Biblical Series IV: Adam and Eve: Self-Consciousness, Evil, and Death by Dr. Jordan Peterson
Hello everyone. Hopefully we’re going to get past Genesis 1 today. That’s the theory. I finished my new book yesterday. That’s taken about three years of writing—quite a long time to write something. So, yea, it’s done…Except for the moping up, copy editing, and that sort of thing. I don't know if it’s any good, but it’s as good as I can make it.
I’ve been thinking about the stories that I'm going to tell you tonight for a very long period of time—like the ones last week, for that matter, but these even longer. One of the things that I just cannot understand is how there can be so much information in such tiny little stories, especially the story of Cain and Abel. That story…Every time I read it, it just flattens me, because it’s only like a paragraph long. There’s just nothing to it. Every time I think about it, another layer comes out from underneath it, and I can't figure that out. The rational approach that I’ve been describing to you is predicated on the idea that these stories have somehow encapsulated wisdom that we generated interpersonally and behaviourally, and then in image, over very vast stretches of time, and then condensed into very, very dense, articulated words that are then further refined by the act of being remembered and transmitted over vast stretches of time. That’s a pretty good argument. I'm willing to go with it, but it still never ceases to amaze me how much information such tiny little passages can contain.
We’ll take that apart today. I think it’s especially true of the story of Cain and Abel because it works on the individual level, and the familial level, and the political level, and the level of warfare, and it works at the level of economics. That’s a lot for a tiny, one-paragraph story to cover. You could object: well, with these stories, you never know what you’re reading into it, and what’s in the story. That's part of—let’s call it the postmodern dilemma, and fair enough. There’s really no answer to that anymore than there is an answer to, how do you know your interpretation of the world is—well, let’s not say correct, but sufficient. There’s some answer to that: it’s sufficient if you can act it out in the world and other people don't object too much, and you don't die, and nature doesn't take a bite out of you any more often than necessary. Those are the constraints in which we live, so you have some way of determining whether your interpretation is, at least, functionally successful, and that’s not trivial. I guess you could say the same thing to the interpretations that might be laid on these stories. At the moment, that's probably good enough.
Hopefully you find the interpretations functionally significant at multiple levels. I also think the chance of managing that by chance is very, very small. To be able to pull off an interpretation of a story that works at multiple levels simultaneously…With each level, the chances that you’ve stumbled across something by chance have to be decreasing. There’s a technical term for that in psychology. It’s called something like Multitrait-Multimethod Matrix, of determining whether or not something is accurate. The idea is, the more ways that you can measure it and get the same result, the more confident you can be that you're not just deluding yourself with your a priori hypothesis. There's actually something out there. It’s also a method that I use in my speaking. I don't try to tell people anything that isn’t personally relevant, because you should know why you are being taught something—you should know what the fact is good for, and then it should be good for you personally, at least in some sense. If you act it out in the world, it should be good for your family, and maybe it should have some significance for the broader community. I think that’s what meaning means. I don't really see the utility in being taught facts that aren’t meaningful, because there's an infinite number of facts, and there’s no way you're going to remember all of them. They have to have the aspect of tools, because we are tool-using creatures. These stories have that aspect. As far as I can tell, there's no doubt about that.
The stories in Genesis 2 are very famous, obviously. Virtually everybody who’s even vaguely versed in, roughly speaking, Western culture, knows these stories. That's something that's interesting, too: stories can be so foundational that everybody shares them. You can say the same thing about a fairly large handful of fairy tales, as well—or you could, at least, until recently. But the fact that stories are foundational, I think, also means that they have to be given a kind of—well, even if you don't give them any respect, you have to, at least, treat them as remarkable curiosities. So why those stories? Why did they stick around? Why does everybody know them? It’s not self-evident by any stretch of the imagination. You can use the Freudian explanation.
Freud sort of thought that the Judeo-Christian was predicated on the idea that the figure of the father—the familial father—was expanded up into cosmic dimensions, so that mankind existed in the same kind of relationship to the cosmic Father that an infant or a small child existed in relationship to his or her own father. That’s a reasonable critique, I would say, but it does—and this was purposeful—it does imply—more than imply, in Freud’s case—that people who adopt a religious belief that has a personified figure at its apex are essentially acting out the role of dependent children. I thought about that critique for a long time. Believe me, that’s been a powerful critique.
One of the best books I ever read, called The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, took that line of argumentation and developed it as well as any book I've ever seen argue it. Becker tried to bring closure to Freudian psychoanalysis on religion. He did a pretty wicked job of it. I think the book is seriously flawed and wrong, but it’s really a great book. Some books are wrong in really good ways. They make a powerful, powerful argument, and they really take it to its extreme. I think Becker missed the point, and he missed it in the same way that Freud missed Jung’s point. Becker, who wrote this book on the psychoanalysis of religion, never referred to Jung, except very briefly in the introduction, and I think that was a major mistake.
Becker took the argument that the hypothesis of God is nothing but an attempt by human beings to recreate a quasi-infantile state of dependency, to be able to rely on an all-knowing Father, and to thereby recover the comfort, perhaps, that we experienced when we were young and had a, hypothetically, all-knowing father—for those of us who are lucky to have someone who vaguely resembled that. The more I thought about that, the more that struck me as quite impossible across time. Charles Taylor wrote an interesting book called Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. He’s a McGill philosopher, and I wouldn’t necessarily call him a friend of classic religion, but it doesn't matter: he made a very interesting point about Christianity, in particular. He said that if you're going to invent a religion that offered you nothing but infantile comfort, why in the world would you bother with conceptualizing hell? That just seems like an unnecessary detail to add to the whole story, right? If it’s all about comfort, why would you hypothesize that the consequence of serious error was eternal torment? That isn’t the sort of thing that is likely to make you feel comfortable.
James Joyce, when he wrote about that, said he had terrible nightmares when he was a child because of the hellfire sermons that Jesuits used to spew forth. He wrote down what he remembered of them. They were pretty hair-raising. I think it was in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that he talked about the Jesuits telling him that hell was like a prison with walls that were seven miles thick, that was always in darkness and consumed by fire, and that the people who were trapped there were continually burnt by this dark fire that gave new light, which also, simultaneously, rejuvenated their flesh so that it could be burnt off eternally—in case you were wondering how it was going to be burnt off eternally. That’s apparently the process. It’s not easy for me to see that as an infantile wish fulfilment, I'm afraid. You could be a cynic about it. Elaine Pagels, who wrote a book on the devil, was cynical about it in this manner. She thought that the Christians, so to speak, invented hell as a place to put their enemies, and fair enough. But that’s not accurate, although it’s convenient to have a place to put your enemies. Charles Taylor did point out, for example, that the modern terror of loss of self, let’s say—the existential loss of self and meaning—was, perhaps, paralleled by the medieval terror of hell in terms of existential intensity. Hell wasn’t merely a place where those people that you didn't care for would end up: it was the place where you were going to go if you didn't walk the line properly.
I don't think Freud’s critique really holds water in the final analysis. Marx’s critique, of course, was that religion was the opiate of the masses. He made an argument that was similar to Freud’s, although somewhat earlier, and made it based on the presupposition that religious beliefs were stories told to the gullible masses in order to keep them pacified and happy while their corporate overlords, for lack of a better purpose, continue to exploit and weaken them. I find the critique of human institutions as driven entirely by power very questionable, to say the least. Of course, every human institution is corrupt for one reason or another, and it’s also corrupt, specifically, by such things as deception, arrogance, and the demand for unearned power. The same thing can be applied to religious systems, but that doesn't mean that they are in some special way characteristic of those faults. Maybe you think they are, and maybe you can make a case for it, but it’s not prime facie evident that it is a particularly useful criticism.
I don't buy it. I think that’s far too cynical. I think the people who wrote these stories—first of all, what are you going to do? Are you going to run a bloody conspiracy for 3,000 years successfully? Good luck with that. You can’t run a conspiracy for 15 minutes without someone ratting you out. It’s impossible. Whatever’s at the basis of the construction—not only of these stories, but of the dogmatic structures that emerged from them…I think that it’s a terrible mistake to reduce them to unidimensional explanations. I generally think that reducing any complex human behavior to a unidimensional explanation is often a sign of a seriously limited thinker. I say that with some caution, because Freud did do that with religion, to some degree, and Freud was a serious thinker. Marx, I suppose, was a serious thinker, too, even though…well…He’s someone that…If you have any sense, Marx just leaves you speechless.
So, anyways, that's all to say that I don't think there's any simple explanation for how these stories have the power that they have. I really don't think you can reduce it to political conspiracy, and that’s for sure. I don't think you can reduce it to psychological infantilism. I think you can make a case, like I have, that they are repositories of the collective wisdom of the human race.
I had an interesting letter this week from someone—I get a lot of interesting letters. I think I'm going to make an archive out of them and put them on the web at some point—with people’s permission, obviously. He said that he’d been following my lectures, and noted that I’d been making what you might describe as a quasi-biological, or evolutionary, case for the emergence of the information that the stories contain. He said, well, how do you know that someone from a different religion, or speaking of a different religious tradition, couldn’t do exactly the same thing? I thought, well, first of all, to some degree they could, because theirs overlapped. I’ve talked to you a little about Daoism, for example, and the Daoist view of being as the eternal balance between chaos and order. I don't know if you know this, but there's a neuropsychologist called Elkhonon Goldberg, who’s a student of Alexander Luria. Luria was, I think, the greatest neuropsychologist of the 20th century. He was a Russian, and he was one of the first people to really determine, in large part, the function of the frontal cortex, which was quite a mystery for a long period of time. Goldberg—you know how we have two hemispheres? We have the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere, and people often think of the left for right-handed people—right-handed males more particularly, because women are more neurologically diffuse. It’s one of the things that makes them more robust to head injury, for example. Maybe men are less diffuse and somewhat more specialized, which makes them a bit more specialized but a little more subject to damage.
Anyways, we have two hemispheres: the left, and the right, and no one exactly knows why. We know that they house quasi-independent consciousnesses, because if you divide the corpus callosum that unites them—which was done in cases of intractable epilepsy, for example—each hemisphere is capable of developing its own consciousness, to some degree—the right generally non-verbal, and the left verbal. So there has been this idea that the left is a verbal hemisphere, and the right is a nonverbal hemisphere, but that can't be right because animals don't talk, and they have a bifurcated hemisphere. So, if it’s right, it’s not causally right.
Goldberg hypothesizes, instead, that the hemispheres were specialized for routinization and non-routinization, or for novelty and familiarity, or for chaos and order. So that’s pretty damn cool. When I ran across that, I also thought of that as a signal of…What would you call it…Multitrait-Multimethod construct validation. I’d never thought of the hemispheres as operating that way, and Goldberg came up with this in a historical pathway that was entirely independent from any mythologically inspired thinking—completely independent. In fact, it was motivated more by materialist, Russian neuropsychology, which was materialist for political reasons, and also for scientific reasons. But the idea is that we have one hemisphere that reacts very rapidly to things we don’t know. It’s more imaginative and diffuse, and it’s associated more with negative emotion, because negative emotion is what you should feel, immediately, when you encounter something you don't understand. Negative emotion is a form of thinking. It’s like, I'm somewhere where things aren’t what they should be. The right hemisphere does that, and it generates images very rapidly to help you figure out what might be there. The left hemisphere takes that and develops it into something more articulated, algorithmic, and fully understood.
There’s a dynamic balance between the right and the left hemisphere, where the left tries to impose order on the world—that’s Ramachandran, who’s a very famous neurologist in California, and who also developed a theory like Goldberg’s. He said that the left hemisphere imposed routinized order on the world, and the right hemisphere generates novelty, and reacts to novelty, and generates novel hypotheses. He thought—and there is some good evidence for this—that what’s happening during the dream is that information has moved from the right hemisphere to the left hemisphere, in small doses, so that the novel revelations of the right hemisphere don't demolish the algorithmic structures that the left hemisphere has so carefully put together.
