Reading “Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief” by Jordan B. Peterson was an exercise in applying Michael Polanyi’s insights from “The Tacit Dimension.” Polanyi’s core hypothesis is, “we can know more than we can tell [sic].” In listening to an introductory lecture by Peterson to “Maps of Meaning,” I lost track of the number of times he said something along the lines of “…we don’t always know how we know, but we know.” Peterson’s book is classified under the Psychology umbrella. He is exploring, through archetypes arising out of humanity’s ancient stories, the way in which we develop value systems and come to understand our place in the world and how we are to act in the world. He is especially interested in how encounters with destabilizing life events impact and potentially change our value systems and how we then function in the world on the other side of these destabilizing events. In addition to mythology, Peterson also draws on philosophy, neuroscience, fiction, and religion to explain his hypothesis of how we make meaning, how we form values, in seasons of both stability and instability.
Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist, professor, and popular lecturer, took fifteen years to write “Maps of Meaning.” Like Polanyi, he invites the reader to enter his learning journey—how he came to be interested in the development of meaning and values systems and the implications this has for how a person navigates life. Key to his development was the deep angst he experienced as a teen-ager and early young adult. Disillusionment led him to discard both his Christian worldview and not long after his socialist ideology. Around that same time, he also became obsessively anxious over the global threat of nuclear war due to the tensions between the USA and the Soviet Union. His driving question was, “How could things have come to such a point?” The drive to answer this question, along with his disturbing awareness that the capacity for evil action also lay within him, led him to study psychology and the discovery of Carl Jung’s concept of the persona. He concludes, “I learned why people wage war—why the desire to maintain, protect and expand the domain of belief motivates even the most incomprehensible acts of group-fostered oppression and cruelty—and what might be done to ameliorate this tendency, despite its universality.” It is this knowledge that he hopes to impart through his book so that the reader might be better equipped to navigate the world.
Like Joseph Campbell, Peterson develops a hero’s journey based on mythological archetypes. He writes, “The world can be validly construed as a forum for action, as well as place of things.” The methods of science rule over the world as a place of things, according to Peterson. But in the world as a forum for action, it is narrative—through myth, literature, and drama—that helps us understand “…what is and what should be, from the perspective of emotion and action.” This is the world of value. According to Peterson, this world of value is made up of three metaphorical dimensions—unexplored territory (identified as the Great Mother), explored territory (identified as the Great Father), and the process that mediates between the two (the Divine Son). But there is also a fourth dimension—the dragon of chaos—which is the most fundamental reality and is made up of what we do not understand at all and only come into contact with in bits and pieces. These metaphors are more fully developed in Chapter 2.
From Peterson’s lecture, there are two points about his thesis that most caught my attention. First is the idea that we inhabit a communal story. The way in which we make sense of the world and our place in it is through a narrative that tells us who we are in relation to others around us and how we are to act to get what we want or need. The second was his discussion on values and systems of belief. He emphasized that we perceive safety or stability when there is a match between our belief system and the actions of others in that same belief system. Dissonance and the feeling of threat arise when the territory we have known, i.e., the presuppositions of life (system of belief/values) we thought we held in common with our fellow citizens, gets disrupted. It surely seems we live in such a time as this today. Our reading from last week by Carl R. Trueman brought that front and center in our cohort, as did some of our Advance experiences. I am curious to test Peterson’s concept of humanity’s basic narrative construction as I continue to navigate the confluence of modernity and postmodernity’s systems of beliefs and values. The resulting rapids from this confluence may leave me and us drenched and smashed upon the rocks. Or perhaps, we will ride the rapids and find ourselves in new territory with deeper insights into how we can live at peace with one another across our differences.
 Peterson, Jordan B. 1999. Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. New York: Routledge.
 Polanyi, Michael (1966), and Amartya Sen. 2009. The Tacit Dimension. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press.
 Ibid., 4.
 Peterson, Maps of Meaning, xv.
 Ibid., xvi-xviii.
 Ibid., xx.
 Campbell, Joseph. 2008. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 3rd ed. Bollingen Series XVII. Novato, Calif: New World Library.
 Peterson, Maps of Meaning, xxi.
 Ibid., 89ff.
 Ibid., 101ff.
 Trueman, Carl R. 2020. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway.