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Keywords: Kant, Trust, Adam, Tiamat, Dante, Underworld, Speech, Mephistopheles, Moon, Jung, Hero, Solzhenitsyn, Archetypal, Narrative

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Biblical Series II: Genesis 1: Chaos & Order

by Dr. Jordan Peterson

I thought, this time, that I would actually cover some of the Biblical stories, hopefully a number of them. As I said last time, I'm going to go through this as fast as I am able to. I want to do as complete a job as possible. Of course, the probability that I’ll get through the entire Bible is very low, but we’ll get through a lot of the major stories and the beginning of it. That’s a good start. Assuming that this all goes well, maybe I’ll try to do this same thing again in the fall, or next year—assuming that everything is still working out properly next year. It’s a long ways away.

All right, I guess we’ll start. Last week I talked to you about a line in the New Testament that was from John. It was a line that was designed to parallel the opening of Genesis. It’s a really important line. I thought I would reemphasize it, because the Bible is a book that’s been written forward and backwards in time—like most books, because if you write a book, of course, when you get to the end, if you’re a writer, you can adjust the beginning, and so on. It has this odd appearance of linearity, but it isn’t linear. It’s like you’re God, standing outside of time. That’s your book, and you can play with time anywhere along it. The people who put the book together—or the books together—took full advantage of that. It gives the story odd parallels in many, many places and this is one of the major parallels—at least from the perspective of the Christian interpretation of the Bible, which, of course, includes the New Testament.

So there’s this strange idea that Christ was the same factor, or force, that God used at the beginning of time to speak habitable order into being. That’s a very, very strange idea. It’s not something that can be just easily dismissed as superstition, partly because it’s so strange. It doesn’t even fit the definition of a superstitious belief. It’s a dream-like belief, and what I see in many of the ideas in the Bible is these dream-like ideas that underlie our normative cognition and that constitute the ground from which our more articulated and explicit ideas have emerged. This idea’s so complicated that it’s still mostly embedded in dream-like form, but it seems to have something to do with the primacy of consciousness. This is one of the biggest issues regarding the structure of reality, as far as I can tell, because everyone from physicists to neurobiologists debate this. The stumbling block for a purely objective view of the world seems, to me, to be consciousness.

Consciousness has all sorts of strange properties. For example, it isn’t obvious what constitutes time, or at least duration, in the absence of consciousness. It isn’t also easy to understand what constituted being in the absence of consciousness, because it seems to be the case—well, if a movie is running and there’s no one to watch it…I know it sounds like the tree in the forest idea, but it’s not that idea at all. If a movie is running and no one’s watching it, in what sense can you say that there’s even a movie running? Because the movie seems to be the experience of the movie, not the objective elements of the movie. There’s something about the world—at least insofar as we’re in it as human beings—that is dependent on conscious experience of the world. Now, of course, you can take consciousness out of the world and say, well, if none of us were here, if there was no such thing as consciousness, then the cosmos would continue running the way it is running. But it depends on what, exactly, you mean by the cosmos when you make a statement like that. There’s something about the subjective experience of reality that gives it reality, and since we’re all pretty enamoured at our own consciousnesses—although they’re painful, because they define our being—it’s not unreasonable to give consciousness a kind of metaphysical primacy.

It’s a deeper idea than that because there’s physicists—and they’re not trivial physicists—like John Wheeler, who believes that consciousness plays a constitutive role in transforming the chaotic potential of being into the actuality of being. He’s not alive anymore, but he actually thought about it as playing a constitutive role. Then, from the neurobiological perspective, from the scientific perspective, consciousness is not something that we understand. I don’t think we understand it at all. It’s something we can’t get a handle on with our fundamental, materialist philosophy, and I don’t know why that is. It’s quite frustrating, if you’re a scientist, but it isn’t clear to me that we’ve made any progress whatsoever in understanding consciousness, even though, well, we’ve been trying to understand it for hundreds of years, and even though psychologists and neurobiologists and so forth have really put a lot of effort into understanding consciousness from a scientific perspective in the last 50 years.

Anyways, what it seems to me is the idea that God used the word to extract habitable order out of chaos at the beginning of time, which is roughly the right way of thinking about it. It seems to me deeply allied with the idea that what it is that we do as human beings is encounter something like the formless and potential chaos. I mean, we’re not omniscient and we can’t just do whatever we want. That’s always what we’re grappling with, and somehow we use our consciousness to give that form. This is how people act. If you look at how they regard themselves, it’s how they act, because you say things to people like, you should live up to your potential, and you make a case that there’s something about a person that’s more than what is that yet could be if only they’d participate in the process properly. Everyone knows what that means, and no one acts like a mystery has been uttered when you say that.

You can see a situation in your own life that’s full of potential. You’re often extremely excited when you encounter something that’s full of potential, because what you see is something that could be. You see a future beckoning for you that could be if only you interacted with it properly, and it activates your nervous system in a very basic way. We even understand how that happens to the degree that we understand how the nervous system works. The systems that mediate positive emotion are governed, roughly, by neurochemical dopamine, which have their roots way down in the ancient hypothalamus, a very, very archaic and fundamental part of the brain that responds to potential, or the possibility of accruing something new and valuable. It responds to potential with active movement forward and engagement. And so we’re engaged in the world as potential, and it looks like consciousness does that.

