Psychology for Lawyers
james r. elkins

known & unknown explored & unexplored order & chaos

"Chaos and order are two of the most fundamental elements of lived experience—two of the most basic subdivisions of Being itself."

—Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos 38 (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2018) [Peterson refers to order and chaos as the "primal constituents" of our "world of experience." Id. at 35]

"Everyone understands order and chaos, world and underworld . . . . We all have a palpable sense of the chaos lurking under everything familiar. [We understand the] eternal landscapes of known and unknown, world and underworld. We've all been in both places, many times; sometimes by happenstance, sometimes by choice..

Many things begin to fall into place when you begin to consciously understand the world in this manner. . . . This is the kind of knowing what that helps you know how." Id. at 43.

"Chaos and order are fundamental elements because every lived situation (even every conceivable lived situation) is made up of both. No matter where we are, there are some things we can identify, make use of, and predict, and some things we neither know nor understand. . . . [S]ome things are under our control, and some things are not. . . . Living things are always to be found in places they can master, surrounded by things and situations that make them vulnerable." Id at 44.

Order & Chaos

"Order is where the people around you act according to well-understood social norms, and remain predictable and cooperative. It's the world of social structure, explored territory, and familiarity. . . .

Chaos, by contrast, is where—or when—something unexpected happens. Chaos emerges, in trivial form, when you tell a joke at a party with people you think you know and a silent and embarrassing chill falls over the gathering. Chaos is what emerges more catastrophically when you suddenly find yourself without employment, or are betrayed by a lover. . . . It's the new and unpredictable suddenly emerging in the midst of the commonplace familiar." Id. at xxvii-xxviii.


"Order . . . is explored territory That's the hundreds-of-millions-of-years-old hierarchy of place, position and authority. That's the structure of society. It's the structure provided by biology, too—particularly insofar as you are adapted, as you are, to the structure of society. Order is tribe, religion, hearth, home and country. It's the warm, secure living-room where the fireplace glows and the children play. It's the flag of the nation. It's the value of currency. Order is the floor beneath your feet, and your plan for the day. It's the greatness of tradition, the rows of desks in a school classroom, the trains that leave on time, the calendar, and the clock. Order is the public facade we're called upon to wear, the politeness of a gathering of civilized strangers, and the thin ice on which we all skate. Order is the place where the behavior of the world matches our expectations and our desires; the place where all things turn out the way we want them to. . . .

Where everything is certain, we're in order. We're there when things are going according to plan and nothing is new and disturbing. . . . Familiar environments are congenial. In order, we're able to think about things in the long term. There, things work, and we're stable, calm and competent. We seldom leave places we understand—geographical or conceptual—for that reason, and we certainly do not like it when we are compelled to or when it happens accidentally." Id. at 36.

"Order is the place and time where the oft-invisible axioms you live by organize your experience and your actions so that what should happen does happen." Id. at 37.


"Chaos is the domain of ignorance itself. It's unexplored territory. Chaos is what extends, eternally and without limit, beyond the boundaries of all states, all ideas, and all disciplines. It's the foreigner, the stranger, the member of another gang, the rustle in the bushes in the night-time, the monster under the bed, the hidden anger of your mother, and the sickness of your child. Chaos is the despair and horror you feel when you have been profoundly betrayed. It's the place you end up when things fall apart; when your dreams die, your career collapses, or your marriage ends. It's the underworld of fairytale and myth, where the dragon and gold it guards eternally co-exist. Chaos is where we are when we don't know where we are, and what we are doing. It is, in short, all those things, and situations we neither know nor understand." Id. 35-36.

"Chaos is the new place and time that emerges when tragedy strikes suddenly, or malevolence reveals its paralyzing visage . . . . something unexpected or undesired can always make its appearance, when a plan is being laid out, regardless of how familiar the circumstances." Id. at 37.

The Negative Side of Order

"[O]rder is sometimes tyranny and stultification . . . when the demand for certainty and uniformity and purity becomes too one-sided." Id. at 36.

The Positive Side of Chaos

"In its positive guise, chaos is possibility itself, the source of ideas, the mysterious realm of gestation and birth." Id. at 41.

Living with Order & Chaos

"We eternally inhabit order, surrounded by chaos, We eternally occupy known territory, surrounded by the unknown. We experience meaningful engagement when we mediate appropriately between them. We are adapted, in the deepest Darwinian sense . . . to the meta-realities of order and chaos . . . . Chaos and order make up the eternal, transcendent environment of the living.

To straddle that fundamental duality is . . . to have one foot firmly planted in order and security, and the other in chaos, possibility, growth and adventure. When life suddenly reveals itself as intense, gripping and meaningful; when time passes and you're so engrossed in what you're doing you don't notice—it is there and then that you are located precisely on the border between order and chaos. The subjective meaning that we encounter there is the reaction of our deepest being, our neurologically and evolutionarily grounded instinctive self, indicating that we are ensuring the stability but also the expansion of habitable, productive territory, of space that is personal, social and nature. It's the right place to be, in every sense. You are there when—and where—it matters." Id. at 43-44.

