The Language Instinct

I’m reading this because I feel that a better understanding of language will help me connect dots in my research. What exactly? As of yet I do not know.

One insight so far is knowing that language/words and thought/thinking is not the same. The foundational framework of human thought is not rooted in words. Humans have a universal mentalese utilizing representations and symbols – in essence we do not think in English, Chinese, Apache, etc.

This distinction really brings in to focus why the great ancient civilizations put such an emphasis on the universal language of symbolism. Saying that “symbolism is the universal language” is not just some esoteric occult nonsense, this is rooted in a deep transcendent reality modern science is just beginning to understand.

I think it’s fruitful to consider language as an evolutionary adaption, like the eye, it’s major parts designed to carry out important functions. And Chomsky’s arguments about the nature of the language faculty are based on technical analysis of word and sentence structure, often couched in abstruse formalisms. His discussions of flesh and blood speakers are perfunctory and highly idealized. Though I do happen to agree with many of his arguments, I think that a conclusion about the mind is convincing only if many kinds of evidence can converge on it. So the story in this book is highly eclectic, ranging from how DNA builds brains to the pontifications of newspaper language columnists. The best place to begin is to ask why anyone should believe that human language is part of human biology – an instinct – at all.

Steven Pinker

Better Thinking

Reasoning aside, we know that people often acquire their beliefs about the world for reasons that are more emotional and social than strictly cognitive. Wishful thinking, self-serving bias, in-group loyalty, and frank self-deception can lead to monsters departures from the norms of rationality. Most beliefs are evaluated against a background of other beliefs and often in the context of an ideology that a person shares with others. Consequently, people are rarely aa open to revising their views as reason would seem to dictate.

There are some things that we are just naturally bad at. And a mistake people tend to make across a wide range of reasoning tasks are not mere errors; they are systematic errors that are strongly associated both within and across tasks. As one might expect, many of these errors decrease as cognitive ability increases. We also know that training, using both examples and former rules, mitigate many of these problems and can improve a person’s thinking.

On this front, the internet has simultaneously enabled two opposing influences on belief: on the one hand, it has reduced intellectual isolation by making it more difficult for people to remain ignorant of the diversity of opinion on any given subject. But it has also allowed bad ideas to flourish – as anyone with a computer and too much time on his hands can broadcast his point of view and, often enough, find an audience. So while knowledge is increasingly open source, ignorance is, too.

Sam Harris

Out-Group Hostility – In-Group Altruism

A very interesting theory to contemplate. I feel this helps make sense of our current state of tribalism and morality.

Territorial violence might have been necessary for development of altruism. The economist Samuel Bowles has argued that lethal, “out-group” hostility and “in-group” altruism are two sides of the same coin. His computer models suggest that altruism cannot emerge without some level of conflict between groups. If true, this is one of the many places where we must transcend evolutionary pressures through reason – because, barring an attack from outer space, we now lack of proper “out-group” to inspire us to further altruism.

Sam Harris

Explains why it seems that we are constantly looking for a “they”, “them”, or “other” to transgress upon, contradictory to the altruism we show “our” own group.

The Moral Landscape

My new book by Sam Harris

There are facts to be understood about how thoughts and intentions arise in the human brain; there are facts to be learned about how these mental states translate into behavior; there are further facts to be known about how these behaviors influence the world and the experience of other conscious beings. We will see that facts of this sort exhaust what we can reasonably mean by terms like “good” and “evil.” They will also increasingly fall within the purview of science and run far deeper than a person’s religious affiliation. Just as there is no such thing as Christian physics or Muslim algebra, we will see that there is no such thing as Christian or Muslim morality. Indeed, I will argue that morality should be considered an undeveloped branch of science.

Sam Harris

Sterilized Christianity – Alchemist Redemption

This final value, the goal of the pursuit of the alchemist, is discovery and embodiment of the meaning of life itself: integrated subjective being actively expressing its nature through manipulation of the possibilities inherent in the material / unknown world. This final goal is the production of an integrated intrapsychic condition – identical to that of the mythological hero – “acted out” in a world regarded as equivalent to self. Production of this condition – the lapis philosophorum – constitutes the antidote for the “corruption of the world,” attendant upon the Fall [attendant upon the emergence of “partial” self-consciousness.] The lapis is “agent of transformation,” equivalent to the mythological redemptive hero – able to turn “base metals into gold.” It is, as such, something more valuable than gold – just as the hero is more valuable than any of his concrete productions. The “complete” alchemical opus – with production of the lapis as goal – is presented schematically in figure 66.

Alchemy was a living myth: the myth of the individual man as redeemer. Organized Christianity had “sterilized itself,” so to speak, by insisting on the worship of some external truth as the means to salvation. The Alchemist (re)discovered the error of this presumption, and came to realize that identification with the redeemer was in fact necessary, not his worship; that myths of redemption had true power when they were incorporated, and acted out, rather than believed, in some abstract sense. This meant: to say that Christ was “the greatest man in history” – a combination of the divine and mortal – was not sufficient expression of faith. Sufficient expression meant the attempt to live out the myth of the hero, within the confines of individual personality – to voluntarily shoulder the cross of existence, to “unite the opposites” within a single breast, and to serve as active conscious mediator between the eternal generative forces of known and unknown.

Jordan Peterson

The Holy Pilgrimage

The unknown is contaminated with the psychoanalytic “unconscious,” so to speak, because everything we do not know about ourselves, and everything we have experienced and assimilated but not accommodated to, has the same affective status as everything that exists nearly as potential. All thoughts and impulses we avoid or supress, because they threaten our self conception or notion of the world – and all fantasies we experience, but do not admit to – exist in the same domain as chaos, the mother of all things, and serve to undermine our faith in our most vital presumptions. The encounter with the “unknown,” therefore, is simultaneously encounter with those aspects of ourselves heretofor defined as other (despite their indisputable “existence”). This integration means making behavioral potentialities previously disregarded available for conscious use; means (re)construction of the self model that accurately represents such potential.

