Following is the full transcript of clinical psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson’s TEDx Talk: Redefining Reality at TEDxToronto conference. The event occurred on November 14, 2011.
Dr. Jordan Peterson – Canadian clinical psychologist
Hello. I didn’t hear about this conference till about two weeks ago, and then, I think it was: Darius, who was running this whole show, who contacted me and said that somebody in the community thought that I had something to say that might be worth listening to for this TEDx thing, and I thought, “Oh, that’s cool! I know about TED, I should build a talk about something I really think is important.”
And then Darius said, “You’ve got six minutes,” and I thought, “Well, I better scale back.” Then I thought, “No, I’m not going to scale back, I’m going to try something I always wanted to do.” And that was, I thought, I’d try to redefine reality in six minutes.
So hold on to your hats. So, the reality I’m going to talk to you about today, it’s the reality that the people that you’ve listened to today, who were inspired, it’s the reality that they live in, and what I’m going to talk to you about, I don’t believe is metaphysics, I truly believe what I’m going to talk to you about it’s the most real thing I know; and knowing it is something that’s completely changed my life.
I think the people that you listen to today, who’ve changed their life in various ways, and the lives of other people, know this, too. I also think that you will see that what I’m going to tell you, you already know, too, but you don’t know you know it. It’s so great to be able to learn something you already know, so that it can be made conscious and explicit; and that’s what I’m going to try to do. So, there’s a lot of slides, and there’s lot of words, and so… away we go.
First, I believe that people suffer more than they have to because we profoundly misunderstand what’s real. We’re blinded to what’s truly fundamental, by the things that present themselves most easily to our perceptions; thus, we fail to realize what is most genuine and important. We believe that the world is made out of objects; I would like to propose instead that the world is made out of chaos and order, and that the quality of our being is dependent on how we manage the balance between the two.
Chaos – that’s what manifests itself when we don’t know what we are looking at; it’s chaos that we saw when the Twin Towers fell, it’s chaos that looms when the partner you loved for decades reveals a lengthy affair. It’s chaos that engulfs you when a loved one dies; chaos is the unknown, the unexpected, the anomalous. It’s the “mater,” the mother, the Latin root of the word matrix and material; the substance of reality.
Chaos is the fruitfulness of nature and the terror of time. It’s an ocean of possibilities surrounding the territory of human culture; it’s the water of life bringing sustenance to those parched by their own dry preconceptions, and it’s the flood unleashed by an angry God, when the ideas of man warped so badly that they can no longer be sustained. It’s the Yin of the Daoists, it’s the paralyzing horror of the darkness, it’s the treachery of our physical forms, it’s the monster under the bed, and it’s the snake that eternally lurks in the garden.
Chaos is also what you encounter when you boldly go where no one’s gone before. Order, by contrast, is where you are when everything is working properly. When trains run on time, that’s order. When you have a happy and secure home, that’s order. Order keeps the operating room clean; order is what God calls out of chaos at the beginning of time and offers to men and women as a dwelling place. It’s an island of stability in a sea of ignorance, it’s the Yang of the Daoists, it’s the walls of the city, it’s the principles of the constitution, and the uniform of the police.
Order is the stone that lasts and keeps the barbarians at bay. Taken to an extreme however, order becomes tyranny and imperils the soul. When human beings stray, we become rigid and unbending, or dissolute and careless; we can no longer think outside the box, or we drift without purpose and then drown in possibility. We want tyranny because we despise what we don’t know, or we want anarchy because we refuse responsibility. Either way, we risk exposing ourselves to the opposite principle.
Too much order makes collapse into chaos evermore likely. Too much chaos calls the devils of totalitarianism out from the crevasses where they hide. The Buddhists believe that life is suffering. Jews and Christians agree. The former remember a long history of persecution, the latter worship a god who’s simultaneously human, and betrayed, and crucified. When men and women cry out to heaven, in the face of their suffering, what is it that they can call forth? Meaning.
Meaning is not a rational phenomenon. We detect it with our being not with our intellect, which it should guide rather than follow. When chaos and order are balanced, we have one foot in each domain. That’s the meaning that life more abundantly depends on. In that place, we’re secured and confident, but challenged enough to be alert and developing. In that place, we play each game; not just to win but to become better players at all games in the future. Such meaning properly nurtured can produce love for life and gratitude so deep that the terrible limitations of being are justified. It’s in this manner that paradise is regained.
The alternative is to live an unbalanced life; this is not good because the terrible forces of chaos and order will tear an unbalanced person apart. He will become overwhelmed, hopeless, bitter, vengeful, and finally, cruel. She’ll become willingly blind, narrow, bored, cynical, and vicious. When life is unbalanced, people work against it because they’re angry at the dreadful, limited conditions of existence. “To hell with it,” That’s the curse of the embittered. Hell is where they’re headed, where they’d like to drag everyone else. This is revenge against God, or the conditions of being, – whichever you prefer – is motivated by the desire that things suffer further inadequacy and cease to be.
How might a person live in reality? This is an empirical not a rational question. Start by watching yourself as if you’re someone you know very little about; see when you are where you should be psychologically, and see when you’re not. Don’t think about it; watch, then practice spending more time in the place you want to be. You’re closer to paradise there, and farther from hell. Do whatever you have to to stay there.
Within a month, given disciplined effort, you’ll be in the proper place more often. In a year, much more often. In three years, if you’re lucky, most of the time. When asked about the kingdom of heaven, Christ said, “It’s like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, but when it falls on prepared ground, it produces a great plant and becomes a shelter for all the birds of the sky. It’s from such small beginnings that great things grow.”