"Order is not enough. You can't just be stable, and secure, and unchanging, because there are still vital and important new things to be learned. Nonetheless, chaos can be too much. You can't long tolerate being swamped and overwhelmed beyond your capacity to cope while you are learning what you still need to know. Thus, you need to place one foot in what you have mastered and understood and the other in what you are currently exploring and mastering. Then you have positioned yourself where the terror of existence is under control and you are secure, where where you are also alert and engaged. That is where there is something new to master and some way that you can be improved. That is where meaning is to be found." Id. at 44.

"How could the nature of man ever reach its full potential without challenge and danger? How dull and contemptible would we become if there was no longer reason to pay attention?" Id. at 47.

The Garden & the Snake

Peterson, drawing on the Biblical story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, finds that "Paradise" serves as "habitable order" and the serpent plays the "role of chaos." The serpent represents "the possibility of the unknown and revolutionary suddenly manifesting itself where everything appears calm." Id. at 46.

"It does not appear possible, even for God himself, to make a bounded space completely protected from the outside—not in the real world, with its necessary limitations, surrounded by the transcendent. The outside, chaos, always sneaks into the inside, because nothing can be completely walled off from the rest of reality. So even the ultimate in safe spaces inevitably harbours a snake." Id. at 46.

"The snake inhabits each of our souls." Id. "The worst of all possible snakes is psychological, spiritual, personal, internal. No walls, however tall, will keep that out. Even if the fortress were thick enough, in principle, to keep everything bad whatsoever outside, it would immediately appear again within." Id. at 47.

"There is simply no way to wall off some isolated portion of the greater surrounding reality and make everything permanently predictable and safe within it. Some of what has been no-matter-how-carefully excluded will always sneak back in. A serpent, metaphorically speaking, will inevitable appear." Id at 47.

A Map of Meaning

"Human beings are prepared, biologically, to respond to anomalous information—to novelty. This instinctive response includes redirection of attention, generation of emotion (fear first, generally speaking, then curiosity), and behavioral compulsion (cessation of ongoing activity first, generally speaking, then active approach and exploration. This pattern of instinctive response drives learning—particularly, but not exclusively, the learning of appropriate behavior. All such learning takes place—or took place originally—as a consequence of contact with novelty, or anomaly.

What is novel is of course dependent on what is known—is necessarily defined in opposition to what is known. Furthermore, what is known is always known conditionally, since human knowledge is necessarily limited. . . .

When our attempts to transform the present work as planned, we remain firmly positioned in the domain of the known (metaphorically speaking). When our behaviors produce results that we did not want, however—that is, when we err—we move into the domain of the unknown, where more primordial emotional forces rule. . . .

The 'domain of the known' and the 'domain of the unknown' can reasonably be regarded as permanent constituent elements of human experience—even of the human environment. . . . "

—Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief 19 (New York: Routledge, 1999)

The Known & The Unknown from the Perspective of Psyche

"Consciousness . . . must always remain the smaller circle within the greater circle of the unconscious, an island surrounded by the sea; and, like the sea itself, the unconscious yields an endless and self replensihing abundance of living creatures, a wealth beyond our fathoming. We may long have known the meaning, effects and characteristics of unconscious contents without ever having fathomed their depths and potentialities, for they are capable of infinite variation and can never be depotentiated."

—C.G. Jung, The Psychology of Transference, Collected Works, vol. 16, para. 366 (1946)


Maps of Meaning 13: The Force Within (TVO)
[28 mins.] [relevant comments at 14:44 mins. to 16:00 mins. on the change that takes place wihen "something unknown happens to you"; the idea that "inside the chaotic mess may be something you need" which means that you must consider "exploring what you don't understand"; what you don't understand provides a "gateway int a domain of possibility"] [on the relationship of a comfortable life and the fact that we look for the snake in the garden (that is, chaos), see 17:31 mins. to 19:40 mins.]

2017 Maps of Meaning: Lecture 6: Story and Metastory Pt2
[2:27:26 mins.] [end presentation at 2:55 mins.]

Redefining Reality
[10:47 mins.] [TED Talk]

Chaos and Order
[2:38 mins.] [the Taoist symbol; on the desire to have those we interact with to walk the borderline of order and chaos] [what is familiar and what is yet to be revealed] [the story of gymnasts, following the routine and the gymnast who performs at the edge of chaos and order]

Reality and the Unknown
[3:44 mins.] [end presentation at 2:12 mins.]

