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Jordan Peterson's take on the origins of the Buddha
In this short video, he compares the outset of Buddhism with the biblical garden.
- During this class, Jordan Peterson describes how overprotective parenting led to the creation of Buddhism.
- Peterson compares the Buddhist origin myth with the story of Eden.
- Both tales deal with the onset of consciousness and mortality and therefore are universal in appeal.
Jordan Peterson begins at the outset of the origin myth. Siddhārtha Gautama's father was a local oligarch in the region of modern-day Nepal. It was prophesied that his child would either become a great political king or spiritual leader. The chieftain would never have a mendicant for a son, and thus built a walled garden to enclose his offspring. This way the young Gautama would only experience the pleasures of life: health, youth, and beauty.
Father purposefully kept son from disease and death, hoping that by showing the future Buddha joy and mirth he would never feel the need to wander around sampling spiritual disciplines, meditating, chanting, and the like. Peterson finds this predictable:
"It's also in some sense what a good father would do. What do you do with your young children? Well, you don't expose them to death and decay at every step of the way. You build a protected world for them, like a walled enclosure, and you only keep what's healthy and life-giving inside of it."
You wouldn't bring a three-year-old to a funeral or show a four-year-old The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Peterson continues. Because the Buddha has been raised in good health, however, he seeks what's beyond the protective confines of that which has blessed him with health. He becomes, like all humans, curious.
Peterson compares this moment with a realization from Doestoevsky's Notes From the Underground: give people utopia and the first thing they want to do is smash it to pieces "just so something interesting and perverse can happen." Peterson continues,
"We're creatures that are designed to encounter the unknown. We want to keep moving beyond what we have, even if what we have is what we want. And maybe that's partly because we're oriented towards the future."
Jordan Peterson during his lecture at UofT. Photo credit: Rene Johnston / Toronto Star via Getty Images
Buddha might have felt confined by a few walls; today, Earth itself seems too restrictive. Jeff Bezos calls us, in honor of Isaac Asimov, "planetary chauvinists," while Elon Musk declares we must become a "multi-planetary species." Most likely, a mature Buddha would recommend they both curb their interplanetary enthusiasm and take better care of the planet that birthed us. Still, a young Gautama felt stuffy in his pleasure dome.
Peterson compares what happens next to modern-day China's Olympics preparation, spray painting grass green and evicting locals to offer an appearance of sterility. Gautama Sr. attempted to make the outside world as safe as his son's walled garden. He tells the sick and ugly to take a walk. Peterson calls it the snake in the garden theory:
"No matter how much care you take to make things perfect, some of what you're excluding is going to come back in."
A chosen route was strewn with flowers; beautiful women lined the road for young Gautama's chaperoned chariot. But then, as always, the gods intervened. Though Peterson doesn't mention it, they create an alternate — or in this case, real — route for the Buddha to travel that only the prince and his driver see. And what he saw was old age, disease, and death. That is, he learned about time.
Gautama returns home distressed, though awakened to the nature of reality — in this case, nature. He has finally felt the pain of sentience. Peterson mentions that he's comforted in the safety of his walled garden, again protected by caretakers who use hugging as an analgesic. Pain reduced, Gautama eventually fixes for his vice. Forget these golden robes, he thinks, I must understand pain and suffering. Peterson notes the parallel with the biblical garden, the onset of consciousness after the tempting fruit is bitten.
In Peterson's retelling, the Buddha needed six months before venturing out again. In other versions, he sees all the world's ailments in a single night. Either way, Gautama could never really return to the walled garden. As with all epics, he had set out on his quest; there was no turning back. His father would have a mendicant for a son, one who would, in a strange twist, become a sort of political leader, though that's rarely discussed.
Interestingly, Peterson never mentions the fact that Buddha himself becomes a deadbeat dad, leaving his family shortly after the birth of his son, Rāhula, who he named for being a "fetter." Buddha felt his son chained him to a life he no longer wanted to live. Just as his father created his neurosis, we have to wonder what became of Rāhula's psychological trauma.
2017 Maps of Meaning 10: Genesis and the Buddha
Yet we're not there yet. We're still on the second fateful night, when the future Buddha wishes to return home. His father instead instructs the driver to take Gautama to an orgy of women assembled exclusively for his usage. When he arrives, the prince can only contemplate death. The comfort of fleshly delights has been replaced with the knowledge of mortality.
Continuing alongside biblical parallelism, Peterson notes that the Bible is set up in the same manner as the Buddhist cycles: a garden, the collapse of ignorance, the journey, a return home — all four of Joseph Campbell's phases of mythology covered.
The question has now been asked: How to bring order out of chaos? The very problem civilizations repeatedly pursue. In biblical and Buddhist times, it centered on tribal conflicts; today, how to leave a planet we're quickly destroying — though we're certainly still consumed by our tribal battles as well. Millennia change little.
For Peterson, it begins and ends here: "Identification with the spirit that generates order out of chaos."
What does that spirit contain? That is still a question being asked, likely one that will be asked until we are no more. The Buddha offered his response in the form of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path that followed. What must change is not external realities, most of which we have little to no control over. What must change is your mindset.
Origin myths are telling as they reveal the path ahead. The story of Buddhism is rooted in a tale many of us live through: the mythos of overprotective parenting. While curiosity is part of our biological inheritance, the ability to cultivate stillness and practice composure is every situation leads to liberation. A timeless message, regardless of external circumstance.
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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