The ritual of pilgrimage – the “journey to the holy city” – constitutes half ritual, half dramatic enactment of this idea. The pilgrim voluntarily places him or herself outside the protective walls of original culture and, through the difficult and demanding (actual) journey to the “unknown but holy lands,” catalyzes as psychological process of broadening, integration and maturation. It is in this manner that a true “quest” inevitably fullfills itself, even though its “final, impossible goal” (the Holy Grail, for example) may remain concretely unattained.

The necessity for experience as a precondition for wisdom may appear self-evident, once due consideration has been applied to the problem (since wisdom is obviously “derived” from experience) but the crux of the matter is that those elements of experience that foster denial or avoidance (and therefore remain unencountered or unprocessed) always border on the maddening. This is particularly true from the psychological, rather than ritual, perspective. The holy pilgrimage in its abstract or spiritual version is the journey through “elements” of experience and personal character that constitute the subjective world of experience (rather than the shared social and natural world). The inner world is divided into familiar and unknown territory, as much as the outer. Psychological purpose of the rite of passage adventure (and the reason for the popularity of such journeys, in actuality and in drama) is the development of character, in consequence of confrontation with the unknown. A “journey to the place that is most feared,” however, can be undertaken spiritually much as concretely. What “spiritually” means, however, in such a context, is a “peregrination” through the rejected, hated and violently suppressed aspects of personal experience. This is most literally a voyage to the land of the enemy – to the heart of darkness.

Jordan Peterson

Meaning of Myth

The myths of a culture are its central stories. These stories provide a dramatic record of the historically predicated transformation of human intent, and appear to exist as the episodic/semantic embodiment of history’s cumulative effect on action.

The mythical narratives that accompany retention of historically determined behavior constitute non-empirical episodic representation of that behavior and its method of establishment. Myth is purpose, coded in episodic memory. Mythic truth is information, derived from past experience – derived from past observation of behavior – relevant from the perspective of fundamental motivation and effect.

Myth simultaneously provides a record of historical essential, in terms of behavior, and programs those historical essentials. Narrative provides semantic description of action in image, back translatable into imaginary episodic events, capable of eliciting imitative behavior.

Mythic narrative offers dramatic presentation of morality, which is the study of what should be. Such narrative concerns itself with the meaning of the past, with the implications of past existence for current and future activity. This meeting constitutes the ground for the organization of behavior.

Myth has come to encapsulate and express the essential nature of the exploratory, creative, communicative psyche, as manifested in behavior, as a consequence of observation and representation of that behavior, in the temporally summed, historically determined manner beginning with imitation and ending with verbal abstraction.

Jordan Peterson

Cyclic Creation of Morals (How Morals are Created)

Moral presumptions of society emerge first in procedural form, as a consequence of individual exploratory activity, which is the process that generates novel behavioral patterns. These behavioral patterns are then hierarchically structured as a consequence of quasi-Darwinian competition, in accordance with the constraints noted previously (appeal to the imagination, self-sustenance, etc.)

The episodic memory systems map procedure, and outcome there of, and thereby come to contain similar paradigmatic structure – imagistically, and then more purely semantically. Over time, the unknown, nature, thereby comes to be represented mythically as the effectively bivalent Great Mother, simultaneously creative and destructive. The known, culture, becomes the Great Father, tyrant and wise king, authoritarian and protective personality, adapted to the unknown. The knower, man, becomes the hostile mythic brothers, sons of convention, hero and anti-hero, Christ and Satan – eternal generator and destroyer of history and tradition.

Semantic cognition, feeding on narrative – the bridge between the episode and the pure verbal extraction – derives “rules” from behavior. Application of the rules alters the environment, including procedural and episodic representation thereof. Thus the cycle continues.

Jordan Peterson

Axis Mundi

Christ and Satan, for example – Christian exemplars of the ambivalent son – may also be viewed as products of the tree (as well as particular incarnations or forms of the tree, or as phenomena otherwise inexplicably associated with the tree). The world-tree as “forbidden tree of knowledge of good and evil” is, for example, the cross upon which Christ, the archetypal individual, crucified, suspended and tormented, manifests for all eternity his identity with God; the tree upon which Odin, Norse savior, is likewise suspended.

The tree is to Christ, therefore, as Christ is to the individual (“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.” John 15:5).

Satan, by contrast, is something that lurks in the forbidden tree. The (devastating) wisdom he promises – the knowledge of the gods – is that trees “first fruit.” This makes the world-tree the source of the revelation that destroys – the source of the anomalous “idea,” for example, that disrupts the static past and plunges it into chaos – as well as the eventual source of the revelation that redeems.

Jordan Peterson

Foreign Viewpoint

This means essentially that to give serious consideration to another’s viewpoint means to risk exposure to indeterminate uncertainty – to risk a rise in existential anxiety, pain and depression; to experience temporally indeterminate effective, imagistic and cognitive chaos. It is much more likely, in consequence, that a foreign viewpoint will appear evil or will come to be defined as such (especially during times rendered unstable – unbearably novel – for additional alternative reasons).

Once such definition occurs, application of aggression, designed to obliterate the source of threat, appears morally justified, even required by duty. The alternative or foreign viewpoint is in fact reasonably considered evil (although this consideration is dangerously one-sided), when viewed in terms of its potential destructive capacity, from within the strict confines of the historically determined social-psychological adaptive structure. It is only within the domain of meta-morality (which is the morality designed to update moral rules) that the strange may be tolerated or even welcomed.

Jordan Peterson