Personality and its Transformation by Jordan Peterson Summary

Jordan Peterson covers Freud, Jung, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Piaget, Becker, Solzhenitsyn, and the Big 5 personality traits in this lecture series.

Personality and its Transformation by Jordan Peterson Summary
Jonah and the Whale (1621) by Pieter Lastman

Key Takeaways

Career Success

Top 5 predictors of career success:

  1. IQ
  2. The Big 5 personality traits (conscientiousness)
  3. Social network
  4. Skills
  5. Interest
  • Keys to success: Intelligence (IQ) and conscientiousness (industriousness, more specifically) are the best predictors of career success. Computers are an intelligence and conscientiousness multiplier. If you have a high IQ, are conscientious, know how to use a computer, and are around other smart people (like in Silicon Valley), you have an extremely high probability of success.
  • The average person working 13% more (45 hours vs 40 hours a week) earns 44% more pay. Not at the same job, usually – the willingness to work more hours helps land jobs that pay more per hour.
  • IQ cannot be increased. Conscientiousness can be increased by setting worthwhile goals and developing habits.
  • Physical exercise is the only known way to prevent an age-related decrease in IQ.
  • Following the social norms is the “rescuing your father from the belly of the whale” myth. Go to college, get a job, and get into an intimate relationship.
  • Going out and “networking” is a waste of time. Instead, become genuine friends with competent people. As you get older, you’ll all be in high positions and you’ll have a powerful network.
  • Learn skills: coding, writing, reading, public speaking, social skills, networking, and negotiating.

Clinical Psychology and Self-Improvement

  • In clinical psychology and in life, you’re trying to figure out how to live properly (without mental illness). Clinical psychologists should study philosophy.
  • Almost without exception, people in therapy have a problem in their life that causes a psychological problem, rather than a psychological problem that causes problems in their life.
  • What you’re trying to do when you see a therapist is get your life together. You're not necessarily trying to fix the mental disorder itself. Getting your life together will (often) fix the mental disorder. It’s not like someone with an anxiety disorder has a perfectly formed life. Usually, if you’re anxious or depressed your work life and relationships aren’t going very well. If someone’s life is perfectly formed and they’re still depressed (which is rare), something has gone wrong biochemically and they can usually take an SSRI to fix it.
  • A person needs to be doing well in health, knowledge, relationships, and wealth to psychologically thrive.
  • As a clinician, you need to be able to make the distinction between (1) a mental illness, (2) an acute mental illness, (3) an environmental problem, and (4) a physical health problem. Examples: An acute problem could be someone losing their job—they may show signs of depression but it’s not necessarily a mental illness, there are real consequences to losing your job, temporary sadness is normal. The person who lost their job should (ideally) read, learn some skills, and get a better job. An environmental problem could be that a person’s family member is causing them sadness. A person with an external problem should try to remove the problem or get away from it.
  • As a clinician, you want to know if a person has friends and a job. Are they as educated as they should be? What is their relationship with drugs and alcohol? What is their romantic relationship status and history? It’s a lot more stressful to be alone.
  • What to do in therapy: go through your life history from newborn to today in novelistic detail. Have the therapist keep you on track and ask to go deeper when necessary. Then ask the therapist what you seem to be afraid of and what you’re avoiding. Then they’ll help you break the fear down into smaller pieces and devise a strategy for approaching and mastering the problem step by step.
  • Exposure to the things that you don’t want to be exposed to is curative if it’s voluntary.
  • Writing about emotional events in detail helps you overcome them. You need to think through what went wrong. How did you get into a situation where something bad could happen? How can you make sure not to be in that situation again? It might be that you were in a bad situation because you were 4 and there was nothing you could do. If that’s the case, you need to update your mental models and understand that you’re not in that vulnerable position anymore.
  • The reason you have memory is not so that you can accurately remember the past. It's so that you can use the information of the past to prepare yourself for the future. Your mind won't leave you alone unless you know what happened and how to stop it in the future. So if you encountered something negative and don't know what to do if it happens again, it will stay with you. It (likely) increases your overall physiological load. Your brain keeps track of your success/failure ratio. The lower it is, the more anxious a person will be.
  • Resentment can tell you 2 things: (1) That you have a victim mentality and you need to grow up and accept responsibility or (2) that someone is actually oppressing, bullying, and demeaning you and you should have said or done something earlier.
  • When someone’s talking to you about a problem, don’t try to give them a solution. Just listen and then ask them, “What could you do about it?”
  • Rephrase what the speaker said and explain the emotions of the speaker after they have spoken. Keep doing that until the speaker agrees that you accurately represented them.
  • Always steel-man other people’s arguments.

