Personality Lecture 13. Existentialism: Nazi Germany and the USSR (2015) – by Jordan Peterson

Two potent totalitarian movements emerged in the 20th century: National Socialism and Communism. Both can be viewed as the consequence of existential angst and inauthenticity. Both were supported by the lie.

Two potent totalitarian movements emerged in the 20th century: National Socialism and Communism. Both can be viewed as the consequence of existential angst and inauthenticity. Both were supported by the lie.

by Jordan Peterson

Okay, so, now we are going to talk about the phenomenological, existential/phenomenological psychiatrists and their theories from the 1950s, and, as I mentioned to you before, a lot of their thinking was motivated by what had happened in World War II. When I lectured to you last, I pointed out, I described Nietzsche and Dostoevsky’s summation of the world’s situation and really the world’s psychological situation at the end of the 1800s and that was that, our new modes of thinking had undermined our faith, and our old modes of thinking –and that was a problem, because people need something to stand on and orient themselves and to move forward – so Nietzsche and Dostoevsky basically both prophesied that the consequence of that disillusion would be, increased probability of nihilism, and everything that went along with that.

And Dostoevsky wrote about that actually quite extensively in a book called Notes from Underground, which, if many of you are interested, especially in clinical psychology, this is a book you should really read, because this is one of the most brilliant psychological studies of a psychologically disturbed man that has ever been written. It is very accurate, and there are sections in Crime and Punishment that are like that too. I think they are unsurpassed in their representation of psychological phenomena.

I don’t know how he managed it – I mean, Dostoevsky was epileptic, I don’t know if you know that, but he was arrested by the Tsar’s men in late 1800s for being a student radical and they threw him in prison in Moscow, and then, one day, they took him out in front of a firing squad and shot him at 6 in the morning, but they only used blanks, which, of course, he didn’t know about. That scared him so badly, he developed epilepsy – that can happen, by the way – then he had the epilepsy for the rest of his life, but he had this strange kind of epilepsy, which actually not all that rare, sometimes when people have epilepsy they experience this phenomenon they call an aura, which is an altered state of consciousness before the epileptic seizure hits, and they can be very strange, these auras. I read a case once about a guy who, his aura was that his hand was being possessed by devils from hell and he could feel the possession move up his arm, and into his shoulder, and, once it hit his head, he’d have an epileptic seizure. So there is another case, where this man, his aura was that exact double had appeared behind him, but if he turned to look, then he would have an epileptic seizure, but if he didn’t turn to look, then he wouldn’t. These brain disorders are very strange things, because they’re, well, the system that is disordered is a lie, and is capable of any number of extraordinarily peculiar misbehaviours.

Anyways, Dostoevsky’s aura was a world revealing aura and, so, what Dostoevsky would experience was that, the meaning of things got deeper, and deeper, and deeper, and deeper, and deeper, and, then, just as he was on the verge of discovering the secret to everything, he would have an epileptic seizure. But he said that the quality of experience during the aura was so high, so overpowering, and so deep, that he would have traded all of his normal experience just to have had those experiences, and he had them repeatedly. I really do believe that it was this broadening of his vision and concept by his epilepsy that transformed him, among other things. He went through some pretty damn rough experiences because he was in prison with rapists and murderers for a long time in Siberia, even though he was kind of an aristocratic guy.

He had a rough time of it, and I imagine that that also broadened him tremendously, given that it didn’t kill him, but I really do believe that the epileptic insight was key to his unsurpassed genius, and so, his aura – and other people do experience epileptic auras, symptoms like that, by the way – and some people are so enamoured of the aura that they would not take the antiepileptic medication, because they don’t want to forgo the experience that precedes the aura, or the actual epileptic seizure. And Dostoevsky’s experiences, they all are an element of the aura, is also relevant to what we are going to talk about today, because both Binswanger and Boss were very interested in how meaning revealed itself in the world. And they had opposing explanations. I actually think they are parallel explanations, but, the meaning that Dostoevsky experienced is an amplification of the normal manner in which meaning reveals itself in the world. And people experience that sort of thing in various altered states of consciousness.

Anyways, Binswanger and Boss, they worked mostly in the 1950s, and as I said, they were very concerned with what had happened in World War II. So Dostoevsky and Nietzsche basically predicted that it was going to be nihilism, or ideological totalitarianism, and that is basically exactly what happened, by the time the 1930s appeared on the horizon, the Germans had been, they had gone through an absolutely brutal First World War. And then, they went through hyperinflation of insane proportions. So, in the 1920s, Germany underwent this partly because they had such heavy war debts to pay for World War I. The German inflation got to the point where it was literally upwards of a hundred million Marks to buy a loaf of bread. So, they were taking wheel barrels full of money to the grocery store. What happened was that their currency devalued to zero, and, that actually happens to economies more often than you might think. The thing just hits zero and that is that, and then it has to be rebooted so to speak.

So, they had been… the war was dreadful and hundreds of thousands of men were killed or brutalized. Then, their economy just absolutely fell apart. And, then, of course, at the same time – well, a little bit earlier – the revolution had taken place in Russia, right at the end of the First World War, and the communism had come to power, and the Communists were agitating all over Europe, and in North America, and their goal was to produce a Communist revolution that was worldwide and so, the Germans were all shorted out that the Communists were going to take over the country, which was a perfectly reasonable fear, and, instead of that, what happened was that Fascism rose, and was a form of state totalitarianism and I think the Germans were so desperate for order by that point. And that is what the Fascists basically offered them, at least in theory. Unfortunately, as it turned out, they offered them a little bit too much order, or maybe a lot too much order, and things went dreadfully south.

So, then, the whole world had to walk through the horrors of World War II, and it was shocking, in a variety of ways, not only because of the brutality of the warfare, but because of the genocidal actions that took place consciously by the Nazis. And those actions were in many ways very difficult to understand. I mean, here is why they are particularly difficult to understand: there were certainly times where the brutality that the Nazis employed in their eradication of their theoretical enemies, far surpassed the necessity for the mere eradication. But even worse than that, so it went past eradication into real torture, constantly, and, not only that, there are many situations in which the Nazis, especially near the end of the war, they had to decide, really, whether they were going to continue exterminating Jews and gypsies, and homosexuals, and all the people they felt didn’t fit into their culture, or whether they were going to win the war. There were decisions they had to make about the distribution of resources. If they were going to pursue the homicidal extermination, that would mean it would decrease the probability that they would win the war. And that happened a lot, especially at the end of the war, the Nazis always continuing the extermination. Now, that is pretty damn interesting, because, you can think, well, on the one hand, if they are serving a creed and the creed is world domination, then this is the extermination processes are considered a step towards the actual end point, which is the establishment of a world state, the Fascist world state, or at least, the Fascist European state, then you would think that the extermination attempts would be subordinate to that goal, if they were actually pursing the goal that they said they were pursuing.

