Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Jordan B. Peterson (@jordanbpeterson). Jordan has taught mythology to lawyers, doctors, and business people, consulted for the UN secretary general, helped his clinical clients manage depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia, served as an adviser to senior partners of major Canadian law firms, and lectured extensively in North America and Europe. With his students and colleagues at Harvard and the University of Toronto, Dr. Peterson has published more than one hundred scientific papers, transforming the modern understanding of personality, as his book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief revolutionized the psychology of religion. His book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos was published in 2018 and has sold more than 4 million copies internationally. His latest book is Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
DUE TO SOME HEADACHES IN THE PAST, PLEASE NOTE LEGAL CONDITIONS:
Tim Ferriss owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.
WHAT YOU’RE WELCOME TO DO: You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words but not more) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “The Tim Ferriss Show” and link back to the tim.blog/podcast URL. For the sake of clarity, media outlets with advertising models are permitted to use excerpts from the transcript per the above.
WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED: No one is authorized to copy any portion of the podcast content or use Tim Ferriss’ name, image or likeness for any commercial purpose or use, including without limitation inclusion in any books, e-books, book summaries or synopses, or on a commercial website or social media site (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that offers or promotes your or another’s products or services. For the sake of clarity, media outlets are permitted to use photos of Tim Ferriss from the media room on tim.blog or (obviously) license photos of Tim Ferriss from Getty Images, etc.
Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show, where it is normally my job to deconstruct world-class performers of all different types from all different disciplines. And I am thrilled to have as my guest today a polymath. I would certainly consider him a polymath, Jordan B. Peterson. He has taught mythology to lawyers, doctors and business people, consulted for the UN Secretary General, helped his clinical clients manage depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and schizophrenia.
Served as an advisor to senior partners of major Canadian law firms, and lectured extensively in North America and Europe. With the students and colleagues at Harvard and the University of Toronto, Dr. Peterson has published more than 100 scientific papers, transforming the modern understanding of personality. As his book Maps of Meaning, subtitled The Architecture of Belief, revolutionized the psychology of religion. His book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos was published in 2018, and has sold more than four million copies internationally.
His newest book is Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. You can find him online at jordanbpeterson.com, on Twitter @jordanbpeterson, Instagram, @jordan.b.peterson, Facebook, you guessed it, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, YouTube, Jordan Peterson Videos. And you can find his personality assessment at understandingmyself.com and the Self-Authoring program at self-authoring.com. Jordan, welcome to the show.
Jordan Peterson: Thank you. God, it’s hard to hear my name so many times without becoming somewhat nauseated!
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That’s how I feel when I listen to my own playback in this podcast. And I’m thrilled to finally have you on the podcast. We are going to run out of time before we run out of material, and —
Jordan Peterson: Yeah, that would be nice. That would be a good thing!
Tim Ferriss: — that would be a good thing! And I want to start in maybe an odd place. And that is, asking if you could describe to my audience who Sandy Notley was.
Jordan Peterson: Well, I grew up in a small town in Northern Alberta. I heard you and my producer talking about cold in Minnesota, and I was smirking in the background. I thought “You guys don’t know what cold is.” When I went to college there, about 60 miles away, we had 30 days in a row one winter where it didn’t get above minus 40. So, anyhow, I grew up in this small town and in the province of Alberta. So that’s the Canadian equivalent of a state. And we had a provincial government, the equivalent of a state government.
And it was all conservatives, Progressive Conservative Party. Every seat in the house was Progressive Conservative, except one New Democratic Party member socialist, Grant Notley, who was the leader of the NDP. And he wasn’t elected so much because he was a socialist, I don’t think, because most of the people in my small town were conservative, but because he was a really good man. Anyways, he was the only opposition in the entire province for a decade, a decade or more.
His wife, Sandy Notley, was a New Englander, and somewhat of an anomaly in our small town. And she was quite outspoken, a New England intellectual. And she was our librarian in our junior high school. And all the delinquents, and me as well, and maybe I was in that category, hung out in the library weirdly enough because she treated us like adults. And I started to work for the NDP when I was 14. I ran for vice president of the party when I was 14. That was my first public exposure, but she was a good guide for me. She introduced me to a lot of books.
I was an omnivorous reader, but mostly, I read science fiction. I didn’t know what the hell to read. I used to spend all — I’d hide the books I was reading behind the textbook in class and read away during school. But I was reading mostly science fiction. And she started to hand me books that she thought would be good for me. She introduced me to Ayn Rand, interestingly enough, despite the fact that she was a socialist, not Ayn Rand obviously, but Sandy Notley. She said she thought I would be smart enough to see through Rand.
Huxley, Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, a lot of serious material, and I felt a real friendship with her and her husband. And I worked with the NDP for four years. So she was a pronounced influence on me. And that’s Sandy Notley. And her daughter, Rachel Notley, who was a friend of mine, a girlfriend of one of my close friends at one point, became Premier of Alberta. Many years later, she was defeated in the last election, which was only about three years ago, but she followed in her father’s footsteps and became Premier of the province. So that’s that story.
Tim Ferriss: On your website, you have an extensive list of recommended books. I’ve looked at it. I’ve looked at it multiple times, it’s close to 100, I would say. And they’re put into different categories, different genres. Are there any books on that list, or can you think of books that were introduced relatively early in your life, some of the early exposures that have stood the test of time for you?
Jordan Peterson: Huxley and Orwell, I would say Solzhenitsyn as well, I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich when I was 13 or 14, that was one of the books Notley recommended. And so they certainly had an impact on me.
Tim Ferriss: What was that impact, if you don’t mind me following up?
Jordan Peterson: Well, I started to think in broader terms as a consequence of being introduced to books like that and started to think more seriously from a political perspective and psychological perspective, I suppose. It was my first introduction into serious thought. And it was extremely exciting. I mean, I read a lot of English literature until I was about 25. And then I started reading nonfiction more once I started my graduate studies. But it opens up a world of ideas, and that was really exciting to me, incredibly exciting to me.
Tim Ferriss: And the reason I’m asking so much about books is I am really fascinated by you. And I’m fascinated by everyone I have on the show, but the formation of your —
Jordan Peterson: Well, that decreases my pleasure at being the object of current fascination!
Tim Ferriss: Well, right now, you’re the most fascinating person in the world to me. And I find that books are a wellspring of value for listeners because it’s something they can model very well, something that they can reach out for. So, let’s —
Jordan Peterson: Yeah. Well, people can get a whole education if they read those 100 books that I have at my website. I mean, you’re not going to get an education in every discipline, but there’s a whole education there under recommended books. That’s been fun because lots of people have — that’s been an unbelievably popular list. It sells hundreds of books a month —
Tim Ferriss: I believe it. I believe it.