"You Can be Completely and Utterly Dead But You Can Only Be So Much Happier"
[4:51 mins.] [end at 3:44 mins.] [begins with reference to 'terror management" and Ernest Becker; "terror at isolated being"; "we are vulnerable to all kinds of contingencies"; we are limited in the face of existential complexity; our early fears when we lived in a space surrounded with threats; "the known surrounded by the unknown"; the unknown is associated with predators; we can explore the unknown]

The Psychology Behind Getting Cheated On
[4:30 mins.] [example of an intrusion of the unknown: the cheating spouse; emergence of chaos; moving from ptA to ptB and "you just don't have a plan anymore"]

Two Types of Unknowns
[3:27 mins.] [end at 1:36 mins.]

The Taoist Symbol
[5:07 mins.] [longer version ("Personal Evolution, Avoiding the Extremes of Brain Fry & Boredom"):: 12:23 mins.]

Chaos is Hiding in Things You Ignore
[8:00 mins.] [moving from ptA to ptB and something unexpected happens; "you have this structure and now you have a hole it"; "you don't know what to do with the hole"; there are certain things you can confront that unglue you"] A second posting: Chaos Re-Emerging in Your Life [7:27 mins.] [when the constrained chaos that's underneath everything irrelevant suddenly re-emerges]

"The most fundamental reality is chaos. . . . Chaos is what you don't understand at all"
[5:48 mins.] [end presentation at 2:35 mins.]

The Language of Order & Chaos
[5:43 mins.] [audio]

Order & Chaos
[1:25 mins.]

Chaos and Order in Our Modern World
[7:12 mins.] [commenting our the way we perceive]

Home vs the Unknown, Why People Fight for Their Beliefs
[6:40 mins.] [end presentation at 4:31 mins.]

A Behavior Therapist is Just Like a Shaman
[8:54 mins.]

A History of Violence
[53:58 mins.] [audio] [39:21 mins. to 39:44 mins., Peterson notes that "the archetypal human being is the human being cofronting the unknown"--the hero]

Knowing Where You Are
[6:18 mins.]

The Feminine Unknown
[4:16 mins.]

Go Into the Unknown and Grow Up!
[6:56 mins.] ["a call to adventure"] [reference to C.G. Jung] ["you are not the master of your own house"; there are things within you that are beyond your control (e.g., your dreams, or for that matter, what you are interested in. or compels you forward); the unconscious is, in one sense, the unknown]

You Meet the Unknown with Fantasy
[7:28 mins.] [the unconscious meets the unknown; "you meet the unknown with fantasy"; "the unconscious is a representation of a place we don't understand"; "my lectures go everywhere, you have to be high in 'openness' to follow them"]

Can You Withstand Tragedy?
[10:06 mins.] ["there are no safe places"; "you should be confronting danger, malevolence, and the unknown"]

Dao, Chaos, Order, Perception
[1:57 mins.]

Foraging for Information
[3:07 mins.] [the unknown: things we don't know] [the unknown offers possibility; it offers things we need now and in the long run] ["we are information foragers"]

Unless you're willing to be a fool, you can't learn anything new
[2:34 mins.]

The Buddha's Renuciation
[11:11 mins.] ["looking beyond the confines" of the protected space; the kind of curosity that has you looking for trouble; getting beyond the confines of paradise]

The Purpose of Life
[3:45 mins.] ["we have the capacity to face things we don't understand"]

Archetypes of Error
[3:35 mins.]

The Tower of Babel
[7:17 mins.]

'Old Memories Become Future Personality'
[3:42 mins.]

The Border of the Unexplored & Explored Territory
[8:15 mins.]

Biblical Stories Lectures: Jacob Wrestling with God
[2:32:08 mins.] [relevant commentary begins at 21:27 mins. and runs to to 24:40 mins.]

To What Degree Can We Make Things Better?
[5:56 mins.] [drawing on the Biblical story of Cain and Abel]

Maps of Meaning 9: Becoming a Self (TVO)
[28:00 mins.] [beginning of lecture to 4:02 mins.]

"There is More to You Than You Know"
[6:35 mins.] [laying out existential reality]

What the Most Precious Resource Really Is
[7:02 mins.]

Pay Attention
[6:49 mins.]

Advice On Understanding Fear/Anxiety
[3:39 mins.]

2017 Maps of Meaning: Patterns of Symbolic Representation
[2:16:49 mins.] [begin at 14:04 mins., end at 14:47 mins.] [begin at 15:50 mins., end at 16:55 mins.]

Daily Structure Keeps You Sane
[6:00 mins.] ["you need to know what to do everyday"; in praise of routine (the trivial in life); "you need structure just to stay sane"]

Strengthen the Individual: A Counterpoint to Post Modern Political Correctness
[1:13:40 mins.] [relevant commentary at 40:02 mins., ends at 49:02 mins.] [video of this lecture is not of the highest quality]

On Order and Chaos
[1:04 mins.]


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