This is the main idea that it think has been put forth in Genesis 1. From what I gather, there’s always three causal elements that make up being at the bottom of world mythology. One is the formless potential that makes up being once it’s interacted with, and that’s generally given a feminine nature. I think that’s because it’s like the source from which all things emerge and rise. It’s more complicated than that, but then there’s some kind of interpretive structure that has to grapple with that formless potential. I think that’s the sort of thing that’s alluded to by Immanuel Kant when he was criticizing the notion that all of information comes from sense data, which would be the pure empirical perspective. When you encounter the world, you encounter it with a cognitive structure that already has shape. It’s already in you, this structure. Without that a priori structure, you wouldn’t be able to take the formless potential and give it structure. It’s akin, in some way, to the idea of God the Father, and I’ll try to develop that idea more. It’s the notion that there’s something in all of us that transcends all of us, that’s deeply structural, that’s part of this ancient evolutionary and cultural process, that enables us to grapple with the formless potential and bring forth reality, roughly speaking.

And then there’s the final element, and that element seems to be something like consciousness that actually inheres in the individual. So it’s not only that you have the structure: it’s that the structure has the capacity for action in the world. It’s like you’re this spirit that gives the dead structure life. As far as I can tell, the Trinitarian notion that characterizes Christianity is something like formless potential—which is never given a status of a deity in Christianity—and then the notion that there’s an a priori interpretive structure that’s a consequence of our ancient existence as beings. The notion of a structure goes back as far in time as you can go. Then there is the idea of a consciousness that is the tool of that structure. It interacts with the world and gives it reality. That’s the word, as far as I can tell.

The notion is that there’s a Father, and that’s the structure, and there’s a Son that’s transcendent and characterizes consciousness itself. It’s the Son, the speaking of the Son, that is the active principle that turns chaos into order. It’s such a sophisticated idea. There’s something about it that’s, at least, phenomenologically accurate. You do have an interpretive structure and you couldn’t understand anything without it. Your very body is an interpretive structure. It’s been crafted over, let’s say, three billion years of evolution. Without that, you wouldn’t be able to perceive anything, and it’s taken a lot of death and struggle and tragedy to produce you, the thing that’s capable of encountering this immense chaos that surrounds us and transforming it into habitable order.

There’s the idea, too, of course, that’s deeply embedded in the first chapters of Genesis, which is a staggering idea and certainly not one that’s likely, that human beings, both male and female, were made in the image of God. That’s a very difficult thing to understand, partly because the God that’s referred to in those chapters has a polytheistic element, although it’s an element that's moving rapidly towards a unified monotheism. But it’s not also obvious to me why people would come up with that concept. I don’t really think that, when we think about each other, we immediately think God-like. The notion that every single human being, regardless of their peculiarities, strangenesses, sins, crimes, and all of that, has something divine in them that needs to be regarded with respect, plays an integral role, at least an analogous role, in the creation of habitable order out of chaos. That’s a magnificent, remarkable, crazy idea. And yet we developed it, and I do firmly believe that it sits at the base of our legal system.

I think it is the cornerstone of our legal system. That’s the notion that everyone is equal before God, which is, of course, such a strange idea. It’s very difficult to understand how anybody could have ever come up with that idea, because the manifold differences between people are so obvious and so evident that you could say that the natural way of viewing human being is in this extreme hierarchical manner, where some people are contemptible and easily brushed off as pointless and pathological and without value, and all the power accrues to a certain tiny aristocratic minority at the top. But if you look at the way that the idea of the individual sovereign developed, it’s clear that it unfolded over thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of years before it became something firmly fixed in the imagination. Each individual has something of transcendent value about them. Man, I tell you, we dispense with that idea at our serious peril. If you’re gonna take that idea seriously—which you do because you act it out, because otherwise you wouldn’t be law-abiding citizens—then you act that idea out. It’s firmly shared by everyone who acts in a civilized manner. The question is, why in the world do you believe it? Assuming that you believe what you act out, which I think is a really good way of fundamentally defining beliefs.

That’s the idea, that there’s this God of tradition and structure. That’s God the Father, who uses the Son, which is more of an active force and, primarily, something that’s verbal. I think that’s extremely interesting, because it’s associated not with thought, precisely, but with speech. I think the reason for that is that there’s something to speech that’s more than mere thought. I think part of the reason for that is that speech is a public utterance and, at least in principle, speech is something that is shaped by the existence of everyone else across time. When you speak, your speech is put forward in the world as a causal element. It’s also subject to criticism and cooperation and mutual shaping. So there’s an idea here, too, that the cognitive processes that brings habitable reality out of uninhabitable chaos has this collective and public element, which is part of the reason, by the way, that I'm an advocate of free speech, let’s say above all.