But there is an old psychoanalytic idea, which is really worthwhile, it is like a surgical tool, and I would say, that if you were going to use it in your own life, use it carefully, because you don’t want to do unnecessary surgery. And the rule is – and I think this is a Jungian rule, but I can’t remember exactly where I read it – if you can’t understand why someone is doing something, look at the consequences of their actions, whatever those might be, and then infer the motivation from the consequences. So, if you see someone who seems to be doing nothing except making everyone around them and themselves miserable, and you can’t understand why, one of the hypotheses that you might entertain is that they are trying to make everyone around them miserable, as well as themselves. And that is actually their goal.

And it is hard for people to understand these sorts of things, because when we see phenomena like the Columbine shooters, we always assume that the reason that these people are doing these sorts of things, is for others reasons than the reasons that appear to motivate them, or even the reasons they say they are doing it, because the Columbine killers, especially the more literary one, he said exactly why he was doing what he was doing. It is as clear as it could possibly be. All you have to do is go online, and read what he said, and he tells what he was up to. But people don’t like to think that way because they don’t believe that anybody could be consciously possessed of that much malevolence without there being some other kind of cause, like he was bullied at school, or he was an outcast, and, those things were only vaguely true and certainly they weren’t more true of him than they were true of how many people in high school are bullied and somehow outcast. It must be 10%, probably more like 30.That doesn’t mean that schools are blowing up all over all the time. It is completely insufficient explanation. Anyways, for whatever reason, people turn to possession by very, very strict ideological ideas. They were willing to be possessed by those ideas to the point where they would undertake actions that you would think would be completely impossible for theoretically civilized people. It turned out that those set of actions were not only, were not impossible for civilized people, but that the people themselves, especially in Nazi Germany, they pretty much knew what the hell was going on. You don’t take several million people out of your population without rumor spreading let’s say, and so we should never forget that Hitler was elected. He was elected by a large majority too. It was a landslide vote, it was the kind that no modern democratic leader ever gets. So, although it is difficult to, it is difficult for people to swallow, it is hard not to assign culpability for what happened in Germany to the society at every strata. You can’t just dup it on the leaders and, in fact, one of the things…here’s something to think about with regards to Hitler, because one of the things you might ask is how the hell could he be so absolutely compelling to his audiences.

I will give you an explanation. Let’s make a few assumptions. The first assumption is: there are a lot of modern resentful Germans kicking around. Why? Well, they lost the First World War, that wasn’t so good, and then, there were a lot of brutal men left, because they had been in the trenches, and they had been shooting and fighting and shooting at each other under absolutely abhorrent conditions for like years, and years, and so there were plenty of utilized men around. And then there a whole damn economy collapsed because they were forced into signing what his stories regarded as a very punitive peace treaty, so like…everything had fallen apart, to a degree that we cannot even begin to imagine. So, in the 1930s, the Germans were starting to get back on their feet and when Hitler came to power, he started not only to rearm, but to re-industrialize the economy, and he was actually pretty damn good at that. Now, Hitler was a good orator, but he, it isn’t exactly clear that he was a coherent philosophical, theorizer, although to think of him as stupid is completely missing the point. He was by no means stupid. I wouldn’t say that he was particularly educated, but he had a very powerfully developed aesthetic sense, and he spent a lot of his time designing the cities that would be built after World War II was over, and those cities were generally conceptualized by him as places where the arts, or at least the Nazi version of the arts, could flourish. So, there is no real evidence that what was wrong with the Nazis was that they were civilized. There’s more evidence actually, I think, that they were too civilized. I will talk you about that later.

But anyways, you think: how did Hitler get all these people under his spell? Well, here’s a hypothesis that is basically derived from Jungian thinking. And I should let you know, by the way, because Jung has been accused of being an anti-Semite, and there is various reasons for this, partly because what happened during World War II, and partly because his theory drew heavily from Christianity, although from many other sources as well, and he did believe that there were differences in the psychology of people with different ethnicities. Now, whether that is racist or not, depends on whether or not you like the person you are talking to. Because the leftists think that there are cultural differences and they are important, but if you are talking about them in the wrong way, then, you are racist. And the right wingers, they just think there are ethnic differences to begin with. So, it’s a tricky issue. If there are differences that are important, then who the hell cares about multiculturalism? It is not even worth preserving. If there are differences, you are stuck with having to deal with the differences, so you are basically screwed either way. So, anyways, Jung has been the target of many accusations of anti-Semitism, particularly by biographers who were resentful, and clueless, and historically uninformed, and I would say malevolent, fundamentally. He worked as a CIA agent, it was just revealed last year. He provided psychological reports to the American government on an underlying psychological structure of the Nazi leaders for years. And he never told anybody about that while he was alive, it only came to light, as far as I know, last year, perhaps the year before that. So, anyways, the Germans they weren’t very happy about the whole damn situation and so when they were aggregating on mass, you think, what happens when all people get together in a group? We talked about last time when we talked about Kierkegaard’s idea that, as soon as you get a bunch of people together, no matter how truthful they are all as individuals, instantly, the crowd is not a truthful thing. There are real reasons for that, real psychological reasons.

There is the famous Asch experiment – I hope that these are the right experiments, A-S-C-H – about line length. So, you draw two lines on the board, and they are the same length, and you get the crowd to collaborate with you when you ask some poor sucker who doesn’t know about the game to play, and you ask one person, and they say “no, those lines are different in length.” And you ask another person “well, they are quite different in length.” And another person says “yeah, sure, I can see the difference in length.” And then you ask the poor pigeon “are they different in length,” and then he says “yes.” And you can understand why. If all those other people are saying it, it is either something wrong with all of them, which seems unlikely. Or he is the victim of a conspiracy, which is a little on the paranoid side, but happens to actually be true in this case. Or, he is just not looking at it right. And you might think that the humble thing to think is he is wrong. So, the fact that somebody might go along with the crowd, you can blame that on their ability to be social and conventional, which in many ways is a huge advantage, because if you were all antisocial and unconventional, there would be a good chunk of you in jail and you certainly wouldn’t be having this delightful, peaceful conversation that we are having. You don’t want to underestimate the utility of conventionality to too much of a degree.

Anyways, so, there is this funny story I read once, I don’t think it is true, but it might be, where a psychology class got together and decided they played trick on the professor. And the trick was that, he would walk back and forth, and the trick was that they wouldn’t pay any attention at him at all if he was on the left side of the room: they would talk and look up. And if he was on the right side of the room, then they would really focus in and pay attention. The story goes that, by several weeks of this little trick, they had him right lecturing right beside the door. He wouldn’t move from that spot.

The reason I am telling you that is that it is pretty obvious that people can respond to the cues that the crowd is delivering. A good speaker does a variety of things. One is they never talk to the crowd. You pick out specific individuals and talk to them, and they’re reflective of the crowd. Then you can tell if everyone understands, and the other thing that a good speaker does is pay attention to the responses of the crowd. If a lecture is really a dialogue, even though the audience is only emitting the non-verbal elements of the conversation, those non-verbal elements are important. You want to stay in touch with the non-verbal communications.

