a bad mark in the course
  3. That's going to screw up my ability to finish my degree
  4. I'm never going to get into the field of my choice
  5. It's just another piece of indication that I'm useless and that life isn't worth while
  6. Bang! I'm going to jump off a bridge
And if you are really depressed, each of those things hits you with the certainty of truth. It's not good and you want to be really careful about walking down that pathway when you make a mistake. What's the narrowest framework of interpretation from which you can understand this that will require minimal behavioral change to decrease the probability that it will happen again.It's mental hygiene - fundamentally.

When you hear behavioral accounts of cognitive processes, they generally only focus on it as if it's an isolated thing - it's not. It's scaleable temporally, because what you do now is associated with what you will do tomorrow, next week and so forth - and it's also scaleable socially because it has an effect on you, your family, the community and so forth. It's very difficult to think about the effects of your actions on those levels simultaneously but you have mechanisms that allow you to do that.

Let's assume that you're not lying to yourself constantly so your head isn't full of chaos and garbage, and you have reasonable relationships with people in the world, I think that your sense of meaningful engagement with what you are doing is the cycle physiological marker that you are acting in a way that takes all the stacked representations into account simultaneously.

You are trying to figure out where you are. And you might think where you are in this room. But this room isn't a simple thing - it's nested. A subset of the university, which is a subset of society, which is a subset of your life. The room is a complicated thing and you need to figure out where you should be in the room, and you can't do that just with perception, because all you see is me and some of the wall.

You have this little narrow portal, so you can't really rely on your perceptions to orient you. But you do orient yourself! And I think what you do is engagement. Does this seem meaningful, deep and engaging? If yes, then it's an indication that it's serving multiple masters simultaneously. Both temporally and socially. And so I think meaning is an instinct that orients people in time and space. It's not an epiphenomena but the most fundamental form of perception - and that's the only optimistic thought I've ever been able to derive from psychology - that could actually be true - that a sense of meaning is an orienting reflex.

And that would be wonderful if that were actually true because it would make it real! One of the devastating elements of nihilism is something like 'Who the hell cares what you're doing and what difference is it going to make in a million years!' Your sense of meaning is just an illusion and you are a limited creature in a limited place and nothing you do really matters.

That's a powerful argument, especially if you are an objective materialist and a reductionist, but it looks to me like it's wrong - it's actually wrong - because meaning looks to be an actual phenomena that does say you are positioned properly between chaos and order. It's real. We are going to develop that argument because if it's real it will give you something to stand on. Maybe it's as real as pain, but it's not pain. It's something positive and you need something positive to rely on.