Jordan Peterson speaks to an audience of nearly 3,000 in Portland on June 25, 2018

Jordan Peterson speaks to an audience of nearly 3,000 in Portland on June 25, 2018
Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris meet to debate what it would take to create universal morality. Brett Weinstein joins as moderator, putting the entire discussion into context. That context? That society's 'sense-making mechanisms' are breaking down. The worldview offered by the news media, universities, churches, and government has proven to be a house of cards that cannot stand scrutiny. Inquiring minds find only more and greater confusion. Moral chaos has ensued. How can we find our way out?

Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and The Moral Landscape, argues that humanity, caught between dogmatic fundamentalism on one side and postmodern nihilism on the other, must forge a new morality based on facts derived from science. Jordan Peterson argues that the very human psyche, evolutionarily, neurobiologically, and only then culturally speaking, has a specific structure, and that this is the 'beast' we must contend before defining any sort of universal moral theory.

Today on the Truth Perspective we share our thoughts on the first two nights of debate, what we think each speaker gets right, where they're vague, and what might provide the solution to their disagreements.

Listen to the Harris/Peterson talks here: night 1, night 2, night 3, night 4.

Running Time: 01:28:33

Download: MP3

Here's the transcript of the show:

Harrison: Welcome back to the Truth Perspective everyone. I am Harrison Koehli, and joining me digitally, and virtually, is Cory Shink. Today, like I mentioned last week, we are going to be talking about the recent Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris debates.

The backstory behind this is that if you are a Jordan Peterson fan, and you have been watching his stuff, you probably know that last year Peterson appeared on Sam Harris' podcast Waking Up twice and it really got a mixed response.

I think most people would agree that it didn't go very well. Harris and Peterson got hung up on defining the word truth for the first podcast; and I believe for most of the second one as well. This organisation, called Pangburn Philosophy, set up a series of debates featuring Harris and Peterson. The first two which took place in Vancouver earlier this month, and the second two took place in Dublin and London, I believe.

While they haven't been released yet there have been some audience members who recorded the talks and put them up on YouTube. So, Corey and I listened to the first two of the four and we are going to be talking about them. The premise of the debates, if you can put it in a nutshell, is that there is a moral crisis in the world today. What they mean by that is that we have lost track of the means by which we make sense of the world, and therefore, the morality that we come up with because of that.

The alternative on offer are the traditional religions - traditionally interpreted - and that is primarily what I think Sam Harris speaks out against. The other alternative is relativism and nihilism; Harris speaks out against that as well. He has that much in common with Jordan Peterson because Peterson says the same thing.

Peterson would put that down to the dual problems of 'too much order' and 'too much chaos' and between those extremes both of them think that it is a worthwhile project to try to come up with a way in which to find an objective morality that we can live by that doesn't have the negative features of those two options.

We will have links to the audience recordings in the show-notes and they will be released professionally - professionally edited - officially in August; at least that's what Peterson says. In those two debate Harris and Peterson actually find a lot of common ground, but there are also points where it is as if they are speaking over each other's heads or not getting each other's points. I'd say that I think that Peterson gets Harris' points, even the ones that Harris thinks that Peterson doesn't get, but people who are on Harris' side of the camp see Peterson's answers as evasive and skirting round the heart of the matter.

We will get into some specifics on how that happened, but that is an overall takeaway on the debates that I and others have taken. I have watched and read some reactions to them online and it's pretty interesting to see.

First of all, just to start out, it's very interesting that these are even as popular as they are, because, in a sense, these are two nerdy academics talking about philosophical issues relating to truth and values and religion and philosophy. When you listen to the recordings, throughout the talk you regularly hear people breaking out into applause as each person makes their point.

Bret Weinstein is moderating the debate, so he keeps them on track and comes in with questions. After an hour and a half he says "time's up. Now it's time for questions and answers" and the crowd pretty much goes crazy in response to the question as to whether they should keep going with the debate or take questions. The audience gave up their question and answer period on all 4 nights just to hear them talk. It's pretty remarkable to see that response for this kind of talk. What do you think about that Corey?

Corey: I think Sam Harris is one of those guys that people love to hate in certain ways, because he's very intelligent and he speaks his mind really well, but if you are a religious person or somebody who has sympathies with spirituality then he is the kind of guy who angers you because of his dogmatic rejection of religions and of anything having to do with religion. I think that a lot of people cheer on Jordan Peterson because they feel like he is championing their cause.

Other people just absolutely hate Islam, or the monotheistic religions in general, and they really get back behind Harris because he points out the obvious and he does it extremely concisely and intelligently. At one point during the second debate he mocks himself by saying that he shoots fish in a barrel. A lot of the points that he makes about religion are really valid, even if he does reject them dogmatically.

I also think that there is some allure to this whole intellectual Dark Web that is going on where people get some sense of seeing this clash of ideas taking place. Otherwise, you don't get a chance; in universities, you don't really get a chance to explore this level of a clash of ideas; Rockstars arguing and debating the fine points of truth.

I think that it is really interesting to see this almost religious energy that is coming out in the audience reactions to the debates.

Harrison: I noticed that too. Just to respond to the characterisation of Sam Harris that you just gave, there are actually some things that I didn't know about Sam Harris which I found out recently; and they have come out in these debates. After listening to these, I think I had an impression of him that was a bit too harsh in certain regards - not in others.

I say that because in certain ways he does seem very open minded. More even than some of the other celebrity atheists like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. In the sense that he has, on a surface level at least, what seems to be the same goal as Jordan Peterson. Which, is to find a universal objective morality to essentially make the world a better place - as they both put it in the talks.

He is open to things like religious experiences and psychedelic experiences, and even the fact that there are truths that can be found in religions traditions. He says at various points, there are some religions that he doesn't even talk about because he doesn't find anything really bad about them; he may not agree with them, but what he really is out to destroy is what he sees as the aspects of religion that are truly pathological and negative in the world.

I think that one of the reasons that religious people respond to him in the way that they do - and that there is this impression of him as totally closed-minded - is that in that bracketed-off sphere of religion he is really dogmatic and super anti-religion; he doesn't see any redeeming qualities.