Jordan Peterson: And people email me constantly and say, “Well, you introduced me to Dostoevsky. Thanks a lot.” They’re so enthralled. If you’re psychologically minded and you like the darkness to some degree, if you like Gothic imagery and film noir, and that sort of thing, Dostoyevsky’s an unbelievable treat. And he’s so incredibly deep, psychologically enthralling. Crime and Punishment is an absolutely engrossing novel as well as being a stunning work of philosophy.
Tim Ferriss: Another name that shows up not once but several times in that list is Nietzsche, if I’m pronouncing that remotely correctly? I always wondered.
Jordan Peterson: I never know. I pronounce it like it was my burden, Nietzsche. I know that’s wrong. It’s Nietzsche, I believe. But I never get it right.
Tim Ferriss: So I’ve read you highlight, in a sense, or at least mentioned that Nietzsche had pointed out that most morality is cowardice, if we’re making the leap from this list of books to specific ideas. Could you please elaborate on that?
Jordan Peterson: If you don’t have the courage to commit a crime, it doesn’t mean you’re moral for not doing it. It just means you’re afraid. You can see this I suppose to some degree in mob violence, people riot because they don’t think they’ll get caught. And so they’re not law-abiding under normal circumstances because they’re moral. They’re law-abiding because they’re afraid of punishment. And so Nietzsche was very careful to distinguish mere obedience from morality.
And he thought of obedience not always as a form of cowardice, because it can also be a source of discipline. But not committing a crime because you’re too afraid to, I mean, it’s probably better than committing a crime, but it doesn’t speak to the essence of morality. And I’ve talked a fair bit about this, is that there’s a certain utility in being able to do virtually anything and then to control yourself. And that’s something I learned in part from Nietzsche, I suppose.
The best people I’ve ever met were dangerous people, but they keep themselves in check. I have a close friend who’s been a real rock to me over the last couple of years. He was also born in Northern Alberta. He came from a pretty poverty-stricken background, tough guy, worked in lead smelters and oil rigs. And he went to university, which is where I met him. And then he was a social worker for a long time. And he’s tough as nails. He’s worked with delinquents all over Canada, and he’s a good disciplinarian.
But he’s also a very compassionate person. He’s a moral person as far as I’m concerned because there’s a real danger to him, but he keeps it under control. And he’s not a coward. He’s not afraid. He’s not weak.
Tim Ferriss: How do you cultivate, or suggest people cultivate — you can tackle either — both the ability to keep yourself in check or under control and to be courageous? And just to provide a little context for the question, when I see you in the many interviews that you’ve done, there are instances where people are very adversarial and aggressive. And one thing that has struck me is your ability to maintain composure while still standing up for and not rolling over with respect to your arguments or your positions.
How do you cultivate that? Or how have you cultivated that?
Jordan Peterson: Well, I have an advantage, I suppose, in that I’m a clinical psychologist. And I’ve spent 20,000 hours, although I’m not practicing anymore. I’ve spent 20,000 hours listening to people and maintaining my composure, sometimes under very stressful circumstances. And so I’ve had a lot of practice doing that. And then, I did do some TV work at a local station here for a couple of years, and I had a good producer. And he helped me realize that anger plays very badly in a public forum like video, particularly.
Now I didn’t have a tendency then, I suppose, to fly off the handle either, but it’s not useful to lose your temper. It’s not useful. I mean, I’m boiling inside. I’m a very emotional person, way too much. So, it’s not like it’s not stressful. It’s unbelievably stressful, but I can detach myself from that to some degree. And I’m really curious, I suppose. That’s another part of it. I like to watch. And when people really go after me, this is where the clinical practice is handy. I can snap into a different mode.
Which is, “Okay, I don’t know what you’re up to. So, I’m just going to watch you. And then, I’m going to figure out what you’re up to.” Because I can usually figure out what people are up to if I want to. I don’t do that all the time because I actually don’t want to know sometimes what they’re up to. I mean, look. Lots of people have treated me extraordinarily well, don’t get me wrong. And normally, when you talk to someone, you accept their persona. You don’t look behind.
But if people mistreat me, in some way or become adversarial, then I’m able to look behind the scene and think and see what they’re up to, if I can remember to do that.
Tim Ferriss: Do you look behind the mask or see what is behind by deducing where they’re trying to lead you with the breadcrumbs? I mean, I’ve seen you do that very effectively. What other forms does that take or might that take?
Jordan Peterson: It’s really hard to describe. I think it’s useful to draw a distinction between thinking and paying attention. If you’re thinking, you’re walking down a programmatic trail. If you’re paying attention, you just open your eyes and let your mind go where it will, and ideas will occur to you. They’ll pop up in your field of consciousness. And for me, that’s often informative. I’ll get insight that way. I suppose I’m paying more attention to nonverbal communication and to facial expression, and posture, and tone of voice.
And I can pick up patterns, I suppose.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned earlier that at times, you’re boiling inside. I certainly have experienced that personally. Now, anger, how would you distinguish — and I intuitively know these are different, but I would struggle to maybe on the spot, separate the two, anger and resentment. Because one of your quotes that I have here in front of me with my notes is, “Consult your resentment. It is revelatory.” And I’d love to unpack that, but if you could walk us through?
Jordan Peterson: Yeah. Well, in my new book, I have a chapter, which is Rule 11: Do Not Allow Yourself to Become Resentful, Deceitful, or Arrogant. It’s the evil triad as far as I’ve been able to determine. Resentment in particular, it’s bad. It’s a bad emotion. It’s useful, you can learn a lot by noticing that it occurs. Resentment tells you one of two things. One, is that someone’s treading on your territory and something needs to be done about it. Or that you need to grow the hell up and stop complaining.
And it’s hard. It isn’t necessarily obvious when you feel resentful, which of those it is. But you need to figure it out because you can harbor resentment for unlived life for a very, very long period of time. And all it does is corrupt you. It hurts you. It hurts you physically because it’s a stressful emotion. Anger is a stressful emotion because your body hyper-prepares for action if you’re angry, because you might get into conflict. So that’s a dangerous situation. And so you burn off a lot of psychophysiological resources in anger.
If you’re resentful, there’s probably something you need to say. There’s certainly something you need to figure out. And so you can use it as a guide to further development. It’s very much useful to a metaresentment-free existence. And that means I suppose that you’re taking up enough space. There’s always a struggle between your domain and the domain of other people. Everyone competes for everyone else’s attention. Everyone competes for everyone else’s time. You compete for your own time.
And if you’re resentful, it’s highly probable that, well, as I said, either you’re not standing up for yourself sufficiently or someone is legitimately on your case. In which case, well, you need to do something about that or live with the consequences, which is very unpleasant. It’s not optimal. Sometimes, I suppose, it’s unavoidable. But generally, there’s something that can be done about it. Maybe you need a new job. Maybe you need a new partner.
It’s easy for people to think that they’re better than they are. And it’s not surprising that everybody wants to think that. I probably want to think that about me. So then, you’ll get angry about something. Maybe your partner puts you down in public, doesn’t show you the respect. Maybe you’re married, say a husband, wife owe each other a certain amount of categorical respect, sort of independent of the individual personalities.
