YouTube Video
Podcast Episode

Sections: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Keywords: Adam, Eve, Freud, Food, Satan, Snake, Paradise, Milton, Fruit, Hemisphere, Hermaphroditic, Marriage, Garden, Eden, Tree, Physic, Maleficent

Share your thoughts in the comments section below and on the Jordan Peterson subreddit.

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. Wh