Philosophy and Human Nature

  • The people you choose to admire are indicative of your personality. You wouldn’t admire them unless they accomplished something that you value. Ask people who their idols are. Ask people what their favorite books are. What are their 5 closest friends like? What is their family like? That’s how you find out about someone. This works for getting to know potential romantic partners, business partners, employees, etc.
  • It’s morally wrong to be weak. Weak people are nice by necessity, not by choice. It’s morally good to be powerful enough to cause harm but to choose not to.
  • The environment changes, so different temperaments are correct at different times. Sometimes we need change and liberals would be correct. And sometimes we need things to stay the same and conservatives would be correct. That’s why free speech is essential. The only way to figure out who is right at a particular time is to discuss it openly.
  • Dreams seem to help you sort out your thoughts. If you keep people awake for an extended period of time, they lose their minds. Sleep is essential for mental health. Dreams might help you forget. They help you compress information and discard useless information. They also help you better remember important things.
  • Everything good that Freud put forward is so entrenched in our culture now that we think it’s self-evident. So people only tend to see Freud for his mistakes.
  • The mind, according to Freud, has 3 parts. The id, ego, and super-ego. The id is in the unconscious level. The ego is in the conscious level. The super ego is on all levels of consciousness.
The Freudian Mind
  • The Freudian id is the dark characteristics of people: sexual desire, anger, and anxiety. It's similar to the Jungian shadow. They need to be integrated into the person’s personality—not masked or repressed.
  • The Freudian super-ego is the part of you that has guilt and shame. It comes from the judgmental eye of society and the State. It often causes you to repress the id (especially if you had a particularly tyrannical parent).
  • The Freudian ego is “you.” When you think of the conscious self, that’s the ego.
  • The Jungian shadow: we all have a dark side to us. We have dark desires and an evil side of us. Every person is good and evil; there aren’t good people and bad people. Read about Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany—realize that you would most likely be one of the guards, you wouldn’t be a savior or a hero or a vigilante.
  • People’s faces change when they’ve integrated their shadow. They look less wide-eyed and more aggressive and mature. Becoming more disagreeable is an essential part of shadow integration.
The Jungian Mind
  • If someone is far down in the depths of chaos (extreme victim mentality, psychological disorders, etc.) stay away from them. You cannot fix them. They will drag you down with them. If you’re not a mechanical engineer, you don’t just walk up to a broken helicopter and start trying to fix it. A broken person is probably 10000x more difficult to fix.
  • Trouble and suffering are inherent aspects of life. Chaos, anxiety, pain, disease can enter your life without there being something uniquely wrong about you.
  • Freud thought that if someone grew up without childhood trauma then they would grow up into a mentally healthy individual.
  • The existentialists thought that there was inherent trauma in life, so nobody could be fully mentally healthy.
  • A fair bit of misery is the norm. It’s not unique to any individual.
  • Given that there is inherent suffering in life, what should you do about it? Definitely not give in to it, or try to mask it with pleasure, or try to multiply it. You should try to reduce suffering in yourself and for others.
  • Thrownness (coined by Heidegger): you were randomly placed at a moment in time. Why was I born poor? Why was I born unattractive? Why was a born to abusive parents? There is no answer. It’s random. But that’s how it is, so you have to deal with it.
  • Terror management theory: humans have belief systems (like religion) that are used to mitigate death anxiety. Delusion, when used appropriately, can be helpful. This idea comes from Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death.
  • Peterson thinks that Becker's idea of death denial is not deep enough. It should be the terror of isolated being.
  • Nietzsche: There are a variety of interpretations to distress. What seemed like a bad childhood to you, for example, may have seemed like a good childhood to someone else.
  • We are in the least corrupt and most prosperous era in history. Why are you still unsatisfied?
  • There are 2 ways to respond to trauma. Example: (1) Being bullied caused me to be a bully. (2) Being bullied caused me to never be a bully.
  • What makes you think that having everything you asked for would satisfy you? Why do you think it would make you happy? What if you have to have limits to be happy? What if insecurity and vulnerability is what you need—what if they give life meaning.
  • You can tell when someone is ideologically possessed because you can predict everything they’re going to say. Once you know the algorithmic substructure of their ideology, which is usually predicated on about 5 or 6 axioms, you can generate exactly what they will say. It allows them to remove the responsibility of thinking. It allows them to believe that they understand the world and that they have the knowledge to distinguish between the good and the evil—that’s where the danger comes from.
  • What would happen if you stopped wasting the opportunities that are in front of you?
  • If you get your life together, you don’t just change your own fate—you also change the fate of everyone in your network.
  • You can live with no responsibility whatsoever and the price you pay is that nothing matters. Or you can take responsibility for everything and then everything matters.
  • Some percentage of people would choose the former. Especially because they get the attention that comes from being a “victim.” Those people make the world worse—they increase suffering.
  • “Remember: Upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.” — Alexander the Great.
  • The Gulag Archipelago is a real example of hell on earth.
  • It’s a terrible curse to tell someone: “I couldn’t live without you.”
  • The oedipal mother story: The mother will accept her child no matter what they do. She's the witch in Hansel and Gretel: The witch lives in a gingerbread house. She feeds the kids candy and makes them fat. Then she eats them. It’s the devouring force of love. It’s one of Freud’s major discoveries. You should want the person to be able to stand on their own.
  • In your mid 20s the parent/child relationship should approximate friends.
  • Why would you care what your parents think?  Their opinion is nearly irrelevant. They’re no different from your friends. It’s random who your parents are, you didn’t choose them.
  • In the Bible, Jonah didn’t do the work he knew he had to do, so God had the whale eat him and take him to the depths of the ocean. He went to hell and God threatened him with death. That experience makes Jonah realize that he has to work hard.
  • You don’t want safety. To have safety, you have to stay in your comfort zone. Developing the ability to confront chaos allows you to go anywhere you want and do anything.
  • Do you want to thrive? Do you want success? Do you want happiness? If yes, you have to give up your hatred of being. You have to give up your resentment. You have to give up your martyrdom. You have to give up your victimhood. If you keep any of these, it will corrupt you and you will sabotage yourself.

Aphorisms

  • Because life is so difficult, you have to do something that is truly worthwhile to justify it.
  • Facts are more like tools than immutable truths. They could (and often do) change in under 20 years. But that doesn’t mean they’re not useful—a computer is a tool and one from 2020 is a lot more useful than one from 2000.
  • In life, the base rate for rejection is 98%. You should expect to be rejected by 49 jobs before you get 1. You need to know that so that you don’t think there’s something uniquely wrong with you.
  • The meaning of an artwork is inarticulable otherwise the artist would just write it down.
  • When a great thinker despises men, it is their laziness that he despises. For it is on account of this that they have the appearance of factory products and seem indifferent and unworthy of companionship or instruction. The human being who does not wish to belong to the mass must merely cease being comfortable with himself; let him follow his conscience which shouts at him: "Be yourself! What you are at present doing, opining, and desiring, that is not really you.” — Nietzsche, Untimely Meditation on Schopenhauer as Educator