If you have decided that you’re going to devote your life to someone and vice-versa, they’re now in a category that requires a certain amount of respect to maintain the relationship over time, that’s good for your partner. And it’s also good for you. Maybe you’ve taken a shot in public, and you’re really angry about it. But you don’t notice it because you want to think that you’re better than you are. That sort of thing doesn’t upset you. And so you don’t say anything about it. You don’t do anything about it.
And then, you don’t fix it. And that’s a mistake. It’s much better, you could say to your partner, “Look, we were out for dinner tonight and you said something snarky, which I didn’t think was appropriate. Now, I might be hypersensitive and touchy, and immature, and maybe you hit me in a weak spot. Or maybe you’re playing some power game. Why don’t we figure that out?” Now, that’s messy. And people don’t like conversations like that. And I think that’s one of the things that’s peculiar about me.
For one, I don’t know why exactly, but I don’t like that. I won’t let those things go.
Tim Ferriss: So the peculiarity is that you’ll open those conversations? You don’t have an aversion to it?
Jordan Peterson: Well, I have a horrible aversion to it, and I don’t like conflict. But I’ve learned, and this is partly I suppose clinical training, but it’s not just that. Some things, if you don’t address them, they just get worse. And I’ve been able to see where things are going to go. It’s like what I mentioned to you earlier that if I watch someone, I can generally figure out what they’re up to. I also can see where things are going. If I walk into someone’s house and there are things out of order in a particular way, if I pay attention to that, that’s often indicative of something not right in the relationship.
Maybe the kitchen is a mess. It’s like there’s food that isn’t fresh in the fridge, for example, or there’s packages up in shelves that haven’t been opened for two years or since the wedding, let’s say. That’s too much chaos in the kitchen. Something’s wrong. Well, what’s wrong? Well, there’s something wrong in the domestic relationship. The bargaining about who does what in the kitchen hasn’t been thought through. And so you have to have those fights to put things in order. And if you don’t, then you end up with a worse fight in the future.
And so the reason that I call things out as far as I can tell, the positive reason, who knows what the negative reasons are, is because I don’t want more conflict. I’d rather have genuine peace, which is very, very, very hard to obtain. People generally obtain peace by sweeping things under the carpet. I have another chapter in this new book called Don’t Hide Things in the Fog. And that’s what it concentrates on, is pay attention to your negative emotions. Resentment, particularly, it’s so informative.
You find out where you’re immature. Well, do you want to? Probably not. Who wants to find out that? Or you’ll find out who’s oppressing you. And maybe then, you can learn to stand up for yourself.
Tim Ferriss: Well, let’s dig into the new book. I want to do it in a particular way, which is, starting with a quote of yours that a close friend of mine has committed to memory now. Please, fact check me on this. Perhaps it’s Abraham Lincoln or Oscar Wilde, or one of the other ubiquitous attributions on the internet, but here we go. And I’m fond of this as well, “It seems to me that the purpose of life is to find a mode of being that is so meaningful that the fact that life is suffering is no longer relevant.”
Now, I have a follow-up just to segue from that, but is that an accurate quote?
Jordan Peterson: Well, I don’t know if it’s an accurate quote, but it sounds like something I probably said.
Tim Ferriss: Accurate sentiment, more or less?
Jordan Peterson: It’s accurately attributed.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Jordan Peterson: It seems to me that it’s true. I mean, it isn’t necessarily the case that you can do it.
Tim Ferriss: All right. Yeah. So, this —
Jordan Peterson: Right. That’s hard to do. And that, of course, it’s hard I suppose in proportion to the suffering that you’re undergoing. And it isn’t necessarily the case that you can always manage it. But sometimes you can manage it, and it’s good if you can.
Tim Ferriss: And so I want to use your book as a — prop isn’t the right word, a vehicle for exploring this. One of the books that you often reference is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.
Jordan Peterson: Yes. Sorry, I’m going to stop just for a sec because I thought about some other things. So, this is partly why I have a certain conservative bent, I suppose. See, people need to search for meaning because they get corrupted by suffering if their life isn’t meaningful. That’s how it looks to me. Because you can’t torture an animal forever without it lashing out. And so if your life is nothing, if there’s nothing in it that speaks to you, there’s still going to be suffering. You can’t talk yourself out of that.
And so, then, I see people tearing down traditional structures, let’s say, or they’re casual about them. Another rule in this new book is “Do not casually denigrate social institutions or creative achievement.” Well, why social institutions? Well, I’ve counseled lots of people who were lost. And so, if you came to see me and I was your therapist, I’m very practical. I’d say to you, “Okay. Well, let’s look at your life for a minute.” Do you have an intimate relationship? What about your family?
And that could be married with kids, or it could be the family of your birth, your siblings, and your parents and so on. How’s that functioning? Do you have anyone there? Do you have a job? Or maybe a career even, if you’re fortunate? At least a job that keeps body and soul together? And maybe where there’s some chance of advancement and hope? Do you know how to use your time outside of work productively? Do you take care of your mental and physical health? Do you manage the temptations, drug and alcohol use, and that sort of thing?
Do you manage those temptations effectively? Are you as educated as you are intelligent? Those are standard patterns of activity in the world. Do you have kids? Do you have a wife or a husband? Do you have a job? I mean, it’s mundane in some sense, and you can look beyond all those standard answers for meaning. But if you’re overwhelmed by life, anxious and suffering, that’s a good place to start. Put that together. Why? Well, the answer to that is because that’s what people do.
That’s what people do. That’s the best we’ve been able to manage. And if you don’t have that, because you’re a human being like other human beings, you’re going to suffer for it. And so, attacks on that, assaults on that, aren’t that helpful. Unless you have a better — I have this friend. He’s an atheist, and he’s wavering about this. He was born a communist. He was raised in Poland. And he had objected at one point to the Christmas traditions of his family who were also atheistic. And he objected on the grounds of logical coherence.
“Why are we doing this?” “Well, don’t do it.” “Well then, what happens?” “Well then, you have another weekday. You lose Christmas.” Well, great. It’s like now, you’re logically coherent, wonderful. But you’ve lost Christmas. You don’t want to throw these things away. And I see this sometimes with young people when they’re talking about getting married. “We don’t need to get married. We don’t need a piece of paper.” It’s like, really? That’s the depth of thought you’ve put into this?
It’s like, you’re not going to mark this permanence with conscious awareness and social celebration, and the sanction of your community and a beautiful ceremony? That’s just nothing? You can let that go? Well, what are you going to replace it with? Nothing. You can say, it’s, “I don’t want to be married in a church. I don’t believe in God.” Fair enough. But good luck filling in the hole.
Tim Ferriss: So what is the template for constructive criticism of a social institution? In other words, if there is a wrong way to do it where you’re creating a void and not offering a better solution, what is the better approach or what might be?