It is the case, for example in the Canadian Bill of Rights, that every single right has equal value. That’s the theory. It’s an idiotic theory, because it’s absolutely impossible for a large set of rights to have absolutely equal stance. That cannot happen. There’s no way that can ever work, but that is the legal judgment. I think it’s a huge mistake. Free speech has this divine quality, let’s say, that you can’t escape from. It’s the thing that manufactures everything else. I do think that the dream—that you could think of as encapsulated in the stories in Genesis—is the dream by which human beings dreamed up the idea that we would now consider consciousness. It took us a long time to figure out the word consciousness. It’s not like it’s bloody obvious. Who knows how many thousands of years, or who knows what struggles we had to undertake, to abstract out something like consciousness, and how we had to represent that dramatically, or symbolically, or in a dream-like fashion, before we could actually formulate the term and localize that to some degree. It’s very sophisticated.

John makes the case that there’s an emanation of God, or an element of God, that the transcendent consciousness acts directly and in a sort of living way with the underlying potential of the world. I think that is phenomenologically accurate, and I do think that’s the way we regard our lives. When you think about it, we tend to think that what you encounter when you are looking at the world is the material world, but that isn’t how you act. You do act as if you’re in a place of potential and also in a place of potential that you can actually transform, which is extraordinarily strange, because we do treat each other as if we’re capable of bringing new forms into the world in some permanent manner. We treat each other as if we have free choice and free will. Perhaps we don’t, but it’s certainly the case that societies that are predicated on the idea that we don’t, don’t do very well, and societies that are predicated on the idea that we do, seem to do a lot better.

People tend to get very annoyed at you if you treat them like they’re automatons that lack free will. There’s something that people find very, I would say constraining, slave-like, about that: the demand that you don’t have actual autonomy and, even worse, that you’re not responsible for your choices. It’s an insult to someone to suggest to them that they’re not responsible for their choices. To do that to someone from a legal perspective, you have to argue something like diminished capacity: you’re mentally ill, or you don’t have the intellectual capacity, or you were addled by some substance, or you had a brain injury, or something, and that’s why you’re not responsible for your actions. Otherwise, part of the respect that you give to another human being is the assumption that they’re responsible for their actions. If you do something bad, then you’re responsible for it. But part of that, too, is that, if you do something good, you’re also responsible for that. That also seems necessary because, I mean, it’s gotta be more annoying than anything else you can imagine to strive virtuously to produce something of extreme value and then to be treated as if that was a mere deterministic outcome, and that your actual choices had nothing to do with that. People find that sort of thing extraordinarily punishing. I know that there are debates about all of these things, and debates about free will, and debates about the nature consciousness, but I'm trying to take a clear look at how people act, how they want to be treated, and then to trace it back to these old ideas to see if there’s some metaphysical connection.

All right, so here’s how the book opens: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." This is a hard narrative section to get a handle on because, in order to understand it properly, you have to actually look behind it. There are a lot of pieces of old stories in the Old Testament that flesh out the meaning of these lines. I can give you a quick overview of it. One of the ideas that lurks underneath these lines—although you can't tell, because it's in English. You have to look at the original language, and, of course, I don't speak the original language. I’ve had to use secondary sources, too bad for me. But the "without form and void," and the deep idea—you see, that's associated with this notion of endless, deep potential. For example, words that are used to represent "without form and void" are something like—I’m going to get this partly wrong—tohu wa-bohu. Another one is tehom. It’s important to know this, because those words are associated with an earlier Mesopotamian word, which is Tiamat.

Tiamat was a dragon-like creature who represented the salt water. Tiamat had a husband named Apsu. Tiamat and Apsu were locked together in a kind of sexual embrace. I would say that's potential and order, or chaos and order. They were locked together, and it was that union of chaos and order that gave rise in the old Mesopotamian myth, the Enuma Elis, to being, to the old Gods first, and then, eventually, as creation progressed, to human beings themselves.

There's this idea lurking underneath these initial lines that God is akin to that which confronts the unknown, carves it into pieces, and makes the world out of its pieces. The thing that it confronts is something like a predatory reptile, a dragon, or a serpent. I think part of the reason for that—and this is a very deep and ancient idea—is that…This is where it gets so complicated to do the translation. It’s partly how human beings created our world. We went out beyond the confines of our safe spaces—let's say our safe spaces defined by the tree or the fire—and we actively voyaged outward to the places that we were afraid of and didn't understand. We conquered and encountered things out there: animals, mammoths, snakes, and predators of all sorts. It was as a consequence of that active, brave engagement with the terrifying domain of what we did not understand that the world, in fact, was generated. That idea lurks deeply inside the opening lines of Genesis.

It’s a profound idea, in my estimation. I think, also, that the way our brains are structured—and this is something that I’m going to try to develop more today—is the ancient circuits that our ancestors used to deal with the space beyond the home territory which they had already explored. Unknown territory is characterized by promise, because there are new things out there, but also by intense danger. We’re prey animals, especially millions of years ago when we were very young. We had to go out there and encounter things that were terribly dangerous. There was a kind of, let's say, paternal courage that went along with that. It was the spirit of paternal courage that enabled the conquering of the unknown, and there’s no difference between the conquering of the unknown and the creation of habitable order.

The thing is that, as our cognitive faculties have developed to the point where we’re capable of very high levels of abstraction, the underlying biological architecture has remained the same. For example, when you’re having an argument about something fundamental with someone that you love, you’re trying to structure the world around you, jointly, to create a habitable space that you can both exist within. You’re using the abstracted version of the same circuits. You're using the same circuits that our archaic ancestors would have used when they would have went out into the unknown itself to encounter beasts, predators, and geographical unknowns. It's the same circuit. It's just that we do it abstractly now instead of concretely. But, of course, it has to be the same circuit, because evolution is a very conservative force. What else would it be? This is also why I think it’s so easy for us to demonize those people who are our enemies. Our enemies confront us with what we don't want to see, and, because of that, our first response is to use snake detection circuitry on them. That accounts for our almost immediate capacity to demonize. There’s a reason for that. It’s not a trivial thing. First of all, it's a very fast response. And second of all, it's a response that's worked for a very, very, very long time.

One of the variants of the hero—and I would consider a variant of the hero like a fragment of the picture of God—is the heroic warrior who slays the enemy. Of course, that's not precisely a politically correct representation of a hero in modern times, and no wonder, but it's still something that you go watch in movies all the time and admire. It’s one of the most—how many plots are there? Romance and adventure, that’s about it. Most of the adventure genre is, well, there’s some enemy that’s lurking in some form—it could be human, it could be alien—and someone rises up to go and confront it and maintain order. There's no getting away from that story. If you don't have that in your own life, you play a video game where that's happening, or you watch a movie where that's happening, or you read a book where that’s happening. It captures you, even if you're atheistic and your only religion is Star Wars. It still captures your imagination. You act like someone who’s possessed by religious fervor when you line up for three days to be the first one into the theatre—and all the while claiming that you’re atheistic to the core.

It’s hard to get a grip on what "without form and void" exactly means. I can give you another kind of example of how you would experience the formless chaos of potential in your own lives, and even how the order that you currently inhabit can dissolve into that. In Dante's Inferno, he outlined the levels of hell. Dante was trying to get to the bottom of what constituted evil in this representation. It's a work of psychology, and he’s thinking, well, there are various ways to behave reprehensibly, but there's a hierarchy of reprehensible behaviour, and there's something absolutely the worst at the bottom. Dante believed that it was betrayal. I think that’s right, because one of the things that enables long-term, peaceful cooperation between people is trust. I would also say that trust is the fundamental natural resource.

There's been some very good books written on the economic utility of trust. Societies where the default economic presupposition between trading partners is trust tend to be rich, even if they don't have any natural resources. You can see that, for example, with what happened with eBay, which I think was kind of a miracle. What should have happened with eBay was that you sent me junk and I sent you a cheque that bounced, and that was the end of eBay. But that isn't what happened. The default transaction on eBay was so honest that the brokers—you could hire brokers, to begin with. I can't remember what they were called, exactly, but you could pay someone a fee so that they would guarantee the transaction. You wouldn’t send me junk and I’d actually send you a payment, and we’d pay 10 percent for someone to guarantee that. The default trade was so honest that those things vanished right away. That meant that all this frozen capital, roughly speaking, which were all the junk that people had lying around that someone else might want, instantly became money. The only reason that worked is that people trusted one another. Trust is an unbelievably powerful economic force, maybe the most powerful economic force.

Anyways, part of the reason for having a relationship predicated on trust is that trust is what enables us to look at each other without running away screaming. What I mean by that is that, if I trust you, then I don’t have to take into account how complicated you are, because you’re horribly complicated. A chimpanzee full of snakes: that’s what a human being is. As long as you’ll do what you say you’ll do, then I can take you at your word, and your word simplifies you. You can take my word, and my word simplifies you, and then we can act like we understand each other, even though we don’t.

But then, if that trust is betrayed, then all the snakes come forth very, very rapidly. All of you, I suspect, have been betrayed in one way or another. If you're in a relationship with someone and you trust them, then you make certain assumptions about the past, and you make certain assumptions about the present, and you make certain assumptions about the future, and everything’s stable. You’re standing on solid ground and the chaos—it's like you're standing on thin ice. The chaos is hidden; the shark beneath the waves isn't there. You’re safe; you’re in the lifeboat. But the instant the person betrays you…If you're in a intimate relationship and the person has an affair, and you find out about it, one moment you're in one place where everything is secure, because you predicated your perception of the world on the axiom of trust, and the next second—really, the next second—you’re in a completely different place. Not only is that place different right now, but the place you were years ago is different, and the place you're gonna be in the future years hence is different.

All of that certainty, that strange certainty that you inhabit, can collapse into incredible complexity. If someone betrays you, you think, well, ok, who were you? Because you aren't who I thought you were, and I thought I knew you. But I didn't know you at all, and I never knew you. All the things we did together, those weren’t the things that I thought were happening. Something else was happening, and you are someone else, and that means I'm someone else, because I thought I knew what was going on, and clearly I don’t. I’m some sort of blind sucker, or the victim of a psychopath, or someone who’s so naive that they can barely live. I don't understand anything about human beings, and I don't understand anything about myself, and I have no idea where I am now. I thought I was at home, but I’m not. I’m in a house, and it's full of strangers. I don't know what I’m going to do tomorrow, or next week, or next year. All of that certainty, that habitable certainty, collapses right back into the potential from which it emerged. That's a terrifying thing. That's a journey to the underworld, from a mythological perspective.