On the one hand, he will say that there are truths to be found, but on the other hand he totally dismisses religion as a thing. He thinks that anything good in religion can be stated in a different way without any of the religious baggage or framework. He is contradictory in a sense, but that comes down to his world view being that everything can be explained in terms of the scientific framework and basic scientific empiricism that if we just look at the facts of the world, and if we use our minds and reason, we can come to a formulation of any of the religious truths in a manner that leaves out any kind of supernaturalism - any kind of woo-woo - so, we should just leave all that behind.

At the same time, he can see the benefits of certain kinds of religions and religious practises; I believe he even meditates. He has done Buddhist practices and I think he is into psychedelics too - you looked into that Corey? Maybe give a little background on that. What did you find out about Sam Harris?

Corey: Sam Harris is like other free-thinking, individualistic people who tried psychedelics when he was a young man - I believe it was when he was in his 20's. He had an experience which he said opened his mind to the fact that he could evolve his consciousness. It's pretty typical, on his podcast he has discussed the importance of using psychedelics and how they can break you out of "the matrix" that we live in.

He has also said that if his children don't try psychedelics at least once in their adult lives, he will wonder if they have just missed one of the most important rites of passage a human being can experience. He uses those words: rites of passage. I think that gave me an insight into his mindset because when you listen to him speak he has written The End of Faith and he has written The Moral Landscape - he is a neuroscientist - and you get this sense that he has had a revelation.

A revelation about the way forward for humanity, and it involves this transcendental rationality. He uses that term in the debate: this transcendental rationality. I sounds like this psychedelic woo-woo! Like, this way of being where if you could just leave behind all of the pathological baggage and open your third eye then everything would make sense and you wouldn't need religion, stories, or narratives. You wouldn't need all these things that are holding people back from just apprehending reality as it is then making choices based on the information as it's presented to them.

I think that is pretty much the crux of the whole debate right there. He believes that is possible, Jordan Peterson doesn't think so. He thinks that as human beings we are hard-wired not to be able to do that. You can interpret facts and you can interpret situations and objects a million different ways and you need an overarching narrative or meaning system in order to orient you towards the world of facts.

I got the impression from reading about his experiences with psychedelics that he had a revelation at some point and he is still running on that in some way.

Harrison: It wasn't enough of a revelation to turn him religious or spiritual in the sense of accepting... Well, I don't know actually, I haven't heard him talk about this before and I have even heard that Alex Tsakiris from Skeptiko said that on some of his podcasts recently he heard Sam Harris being open to panpsychism.

I think we have mentioned this on the show, it's the philosophical idea that consciousness is not just a feature of humans or some animals, but that there is some form of consciousness or experience even at the most basic level of the material world. For instance, the most simple particles would be aware in some rudimentary fashion because otherwise, we couldn't explain the emergence of consciousness, of subjectivity - the experience of experience - without that being somehow part of the fabric of the universe.

He might even be open to that, which is interesting. When I get an image in my head of Sam Harris, it's like if you take a circle with all the possibilities, Sam Harris is this very ordered shape - maybe a pentagon or something - in that circle. He has got all of the things that he knows and that he is sure of, and he is very articulate in formulating those thoughts and defending them, but there is this circle around him of all of the things about reality that he can't include in his worldview because he can't fit it into that very structured - and for what it's worth, very coherent - structure; even though it is incoherent in other ways.

Whereas, if you look at Jordan Peterson, he is more like a starfish with little appendages that are going outside of the circle and are constantly pushing the boundaries. He has got intuitions of something more than what fits into Sam Harris' worldview. He is stretching out and trying to articulate the things that are outside of the frame of reference of guys like Sam Harris.

In the process, he gets more of the picture. At times, he might be going a little bit in the wrong direction, or he isn't saying something as clearly as he should, but, to me at least, that's the image. He is incorporating into his thinking and into his being more of reality than Sam Harris is willing to entertain because Sam Harris is kind of shackled - panpsychism not withstanding - to what seems to be a very materialistic framework. That comes out in the way that he formulates his idea of the good which would be his idea of wellbeing.

This is probably one of the biggest points in all of the debates so far: how can we come to the framework that we use to create this objective morality and how we should live in the world. Of course, Peterson links this back to mythology and stories, and possibly a wider and larger metaphysical "something" that we don't quite understand. Whereas, Harris thinks that we can eliminate all that and strictly limit ourselves to an appraisal of the facts of existence, and from that we can rationally create a system that will ideally be utopian.

He thinks we will figure everything out, and once we have all that figured out we will know what to do and we will be better people. The way in which he packs that up logically and through his argumentation can be looked at by looking at what he classifies as a fact: "there is such a thing as the worst possible outcome." If you imagine the worst possible suffering for every conscious creature then that is objectively bad, that is a fact.

If we accept that then certain values follow from that, for example, certain behaviours might be wrong; we should do certain things and we shouldn't do other things and we should be moving towards eliminating that worst suffering in all its particulars. That makes sense to a certain degree, and Peterson would even agree with some of those presuppositions and some of those values. They both agree that we should be being better people and lessening the suffering.

Where they come at loggerheads with each other is whether that rationalisation and justification actually works or not. Harris thinks that is a fact in the same way that when you are looking at your desk or you are listening to this on your computer or your phone, that phone exists right? It is real and you are listening to this show through that device, that is a fact.

Corey: Harris thinks that is something we can all agree on because it is an objective fact. I think that is interesting because Jordan Peterson said that what you are looking at there in terms of the worst possible outcome versus the best possible outcome was in itself a narrative. It wasn't a fact, it was a narrative of heaven and hell.

Harrison: The way in which that plays out is in a story-form, let's get to that in a minute. I want to take it from a slightly different angle first. Several times throughout the debates Jordan Peterson says "no, that is not a fact, that's not factually true, and the only way in which you can think it is factually true is if you stretch the borders of what a fact is".

Harris kind of conceded to that point to some degree on some occasions. For example, he said that "ok, that is something that we can't help but pre-suppose". He makes an analogy to mathematical or arithmetical truths and says that "you can learn that 2+2 makes 4 by using objects. You are taught here are 2 rocks, and here are another 2 rocks, those make 4. Eventually through our intellectual capacities we can then generalise that to any 4 objects. 2 of any object plus 2 of any more of that object makes 4, so you can generalise that to 2 of anything plus 2 of anything equals 4."