Now, Hitler, he is kind of a chaotic guy. He is very angry; he is angry in part because he is a frustrated art student. He tried to get into art school four times; so really the person to blame for World War II was the four person committee that wouldn’t let poor Hitler into the Viennese School of Art. He really wanted to go and had some artistic talent. He was a little on the conventional side by all appearances, but I’ve seen some of his sketches, and he wasn’t a complete piker. H felt maybe it was okay to go to university because he just been through World War I, and that wasn’t much fun. There is this story about Hitler where he was out in the trenches, and he was there with all these buddies, and he wandered off to do whatever he wanted to do, and when he came back they were all dead because a bomb landed in the middle of them. You think that would do something to your psyche because after an experience like that, you’re either going to think, “Oh man things are pretty random and horrible” or “there is something pretty special about me because I wasn’t killed by the bomb”. Maybe God has saved me for a higher purpose. You can be absolutely sure that if you went through an experience like that, then something like that would be rattling around in your mind. He won a medal for bravery, and after World War I, he kind of wandered around like a lot of men unemployed and like a trap. He wasn’t very happy about that. No wonder, so anyways, he didn’t get into art school. Now he didn’t really have a fully developed political theory, but he was pretty good at speaking and there were a lot of people to hear him speak because people were trying to figure out what the hell to do about all the chaos. So then you think well what was Hitler good at?

Well, now I’m going to switch to a slightly different story and get back to this one. I don’t know if you guys know about the daycare scandals that were very common in the 1980’s. It was so horribly common actually, and this infested many towns. Usually what would happen someone who was a little on the paranoid side or a lot on the paranoid side would send his or her children off to daycare. That was the new thing in the 80’s because women were moving into the workforce like mad. They were handing their infants (kids below three) to total strangers. For some of them that set off a fair bit of worry, like it still does, and sometimes that worry got out on the hand, especially those who were predisposed to paranoia and schizophrenia and maybe some had previous episodes. The kid would come home and the mother would observe something or note something particular about their behaviour and would fantasize about what that was. Was the child being touched in any particular way? She would keep this up for a good length of time. Soon the child would start having nightmares, and then the child would start to tell the mother what the nightmares were and that would freak her out so she would ask deeper questions, and soon her children were telling her that horrible things were happening to them at daycare. Then she would go to the police, and they would look into her psychiatric background. The police would start to interview other children, and if they interviewed them properly, the other children would develop other stories. How did that happen? Well, a bunch of ways. The first is the police would ask leading questions, like did anyone touch you? Well of course someone touched the kids, everyone touches kids. Did anyone touch you there? Well that’s not a question, that’s a piece of information. The piece of information is that if someone touched me there, then an adult would be really interested in that, right? What is a child doing when the child is answering the adult’s questions? What do they know? They’re three-years-old. They can hardly organize their story. If you’re talking to a kid, and you want them to give you an account of their day, you have to really guide them through the organization of their memory, and partly what they’re doing when you’re doing that is that they’re looking at you trying to figure out if they are telling you the right things which is what they should be doing because what they are trying to do is tell people things in a way that they’ll understand. This makes the child very responsive to the nonverbal and verbal cues of the adult. Think about how fast those little rats try to pick up language. It’s really fast and no one really teaches them; they’re just they’re paying attention like mad. You get a bunch of cops who are on an adventure that they think there is some serial sexual perverts in their midst. They interview 15-20 kids; they do it a lot with these little dolls, and they do it a lot. Sooner or later all the kids start having nightmares, and then start telling the cops these terrible things happened like they’re being taken down to an under cabin and take their clothes off and forced to play leap frog. You can’t believe it. It’s all documented in a book called Satan’s Silence, which was written by a social worker and a lawyer. It’s mind-boggling. The longest prison sentences in American history were handed out to a series of middle-aged women who were taken care of little kids. The FBI even came up with a whole new criminal category: Late Onset Female Sexual Offender. Why didn’t that category exist before? It’s simple; there are no late onset female sexual offenders. That’s why we didn’t need to category. Once all these accusations came up, you needed some category for these women. Some were thrown in jail for 350 years, which seems a bit excessive seeing as they’ll only last 40. They get 12 consecutive life sentences. There is actually a situation where one town went so far as to start digging underneath the town to find these underground satanic layers where all these weird rituals would be going on. Along with this was not one shred of concrete evidence. The eventual conclusions, and this affected thousands of people. The eventual conclusion was that there actually isn’t anyone whose satanically torturing children in daycare centres.

Why am I telling you this? Well, what the children were doing, if you think about it, how did they come up with these weird ideas? You should know that the children are not stupid, and they can also dream up about the most horrible things. They have an imagination that is capable of extending itself out into the terrifying. Everyone knows that because all you have to do is remember you are a kid when you were hiding under the covers because there were horrible things in your dark room. You could populate the darkness with monsters with no problem, and you should be able to because there are monsters in the darkness. Even though your parents might tell you they’re not. There might not be any monsters in that particularly piece of darkness and that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to tell your children. Darkness as a whole, that’s a different story. The children aren’t stupid. Now the adults start to question them and the back of the kid’s brain, the imaginative part what do these people want? They throw them out a little bit of information, and the adults will perk up, and they will focus on that piece of information. Maybe it’s a cop who really hates child Satanist doctors which is perfectly reasonable stance. So when the child offers any information about the existence of such a thing, the cop will perk up, and the child will say something related is occurring. Their imagination is working. How do I model the reality that’s being presented to me? That’s when the dreams start to kick in. By speaking in the appropriate way, you can get all sorts of things churned up in the unconscious minds of your listeners. By watching them as well, you can extract out their unconscious desires.