That is really something worth knowing, because journeys to the underworld are extraordinarily common in mythological stories—like the hobbit going out to find Smaug, the dragon, and get the gold, is the journey into the underworld. Journeys to the underworld happen all the time. Modern people don't understand what the underworld is, except that we’ve all been there and we go there all the time. We go there every time the solidity and stability of the world, that we’ve erected at least partly through our speech, is shattered because some sort of snake appears. That's another way of thinking about it. It’s a really good way of thinking about it, because no matter how carefully constructed a little habitable area that surrounds you, there's always something you didn't take into account. There’s always something that can pop up its head and do you in, and make you aware of your mortality and age you, or even kill you.

That's the permanent situation of life, which is part of the reason why I think the story of Adam and Eve is archetypal: it's because we do inhabit walled gardens. A walled garden is half structure and society, and half nature. That’s what the walled garden is. A walled garden is a place of paradise, warmth, love, and sustenance, but it's also the place where something can pop up at any moment and knock you out of it. I think part of the reason that story exists at the beginning of this collection of books is because it explains the eternal situation of human beings. We’re always in that situation. We’re in a walled garden—or we bloody well hope we are—but there's always a snake. It’s even worse because, if there is a snake, we’re exactly the sort of creatures that are going to do nothing but go and interact with that snake the second that we can manage it. It’s definitely the case that, if you want a human being to muck around with something, the best thing to do is to tell them not to ever do it, not to have anything to do with it. This is, of course, something you know if you have teenagers, or even children, or if you know anything about yourself or your partner.

These stories are trying to express what you might describe as an unchanging, transcendent reality. It's something like what’s common across all human experience, across all time. That’s what Jung essentially meant by an archetype. You can say, well, we tend to think what we see with our senses is real, and of course that’s true. But what we see with our senses is what’s real that works at the timeframe that we exist in. We see things that we can touch and pick up. We see tools, essentially, that are useful for our moment to moment activities. We don't see the structures of eternity, especially not the abstract structures of eternity. We have to imagine those with our imagination. That's partly what these stories are doing. They’re saying, there’s forms of stability that transcend our capacity to observe, which is hardly surprising. We know that if we’re scientists, because we’re always abstracting out things that we can’t immediately observe. But there are metaphysical, or moral realities, or phenomenological realities, that you can't see in your life by observing them with your senses. You can imagine them with your imagination, and sometimes the things that you imagine are more real than the things that you see. Numbers are like that, for example.

There’s endless examples of that. I would say—and this is also a good way of thinking about fiction—a good work of fiction is more real than the stories from which it was derived. Otherwise it has no staying power. It’s distilled reality, even though, in some sense, it never happened. It’s like, well, it depends on what you mean by "happened." It’s a pattern that repeats in many, many places with variation. You extract out the central pattern. The pattern purely never existed in any specific form, but the fact that you pulled the pattern out from all those examples means that you extracted something real. I think the reason that the story of Adam and Eve—which we'll talk about in quite a bit of detail today—has been immune to being forgotten is because it says things about the nature of the human condition that are always true.

I can give you another brief example. People have a lot of guilt. There’s a line in social psychology that claims that most people feel that they're better than other people. I just don't buy that. That isn't what I’ve seen in my life. Maybe I’m a bit biased because I’m a clinical psychologist and I see more people who are overtly suffering, maybe, than people do in general. Although, I'm not so sure about that, because you don't have to scratch very far beneath the surface of most people’s lives before you find something truly tragic. And I don't mean the sort of tragedy that you whine about. I mean, your mother has Alzheimer’s, or your best friend committed suicide, or you have a close relative with cancer, or you have a sick child. There’s something wrong with you, because almost everyone has at least one really terrible thing wrong with them. If you don’t, hey, you will.

That tragic sense of being is there with people all the time. It’s also the case that, in my experience, I rarely meet someone who says, hey, I’m doing everything I possibly can. I’m a hell of a guy, and I can't see how I could possibly improve. You meet someone like that and you think they’re narcissistic, and you’re right. Most people don't feel that way. They feel like they could do a hell of a lot better than they are. They’re quite acutely aware of their faults, and they don't feel that they're what they should be. What happens in the story of Adam and Eve, as well, is that, when people become self-conscious—at least that's how it looks to me—they get thrown out of paradise. Then they’re in history, and history is a place where there's pain in child birth, where you’re dominated by your mate, and where you have to toil like mad, like no other animal, because you’re aware of the future. You have to work and sacrifice the joys of the present for the future, constantly, and you know you’re going to die. You have all that weight on you, and to me, again, that’s just…How can anything be more true than that? As far as I can tell, that’s just how it is, unless you're naive beyond comprehension. There's something about your life that is echoed in that representation.