Can you say that 2+2 is a fact? Well, it depends on how you define fact right? Just off the top of my head - I haven't developed it to any great degree - at least in common usage of the term facts are physical truths. There are things that are true about objects or true about objects in motion. There are more truths than that but let's limit that to a fact.

The word fact comes from latin and means "something done". If you are looking at the world, that car moved fast, that car moved from there to there, that object is this, that object is not that, this happened, this did not happen. It is a statement about the world and you can judge that as true of false based on if that statement actually lines up with reality. That is what is known in philosophy as truth in correspondence; whether, your proposition corresponds to an actual state of affairs in the world.

Of course, you can say that a mathematical truth is true and maybe you could even call it a fact if you want to include that species of truth within that category of fact. The point that Harris is making is that you can do that with values as well. You can say ok, the worst possible thing is bad and that is a fact. I think that Peterson agrees with Harris to a certain degree and that is really bad, it is true that that is bad.

The way I put it is that Harris doesn't have a worldview in which values can be true in the same way that a physical fact can be true because of Harris' empirical, scientific materialism. I've talked about this before on the show, but when you look into materialistic philosophy, one of the things about the philosophy that underlies the way that we do science is that there is no rational way of justifying the existence or the truth or the effectiveness of something like a value.

What Harris does is he says that it is self-evident and is a presupposition of the way we think that certain things are bad and certain things are good. That's where he ends it and he develops certain values based on that. Peterson's criticism is that first of all, you can't derive values from facts; values in the way we think about values from facts in the way that we think about facts. Not by stretching the boundaries, just in terms of what is and what ought to be. You can't just look at a set of facts and say "from that set of facts it is just self evident that one thing is better than another".

That's the first step. As soon as you say one thing is better than another thing, you are introducing a value into it. What Harris is essentially doing is he is finding the most basic value and then deriving values from that basic value. He hasn't derived that initial value from any facts in the world, he has just said "this thing is better than another thing" - that is a value, and from that we can then develop more values. He hasn't provided a justification for why that first thing is "bad" other than to say that we just all think it's bad.

That's the problem of the modern scientific worldview in a nutshell: we might have an intuition that something is bad, but we can't rationally justify why it is bad and why we should move towards something better. If you just accept that we all believe it and we all think that it is true then, first of all, that will be debatable, there won't be any inherent reason why it actually is true. Someone could always say that we might just think that is true but actually it is not, it is actually not good to lessen suffering in the world. In fact, a person could rationally and logically derive from the same materialistic worldview that "no, we just think that is good, but it's not. It is actually better if we were to increase suffering."

There are people who actually believe that. How deep their convictions are is another question, but there are other people that think that it would be better if the world was just obliterated. Peterson would say that you see that in the school shooters and the people who fantasize about genocide and killing everyone and destroying everything. There is a lack in Harris' philosophy in that he can't rationally justify what he thinks he can rationally justify.

All it comes down to is that "I think this is bad and we can all agree that this is bad and let's just start there." There is something missing, and that is what Peterson is trying to get across in his criticisms, that there is an interpretive framework from which we make that initial value judgement: that initial judgement that something is worse than something else. Where does that framework come from?

He argues, along several streams, that for one it is an immeasurably long product of evolution. Even before evolution, it is something about the way that the universe has developed and the way that beings have developed. From before the first single-cell organism to humans, there is a continuity in that entire stretch of the development of matter and consciousness that has made us what we are and has influenced the way that we think; that is just from a material and evolutionary perspective.

What Peterson doesn't get into as much is the actual metaphysical implications of that stated in a systematic, philosophical language. Arguably, that is possible but that is where I see Peterson reaching past the boundaries of the known and into the unknown trying to grasp for something. He knows that there is this interpretive framework, he knows that it applies to everything about human consciousness, and he is looking for how that fits into the fabric of the universe.

One of the ways in which that framework works - this is something that he brought up as a counterpoint to Sam Harris - is that it even works when we are trying to determine what facts are. Like you said Corey, one of the things that he argues is that there are in infinite number of facts and an infinite number of interpretations of those facts so why is any one interpretation better than any others? What is our particular frame of reference, our perspective, and how has that developed? How does that influence the way we see the world? It is a big, complex problem and Harris doesn't seem to grasp the complexity of the situation and just how difficult it is.

Now, just to get into an example of the 'facts', one of the things that Harris criticizes Peterson for in the debate is that Peterson will take a religious text and he will interpret it in a particular way. Harris doesn't say that it is intellectually dishonest, but he says that there is a problem in that there are an infinite number of interpretations of that text. It's like a Rorschach test where you can look at it and take whatever you want out of it; the problem being that some people take pathological elements out of that and then behave in a pathological way.

Peterson's response to that is that it's the same thing with facts actually. It's not like the facts just present themselves and we just say "oh, there's a fact". From the time we are born, and through our entire evolutionary history, our consciousness - our perceptive capacity for engaging with the world - is channelled in certain directions and it is very complex. Whenever we are interpreting something, first of all there has to be valences of value in what we are seeing in the world. It is only out of that value that we can then get a handle on what we consider are the facts.

The way I would put it is that logically, reasonably and rationally there are facts in the world. We can say that there are certain things about some things that are true, and there are vastly more things about that thing that are not true. You can do that about any object or any event that has ever happened or that is present in the world right now. There are going to be certain facts.

How do we get to those facts? This is the point that Peterson, and I think even Weinstein when he is moderating, makes: to get to those facts, we first need to interpret and we need to see the world around us. Using the example of vision, we have to take our visual field and isolate different elements of that visual field which, without value, would just be a chaotic mess of colours. Even then, there might not even be colours, because what colours actually are are values, they attract our attention in different ways.

When we see something new, like a new colour which grabs our attention, we are attracted to it and we pay attention to it. On a very basic level, when we have a visual field what we are doing is we are isolating a piece of that visual field and we are creating a represented object in our mind of that thing of value. We have brought this up a couple of times on the show before: the world not as objects, but as a foreign infraction. What purpose would that object then be in my life?