Now I am speaking to you all, and you’re all are irritated because your life has been really awful for 15 years. I’m saying this and that, and then I say something initially dismissive of Jews. You’re all mad, and there are two or three people who go “yeah”. I think that’s an interesting response, and then I lay out a couple more ideas and some don’t get any response and others people perk right up. And I am not stupid and I am trying to get the bloody attention of the crowd. And, if I do that fifty times, the crowd is going to tell me an awful lot about what they want, especially if I am willing to follow them. And I can do that easily, especially if I start to work the crowd a little bit, because I can capitalize on their emotions and the display of that emotion, and I can learn to play that, and then that turns into a positive feedback loop. And, so, Hitler is informing the audience and the audience is informing Hitler, and that is why Jung believed Hitler embodied the shadow of the German people. So, that is another reason why you should be careful what you say, why you are saying it, and why you are looking for attention, and all of those things, and naturally what is motivating you, and actually what is motivating the people who are listening to you, because God only knows where you might go if you are not careful. Actually, we do know where you go if you are not careful, and it is not pretty, that is for sure. And to think that we have learned anything from that it’s like no, that is not right. We haven’t learned a damn thing from it. So, because we don’t want to understand it. Now these guys are not concerned with that sort of that thing, they are highly concerned with it. Now, Binswanger and Boss, they both had been influenced by Freud and by Jung. You can see in the bottom right hand corner there, that is Bass with Jung, and that is Binswanger on the left, and Bass at the top there. So, they are pretty thoughtful looking guys and they were pretty damn smart, and they were quite philosophically oriented, and they had both studied Heidegger and Husserl, who were German philosophers. Heidegger actually got tangled right up in the Nazi movement, and his philosophy has been cast under a cloud of suspicion – perhaps a well-deserved cloud of suspicion – as consequence of his cooperation with the Nazis. So, it wasn’t only stupid people who got tangled up in this. It was pretty much everybody who got tangled in it. And one of the things you might think about is: if you were there, for any one of you, there is a 90% chance that you would have got tangled up in it. You wouldn’t have been a person who rescued the gypsies, forget that. Unless you think that you are heroic far beyond the average, and I would be very, very careful about assuming that, you could assume instead that you have been swapped along with the crowd, just like everyone else, because everyone else was. Part of what these guys were trying to figure out is: in some sense, there were two things. There was the function and structure of belief systems; and then, the nature of that which transcends the belief system. So, what transcends the belief system is what you don’t know if you use the beliefs, because there are things outside of your belief system and they have a nature as well. Usually, you run into those sorts of things when you make a mistake, and things don’t happen the way you want them to, or desire them to. So, and then the other problem you are trying to solve in some sense is: what is the appropriate mode of behaviour for an individual in relationship to belief systems and to the world that transcends the belief systems? And the reason they were interested in that it is because they thought “well, maybe it would be a good idea if our belief systems didn’t get so damn pathological.” Because, if they do, then, six million end up in ovens, and a hundred twenty million people end up dead in battlefields. That doesn’t count the Stalin massacres or Mao who made Hitler, in a sense look like an absolute amateur.

Stalin starved 6 million people to death in the Ukraine in the 1930s, and he was just warming up. How many of you have heard of the Ukraine famine? How many of you haven’t? Yes, well think about that, how many of you knew Mao killed a hundred million people? How many of you didn’t? You might think about why you don’t know that. You know about the damn Nazis, but you don’t know about the horrors that the Communists perpetrated. It is worth thinking about why, because the communists, especially the Maoists, those people were brutal. It is really important, of all the things that you can possibly learn psychologically from the twentieth century – and it is what these characters in the ‘50’s were concentrating on. Things can go powerfully sideways, it is a great shock to everyone because, in some sense, everyone was pretty thrilled that beginning of the 19th century that religion, classical religion beliefs, had crumbled. The Marxists said the damn religion was there to depress the poor and depressed anyways, and to keep the priests in aristocracy in power, I am sure you learned plenty of that in your classes, that sort of thinking, power, economics-related thinking and it is typically of intellectually manipulative left-wing thinkers. That is basically their routine. They reduce everything to a single damn motivation, and it is usually economics or power, then they explain everything from that perspective. It is so boneheaded, it should be illegal. The Marxists were happy that religion had collapsed because they thought that that would eliminate an entire strata of oppression. And, you can see that, it is not like the Catholic Church was free of corruption. In many ways, it is a corrupt enterprise, and you can read it as solely a corrupt enterprise. And the hell with it, it’s good that it’s corrupt. And, the Freudian basically thought the same way and so did most intellectuals. Freud thought that religion was nothing than a childish delusion that people identified with because they were afraid of dying. It was a defence against death anxiety. Look, the Marxist argument in and the Freudian argument those are bloody powerful arguments, because you can see it: do people use their religious beliefs as a defence against things they are too terrified to confront? Obviously. Does the church oppress people, did it engage in conspiracies with people in power across centuries? Obviously. The question is “well, what do you make of that?” Well, partly you make of that all sorts of structures do that. You can’t just damn one structure and think the others are going to know. It is like, the right wingers they always go on about big government, how terrible that is, and the left wing they always go on about how big corporations are terrible. Well, bank is terrible, doesn’t matter if it is government or corporations, because things tend to tilt towards corruption across time, and that has to be taken into account. So, the Freudians and the intellectuals, and the Marxists were all pretty happy when the religious streams started to come apart and they believed that the new edifices that they were going to construct: fascist and communist, would be so much better than what they replaced that everybody would be drowning in utopia. And, it is too bad this isn’t how it turned out, but it certainly is not how it turned out. How it turned out was: Sometimes, when you tear something down, even if you think it is terrible, you end up constructing something on its roots that makes the previous terrible look like the work of an amateur, and that is certainly what happened in the twentieth century. I mean, no matter what you say about the Catholic Church and its basic barbarism, especially when they were involved in the witch hunt in the Middle Ages. Those guys…they are amateurs compared to the Fascists and the Communists. They recount their victims into tens of thousands, not in hundreds of millions. So, anyways, things didn’t go so well. And, by the 1950s, especially because the Cold War started and the day that Second World War, and it ended with the atomic bomb in Japan, and the Russians had the damn atomic bomb tomorrow, fundamentally, and both the Russians and Americans had the hydrogen bombs by the early 1950s. And I don’t know if you know this: do you know that a hydrogen bomb uses an atom bond for its trigger? So, in the hydrogen bomb, the atom bomb stands in relationship to a hydrogen bomb, like the ignition cap on a shelf stands in relationship to the gunpowder. The atomic bomb blast just gets the explosion going. So, hydrogen bombs, they are like way, way more explosive than atomic bombs. So, by the middle of the 1950s, we pretty much put ourselves in the position, where they were building some mighty big bombs, I mean really, and unbelievable, unbelievably big bombs, four hundred times as big as the one that wiped out Hiroshima. Huge, huge bombs, and they get pretty damn good at it. By the mid-1950s, it was like, we developed enough fire power on both sides of the Atlantic, along with the missiles necessary to deliver them, which the Nazis had basically invented in World War II. It was all Nazi scientists to invent rockets, and they were all taken by the Americans after World War II, the work on the American space programs, basically. And, so, by the 1950s, we had the missiles deliver the damn things too.

