This is your life. At first.
It’s a mess, you have no idea how to deal with it. Let’s assume that what you want is to avoid the dark spots and be in the light ones. But you don’t know how to do that. Somehow you feel that you have many problems in front of you, and don’t know how to solve them. You have two options. The first is to close your eyes and try to forget that the world exists.
The second option is to start engaging with the world and try to sort it out. As you do it, you slowly create a small map of the world. In it, the spots of light and darkness start laying themselves out in a complex way.
You try things out, do experiments, figure out patterns, get good at it. As you “fill the map” with your knowledge, even though with imperfect resolution, you discover its boundaries. With some courage, you push beyond them, and you find yourself with a larger set of problems.
As you explore this new, larger map, you start seeing some commonalities between the territory you already explored, and the new foreign areas. You see a pattern. The new problems aren’t exactly the same as the old, but similar enough for you to solve them more quickly. And as you solve them, your horizon expands.
This is starting to get easy. You hop from one problem to the next ever more skillfully. And as you do so, you start perceiving an even more general pattern. It’s just an intuition, but you keep experimenting and learning. And with enough time you start getting it. It’s all about something. There is some kind of meta-goal. There is an ultimate destination that you can’t completely grasp. When the intuition strikes you, it’s awe-inspiring.
Suddenly, you got the “general picture”. Something fundamental changes. You make two discoveries.
The first discovery is that your journey can never end. It’s turtles all the way down. You can only try to get closer to that something, get better at approaching it. But the something itself can’t be grasped, can’t be reached, it’s somehow beyond.
The second and even deeper discovery is that somehow the “thing that’s beyond” manifests itself both at the center as at the periphery. In a sense, center and periphery are the same.
When you make these two discoveries, something peculiar happens: where you are in the world stops mattering. Are you far from the destination? It doesn’t matter, first because the destination itself is fundamentally unreachable, and second because you know that in some way, the properties of the place you are in are fundamentally the same as the properties of a place that is “closer” to the destination. In a sense, every place is equally close to the destination or, in other words, the concept of destination itself has lost its meaning.
All that matters is the sense of direction that lies embedded in the world, and the meaning that comes from following it.
The universal algorithm
Let’s recapitulate what we learned. Wherever you are:
- You have a map of the world that allows you to move through it
- The map has boundaries beyond which is the unknown
- In the unknown there is both more light and more darkness than where you are right now
- There is a general sense of direction of “where the light comes from”
The principles to follow can easily be derived. Wherever you are, to improve your situation you should:
- Orient yourself towards the light
- Move towards the light following your map of the world
- When you face the unknown, observe and describe it to expand your map
- Rinse and repeat
This is the universal algorithm. It’s the answer to how to live your life. It’s the central discovery of Jordan Peterson, laid out in his book Maps of Meaning — or at least it’s my attempt to describe it using my own words.