If something doesn't have a purpose for us and doesn't have a value in and of itself, we don't see it. We don't see every blade of grass when we are looking at a lawn unless there is a purpose for doing so. We just see grass. Now, maybe when we zoom up really close and we take a look then looking at each blade of grass is a value right? Then we are seeing blades of grass. We don't have a name for every blade of grass in our lawn, but we call it our lawn.

There are levels of values and levels of importance that we ascribe to things in the world, and it's only once we have given those things value and have made a word or concept for them that they become facts that we can interpret in relation to other facts. He uses Peterson's interpretation against him by saying that we need that interpretive framework to even come to an understanding about what the facts are.

We do that all the time, and he would agree, there are facts and we do learn things from them, but there is something going on underneath the level of those facts that has more in common with a story or with a personality which is something with a particular character that plays out in a particular way over time which determines how we see it, what we do about it and what we will do about it in the future. Harris doesn't seem to think that we need that at all.

Corey: Harris keeps dodging the question and he keeps coming back to accuse Jordan Peterson of being dogmatic or monotheistic. There is always some suggestive quality when Peterson gets him up against the wall "you say that there is this transcendental rationality that is going to save humanity" and Harris says "yes" and then he says "well, what is it then? What is it actually?" He just skips right on by and keeps on going.

That is the point, and Jordan Peterson even says at one point that Harris is an atheist but he lives as though God exists. I think that is a very important point that I think people skipped over. That is what he is talking about, there is this archetypal structure. You only have so many options of how you live in the world and, as Peterson would say, there is order and there is chaos and then there are different combinations and there are different degrees.

The idea of God and the idea of truth and the idea of trying to build a morality belongs to a realm of perspective of a personality that is its own type of archetype. I think that Jordan Peterson is trying to break the ground here to get down below their disagreements about superficial things: about religions, about the history of religion and about secular versus religious dogma. He is trying to break through so that they can finally get to discuss at the bottom of it, at the bottom of morality and what it means to behave in the "right way".

Harrison: You mention that Harris evades that question several times, that is one of the things that Harris is great at. He has always got an immediate response to something right? If Peterson brings up a counterpoint or he picks apart something, Harris will say "ok ignore that and go to this other point". He has always got a new response ready but he never really acknowledges and takes on board the criticism and analyses why it was a valid criticism. He just moves right onto the next point.

He will say "that's true about Christianity, but let's talk about Islam where it's not true." Instead of looking at the point that Peterson made and why it doesn't apply to Christianity and what that might mean for his wider worldview he just moves onto the next piece of evidence that he has to make his point. I think that while they were both guilty of this at various times during the debates - trying to make their point as opposed to getting to the truth - Harris was the worst offender in that sense.

Every time I noticed Peterson doing it when I think about it afterwards I realised that he was actually making a bigger point. One of the things that Peterson has been criticised for is evading certain questions, and that was apparent. I think that is one of the things that people find annoying about, not only debates, but also interviews with Peterson. It seems like he is avoiding the question, but really, as he describes it, it's because the question, to him, is very complex and he doesn't know the answer, so he is trying to figure out the answer.

This happened at least twice in these first two debates and the first one was when Weinstein asked Peterson the question "can you agree that there are bad things written in the bible? Things that are just morally reprehensible and which we shouldn't accept?" Instead of saying "yes" and then giving his answer Peterson took a while to eventually say that on the level of the sentence, yes, on the level of the paragraph, maybe, but on the level of the entire work? Then, it's debatable and it's hard to say. The point he was making there is if you look at any story - because the bible is a story - you can have certain sentences that only make sense in a certain context. Then, when you look at the entire context, it might look different in the big context.

Harris responded back that there are certain passages in the bible that, no matter what context you think about them in, are simply wrong; he gives the example of Moses' laws for warfare. I think that he has got a good point, when you look at the bible through this prism of seeing it as the word of God, as a direct revelation, and every sentence is true - taken individually of collectively, in or out of context - then you get people today who look at the laws of Moses and think it's ok to go into a village and rape the women while they kill all the boys and men. Those are essentially the laws of tribal warfare for the 1st millenium BC.

He is right there, but the point that Peterson makes, that I also think is a valid point, is that in the wide story - we can even expand that story from the bible to today - there is a certain context, and there is a certain context for history right? When we look at history and we look at the way in which people behaved and we look at the horrors of history we can see that in a context. We can even see it in at least two ways, the first one being that these were just crimes against humanity, even though they happened a millennia ago, or we could see them, in certain instances, as things that were adaptive at the time and which weren't ideal but that they helped humanity survive in some way.

That's a perspective that you can apply to any war for instance. You could say that that war was bad and that it shouldn't have happened. Ok, that's a great, lofty ideal but what do you say to the people who are actually in the war fighting? The war has happened, it has started and there is nothing that these people can do, what then?

Corey: Harris' argument would be "just stop fighting. No war, make peace. No war." That's basically his whole argument against Christianity and against monotheism "let's just get rid of all of it and it'll be better!" It's such a utopian way of thinking and I think that is where you get this idea of his confusion of values and facts. He thinks that since he finds things in religions immoral, it is a fact that they shouldn't exist. He gets it all backwards at that point. "Because these things are bad, they shouldn't exist. That's it, end of story."

But, you want to say no! Let's look at the facts. You are kind of losing the plot with your own morality and your own moral system. Let's actually look at the facts of what was going on with the historical facts so that we can understand what was going on and then build a morality onto that!

Harrison: On top of that, one of the questions that Peterson asked was "what do you replace religions with and how do you do it?" Because, religions, for all their faults and flaws - and Peterson admits that there are - have worked for a reason and without understanding why they work and how they work, how are we going to create something to replace them?

That's one thing that Harris doesn't do, he doesn't say how we can replace it. One of the fatal flaws that Peterson points out in Harris' plan and moral landscape is that he identifies this thing that we should be moving towards - wellbeing - but, he points out that Harris has no way of measuring wellbeing. It's just this vague intuition that Harris has, but without actually knowing what it is and how to actually get there then will Harris' project be successful or not?