I like that theory, too, because it also does help justify the hypothesis that I've been laying out for you, which is that there’s part of us that extends ourselves out into the world, and tries to understand what we don't know, and that that part extends itself out with behaviour, emotion, image, and then, maybe, with poetry and storytelling. As that develops, then we develop more articulated representations of that emergent knowledge. You can map that quite nicely onto the neurologist, and the neuropsychologist, presumption about what constitutes the reason for the hemispheric differentiation. The other thing that’s so cool about the hemisphere differentiation argument, as far as I'm concerned—and this is really worth thinking about, man, because it’s a real…There’s a word that Ned Flanders uses for that…Noggin scratcher. I think it’s something like that. Hah. Anyways, we do make the assumption that what it is that we are biologically adapted to is reality. It’s actually an axiomatic definition, if you're a Darwinian, because nature is what selects—by definition, that's what nature is: it’s what selects. And if the nature that selects has forced upon you a dual hemispheric structure—because half of you has to deal with chaos, and half of you has to deal with order—then you can make a pretty damn good inferential case that the world is made out of chaos and order, and that’s really something to think about, man. So you can think about that for a while, if you want.
Anyways, for whatever reason, there is a lot packed into these stories. Let’s investigate a couple more of them. We’ll start with the story of Adam and Eve. Now, you may remember that the Bible is a series of books. The Bible actually means something akin to library. These books were written by all sorts of different people, and groups of people, and groups of editors, and groups of people who edited over and over across very, very large periods of time. They are authored by no one and many at the same time. There was a tradition, for a long time, that the earliest books were written by Moses, but that’s probably not technically correct, even though it might be dramatically correct, let’s say, or correct in the way that a fairy tale is correct. I'm not trying to put down fairy tales by saying that.
There’s a number of authors, and the way the authors have been identified, tentatively, is by certain stylistic commonalities across the different stories—different uses of words—like the words for God—different poetic styles, different topics, and so forth. People have been working for probably 200 years, roughly, to try to sort out who wrote what and how that was all cobbled together. It doesn't really matter for our purposes. What matters is that it’s an aggregation of collected narrative traditions, and maybe you could say it’s an aggregation of collective narrative wisdom. We don't have to go that far, but we can, at least, say it’s aggregated narrative traditions.
There was some reason that those traditions, and not others, were kept. One of the things that’s really remarkable about the Bible as a document is that it actually has a plot, and that’s really something. I mean, it’s sprawling, and it goes many places, but the fact that something’s been cobbled together over several thousand years—4,000 years, maybe longer than that if you include the oral traditions that preceded it, and God only knows how old those are. Part of the human collective imagination has cobbled together a library with a plot. I see the Bible as a collective attempt by humanity to solve the deepest problems that we have. I think those are, primarily, the problems of self-consciousness—the fact that not only are we mortal, and that we die, but that we know it. That’s the unique predicament of human beings, and it makes all of the difference.
I think the reason that makes us unique is laid out in the story of Adam and Eve. Interestingly—and I really realized this only after I was doing the last three lectures—the Bible presents a cataclysm at the beginning of time, which is the emergence of self-consciousness in human beings. It puts a rift into the structure of being. That’s the right way to think about it, and that's really given cosmic significance. Now, you can dispense with that and say, well, nothing that happens to human beings is of cosmic significance, because we’re these short-lived, mole-like entities that are like cancers on this tiny planet that’s rotating out in the middle of nowhere, on the edge of some unknown galaxy, in the middle of infinite space. Nothing that happens to use matters. That’s fine, and you can walk down that road if you want. I wouldn’t recommend it. I mean, that's part of the reason I think, for all intents and purposes, it’s untrue: it isn’t a road you can walk down and live well. In fact, if you really walk down that road, and you really take it seriously, you end up not living at all. It’s certainly very reminiscent…I’ve talked to lots of people who are seriously suicidal, and the kind of conclusions that they draw about the utility of life prior to wishing for its cessation are very much like the kind of conclusions that you draw if you walk down that particular line of reasoning long enough.
If you’re interested in that, you could read Leo Tolstoy’s Confession. It’s a very short book, and it’s powerful. Tolstoy describes his obsession with suicide when he was at the height of his fame: the most well-known author in the world, huge family, international fame, wealth beyond imagining at that time, influential, admired…He had everything that you could possibly imagine that everyone could have, and, for years, he was afraid to go out into his barn with a rope or a gun because he thought he’d either hang himself or shoot himself. He did get out of that, and he describes why that happened and where he went when that happened. If you're interested in that, that’s a very good book.
The Biblical stories, starting with Adam and Eve, present a different story. They present the emergence of self-consciousness in human beings as a cosmically cataclysmic event. And you could say, well, what do we have to do with the cosmos? And the answer to that is, it depends on what you think consciousness has to do with the cosmos. Perhaps it’s nothing, and perhaps it’s everything. I'm going to go with everything, because that’s how it looks to me. Of course, anyone who wishes to is welcome to disagree. But if you believe that consciousness is a force of cosmic significance, which being itself is dependent on—at least in any experiential sense—then it’s not unreasonable to assume that radical restructuring of consciousness can worthily be granted some kind of cosmic or metaphysical significance. Even if it’s not true from outside the human perspective—whatever that might be—it’s bloody well true from within the human perspective, and that’s for sure. That's the initial event, in some sense, after the creation: the cataclysmic fall. The entire rest of the Bible is an attempt to figure out what the hell to do about that.
In the Old Testament stories, for example, what seems to happen is that the state of Israel is founded. It rises and falls, and it rises and falls, and so there’s this experimentation for centuries—millennia, even—with the idea that the way that you protect yourself again the tragic consequences of self-consciousness is by organizing yourself into a state. But then what happens is the state itself begins to reveal its pathologies. Those pathologies mount; the state becomes unstable and collapses, and then it rises back up, and then it becomes unstable and collapses, and then it rises back up—this is primarily from Northrop Frye’s interpretations. People start wondering if there’s not something wrong with the idea that the state itself is the place of redemption. There's something wrong with that idea. Then, on the heels of that, comes the Christian revolution, with its hypothesis that it’s not the state that's the place of salvation: it’s the individual psyche. And then there’s an ethic that goes along with that, too, which is quite interesting.
The ethic of redemption after the state experiment fails, let’s say, is that it’s within the individual that redemption can be manifested—even insofar as the state is concerned, because the state’s proper functioning is dependent on the proper functioning of the individual, rather than the reverse, most fundamentally. The proper mode of individual being that’s redemptive is truth, and truth is the antidote to the suffering that emerges with the fall of man in the story of Adam and Eve. That relates back to the chapters that we’ve already talked about: there’s an insistence in Genesis 1 that it’s the word in the form of truth that generates order out of chaos, but even more importantly—and this is something that I most clearly realized just doing these lectures for the last three weeks—is that God continues to say, as he speaks order into being with truth, that the being he speaks into being is good. There’s this insistence that the being that spoke into being, through truth, is good. There’s a hint, here, right at the beginning of the story, about the state of being that Adam and Eve inhabited before they fell and became self-conscious—insofar as they were made in the image of God and acting out the truth that being itself was properly balanced. It takes the entire Bible to rediscover that, which is a journey back to the beginning. That’s a classic mythological theme: the wise person is the person who finds what they lost in childhood and regains it.
I think that’s a Jewish idea. Tzadik, if I remember correctly, is a messiah figure, and is also the person who finds what he lost in childhood and regains it. There’s this idea of a return to the beginning, except that you don't fall backwards into childhood and unconsciousness: you return, voluntarily, to the state of childhood, well awake, and then determined to participate, through truth, in the manifestation of proper being. Now, I'm a psychologist, and I've taught personality theory for a very long time. I know profound personality theories pretty well. I'm reasonably well versed in philosophy—although not as well versed as I should be—but I can tell you, in all the things I've ever read, encountered, or thought about, I have never once found an idea that matches that in terms of profundity—not only profundity, but also in believability. The other thing I see as a clinician—and I think this is very characteristic of clinical experience, and also very much described, explicitly, by the great clinicians—is that what cures in therapy is truth. That’s the curative.
Now, there’s exposure to the things you're afraid of and avoiding, as well, but I would say that’s a form of enacted truth: if you know there's something you should do by your own set of rules and you’re avoiding it, then you’re enacting a lie. You’re not telling one, but you're acting one out. It’s the same damn thing. So, if I can get you to face what it is that you’re confronting, that you know you shouldn’t be avoiding, then what's happening is that we’re both partaking in the process of attempting you to act out your deepest truth. What happens is that it improves peoples lives—it improves them radically, and the clinical evidence for that is overwhelming.
We know that if you expose people to the thing they're afraid of but avoiding, they get better. You have to do it carefully, cautiously, with their own participation, and all of that, but of all the things that clinicians have established—that's credible, and that’s number one. That’s nested inside this deeper realization that the clinical experience is redemptive. It’s designed to address suffering insofar as the people who are engaged in the process are both telling each other the truth. And then you think, well, obviously, because if you have some problems and you come to talk to me about them—well, first of all, just by coming to talk to me about them you’ve admitted that they exist. That's a pretty good start. Second, well, if you tell me about them, then we know what they are, and then if we know what they are, then we can maybe start to lay out some solutions. Then you can go act out the solutions to see if they work. But if you don't admit they're there and you won’t tell me what they are, and I'm like posturing, acting egotistically, taking the upper hand, and all of that in our discussion—how the hell is that going to work? It might be comfortable moment-to-moment while we stay encapsulated in our delusion, but it’s not going to work. If you think it through, it seems pretty self-evident.
Freud thought that repression was at the heart of much mental suffering. The difference between repression and deception is a matter of degree, and that’s all. It’s a technical differentiation. Alfred Adler, who was one of Freud’s greatest associates, let’s say—and much under appreciated, I would say—thought that people got into problems because they started to act out a life lie. That’s what he called it: a life lie. That’s worth looking up, because Adler, although not as charismatic as Freud, was very practical, and he really foreshadowed a lot of later developments in cybernetic theory. Of course, Jung believed that you could bypass psychotherapy entirely by merely making a proper moral effort in your own life. Carl Rogers believed that it was honest communication, mediated through dialog, that had redemptive consequences. The behaviourists believe that you do a careful microanalysis of the problems that are laid before you and help introduce people to what they're avoiding. All of those things, to me, are just secular variations of the notion that truth will set you free, essentially.
It’s a pretty powerful story. A, it’s not that easy to dispense with, and B, the other thing is, you dispense with it at your peril. The people that I've seen who’ve been really hurt have been hurt mostly by deceit, and that's also worth thinking about. You get walloped by life. There’s no doubt about that—absolutely no doubt about that. But I've thought for a long time that, maybe, people can handle earthquakes, cancer, even death, but they can't handle betrayal, and they can't handle deception—they can't handle having the rug pulled out from underneath them by people they love and trust. That just does them in. It makes them ill, and it hurts them: psychophysiologically, it damages them. But, more than that, it makes them cynical, bitter, vicious, and resentful. They start to act that all out in the world, and that makes it worse.
So God uses the spoken truth to create being that is good. The cataclysm occurs, and then human beings spend untold millennia trying to sort out exactly what to do about the fact that they’ve become self-conscious—and we are, in fact, self-conscious. No other animal has that distinction. Now, you’ll read that if you put lipstick on a chimpanzee…which is kind of a strange thing to do. Hah. Well, I won’t pursue that any further. But the chimpanzee will wipe off the lipstick if you show it in the mirror. And dolphins seem to be able to recognize themselves in mirrors, so there is the glimmerings of self-conscious recognition in other animals. But to put that in the same conceptual category as human self-consciousness is…To my way of thinking, it’s…Well, it’s uninformed, to say the least, but I also think it’s motivated by a kind of anti-humanistic, underlying motivation.