Jordan Peterson: I got well-known, I suppose, in part because of my injunction to people that they clean up their room. My closet, by the way, is a mess. I haven’t been able to clean it up for three years. So there’s this English common law principle with regards to the distribution of power. I think it’s English common law, that there are certain responsibilities of the family and the community, and the town, and the state, and the federal government, and the international organizations, but you want to have the most proximal level possible take responsibility for a given enterprise.
And I think that’s a good philosophy, personally. You want to make changes, start with what’s under your control. Start with changing those things that will hurt you if the changes go wrong. There’s a good one, and it’s better I think to put your life together than to go worry about parading around and being a social activist. I think most of that’s fraudulent. And I think it’s appalling that students learn or people learn to do that mostly at universities. I think it’s appalling. Fix up your own life. And that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be involved in the community.
But I believe that you have to earn that right not because there’s something more wrong with you than wrong with anyone else. It’s just that if you operate at a level that’s beyond your competence, all you’re going to do is make catastrophic mistakes. Practice locally till you’re competent. And then, if you dare, well, move out a little bit. As you mature, you gain some — when I used to work for the NDP, the socialists, back when I was 14 or 15, one of the things I came to realize, I think I realized this when I was 16, and went to university.
It’s like I woke up one day, and I thought I have this ideology in my mind about how the world should be structured. I woke up and I thought, “What the hell do you know? You don’t have a family. You don’t have any experience. You don’t have a job. You’re a pup.” I mean, I was smart enough. I verbally could hold my own. And my head was full of ideas, I could defend them. But at the same time that I was a socialist kid, I sat on the board of governors for the local college. And almost all the people on that board were local businessmen.
Most of them, immigrants, because Northern Alberta was an immigrant — it was only 50 years old. Everybody had moved there. It was a new place. It was the end of the frontier, literally. We were at the end of the railway, the northernmost tip of the North American prairie. And there was all these conservatives sitting on this board and me. And what I found was I actually respected these people. My ideology, my explicit ideology, was antithetical to theirs. But when I interacted with them one-on-one, I thought, “These people have made something of themselves.”
And when I talked to the activists, I never got that impression. I thought, “You guys are resentful as hell and you don’t know anything. You’ve never done anything. But you’re noisy and self-righteous.” And so that put a lot of cognitive dissonance — that filled me with cognitive dissonance.
Tim Ferriss: I was going to go to Viktor Frankl, but I’d like to pull a hard left just to follow.
Jordan Peterson: Always a dangerous thing!
Tim Ferriss: It is a dangerous thing, depending on the country you’re in, especially! And we’ll come back to Viktor Frankl because I would like to ask about him. But first, I’d like to go to Aldous Huxley and possibly Hunter S. Thompson. So I was interested to see Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson on your list of suggested books and Island or The island — I don’t know if there’s a “the” in the title — by Aldous Huxley.
And going into or down the rabbit hole with your videos and interviews, I noticed that you seem to have quite a familiarity with the research done by Rick Strassman with intravenous and in DMT. And also, the psilocybin research at Johns Hopkins with Roland Griffiths, Matt Johnson, and their entire team. But in the clips that I’ve seen, there isn’t really a lot of context. There’s snippets that I’ve found. What has been the context for introducing those to your classes or in your lectures? Or what is interesting?
Jordan Peterson: Well, I did my PhD in alcoholism. So, psychopharmacology. I mean, I’ve got a PhD in clinical psychology, but my research was, for years, eight years, nine years, was all drug and alcohol abuse. I concentrated on alcohol, but that was okay because alcohol is like water. It crosses the blood-brain barrier like water. It bathes every cell. It has polysystemic effects. And so, if you study alcohol from the psychological and pharmacological perspective, you have to learn the function of the systems that all drugs affect.
All drugs of abuse affect fundamental motivational or emotional systems. That’s why we take them. Although, with the hallucinogens, it’s more complex, like the benzodiazepines and barbiturates, and alcohol. They’re anxiolytics. They reduce anxiety. Alcohol also has a dopaminergic effect for some people like cocaine or amphetamines. There’s the analgesics like heroin or cocaine. Cocaine is also analgesic. The psychomotor stimulants are analgesic as well. But the big categories are pain-relieving, anxiety-relieving, and psychomotor stimulant.
And most drugs of abuse fall into those categories. And then there’s the hallucinogens, which are a whole other universe. And so I’m well-versed in psychology and the physiology of drug and alcohol use. And so that’s the context. That’s part of it anyways. I’m also interested in religious experiences and for one reason or another, and it’s a bottomless mystery, there are agents that reliably produce religious experiences, and no one knows what in the world to do about that. That’s for sure.
Tim Ferriss: There’s a study ongoing at Hopkins also that’s looking at the effects of serotonin to agonists like psilocybin’s effects on worldview of religious leaders of different faiths, which I find is —
Jordan Peterson: Is that right? How are they doing that?
Tim Ferriss: They’re doing it with, as I understand it, administration of probably 30 milligrams of synthetic psilocybin. I’d have to check in —
Jordan Peterson: Wow. That should definitely be illegal.
Tim Ferriss: Should be illegal or legal?
Jordan Peterson: Well, it’s no wonder it was all made illegal. I mean, it’s Pandora’s box.
Tim Ferriss: In what respect? What would your concerns be with that particular Pandora’s box?
Jordan Peterson: Well, look what happened when psychedelics were introduced into the culture in the 1960s. It was revolutionary. No one knew how to regulate or control it. And I don’t mean control by clamped down. I just meant, no one knew what to do with it. I mean, it knocked Timothy Leary off to the side, sideways. And I had Timothy Leary’s old position at Harvard. He had the same position as me, yeah. So that was interesting.
Tim Ferriss: I mean, the social dynamics are very different in the sense that, yes, there are a lot of risks, psychological, in rare cases, physical with psychedelic use. But I’m very involved with the phase three trials, both for psilocybin and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, quite separately.
Jordan Peterson: Is Griffiths running that?
Tim Ferriss: Griffiths is involved. So they would be one site for the phase three trials.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah, well, he’s the real scientist.
Tim Ferriss: He’s great. He’s a close friend. And he’s —
Jordan Peterson: I met him at a conference on awe.
Tim Ferriss: He’s an excellent scientist with a lot of exposure to psychoactives, expert in caffeine metabolism and all things, caffeine, among other compounds. I mean, you’ve spoken, in the videos I’ve seen at least, of the changes in openness and personality traits. Would that not be a positive thing if that is a consequence of opening Pandora’s box with —
Jordan Peterson: It depends on how neurotic you are.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Okay.
Jordan Peterson: No. I mean it technically. This is the technical discussion. Openness isn’t much fun if you’re high in neuroticism because you continually undermine yourself. Openness is creativity, but let’s not be all pollyannaish about this. There wouldn’t be variation in creativity if it wasn’t dangerous. There’s lots of people who are very low in openness, and there’s a reason for that. Now it has advantages. Open people occupy a particular niche. They’re on the edge.
