Reverse Engineering the Human Mind as a Way to Better Understand Ourselves and Each Other

Last summer, I gave a guest lecture in Dr. Angelica Lim’s course on Affective Computing at the Department of Computer Science of Simon Fraser University. I said I’d publish the presentation on YouTube, so here it finally is:

The video is a a bit speedy because I found out at the last minute that I had far less time to present than I had expected.[note1]

Next week, I will give a brief talk to a humanist meeting on the same subject: “reverse engineering the human mind as a means to better understand ourselves and each other.” Over videotelephony.

The meeting is only open to members and invited guests. However, I describe the topic here because I think it is broadly relevant. At the meeting, I will briefly

  1. sketch the integrative design-oriented (IDO) approach to autonomous agency
  2. suggest how the approach can be applied to understanding
  3. propose that some of Jordan B. Peterson’s scientific work, as expressed in many of his video lectures recorded at U of T and elsewhere, can be understood in IDO terms.

Doing this in a very brief and accessible presentation will be a heroic challenge, which is not to say that I am capable of pulling it off 😊!

My presentation will be around 20 minutes, interleaved with a 60-minute discussion.

We will focus exclusively on epistemology and IDO psychology. We will not discuss political matters in this particular meeting — the moderator will strictly enforce this rule.

Why Jordan B. Peterson?

In the upcoming meeting, I will refer to Peterson’s expository work (not his political stances [though they are interesting) because:

  1. as Steven Pinker pointed out in Lecture 03 – The Multilevel Cognitive-Biological Approach, cognitive science lacks an integrative framework.
  2. I have long argued for integrative design-oriented psychology — not just for psychology researchers, but for self-understanding.
  3. I believe much of Peterson’s expository work is quite helpful (high caliber, useful, potent as defined in Cognitive Productivity books) (which is not to say that I agree with everything).
  4. Peterson’s expository work has been criticized by some scholars who should know better in a most egregious unfair manner. Criticism is the foundation of rationalism; but there are rules to rational criticism — cf. Adler’s How to Read a Book and my own Cognitive Productivity books.
  5. No one seems to have previously noticed that Peterson’s work, while not explicitly positioned by himself as integrative design-oriented, is extremely pertinent to the integrative design-oriented research programme.
  6. My Reverse Engineering the Human Mind as a Way to Better Understand Ourselves and Each Other – CogZest page contains more details on how Peterson’s work aligns with the IDO approach; but more still needs to be said about that.
  7. I don’t think an academic’s work should be ‘cancelled’ or ignored out of fear or because one does not like what one (thinks) a person’s work implies. (And when it is someone of Peterson’s caliber, who has so generously published so much helpful free content, it’s a travesty to cancel it.)

On courage

On the latter point, compare my recent blog post on Courage, Heroes and Culture – CogZest. And since I’m into learning from stories, I will suggest to people who need to stand up to the tyrany of their anti-rationalist cousins (cancel culture) that they should find themselves some aptly motivating songs.

Personally, I have no shame in admitting that I like this


Aside: we also need to understand how song motivates. The Bonnie Tyler song directly speaks to hero themes. The fact it is sung by a woman probably potentiates it for men. I’ve been told the song is also quite popular in some gay communities. Be that as it may, the power of some songs to move one can only adequately be understood in integrative design-oriented terms, as my colleagues and I argued in a couple of papers.

Un peu de courage et de clarté, s.v.p, chers intellectuels.


Having said that, heroism has its limits: The upcoming humanist meeting will be too short for me do justice to any, let alone all, of the aforementioned research objectives.

Further information

I’ve published some schema activation exercises, and other resources, for the meeting here.


  • Note1: A more reflective anytime algorithm would have more substantially reorganized the talk 😊 on the fly, rather than rely mainly on speeding up the presentation. A good reason not to presentation slides.

Published by

Luc P. Beaudoin

Head of CogZest. Author of Cognitive Productivity books. Co-founder of CogSci Apps Corp. Adjunct Professor of Education, Simon Fraser University. Why, Where, and What I Write. See About Me for more information.

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