Books

  • Read The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas Szasz
  • Dostoevsky is Peterson's favorite author. Read all 5 of Dostoevsky’s great novels. They are unparalleled in psychological depth.
  • Read Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (known to be his best novel)
  • Read Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Read The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Read The Devils by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Read The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Read Carl Jung’s Red Book
  • Memories, Dreams, and Reflections is Carl Jung’s autobiography.
  • Read the writings of the Columbine shooters. It helps you understand how people go awry—how evil is created. It makes you realize that evil exists.
  • Read Panzram—autobiography of a serial killer. Shows that you need to be careful. Don’t be naïve. There is real evil out there.
  • Read The Discovery of the Unconscious by Henri Ellenberger. On Freud, Adler, Jung, and more.
  • Read The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
  • Read Shakespeare and Tolstoy
  • Read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago

Lecture 1

Introduction

  • The Big 5 personality traits were developed over 50 years. They started with as many adjectives as they could find that were used to describe humans. Then they did factor analysis—a statistical analysis to determine how similar the adjectives were to each other. For example, self-reported happy people often self-report themselves as social. So the two are correlated. Then they removed all of the correlated traits until they got down to 5 non-correlated traits.
  • People who experience one negative emotion have a propensity to experience all negative emotions.
  • Political beliefs are largely determined by personality.
  • You want to match your temperament with a niche that will allow you to thrive. But depending on the time and location you were born, that might not be possible.
  • As a clinician, you need to be able to make the distinction between (1) a mental illness, (2) an acute problem, and (3) an environmental problem. Examples) An acute problem could be someone losing their job—they may show signs of depression but it’s not necessarily a mental illness, there are real consequences to losing your job, temporary sadness is normal. The person who lost their job should read, learn some skills, and get a better job. An environmental problem could be that a person’s family member is causing them sadness. The person with an external problem should try to remove the problem or get away from it.
  • One thing that you do as a clinician is to figure out what people are afraid of and what they’re avoiding. Then break it down into smaller pieces and help then devise strategies to approach and master the problem. That improves the quality of their personality and helps develop them into people who won’t make the same mistakes over and over again.
  • What to do in therapy: go through your personal story in novelistic detail. Have the therapist keep you on track and ask to go deeper when necessary. Then ask the therapist what you’re afraid off and what you’re avoiding. Then ask them to help you break the fear down into smaller pieces and devise a strategy for approaching and mastering the problem.
  • Being a personality psychologist is like being an engineer, you’re trying to build better people.
  • People high in openness are generally more responsive to a Jungian approach. People more conscientious, low in openness, are more responsive to a behaviorist approach.
  • Watch Crumb documentary.

Lectures 2 & 3

Historical and Mythological Context

  • Myths are meta-adventures. They’re like if you took 1000 adventure novels and extrapolated what they all had in common.
  • Movies are a huge investment. Some require $100+ million to make.
  • Dance and music are essential.
  • The people you choose to admire are indicative of your personality—you wouldn’t admire them unless they accomplished something that you value. Ask people who their idols are. Ask people what their favorite books are. Find out what their closest 5 friends are like. That’s how you find out about someone. This works for getting to know potential romantic partners, business partners, employees, etc.
  • It’s normal to be afraid of the dark. We evolved to be alert to predators when it’s dark.
  • All types of psychology (psychoanalytic, behavioral, etc.) are essentially about finding the fears that limit you and trying to incrementally overcome them.
  • Because life is so difficult, you have to do something that is truly worthwhile to justify it.
  • The Jungian shadow: we all have a dark side to us. We have dark desires and an evil side of us. Every person is good and evil; there aren’t good people and bad people. Read about Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany—you would most likely be one of the guards, you wouldn’t be a savior or a hero or a vigilante.
  • There is a “snake underneath the surface” like in Harry Potter 2.
  • You cannot have proper respect for yourself until you realize that you’re a monster.
  • The basilisk represents Medusa. That’s why you freeze when you see it. The freezing represents the fright response when prey sees a predator.
  • The best men at fighting predators were rewarded by the women. And this makes sense reading those men was worth it to have the tribe survive.
  • Inside the shadow there’s an anima, the female figure. She is capable of Nathan and aggression. Weak guys need to be able to be aggressive. When you incorporate the shadow you can channel your dark side productively.
  • Dumbledore is like God the father of the Harry Potter series.
  • What you’re trying to do when you see a therapist is get your life together. It’s not necessarily to directly fix the mental disorder—getting your life together will fix the problem. It’s not like someone with an anxiety disorder has a perfectly formed life. Usually, if you’re depressed your work life isn’t going very well and your relationships aren’t going well. If someone’s life is perfectly formed and they’re still depressed, something has gone wrong biochemically and they can usually take an SSRI and be fine (this is rare).
  • You need an aim. Where do you want to be in a year?
  • The psychological categories, like anxiety and depression, are heterogeneous. They are wide and it’s difficult to find all the similarities between the people in those categories. Psychologists claim that their categories are scientific but they’re not, partly because they are ideals.
  • Peterson describes a psychoanalytic theory that says that there are essentially different versions of us within us and they have different emotions, kind of like the movie Inside Out. When one of these emotions takes over, let’s say anger, it can really control you and you will do things that you didn’t think you could do. In a war, for instance, your anger could do things so bad that it gives you PTSD. Most people with PTSD get it from something they did rather than something they saw or something that happened to them.
  • The base rate for rejection for everything is 98%. You should expect to be rejected by 49 jobs before you get 1. You need to know that before you try to do something so that you don’t think there’s something uniquely wrong with you.
  • Read The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas Szasz
  • A person needs to be doing well in health, knowledge, relationships, and wealth to be psychologically thriving.
  • The male dominance hierarchy is a selection mechanism. Women choose the guys at the top.
  • Men are commonly terrified of women. Some can’t even speak to them. It’s because women do the selecting—they decide if a man will reproduce.
  • All ideals are oppressive. That doesn’t mean they’re bad. That doesn’t mean they’re not useful.
  • Freud’s super ego is the internalization of guilt and shame. It makes you want to fix your issues before other people point them out. Because others are always signaling your flaws and weaknesses.
  • Culture is somewhat like God the father. It’s like there is an all seeing eye that’s watching you. The group is always judging you.
  • Captain Hook is a tyrant. Peter Pan doesn’t want to be like him and that’s why Peter wants to stay a kid forever. The alligator who ate Hook’s hand symbolizes death—it has a clock in its stomach to remind you that time is ticking. That’s what makes Hook bitter and resentful.
  • There’s a positive and a negative to everything. Culture is oppressive but it’s also the reason why we can live—protection, food, shelter. Nature would kill us without culture. Most people only think about either the positive or the negative side of something—they can’t see both sides.

