In Maps of Meaning, Jordan Peterson draws analogies between study-of-the-self and theories from the Philosophy of Science that have hitherto been used to attack his own field. Falsifiability is one such concept. A psycho-analyst, so the critique goes, will tell a patient that he suffers from an inferiority complex. If the patient undertakes a task of profound heroism, he has overcome this complex. If he is frozen with fear, he has been undermined by it. Either way, he still has it. Psychology is not falsifiable in the same way that the physics of Newton and Einstein is. Light travels in certain ways and if it doesn’t, Einstein is wrong. Adler, meanwhile, is vindicated in his diagnosis of a psychological complex, regardless of how his patient acts.
Another theory in the Philosophy of Science (employed by Peterson in his work) relates to paradigm shifts. One theory supplants another. Newton has been replaced by Einstein. Vacuum valves and calculating machines have been replaced by microchips and the personal computer. Blood-letting has been overtaken by the transfusions and dialyses of modern medicine.
In their Dublin debate, Sam Harris seemed to show surprising generosity in acknowledging the weight of narrative in religious belief. However, Harris suggested that a superhero’s arc can be just as powerful and inspiring as any religious figure’s. The MCU could supplant the KJV. In the past, Harris has hilariously described how the blessing of breakfast pancakes and belief that one was about to consume the body of Elvis Presley would be baulked at as lunacy by most. Yet millions of Christians perform a similar ritual every Sunday through the idea of transubstantiation.
Peterson’s Elvis-inspired riposte seems to give weight to relics. At the event, he explained how Presley’s guitar – one known to be used and owned by him – is not just any guitar. It is imbued with significance through its history. This led to some discussion about the epistemological dimension of such museum pieces.
It was Peterson’s night. Harris did not get – or take – the time he could have to drive home more cogent arguments. One was left with an implication that there’s a greater element of commensurability (to use another idea from the Philosophy of Science) between the two viewpoints of Christianity and atheism than Harris himself might acknowledge if he had had enough time to debate.
Instead, he generously asked his own question of Peterson and fellow panellist Douglas Murray, related to the Alt Right. A discussion on Nazism and the inaccurate characterisation of the Intellectual Dark Web as extremist rounded out the evening. An interesting night.