Tim Ferriss: Jordan, would you mind defining openness in this particular context?
Jordan Peterson: Sure. Well, people who are open, there’s creativity, essentially. Creativity and verbal fluency together make up openness. Now it’s also associated with verbal IQ. There’s five personality traits, extraversion, it’s positive emotion, neuroticism, that’s negative emotion. Agreeableness, that’s compassion versus predatory aggression, something like that. Conscientiousness, that’s dutifulness, orderliness. And then, openness, which is intellect, interest in ideas, and creativity.
And you might think the more of that, the better, but no. That isn’t how nature works. You can undo yourself by being open. People who are open have a hard time catalyzing their identity because they’re so protean. They shift shapes constantly. They’re interested in everything. It makes it very hard for them to pursue one thing. And my observation is that if people are high in negative emotion, so they’re prone to anxiety, for example, then being open can be a curse because along — when you expose yourself to something that’s unknown, that extraversion and openness can drive you forward as a function of curiosity and engagement.
But the uncertainty, you pay a price for it physiologically. Because when you face something uncertain, like when you’re angry, your body has to prepare for anything. And that’s expensive and physiologically demanding. And so open people, they flip things upside-down all the time, and that’s dangerous. It isn’t like it’s not necessary, don’t get me wrong. It’s necessary. This chapter I made allusion to, I said, “Don’t casually criticize social institutions or creative achievement.” I picked those phrases very carefully.
We need social institutions, but they become corrupt. And so we need creative revolution, but it can get out of hand. And so there’s this constant war between the strictures of tradition and the transformation of creativity. And you can’t say who’s right, you can just talk it out. But the psilocybin, you take one dose and have a mystical experience, and you move from 50th percentile openness to 85th percentile with one dose. It’s a major neurological rewiring. It’s stunning. It’s stunning. And you could say, well that I’m sure there are things about that that are good. But Jung said, “Beware of unearned wisdom.”
Tim Ferriss: It’s a good quote. It’s a good quote. I mean, yeah.
Jordan Peterson: It is a good quote. Jung really puzzles me because it’s never clear to me how he knew the things he knew, and that’s one really good example of that.
Tim Ferriss: On the openness, just to explore this a bit further, it also seems — again, I’m not a clinician, but speaking just as someone at least involved on some level with the science —
Jordan Peterson: And as an open person.
Tim Ferriss: I try, yeah.
Jordan Peterson: Oh, there’s no doubt about it. Given what you do, you’re entrepreneurial, and you’re interested in ideas. Your cardinal personality trait, undoubtedly, is openness. And if you can manage it, it’s a great trait.
Tim Ferriss: On the one hand, you have disqualifying criteria for becoming a subject in the psilocybin studies, schizophrenia being one of them, or a family history of schizophrenia, which seems to overlap with some of what you were saying earlier, right? There are risk factors if you’re swimming closer to the bank of the river, that is chaos.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah. If you’re schizophrenic, you should stay away from amphetamines. It’s pretty obvious that the — whatever the hallucinogens do isn’t the same as schizophrenia. People think that. You can induce paranoid schizophrenia in normal people by overdosing them on amphetamines, but still, it might not be a good idea, if you have a family history, to mess around.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It seems to possibly accelerate the onset, not that they’re the same thing. Although these drugs used to be referred to as psychomimetics. But that’s since been somewhat disproven in terms of neurological correlates, just looking at fMRI scans and so on. Now, on the other hand, you have acute anxiety, in some cases, chronic, but acute anxiety in say terminal cancer patients, which Hopkins has also — is a population Hopkins has worked with. And in those cases, the shift to openness can be life-changingly positive, despite —
Jordan Peterson: Well, I don’t know if it’s the shift to openness exactly or if it’s the religious aspect of the experience.
Tim Ferriss: True. True. Absolutely. I mean, if you have ego dissolution, that can do something for a fear of death, quite aside from the openness.
Jordan Peterson: Oh, yeah. I also think that’s phenomenal research. It’s unbelievably interesting. And it’s certainly the case that — I firmly believe that the world is not the way we perceive it. It’s deeply strange. And I do believe that the hallucinogens reveal that. And I don’t think that attempts to drive them underground have been particularly fruitful. One of the consequences of the War on Drugs is now we have like 500 psychoactive chemicals instead of 20 or 30 because chemists keep chasing the laws. And so making it illegal doesn’t look like a good solution.
That doesn’t mean we have a good solution.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, 100 percent agreed. I mean, if you just look also at black market synthesis of something like MDMA, of deforestation in Cambodia, or you have chemicals being dumped at Holland, which is a real nexus for production. If you legalize and regulate, and tax that as you would any other industry, then many of those problems cease to be problems not to make it sound easy. But I agree with you, is I suppose what I’m saying. I have to ask before we go to Viktor Frankl. If you’re able to put words to it, in what ways do you think reality is deeply strange?
Can you elaborate on that in any way?
Jordan Peterson: There’s a narrative aspect to it. There’s a religious aspect to it. There’s a meaningful aspect to it that we don’t understand. We can’t understand it scientifically, or we haven’t enabled to. The scientific viewpoint excludes that to some degree. And I think the best evidence for that probably does come from hallucinogenic experience. Now, clearly, people have a biologically instantiated religious instinct. Now it’s possible that that only speaks of our peculiar biological nature, that it doesn’t reflect broader reality as such.
But if you go deep enough into the psyche, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate what you discover from reality. Now, people can clearly have individual, subjective religious experiences. Most scientific phenomena are objective. Many people have to experience the phenomenon at the same time. You have these religious experiences that can be induced by hallucinogens, let’s say. Each person has their own particular experience, but everyone has an experience that’s similar, and we don’t know what to do about that category of experience.
And then, we think in stories, and we see the world through a structure of value. I think that that has been proven beyond a doubt by neuroscientists and psychologists. And the fact that we see the world through a prism of value seems to indicate that there’s something about value that’s real. And so that’s partly why things are deeply mysterious. I mean, Rick Strassman, he terrified himself right out of the DMT research as far as I could tell, because all his subjects came back and said, “Well, I went somewhere else and saw aliens.”
He’s like, “Well, it was a dream.” “No, sorry. It wasn’t a dream. It was way more real than any dream. In fact, it was actually more real than life.” Well, what do you do about that?
Tim Ferriss: Especially when it’s every subject, or almost every subject and not one —
Jordan Peterson: Yeah. Exactly. Yeah, exactly. No one knows what to do with that. We don’t know what to do with that at all. And yeah, I mean, it’s beyond comprehension.