Lectures 4 & 5

Heroic and Shamanic Initiations

  • You can either take responsibility and put in the work to be successful or become a failure. Some people are averse to responsibility and work so they think being a failure is ok but that leads to frustration, anger, disappointment, depression, pain, and anxiety.
  • Read all 5 of Dostoevsky’s great novels. They are unparalleled in psychological depth.
  • Tolstoy’s more of a sociologist.
  • It’s morally bad to be weak. Weak people are nice by necessity, not by choice. It’s morally good to be powerful enough to cause people harm but not to. Powerful people must be good by choice to be moral.
  • When Superman first started, he was not omnipotent, he could only jump over buildings. By the 1980s, his character had become like a god—he had no flaws, he could basically juggle planets. This made the comics boring. The creators had to introduce flaws like kryptonite to make the stories meaningful.
  • The plot of your life is overcoming your limitations. The meaning of life is solving your problems.
  • You can make something magical by telling someone not to do something but not saying why. Peterson makes an example: If I told you not to sit in that chair everyone would be wondering what was wrong with the chair or what would happen if you sat in it for the entire school year. It’s like when Mufasa tells Simba not to go to the dark land and then Simba immediately goes there. It’s that same idea as Pandora’s box and the forbidden fruit.
  • 85% of men are below average by women’s ratings.
  • You need to make the right sacrifices if you want to succeed. Delayed gratification.
  • You need to have something to fall back on when your world gets flipped upside down. If someone close to you dies, if your life dreams fall apart, if you figure out something terrible about yourself.
  • We have a map or a mental model for ourselves. People who have amputations still feel like they have the limb (phantom limb). They still feel like they have the limb. People who have a stroke and lose one side of their body often don’t realize that it’s gone, that they haven’t been able to move it and they make up stories about why they don’t move it. They do this because they cannot update their mental model. This shows that your mental models determine how you view the world and then we create stories to explain why something is. The stories can be completely false. Getting the right mental models is essential.
  • You need to step out of your comfort zone. Don’t go too far but also don’t be too conservative and only stay where you are comfortable.
  • The environment changes, so different ideologies are correct at different times. That’s why free speech is essential. Because sometimes we need change and liberals would be correct. And sometimes we need things to stay the same and conservatives would be correct.
  • Music should simulate going out of your comfort zone. It sets a consistent tone and then at some point it switches up and gives you something new.
  • Jung calls it a projection of the anima or the animus when someone falls in love with the idealized caricature of someone they’re dating.
  • Doing something difficult can give you confidence. You can always look back on it and say is this new challenge as bad as my previous challenges? If it’s not you know you can easily beat it, if it’s worse, your previous wins give you the confidence to beat the next challenge.
  • Read Jung’s Red Book.
  • When someone’s talking to you about a problem, don’t try to give them a solution. Just listen and then ask them, “What could you do about it?”
  • If you read history, you’ll realize that true evil does exist. Really read it and try to put yourself into the emotional and physical state of the people of that time.
  • Resentment can tell you 2 things: (1) That you have a victim mentality and you need to grow up and accept responsibility or (2) that someone is actually oppressing, bullying, and demeaning you and you should have said or done something earlier. It’s often dangerous to stand up to the oppressor, so it makes sense why one wouldn’t want to. But that creates resentment over the long term. Over time, resentment becomes the desire for revenge. You’ll play little tricks on the person who’s oppressing you—you’ll talk behind their back, if they ask you to do something you’ll do it badly, etc. If you start to dwell on how bad your life is, how everyone’s causing this to happen to you, and how everyone’s rejected you, then you get to the point where you begin to think that existence itself is a kind of poisonous endeavor. You’ll think the best thing for you to do is to go out and create as much mayhem as possible. And if you really get to a dark place, you try to create as much mayhem as you can by targeting the most innocent thing I can imagine. And that’s why there are school shooters.
  • You need to be assertive and stop the causes of resentment before they manifest and become too strong.
  • Information = food = money. They can be transferred for each other.
  • Find what you’re afraid of and then incrementally get closer to it. Just look at it at first. Then get closer to it. People who do this are learning to be more brave.
  • Peterson believes that people have an innate fear of snakes.
  • If you’re often rejected by people it’s usually because of your own insufficiencies.
  • Some people are tyrannical and specifically choose to date people who are fearful and cannot stand up to things. Both parties need therapy.
  • No one knows anything about psychedelics.
  • If you give people Psilocybin (shrooms) and they have a mystical experience, their personality transforms permanently. One year later they will have one standard deviation higher in trait openness. 80% of the people in the experiment say that it was one of the top 2 or 3 most important moments of their life.
  • There was a scientist who had people take DMT and they all reported similar experiences. That they went somewhere else outside of their body, talked with other beings, and came back 10 minutes later. They say it seemed more real than real life.
  • Note: it sounds almost like a conscious dream. Or a vivid Jungian active imagination.
  • Many religions have uncannily similar stories and visualizations about psychedelics, life, and death. People today report the same stories.

