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—explored territory—is constructed out of chaos and exists, simultaneously, in opposition to that chaos (to the 'new' chaos, more accurately: to the unknown now defined in opposition to explored territory). Everything that is not order—that is, not predictable, not usable—is, by default (by definition) chaos. The foreigner—whose behaviors cannot be predicted, who is not kin, either by blood or by custom, who is not an inhabitant of the 'cosmos, whose existence and domain has not been sacralized—is equivalent to chaos (and not merely metaphorically equated with chaos). As such, his appearance means threat, as his action patterns and beliefs have the capacity to upset society itself, to dissolve and flood the world . . . ." Maps of Meaning, at 148.


"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." 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, 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.

A 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.

A 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 Known

"The known is explored territory, a place of stability and familiarity . . . . It finds metaphorical embodiment in myths and narratives describing the community, the kingdom or the state. Such myths and narratives guide our ability to understand the particular, bounded motivational significance of the present, experienced in relation to some identifiable desire future, and allow us to construct and interpret appropriate patterns of action, from within the confines of that schema. We all produce determinate models of what is, and what should be, and how to transform one into the other. . . .

'Narratives of the known'—patriotic rituals, stories of ancestral heroes, myths and symbols of cultural . . . identity—describe established territory, weaving for us a web of meaning that, shared with others, eliminates the necessity of dispute over meaning. All those who know the rules, and accept them, can play the game—without fighting over the rules of the game. This makes for peace, stability, and potential prosperity—a good game.

—Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief 14 (New York: Routledge, 1999)

The Unknown

"The known, our current story, protects us from the unknown, from chaos—which is to say, provides our experience with determinate and predictable structure. Chaos has a nature all of its own. . . . I something unknown or unpredictable occurs, while we are carrying out our motivated plans, we are first surprised. That surprise—which is a combination of apprehension and curiosity—comprises our instinctive emotional response to the occurrence of something we did not desire. The appearance of something unexpected is proofs that we do not know how to act . . . If we are somewhere we don't know how to act, we are (probably in trouble—we might learn something new, but we are still in trouble. When we are in trouble, we get scared. When we are in the domain of the known, so to speak, there is no reason for fear. Outside that domain, panic reigns. It is for this reason that we . . . cling to what we understand. This conservative strategy does not always work, however, because what we understand about the present is not necessarily sufficient to deal with the future. This means that we have to be able to modify what we understand, even though to do so is to risk our own undoing. The trick, of course, is to modify and yet to remain secure. This is not so simple. Too much modification brings chaos. Too little modification brings stagnation (and then, when the future we are unprepared for appears—chaos)." —Maps of Meaning, at 18.

"The unknown is, of course, defined in contradistinction to the know. Everything not understood or not explored is unknown." Id. at 26.

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." 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, 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.

The Hero

"The hero is narrative representatin of the individual eternally willing to take cretive action, endlessly capable of originating new behavioral patterns, eternally specialized to render harmless or positively beneficial something previously threatening or unknown." Maps of Meaning, at 186.

"The constant search for security, rather than the embodiment of freedom, is wish for rule by law's letter, rather than law's spirit. The resultant forcible suppression of devidance is based upon desire to support the pretence that the unknown does not exist. This suppression has as its consequence the elimination of creative transformation from the individual and social spheres. The individual who denies his individual identification with the heroic will come to identify with and serve the tyrannical force of the past—and to suffer the consequences." Id. at 331.

"The great dragon of chaos limits the pursuit of individual interest. The struggle with the dragon— against the forces that devour will and hope—constitutes the heroic battle in the mythological world. Faithful adherence to the reality of personal experience ensures contact with the dragon, and it is during such contact that the great force of the individual spirit makes itself manifest, if it is allowed to. The hero voluntarily places himself in opposition to the dragon. The liar pretends that the great danger does not exist, to his peril and to that of others, or abdicates his relationship with his essential interest, and abandons all chance at further development.

Interest is meaning. Meaning is manifestation of the divine individual adaptive path. The lie is abandonment of individual interest—hence meaning, hence divinity—for safety and security . . . ." Id. at 467.

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

"[From the psychological perspective, our] inner world is divided into familiar and unknown territory, much as the outer [world]."

—Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief 436 (New York: Routledge, 1999)

"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 replenishing 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)

"We strive to bring novel occurrences back into the realm of predictability or to exploit them for previously unconsidered potential by altering our behavior or our patterns of representation."

—Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief 28-29 (New York: Routledge, 1999)

Exploring a New Domain

"When we explore a new domain, we are mapping the motivational or affective significance of the things or situations that are characteristic of our goal-directed interactions within that domain, and we use the sensory information we encounter, to identify what is important. It is the determination of specific meaning, or emotional significance, in previously unexplored territory—not identification of the objective features—that allows us to inhibit the novelty-induced terror and curiosity emergence of that territory otherwise automatically elicits. We feel comfortable somewhere new, once we have discovered that nothing exists there that will threaten or hurt us (more particularly, when we have adjusted our behavior and schemas of representation so that nothing there is likely to or able to threaten or hurt us). The consequence of exploration that allows for emotional regulation (that generates security, essentially) is not objective description—as the scientist might have it—but categorization of the implications of an unexpected occurrence for specification of means and ends." Maps of Meaning, at 53-54.

Class Videos

Knowing Where You Are [6:18 mins.] [the known related to our social world and to hierarchies of competence]

Reality and the Unknown [3:44 mins.] [end presentation at 2:12 mins.] [a lucid, short presentation of the existential reality that Peterson defines as "the known" and "the unknown"]

Redefining Reality [10:47 mins.] [TED Talk] [presenting, as Peterson puts it, "the most real thing I know" (and that we too already know), and that is simply this: "the world is made out of chaos and order"]

Chaos and Order in Our Modern World [7:12 mins.] [commenting on how we perceive] [the dragon of chaos; focus on patterns (using music as an analogy); our percepual systems delude us; looking at something we don't know brings fear and apprehension, and that first encounter is with the dragon of chaos; the fundamental binary nature of reality; the Great Mother and the Great Father; "you will only be surprised by what you don't know"; the unknown is different for each of us in some sense; we are stopped by different aspects of being; Knights of the Holy Grail; every person has their demons (we can talk about demons that are common in people); the mythological underlay of the known and the unknown]

Go Into the Unknown and Grow Up! [6:56 mins.] [working with the Biblical story of Abraham and God's admonistion: "Go somewhere you don't understand"; "go into the unknown," "go to where you don't know"; escaping dependency; misunderstanding, power, competence, and authority; "a call to adventure" (establish yourself in the world); reference to C.G. Jung and his claim that "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 what compels you forward); reference to subpersonalities; "what is it that is gripping you?"; "there is a calling within you . . . you are compelled by your interest . . . that is, something beyond you; reference to being a clincian; the unconscious is, in one sense, the unknown]

Chaos is Hiding in Things You Ignore [8:00 mins.] [chaos is hiding in what is irrelevant; moving from point A to point B and something unexpected happens; "you have this structure and now you have a hole in it"; "you don't know what to do with the hole"; you're anxious about the hole; certain things that you can confront that unglue you"; you can fall into a hole--chaos; chaos is the flood (of the undifferentiated); you freeze, you don't want to get out of bed, not a pleasant situation to be in (undifferentiated negative emotion)] A second posting: Chaos Re-Emerging in Your Life [7:27 mins.] [when the constrained chaos that's underneath everything irrelevant suddenly re-emerges]

Yin-Yang, Order and Chaos [10:33 mins.] [order and chaos related to right and left hemispheres of the brain; the story of the gymnast]

How You Inhabit a Story [14:15 mins.] [begin presentation at 5:24 mins., end at 6:42 mins.] [comments on chaos & order] [you are somewhere and you are going somewhere; you are in a state of deficiency and you are moving to remove that deficiency; you look at the world through a value-laden framework]

What the Most Precious Resource Really Is [7:02 mins.] [trust is a fundamental natural resource; Ebay used as an example; trust is a powerful economic force; "a human being is a chimpanze full of snakes"; when we trust someone we make certain assumptios; with betrayal, at one moment you are secure, and the next second you are in a different place (and even your sense of the past and the future collapses); a journey to the underworld; we go to the underworld when the stability of our world is shattered, that is, when a snake makes its way into our walled garden (a walled garden is a place where something can pop up and knock you out; "we are in a walled garden but there is always a snake"]

A Story

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

Living with Order and Chaos

On Order and Chaos [1:04 mins.]