So, not only were the psychologists who were thinking about things sort of shortened out about what happened in World War II, for good reason, and then of course all the Stalinist horrors were starting to be revealed at that point. Although it took Western intellectuals like thirty years before they gave them any credence at all. I think Jean-Paul Sartre was still a member of the Communist Party up until 1970. It was very common, particularly among French intellectuals, even though the news was getting out. Careful observers like George Orwell had pretty much figured out by the late ‘30s that not all was right in the paradise of Stalin. People thought he was a right-winger, and didn’t listen to him much, even though he was a left-winger. These existential phenomenologists, they’re trying to figure out “okay, we’ve got a big problem here: the belief systems are seriously going sideways.” There’s some indication that there’s some individual responsibility for that, of some indeterminate nature. If you live in a country where everyone has turned into a fascist murderer, is that your fault? Well, it’s not obvious that an individual should be held responsible for the action of an entire country, but then again, the country is made up of individuals so it’s a very difficult problem to solve. One of the tenets of Western law is that you don’t hold an individual responsible for the actions for the group even if he or she happens to be a member, willingly or unwillingly, of that group. But you can’t ignore the fact that all these things were made up of people, and then you also can’t ignore the fact that it was individuals who were doing the terrible things that were being done to people. In Auschwitz, for example, one of the little tricks that the guards used to do was to bring the Jews off the freight cars— a lot of them had died in the freight cars¬ because they were packed in like ‘this’, so lots of them would suffocate, or the old ones would die, or the little kids would die and that was okay. Then along the outside of the freight car, especially if it was winter, it’s 20 below and the ones on the outside would freeze but you’re going to get rid of them anyway so that was just convenient, mostly. Then, you’d take them to Auschwitz and they’d all spill out, speaking different languages, torn up from their family, as miserable as people can possibly be. One trick was to have someone who was not quite dead enough pick up a sack of wet salt, so that’s 100 lbs., and carry it from one side of the compound to the other– and then back. One side and then back. You don’t want to be thinking about these camps like a football field; these bloody things were cities. They were big: they held tens of thousands of people, and so there’s some guard and he thinks that’s a pretty good joke. It’s not just a few people who are like that. We found out from the Stanford Prison Experiment, which every psychologist likes to think of as immoral because we actually discovered something with it, that if you gave ordinary people the opportunity to be fascist barbarians, in 6 days, 30% of them would be. What we learned from that is social psychologists shouldn’t run the Stanford prison experiment. That’s not the right conclusion to draw. These phenomenologists were all concerned about this, thinking “what the hell should we do about that?”. They’re starting to think about how belief systems are constructed. The first proposition that they make is that we should treat the reality that we’re dealing with, as psychologists; we should treat human experience as that reality. The reality, for you, from a phenomenological perspective, is that everything you experience is real, and they also assume that you can’t get more real than that. Your consciousness, whatever that is, is real, and your dreams are real, and your emotions are real, and your pain is real– which is a really useful thing to think if you want to make sure that you’re not going to hurt people. You kind of have to think that maybe pain should be treated as a fundamental reality instead of as an epiphenomena of some material substrate. That’s their first perspective. They took that from Heidegger because Heidegger thought that Western philosophy had gone off on the wrong track 3000 years ago because we didn’t really concentrate on being itself as the fundamental mystery. The fundamental mystery is: why the hell is there anything? Since there is some experiential being, what are its fundamental elements? That’s the phenomenological stance; it’s not the same a scientific approach because it starts with a different presupposition. The scientific presupposition, roughly speaking, is that the objectively real elements of things are the most real elements. There’s no sense complaining about that because it’s an approach that works tremendously well for many, many things—including making hydrogen bombs, for example. But it’s also reasonable to think that it might not be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Maybe you could also suspect that the fact that we can manufacture hydrogen bombs might indicate that there’s something a trifle off with our fundamental belief systems, scientific though they may be. That was certainly something that concerned Heidegger, even though he got all tangled up with the Nazis. The phenomenologists were trying to take apart the experience as such, and they made some hypotheses, and then some observations. The first is that: we’re going to assume that your experience– that experience itself– is real. Now, just because dreams are real and pain is real, and objects that we can all perceive are real, doesn’t mean you should put them all in the same category. My dreams are not in the same category of reality as this table because you don’t have access to my dreams, and you have access to the table. But that doesn’t mean that my dreams and my pains and my emotions aren’t real. They’re real. That’s the first, and you should note that this is a proposition. What they’re saying is: let’s act as if that’s true and then work from those premises and see what happens, see where we can get with it. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do because at the bottom of a theory you always have to put an assumption. Otherwise, your theory would be one hundred percent right, and would cover everything– and it doesn’t, so you have to throw an assumption somewhere in there at the bottom and say “okay, we’re not questioning that, that’s the starting point.”. You have to do that because you’re ignorant, you don’t have a full theory. They (the phenomenologists) don’t like the idea that mind can be reduced to matter, they’re not playing that game. They’re not playing the game that the subject is only epiphenomenal and the object is real, they’re not playing that game either. It’s partly because, as Boss says, “Without a subject, nothing at all would exist to confront objects and to imagine them as such”. True, this implies that every object, everything objective, is merely objective in being merely objectivized by the subject, is the most subjective thing possible. It’s a radical claim, but here’s something to think about: when I look at that coke can, you might say I perceive the object and then make inferences about its use, and then I evaluate it and then I use it. That is not actually what you do. In fact, it’s not obvious at all that what you perceive are objects. If you think about it, people weren’t perceiving scientific objects until about 1500, 1450 A.D. There was no “objective object” before then. Obviously whatever we were perceiving was not precisely that because we would have been scientists right off the bat. George Kelly claimed that people were natural scientists, that we’re always investigating hypotheses and trying to disprove them and so on. It’s an interesting theory and it’s right in a sense but fundamentally, it’s wrong. We are not natural scientists, we’re natural engineers. When we look at the world, we don’t see objects and then infer their use, what we actually see is the use. For example, when I look at that coke can my visual system activates my motor cortex directly. It can do that without me seeing the damn can consciously– to some degree. There are people with blind sight, I’ve told you about those people, they say they can’t see but if you ask them which have you have held up they can tell you. They might not be able to see, but they can map patterns from their visual system onto their motor output. That’s basically what Piaget said we do when we deal with the world. We’re embodied creatures, so what we see when we look around aren’t “objects”, they’re things we can use and things that get in our way. That’s a theory that was derived originally from J.J. Gibson, who wrote a great book on that called The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, and his science was a brand of pragmatism. Pragmatists basically claim that things including theories and perceptions have a limited range of truth, and the limited range of truth is determined by the match between your actions and the outcomes.

So, I think this is a Coke can. Is that what it is? No, but it’s good enough for me if I want to drink a bit of coke out of it. God only knows what it is. If you go into Communist China and you start advertising these things, then what are they? This thing tells a story– what’s the story? Really, do you need Coca Cola? No. It’s a bit of frippery; it’s an unnecessary luxury. It’s not even very good for you, but it’s kind of fuzzy, and it’s sweet, and you get to buy it. Why is that? No matter how stupid you are in your nutrition choices, as far as our society goes, you have the right to poison yourself in whatever way you think best befits you. And so, when you send this little coke can off to communist China, this thing screams stupid individuality all over. And God only knows how it undermines the state. And if you are not thinking about that, you are not thinking. Think about what happens when we export cars. What does a car say? it says “hey, you can go wherever you want whenever you want, you don’t need to tell anybody at all, and you can do it in a really dangerous, high speed manner.” It is like, you want a political statement, wrap it up in metal and ship that thing off, and everybody goes like “I would really like to get one of those.” And, puff, communism disappears with that. There is nothing that says individuality and capitalism like a personal automobile. You even get to pollute the atmosphere and ruin the planet with the damn thing, but if you have to drive to the corner store and pick up your damn coke, the hell with the atmosphere. So don’t be thinking that what appears in front of you are only objects, because they are not. I started thinking about this for example when I was thinking people going down Graceland to look at Elvis’ guitar. You think: what exactly is that it makes a guitar Elvis’ guitar? It is not exactly the guitar, because it is just sitting there, like any object does, and maybe you could be able to think about it. You could take that guitar out and put a guitar just like it, and it would still be Elvis’ guitar because they wouldn’t know. So you might think that this is not really Elvis’ guitar. That is a funny thing because you would only think that if you thought that Elvis’ guitar was the thing that was made out of material that was sitting right in front of you. And that isn’t what it is. That is only one tiny little bit of it. That bloody thing is a part of an incredibly layered reality. I mean, the people who want to go look at that, they are looking at it in some sense because of the magic that is emanating from it, but the magic is actually real. The magic is the effect of that guitar, let’s say, on the entire culture. And those effects are the damn guitar too. And it is weird, because when you go look at Elvis’ guitar, you are not looking at the guitar, you are looking at the magic. And, weirdly enough, the magic is actually real. Well, you can’t think that way if you are a materialist, because you think the thing is the material, it’s like “yeah, right.”