Tim Ferriss: It is deeply strange. One of the images that I paused on in one of your lectures online, is an older lecture I believe, was a side-by-side comparison of two drawings. Or I should say a piece of artwork of the Scandinavian tree of life and the Peruvian Amazonian tree life. And if you don’t mind taking a moment just to describe that? Or I could try to recall it. It was really striking. And then you, shortly thereafter, had a drawing your son had put together, and the overlap was really hard to wrap your head around in some respects.
Jordan Peterson: No. The drawing my son made, yeah, I have it in my office. He was about six when he made it. It’s stunning. On one side, there’s a forest full of pine trees. And then, there’s a river running down the middle. Then, on the other side, there’s a town. But the town is all mushrooms, like Amanita muscaria mushrooms, so all the houses have mushroom caps. And so, there’s order on one side and chaos on another, and the river runs between them. And then, out of the river, grows a beanstalk.
And the beanstalk stretches up to Heaven. The clouds are there, and St. Peter is there by the gates. It’s not like my son had any particular Christian religious education. He didn’t. We didn’t go to church, and I saw him draw that. And I thought, “That’s unbelievable. I can’t believe you drew that,” because it’s a shamanic drawing. It’s chaos and order. Those are the two subsets of existence. Right at the point they meet, out of the river grows the tree of life, it reaches up to Heaven.
The shaman, they climb the tree of life, then they go to Heaven. And Mircea Eliade, and people who studied the shaman, many of them thought that if the experience was drug-induced, that somehow it had been pathologized. That wasn’t part of the actual tradition, but I think that’s completely wrong. People have been using psychoactive drugs to transcend their consciousness for God only knows how long. One of the most interesting hypotheses I ever encountered, I think that was Terence McKenna.
He thought that psilocybin mushrooms and human beings coevolved. So, who knows?
Tim Ferriss: The stoned ape hypothesis. What’s furthermore interesting is that we are not the only species who seeks altered states of consciousness.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah. I have a little book about animals who seek out psychoactive experiences, flies even. That’s why Amanita muscaria is called — what is it? The fly — fly agaric.
Tim Ferriss: Fly agaric? I didn’t know that.
Jordan Peterson: Because flies will go eat it and get stoned. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Even flies. Reindeer.
Tim Ferriss: Even flies.
Jordan Peterson: Yeah, it’s very strange. It’s very, very strange.
Tim Ferriss: It is very safe to say that we do not know what to do with that. I’d like to ask you —
Jordan Peterson: Yeah. Well, we also don’t know what to do with things we don’t know what to do with. That’s the problem with opening Pandora’s box is that, if your life’s reasonably well-conceptualized, and then you have an experience that indicates to you that you just don’t know what the hell’s going on at all. It’s like, well, what do we do then?
Tim Ferriss: In fairness, this is maybe a subset of what you’re describing, but a term I was introduced to by Roland was ontological shock. And for that —
Jordan Peterson: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, for that reason, these are not compounds to be taken casually, whatsoever.
Jordan Peterson: Well, ontological shock produces post-traumatic stress disorder. There’s a whole literature on — they don’t call it ontological shock. It’s generally termed something like disruption of fundamental axioms. But it’s exactly the same idea. When one half of that is terror and the other half is awe, and that’s why trips can go bad. Because you can get the terror side of the ontological shock.
Tim Ferriss: Which is also why the therapeutic wrapper that is used by, say, Hopkins or by MAPS, who is working with the MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is so important, because these compounds can retraumatize or traumatize, if used in an irresponsible context, or even if used responsibly. Quite frankly, that risk exists.
Jordan Peterson: Right. Well, because even the safety precautions that are put in place, they can certainly decrease the probability that the trip will be negative. But that doesn’t mean they alleviate the ontological shock. They do it at the moment, so it doesn’t go astray during the trip. But there’s still the long-term sequelae to consider.
Tim Ferriss: I need to use that word more, sequelae. That is a great word. You mentioned your son was not — these are not the exact words you used, but brought up religious. You’ve also described knowledge of the stories in the Bible as “Vital to proper psychological health.” And you have a lecture series called The Psychological Significance of The Biblical Stories, so people can dive in there. But for those who have not studied the Bible, is this a study you recommend to everyone? And if so, why?
Jordan Peterson: Well, I don’t know if I would recommend anything to everyone. Our culture grew out of the Bible. It’s grounded in the Bible, for better or worse. And so, if you want to know who you are and why you think the way you think, like you think you know the way you think, you think you think. You don’t, or very rarely. Thoughts are greater than you are, in some sense. I mean, and it’s very rare that you think something that someone else hasn’t thought. I can’t remember who said it, it might have been Alfred North Whitehead, “Everyone is the unconscious proponent of some philosopher.”
So, yeah. So, now thought exists in the hierarchy value, especially in relationship to value. And the more profound the thought, the more it deals with fundamental values. And the fundamental value is one upon which many other values depend. That’s the technical definition of a hierarchy. I can give you an example. So, for example, imagine you’re in a committed relationship. And you and your wife have an arrangement to do the dishes. And it’s her turn, and she doesn’t do them.
Well, that’s a minor league ontological shock because, well, it has implications possibly for her honesty, and perhaps not, maybe she was tired that night. God only knows. But it’s a deviation from what’s expected. And generally, those things are knitted up pretty quickly. And whether or not your wife does the dishes when she’s supposed to once, really doesn’t destabilize you that much, because not much else depends on it. Now, if she did it 10 times or something like that, well then, you might start to question her commitment to your agreements. And then you might question her honesty.
And then you might question your relationship. You can go down a rabbit hole pretty quickly. But if your partner has an affair, that tends to be quite a shock, because you’ve modeled your plans for behavior, and even for perception of the world, on the assumption of fidelity. And if that assumption is demolished, then all those plans dissolve. And then, the uncertainty comes rushing in. And that’s very hard on you psychophysiologically.
Anyways, there’s a hierarchy of values. And the deeper you go, the more the values look religious, almost by definition. In fact, you could say that that’s a definition, is that the deepest values are religious. This is something I tried to impress upon Sam Harris. Now, he didn’t like the terminology religious. But to me, it doesn’t really matter, because you can replace it with, okay, deep then, have it your way. We have a word for the deepest values, and that’s religious. And so, what happens when you encounter those values?
Well, you tremble. And you might think, “Well, not me.” It’s like, well, all that means is that you’re protected to a degree you cannot possibly imagine. And one day, maybe not, maybe you’ll be lucky, and you’ll go through life without being knocked ass over teakettle, so to speak. But perhaps not. You might run into someone malevolent, for example. And then, the scales will fall from your eyes. So, anyways, the deepest values are religious. And our religious document is the Bible. And the Bible is an absolute mystery.
So, I don’t care if you’re atheistic or not. I mean, this lecture series was for everyone. And lots of people have watched it. Weirdly enough, it packed the theaters that I was lecturing in with all the bizarre things. And it’s mostly young men coming to listen to some half-baked psychologists talk about religious matters for an hour and a half. The deepest questions are religious questions, and the Bible is the best answer we have. And if you don’t like that, well, fine, do better. Good luck. I mean, there’s wisdom in that book that’s unbelievable.
