My eldest son Henry has been listening to Jordan Peterson, a brilliant Canadian academic who has caused a furore on the internet by challenging the far left on gender issues.
He’s a highly erudite clinical psychologist who’s been dubbed by some the new Joseph Campbell. That’s a big call – but there’s no doubt this man is very very bright. And articulate.
Henry put me onto a podcast by Sam Harris – another brilliant mind – called Waking up with Sam Harris.
In this particular podcast Sam Harris interviews Jordan Peterson, wanting to discuss mythology, religion, spirituality, and other weighty matters.
However, these two brilliant minds can’t get past the definition of what is truth. And what unfolds over two hours – yes, two hours – is this fascinating interchange between these two intellectual heavyweights over the nature of truth.
In amongst this complex to-and-fro is an exchange on consciousness, and its basis in religion. Here is an interesting excerpt from that two hour discussion:
SH: I think there is a subjective dimension of reality that is undeniable – and consciousness is the one thing in this universe that can’t be an illusion. It’s the only thing that you can be absolutely sure exists at this moment.
JP: I think part of your fundamental ethical metaphysics and it’s a point on which we agree is that you are very concerned with pain, for lack of a better word, and one of the conclusions that I’ve reached – and let’s call consciousness a reality – I would say that the most undeniable form of consciousness is acute agony, because no-one doubts that, not if you watch them act, and that’s one of the criteria by which I judge whether someone believes something. If people act out something uncontrollably then I’m convinced that they believe it, regardless of what they think they believe. And I think it’s for that reason that so many religious systems start with the same metaphysic, which is that life is suffering, that’s the ultimate reality. And that’s associated with consciousness, certainly, but it’s more precise than that, because maybe you can doubt whether you’re happy, but it’s very difficult to doubt that you are in agony and have that actually work, and so people act as if that’s the most real thing..
I don’t know about you but when I heard that and I thought about religion, it struck me as true that most religions have as their basis the notion of suffering. Christianity generally – look at Christ on the Cross. And Catholicism has taken that notion of suffering and honed it into a belief system. So too Buddhism – of course.
I’m not an intellectual – haha, not by any stretch of the imagination – nor am I a scholar. But I can’t quite grasp this notion that life, reality, consciousness, is rooted in suffering. I don’t believe we were born to suffer.
I believe we were born to experience joy, and love, and fulfilment. And that as we awaken our consciousness, the pain and the suffering disappear. Because we step out of the illusion of life, of who we think we are – and we awaken to the possibility of who we really are… which is divine beings.
All of us.
Even Donald Trump.