I can tell you another story: When the Americans and Europeans came to the South Pacific Islands, the South Pacific Islanders, because there weren’t that many of them, they didn’t have a highly technical society. So, if you were like Joe, dominant guy, in the Pacific Island culture, you might be able to have stone ax, la well-made stone ax. Go make a stone ax, and see how long that takes you, that is a bit of work. So, if you are a high status guy, if you really worked your whole life to be at the top of the pyramid, you maybe get two axes, it is like a red letter day. You’ve got two axes, which is more than any other animal has, by a lot. So, it is not trivial. And then, the damn missionaries come in, and they set up a shop, and what do they bring? Steel axes. That’s kind of a downer, you have worked your whole damn life to get these stone axes, and that makes you head tribesman, and then your kid goes down to the local missionaries, and they say “we have an extra steel ax here, why don’t you take that back home”? And it is so shocking, because not only did the missionaries have this thing that was so much better than the steel ax, it is like a jet plane compared to a wheel cart, like they are really, really different. But the missionaries, they don’t even notice, that is the horrible thing about t. They give away this thing that virtually has this infinite value, because it is okay, we have a couple of those in the store room, we are just willing to hand them out. It is a little demoralizing. It is a little demoralizing for the Pacific Islanders. And, so, what, was it an ax that missionaries gave away? It wasn’t. You’d think that if you were a Westerner and you’d have a bunch of axes, you would think “yeah, right.” It is a lot more than an ax, a lot more. It is a weapon that can bring down a whole culture accidentally. One of the things that the phenomenologists claim, this is a cool claim, I didn’t know they claimed this. It took me quite a long time to figure this out, because I thought I figured it out on my own, but it turns out that it is very difficult to figure out anything on your own. So, when I was doing my investigation about how the brain works from a neuropsychological perspective, and that was informed a lot by Jeffrey Gray, who we are going to talk about later, one of the things I noticed was that you don’t actually see things when you first see something. In fact, when you first see something, you don’t even see it, you react to it. You react to it with your body. So, I can give you an example. So, here you have a partner and you have a trusting relationship, and then you find out that, they tell you or you figure out from their phone or something, they are having an affair. And you look at them, and you think: what do you see? No, you don’t, you do not see the person, that is wrong. What you see is a huge pit that you are going to fall into, and you don’t even know you see it, but your body knows, as if your blood pressure goes through the roof and your heart starts pounding and you sweat. And the reason for that is: your body sees what you can’t see and what it sees is something that you can seriously not understand, it does not understand it. It sees the territory behind the map, because, when I look at you, for all intensive purposes, really what I am looking at is my presuppositions about you and because you are polite and well-behaved, you are gracious enough to act in accordance with those presuppositions, so I don’t even really have to look at you, and thank you very much for that. Because it is very difficult to look at people, because they are horrifying and profound creatures. And so everyone walks around behaving so we don’t terrify the hell out of each other all the time. Now, when someone betrays you, it is like poof, presuppositions gone. Okay, what is there? God only knows. And that is what your body reacts to. And that is partly why the phenomenologists said that we react to meaning first, we don’t react to objects. It takes a long time to see the damn object. So, for example, let’s say that this person has betrayed you. Now, you think you knew who they were, and you thought you knew who you were. Guess what, you are wrong! You don’t know who they are, and, because you are such a moron, it means you don’t know who you are and that you can’t trust any memories with that person, and maybe none of your memories in any intimate relationships at all. Plus, what about the future? Well, so, when you look at the person, what do you see? You see all that, like chaos. That is what you see. And that chaos is the meaning behind your presuppositions and that is why the phenomenologists would say: meaning shines forth. And that is the primary thing we encounter. It is like: that is smart. And you know what is really weird? That is how your damn brain is organized. And that is weird because you, let’s think about it: how do you define reality? Now, that is a tough one. I would say most of you define reality like you are Isaac Newton. Or maybe you are like Democrates, who was the first person who hypothesized atoms. And so, in a Newtonian world, it is like a billiard ball, everything is made out of billiard balls and they bang together in a causal way and you can predict the consequences of their banging together, and, if you extend it enough, you can conjure up an entirely deterministic world. A happens, causes B, B causes C, always the same way, and everything runs like a giant clock. That is Newton’s model. And it was a clock model, because, back at that time, clocks, those things were pretty damn impressive. Clocks got the whole industrial revolution on their way, and medieval cities were put an awful lot time and work into their clocks and they thought those damn things were really cool. They could keep track of where the planets were moving. That is a big deal, a clock, and if you want to think about an invention that changed the world, it is like, the clock is a big one. Now, we can measure time. In the same way, everyone can measure time. It is a big deal, so the idea that the universe is like a clock, given that the clock can predict the universe, it is a pretty damn powerful idea. It turns out that it is wrong, because, causality is a mess, no one really understands it, and there are levels of analysis at which causality, in the way we experience it, doesn’t seem to apply at all. You go down to the subatomic level, it is probabilistic, you can’t predict single events and I don’t believe that you can predict the future. You can predict parts of the future in an extremely limited way, for some purposes, for some span of time, and you can’t even predict how long that span of time is going to last. And some things seem to be more stable, across more situations, and across more times than others, but they are still…there is instability everywhere, it makes the predicting thing a very difficult thing to do. So, that is one idea about reality, that is the idea really that you have, and that is the reality that you have been educated to have. The idea of reality that you have been educated to have. Even though we know it’s wrong, Einstein blew that world up in the early 1900s, along with the various people that Einstein depended on. That’s gone, it’s wrong, and then there are all sorts of other extremely complicated problems like how to model positive feedback loops, that sort of gets you into chaos theory, and it’s really hard to model positive feedback loops. They can go wild in 50 different ways you can’t really and predict them as they depend on initial conditions. So, the deterministic world is like no, that’s wrong. I think part of the reason we have to have free-will is because we can’t act deterministically. A deterministic system is only going to work in a system that stays the same. So, you can wind up a little clock, one of the little clockwork toys and it’ll walk. But if you put a cliff in front of it, it just walks off the cliff. So when cliffs are appearing in front of us randomly all the time, I can’t even see how a deterministic system could possibly work to guide us. It would assume that our knowledge, the knowledge that we derive from the past is sufficiently accurate to causally guide us into the future. It’s like no, that’s not right; it doesn’t, so maybe that’s why we have consciousness. No one knows that that’s a good theory if there’s a why. Anyways, here’s an alternative, this is a Darwinian alternative, so the alternative is that the world’s a complex and dynamic place. It’s full of weird things. Basically it is made up of patterns and patterns and patterns, that’s what it is, and they shift and dance around. Then you throw something that’s alive in to that. It’s programmed by DNA and it has to keep up with patterns and they’re changing all the time. Some of them are kind of stable but they’re pretty