Lecture 6

Jean Piaget and Constructivism

  • Jean Piaget is probably the most famous developmental psychologist in the world. He considered himself a genetic epistemologist.
  • Peterson goes into the history of physics. From Newton to Einstein to Quantum.
  • Facts are more like tools than immutable truths. They could (and often do) change in under 20 years. But that doesn’t mean they’re not useful—a computer is a tool and one from 2020 is a lot more useful than one from 2000.
  • Theories are getting better over time—they’re more broad and are easier to understand. These theories are tools. Knowledge, theories, mental models.
  • Peterson is talking about some David Deutsch-esque epistemology. (He doesn’t bring up Deutsch, these ideas just remind me of him.)
  • Your knowledge is embodied. Your physiology really shapes how you understand the world.
  • Peterson is talking about some Jeff Hawkins-esque theory of the brain. (He doesn’t bring up Hawkins, these ideas just remind me of him.)
  • Therapy isn’t necessarily about fixing a particular problem. It’s about developing a person into someone who can overcome problems. That’s the hero myth—they need to see themselves as the hero who defeats the villain and transforms.
  • Writing about emotional events in detail helps you overcome them.
  • Only relevant facts matter. This is important in science because some scientists will consider some facts more important than others but that’s arbitrary. This also applies in a more general sense: If a professor was talking about irrelevant facts you’d zone out or drop the class. Everything needs to be practical and useful—but that doesn’t necessarily mean “type A.” Music and dance, for instance, are practical and useful in certain contexts.
  • Danger responses are immediate. You will become scared of something (like heights, a snake, etc.) before your brain has even really processed what it is. Because it’s much safer to have fast danger responses.
  • We constantly look at other people to see what they’re up to. We have white around our eyes so that we can easily see what other people are looking at. Gorillas have all-black eyes. People were less trusting of our biological ancestors who didn’t have white around their eyes—that made them less likely to reproduce and have allies. That’s why we all have white eyes now.
  • Peterson is talking about some Renè Girard-esque mimetic ideas about humans copying each other. (He doesn’t bring up Girard, these ideas just remind me of him.)
  • We are copying others when we hear their story or watch a movie because we can imagine ourselves as them.
  • Predictions must be emotionless. That’s why what most people call predictions are actually desires. It can say something about someone if they always have negative predictions (because they often secretly desire it).
  • You need to get your child to be social by the age of 2-4. It’s difficult to get them to be social after 4. Cooperation is essential otherwise other people won’t want to be around them.
  • Peterson talks about how to raise a kid.
  • The big rat has to let the little rat win 30% of the time in their games otherwise the little rat won’t ask the big rat to play anymore. That’s a key to social development—fair play. The basis of a complex morality.

Lecture 7

Carl Jung and The Lion King (Part 1)

  • Memories, Dreams, and Reflections is Jung’s autobiography.
  • When studying Jung, you need to read his original works. They’re difficult to summarize accurately.
  • Great intro on Jung.
  • Dreams seem to help you sort out your thoughts. If you keep people awake for an extended period of time, they lose their minds.
  • The Freudian id is the sexual desire, anger, and anxiety that needs to be integrated into the person’s personality—not masked or repressed.
  • The Freudian super-ego is the part of you that has guilt and shame. It comes from the judgmental eye of society and the State.
  • People’s faces change when they’ve integrated their shadow. They look less wide-eyed and more aggressive and mature. Becoming more disagreeable is an essential part of shadow integration.
  • Scar in The Lion King is the tyrannical part of the State. Mufasa is the good king—God the father. Scar and Musafa are brothers because the good and bad side of government are inextricably linked.
  • The rational has a totalitarian side because they like to make theories and then they try to impose those theories as absolutes.
  • You need two hemispheres of the brain to have one keep track of the world and create rules for it while the other thinks of exceptions.
  • The hero always breaks the rules in the service of a higher good.

Lecture 8

Carl Jung and The Lion King (Part 2)

  • People who get PTSD are often naive as to the reality of malevolence. They don’t understand that there are evil people and then they run into one of them or they realize they have the capacity for evil. That shatters your understanding of the world.
  • Liberals vs conservatives boils down to one thing—how open or closed borders should be. The conservatives are low in openness—they like borders closed. The liberals are high i  openness—they like borders open. Who’s right? Depends on the circumstances. That’s why we need free speech to figure out who is right at any given time.
  • Political campaigns are targeting people based on their big 5 personality traits because temperament usually determines political affiliation.
  • Peterson mentions Karl Popper: you should always look for information that contradicts your current viewpoints.
  • If you’re put outside the domain of your competence, you’re going to start using fantasy to organize your world.

Big 5 personality trait niches:

  • Extroverted: social
  • Introverted: nature (not sure)
  • Agreeable: relationships
  • Disagreeable: competition
  • Conscientious: duty & effort
  • Read the writings of the Columbine killers. It helps you understand how people go awry—how evil is created. It makes you realize that evil exists.
  • Read Panzram autobiography—serial killer.
  • The reason you have memory is not so that you can accurately remember the past. It's so that you can use the information of the past to prepare you for the future. And your mind won't leave you alone unless you know what happened and how to stop negative events in the future. So if you encountered something that's negative and don't know what to do if it happens again, it will stay with you. It increases your overall physiological load. Your brain keeps track of your success/failure ratio. The lower it is, the more anxious a person will be.
  • When you learn something new you have to be a “fool.” You can’t learn anything new unless you’re willing to look like a fool at first. Perfectionists don’t allow themselves to try new things because they don’t want to look like a fool. Jung said that the trickster is the precursor to the savior because you have to be a foolish novice before you can be the expert savior.
  • Read Hitler’s Table Talk, a collection of his spontaneous dinner speeches from 1939-1942.
  • People with anorexia are often high in orderliness and they start to think of their body as disgusting.
  • It’s difficult to quit addictions. An alcoholic, for instance, needs to physically quit drinking and get over their physiological dependence. They also need to replace their alcoholic friends and find something to do in their new free time. And they have to contend with whatever caused them to start drinking in the first place.
  • Peterson said that he often thought that if Richard Dawkins kept thinking he would have turned into Carl Jung. Because an archetype is like the most fundamental meme.
  • Dominance hierarchies determine which males will mate. Over time the winning dominance characteristics become known. Then the idea of how a proper man should act starts to become incorporated in the biology and the expectations of the society. That starts to loop. So gender norms and expectations come from rational biological choices. They’re not arbitrary social constructions. Sexual selection has really shaped human beings.