In a sense, he is just guessing. He is taking an intuition that he has and is saying "ok, I think that this will work. Let's put it into practice and see if it works." That's essentially what all of the utopian ideologists have done, that's what religions have done!

Corey: Exactly!

Harrison: We have got it all figured out and this is what we are going to do and we are going to fix everything; it doesn't end up working like that. One more point is that an example of a past atrocity which he puts into a different light would be child sacrifice, human sacrifice. One of the things that Harris points out is that human sacrifice is just one of the most horrible things in religion, and it is. According to Harris, it is the foundation of the Christian religion. It is the story about the sacrifice of a human being that is then given this reverential and Holy status. He calls that morally abhorrent.

I don't think that anyone today, including Peterson himself, would justify human sacrifice, but the point that Peterson makes is that "hold on a second, let's look at this." Of course, if you look at the Aztecs then they were bloody murderers right? You can't really find a moral justification for that, but what you can do is find out why that might have happened and how it might have happened, or what might at least contribute to it which then provided the raw material that that belief system and practice grew out of.

He asks "how many times in history might it have been advantageous to kill a child for the survival of the family and the tribe?" I thought about that and was like woah. Think about that. In times of privation and of catastrophe, how many people felt the need to kill their own babies because there wasn't enough food to feed that child? You see that today, what is abortion if not a kind of child sacrifice?

Corey: Child sacrifice? Good point.

Harrison: There were probably many times in human history where it was a survival necessity to kill children. There wasn't birth control back then and if you are living in an environment where there is no food and there is no birth control and you have got all these babies, what is going to happen? We know what is going to happen because it even happens today, you will get people who will kill their children, kill their babies.

With a practice like that which is in practice - people are doing it - you can then see how the bare existence of that might lead to a rationalisation for it. Which, will then create a belief system which entrenches it in social conduct and then takes it to a pathological degree. We can't just write everything off as religious superstition right? One of the points that Peterson makes is that he argues that all ritual, all belief and all dogma starts out as a practice, as a behaviour. Which, only then gets rationalised in a dogmatic form.

You could say that about everything because that is the way that the human mind and behaviour works, we come up with narratives on top of the real reasons why we do things. The question that neither of them get to is "might there be an actual metaphysical reality to some of these dogmas?" Now, Peterson is more open to that question than Harris is. Harris just dismissed it and says that it is not real, that those things don't exist and we don't need to include them in the framework.

This is one of those spikes that Peterson is sending out into the unknown: hold on a second, maybe there is a metaphysical reality here. He is not willing to say explicitly what it is, but he is reaching out and is trying to find it and is trying to see if maybe there is. At least he is open to the possibility of it.

Corey: Harris shuts him down because in the beginning of the debates his whole entire point is that religions are based around a central dogma and they can't be questioned and that the dogmas of religion are especially pernicious because they concern an invisible world that cannot be verified by other people. He says that not all dogmas are created equal, some are more dangerous than others, but once you have a dogma it's "permanent" and erases free speech.

He points out examples where it justifies pathological behaviour; basically, for him it is the Devil in his moral system. It is the thing that must be defeated before the transcendental rationality can come to exist. As we have been saying, he is really missing the point because, as Peterson points out, the dogma predates religion. The dogma is way before religion, the dogma is before the books, before Christianity, before Islam and it's in the culture, it's in the order, it's in the structure. Like he says, it's probably even in our minds.

It's how we have survived. The dogma are these very specific conditions which humanity has had to live under and which have been difficult and which have, at times, almost wiped humanity off the face of the earth. We can't view the world without this structure that we have evolved with and that we live with and which is also programmed by our culture.

He keeps trying to bring Harris back around to this idea that there is more to this, which is strange because Harris is so adamant outside of the debates about a higher consciousness, realms of psychic activity, the places you can only gain access to if you trip on mushrooms - to him. Outside of that it's not a hill of beans if you actually want to build your life on it, it's just fun if you want to have a weekend. Maybe that's being too harsh on him because I did enjoy the debates.

Peterson says that we live our lives through a very narrow framework and it's constricted. We don't have the freedom that Harris claims that we have and it's because of these reasons that actually go all the way back to what we were saying and one of the reasons that Harris' system is slightly flawed. It is universally agreeable that if every human being were to suffer for the maximum amount of time, and for the maximum amount of pain without learning anything and without living a life of any value that that would be the worst possible thing. That's universally agreeable.

The problem is that I guarantee you that there are people out there who would just lick their lips, those sadomasochist antisocial people. I understand that what he is saying is that for people of good will it is a fact that that would be a bad thing, but let's be honest about it. It's people with good will, it's people with a certain mindset, people who have certain goals and values which aren't universally shared. You have got an issue right there that you have got to deal with, and he just brushes it off by saying that the problem of evil and the problem of somebody enjoying the fact that all of humanity is suffering and finding it hilarious can be completely collapsible as a category. You can just do away with it because what it really all comes down to is ignorance or brain chemistry gone amok or somebody who ate too many brain damaging chemicals.

That's his idea, and that's his take on evil which is such a strange thing.I'm listening to the debates and I'm trying to understand what he is saying along these lines about values and about morality and it was just so strange for me to hear that kind of a statement from somebody who I consider to be highly intelligent. I think the problem is that he is maybe a little too intelligent for his own good! [Laughter]

Harrison: I think that opens up to a wider point. I think there is a certain arrogance in Harris' method and in his plan in the sense that he expects people to be like him. He expects people in general to be like him: very intelligent and analytic. Whereas, that simply isn't the case right?

The way in which he thinks and the way in which he structured his own life and his own thoughts won't apply to all people. I think that's one of the points that Peterson is trying to make. He didn't state it explicitly in his words but the religious stories have a value to people who cannot and will not be like Sam Harris. Bret Weinstein made this point and I think that Harris even conceded it to a certain degree. For a lot of people religious stories are heuristics.

All people can't do all the calculations to come to certain conclusions the way that Sam Harris might do and people need heuristics, they need shortcuts essentially. Stories and narratives and myths and religions provide that for a lot of people. A lot of people can't do that type of thinking, they can't do those kinds of calculations in their mind all the time. They need a story and they need a model and they need a personality or character in order to identify with and to imitate.