fluid. Then you throw the DNA in there and it produces a million variants of whatever it is going to produce. Most of them are wrong. You’re a mosquito and you lay a million eggs. So, that’s a million bets about how the future will causally unfold and the bet is the future’s going to unfold so this egg can turn into a mosquito. Then you might say, how often is the mosquito that lays the eggs wrong? The answer to that is if it lays a million eggs in its lifetime, I don’t know how many eggs mosquitoes lay but they lay a lot, all of those eggs are going to die except one if the mosquito is lucky. You know that because we are not knee deep in mosquitoes. If it wasn’t the case, there would be mosquitoes everywhere, but there aren’t thankfully. So, basically what’s the bet? The bet is that mosquitoes match their environment. The answer is wrong except once in a million. So how do you overcome that? Million mosquitoes, million eggs and it’ll do the trick. It means that the fundamental hypothesis that the mosquito structure matches the structure of reality is wrong at a one in a million, a 999 999 level of error. You might just think that’s just completely wrong, but it keeps the mosquitoes going. So then, this propagates across time, and what really propagates across time is really a massive wave of death. Virtually everything fails, 99.9% of the species that ever lived are extinct. We are doing a fair good job of making sure that a good chunk of the ones that exist now are going to go extinct. Failure and death is the norm and it’s going to happen to all of you. So if the underlying structure of reality is mutable, which it is and the only way that you can adapt to it is by generating variance and having most of them perish, except for the ones that manage more or less by chance to keep up how do you define real. A Darwinist would say, as well as a Pragmatist, you embody real to the best degree that real can be attained. It’s not very good. Your real is good enough for about 80 years. They say that it’s as real as it gets. Reality is so complicated, this multilayered pattern array that you can’t even model without using death as the mechanism. You can’t do it and even if you do use death, it is almost all death. Even for the parts that aren’t all death which is hardly any of it, the solution isn’t that good. You are going to wear out in 80 years and you’ve got 3 billion years of trying behind you and that’s the best you can do. Maybe if you’re a parrot, you can get 150 and apparently there’s an immortal jellyfish, figures it wold be a jellyfish that would be immortal. So, there’s a whole different way about thinking about real. Neches said life is truth, truth serves life, and that’s a Darwinian idea. Although he didn’t take it from Darwin, there isn’t anything truer than what evolution reveals as the model for reality. That’s as true as it gets for us. That’s not a Newtonian reality. It’s a multilevel, patterned, chaotic reality that we’re trying to keep up with. So what that might mean is that the implications for actions that I derive from that phenomenon might be more indicative of what it is than an objective analysis because your truth, the degree to which you embody truth, is so far as it can be determined with a Darwinian framework is entirely measured by your success in living and propagating. That’s it and there isn’t anything under that. Maybe there is but if you’re a Darwinian that’s it. I think Darwin is right all things considered and newton is wrong plus we also know that Newton is wrong. The whole Darwinian thing is more complicated than we thought because, you know what epigenetics are? How many of you know about that? That’s pretty good, so your biological education demolishes your historical education. How many people don’t know what epigenetics is? It’s okay as it is relatively new. Anyways, it turns out that your parent’s experience can alter their genetic structure in such a way that it alters your genetic structure. That’s something we didn’t expect, that’s for sure. Nobody knows what the final consequence of that will be but it looks like there’s more to the evolutionary story than near random production and natural selection. There’s more to it than that, who know how much. So, when the phenomenologists say we react to meaning first, that opens a question, is the meaning real? And that opens up another question, which is what do you mean by real and that opens another question, is it Newton real or Darwin real? Well Newton is wrong, so that leaves Darwin and Darwin real, that’s about as real as it gets. If a partial entity is trying to model a complex totality, all they are ever going to be able to do is embody a partial representation of that and it’s not going to be that good but it’s going to be as good as they can get, as that’s as true as it can get. So the phenomenologists, they have this weird idea that we perceive meaning. Guess what, that’s how you brain is set up. You first perceive meaning, and then with a lot of work you turn that into an object perception. God only knows how much exploration you have to do before you do that. How long do you think it takes a child to handle its soother before it builds up an accurate representation of the soother? It is going to be chewing on that thing like mad, taking it out, checking it out, turning it around and banging it against things. It has to do all that including the tactile interactions. The experimentation with the thing across situations establishes object permanence. It has to do all that before it can see the thing. Early eye researchers who were under the influence of behaviourists basically said that the object is given so they can treat the brain like it doesn’t exist. The object is just there and you can just see the world. Well that turned out to be seriously wrong. It is difficult to get a computer to see the world. It turns out you have to put them inside bodies before they could really do it because you really can’t perceive the world without a body. Perception is for bodily action. Without the framework within which, really what you’re doing is a Piagetian idea. This is a pattern; this thing and the pattern exist at multiple levels including the advertising level, your memories of coke and all the jingles you know. But this, when I look at that, I map its pattern onto my retina and the pattern is a pattern because it’s extending across time. It’s not like smoke which is dissipating. It’s staying there across time. I map that onto my retina and then the retina matches it onto my hand. That’s the coke can. The coke can is all of this. And you might say that’s not what it is because it is made of aluminum. “Yeah, yeah it’s made out of aluminum”, but that is only one part of what it is and it’s not necessarily even the most important part. That’s only one part of what it is. And it’s not necessarily even the most important part because it could be made out of plastic and what difference would that make? It’s pretty weird when you start to think about it. People make the claim that meaning is epiphenomenal, as if there is no real meaning and the universe is this dead thing, and if we all went instinct tomorrow, there would just be a bunch of meaningless marbles rotating in space. First of all, even this is not true because we cannot know what is out there if there is nothing to perceive it. The physicists tell us it is more like vast potential fluctuating quantum fields and maybe it doesn’t even turn into stars and planets until there is someone to look at it. You may think that’s ridiculous but if you think about it for a while, you’ll see that there’s really something to it. You are the thing that specifies the level of analysis. With the way you look at the world, you don’t see the atoms, you don’t see the sub-atomic particles, and you don’t see the little rocks. You see planet-sized things when you look out into space, and you see it at a particular slice of time. Maybe your refresh rate is something like 60 hertz, so what you see is the universe sliced into 60-hert-slices and you think that’s real. But so is all the rest of it, including its huge expansive time, from beginning to end. You don’t see any of that, but it’s there. All those things are there at the same time. What does all that add up to? The physicists seem to tell us it adds up to a pool of quantum potential that isn’t realized until there is something conscious that interacts with it. Now, you’ve got your meaning shining forth like math and part of the reason children are so attractive is because for them, the meaning is just shining at them like math. That’s why they are always wandering around like this [looks around in wonder]. It’s really fun to watch kids because they give you a taste of that again. Kids have to pay you so you don’t throw them out the window. They’re very annoying; they’re