Your self-consciousness is so incredibly developed compared to that that they’re hardly in the same conceptual universe. It’s like comparing the alarm cries of vervet monkeys, when they see a predator, to the language of human beings. It’s like, yea, yea. There's some similarities: they are utterances, and they are utterances with meaning, but they’re not language. The self-consciousness of animals is proto-self-consciousness, and it’s only there in a very small number of animals. It’s nothing like ours. They're not aware of the future like we are. They’re not aware of their boundaries in space and time, and that's the critical thing—most particularly time. Human beings discovered time, and when we discovered time, we discovered the end of each of our being. That made all the difference. That’s what the story of Adam and Eve is about.
Genesis 1 was derived from the Priestly source, where God is known as Elohim or El Shaddai. There’s God in the singular, and there’s Gods in the plural, and I suppose that's because it seems that, if you analyze the history of the development of monotheistic ideas, monotheism emerges out of a plurality of Gods. As I mentioned, I think it’s because the Gods represent fundamental forces, at minimum, and those fundamental forces have to be hierarchically organized with something absolute at the top. Otherwise, they’d do nothing but war. You have to organize your values hierarchically, or you stay confused. That's true if you're an individual, and it’s true if you're a state. If you don't know what the next thing you should do is, then there's 50 things you should do. How are you going to do any of them? You can’t. You have to prioritize. Something has to be above something else. It has to be arranged in a hierarchy for it to not be chaotic. So there's some principle at the top of the hierarchy and, maybe, the organization of the Gods, over time. It’s the battle of Gods that Mircea Eliade talked about. If you're interested in that, you could read The History of Religious Ideas, which I would really recommend. It’s a three-volume book, and it’s actually quite a straightforward read, as far as these things go. Eliade does a very nice job of describing how, and even why, polytheism tends towards monotheism. Even in polytheistic cultures, there’s a strong tendency for the Gods to organize themselves in a hierarchy with one God at the top. In a monotheistic culture, in some sense, all the other Gods just disappear across time, and there's nothing left but the top God. But, even in a polytheistic society, there's a hierarchy of power among the Gods.
The first story is newer than the second, so the story I'm going to tell you today is older than the one I already told you, even though their order was flipped by the redactor, who’s the hypothetical person—or persons—who edited these stories together. I suspect it was a single person, but who knows. We don't know why the stories were edited together in the order that they were edited together, but we can infer—I mean, they were edited together in that order because the editor though they made sense that way, because that's what an editor does. An editor tends to take diverse ideas and organize them in some manner that makes sense. Part of the manner that makes sense is that you can tell them to people, and the people stay interested, and people remember them. That’s one of the ways you can tell if you’ve got an argument right, because it’s communicable, understandable, and memorable. And so this person was, let’s say, motivated by intuition to organize the stories in this particular manner.
The Jahwist strand contains the classic stories in the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, which we’ll try to get through, perhaps, in these 12 lectures. We’ll see how that goes. It’s strongly anthropomorphic, so the God in the Jahwist account is, for all intents and purposes, some sort of meta-person. I dealt with that a little bit last week. People tend to think of that as unsophisticated, but when you think that the mind—the ground of consciousness—is the most complex thing that we know of, then it’s not so unsophisticated to assume that the most complex thing that there might be is like that—or, at least, it’s as good as we can do with our imaginations. I don't think it’s so unsophisticated. It’s also the case—and this is practically speaking—that it is not at all unreasonable to think of God the Father as the spirit that arises from the crowd and exists into the future. We talked about that in relationship to the idea of sacrifice, at least a little bit.
You make sacrifices in the present so that the future is happy with you. The question is, what is that future that would be happy with you? The answer to that is, it’s the spirit of humanity. That’s who you're negotiating with. You make the assumption that, if you forgo impulsive pleasure and get your medical degree, when you're done in 10 years, and you're a physician, humanity as such will honor your sacrifice and commitment and open the doors to you. You’re treating the future as if it’s a single being, and you’re also treating it as if it’s something like a compassionate judge. You’re acting that out. Once we started to understand that there was a future, perhaps we had to imagine God in that form in order to concretize something that we could bargain with—so that we could figure out how to use sacrifice and how to guide ourselves into the future. A sacrifice is a contract with the future. It’s not a contract with any particular person: it’s a contract with the spirit of humanity as such. It’s something like that. When you think about it that way, that should make you faint with amazement, because that is such a bloody amazing idea to come up with, that you can bargain with the future.
That is some idea, man. That's like the major idea of human kind: We suffer. What do we do about it? We figure out how to bargain with the future, and we minimize suffering in that manner. No other animal does that, either. Lions—they just eat everything. I think a wolf can eat 40 pounds of meat in a single sitting. It’s like, there's some meat—eat it. It’s not like, save some mammoth for tomorrow. That’s not a wolf thing, man. That’s a human thing, and that might mean you have to be hungry today. Maybe you’re a farmer 6,000 years ago when agriculture first got going, and you're starving to death waiting for the spring planting. You think, you bloody well better not eat those seeds. That's really something, to be able to control yourself to make the future real, and to put off what you could use today. And not just in some impulsive manner. Maybe your kids are starving to death. You think, we are not touching the seeds that we need for the future. And for human beings to have discovered that, and then to have also figured out that we could bargain with the future…Man, that’s something. I think that the stories that are laid out in this book actually describe, at least in part, the process by which that occurred.
The Jahwist stories begin with Genesis 2:4: "This is the account of the heavens and the earth." There's two, real creation stories at the beginning: the newer one, which is the first one, and the older one, which is the second one. The older one begins in chapter 2, and that’s the story that we are getting into now. Adam and Eve are in that, Cain and Abel, Noah, the Tower of Babel—in the Jahwist strand—Exodus, Numbers, and there's some of the Priestly version in there, too, as well as the 10 Commandments.
There’s some lovely representations of paradise. This is The Garden of Earthly Delights. Say that again? Bosch! Yes, Hieronymus Bosch. A crazy—I mean, how he didn't get burnt at the stake is absolutely beyond me. I suppose most of you know about Salvador Dali—Dali’s a piker compared to Hieronymus Bosch. You could spend a very bizarre and surreal month looking at that painting. I don't know what it was with Bosch, but he was some sort of creature that only popped up once—and probably for the best. So there’s been very many representations of paradise. God only knows what that is. I could probably guess, but I won’t. That’s the lion lying down with the lamb. That’s this idea, that’s maybe projected back in time, that there was a time, or maybe will be a time, when the horrors of life are no longer necessary for life itself to exist. The horrors of life are, of course, that everything eats everything else, and that everything dies, and that everything’s born, and that the whole bloody place is a charnel house, and it’s a catastrophe from beginning to end. This is the vision of it being other than that.
This was also implicit in the alchemical ideas, and I think it’s also implicit in the scientific revolution: human beings can interact with reality in such a way so that the tragic and evil elements of it can be mitigated, and so that we can move somewhat closer to a state that might be characterized by something like that, where we have the benefits of actual existence without all of the catastrophe that seems to go along with it. Carl Jung, when he wrote about the emergence of science from alchemy, thought of science as being motivated by dream. For Jung, dream was the manifestation of the instincts. It was the boundary between the instincts and thinking. Science is nested inside a dream, and the dream is that, if we investigated the structures of material reality with sufficient attention and truth, we could then learn enough about material reality to alleviate suffering—to produce the philosopher’s stone, make everybody wealthy, make everybody healthy, and to make everyone live as long as they wanted to live. That’s the goal: to alleviate the catastrophe of existence. The solution to the mysteries of life that might enable us to develop such a substance—or, let’s say, a multiple of substances—provided the motive force for the development of science.
Jung traced that development of force really over a thousand years. His books on alchemy are extraordinarily difficult, and that's really saying something about Jung, because all of his books are difficult. The books on alchemy kinda take a quantum leap…That’s actually a very small leap, so I shouldn’t say that. They take a massive leap into a whole different dimension of complexity. But that’s what he was trying to get at. He went back into the alchemical texts and he interpreted them as if they were the dream on which science was founded. Newton was an alchemist, by the way. Jung’s hypotheses are certainly well supported by the historical facts: science did emerge out of alchemy. The question is, what were the alchemists up to? They were trying to produce the philosopher’s stone, and that was the universal medicament for mankind's pathology.
Jung felt that what had happened was that Christianity had promised the cessation of suffering—promised it for a thousand years—yet suffering went on, unabated. At the same time, Christianity had attempted to really put emphasis on spiritual development, let’s say, at the expense of material development—thinking of material development as something akin to a sin, trying to get control of impulsivity, and all the things that went along with a two-embodied existence. There was a reason for it, but by about 1,000 AD, the European mind—somewhat educated by that point, and somewhat able to concentrate on a single point, perhaps because of a very long history of intense religious training—turned its dream to the unexplored material world. The European mind thought, well, you know, the spiritual redemption that we’ve been seeking didn't appear to produce the result that was promised or intended, and so maybe there's another place that we should look—and that was in the damned, material world, which was supposed to be—at least, according to some elements of classic thinking—nothing but the creation of the devil.
The point I'm making is that it’s very difficult to understand the amount of human motivation that’s embedded in the attempt to alleviate suffering, eradicate disease, and to make things as peaceful as possible. I mean, you can be cynical about people, and you can talk about them as motivated by power, and being corrupt, and all of those things—and all of those things are true—but you shouldn’t throw away the baby with the bathwater, because we have been striving for a very long time to set things right. We’ve done, actually, not too bad a job of it, for half-starving, crazy, insect-ridden chimpanzees with lifespans of 50 to 70 years. We deserve a bit of sympathy for our position, as far as I'm concerned.
Some other representations. This one I like—the one on the left. That’s paradise as a walled garden, and that’s what paradise means. It’s paradeisos, which means walled garden. Why a walled garden? Well, it goes back to the chaos and order idea. A walled garden is where God puts man and woman after the creation. The wall is culture and order, and the garden is nature. The idea is that the proper human habitat is nature and culture in balance. Well, we like gardens. Why? Because they're not completely covered with weeds, mosquitos, and black flies, right? So they're civilized, a little bit, but within that civilization, nature, in its more benevolent guise, is encouraged to flourish. People find that rejuvenating. The idea that paradise—the proper habitat of a human being—is a walled garden is a good one. It’s walled because you want to keep things out—raccoons, for example. You want keep those things out, even though it’s impossible. There's all sorts of things you don't want in your garden, like snakes. Walls don’t seem to be much use against them. But the idea that paradise is a walled garden is an echo back to the chaos and order idea…Walls, culture, garden, nature…The proper human habitat is a properly tended garden..
The radical, left-leaning, anti-theist environmentalists tend to make the case that the predations of the Western capitalist system are a consequence of the injunction that was delivered in Genesis by God to man, to go out and dominate the earth. David Suzuki has talked a lot about this, by the way. They believe that that statement has given rise to our inappropriate assumption that we have the right to exert control over the world, and that that’s what turned us into these terrible, predatory monsters—sometimes described as cancers on the face of the earth, or viruses that have inhabited the entire ecosystem, who are doing nothing but wandering everywhere and wreaking havoc as rapidly as we possibly can, which is another perspective on the essential element of humankind that I find absolutely deplorable. If you look at the historical record, for example, even casually, you'll find out that, as late as the late 1800s, Thomas Huxley—who’s Aldous Huxley’s grandfather, and a great defender of Darwin—prepared a report for the British government on ocean sustainability. He concluded that there’s so many fish out there, the oceans are so inexhaustible, that no matter how humanity tried, for any number of years, the probability that we could do more than put a dent in what was out there was zero. Now, Huxley turned out to be wrong. He didn’t realize that our population was going to spike so dramatically—partly because we got a little bit rich, and our children stopped dying at the rate of like 60 percent before they were 1 year old—and that we would actually manage to populate the earth with a few people.