It's effective for everyone, even someone like Sam Harris, but some people have the intellectual and moral capacity to go beyond that to widen their sphere of what influences them and how they create their own character. But, for a lot of people that's really the only thing that works. Peterson's point is that it does work, it has worked and it is the reason we have religions.

Where he would agree with Harris is that religions and any ideology or any structure has to be updated right? It has to be made new for the times in which we are living. One of the things that Harris would say is that we're living with outdated belief systems and I would say that is absolutely true. What he and Peterson are both trying to do, which I think Peterson is doing better and with more accuracy, is looking at those traditions and finding what can be kept from them.

We can't just throw out the stories completely, that's pulling the rug out from underneath people as a whole. What we can do is find what is in there and be very careful not to throw out baby Jesus with the bathwater [laughter] because there may be a baby Jesus in there in a form that is essential for society which Harris might throw out without a second thought. We need to approach these kinds of things carefully.

There are certain things that I think we would all agree on which Peterson would too, He is no fan of religious fundamentalism but there are things in those stories where perhaps another story would do right? Maybe we could write a new story and it'll hit all of the right buttons, but that's really hard. It takes the cultural selective pressure of generations to find out what works. We can introduce a new story and we can create a new mythology but really it's only the test of time which will show if that works or not.

We are not going to be alive to see the results so if we want to do something in the here-and-now we night be better off looking at the existing stories and trying to find those gems in them without throwing out the entire thing.

Corey: Peterson says that there are so many new ideas out there that are so totally bogus that if you were to implement any of them your society would probably fall apart. At the same time, there are a few new ideas that come along that if your society doesn't implement them then they could fall apart. That's the problem we ran into: you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

I was thinking about it earlier today and it's a trial and error, and at the same time it's the fact that society doesn't choose these things. At least these days it seems like society doesn't choose these things as a whole, as a monolithic entity. What happens is that everybody tinkers with all of these things and the people that make the wrong choices or the bad choices or the choices for the system or idea that won't work will [suffer the consequences]. In the case of the Soviet Union they ended up taking over the entire country.

These kinds of ideas aren't brought online by everybody but everybody is constantly tinkering with all of these different ideas. As Peterson points out, in order to do it right you have to be very conscientious about what has worked and what hasn't worked in the past. You can't throw baby Jesus out with the bathwater because you took some LSD and now everything makes sense.

Harrison: The second question that Peterson seemed to avoid was when he was asked what kind of God he believed in. First, he said that he doesn't believe in God, but rather acts as if God exists; he says that that is an important distinction. Then, he was backed into a corner and asked "what kind of God is that?"

I think that again these are examples of Peterson reaching out and being vague. At the same time, there are some really interesting things in here. Here are some excerpts from the answer he gave about what God is. To start out with, after he gave some answers he was criticised by Harris. Harris said "that has no resemblance to the God that most people say they believe in"; the old man in the sky that acts like Yahweh in the Old Testament or the New Testament who says things and does things and answers your prayers and who is watching you all the time.

Peterson responded "you weren't asking me what the common belief in God was, you asked me what kind of God I was talking about." Harris asked how that applied to most people and I will get into that after I read some of these responses. I have trouble making out the first one because of the way that Peterson phrases it, but here is what he wrote "God is how we imaginatively and collectively represent the existence of an action of consciousness across time, as the most real aspects of existence manifest themselves across the longest of time frames, but are not necessarily apprehensible as objects in the here and now."

What that means is that you have conceptions of reality built into your biological and metaphysical structure. There are consequences of processes of evolution that occurred over unbelievable vast expanses of time and that structures your perception of reality in ways that it wouldn't be structured if you only lived for the amount of time that you are going to live, a lifetime.

That first bit was what was confusing to me "how we imaginatively and collectively represent the existence of an action of consciousness across time". Basically, there is an action of consciousness across vast stretches of time and when we represent that to ourselves imaginatively and collectively we get the image of God. He gave his explanation for that as being like the conceptions, the interpretive framework, that we have developed over our entire history. When we think about that, that thing that can't be grasped as any kind of object available to our perception, we think of that in terms of God, at least this is how I see it.

It's this long-term influence or a long-term mode of consciousness that is playing itself out over billions of years. In that sense, you could think that it is non-temporal in the sense that it's eternal, but that it applies at every instance and over a long stretch of all time. It's like something that shapes time, it shapes reality through time, maybe I would put it that way.

The next things he said were "God is that which eternally dies and is reborn in the pursuit of higher being and truth. God is the highest value in the hierarchy of values. God is what calls and what responds in the eternal call to adventure. God is the voice of conscience. God is the source of judgement, mercy and guilt. God is the future to which we make sacrifices and something akin to the transcendental repository of reputation. God is that which selects among men in the eternal hierarchy of men."

There was an article on Quillete this morning called The Peculiar Opacity of Jordan Peterson's Religious Views. This author took issue with these descriptions of God - taking the same line that Harris did by saying that these are so abstract and have nothing to do with what ordinary people think of God, so why is Peterson even saying them because they are totally irrelevant because that's not what people believe in when they are speaking of God.

Corey: It seemed like that audience resonated quite a bit with his description of God.

Harrison: That's one of the things that he said to Weinstein and Harris. Harris had asked what percentage of the population actually thinks of a God like that and Peterson said "actually, that's a good question. What percentage actually does? I have been saying these things at talks for months to thousands of people and people seem to be responding quite well to it. If what we are talking about here is the fact that people have very confused notions of the ultimate level of reality and the divine then yes, of course, we are hopelessly confused."

That's what I thought when I read these responses to him and heard Harris response in the debate. If you look at the history of humanity, I think we can dispense with the idea of a universally true revelation which is the divine word of God that is right in all its aspects, that's not wrong at all. That's nonsense, it's always been nonsense in a sense because one of the central tenets of the Christian faith, as Peterson points out, is the idea of truth. What is truth if not determining the truth? Truth is the highest value, and if you have a book and truth is your highest value then you will judge that book in terms of truth. That's what leads a lot of people to become atheists in the first place.

