story Maps of Meaning

As one more way to fill the hours of lockdown I have been watching Jordon Petersons 2017 "Maps of Meaning" lecture series based upon his book of the same name. Very interesting stuff, at least to me. He delves into arch types and the basis of stories throughout history (story and meta-story). He goes through it all from numerous perspectives - evolutionary, biologically, anthropologically, sociologically and, of course, psychologically, as he is a clinical psychologist with a doctorate. He delves into mythological stories, the Bible (I plan to watching his Bible series next), films/theatre, propaganda (most especially the Soviet Union and the Third Reich) and art, as well as many other topics. Each lecture is between 2 and 2.5 hours long, but it takes me a lot longer as I am having to expand my knowledge of the concepts he presents, as well as sourcing many of the things he says. He most definitely diverges into many other associated topics - he'll sometimes sidetrack for half of an hour to provide additional information pertaining to the immediate sub-topic at hand - so his dissection of the Disney film "Pinocchio" takes up two of his 2+ hour lectures. (He points out much of the mythological/religious iconography in both the visuals and the story. The opening shot looks very much like a Christian Nativity scene, and Pinocchio & his father being swallowed by Monstro the Whale is a derivation of the story of Jonah in the Old Testament, for example.)

Just as an extremely simplified example of how he ties evolution, biology, anthropology, etc. together...

As pre-human primates we were prey as well as predators. The predators were birds, which come from above, four legged ground predators with teeth and claws, and snakes which hide in the grass and suddenly strike from below. So the concept of the dragon, which appears in many disassociated early civilizations, comes from our most basic instincts as prey animals. A dragon is a toothed flying snake with four legs/claws, a combination of all of our most primordial fears. He ties dragon stories (the heroes quest?) to the defeat of fear (growing from a child into a self-aware adult) and the quest for knowledge (represented as the dragons gold). As I said, extremely simplified, it is much, much deeper than that. Just for fun, in one of his diversions points out that there were/are specific primate calls to notify the primate family/troop as to which type of predator was approaching. When a human swears it comes from that same neurological space in the brain as our primate ancestors used as predator alarms.

He points out that many of the greatest stories from all cultures throughout human history derive from these basic primordial and sociological places. Horror films are based upon our instinctual prey animal fear of being eaten, for instance, and that participating in a group scare, so to say, is a way of overcoming those fears. Again, far more complex than that, but you get the gist.

Anyway, as someone who is thinking of writing I was wondering if any of the screenwriters here actually think like that, or if it is just instinctual with you, or......…

Here is a short section of one of the lectures that references "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." It's what convinced me to watch the series.

 
Yea..... The book is more difficult to read. The lecture series is more grounded. I'm at page 94. 400 pages to go....12 rules for life is more easy to read. After watching his lecture series, I understand my own writing better.

Hope he will be better soon...
I wonder how this tread will evolve....
 
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sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
Sounds like nonsense to me.
I’ve never found dragons scary a day in my life. I always thought they were super cool and majestic creatures. Tyrion expresses the same sentiment in GoT so I can only imagine George rr feels the same way.
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
That is his point in his lectures....

Well I don’t need him to tell me that. We’ve known that for ages. Not much of a point if you ask me.
and if that’s his point about dna why did you bring up people in the Middle Ages ? Our dna is the same as it was then
 
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Well I don’t need him to tell me that. We’ve known that for ages. Not much of a point if you ask me.
and if that’s his point about dna why did you bring up people in the Middle Ages ? Our dna is the same as it was then

Why did I bring up people in the Middle Ages ? Because the European dragon comes from Saint George and the Dragon. The Dragon from that tale was probably based upon different older Greek story. Your first comment was = I’ve never found dragons scary a day in my life. And my reply was. Perhaps the thought differently in the middle ages.... That in the Middle Ages the people feared a fantasy creature like a dragon. Because you never found dragons scary, doesn't mean that people through the ages were not afraid of them.
 
I’ve never found dragons scary a day in my life.

Whether or not you personally find dragons scary is beside the point. What Dr. Peterson is noting is that, no matter the culture, the most basic primal fears humans experience are universal across cultures - the meta-story, that the stories/legends/myths that have survived from the beginning of the human race as the only thinking, feeling animals on the planet are based in our genetic code and our evolution as a species.
 

sfoster

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Moderator
Whether or not you personally find dragons scary is beside the point. What Dr. Peterson is noting is that, no matter the culture, the most basic primal fears humans experience are universal across cultures - the meta-story, that the stories/legends/myths that have survived from the beginning of the human race as the only thinking, feeling animals on the planet are based in our genetic code and our evolution as a species.
I watched the video for fifteen minutes but didn’t enjoy it. Seems like a guy saying everything that Harry Potter reminds him of. Idk what the Actionable value of that is. Nothing to influence my writing. And I didn’t agree with everything he said either. When people encounter snakes they recoil in fear as the fight or flight response. Freezing and having a Mexican standoff with a snake is not a common behavior at all IMO. You sure he didn’t just pull that out of his ass
 
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There are fears that are hardcoded into our DNA.