Lecture 9

Freud and the Dynamic Unconscious

  • Everything good that Freud put forward is so entrenched in our culture now that we think it’s self-evident. So people only tend to see Freud for his mistakes.
  • Freud’s teacher had been working on a lot of the problems that Freud popularized.
  • Read The Discovery of the Unconscious by Henri Ellenberger. On Freud, Adler, Jung, and more.
  • The world was much more oppressive for women and children in the late 1800s.
  • Sexual repression in the late 1800s had justifications—STIs could kill you or ruin your life. And having children out of wedlock was a social death sentence for women because they weren’t allowed to work.
  • The invention of contraception—condoms and birth control—reduced the negative effects of STIs and unwanted pregnancies in sex. This caused a sexual revolution in the 1960s.
  • For something or some information to be meaningful it must change how you act in the world and have shift your perception of how the world works.
  • Anything you practice becomes a part of you.

By 1900, four functions of the unconscious had been described:

  1. Conservative: the unconscious stores memories, often unaccessible to voluntary recall.
  2. Dissolutive: the unconscious contains habits, once voluntary, now automaticized, and dissociated elements of the personality, which may lead a "parasitic existence."
  3. Creative: the unconscious serves as the matrix of new ideas.
  4. Mythopoetic: the unconscious constructs narratives and fantasies that appear mythic or religious in nature.
  • From a Freudian perspective your ego doesn’t create dreams, your unconscious creates dreams. From a Jungian perspective, the collective unconscious creates dreams.
  • The ego is “you” in the Freudian perspective. When you think of the conscious self, that’s the ego.
  • The id is in the unconscious level. The ego is in the conscious level. The super ego is on all levels of consciousness.
  • The super ego is guilt and shame and it can cause you to repress the id (anger, sexual desire, etc.). This often happens if you had a particularly tyrannical parent.
  • People with anorexia have hyper tyrannical super egos.

Defense Mechanisms:

  1. Repression: If you don't like it, lie about it—especially to yourself.
  2. Denial: The truth isn't so bad.
  3. Reaction formation (over compensation): If you gate your sister, you might say, “I really really really really love my sister.”
  4. Displacement: My boss yells at me, I yell at my husband, my husband yells at the baby, the baby bites the cat.
  5. Identification: You’re bullied, for instance, and instead of fixing it you want to become a bully.
  6. Rationalization: We all know what this means.
  7. Intellectualization: You come up with intelligent reasons why you are the way you are.
  8. Sublimation: If you’re having trouble getting women, for instance, you might make sculptures of women instead.
  9. Projection: It's not me — it's you! This happens when people repress their dark motivations and then try to say that other people have those dark motivations.
  • Freud was the first person to subject dreams to a comprehensive analysis.
  • Freud believed that dreams contained insight into what you have repressed. If you’re sexually repressed, for instance, it would show up as sexual dreams. Analyzing the dream could tell you what is repressed.

Lecture 10

Humanism and Phenomenology: Carl Rogers

  • If you’re doing clinical work on someone, you want to know if they have any friends and if they have a job. Lacking those two can cause anxiety, depression, etc. are you as educated as you should be? What’s your relationship with drugs and alcohol? What’s your romantic relationship status and history?
  • Anger is the only emotion linked to cardiovascular risk.
  • People who are hoarding are often older, have a neurological disorder, or have OCD. The mind of a hoarder is just as cluttered as their possessions.
  • Start by organizing your room if you want to organize your mind.
  • There’s no difference between you and everything you experience.
  • Why should you improve yourself? So that you don’t suffer any more stupidly than you have to. If you don’t self-improve, you’ll suffer and so will the people around you.
  • Look around for something that bothers you and see if you can fix it. Maybe there are some old papers on your desk or some bad cable management or you closet is messy.
  • Fix your habits and routines. You do them every day. They are the most important things you do.
  • If someone is far down in the depths of chaos (victim mentality, psychological disorders, etc.) stay away from them. You cannot fix them. They will drag you down with them. If you’re not a mechanical engineer, you don’t just walk up to a broken helicopter and start trying to fix it. A broken person is probably 10000x more difficult to fix.
  • You see what you aim at. That’s the takeaway from the basketball video where the gorilla walks by. Be careful what you aim at. What you aim at determines what you do—it determines your future.
  • Carl Rogers: we need to listen in communication. Rather than trying to judge someone or have an argument. If you have a Rogerian conversation, it will make both of you better—psychologically healthier.
  • If you have a real relationship, it’s therapeutic. If you don’t it’s more like tyrant/slave, constant arguments, dominance hierarchy disputes, two cats in a barrel.
  • Rogerian conversation: you’re both on the same side. One person listens to the other. The listener will have ideas or questions pop into their mind and they can ask the speaker. The listener says if something makes then angry, or if it’s interesting, or if it reminds them of something else. The point is to have an exchange of experience in how things are set up.
  • The premise of Rogerian conversation: the goal for both parties is to end up better than where you began.
  • Rephrase what the speaker said and explain the emotions of the speaker after they have spoken. Keep doing that until the speaker agrees that you accurately represented them.
  • Always steel-man other people’s arguments for them.