It wasn’t until 1960 or so that we woke up to the fact that there were so many of us that we actually had to start paying attention to what we were doing to the planet. That’s like 50 years ago. Well, we’ve just started to develop the technology—the wherewithal—to understand that the whole world might be well considered a garden, and that we need to live inside the proper balance between culture and chaos. Before that, we were spending all of our time just trying not to die, and usually very unsuccessfully. So, I don’t agree with that interpretation of the opening sections of Genesis: I don’t believe that it’s given human beings the right to act as super-predators on the planet. I think, instead, the proper environment for human beings is presented quite properly as a garden, and that the role of people—and that’s explicitly stated in the second story, in Adam and Even—was to tend the garden. That means to make the proper decisions, and to make sure that everything thrives and flourishes, so that it’s good for the things that are living there that aren’t just people—but also good for the people, too. I think we can, at least, note that that’s a slightly different take on the story than the ultimately cynical interpretation that’s so commonly put forward today.
Now inside that walled garden is a couple of trees, Adam and Eve, some animals, and all of that. Unfortunately, the tree happens to have a snake wrapped around it. That’s an interesting thing. We’re going to talk about that a lot. The snake, in both of these representations, is no ordinary snake: it’s got a human head, and it’s got a human head, there, too. So, whatever that snake is…Well, forget about looking at this from a religious perspective. If you can’t, just imagine that you're an anthropologist, and you’ve never seen this image before. What do you see? Well, you see walls, and you see a fairly pleasant enclosure. And then you see a tree, and people are eating from the tree. The tree has a snake in it that has a human head. You might think, well, what’s a snake with a human head? And then you’d think, well, it’s half snake and half human. That’s hardly revelatory. It’s just self evident. So, whatever that snake is, it isn’t just a snake: it’s snake and human—or it’s snake and partakes in whatever human beings are. That's very important. We’ll consider that later.
You see the same thing, here. You see in this particular version—there’s the head. This one also has wings. This is a winged snake, sort of like a dragon, and it crawls on the ground like a reptile. It’s got an aerial aspect, or a spiritual aspect. Here, it’s a snake, which is like the lowest form of reptilian life—something that crawls on the ground. It’s something that’s human and spiritual at the same time. It inhabits the tree, which looks a lot like magic mushrooms, by the way. You can look that up, if you want. That’s quite an interesting little rabbit hole to wander down if you're curious about it. But there's an idea here, too, that there is something in the garden at the beginning of time that was like a snake and like a person, that was like something that was winged and spiritual. So it’s spiritual human and reptilian all at the same time, and it’s the animating spirit of the tree. Ok, so keep that in mind.
"Thus the heavens and the earth were finished"—this is in relationship to Genesis 1—"and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made."
That’s wisdom, too: the idea of the sabbath. I’ve worked with a lot of people who are hyper-conscientious. The thing about hyper-conscientious people is that they’ll just work until they die, and that's actually not very produce, because then they’re dead, and they can't work. What you have to do with hyper-conscientious people is you have to say, well, I know you’d rather do nothing but work, and maybe you're just as guilty as you can possibly be when you're not working, but let’s figure out what you're up to. What you're up to, in all probability, is the attempt to be productive in the least problematic, longest sustaining, possible manner, and that might mean you have to take a rest.
I used to work with lawyers, people who had risen to the top of large law firms. They were hyper-productive types, and they’re often trying to hit their impossible quota for yearly hours and burning themselves to a frazzle as a consequence. They couldn’t work fewer hours a day, because that just didn’t work, but we would have them take more time off, like a four-day weekend every two months—or something that was plotted out into the future—and then we’d track their billable hours, which is their degree of productivity. It would actually increase. That was so cool, because you could take hard working people, and you could say, take a break. Why? Well, because you’ll be more productive if you take a break. No, that couldn’t possibly be. I should just work flat out all the time. Let’s test that out: you take a break now and then. What happened was their productivity would increase, often by 10 percent. So there’s wisdom, here, too.
This alludes to the Adam and Eve story near the end: you’re self-conscious, and you discover the future, and you have to work. Well, then the question is, how much should you work? One answer is, you better bloody well work all the time, because no matter how much work you do, you're not solving your problems. They’re coming along, man. You can stack up all the money you want, and you can stack up all the wealth you want. It is not going to protect you in the final analysis, so you better be hitting the ground running, and you better run flat out all the time. What happens if you do that? Well, then you die. That’s not a good solution. So, maybe you should rest. How does that rest get instantiated? It’s not easy to tell, but one way to do it—let’s say, conceptually—is to say, even God had to rest one day a week. You don't have to be so presumptuous to assume that, if God had to rest one day a week, maybe you are allowed to work nonstop without a break, at all.
I think our culture has slipped into that in quite a dangerous way. Everything is open all the time, and, I mean, I find that just as inconvenient as the rest of you. It’s so strange to talk to modern people. One of the things they always tell you—we say, how are you? And what do they always say? They don't say good, and they don't say bad. They say busy. It’s like, yea…
Ok, this is where Genesis 2 starts, and we finally got there. "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."
Well, there’s some archaic thinking in there. The breath is life. That’s psyche, spirit, inspiration, respiration—that’s all associated. It’s pneuma, like pneumatic tire, and it’s breath. The reason that people associated life with breath…Well, that's not so foolish. I mean, you’re breathing, man. When you die, you stop breathing. So the idea that there's something integral to life about breathing is a perfectly reasonably supposition that actually happens to be very true. Then, to associate the act of creation with the act of inspiration, respiration, and the breathing of life into something that was inanimate is…Well, what do you expect for a one-sentence description? It’s not a bad one-sentence description.
"And the lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden."
Eden means well-watered place. That's particularly relevant, I suppose, if you’re a desert-dweller: the issue is, can you get enough water to make things grow? The walled garden, which is paradise, is also Eden, which is a well-watered place. Water has the element of chaos. We already saw that in relationship to Genesis 1, where the underlying chaos was often assimilated, symbolically, to water. The idea, too, is that a certain amount of chaos has to be brought into the order, in order for it to be fruitful. You can see that in the form of allowing in the water.
"And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil."
So two trees are marked out among the rest: one is the tree of life, and one is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When you read something like that, if you're thinking about it, you're in a metaphorical space. We’ve got to be careful about metaphors, because I could say—and did—that the chaos and order idea is a metaphor. I also said, wait a second. It’s a metaphor, but it’s also what your brain is adapted to, and so let’s not be pushing the idea that it’s merely a metaphor too hard.
The same thing is happening, here. These are metaphors: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But that doesn’t exactly mean that they are mere metaphors. Sometimes—as I mentioned before—if you have a set of things and you abstract out from them a common element, you can make a strong case that the common element is more real than the set of things from which you abstracted it. That's the whole utility of abstraction. Why would you bother with it, otherwise? If you can’t take a set of things, and say there’s something in common across this set of things that’s more important than the differences between them, then you wouldn’t bother abstracting at all. The tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, are abstractions.
Now, one of the questions is—this is a tough one, man. I’ve been trying to figure it out for a long time—why a fruit, and something you eat, would be associated with the transformation of psychology? That's basically what happens in the Adam and Eve story. Why would it be something you eat? Eric Neumann , who was one of Jung’s students, had written a fair bit about this, and he got a fair ways with it. He said, well, you know, we’ve noticed forever that the act of eating—especially if you're hungry or starving—produces a rapid, spiritual transformation. Some of you probably have a crabby partner or child. One thing you might try is that, if they get erratic during the day, and get all volatile about nothing at all, just give them something to eat.
Really! I’ll tell you, this solves—I do this with my clinical clients all the time. They tell me that they fly off the handle at the littlest things. When you're crabby and unreasonable, eat a piece of cheese, or eat a peanut butter sandwich. Eat something that's high protein and high fat, and then just wait 10 minutes and see if you're sane. You’ll find out that you're so sane after you eat that you just can't believe how crazy you are when you're hungry. It’s absolutely, bloody remarkable. Try this, especially if you don't eat breakfast. This will change your life. Here’s a practical bit of information, too, for all of you antisocial types who are going to end up in prison: if you’re in prison, and you want to go on parole—so you have to go in front of the judge and tell him why you're not going to do it again. Here's the deal: it doesn't really matter what you did, and it doesn't really matter what you promise. What matters is whether you see the judge before lunch or after lunch. If you see the judge after lunch, the probability that you’ll get parole is 60 percent higher. Yea. That is just like…So, never have an argument with your partner when you’re hungry, or when they’re hungry—especially if you want something from them. It’s like, here's a sandwich. They’ll eat it, then you can manipulate them. Hah. Before that—no.
So it’s not that unreasonable to think that there's a spirit in food, because food rejuvenates. It doesn't just rejuvenate you physically: it rejuvenates you spiritually. And then, of course, there's the other things that we consume, that aren’t exactly like food, that have a walloping spiritual impact—like alcohol, let’s say. That's a spirit, and it’s regarded as Dionysus; the God of the vine that possesses you and makes you act in all the fun ways that alcohol makes you act—the fun ways that you regret the next day. And so there’s the spiritual element of that, too. But there's something even deeper, that I think is so cool, that’s associated with food and information. The story of Adam and Eve represented the fruit as producing a psychological transformation, and so the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is an abstraction across trees. It’s trying to say, here's something that’s common across trees—it’s a fruit that's common across all trees. It’s something like that….The fruit that's common across trees is something that you might call food. That’s a generalization, but fair enough.
Here's something that's even more cool: the food that's stable across the entire domain of food isn’t food: it’s information. It’s information, and we use the same bloody circuits in our brain to forage for information that animals use to forage for food. It’s the same circuit. Why is that? Because we figured out that knowing where the food is is more important than having the food. Knowing where the food is is a form of meta-food—information is a form of meta food, and that’s why we’re information foragers. That idea is embedded into the story of Adam and Eve: whatever it is that they ingest is a form of meta food. It’s information. We’ll trade food for information, right. If you’re stuck on the edge of the highway, and your hood’s up, and you’re going-places thing has turned into a pile of junk that you don't understand, and a mechanic pulls up beside you, and they point to something and say, just put that wire back on there, you’ll immediately give them a sandwich, right? Or you’ll offer them something in return. You know what I mean, because they provided you with information that has value, and it has value because it actually provides you with energy. Information provides you with energy. Otherwise, why would we bother with it?
So food provides energy, but so does information. There’s the idea of food that you abstract from everything that you can eat, but then there’s the idea of what you could abstract from all sources of food, and the answer to that would be information. The trees that are being referred to in Adam and Eve are these meta-trees. They’re no ordinary trees, just like paradise is no ordinary place, just like Adam and Eve are no ordinary people, and just like the logos that God is using at the beginning of time is no ordinary conception. They're not metaphors; they're more than metaphors. I think of them as hyper-realities. They’re more real than what you see. They’re more real than the reality that presents itself to you. Lots of things are like that—numbers are like that. You would not think or abstract if there weren’t things that were more real than what we can see. So, what's most real? Well, that's partly what we’re trying to figure out.
"And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads."
That’s produced a tremendous amount of speculation. The garden of Eden is also the holy city—that’s another way of thinking about it—or it’s Jerusalem, or it’s the ideal state, which could be the ideal city, or it could be the ideal state of being, or it could be the ideal psyche. It’s all of those things stacked up at the same time.
This is the mandala form that people hypothesized constituted the structure of paradise. You notice it’s got this cross form. That’s Eden itself. There’s the center of Eden, and there’s the rivers. Those are rivers, not snakes. Those are the rivers that go out of it, and they're turned into these mandala images that are representative of what Jung described as the self, which would be the center element of conscious being that he associated with divinity, and also with the idea of the holy city. I'm just showing you that to show you where the imagination has taken ideas of paradise.