That story of Cain and Abel, I have a whole lecture on Cain and Abel. That story is one paragraph long, and you can think about that for the rest of your life. It’s the first two human beings. Fratricidal murder with a genocidal twist, all packed up into a story, one paragraph long. And it’s all resentment. It’s like, Cain’s sacrifices are rejected by God. Okay, what does that mean? That’s easy. You make sacrifices to improve your future. And you do that on the basis of faith. You believe that if you conduct yourself in a certain way, fate is likely to smile upon you.
Because why else would you make the sacrifices? And sometimes that doesn’t happen. You make the sacrifices, and the reward isn’t forthcoming. And will that make you bitter? Well, in all probability. How bitter? How about bitter enough to destroy the ideal? That’s all packed into that story. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how that’s possible. I have a scientific hypothesis. As a story is transmitted across time, everything that’s superfluous gets stripped away, because it’s not memorable.
And then, all that happens after thousands of years of playing telephone is that what’s absolutely not forgettable is retained. But I don’t think that’s a comprehensive hypothesis. It’s partially true. And I think the story of Cain and Abel, when it opened itself up to me, it just knocked. I never recovered from that. I don’t think.
Tim Ferriss: When you think of stories, and you use stories, and you tell stories very effectively, when you talk about, say, Pinocchio, you use biblical stories. You’re very engaging as an interpreter and transmitter of stories. When you’re working on, say, Beyond Order, this new book, How do you think of composing your stories or your messages so that they are not lost, so that they have some durability or transmissibility?
Jordan Peterson: Mostly when I’m writing, I’m trying to figure something out. Although as I’ve written — as the period of time over which I’ve been writing has lengthened, I’m spending more time communicating the ideas and less time figuring them out. When I wrote my first book, which was Maps of Meaning, pretty much all I was doing was trying to figure something out. It was just an exercise in sustained thought. And I worked on it from 1985 to 1999, about three hours a day. And I thought about it, especially when I was in my 20s, all the time.
I was thinking about it 13 hours a day. And the ideas were just running through my mind at a rate far higher than I’m capable of now. I was trying to figure something out. I was trying to figure out — I was trying to understand malevolence, I suppose, among other things. But when I wrote the last two books, I was trying to communicate some of what I thought I had learned. A lot of it is still trying to solve a — to answer your question, when I lecture, for example, and I usually do that without notes, I have a question in mind.
It’s like, okay, well, in the biblical lectures, for example, the first one is, I think it’s about two hours long on the first sentence of Genesis. The question is, well, what does this sentence mean? And so, the lecture is an exploration of what it means. And I’m trying to think it through. And at the same time, I’m communicating that process of thinking it through. And that’s what I’m doing with my books. The books are written to me, which is why I think I’ve gotten away with giving advice.
The books aren’t really advice. — or, if they are, I’m included in the population of idiots who needs the advice. So these are things I haven’t — the last chapter is Be Grateful in Spite of Your Suffering. I’ve had real struggle with that. So although I know perfectly well that resentment, regardless of the cause, is not productive, it’s certainly understandable.
Tim Ferriss: Grabbing what you just said, and maybe going to a somewhat meta-level, I am going to shoehorn in Viktor Frankl, because I don’t want to leave that loose end for listeners. Frankl talks about the desire to finish his book as one of the sources of meaning that got him through the concentration camps. Did your book, and I don’t know the timeline for having worked on it, serve a similar purpose over the last 18 to 24 months?
Jordan Peterson: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely, it was a life raft. I was devastated when I finished it, which is a common experience with people. And it speaks to the nature of human motivation. We often think, “Well, once I get to point B, that’s where you’re headed, everything will be okay.” It’s like, no, that’s not the case at all, is that now you need a new point B. Because I don’t work at the university anymore, and I don’t have my clinical practice anymore, and so those are losses of structure for me. And I have the book to anchor myself while I was so ill. And it was invaluable — and still is, for that matter.
Tim Ferriss: I want to ask you about the title, Beyond Order. But before I get to that, I’m just planting the seed. I’d love to ask you, and this is a question that several friends of mine wanted me to ask some version of. And I would like to hear your answer. And that is, how would you recommend someone think about meaning or constructing or finding meaning, if they have reached the pinnacle of competence or a high level of competence in a certain area?
I have a friend. I won’t name him because I don’t know if he would want this public. But I asked him some version of this. And he said, “Well, at some point, you have to either find God or have kids. And having kids is easier. So I had kids.”
Jordan Peterson: Well, that speaks to what we discussed earlier. There’s many domains in which to obtain competence, you can find a new domain. But kids for sure, that’s like, look, life is quite straightforward in some ways, find a partner and stick with them. That’s hard. Try to make yourself into better people, if you can. iIt’s a challenge. Have kids, have grandkids. Thank God, I have grandkids. Thank God, I have kids. They’re of unquestionable virtue. And so, then, if you’re lucky, you have other projects. And you’re healthy enough to undertake them.
With regards to how people should search for meaning, well, it’s the first thing I do. Well, like I said, with my clients is I do a scan of their life. You mentioned it at the beginning, when you introduced me, I have a program, Self-Authoring, at selfauthoring.com that helps people with this. It helps you write an autobiography, figures out who you are. It helps you assess your personality traits, positive and negative. And then, it helps you make a plan for the future. And people have found that useful.
Tim Ferriss: Why Beyond Order? What is the genesis of that title? How did you arrive at that title?
Jordan Peterson: Well, the first book, as far as I can tell, in the world of value, so let’s think about value for a minute. If you move towards something, you value it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t move towards it. There’s an old joke about the chicken is, why did the chicken cross the road? And the answer to that is, well, he thought the other side was better. Well, that’s the case. We need a gradient of value to organize our action. And what you have to prioritize, because you can’t do everything at once, and so you do the thing that’s most important right now, now.
And that means you’re in a world of importance. And that’s a value world. And the value world, as far as I can tell, has two broad components. The Daoists talked about it as yin and yang. And broadly speaking, it’s order and chaos. And order tends to be represented with masculine symbols, and chaos tends to be represented with feminine symbols. That doesn’t mean order is male and chaos is female. And I’ve been pilloried for this, even though it’s hardly my proposition, but the idea of the patriarchy, it’s a use of masculine symbolism to represent order.
You’re in order when what you want to happen happens when you act. And so that’s reassuring because not only do you get what you want, but the fact that you get what you want indicates that your theory about how to get what you want is true. And every time you fail, you don’t get what you want. But you also undermine the validity of the theory that you’re using to organize your perceptions and your actions.