We’re such strange creatures. We don't seem to really fit into being, in some sense, and that’s also what's expressed in the notion of the fall. The existentialists said that people feel like they have a debt that they have to pay off to existence for the crime of their being. Maybe it's because we’re acutely aware that we have to offer something of value to people around us, so that they can tolerate us while we’re going about our business. But it seems deeper than that. It’s that human beings seem to exist in a post-cataclysmic world. That’s exactly what's represented in Genesis. It's very interesting because, in the Adam and Eve story, there's two catastrophes. There’s the catastrophe that occurs when Adam and Eve wake up—which we’ll talk about in detail—become self-conscious, and know that they're naked. "Their eyes are opened." That’s the terminology that's used, and to have your eyes opened means to have an increment in consciousness, essentially, because eyes are associated with consciousness for human beings. We’re intensely visual animals, and so the metaphor of having your eyes opened is the same as the metaphor of coming to consciousness.

As soon as Adam and Eve come to consciousness, they realize they're naked, and the classic interpretation of that is that it has something to do with sexual sin. I don't believe that. I don’t believe that's what it means, although there are elements about that that are relevant. It's more like a dream that you’re naked on a stage in front of people. That’s not a sexual dream, unless you're some kind of strange exhibitionist, right? You want to cover yourself up and get the hell off that stage as fast as possible. To be naked in front of a crowd is to have the judgement of the social world focused on your self-evident inadequacies. That makes people self-conscious, and that's a real human state. It’s associated with neuroticism in the Big Five trait model.

People don't like that at all: they don't like having their fragility and vulnerability exposed to the group. It's one of the two major fears of people. One is social humiliation, and the other is something like mortality and death. Your typical agoraphobic, for example, gets to have both those fears at the same time, because she—it's usually a she—tends to believe she’s going to have a very spectacular and exhibitionistic heart attack in a public place and make a terrible fool of herself while she’s dying. That's a good example of the two archetypal fears that characterize human beings.

I said that I’d try to approach these stories as if I didn't know what they were about, because that seemed right to me. Everything about them is mysterious. Why we have them is mysterious, and what the hell you’re all doing here is mysterious. Carl Jung was very, very helpful in this. He faced these stories with a beginner’s mind and presumed there was something to them that he didn't understand, given that they were at the very bloody bottom of our civilization, which is historically perfectly clear. They came out of the mists of time, and he wasn’t satisfied with the Freudian idea that God was just the Father—the Marxist idea that religion was the opiate of the masses. It's like, if religion was the opiate of the masses, then communism was the methamphetamine of the masses, I can tell you that.

You’ve been betrayed by someone, and so you fall into that underworld of doubt about everything. It's a serious place, to be in that underworld, because not only do you not know where you came from, or who you are, or where you’re going…That’s bad enough. That’s the underworld itself, but there's a subdivision of the underworld, the worst suburb, which is what I think hell is, essentially, from the metaphysical perspective. If someone really cuts you off at the knees, especially if they do it in a malevolent way…If you're gonna be betrayed, and you really want to be betrayed properly, you want to be betrayed by someone who’s really out to hurt you. They weren’t just being stupid. They were after you, for whatever reason. You plunge into that underworld space, and that’s also when you start to nurse feelings of resentment, aggrievement, murder, and homicide—and even worse.

If people are betrayed enough, they start to obsess about the utility of being itself, and perhaps go to places that no one would ever want to go, if they were in their right mind. They develop and nurse fantasies of the ultimate revenge. That's a horrible place to be. That’s hell, as far as I can tell. That’s why hell has always been a suburb of the underworld: if you get plunged into a situation that you don't understand, and things are not good for you anymore, it’s one step from being completely confused to being completely outraged and resentful, and then it's only one step from there to be really looking for revenge. That can take you places that, merely to imagine properly, can be traumatic. I’ve seen that happen with people many times. I think that anybody who uses their imagination on themselves can see how that happens. I don't imagine there's a single person in the room that hasn’t nursed fairly intense fantasies of revenge, at least at one point in their life, and usually for what appear to be good reasons. It’s no picnic to get betrayed, that’s for sure. It can shake your faith in being. But, if it shakes it so badly that you turn against being itself, that’s certainly no solution, that's for sure. All it does is make everything that's bad even worse.
"And God said, let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness." That’s another fundamental separation: light, and darkness. Those are, in some sense, two of the fundamental elements of our conscious being. When it's light, we’re awake and conscious, because we’re diurnal animals. When it’s night, well, then we’re asleep. Our existence is bounded by light and darkness. We’re up and alert when it's light. That's partly because we’re highly visual animals—unlike most animals, because most animals use smell. We use vision. We’re very strange that way, and vision is associated with enlightenment, illumination, the breaking of the dawn, the coming of the new day, and all of that. For light to be created is associated, in some sense, with the emergence of conscious being. That’s another echo of that notion. The particular phrasing of the story, also, is important because it’s, again, that God "said." That’s the use of the word, or the active element of the structure that gives order to chaos. It's like the spirit of the structure manifests itself and produces the fundamental divisions of experience. That’s what’s being represented here.