Lecture 11

Existentialism: Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, and Kierkegaard

  • The existentialists were concerned with the reality of subjective experience. Though they didn’t deny objective reality.
  • They believed in action rather than words. Actions show your true beliefs; words could be lies.
  • Rogers would say that you should align your actions with your beliefs.
  • Trouble and suffering are inherent aspects of life. Chaos, anxiety, pain, disease can enter your life without there being something uniquely wrong about you.
  • Freud thought that if someone grew up without childhood trauma then they would grow up into a mentally healthy individual.
  • The existentialists thought that there was inherent trauma in life, so nobody could be fully mentally healthy.
  • A fair bit of misery is the norm. It’s not unique to any individual.
  • Diagnosing a patient can help them a lot because then they no longer feel alone and uniquely bad. There are tons of other people who have the same problem. And it gives them hope that they could fix it.
  • Given that there is inherent suffering in life, what should you do about it? Definitely not give in to it, or try to mask it with pleasure, or try to multiply it. You should try to reduce suffering in yourself and for others.
  • Thrownness (coined by Heidegger): you were randomly placed at a moment in time. Why was I born poor? Why was I born unattractive? Why was a born to abusive parents? There is no answer. It’s random. But that’s how it is, so you have to deal with it.
  • Terror management theory: humans have belief systems that are there to mitigate death anxiety. Delusion, we used appropriately, can be helpful. This comes from Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death.
  • Peterson thinks that the issue that Becker brought up is not deep enough—it’s deeper than the fear of death. It’s more like terror of isolated being.
  • 2 key concepts of psychotherapy:
  1. You enter into an honest relationship with your client.
  2. Exposure to the things that you don’t want to be exposed to is curative if it’s voluntary.
  • Animals have genetic aversions to their predators. A rat, for instance, is averse to the odor of a cat even if the rat is a lab rat that has never seen a cat. Humans likely have innate aversions too (to snakes or other predators).
  • In the depths of your existential terror, the wisdom to cope with that terror will be found. Once you contend with “hell” you know you can handle it—you can be less worried about it.
  • You are more complex than you think. There are mechanisms within you that are only activated when you truly need them. It’s like when Aang gets into danger and goes in the Avatar state. It’s like when Jung said you have to go through hell to get to heaven.
  • We’re up against society and nature. They’re powerful opponents.
  • History of exposure therapy: (1) At first, psychologists thought that it made people relax and the relaxation would counteract the panic. That was wrong. (2) Then, they thought that it taught people to habituate—learn to ignore their fears. That was wrong. (3) Then they realized that exposure therapy actually makes the person braver. And that bravery generalizes, so they are better prepared to take on unrelated fears.
  • You suffer as an individual, so you need to think about treatment and success and improvement on the individual level.
  • Kierkegaard was the first to write about anxiety as something akin to a scientific phenomenon.
  • Nietzsche: There are a variety of interpretations to distress. What seemed like a bad childhood to you, for example, may have seemed like a good childhood to someone else.
  • We are in the least corrupt and most prosperous era in history. Why are you still unsatisfied?
  • There are 2 ways to respond to trauma. Example: (1) Being bullied caused me to be a bully. (2) Being bullied caused me to never be a bully.
  • Nihilism: when you lose faith in one thing and it makes you lose faith in everything.
  • Positive emotion comes from goals. So if you are nihilistic, you no longer have positive emotion and are overcome with negative emotion. So you need a goal—a hope—to have positive emotion.
  • Nihilistic people embrace totalitarianism. Because totalitarian certainty could be preferable to nihilistic chaos.
  • What makes you think that having everything you asked for would satisfy you? Why do you think it would make you happy? What if you have to have limits to be happy? What if insecurity and vulnerability is what you need—what if they give life meaning.
  • A crowd is the untruth. Even if every individual in the crowd knows the truth, when they get into a crowd they will be untruthful.
  • When a great thinker despises men, it is their laziness that he despises. For it is on account of this that they have the appearance of factory products and seem indifferent and unworthy of companionship or instruction. The human being who does not wish to belong to the mass must merely cease being comfortable with himself; let him follow his conscience which shouts at him: "Be yourself! What you are at present doing, opining, and desiring, that is not really you.” — Nietzsche, Untimely Meditation on Schopenhauer as Educator

Lecture 12

Phenomenology: Heidegger, Binswanger, Boss

  • Peterson covers so many philosophers in this course because clinical psychology is not strictly a scientific enterprise because it’s oriented towards values.
  • In clinical psychology and in life, you’re trying to figure out how to live properly—without mental illness.
  • If you get your medical school acceptance letter, you might be shaking even though it’s just a piece of paper. That’s because it’s more than a piece of paper. It’s a portal into your future. One future where you’re a medical student and another where you just wasted the last 4 years. So the past can change based on something that happens later. That’s why movies with a plot twist shock us.
  • "what we perceive are "first and foremost" not impressions of taste, tone, smell or touch, not even things or objects, but meanings." - Binswanger, L. (1963). Being in the World.
  • What does it mean that we see meaning first? That’s a really tricky question.
  • Objects have meaning in them. When the twin towers were up, they were just towers. But as soon as they fell they had meaning—was it the start of the next war? Everyone was in shock for 3 days. It opened a gateway to indeterminate meaning.
  • Meaning is about stories. Stories are the maps of meaning.
  • If the meaning is the thing that allowed you to stay alive, what’s more real? The meaning or the object? And it’s possible that the meaning is more real than the object.
  • Meanings are what we see first because to survive we had to have immediate frameworks that could allow us to navigate a complex system. Stories are the maps of meaning. So what’s real could be what allows you to survive in the face of reality (meaning). [It’s kind of like the idea of delusion to reduce death anxiety. “Meaning” is delusional in that it is not necessarily reality but it gets the job done—“meaning” is the tool that we use to navigate the complex world with limited information.]
  • Binswanger would say that an object appears beautiful to you because of the way you’re filtering it based on your history and personality. Boss would say that the object is intrinsically beautiful and that’s why it appears beautiful to you. The Phenomenologists would say that you chase the things that shine at you.
  • In Harry Potter, the golden snitch is the thing that shines at you.
  • When you’re curious about something, is it calling to you or is it something you’re interpreting? Both.
  • Your curiosity is not random. Schizophrenics have random curiosity. They develop delusions to put meaning to their curiosity in everything.
  • Curiosity is the thing that you could be in the future calling you forward.
  • You’re not in control of what makes you interested in things. What is controlling it? It’s the Jungian self out the manifestation of meaning. You have to follow it to reach success.
  • Dante’s Inferno: Imagine you have gone to a bad place psychologically. Then you try to figure out what you did wrong and how you’re to blame for it. Then to descend into your own foolishness and stupidity. Level by level. That’s what hell is. Betrayal is at the bottom.
  • The smartphone and birth control have unpredictable effects. Technologies can completely alter the future. [We don’t fully know how bitcoin will change the future.]
  • Yin and yang: At any moment, chaos can collapse into order and order can collapse into chaos.
  • Your perception constrains your sight as much as it allows you to see.
  • The meaning of an artwork is inarticulable otherwise the artist would just write it down.