"The name of the first river is Pison: that is which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the God of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates." There's this strange intermingling, there, of geography with mythical geography, which you see happen fairly frequently in the books. "And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and keep it." That’s a good command. That’s what you're supposed to do: take care of the damn thing. It’s a lot of work to make—it took a whole week. Hah.
"And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
Well, there's a bunch of questions, there, that people have been puzzling over for a long time. God is a tricky character in the story of Adam and Eve. It’s like, ok, if we can't eat the damned thing, why put it in the garden to begin with? That would be one question. You made us, and then you told us not to eat this, knowing perfectly well that the first thing we were going to do was eat it, because people are of exactly that type. If you say to them, with their insatiable curiosity, this is all fine and nice, but over here is something that you should never look at, and you leave the room…It’s like, everybody’s over there trying to figure out what the hell that thing is, instantly, right? We’re curious, curious, curious, curious creatures. You have to wonder what, exactly, God was up to here.
There's Gnostic speculation that the original God, this one, was not really a very good God. He was kind of an unconscious, evil God. He wanted his creation to be unconscious, and so forbade them from developing consciousness. It was a higher God, and maybe in the form of the serpent, who tempted human beings towards consciousness. That idea got scrubbed out of classic Christianity pretty early, although there's something that's interesting about it, and there are remnants of it in different forms that stayed inside the story—like the idea that the fall was a terrible tragedy, but, on the other hand, it was the precondition for the greatest event in history, which was the birth of Christ and the redemption of mankind. And so it’s complicated. Let’s put it that way.
God only knows what God was up to. This is a good example of that ambivalence. To me, again, it’s an indication of the sophistication of the people who put these stories together. I also consider this somewhat miraculous, because, you know, if you're just a simple propagandist, you wouldn’t leave this sort of complexity in the text. You’d just get rid of that. If you're a propagandist, everything is supposed to make sense along the ideological plane. Here, God’s supposed to be good, and it’s like, well, we better get rid of that line, because something’s up with it, and it isn’t obvious what it is. But that isn’t what people did. To me, that indicates that they were doing two things: they were trying not to be too careless with the traditions that they were handed—they were very careful with them, and they were touching them at their peril—and they were actually trying to understand what was going on. Otherwise, why keep this? Why not just simplify it? Or, maybe just attribute this to the devil. That would be easier than having God do it.
"And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all the cattle"—cattle means animal, basically—"and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him."
Well, a couple of things to speculate, there. Number one: why does God care what Adam calls the animals? The answer to that seems to be that it’s associated, again, with the magic of speech. We know—according to the story—that human beings were already made in the image of God, and that God used language in order to call order forth from chaos. There’s an echo of that, here, even though it’s from an independent tradition. The echo is that the thing isn’t quite real until you name it. That’s an interesting thing, and we don't exactly know how far that extends. It’s certainly the case that things often exist in a strange potential form—interconnected form—where everything’s a mass of confusion before you put your finger on it and name it. What's going on, here? You name it…It’s like, it carves it out from all that underlying chaos and makes it into a grippable entity that you can then contend with. You might say, well, it was real before you named it. Well, yes. It was real before you named it—the same way things are there when there's no one there to perceive them. It isn’t obvious how things are there when you’re not there to perceive them.
I’ll tell you something bloody weird about perception. John Wheeler’s a physicist, and here's a really cool thing: Let’s say you go outside at night, and you look up, and you see a star. A photon from that star enters your eye, and maybe that photon has been cruising along for like 30 million years. Do you know that that photon would not have been emitted from that star at that time if your eye wasn’t there at that time to perceive it? You think, well, how in the hell can that be? It happened 30 million years ago. Well, I don't know how it can be, to tell you the truth, but I know that John Wheeler has done a very good job of detailing out why that’s true, and necessarily true. Wheeler is also the physicist who developed the notion of it from bit. He believes that the potential of the world is best construed as a place of latent information. What consciousness does is transform the latent information into something like concrete reality. He doesn't mean that metaphorically. One of the cases that he makes, in that regard, is the story that I just told you: the photon couldn’t have left from where it was unless it had a place to go.
It’s complicated and confusing, because, from the perspective of a beam of light from a photon, there is no time, and there is no distance from one point to another. Of course, that’s completely impossible to understand, too. But, from the perspective of a photon, the universe is completely flat—perpendicular to the direction that the photon is travelling. It’s there, and here, at the same time. For us, it’s not. It’s like 20 million years ago. But for the photon, it’s all here and now. Anyways, the reason I'm telling you all that is because the relationship between consciousness and reality is by no means straightforward. It is seriously not straightforward. Physicists debate what the relationship is between consciousness and reality, and they debate about what the sort of phenomena that I just described means. I’m not really qualified to enter into that debate, because I'm not a physicist, but I have read a fair bit of Wheeler—about as much of it as I can understand—and I do, at least, know that that’s what he claimed. I also know that that claim is taken seriously among the calibre of the physicists who can understand Wheeler. That’s pretty interesting.
So, anyways, there is emphasis, again, on this importance of naming in order to make things real. You know, sometimes people won’t name things just so they don't become real. If you have a relationship—which, undoubtedly, you do—and it has problems—which, undoubtedly, it does—you bloody well know that lots of times there's something under the carpet that no one wants to name. Everybody’s thinking, well, as long as we don't name it, it’s not really there. In some sense it really isn’t there, because you can act as if it’s not there and get away with it, at least for short periods of time. But as soon as you name that thing you give it form, and it’s there, and no one can ignore it. That’s annoying, because then you have to deal it or face the consequences. The reason I'm telling you that is because we have an intuition that we can have things not exist by not naming them. You name it and it comes forward with staggering clarity. It’s not as if naming it is the only thing that gives it reality, but it sharpens it, brings it into focus, and gives it borders and boundaries.
Anyways, God’s interested enough in what Adam has to say that he has him name all the animals, and that sort of makes them into animals. Now, there’s more to the linguistic story than that. Social psychologist Roger Brown studied this really interesting phenomena, which is associated with relationship between perception and action. You know how a kid will call a particular animal a cat? Well, the word cat is very short, like the word dog. We could perceive cats as multicellular organisms—we could see the cells; we could see the molecules; we could see the atoms, or we could see the ecosystem that the cat is part of—or maybe the broader, mammalian classification that it’s part of. We could perceive that as the unit of perception, but we don’t. We perceive things at the level of cat. You can tell the perceptual level that people naturally perceive at—which doesn't seem to be socially-culturally determined to any great degree, by the way—because the words are often short, easily remembered, and early-learned. There’s this level of analysis, out of all the possible levels of analysis, that the world does exist at what we perceive it at. That level of analysis seems to have something to do with the world’s functional utility for us. The perception at that level, and the naming at that level, gives things a reality at that level.
The thing about things is that they're not easily separable from other things. They tangle together in all sorts of strange ways. Yet, when we cast our eye and use our language to orient ourselves in the world, we cut things up into discreet, discriminable objects that we can then utilize. There's something about that that makes them more real, in a way, than the interconnected potential that they were before—it’s not real in the same way, at least. I think it’s even less real. I think that's a right way of thinking about it, even though it’s not completely unreal. It’s an echo. Adam’s a little God at that point—a little God the Father, and God’s already done the ground work, but Adam has to come along and say, well, that’s a cat. Like, poof: whatever that is is now a cat, and that’s a dog, and that’s a sheep. It gives them something like pragmatic form.
"But for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from the man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."
That’s a walloping statement to put in there at the end of those three sentences. The "therefore" comes as somewhat as a surprise, but there’s an injunction there. It’s a good injunction. Man, I tell you, people who don’t do that have a hell of a time in their marriage. This is a good thing to know if you are married, or if you’re planning to get married: We have very strong orientation towards our parents, and for good reason. The injunction, here, is that’s secondary as soon as you’re married, and failure to do that makes your marriage collapse—and you deserve it to collapse, too, as far as I'm concerned, because it’s a reflection of your pathological immaturity and your unwillingness to extract yourself from the talon-like grip of parents, who are a little bit too much on the interfering side. But the injunction…There’s a deep injunction, here. It’s very complicated.
One of the ideas is that the original Adam wasn’t a man: he was more like a hermaphroditic being. In that hermaphroditic being, there was a kind of undifferentiated perfection that was split into male and female. Part of the goal of human beings is to reunite as the singular unity that reestablishes the initial perfection. That’s actually the goal of marriage from the spiritual perspective. Jung wrote quite a bit about that. It’s such a good idea.
I had these friends that went to Sweden to get married. They were from Northern Alberta, but both their heritages were Swedish. They did this cool thing as they were being married: they had to hold a candle up between them while they were being married. You think, well, what’s the candle? It’s a source of light; it’s a source of illumination; it’s a source of enlightenment; it’s the candle that you put on Christmas trees in Europe. So it’s the light that emerged in the darkness, in the depth of winter. It’s a symbol of life in darkness; it’s the reemergence of the sun at the darkest, coldest time of the year—which is also associated, symbolically, with the birth of Christ for all sorts of complicated reasons. So the candle’s all that. The next question is, why do you hold it above you? Because what’s above you is what you’re below to. It signifies something transcendent. Why do you both hold onto it? Because you’re both supposed to hold onto the light, right? And you're supposed to be subordinate to the light. You ask, well, who’s in charge in a marriage? Well, the light! That’s the idea. So you come together as one thing. You’re no longer two things. It isn’t what's good for you, and it’s not what’s good for your wife: it’s what's good for the marriage. The marriage is about the combined being, which is the reassembly of the original hermaphroditic being at the beginning of time. That’s the idea, and that’s all packed into these four sentences.
All of these sentences have a tremendous history of interpretation associated with them. It’s just endless, and that's one of the lines. It’s also an antidote to the idea that women taken out of men—which is also the reverse of the biological process, by the way—makes women, in some sense, subordinate to men. That is not built into this text. I don't see that, at all, as built into the text.
There’s something else that’s associated with it, too. The reason Sleeping Beauty goes to sleep is because—you have to remember what happens. She has parents who are quite old, and so they're pretty desperate to have a child—like so many people are now. They only have one child—like so many people do now—and they don’t want anything to happen to this child. It’s a miracle, and there's only one of them, and she’s the princess, and so we’re not letting anything around her. They have a big christening party, and they invite everybody, but they don’t invite Maleficent. Maleficent is the terrible mother; she’s nature; she’s the thing that goes bump in the night; she’s the devil herself, so to speak, and she’s everything that you don’t want your child to encounter.
So the king and queen saying, well, we just wont invite her to the christening…It’s like, good luck with that. That’s an Oedipal story, right? the Oedipal mother is the mother who devours her child by overprotecting him or her, so that instead of being strengthened by an encounter with the terrible world, they're weakened by too much protection. And then, when they’re let out into the world, they cannot live. That’s the story of Sleeping Beauty, and that's what the king and queen do. They apologize to Maleficent when she first shows up. They have a bunch of half-witted excuses why they didn’t invite her. We forgot—I don't think so. You don't forget something like that. And she kind of makes that point: you don’t just forget about the whole horror of life when you have a child. You might wish that it might stay at bay, but you do not forget about it. The question is, do you invite it to the party? And the answer is, it bloody well depends how unconscious you want your child to be. If you want your child to be unconscious, well, then you have the added advantage that, maybe, they won’t leave home. You can take advantage of them for the rest of your sad life, instead of going off to find something to do for yourself. And then, of course, you can take revenge on them if they do have any what would you call impetus towards courage, that you sacrificed in yourself 30 years ago, and that you want to stamp out as soon as you see it develop in your child. That's another thing that would be quite pleasant.