"And God separated the light from the darkness. God call the light day, and the darkness he called night." And, again, the fact that things are named is also very important. You see this later with Adam, because God gives Adam the job of naming all the animals. It’s sort of like the animals don't actually exist until they’re named. That's another indication of the authors of the Bible attempting to come to terms with the fact that our cognitive faculties and our ability to speak have something to do with the way that we cast chaotic potential into actuality. We can't really get a grip on something before we have a name for it, which is why, for example, you all have names. Everything that you encounter has to have a name, because before it has a name, it's just part of the blurry background. You could say it exists before it has a name, and that's true, but it's also true that it doesn't exist before it has a name. As soon as you give something a name, its nature changes. You’ve transformed it into something that's not so much mere potential anymore. It’s, at least, on its way to being actuality, and to being a tool. And so the act of naming is repeated continually in the first chapters of the Bible. The reason for that is this continued emphasis on the importance of consciousness, conscious articulation, and speech.

Speech is really something that does separate us in an important way from animals. We haven’t got very far teaching animals how to speak. The best we’ve managed, so far, is with grey African parrots. There's one of them that got up to a four-year-old level. That’s mind-boggling, because how big is the brain of a parrot? It’s like that big, and that bloody thing could talk, so that shows you how much we know about brains. We tried to teach chimpanzees to talk. They could kind of get somewhere with sign language, especially if you started when they were young, but they don't have the capacity for language like we do. They were never able to really pass it on to the next generation, which is, obviously, a critical element of really having that ability.

As human beings, we’ve used our linguistic capacity to parse up the world in a new way, and to conceptualize it in a new way. You can say that we’re just like ants, on this little, trivial planet out on the edge of one of a hundred million galaxies, and that what’s happening here has no cosmic significance, but that’s an arbitrary proposition. We’re very complicated things, and whatever’s going on, on this planet, has to do with conscious reality. The transformations of consciousness, for all we know, might be the most important things that happen everywhere.

There’s no reason to consider consciousness a trivial phenomena. It’s taken 3.5 billion years for you to develop the brain that you’ve developed. Human beings are amazing creatures. Just a casual walk through YouTube, and all those crazy kids that climb cranes and do that..what’s that called…Yea, parkour. Man, that stuff’s unbelievable. Human beings are crazy, crazy animals. There's almost nothing we can't do. I’m very loathe to assume that the transformations of consciousness that are described in the early stories in the Biblical accounts are somehow cosmically trivial. It doesn't strike me that way, and it's certainly not self-evident. Even if they are cosmically trivial, and the rocks don't care what you think, well, who cares what the rocks think? First, they don't think, so I don't see why that's exactly relevant. Even if it’s all the same to the cosmos—which is something that I doubt—it’s certainly not just all the same to you, because your consciousness has a quality, and it matters.

Heidegger is a philosopher whose writing influenced me post hoc. I recreated some of the things that he had talked about in the ‘30s before I knew much about him. But one of the things that Heidegger said was that the fundamental element of human being, of human phenomenology, was care. He said that's the basic essence of your being, that you care about things, either negatively or positively. To not care about something, or to hate it, is still to be involved in care. Even if the cosmos itself is neutral with regards to our existence, we’re not. And we’re the only things that we know of that are conscious, and so, well, we might as well go with that. There’s no reason—see, I can't help but think that the constant attempts by people to trivialize the nature of their own consciousness has a dark side. I'm a psychoanalyst, so I always think that way.

First of all, if you as a being don't matter, then you don't have to do anything. It's a great justification for total lack of responsibility, and that really twigs something for me. People who are bent, let’s say, or vengeful, or angry, are always looking for a reason why they don't have to be responsible for anything. Plus, it’s a lot easier. The notion that consciousness is trivial immediately allows you to wander down that path, and so I’m skeptical of those claims. I also think there's a deep hatred of humanity that underlies those claims, as well.

I’ve heard that radically clueless environmentalists say things like, "the planet would be better off without people on it," which is something that…You just cannot say that. If you say that and listen to yourself, you should go to a monastery for like three years and never say a word, and have a shower every 10 minutes until you’ve learned your lesson properly. You can't utter a more genocidal phrase than that. And, of course, you always do it in a display of your care for the world. It’s like, well, if we just didn't have any people…Well, we’ll just line them all up and shoot them with machine guns. It’s really sickening. It’s appalling, and there's a hatred for humanity that's at the bottom of it. You can kind of understand why, because we’re messy, we don't clean up after ourselves, we’re like raping the rainforests and that sort of thing. But I do have some sympathy for people, because we’re hell on mother nature, but she certainly returns the favor.