always crying, they’re completely useless, they just lay there and don’t do anything, and they wake you up at three in the morning to annoy you. Because you’re selfish and mean, you need something in return. So they smile at you. But they do other things as well. They’re really [x6] comical so they’re a blast to watch and play with. But one of the things they really do is they remove the blinders from you while you’re around them. You go out in a forest with a two and a half year old and it’s very annoying. The bloody thing just wanders around randomly. You’ve got no goal direction. Nothing goal-directed is going to happen with a two and a half year old, but that’s kind of cool because it frees your mind from your goal-directed narrowness. You can watch the two year old look at all these things that you haven’t looked at for twenty years because you’ve already looked at them once and you just have to see your memory. And then you think “wow that really is cool”. They’ll bring you something and they’ll tell you it’s cool. Maybe it’s a shiny piece of aluminum or gum wrapper. You think it’s a gum wrapper because that’s what you see when you look at it; you’ve already built a gum wrapper representation and you just lay this on that. That isn’t what the kid sees. God only knows what they’re looking at. Maybe how the light reflects off the aluminum prismatically and how it glitters, or how cool it is that it can be folded up and how light it is. They are looking at it like this [makes wide-eyed expression], and I think it’s because their cortex isn’t very well developed and they haven’t built the inhibitory structures that stop them from seeing meaning shining forth. You might think “is there any evidence for that?” There actually is quite a bit of evidence for that. One piece of evidence is that if you take a cat’s brain out and you leave it with just a hypothalamus and a spinal cord, it is hyper-exploratory; it runs around like everything is interesting. It is weird behaviour for a thing that doesn’t have a brain. You would think that once you don’t have a brain, nothing would be interesting. It depends on how much of your brain you have. There are people who have experienced that. There was a famous case of a conductor who had a very serious brain injury. It basically blew out his hippocampus so he could not put any more information from short-term attention to long-term storage. He wrote these articles, these massive multi-page-long journals. All he would write is “it’s as if I’m seeing everything for the first time”, over and over. He was wandering around in a constant state of awe. His wife would come to visit him. He couldn’t remember any of the things that had happened to him. He would be blown out of the water to see her because he didn’t see his memories. He would say “it’s just like I’m seeing you for the first time”. And he was; he was seeing her for the first time. The access to the inhibitory structures that were directing his attention was gone. He was an interesting case because now and then, he would sit down to play the piano. He’d have an epileptic seizure and then he could play just like he used to play. It was as if he had to switch brain modes and the mechanism for switching was damage. He would have to have a little seizure and then he could lay out these Beethoven Sonatas like a mad dog. At the end, he would have a little seizure and come back to “it’s as if I’m seeing everything for the first time”. I think part of the reason psychedelic drugs proved so attractive to people in the 60s and to people since the beginning of time is because in some sense, that is what they do. With a poof, your memory representations are gone. Now what are you seeing? God only knows, but it is not what you expect. And perhaps it is what’s there, but maybe not. I’m going to sum this up a little bit. What do you think drives people to extreme forms of pathology? This may be your pathology: your misery, your suffering, and all that. Or it may be your social psychopathology, which is your murderous desire to exterminate. Here is a phenomenological theory. The terror management theory is that you must build these structures in your head to get yourself away from death anxiety, so really what the terror management people are saying is that the blinder you are, the better off you are. That’s what the positive illusion people think too. The phenomenologists were going at this from another direction. They were saying that the meaning that constantly reveals itself is nourishing and revitalizing, although it’s so powerful that it can just blow you apart. It is a dangerous thing to be messing with. It’s like the burning bush. You have to build this structure in order to be able to cope with that because you have to minimize it to what you can handle. But you need to build this structure properly and carefully so that the meaning that reveals itself can be shaped by you into a world, conceptual and practical, that allows the remaining meaning to shine through in a way that you find sufficiently revitalizing so that you don’t become corrupt enough to become genocidal. That’s a good theory and that’s what the phenomenologists were on about. That’s part of the reason why the existentialists and the phenomenologists both say “don’t deceive yourself about what manifests itself to you. Don’t use language instrumentally”. Why? Because if you do that and twist up the structures that you are using to interpret the world through, the world will twist up on you and all that will be revealed is its horror. And if horror is all that is always being revealed to you, you will not stay good because you cannot endure that sort of pressure. You will get bitter and resentful. Everything will fall apart around you because you’re not actually modeling the reality in a way in which positive meaning can shine through. You will fail and become resentful. And you will become bitter. Then you’ll be looking for someone to hurt and you’ll have plenty of justification for it. And worse, and this is Jungian contribution to this idea, this won’t happen all at once, it’ll happen as a consequence of a hundred thousand micro-decisions that you hardly even notice, where you can be truthful about something or not in this tiny way that hardly even seems to matter. But the consequence of iterating that across time, say three hundred decisions, is that you can build yourself into the sort of monster that you would never want to see in the mirror. And one of the things the phenomenologists would also tell you, and this is something Jung said as well, is “that is the sort of monster that you probably are”. If you want to deal with that, you have to start taking things seriously. There are two things you have to take seriously. One is the meaning that reveals itself to you and the other is the stance of truth that you adopt while you’re interacting with that meaning. The final consequence of that would be that your health, the health of your family and your society, and the health of the entire society at large pivots on that. The way the world moves is the sum total of the decisions that all of us are making, all those little micro-decisions. Those things echo like ripples in a pond so when you do some little crooked thing that you know you should not be doing, you are actually warping the entire structure of reality. And what’s really interesting about that is now we know what happens when you do that. What happens is we end up with the Nazis and the communists and the hydrogen bombs. And we haven’t escaped from that yet. Hopefully we will, but we won’t if people don’t learn what the 20th century had to teach them.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read More

The Rise Of Jordan Peterson

The Rise Of Jordan Peterson (2019) – Transcript

A rare, intimate glimpse into the life and mind of Jordan Peterson, the academic and best-selling author who captured the world’s attention with his criticisms of political correctness and his life-changing philosophy on discovering personal meaning. Christened as the most influential public intellectual in the western world, University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson skyrocketed to fame after he published a controversial viral video series entitled “Professor Against Political Correctness” in 2016. Within 2 years, he sold over 3 million copies of his self-help book, 12 RULES FOR LIFE, and became simultaneously branded by some as an academic rockstar selling out theatres around the world, and by others as a dangerous threat to progressive society. THE RISE OF JORDAN PETERSON intimately traces the transformative period of Peterson’s life while visiting rare moments with his family, friends and foes who share their own versions of the Jordan Peterson story.

Weekly Magazine

Get the best articles once a week directly to your inbox!