Jordan Peterson explains the yin yang symbol

The yin yang symbol is interesting for a variety of reasons, because the Daoists believe that the symbol represents “being.”

Now, being is not the same thing as objective reality. Being is what you experience as a conscious creature. being. And for the Daoist being is made up of these two elements — order and chaos.

The reason for that is quite straightforward — wherever you go, and whenever you live, and whoever you are, each environment that you’re in is composed of things you understand and things that work the way that you expect them to, and things you do not understand and that can pull the rug out from under you at any moment.

So in some sense these are symbolic representations of the most unchanging elements of being — the most real things.

A typical modern person will look at this and think, “Well, those aren’t real.” They real. In fact they’re real, because one of the things that defines real is that it’s permanent. And it permanent. No matter where you go there are things you know and things you don’t know, and it doesn’t matter who you are. It’s permanent, so it’s part of the existential landscape of human being.

There are two other things that are quite cool about the yin yang symbol.

The black paisley has a little white dot in it and the white paisley has a little black dot in it, and the reason for that is the Daoists also recognised quite well that chaos can turn to order at any moment, so a new order can rise out of a chaotic structure. That’s a revolution in some sense. But by the same token if you’re in a place that’s orderly and predictable something can happen that casts you into a chaotic situation right away. So even though these two things oppose each other in some sense there’s a continual dynamic interplay between them.

yin yang symbol order chaos

And the final thing that’s interesting about this symbol is a brilliant idea because Dao also means “the way” and the way is the line between the two. And what that indicates is that the optimal position for a human being isn’t in chaos or in order, because if it’s too much order then it’s totalitarian, and if it’s too much chaos then it’s disgust and fear and emotional pain and depression.

So where’s the proper place? The Daoist answer is right on the line, where you have one foot in order so that you’re fairly stable, and you have another foot in chaos so that new and interesting and compelling and transforming things are happening to you. And one of the things you might note is that your nervous system basically tells you when you’re there, and the way it tells you is by making you interested in whatever it is that you’re engaged in. The fact that the thing that you’re engaged in grips you, which is really an unconscious process, is because your nervous system, which has adapted to the environment of chaos and order, is telling you that if you’re engaged and interested you are in the place where the balance between chaos and order is perfect.

Think about that. It’s no use reading a [research] paper that you can’t understand at all, even if hypothetically that would be a tremendously informative paper, but you can’t understand it because it’s all chaos to you. And then there’s absolutely no reason to read a paper for the tenth time if you’ve already extracted the information out of it. It’s going to be boring.

So what do you want? You want a paper that you can almost understand, [where] the cognitive frameworks that you understand are sufficient for you to take the next steps into the unknown, and the paper will inform you of that. Books do that. Movies do that. Conversations do that. Even lines of thought do that. If they’re at exactly the right level of complexity for you they’re going to engage you.

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