That's what happens in Sleeping Beauty. Well, none of this is pleasant, and nothing that happens in that story is pleasant. Sleeping Beauty is naive as hell. They put her out in the forest and have her raised by these three goody-two-shoes faeries, that are also completely devoid of any real potency and power. There’s nothing maleficent about them. And then she falls in love so badly with the first idiot prince that wanders by that she has post-traumatic stress disorder when he rides off on his horse. That’s what happens. And then she goes into the castle, and she’s all freaked out because she met the love of her life for like five minutes, for God’s sake. That’s when the spinning wheel—that’s the wheel of fate—pops up, and she pricks her finger. They tried to get rid of the wheels of fate, with their pointed end, but she finds it, pricks her finger, and falls down, unconscious. Well, she wants to be unconscious, and no bloody wonder. She was protected her whole life, and she’s so damn naive that her first love affair just about kills her. She wants to go to sleep and never wake up, and so that's exactly what happens. And then she has to wait for the prince to come and rescue her. Well, you think, how sexist can you get? Seriously, because that’s the way that that would be read in the modern world—it’s like, she doesn't need a prince to rescue her. That’s why Disney made Frozen, that absolutely appalling piece of rubbish.
You can say, well, the princess doesn’t need a prince to rescue her, but, you know, that's a boneheaded way of looking at the story. The prince isn’t just a man who’s coming to rescue the woman—and, believe me, he’s got his own problems, right? He’s got a whole goddamn dragon he has to contend with. The prince also represents the woman’s own consciousness. Consciousness is presented very frequently in stories as symbolically masculine, as it is with the logos idea. The idea is that, without that forward-going, courageous consciousness, a woman herself will drift into unconsciousness and terror. You can read it as, well, the woman who’s sleeping needs a man to wake her up. Of course—just like a man needs a woman to wake him up. It’s the same damn thing: that’s the dragon fight in Sleeping Beauty. But it’s also the case that, if she’s only unconscious, all she can do is lay there and sleep like the sleep of the naive and damned. She has to wake herself up and bring her own masculine consciousness into the forefront so that she can survive in the world. Of course, women are trying to do that like mad, but that's partly what's represented in a story like that. That’s partly what’s implicit in this idea: unless the woman is taken out of man, so to speak, then she isn’t a human being: she’s just a creature. That’s partly what’s embedded in this story. So you don’t want to read it as a patriarchal…You don't want to read anything that way, really. I won’t bother with that. But, really, we can do better than that.
"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."
The other thing about marriage—this is really worth knowing, too, and I learned this, in part, from reading Jung. What do you do when you get married? That’s easy: you take someone who’s just as useless and horrible as you are, and then you shackle yourself to them, and then you say, we’re not running away, no matter what happens. Yea. That’s perfect, because then you don’t get to run away. The thing is, if you can run away, you can’t tell each other the truth. If you tell someone the truth about you and they don’t run away, then they weren’t listening. If you don’t have someone around who can’t run away, then you can't tell them the truth. That’s part of the purpose of the marriage. It’s like, I’ll bet on you, and you bet on me. It’s a losing bet—we both know that—but, given our current circumstances, we’re unlikely to find anyone better.
Two things that come off of that…You know, people are waiting around to find Mr. or Mrs. Right. Here's something to think about, man, and to put yourself on your feet: if you went to a party and found Mr. Right, and he looked at you and didn't run away screaming, that would indicate that he wasn’t Mr. Right, at all. It’s like the old Nietzschean joke: if someone loves you, that should immediately disenchant you with them. Or it’s the Woody Allen joke: I never belonged to a club that would take me as a member. That's a very interesting thing to think about.
You’re going to shackle yourself to someone who’s just as imperfect as you are. Then the issue is, you might be in a situation where you can actually negotiate. You might think, well, there's some things about you that aren’t going so right, and there's some things about me that aren’t going so right, and we’re bloody well stuck with the consequences for the next 50 years. We can either straighten this out or suffer through it for the next five decades. People are of the sort that, without that degree of seriousness, those problems will not be solved. You’ll leave things unnamed, because there's always an out. It’s the same thing when you're living together with someone. People who live together before they’re married are more likely to get divorced, not less likely. The reason for that is, what exactly are you saying to one another when you live with each other? Just think about it. Well…For now, you’re better than anything else I can trick, but I’d like to reserve the right to trade you in—hah—conveniently, if someone better happens to stumble into me.
Well, how could someone not be insulted to their core by an offer like that? They’re willing to play along with it, because they're going to do the same thing with you. That’s exactly it: yea, yea…I know you're not going to commit to me, so that means you don't value me or our relationship above everything else. But, as long as I get to escape if I need to, then I'm willing to put up with that. That's a hell of a thing. You might think, how stupid is it to shackle yourself to someone? It’s stupid, man. There’s no doubt about that. But compared to the alternatives? It’s pretty damn good. Without that shackling there are things you will never, ever learn, because you’ll avoid them. You can always leave, and if you can leave, you don't have to tell each other the truth. It’s as simple as that. You can just leave, and then you don't have anyone you can tell the truth to.
This is an old Chinese symbol. I think it’s Fuxi and Nuwa. I think I have the pronunciation wrong, but it’s really cool. See the snakes, down here? They're kinda like the DNA symbol, which I find very interesting. That's the original cosmic serpent—the potential out of which that emerged—then that's the differentiation of that into male and female. So that's like the predatory unknown. That’s one way of thinking about it. The most fundamental conception of mankind is the predatory unknown, and then the bifurcation of that into the two fundamental, cognitive elements of human perception: masculine and feminine.
You see the same thing, here. This is Egyptian. and also extraordinarily old. It’s the great serpent that underlies everything, bifurcating itself into Isis, queen of the underworld, and Osiris, king of kings, pharaoh, king of order.
You see the same thing in an old alchemical symbol. I love this one because it looks quite a lot like the little thing that Harry Potter chases around. That's not accidental, by the way. The Seeker is the thing that chases this, and the Seeker that chases this and catches it wins. That's a really old idea. I cannot figure out how the hell J. K. Rowling knew that, because that is a very, very archaic and arcane symbol. On Google it’s called the round chaos, and the only reference to the round chaos that I can find on Google is on my webpage. And so I have no idea how Rowling came up with that. I mean, I know she looked at a lot of old texts, but the idea that if you play the meta-game and you catch this, you win all the games, is exactly right. That’s the motif for…What’s the name for that…Quidditch.
There’s the potential—that's like the potential out of which God made the world at the beginning of time. That's the dragon. In the dragon fight, that's partly the serpent that's in the garden of Eden. And then that's the manifestation of masculine and feminine out of that. Potential, predatory, unknown, masculine, and feminine. It’s like a single representation of the evolutionary history of human cognitive consciousness. It’s so cool. And that's also an image of the ideal: it’s the union of sun and moon, and it’s this hyper-creature, hermaphroditic, that's also the Adam and Eve that existed at the beginning of time before the fall. It’s the purpose of marriage, and it’s a sacrament. All of that in these images. It’s just absolutely unbelievable what images can pack into them.
And there’s some more classical representations of Eve being extracted from Adam. This is a cool line: "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." Well, someone who wrote that would only write like that if they were surprised they weren’t ashamed, because why would you point it out, otherwise? There’s this intimation of two things: Number one is, there was a point in time when human beings were naked, and they weren’t ashamed of it. Number two is, there is a point in time—which is now—when they are naked, and they are ashamed of it. The question is, well, what's associated with nakedness and shame? That's often given a sexual connotation in classic interpretations of the Adam and Eve story—because of it’s association with nudity, I presume. But I think it’s a lot more complicated than that.
My daughter…She probably won’t be very happy that I'm revealing this in this lecture. My daughter was never really concerned about nudity. When she was a little kid, it was all the same to her, one way or another. But my son, by the time he was three, man, that kid was private. His bedroom door was shut. The bathroom door was shut. It was like, get the hell out of here. That seemed to just happen of its own accord. You know, we had two children, and one was like that, and the other one wasn’t. I didn't think we had much to do with it, at all. It was really fascinating to watch that emerge in him. That sense of self-consciousness does seem to emerge in children who are around the age of three. That’s, generally, also when we start thinking that maybe having your baby wander around naked on a beach isn’t exactly the best idea.
Nudity in children is generally ok, under some circumstances, in public display. We seem to think of that as merely—it’s acceptable. Why? I don't know. Why it stops being acceptable? Well, that has something to do with sexuality, obviously, but it’s a very complicated phenomena. The whole nudity thing is a very complicated thing. I mean, first of all, people are kind of strange, because we’re hairless—well, compared to most animals—and we don't know why that is. Some people think it’s because we lost our hair when we were wandering around in Africa. We’re really, really good runners. We can run down animals. A human being in good shape can run a horse to death in a week. We can really run, man, and a lot of our ancestors—the Kalahari bushmen still do this: they just run an animal until it dies. They also, sometimes, shoot them with poison arrows, but they can just run them until they die. We have tremendous endurance, and you have to be able to get rid of a lot of heat if you're going to run around in the desert, so we don't have much hair.
Buckminster Fuller had an interesting explanation. He thinks that, at some point during our evolution, we spent a lot time near the water—we were like fish-apes, something like that. Well, we like to be on the beach, and there's lots of food there, and we like to swim. We’re really good at swimming, for terrestrial creatures, and we cry salt tears, like some sea-going creatures do. Women have a layer of subcutaneous fat, like some sea-going creatures do. Our feet—very odd things—are kind of good for flapping in the water, although we can also walk with them. And so he thought that, maybe, that adaptation was to a water existence, like seals and so forth—like we kinda went back to the ocean, but not quite.
Anyways, the evolution of that hairlessness is an interesting thing. It certainly does make us exposed to the world in a way that animals that have a covering of fur aren’t. And then we’re upright, which is very strange because most animals aren’t. They’re on all fours, so their very vulnerable parts are protected and not exposed to view. Of course, when you’re standing up, nude, your psychophysiological quality is on painful display. People complain about that all the time. If you look at the feminist tact, for example, on beauty, the idea that women have eating disorders is directly attributed to the presence of too many beautiful women on the covers of magazines—even though women buy those magazines, and they’re attracted to them, and their mood goes up when they purchase them. If the stimulus was negative, the women would avoid the magazines, and not buy them. So, as a theory, it’s a very, very bad one. But it’s still the case that standards of beauty shame people, and that’s for sure. If you’re not ugly now, man, you’re gonna be at some point in your life.
That's kind of a rough thing to contend with. It’s a rough thing to know that there's an ideal that you could be—and maybe even once were—that you're not going to be for long, or never were. I think it’s harder on women, because women are judged by men more for their youth and fertility. That’s how it turns out from the evolutionary point of view. Men are judged more on their socioeconomic status by women. It’s harsh both ways. So, anyways, it’s a terrible thing to carry the knowledge with you that you’re exposed to the most serious possible evaluation of the quality of your being that you could possibly be exposed to, all the time, and that that’s further amplified if you’re without clothing. Part of clothing is protection, but a tremendous amount of it is merely stopping other people from evaluating you too harshly all the time; it just gets in the way. Anyways, this story makes the case that, at some point, we weren’t like that. Animals aren’t like that, so it seems perfectly plausible that we weren’t like that. But, at some point, that changed.
"And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?"
I like this. I can't remember who did the etching. Who is it? Dore! Yea. Dore did etchings for Paradise Lost that are absolutely remarkable. This is Satan, and this is the snake, here. Of course, in the Genesis stories, Satan is weirdly associated with the snake. That’s a tough one to sort out. In the story of Adam and Eve, there’s no indication, whatsoever, that the serpent who tempts Eve is also Satan, the author of all evil. And how in the world those two stories got tangled together—well, I think I figured that out. I'm going to tell you that tonight, but it took a very long time to figure it out. It’s so bloody brilliant. I just can't believe that people figured it out. It’s so unbelievably, spectacularly brilliant. That’s an intimation of that idea, right? That there's a kinship between these two things.