Yes, most of us know that. The lectures explore how and why they are encoded in our DNA, and how and why that primal genetic coding in our evolution as thinking, feeling beings and as fledgling interactive societies have affected story telling over the history of mankind, the meta-stories and arch-types that permeate the stories/myths/legends that have survived for all of human history.

When people encounter snakes they recoil in fear as the fight or flight response. Freezing and having a Mexican standoff with a snake is not a common behavior at all IMO. You sure he didn’t just pull that out of his ass?

Have you ever encountered a deadly snake? I have. I encountered a rattle snake while on a hike. I froze and then slowly backed off; my flight or fight response kicked in immediately, but as a cognitive being I was able to control my base instincts and called upon the knowledge and experience of others to override my flight instinct to use an alternate solution. I've also experienced sharks, both as a mate on a fishing boat (it absolutely savaged a big fish a client was reeling in, and seen seagulls dive into our chum line, never to come back up) and one day when I was surfing with a bunch of friends a fairly large shark swam right under us while we were waiting for a wave. I almost wet myself I was so scared. That was especially terrifying, especially as "Jaws" had come out that very summer.

And no, he didn't just pull it out of his ass; he referenced Darwins ("Origin of the Species") experiments with cobras, and then gives several other references for those attending/listening to his lectures to research on their own. And, BTW, he thoroughly enjoys thoughtful contradiction to his positions and loves to debate.

If you didn't enjoy 15 minutes you definitely won't enjoy the lectures at all. But in the lectures he makes a very good case for his positions, in my opinion. I am not in a position to endorse or discredit his positions, I'm not as smart as he is and I'm not trained as he is. You are, of course, fully entitled to your own opinions, and I respect that. That's one of the things that makes life fun and interesting, exploring other people and places and things. As Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek series said, "It is our differences that give life meaning and beauty."

However, you did answer my question; you don't think in that way. That's what I wanted to know.

One of the reasons I wanted to experience the lectures is to improve my story telling abilities. Yes, even as a sound designer. I've applied lessons learned from other sound designers willing to share their craft. Things like adding a tiger roar to a train entering a tunnel (Hitchcocks "Strangers On A Train"). I can't remember the film offhand, but a snake hiss was layered with the opening of a valve letting the air out of an air lock. The point of GREAT sound design is to reach the audience emotionally, and fear of predatory animals is coded into our DNA, so it's a useful tool. I wanted to learn more about emotional story telling. As a bonus, I've even learned more about myself in these lectures.
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
I don't think that way either. I usually get a tiny kernel of a story idea, and build from there. Or a client has the kernel of an idea...

That doesn't mean that these concepts don't impact me - I imagine they do, sub-consciously.

The one time that I've been conscious of a class and/or reading material impacting my writing was when I took a class on women in horror movies while I was at the New School. It definitely impacted how I structure the attacker vs the attacked, weapons used, etc when I write thrillers.
 
I haven't listened to the series but I might now... I personally believe more in writing high concept screenplays than any other kind these days... Assuming I want to actually sell the spec. High concept utilizes elements that cut across many if not all demographics. Elements with BROAD or MASS appeal and or wide audience potential so that they have a chance to do well at the box office all over the world.

That alone would make the series worth listening to for me... Thanks! I'll check it out.
 
The one time that I've been conscious of a class and/or reading material impacting my writing was when I took a class on women in horror movies while I was at the New School. It definitely impacted how I structure the attacker vs the attacked, weapons used, etc when I write thrillers.
mslesemann, if you don't mind, would you be willing to elaborate on what you learned and how it impacted your writing?
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
Yes, most of us know that. The lectures explore how and why they are encoded in our DNA, and how and why that primal genetic coding in our evolution as thinking, feeling beings and as fledgling interactive societies have affected story telling over the history of mankind, the meta-stories and arch-types that permeate the stories/myths/legends that have survived for all of human history.



Have you ever encountered a deadly snake? I have. I encountered a rattle snake while on a hike. I froze and then slowly backed off; my flight or fight response kicked in immediately, but as a cognitive being I was able to control my base instincts and called upon the knowledge and experience of others to override my flight instinct to use an alternate solution. I've also experienced sharks, both as a mate on a fishing boat (it absolutely savaged a big fish a client was reeling in, and seen seagulls dive into our chum line, never to come back up) and one day when I was surfing with a bunch of friends a fairly large shark swam right under us while we were waiting for a wave. I almost wet myself I was so scared. That was especially terrifying, especially as "Jaws" had come out that very summer.

And no, he didn't just pull it out of his ass; he referenced Darwins ("Origin of the Species") experiments with cobras, and then gives several other references for those attending/listening to his lectures to research on their own. And, BTW, he thoroughly enjoys thoughtful contradiction to his positions and loves to debate.