When you look at the history of religion and the history of ideas about God does it really make sense to think that people had a complete and accurate idea thousands of years ago that will then also apply to our situation today? No, just like with science, people had dumb ideas. People were grasping, just like Peterson is grasping, just like everyone is, at an understanding of something, and then trying to put it into terms that make sense, and that makes sense of reality and the facts of existence. They are looking for that interpretive framework.

What Peterson is essentially trying to do is to find out what they were really saying, what is the thing that they were trying to describe or trying to put into story-form, trying to characterise and personify? What is that about the structure of reality that they are trying to explain? That's what science does when it's thinking in terms of objects and the things that make up physical matter and the relations between objects and the world.

I think that is what the goal of religion and spirituality is: to determine these things and try to come to better and better explanations and generalisations and formulations of dogma. All dogma is really is a working hypothesis. It didn't originally mean a set-in-stone belief system that's just the connotation that it has acquired over time. We need to figure out our religious generalisations just as we have our scientific material generalisations.

What Peterson is doing with these things that he is describing is that he is trying to figure out what God is. In all these stories, what function does God play in all of our theologies and philosophies? What is it about the universe that leads people to think about reality in such a way to ascribe certain things to God?

If we look at a couple of the specific things that he said - I'll just take a couple - "God is what calls and responds in the eternal call to adventure. God is the voice of conscience. God is the source of judgement, mercy and guilt." If we look at all of those things, those are all things that we can't explain.

Harris at one point, after Peterson was asked to give an account of prayer that works and the example he gave was that if things are going really badly in your life you try this: you sit at the end of your bed and you confess to yourself and the universe that you don't know what's going on. Things are bad and you don't know what to do and you just put a call out to whatever and ask what should I do? Then, you take the answer that is given to you, and the chances are it's not going to be something that you like and it's going to be something that you really don't like.

Harris responded back by saying "that's perfectly understandable in terms of human psychology" and Peterson responded "what?! No it's not!" and then Harris ends up by saying "we don't understand consciousness, we don't understand where anything comes from" and Peterson says "that's right! Exactly!" We don't know, so when someone says that's perfectly understandable in terms of human psychology, we don't know where human psychology comes from in these areas.

When you put out a call like that, or a prayer, and you receive an answer that is nowhere in your previous consciousness - a true novelty in your experience - where does that novelty come from? Where does that new thing, that new idea, come from? Where does that inspiration come from? Where does the voice of conscience come from in the first place? Why is it that some things are better than others? Not only why are they felt as better than others, and in truth, are better than others? Why is one thing better than another? Why should one thing be better than any other?

The call to adventure - what is it that calls us? What is it that inspires us to go out and answer that call, and what responds to that call? How do we play with the universe? How do we interact with this grand mystery? What is the source of judgement? What is the source of the universal comparison and grading and hierarchisation of things? Why do structures exist? Why do things move in certain directions and not others? What is the yardstick by which we measure truth and value? Where do these things come from? What is the source of mercy and guilt?

Why should we feel guilty about anything? There may be an evolutionary account, but if we go down deep enough then why would we need that in the first place? Why would we need life in the first place? These are all deep and mysterious questions that we don't have answers to and that have traditionally been answered by religious traditions and by what we today call spirituality and religion. We try to give a story form to place all these things in context and give them a role in the story of our lives which leads us in the direction of a better future for ourselves and for the entire world.

You can't just write all these things off and then get rid of the stories that incorporate all of them and say it's all just human psychology. What world are you living on where that is the case? It's like living in a sterile white hospital without any furniture in it, it's just dry, sharp and oppressive. That's not any world that I would enjoy living in, that's for sure.

Corey: Very good points.

Harrison: One thing that I found interesting, if I can bring something in from an outside source, is that while I was listening to these lectures I was also reading a short book of lectures by Alfred North Whitehead called Religion in the Making. These were lectures he gave in 1926, so almost 100 years ago. I want to read a couple of things that he had to say in this book because they really evoked Peterson for me.

I know that Peterson has read some Whitehead, so I don't know how much this has actually influenced his thinking. It might be a coincidence or it may be that he read these things a while ago and they have shaped his thought. First of all, Whitehead was a mathematician and towards the end of his life he turned to philosophy and moved to the States and started teaching there, at Harvard I believe. In the last decades of his life he was strictly focused on philosophy, so he is considered to be a really deep thinker. He is hard to read in places because he is dense and vague, but there are some really interesting ideas in there if you unpack them.

He starts out part of this lecture with the subheading of Value and the Purpose of God. "The purpose of God is the attainment of value in a temporal world. An active purpose is the adjustment of the present for the sake of the adjustment of value in the future, immediately and remotely." I'll read some more, but right here he is doing something that I see as similar to what Peterson is doing. He is seeing things in the world for which we can't really find an account of, which we can't explain and then fitting God into a worldview where everything makes sense. How do purposes work in the world so that we adjust in the present for something that happens in the future?

What is that future and how do we experience it while we experience it as a value? First of all, as a value worth obtaining so that we strive for it, and then as a value realised when we experience it in the now. That experiencing, that manifestation of that value is then experienced as value. Whitehead says that that is the purpose of God: the attainment of value in the temporal world.

Later on, he writes something which I think is a deep metaphysical explanation for that first point of Peterson's which I said I had trouble explaining but which I tried to get an understanding of. Whitehead writes "The order of the world is no accident. There is nothing actual which could be actual without some measure of order. The religious insight is the grasp of this truth, that the order of the world, the depth of reality of the world, the value of the world in its whole and in its parts, the beauty of the world, the zest of life, the peace of life and the mastery of evil are all bound together. Not accidentally, but by reason of this truth: that the universe exhibits a creativity with infinite freedom and a realm of forms with infinite possibilities, and that this creativity and these forms are together impotent to achieve actuality apart from the completed ideal harmony which is God." So, God is that without which order would be impossible in the world, in a nutshell. I won't try to get there any deeper than that without thinking about it for a while.