Anyways, the serpent’s more subtle than any beast of the field. Subtle’s an interesting word. We’ll amplify the word a bit—this is what you do in Jungian dream interpretation: you kind of look at the connotation of the concepts that are associated with the dream. This is from the Oxford English Dictionary: Subtle: "Of a person or animal, an action, behaviour, etc.: crafty, cunning; sly, treacherous." It’s something that sort of sneaks along, right? It’s not something that you really pick up on that easily.
"Of a look or glance: sly, furtive; surreptitious. Of a person: skillful; expert; clever. Of a work of art, mechanical device, etc.: cleverly made or designed; ingenious."
Well, I think all those terms, so far, are fairly well attributed to snakes. I mean, they are very cool things, and they are very well designed. They’re quite remarkable, and they're also very subtle.
"Of the nature of or involving careful discrimination or fine points; difficult to understand, abstruse. Of a person, the mind, or intellectual activity; characterized by wisdom or perceptiveness; discriminating, discerning, and shrewd."
That’s interesting, because Milton’s Satan is also the intellect, and you see that very often. It’s so often the bad guy’s an evil scientist. You see the same thing in The Lion King, with Scar. Scar’s an intellect—an arrogant, deceitful intellect. There's nothing stupid about Scar. He’s not wise, but he’s the evil voice that’s always whispering in the king’s ear. That’s associated with the pride of the intellect. Catholics had warned humanity about the pride of the intellect for centuries. That’s partly what produced the schism between Catholicism and science, although that’s much overrated if you look at the historical record. The idea was that the intellect has a remarkable faculty, and it’s the highest angel in God’s heavenly kingdom. That’s the way that Milton portrayed it. But it’s also the thing that can go most terribly wrong, because the intellect can become arrogant about its own existence and accomplishments, and it can fall in love with its own products. That’s what happens when you're ideologically possessed, because you end up with a human constructed dogma. In Solzhenitsyn's words, "it possesses you completely of which you believe is 100 percent right." It eradicated the necessity for anything transcendent. So that’s the subtil element of the intellect that’s associated, symbolically, with the snake in the garden of paradise.
"Of a feeling, sense, sensation, etc.: acute, keen. Involving distinctions that are fine or delicate, esp. to such an extent as to be difficult to discern or analyze; (also) almost imperceptible and elusive. Having little thickness or breadth; thin, fine. Subtile matter; rarefied matter." Barely there at all.
"And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil."
Sneaky. Subtle. It’s a nice story, eh? The instant implication is, well, you can't trust God. That’s pretty sneaky. And the next is, well, he’s trying to pull a fast one on you. And the next one is, well, he’s trying to do that because he’s jealous, and he doesn't want you to know things that he knows, because that wouldn’t be so good. And he’s lying to you, anyways, because you're not going to die. If you eat it, contrary to what you’ve been informed, all that's going to happen is your eyes will be opened, and you’ll be like Gods, knowing good and evil. That sounds pretty damn good. I mean, Eve, what does she know? No wonder she’s susceptible to such blandishments. It’s quite interesting, too, because God tells Adam and Eve not to eat the damn fruit, but they never promise not to. They haven’t promised; they’ve just been told to, and, well, should they be obedient? How obedient do you want your children to be? You want them to be obedient enough so that they don't get hurt, but disobedient enough so that they go out in the world and do something courageous, break some rules, and learn some things. It’s a very paradoxical story.
Anyways, the serpent wins this round. Eve pays attention to the snake. Again, we have the same set of images: we have Adam, and we have Eve. We have this tree, and we have this strange serpent. That’s a dragon-like form, there—a sphinx-like form that’s associated with the tree. The snake’s eternally associated with the tree. We spent God only knows how many tens of millions of years as tree-dwelling primates, and we had three primary predators: snakes, birds, cats. And so the snake has been associated with the tree for a very, very long time. The lesson the snake tells people is, you bloody better well wake up, or something you don't like will get you. And who’s going to be most susceptible to paying attention to the snake? That’s going to be Eve. The reason for that is that Eve has offspring, and there’s nothing tastier to a snake than a child.
Eve had every reason to be self-conscious and neurotic. Women are more self-conscious and neurotic by men than quite a substantial amount. That’s true cross-culturally, and it emerges at puberty, and part of the reason—as far as we can tell—is women are more sexually vulnerable. They’re also smaller. So that's a problem if you're engaged in any physical altercation. But most importantly is, why would you ever assume that a human female’s nervous system is adapted to her or her well-being? Why wouldn’t you assume, instead, that her nervous system is adapted to the female-infant dyad? Because if it isn’t, then the infants die. And so you might think, well, women are way more susceptible to depression and anxiety than men are. That's a hell of burden to bear, and that's also true cross-culturally, by the way, and it also kicks in at puberty.
The biggest differences are in Scandinavia—for those of you who think it’s sociocultural, which it isn’t. But there’s reasons for it, and it’s also at puberty that men and women start to become sexually dimorphic in terms of size. Men are way more powerful in their upper bodies. It’s incomparably more powerful, and so that makes them a lot more dangerous. The primary human defense mechanism is punching, like with kangaroos. There's some other animals that can punch. Chimps can punch, too, but human beings punch, and most of the force in that is upper body and shoulder, and so a woman is no match for a man in a fight. She has every reason to be nervous, especially when you add to that her additional sexual vulnerability and the fact that she has to take care of extraordinarily dependent infants, who are extremely fragile for a very long period of time. And women are more self-conscious than men. The empirical literature on that is clear. It’s associated with trait neuroticism, because self-consciousness is actually an unpleasant emotion. Who wants to be self-conscious? If I'm self-conscious on the stage while I’m talking to you, then all of a sudden I can't even talk to you. All I'm doing is thinking about me and all the things that are wrong with me, and I fall inside myself. Self-consciousness, although it’s a great gift, is nothing pleasant. It’s associated, primarily, with anxiety.
So Eve had every reason to pay attention to the snake, and that’s for sure. I think I read this week that—I can't remember which tribesmen it was, unfortunately. Although, I did put a footnote in my new book about this. These were tribal people, and five percent of the adults had been attacked by a python, and a substantial number of children had been killed by them. Snake predation was no joke. It shaped our evolutionary past, and, in many places, it still is no joke.
Lynne Isbell, an anthropologist, pointed out that we’re attuned to snakes. We got really good at detecting the camouflage patterns of snakes, especially in the lower half of our visual field. There’s evidence that part of the reason that human beings have such acute vision—which means that our eyes opened, let’s say—is because we coevolved with snakes. We learned how to see them, and then the price we paid for seeing was that our brain grew. You need a lot of brain in order to see, and the consequence of our brain growing is that one day we woke up and discovered the future, and the future is where all the snakes might live, instead of where they live right now.
There’s the same thing. These images are so interesting. In this one you have the spectre of death, in the tree, with the snake and the fruit. Now, fruit is interesting, too. I already made the case that there's a tight linkage between what you eat and information—a conceptual link, as well as a practical link. But it’s also the case that we can see colours, and the question is, why? The answer is, because we evolved to see ripe fruit. In the story of Adam and Eve, human beings are given vision by the snake and the fruit, and that turns out to be correct. So isn’t that something? And then you think, what role do women play in relationship to men? Well, first, they make them self-conscious. Let’s not ever forget about that. I would say that the primary role that women have in relationship to men is to make them self-conscious. Men don't precisely like that, and there’s nothing that will make a man more self-conscious than being rejected. Why? Because why is he rejected? Well, mother nature, in the guise of that particular woman, has said that you’re not so bad for a friend, but there's no reason that your genetic material should propagate itself into the future.
It’s not like men are exactly happy about being made self-conscious by women, right? It’s a major source of continual tension between men and women, and it’s no wonder. But it’s also the case—and this is something really cool, and interesting to know—that we diverged from the common ancestor between us and chimpanzees about six million years ago. Here’s why, at least in part: chimpanzee females are non-discriminate maters: they’ll mate with any male when they go into heat, which human females don't. When they go into heat, then any male is allowed access. The dominant males chase the subordinate males away, so the dominate males are more likely to leave offspring, but it’s not because of a female choice.
That’s not the case with human beings. Human females engage in hypergamy. This is also true cross-culturally, and it’s just as extensive in Scandinavia—not quite. There’s a bit of attenuation, but not much. Women mate across and up dominance hierarchies. Men mate across and down. That has to be the case, because if one goes up, the other has to go down. The socioeconomic status of a woman determines almost zero of her attractiveness towards a man, whereas the socioeconomic status of a man is a major determinant of his attractiveness to a woman—and it isn’t his wealth, either; that’s been tested; it’s his capacity to generate, be productive, and to share. That beats the hell out of wealth. Wealth can disappear, and the capacity to be productive and share is a much more important element. And why not be chosen on the basis of that? Especially because women have to have infants, and infants make the women dependent. The woman is just looking logically, rationally, and from an evolutionary perspective for someone who’s useful enough to lend a hand.
Women make intense demands on men, and it’s no wonder. But the thing is, because women engaged in hypergamy, we diverged quite rapidly from chimpanzees. The selected pressure that women placed on men developed the entire species. There’s two things that happened, as far as I can tell: the men competed for competence—so the male hierarchy is a mechanism that pushes the best man to the top, virtually by definition—and then the effect of that is multiplied by the fact that women who are hypergamous peel from the top. The males who are the most competent are much more likely to leave offspring, and that seemed to be what drove our cortical expansion, for example, which happened very, very rapidly over the course of evolutionary time.
"And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat."
Oh, yes—women share food. That’s a very strange thing, because most creatures don't share food. If you’re a wolf, and you bring down something in a hunt, you eat your fill. The dominant creatures eat their fill, and if there’s some left over, the subordinates get to eat, too. But that isn’t how human beings work: we share food. And you can imagine how that evolved: lots of female creatures share food with their offspring—you don't need much of a twist in that, from an evolutionary perspective, until you start to share food with not only your offspring, say, but with your mate. That’s another way that you entice a mate. It’s like, we’re going to be better together than alone. Well, that’s the offering of the fruit. What’s the self-conscious part? Well, here's part of the bargain: I'm going to wake you up, partly because you need to be woken up, and partly because I have this infant that needs some damn care. So you bloody well better be awake, and part of the bargain is that I’ll offer you some food. In response, we’re going to make a team, and that’s the human deal. That’s why we’re, more or less, monogamous, and why we, more or less, pair bond, and why something approximating marriage is a human universal. It’s cross-cultural.
You can find exceptions, but who the hell cares? Really, who cares? You look at the vast pattern…Well, and the price we pay for having large brains is that we’re very dependent, and it takes a long time for us to get programmed. Because of that, we need relatively stable family bonding, and that's basically what we’ve evolved. You don't get that without making men self-conscious. Male creatures—why not impregnate and run? I mean, why the hell not? Really, no kidding. That’s the thing to think about: it is not why men abandon their children that's the mystery: it’s why any men ever stick with them. That’s the mystery. You just have to look at the animal kingdom. The simplest and easiest thing is always the most likely thing to occur. It’s the exception—long-term commitment—that needs explanation.
"She took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of both of them were opened—" implying that before that they were closed "—and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons."
That’s so interesting. Their eyes are opened, which indicated that they weren’t to begin with. Whatever God created to begin with was kind of blind, but not—blind in some strange way. They weren’t wandering around in the garden and bumping into trees. It was some sort of metaphysical blindness that’s been removed by whatever has just happened. Whatever’s just happened also made them realize that they were naked. Ok, so what sort of eye-opening is that? What does it mean to realize that you’re naked? It means to realize that you’re vulnerable. That’s what people discovered. It’s like, uh oh. We can be hurt.