That's a good thing to remember. A lot of what we’re doing is just bloody well trying to exist with a relative minimum of pain. We’re doing our best to get as good at doing that as fast as we can. That’s not an easy thing. There are lots of us, and life is bloody complicated. Again, if you scratch just beneath the surface of people—and this is something that’s always, to me, been kind of a miracle—you find they're out doing their job, and maybe they’re doing a good job at it, like some emergency room nurse. God, there's a job for you. Or maybe they work in palliative care. You talk with them and you find out that they’ve got like four serious problems in their family, and maybe they’re diabetic, and yet they haul themselves out of bed in the morning and go take care of dying people. It’s like, good God! People deserve a bit of respect for struggling forward and not always trying to make the planet a worse place when they’re beset on all sides, constantly, by an unending series of tragedy. You’d think we could have a little bit of sympathy for ourselves as a consequence of that. We’re not all rapacious, greedy monsters who are bent on just devouring everything in our path. It's a little bit more complicated than that.
Let’s go to the next part of this. "And God said, let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters. And God made the expanse, and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day." That doesn't make any sense at all, really. I think I told you a little about this before. The world that’s being created, in this particular account, is a phenomenological world. There’s a disc of land, because if you go out in a field and you look around, you're on a disc of land. That’s pretty obvious. And then there's a dome on top that’s more or less held up by the mountains. Rain comes down, so there's water above the dome. Where else would the rain come from? Underneath the ground, there’s fresh water. You can drill down and find that. And then, around that, there’s salt water. That’s the world. It's kind of an empirical world, because if you’re a child and you just go out in a field and look at the world, that’s sort of what it would be like. And so that’s the world that’s been created.

One of the things that is worth thinking about—this is something Carl Jung was very interested in—is that these old descriptions are half geographical and empirical—based on observation—and half psychological. One of the things Jung was interested in, for example, was astrology, but mostly for psychological reasons. There are stars up in the dome, and then, when you look at the stars, you can imagine the shapes of the stars. That helps you orient yourself, because as soon as you can see shapes in the the stars, you can recognize the constellations, and you can orient yourself at night. But then the constellations become Gods, say, and then the Gods turn into a drama. The drama comes from within. It’s the projection of imagination. When Jung was analyzing astrology, he was analyzing psychology. He saw the astrological narrative as the projection of the human imagination onto the cosmos. The same thing is the case with these stories. The world they describe is not the natural world, like a scientist would describe it, because these people weren’t scientists. They didn't have the technology and the tools. For them, it was the world. For us, it’s the way they saw the world.
We share that psychology, to a large degree, with those people. It's interesting to know what the geographical substrate is, so that you kind of understand the stories. I like this picture. From a psychological perspective, it's a very famous picture. Basically, what you have here is the world as we know it. There’s the dome with the sun and the moon on it, and the stars. If you look outside what you know, then you’re out into this cosmic space. Those are like the wheels of the planets and the music of the spheres. That’s the ever-present explorer who’s gone beyond the domain that he can understand and is peering out into the unknown. It's a psychological picture, because you do know some things, and then outside of that there are things you don't know. When you’re feeling brave, you put a foot or two out where you don't understand. There’s frontier everywhere. If you’re feeling heroic and you want to do something for the world, and you want to expand what you understand, you poke your head through what you know and you take a look at whatever structure is out there.

He’s pretty smart, because most of him is still where it’s safe. I would say that’s a good thing, because if you jump right out there, well, then maybe you fall off the edge of the earth, and I wouldn’t precisely recommend that, especially if you do it accidentally. To me, this is a recreation of the Daoist yin and yang symbol—serpents, really—with the white paisley, here. That’s what you know. The dark paisley, there, is the unknown. The right place to be is right on the line between them, because you’ve sort of got one foot where you understand. That gives you security, but it's kind of dull because, hey, you know everything that's going on. That isn't what people are like. They don't want just security.

I love what Dostoevsky said in Notes from the Underground. It’s a great, great book. It was an early criticism of the notion of a political utopia. He said, look, if you gave people everything that they wanted—they had nothing to eat but cake and nothing to do but sit in warm pools and busy themselves with the continuation of the species—the first thing they would do was go half insane and smash everything up, just so that something they didn't expect would happen, so that they’d have something interesting to do. It's so right. The utopian notion that if you just had all the material stuff you wanted that you’d be…Well, what would you be? What would you do? You’d just sit on the couch and watch TV? I mean, you’d be…I don’t know what you’d be. You’d be cutting yourself just for entertainment in no time flat, and that's the sort of thing that people do.

We’re not adapted for security and utopia. We’re adapted for a certain amount of security, because we are vulnerable, but mostly we want to have one foot out where we don't know what the hell is going on. That’s where you’re alert and alive and tense, and with it. I believe that it actually has something to do with the hemispheric structure of the psychology of your brain, because the right hemisphere looks roughly adapted to what you don’t know and the left hemisphere—this is an oversimplification, but a useful one—is adapted to the world that you do know. The right place for you to be is halfway between them, and you can tell that.

You know that sense of active engagement you have in the world when things are working well for you? You’re alert and on top of things and engaged, and you don’t have much of a sense of time. The sense of the tragedy of life sort of recedes. That’s when you’ve got one foot where it’s secure and one foot out in the unknown. Your brain signals to you that you're in the right place by making what you’re doing meaningful. That sense of meaning is actually a neurophysiological signal that you’ve g