Another from near the very end of the book "the limitation of God is his goodness. He gains his depth of actuality by his harmony of valuation. It is not true that God is in all respects infinite. If he were, he would be evil as well as good. Also, this unlimited fusion of evil with good would mean mere nothingness. He is something decided and it thereby limited. He complete in the sense that his vision determines every possible value. Such a complete vision coordinates and adjusts every detail. Thus, his knowledge of the relationships of particular modes of value is not added to, or disturbed, by the realisation in the actual world of what is already conceptually realised in his ideal world." That depends on things he has previously said so it might not be worth saying out loud at this point

There were a couple of other ones that I wanted to read here. "The kingdom of heaven is not the isolation of good from evil. It is the overcoming of evil by good. This transmutation of evil into good enters into the actual world by reason of the inclusion of the nature of God which includes the ideal vision of each actual evil so met with a novel consequent as to issue in the restoration of goodness."

What I think he is saying there is that he is first analysing the existence of evil in the world which is something the Harris and Peterson are both trying to do. Except, with Harris not having quite the understanding of evil that most people have. Whitehead is then arguing that one of the functions of God and one of the ways in which we understand God is as that thing inherent in the universe by which evil is overcome. So, when evil happens it is not that God created that evil - it's not that God himself is evil - it's that the evil is a result of accident of the material structure of the world.

An example would be accidents or some natural disaster or catastrophe, or you are walking down the street and a brick falls on your head, that is a type of evil. Though, there is also a malevolent evil and it is malevolent evil that arguably comes from the free-will, the free-choice, of creatures themselves. Whether that can be reduced to a biological level or not is irrelevant because it is that being that is doing it and not the totality of the universe directing his or her actions.

When those evils occur, the function of God is to make a good out of that evil, to take that bad scenario - even that worst case scenario - and to see what possibilities surrounding that which can then be turned into a good. We see that in life all the time, where a tragedy can be the ground in which a new and better future is birthed and grown. That introduction of novelty in an evil situation would be what Whitehead would see as one of the functions of God.

Last quote - this ties into what Peterson said about God being that which eternally dies and is reborn in the pursuit of higher being and truth. Whitehead says "The world lives by its incarnation of God in itself." He ties that back to the way in which God works in the world is through our apprehension of novelty, of new situations, of ideal futures, of ideal forms that we then manifest in the present; to make a better future out of a flawed present, or even an evil present. If you want to read more, read that little book. (Religion in the Making)

To tie all this together, I think that one of the things that Whitehead was doing there - that Peterson is doing, but that Harris isn't - is what we made reference to when we were talking about Collingwood's book Speculum Mentis. I think we described the overall framework of that book where he is describing art, religion, science, history and philosophy.

Some of the things that he says about religion are compatible with the things that Harris says - as well as the thing that Peterson says - but he points out that religion does serve a purpose and you can't eradicate it because there is a certain mode of being to which religion speaks. Especially in childhood development and throughout, those stories serve a purpose. They work on people's minds in certain ways so that they develop in certain ways.

He basically says that that is not the end of the road. They are essential, but there is more to it and that is where he would introduce philosophy. Philosophy would be like putting those truths into language that is comprehensible, not just as a symbol system, not just as a story. You can't eliminate the story, but you can add in interpretation to that story that seems to get to the truth that underlies it.

Even like with all art, it's not necessary that that truth would initially have been intended to accompany that story. You can look at a story and the person writing it may have just done it on a whim "this seems like a good story" but it might capture something that the writer wasn't even aware of consciously. Then, through that interpretation you can then say "that is really something!"

I think that is essentially what Peterson was doing, he was looking for that philosophical truth that isn't just the best interpretation of that work of art, or story, or narrative. It is a truth that is really true about the universe, about the world of our experience, which can be expressed in that story-form. I think that is what he is essentially trying to do, to find those truths which underlie the stories without getting rid of the stories, without flushing down baby Jesus. [Laughter]

Corey: Very good.

Harrison: Any more thoughts on the debates Corey?

Corey: No, I think that pretty much says it all, at least for the first couple of debates. I think there are still 2 more out there. The first 2 took place in Vancouver and the second 2 took place in Dublin and London.

If I did have one last thought, I would just wish that Jordan Peterson was having this debate with someone else. I don't know where this whole intellectual dark-web thing is going but I feel like my takeaway from it was that I hope that as Jordan Peterson is articulating these ideas he comes away with even stronger, broader and deeper understanding of what he is looking for. I don't think that Harris is the guy who is going to give him the debate that he is wanting in terms of what everybody else who wishes to understand the deeper truths underneath these narratives wants.

The debates are great, you can see Jordan Peterson fumble and you can see him really struggling to think, but at the same time I wish he was speaking with someone who was a specialist on morality or someone who was a specialist on religious history or a historian. Sam Harris, as brilliant as he is, does have this dogmatic streak that creates this brick wall; maybe that's what Jordan Peterson wanted.

Harrison: I saw an interview clip which looked like it was from the day after the event - it's on the Rebel Wisdom [YouTube Channel] - and one of the questions the interviewer asked was that if Peterson thought that Harris could approach the debate honestly; if he could be arguing in good faith basically. He does have a reputation to uphold and he does have his ideas which have been put on record so can you approach a debate like this if you are not willing to change your mind?

Peterson responded that he didn't get that impression at all and he thought that it went well and that Sam Harris was being totally open and approaching it all in good faith. One of the good things that Peterson thought had come out of it was that they had each gotten a better understanding of what the other person was saying and each had been better able to articulate their arguments. Peterson thought that personally he had come to more clarity about he was thinking about and trying to develop.

That is good in and of itself. It's not like Peterson just talks to Sam Harris, he does have interesting conversations with all kinds of people. Hopefully this will open the door to more. He had a short discussion months ago with Iain Gilchrist who wrote The Master and His Emissary which was a book about the two brain hemispheres. That was a great conversation and I would like them to speak again. I hope he will find more people to discuss these things with and to get into the nitty gritty and try to find something.

With that being said, if you want to check out the interviews we will put links to all 4 of them in the show description; even though we just discussed the first 2. They should be coming out in better quality in August so you can wait until then if you want. Otherwise, thanks for tuning in everybody and hope you enjoyed the discussion. Thanks Corey for joining me on this magical device that we call the interwebs.

Corey: It was wonderful!

Harrison: Everyone take care and we will see you next week.