Lecture 13

Existentialism: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn The Gulag Archipelago

  • Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Solzhenitsyn are probably the best writers of all time.
  • Read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.
  • You can tell when someone is ideologically possessed because you can predict everything they’re going to say. Once you know the algorithmic substructure of their ideology, which is usually predicated on about 5 or 6 axioms, you can generate exactly what they will say. It allows them to remove the responsibility of thinking. It allows them to believe that they understand the world and that they have the knowledge to distinguish between the good and the evil—that’s where the danger comes from.
  • Everything is subject to entropic decay. If something is complicated, it has to be maintained or it will fall apart.
  • Flood stories, like in the bible, are about the sins of people. People who do not do what they know they need to do will eventually be wiped out by a flood. Insufficient preparation for floods (black swans) is the fault of the individual who did not prepare.
  • Life is suffering.
  • The tower of Babel and Satan both symbolize the human or political proclivity to create authoritarian institutions or dogmas that we believe to be all inclusive. But nothing a human creates can be all inclusive because (1) we don’t know everything and (2) nothing scales infinitely—most things break at some humble scale.
  • What would happen if you stopped wasting the opportunities that are in front of you?
  • If you get your life together, you don’t just change your own fate—you also change the fate of everyone in your network.
  • You’ll know at least 1000 people over the course of your life. And they’ll know 1000 people. That puts you 1 person away from 1 million and 2 people away from 1 billion.
  • You can live with no responsibility whatsoever and the price you pay is that nothing matters. Or you can take responsibility for everything and then everything matters.
  • Some percentage of people would choose the former. Especially because they get the attention that comes from being a “victim.”
  • If you live a pathological life then you pathologize your society. And if enough people do that, it becomes hell.
  • The Gulag Archipelago is a real example of hell on earth.

Lecture 14

Introduction to Traits, Psychometrics, and The Big 5 Personality Traits

  • Agreeable people base their lives on their relationships with other people.

Relationships based on Big 5

  • Agreeable people find disagreeable people harsh and unpleasant. And disagreeable people find agreeable people wishy-washy and unable to stand up for themselves.
  • Highly industrious people cannot stand not working. They don’t like sitting around or taking a day off. They can be judgmental of people who don’t work hard.
  • People high in orderliness are annoyed by mess sooner than other people. Women are slightly more orderly than men. The problem arises because the person higher in orderliness will ALWAYS be the one how has to clean up. So then the less orderly person will think they’re uptight and overly concerned with details and unwilling to relax.
  • You want to choose someone who is quite similar to you in personality. But you want some variation otherwise you both have the same strengths and weaknesses. There’s also an exception in neuroticism—if one partner is nigh in neuroticism you want the other to be low in neuroticism.

Political leaning based on Big 5

  • Political conservatives tend to be low in trait openness and high in trait conscientiousness.
  • Political liberals tend to be high in trait openness and low in trait conscientiousness.

Creativity

  • Creativity has zero or negative correlation with academic success.
  • If you’re highly creative, your best chance at success is to get a stable job for income and then work on your creative pursuits (music, art, entrepreneurship, etc) on the side until you become successful. Because the odds of success are abysmally low.

Lecture 22

Conclusion: Psychology and Belief

  • It’s a terrible curse to tell someone: “I couldn’t live without you.”
  • The oedipal mother story: The mother will accept you no matter what you do. It’s the witch in Hansel and Gretel: All gingerbread on the outside. On the inside, feed them candy and make them fat. Then eat them. It’s the devouring force of love. It’s one of Freud’s major discoveries. You should want the person to be able to stand on their own.
  • In your mid 20s the parent/child relationship should approximate friends/peers.
  • Why would you care what your parents think? They’re no different from your friends. It’s random who your parents are, you didn’t choose them. Their opinion is nearly irrelevant.
  • The Jungian shadow is actually about becoming a monster, becoming powerful. That’s the only way you can survive in a world with monsters and challenges.
  • In the Bible, Jonah didn’t do the work he knew he had to do, so God had the whale eat him and take him to the depths of the ocean. He went to hell and God threatened him with death. That experience makes Jonah realize that he has to work hard.
  • You don’t even want safety. To have safety, you have to always stay in your comfort zone. Developing the ability to confront chaos allows you to go anywhere you want and do anything.
  • The Hydra is a symbol of the problems in life. You can never truly get rid of it. You have to learn to deal with it.
  • Video games are for Peter Pan—guys who don’t want to grow up.
  • There is no eternal order or eternal chaos, you mediate between them.
  • Do you want to thrive? Do you want success? Do you want happiness? If yes, you have to give up your hatred of being. You have to give up your resentment. You have to give up your martyrdom. You have to give up your victimhood. If you keep any of these, it will corrupt you and you will sabotage yourself.