So you’re a zebra in a herd of zebras, and there’s a bunch of lions around there laying on the grass. You don't care. Those are laying-down lions. Laying-down lions are no problem. It’s standing-up, hunting lions that are the problem. You're not smart enough to figure out that laying-down lions turn into standing-up, hunting lions, so you’re not, like, building a fort to keep the lions out. You’re just mindlessly eating grass. You’re not very awake, but that's not what happens to human beings. Human beings wake up, and they think, we’re vulnerable—permanently. It’s never going away. It’s the recognition of that eternal vulnerability.
What happens? The first thing they do is clothe themselves. Well, what happens when you're naked, and when you need protecting from the world? You're all wearing clothes. Why? Well, we’ve been doing that for a very, very long period of time. It’s tens of thousands of years, at minimum. In fact, you can track, more or less, when clothing developed by doing DNA testing on the kind of lice that cling to clothes rather than hair. We have a pretty good idea of when clothing emerged, and of different types, as well. But the point is that they’re naked, and they think that’s not so good; we’re vulnerable. Their eyes are opened enough so that they become self-conscious, and they recognize their own vulnerability. The first thing they do—the first step of culture—is to protect themselves with something from the world. You protect yourself from the world, and from the prying eyes of other people.
This is a book by Lynne Isbell: Why We See So Well. "From the temptation of Eve to the venomous murder of the mighty Thor, the serpent appears throughout time and cultures as a figure of mischief and misery. The worldwide prominence of snakes in religion, myth, and folklore underscores our deep connection to the serpent-but why, when so few of us have firsthand experience? The surprising answer, this book suggests, lies in the singular impact of snakes on primate evolution. Predation pressure from snakes, Lynne Isbell tells us, is ultimately responsible for superior vision and large brains of primates-and for a critical aspect of human evolution."
That was tested recently. Psychologists have known for a long time that people can learn to fear snakes, but they discovered in primates a set of neurons—Pulvinar neurons—which are specialized. "Pulvinar neurons reveal neurobiological evidence of past selection for rapid detection of snakes." That's from 2013. So the snake definitely woke us up.
Color vision as an adaptation to fruit eating in primates. It’s not by accident that women make themselves look like ripe fruit to be attractive to men, right? And that’s also not sociocultural in origin.
"And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden."
That’s interesting. What's the implication? Prior to being woken up—prior to recognizing nakedness and vulnerability—there is no reason for man and woman to hide from God. Why are they hiding from God? They're naked and vulnerable. Ok, so think about this—think about this: Imagine that you have the capacity to live truthfully, courageously, and forthrightly. Just imagine that, and then imagine why you might not do that. How about fear and shame? How would that work? Well, let’s say that the idea of living forthrightly, truthfully, and courageously is analogous—given what we already know about these stories—to walking with God in the garden. What stops people from doing that? What stops people from hiding? Well, it’s their own recognition of their own inadequacies. They look at themselves, and they think, how in the world is a creature such as I, with everything that’s wrong with me, supposed to live properly in this world?
What do you hide from? Well, you go home, and you sit on your bed for five minutes and ask yourself what you have hidden from in your life. Man, you’ll have books of knowledge reveal themselves to you in your imagination. Well, why are you hiding? It’s no bloody wonder you're hiding. It’s no wonder that people hide. That's the thing that's so terrifying about this story. We woke up and we thought, oh my God, look at this place. There is some serious trouble here, and we’re in some serious trouble, and we’re not what we could be. And so we hide, and that's what the story says: people woke up, became self-conscious, recognized their own vulnerability, and that made them hide from manifesting their divine destiny. It’s like, yea. That’s exactly right.
I love this part of the story. It’s so funny, and we could use a little humor at this point. "And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And Adam said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked." So, in case there was any doubt about that, that's why. "And God said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Did you eat of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that you should not eat?" This is where Adam shows himself in all his post-fall, heroic glory: "And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat."
So that's man. Again, there's a modern feminist interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve that makes the claim that Eve was portrayed as the universal bad guy of humanity for disobeying God and eating the apple. It’s like, fair enough. It looks like she slipped up, and then she tempted her husband, and that makes her even worse—although, he was foolish enough to immediately eat, so it just means that she was a little more courageous than him and got there first.
It’s Adam who comes across as really one sad creature in this story, as far as I'm concerned. Look at what he manages in one sentence: First of all, it wasn’t him; it was the woman. Second, he even blames God! It wasn’t just the woman—and you gave her to me! "And she gave me of the tree, and I did eat." It’s like, hey, Adam’s all innocent—except now, not only is he naked, disobedient, cowardly, and ashamed, he’s also a snivelling, backbiting fink. He rats her out like the second he gets the opportunity, and then he blames God. That’s exactly right. You go online, and you read the commentary that men write about women when they're resentful and bitter about women. It’s so interesting. It’s like, it’s not me: it’s those bitches. It’s not me: it’s them—and not only that, but what a bloody world this is in which they exist. It’s exactly the same thing. It’s exactly the same thing, and it is absolutely pathetic.
"And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat." Well, at least she has a bloody excuse. First of all, it’s a snake. We already found out that they're subtle. Second, it turns out that the damn snake is Satan himself, and he’s rather treacherous. So the fact that she got tangled up in his mess is, well, problematic, but it’s a hell of a lot better excuse than Adam has.
"And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life"—and snakes, by the way, are lizards that lost their legs, just so you know—"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."
I love these pictures. They’re so smart. And again, strip the religious context from them and just look at them for a second. What do you see? You see the eternal mother holding her infant away from a snake. See it, down there? Crocodile, snake—everything predatory that's been after us for like 60 million years. The reason we’re here is because of that. That’s why it’s a sacred image.
This one I like even better. Down there there's something like the moon, and then there's a reptile down there that Eve’s stepping on. This is really old, and I showed you this before, but I think it’s so cool. She’s coming out of this thing that’s like a hole in the sky. It indicates the eternal recurrence of this figure. It’s an archetype. The potential out of which she is emerging is all musical instruments, back here. And so what the artist is representing is the great, patterned complexity of being, and the emergence of the protective mother from that background, protecting the infant, eternally, against predation. It’s like, how can that not be a holy image? If you don't think it’s a holy image, then there isn’t something wrong with the image: there's something wrong with the perceiver.
"Unto the woman he said"—God’s just outlining the consequences of this, right now. It’s like, ok, well, now you’ve gone and done it: you’ve woken up. This is what's going to happen—"I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."
It doesn’t say he should. It says he will. And why "in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children?" Well, when you develop a brain that big, so that you can see, it’s not that easy to give birth anymore. And then you produce something that’s dependent beyond belief—that’s one of the things that you could say dooms you to precisely this. So that's Eve’s punishment for waking up. And Adam, "Because thou hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life." What's that? It’s the invention of work.
"Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to three; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field."
It’s the invention of work. What do people do that animals don't? Work. What does work mean? It means you sacrifice the present for the future. Why do you do that? Because you know that you're vulnerable, and you're awake. From here on in, from this point, there's no return to unconscious paradise. I don't care how many problems you solved so that today’s ok. You’ve got a lot problems coming up, and no bloody matter how much you work, you're never going to work enough to solve them. All you're going to do from here on in is be terrified of the future, and that's the price of waking up. That’s the end of paradise, and that’s the beginning of history, and that’s how that story goes.
"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living."
"Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them"—that's William Blake, by the way—"And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:"
"Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."
One more thing, and then we’ll stop. Adam and Eve are tempted by the snake; they eat the fruit; they wake up; they realize they're naked; they realize that they’re vulnerable; they realize the future; they realize they're gonna die; they realize they’re gonna have to work; they realize the difficulty in conception, and the fall of humankind from unconscious paradise. Ok. That makes sense. What about the knowledge of good and evil? What in the world does that mean?
The Mesopotamians believed that human beings were made out of the blood of Kingu, who was the worst monster that Tiamat, the Goddess of chaos, could imagine and then produce. So their idea was that there as something deeply, deeply, deeply, demonically flawed about humanity. That's their conception, and it’s out of that same milieu that these stories emerge.
So what does opening your eyes and realizing your vulnerability have to do with the knowledge of good and evil? I thought about that. I really thought about that. I gotta tell you, I thought about that for like 20 years, because I knew there was something there that I could not put together. At the same time, I was reading things. I'm going to tell you something truly awful, and so if you need a trigger warning, you're getting one. Believe me, I do not give trigger warnings lightly. I'm going to tell you something you’ll never forget.
This is what Unit 731 used to do in China. It’s a Japanese unit during the 2nd World War. As far as I can tell, they did the most horrific things that were done to anyone during World War II, and that's really something. So this is what they did: They took their prisoners and put them in a position so that their arms would freeze solid. Then they would take them outside and pour hot water over their arms. And then they would repeat that until the flesh came off the bones. They were doing that to investigate the treatment of frostbite for soldiers. You can look up Unit 731 if you want to have nightmares. So that's Unit 731. That’s human beings. Someone thought that up, and then people did it. What's knowledge of good and evil? Here’s the key, man: You know you’re vulnerable. No other animal knows that. You know what hurts you, and now that you know what hurts you, you can figure out what hurts someone else. And as soon as you know what hurts someone else, and you can use that, you have the knowledge of good and evil.
Well, it’s a pretty good trick that the snake pulled, because it doesn't look like it’s exactly the sort of thing that we might have wanted if we had known the consequences. But as soon as a human being is self-conscious and aware of his own nakedness, then he has the capacity of evil, and that's introduced into the world right at that point.
Here's the rest of the story: So there's the snake, right, and you’re some tree-dwelling primate. The snake eats primates, and that sucks, so let’s watch out for the damn snakes. Then your brain grows, and you think, wait a minute. There’s not just snakes—there's where snake live. Why don't we just get the hell out of the tree, hunt down the snakes, and get rid of them? Those are sort of like potential snakes, and so the snake becomes potential snake. It’s the same circuit that you're using to do this thinking. You get rid of the damn snakes. It’s like Saint Patrick chasing them out of Ireland. No more snakes. Everything is paradise. It’s like, no, no, no. That’s not how it works, at all.
You’ve got human snakes. You’re a tribe, you’ve got tribal enemies, and you’ve got to defend yourself against the human snakes, right? Maybe your empire expands, and you get rid of all the human snakes. Then what happens? They start to grow and develop inside. You get rid of all the external enemies and make a big city, and all of a sudden there's enemies that pop up inside.
The snake isn’t just the snake in the garden, and the snake isn’t just the possible snake, and the snake isn’t just the snake that's your enemy. The snake is your friend, because your friend can betray you. And then it’s even worse than that, because you can betray you. So even if you get rid of all the outside snakes, you’ve got an inside snake, and God only knows what it’s up to.
That's why the bloody Christians associated the snake in the garden of Eden with Satan. It’s unbelievably brilliant, because you gotta think, what's the enemy? Well, it’s the snake, and fair enough. But, you know, that's good if you're a tree-dwelling primate. If you're a sophisticated human being with six million years of additional evolution, and you're really trying to solve the problem of what it is that's the great enemy of mankind…Well, it’s the human propensity for evil, right? That’s the figure of Satan. That’s what that figure means—just like there's a logos that’s the truth that speaks order out of chaos at the beginning of time, there’s an antithetical spirit—the hostile brother. That’s Cain to Abel, which we’ll talk about next week—that's doing exactly the opposite. It’s motivated by absolutely nothing but malevolence and the willingness to destroy, and it has every reason for doing so. That’s what’s revealed in the next story, in Cain and Abel: the first glimmerings of the antithetical spirit outside of this strange insistence by the Christian mystics, let’s say, on the identity between the snake in the garden of Eden and the author of all evil himself.