If you didn't enjoy 15 minutes you definitely won't enjoy the lectures at all. But in the lectures he makes a very good case for his positions, in my opinion. I am not in a position to endorse or discredit his positions, I'm not as smart as he is and I'm not trained as he is. You are, of course, fully entitled to your own opinions, and I respect that. That's one of the things that makes life fun and interesting, exploring other people and places and things. As Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek series said, "It is our differences that give life meaning and beauty."

However, you did answer my question; you don't think in that way. That's what I wanted to know.

One of the reasons I wanted to experience the lectures is to improve my story telling abilities. Yes, even as a sound designer. I've applied lessons learned from other sound designers willing to share their craft. Things like adding a tiger roar to a train entering a tunnel (Hitchcocks "Strangers On A Train"). I can't remember the film offhand, but a snake hiss was layered with the opening of a valve letting the air out of an air lock. The point of GREAT sound design is to reach the audience emotionally, and fear of predatory animals is coded into our DNA, so it's a useful tool. I wanted to learn more about emotional story telling. As a bonus, I've even learned more about myself in these lectures.
Would encounter the occasional rattlesnake when I was a kid in CA. And I never spent one extra moment within striking distance. They are quite poisonous and I would recoil ASAP.

love your last paragraph. These things are great. what is funny about your snake story is right after it you mention how scary the shark was too. Well why doesn’t Medusa have sharks on her head? What I mean by that is in your own defense of this guy you’ve pointed out how many many things can make us hold still like statues. There is nothing specific to snakes there!
and yet… There is a very specific circumstance that only applies to snakes. And that makes us still as a statue. This guy failed to mention it. And that’s why I don’t think he’s as smart as you think he is.

Here is how snakes turn us to statues, I learned about it listening to the directors commentary on platoon. When Oliver stone was in Vietnam jungle trying to sleep a snake curled up next to him for warmth. He did not move a muscle all night LOL

dude was close to this truth but he missed the mark with the generic“see a snake get scared” I don’t buy what he’s selling
 
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There is a very specific circumstance that only applies to snakes. And that makes us still as a statue. This guy failed to mention it. And that’s why I don’t think he’s as smart as you think he is.

As I said, you are allowed your own opinions. The "Harry Potter" vid is just an excerpt of a 2+ hour lecture. This is only my extremely simplified take/interpretation of what he has said, and it is completely devoid of the previous five or six hours of context, so you should possibly withhold judgement on his intelligence.

That doesn't mean that these concepts don't impact me - I imagine they do, sub-consciously.

That was something that Dr. Peterson touched upon briefly. Great artists/storytellers, which includes sculptures, painters, musicians, et. al., know these things instinctively.

12 rules for life is more easy to read.

It's on my reading list; it arrived a few days ago and I'll get started when things around here settle down around here (family issues).
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
Perhaps the thought differently in the middle ages....


I thought a bit about this last Night in bed.
Something kind of interesting occurred to me. All of these old dragon stories that I know of really don’t present them as scary. They are more like big game to be hunted. They are a quest to set out and legitimize you as a hero. Seems like dragons are a threat to women and children and they are animals to be hunted by knights.
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
mslesemann, if you don't mind, would you be willing to elaborate on what you learned and how it impacted your writing?

You're talking about an entire semester of lectures, reading materials, and class discussions so I'll just give you two examples.

Knives and chainsaws are often used as phallic symbols, so I'm picky about if/when/how I use one as a murder weapon, as opposed to a gun.

The concept of the "final girl" in horror and slasher movies as the smart, usually virginal final victim or (more recently) the one who solves the crime is useful in character development.
 
Something kind of interesting occurred to me. All of these old dragon stories that I know of really don’t present them as scary. They are more like big game to be hunted. They are a quest to set out and legitimize you as a hero. Seems like dragons are a threat to women and children and they are animals to be hunted by knights.

You yourself may not perceive a dragon to be scary, but if they really did exist, as big and ferocious as a T-Rex that could fly and breath fire, and you actually had to face one all by yourself with a long pointed stick and an oversized knife I think that you might be a little scared.

But the point is not the dragon, it is what the dragon symbolically represents, which is what the lectures are all about. The dragon is comprised of aspects of the predators that menaced proto-human beings, it is a metaphor for "The things in the world that wish to eat (destroy) you." The arch type of the dragon evolved in numerous ancient cultures which had zero contact with each other. Why is that? Because our ancient ancestors were all from the same basic genetic stock and grappling with the same problems we face today; how do we prevent the (metaphorical) monsters from eating us? Do we run and hide or do we face them? And yes, the women and children are to be protected; it's encoded in our DNA, to protect those who propagate the species. A pregnant animal or an animal with young offspring is vulnerable, and it is the genetic obligation of the male of the species to protect the genetic propagation of the species. But the dragon metaphor means more than that; it is a representation of the monster that lives within all of us. That we constantly fight the demons that live within us.

Once again, that is partly what the lectures are all about, how story and meta-story, no matter the time and culture, have these basic concepts at their core.
 
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