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

Chaos and Order [2:38 mins.] [the Taoist symbol; 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 who follow the routine and the gymnast who performs at the edge of the abyss (they manifest the relation of order to chaos)]

Our Lives are Full of Chaos [4:38 mins.] [dealing with emergent complexity; chaos represents the underlying complexity; we walk on thin ice and beneath lies the inevitable complexity of life, and chaos; one image of chaos is the dragon of chaos]

Encountering Obstacles In Life [7:16 mins.] [what has been deemed irrelevant suddenly becomes front and center in your life]

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

Can You Withstand Tragedy?
[10:06 mins.] [the story of Adam and Eve is a meta-story; belief systems can collapse (one alternative is to move to another belief structure but this may not be possible); "there are no safe places"; do you really want a safe place ("a paralyzed rabbit in a hole"); the solution to the problem of tragedy is, paradoxically, to face it; expose yourselves to something new, and you face chaos (and malevolence); we don't know the full extent of the human being; the Buddha and the walled garden; child discover limits and they run back, and then, they run out again; you must confront danger, malevolence, and the unknown]

Stop Hiding! You Are Stronger Than You Think
[8:43 mins.]

How to Live a Meaningful Life
[21:41 mins.]

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

Biblical Stories Lectures: Jacob Wrestling with God
[2:32:08 mins.] [relevant commentary begins at 21:34 mins., ends at 24:40 mins.] [a fire and what surrounds it; an explored center and an unexplored periphery; cosmos and chaos; the master of a field of study (the things that everyone knows well) and movement toward the frontier of the discipline (a competent scholar is on the border of the explored and explored)]

A Psychology of Order & Chaos

A Behavior Therapist is Just Like a Shaman [8:54 mins.] ["go after the dragon"; 2:44 mins.--Jung relates chaos to the unconscious, the threatening past that you have not dealt with; you emerge, as a person, out of chaos; all we have is an oversimplified slice of ourselves; the real you, God only knows what this is; we get at this "real you" by going into the darkest places]

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"]

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

The Known, the Learner, and the Unknown

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"] [it can be beneficial to confront the things we don't know; we go out into the unknown and gather things of value; squirrels forage for nuts, we forage for information; information is like food]

Unless You Are Willing to Be a Fool, You Can't Learn Anything New [2:34 mins.] [knowing that you have to be fallible to move ahead]

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

How To Deal With Life's Error Messages [9:43 mins.]

The Need for Order

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"]

Grounding a View of Existential Reality

"You Can be Completely and Utterly Dead But You Can Only Be So Much Happier"
[4:51 mins.] [begins with reference to 'terror management" (and our belief systems that protect us from death anxiety) and Ernest Becker (whose approach Peterson questions); "terror of isolated being"; "we are vulnerable to all sorts 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; our paradoxical wiring; the power of negative emotions]

Pay Attention
[6:49 mins.] [you need a biological system to tell you what to do with the unknown' we confront predatory experience outside our frame of reference and we make something useful of it; the hero goes out into the unknown to confront the dragon; this is not fiction, it's metatruth]

Brief Forays

The Taoist Symbol
[5:07 mins.] [the real world and what it is made of; you want a little adventure; you don't want everything to be predictable; you need to know what to do in chaos because you are going to be there; you can fall into chaos and not get out (it happens to people all the time)] [longer version :: "Personal Evolution, Avoiding the Extremes of Brain Fry & Boredom" :: 12:23 mins.]

Living the Yin and Yang Lifestyle
[3:17 mins.] [the most unchanged elements of reality; a part of the existential landscape of human being]

Order & Chaos
[1:25 mins.]

"The Most Fundamental Reality is Chaos. . . . Chaos is What You don't Understand at All"
[5:48 mins.] [end presentation at 2:35 mins.]

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

The Psychology Behind Getting Cheated On
[4:30 mins.] [example of an intrusion of the unknown, e.g., a cheating spouse; emergence of chaos; moving from point A to point B; times when "you just don't have a plan anymore"]

Home vs the Unknown, Why People Fight for Their Beliefs
[6:40 mins.] [end presentation at 4:31 mins.] [territory that you have mastered and territory that you have not; mastered territory has a dominance hierarchy that you recognize]

Advice On Understanding Fear/Anxiety
[3:39 mins.] [what do you do when you don't know where you are? you freeze]

Archetypes of Error
[3:35 mins.] [an error is chaos and order at the same time; confronting an error the archetypes come forward] [drawing on a mythological story]

The Language of Order & Chaos
[5:43 mins.] [audio] [speech mediates chaos and order]

The Feminine Unknown
[4:16 mins.]

References in Course Lectures

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 when "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 into 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.]

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.]

Maps of Meaning 9: Becoming a Self (TVO)
[28:00 mins.] [beginning of lecture to 4:02 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 confronting the unknown"--the hero]

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]


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