That’s partly why people don’t like to fail, because you don’t know how far back that can echo, how far down your hierarchy of presuppositions that can echo. If you’re clinically depressed, every minor failure means you’re a worthless human being. And you never know when a failure is going to demonstrate that. It can, in any case. There’s chaos and order, they are the two great domains. And you have to contend with chaos. Because too much of it overwhelms you, you drown in it. It’s the flood. And that happens when your life gets beyond you.
And you’re somewhere where no matter what you do, nothing you want happens. It’s a domain of terror and pain. Now, it’s also a domain of unlimited possibility. Because outside of what you know, is everything you don’t know. And there’s untold riches to be gathered from the domain of everything you don’t know. But that doesn’t mean, it still needs to be managed, it’s dangerous. Now the domain of order is the same way. If order becomes too extreme, then everything becomes cramped. It becomes totalitarian.
And then, that starts to pathologize. That’s the dying king. The king who’s dying for lack of the water of life is the old tyrant who can no longer see beyond his own presuppositions. And so my first book concentrated more on pathologies of chaos. And the second book, more on pathologies of order. They’re a matched set in that regard, and so far, as I was successful at doing that. The liberal types, they’re very sensitive to pathologies of order. And the conservative types are very sensitive to pathologies of chaos. But they’re both right.
It’s just there’s no final solution to that problem. You’re stuck with it. It’s an eternal existential concern. That’s why mythological language is standard across people. It’s no matter who you are, no matter when you live, you always have to deal with the fact that some things escape your competence. And no matter where you are and no matter who you are, you have to adapt to the fact of the existence of a value structure that’s shared across a social group.
It’s the fundamental. So, those are fundamental constituent elements of human experience. And we have symbols for them. And we all understand the symbols. So, for example, in Pinocchio, I’m not going to go into this because it’s too complicated. But no one balks at a puppet going to the bottom of the ocean and being swallowed by a whale. Why? It makes no sense. There’s nothing about that that makes sense. Right? It’s obviously not an empirical description of the objective world. But it’s so clearly real that a four-year-old can follow it.
It’s a mystery. The whale breathes fire in Pinocchio. It’s a dragon. And why? Why is that? Well, we face dragons forever. That’s what a human being is. It’s a creature that faces the dragon. The dragon can burn you to a crisp, but it has what you need. That’s the world. it’ll burn you up, but it has what you need. And so, then, the question is, how do you stop from getting burned up and get what you need? And the answer to that is that you mold yourself into the hero. And that’s a religious story. And you would say, “Well, is it true?”
And the answer to that is, “It depends on what you mean by true.” And that’s a weasel answer in some ways, but it’s not. It’s because it’s such a deep question that it can’t be put forth without discussing the definition of true. So, it’s as deep a question as what is true. I would say that part of the cultural war is a criticism of the motif of the hero. That’s Derrida’s phallogocentrism. Western culture is phallogocentric. I would say human culture is phallogocentric. I think Derrida was wrong about that.
It’s human culture. It’s man, so to speak, against nature. Although sometimes it’s man against culture. And sometimes it’s man against man. It’s man against nature. And we try and test the hero. And maybe that story isn’t true or isn’t correct. But that’s us. And if it isn’t correct, well then, we’re evolutionary abortion because that’s who we are. And I would say, “Well, before you throw it aside, maybe you should try it. You don’t have a better option anyways.” What does it mean to try it? Mostly, I would say, “It means two things. It means to practice love.”
And that means assume that things are valuable and act according to that assumption. And that requires truth, which is, don’t say what you know to be untrue. And when I tried to unpack the first sentence of Genesis, in the context of the broader biblical narrative, what appears to be happening is that there’s a proposition that God is guided by love and uses truth to create. It’s something like that. And maybe love is something like the wish that all being would flourish. There isn’t a better story than that.
Tim Ferriss: What effect do you hope your new book to have? I know that might seem like a lazy question, but I’m going to keep it broad. I’m just being interested to hear your thoughts. What would be a successful effect for this book? Looking back 12 months from now, 24 months from now?
Jordan Peterson: Well, it would be lovely if it had the same effect on people as the last book appeared to have. I mean, it’s comforting to me to read through my YouTube comments, oddly enough, because that isn’t generally a place people would go for comfort. Untold numbers of people have said to me in person, but publicly in that way, that they put their lives together, at least in some ways. You talked about Viktor Frankl. When I wrote Maps of Meaning, I said, “Well, I was interested in malevolence.”
I was deeply affected by the accounts I’d read of what happened in the Second World War in Germany and what happened in Soviet Union, and in China. These horror shows that characterized the 20th century. Constrained malevolence. And so, if you study malevolence, you start to understand what the opposite of that is. The opposite of malevolence is something like the hero’s journey. It’s easy to be cynical about that. But well, it’s not that easy. Because if you’re cynical about that, then you undermine your own life. And everyone knows this.
This is the other thing that’s so interesting. Everyone knows this. You never teach someone you love to lie. You’re always appalled. If you have a son or daughter, you’re always appalled if they don’t tell the truth. You know in the deepest part of your heart that if you don’t tell the truth, the world falls apart. And that’s actually true. I talked about unearned wisdom. It’s no trivial matter to understand that. Dostoevsky said everyone is responsible for everything that happens to them, and everything that happens to everyone else as well.
And that’s an insane statement. And he was a very extreme person, but it’s also true. And I think that’s part of what people get a glimpse of when they have a hallucinogenic induced religious experience. There’s a lot more rested on you than you think. And you know that. You don’t wake up in the morning, berating yourself for telling the truth. You wake up at four in the morning, berating yourself for violating your conscience. When classically, at least in some strains of Christian thinking, conscience is associated with Christ or with the Holy Spirit.
It’s the voice of God within. And I’m aware of all the criticisms of ideas like that, but it’s pretty, it’s really something that you can’t control your conscience. So, what is it exactly? It’s not you. You’re responsible to it. It holds you accountable. It transcends you. So, what is it? Well, if you think it’s nothing, well, violate it for a while and see what happens. So, I hope what I wrote in Beyond Order is true. And if it’s true, it should do some good, because what’s true does good. At least that’s the hope.
Tim Ferriss: Jordan, I think we’re running up on time. I want to be respectful of your schedule. I have sincerely enjoyed this conversation. I’m glad you exist. I’m glad you’re right. I’m very excited for you and your readers with respect to Beyond Order: 12 more rules for life. And I encourage people to check it out. Is there anything that you would like to add in terms of closing remarks, or any question to my audience, a request of my audience, anything that you would like to say?
Jordan Peterson: No. I’ve been thinking about — my book is coming out on March 2nd, and I’ve been thinking about what to do about that. And I think the most appropriate thing to do is to thank people, the people who’ve watched my lectures and listened to them, and who have bought tickets to my lectures, and who’ve bought and read my book. My family has received an unbelievable outpouring of support. It saved my life. So, I appreciate it.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you so much, Jordan.
Jordan Peterson: And thank you too. I appreciate the conversation. Onward and upward.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.