Art by Rasmus Berggreen
Read Time: 5 minutes
I’ve been reading Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning. It is a challenge but I feel it is one of the most useful books I’ve ever read. There are many ideas he explores, but one of his fundamental ideas is that the central human myth, the hero myth, is actually a mythic explanation of the core structure of the human experience.
In this post I’m going to do my best to explain this core idea simply. I think it will have a powerful influence on my psychonautic adventures from here on out and I think the idea will help other psychonauts as well.
Myths are misunderstood. They are not primitive’s attempt at explaining scientific truths. They are stories that survive through thousands of years because they convey pragmatic truths about how the human nervous system should act in the world.
They survive because they resonate with what all humans share; an experience of what is known, an experience of that which is not known, and the experience of trying to update the known after it encounters the unknown.
To say this in a sanitized rational way, every human nervous system has a model of reality that allows for successful enough action, but will eventually encounter situations where the model is lacking in some way and must update what was lacking in the model if it wishes to grow and develop. This is the essence of generating hypotheses, conducting experiments, and analyzing the data generated.
To repeat, because I think this is a fundamental fact for all consciousness experience, and understanding it is vital, every moment you are conscious, you are experiencing “the known” to the degree you know what to do next. Everyday, multiple times, your “known” encounters “Chaos,” which is when you don’t know what to do next. If you are going to continue acting, your conscious mind has to work to figure out what to do next.
This is the essence of the hero’s journey, and it is the essence of the story of your life.
(If you are interested in an exhaustively academic exploration of this idea, Jordan Peterson’s 500 paged beast, “Maps of Meaning,” will fundamentally change the way you look at myth and reality.)
To best absorb these three core components of experience, play with them until you come up with an image and metaphor that stick with you. They’re eternal to the human condition.
What is Chaos?
Mythically, Chaos is the Great Feminine. It is Shiva. In Chaos is both creation and destruction. It is from Chaos that Order emerges. Chaos is infinite and eternal. In it is everything that will destroy us and everything that could improve us. It is often symbolized by the dragon.
Biologically, Chaos has been an evolutionary constant long enough that all conscious nervous systems have a reflex when encountering any situation where it does not know how to act. It is called the orienting reflex.
Pragmatically, Chaos is the infinitude of obstacles that arise as we pursue our goals. It is everything from the flat tire to cancer. Since we are finite beings, our models will always be lacking, and will always encounter chaos.
The image I use to encapsulate the essence of Chaos is the ocean.
What is Order?
Mythically, Order is the Great Father. It is culture. Within Order we can develop. We learn how to be a human; language, rituals, taboos, etc. But Order is by its nature always incomplete. Chaos is always chipping away at it. Order in its negative form is the Tyrant who consumes his children. Complete Order destroys the individual.
Biologically, Order is the representational map of our environment our unconscious is constantly producing (correlated with electrical activity predominantly in the left hemisphere’s neocortex). When our actions lead to results our representation of the environment predicted, we are rewarded with dopamine.
Pragmatically, Order is when what we expect to happen, happens. If you are reading this, you are embedded in layers and layers of order. You’re not too hungry or thirsty. You have electricity and an internet connection. Order unchecked becomes tyrannical, but order is also what nurtured you from infancy into individuality.
The image I use to encapsulate the essence of Order is a large pyramid.
What is That Which Mediates Order And Chaos?
Mythically, this is the hero. It is the individual that willingly encounters chaos with the intent of coming home with treasure. The treasure is anything useful that updates and preserves the culture/order. The negative aspect of the hero is the adversary or villain.
Biologically, this drive to explore the unknown is called the exploratory process. It is the 2nd stage of the orienting complex. When we encounter the unknown, first we stop and look towards the anomaly, if after a second or two we aren’t scared enough to flee, the nervous system begins to explore the situation or object.
Pragmatically, this is the how you respond to the challenges you will encounter when you pursue your goals. It is this fundamental aspect of experience where we can most consciously improve, which will improve our lives.
If you are going to be successful, you will need to willfully pursue hard goals. You will expect challenges and look forward to them. Because you understand that all growth and improvement will come from your encounters with adversity.
The image I use to encapsulate the essence of this function is a gardener who is looking after the growth of a tree. I see the tree as our potential, and if we are going to reach our potential, we will need the help of the gardener.
Evolution has molded us to be goal-seeking creatures. All conscious nervous systems share three fundamental experiences; Chaos, Order, and the exploratory process. This interplay between our drive to pursue goals, and the three fundamental experiences create the narrative structure of our journey, or way, or tao, or life.
This narrative is a process, a journey, or way. It is the constant encountering of Chaos and updating of Order. And the kind of life we have depends on how we explain this story to ourselves, which is what we are doing every hour of everyday.
Be heroic. Willfully encounter chaos with the intent on bringing treasure back to your culture that will help others. Our culture needs help, and psychonauts are by definition one of the bravest explorers.