DNA is Chinese to Jordan Peterson

There are so many reasons to be annoyed with Jordan Peterson (William Brinkman, CripDyke, and Mano Singham have all rolled their eyes at him right here on FtB), and I had to pick just one thing out of the multitude to focus on…and I picked his terrible misconceptions about DNA. His most recent nonsense reminded me so much of Louie Giglio.


  1. Muz says

    He’s a bigger Post Modernist semiotician swirling confabulated deepities than any of the Post Modernists he spends his time railing at for destroying western civilisation.

    I mean would it kill him to google a picture of mating snakes? D’ya reckon that might be where they got the idea from?

  2. drst says

    Someone on Twitter over the weekend observed that JP keeps invoking the study of mythic archetypes but he only seems to know very recent versions from limited settings, ala Disney movies and such. The insistence that witches all live in swamps from that recent piece is basically from Minecraft and nowhere else, as throughout fairy tales and folklore witches live everywhere. It’s like he found out about the theory of archetypes and then read exactly none of the extent literature on it and is just spouting off whatever will make him the most cash in the moment.

  3. cartomancer says

    Actually the Rod of Asclepius was never depicted with two snakes curled round it in antiquity. That’s a modern confusion with the Caduceus of Hermes – the Rod of Asclepius was always shown with only a single entwined snake.

    But yes, entwined snakes were a very common mythic motif in the ancient world. Snakes in general were – in the Classical world they were associated with mysterious rebirth, magic and the secrets of nature that man was not meant to know. Tiberius Gracchus’s father was supposed to have witnessed two snakes having sex in his bed, which was both an omen of his own death and a presaging of his sons’ great and troubled future. But the most famous ancient European myth concerning entwined snakes is undoubtedly that of Tiresias. Tiresias was supposed to have come across copulating snakes and struck one of them with his staff, thus incurring the wrath of Hera, who avenged such intrusions of mankind into the sacred secrets of nature. Hera turned him into a woman, to teach him something about how the other half live, and it wasn’t until he repeated the same feat several years later that Zeus turned him back.

    I would have been surprised at Peterson not referencing this myth, but then I remembered that he’s a raging transphobe, and probably refuses to acknowledge Tiresias’s transformation at all.

  4. hemidactylus says

    The intertwining snake analogy to the double helix is a bit of a stretch.

    I would have pointed to the legend of Kekule’s ouroboros dream, but that was one of those tall tales (pun) that Kekule may have helped spin himself. But as a vague symbol for envisioning the benzene ring it might help make the material more exciting for the organic chem undergrad with an interest in psychology.

    Jung played a role in the folkloric backstory of Kekule’s alleged discovery of benzene structure:


    “In one version, cited by Carl Jung in ”The Psychology of Transference,” Kekule discovered the benzene ring after dreaming of ”the Royal Marriage,” the image of a dancing king and queen used by medieval alchemists as a symbol of conjunction.”

    I guess its one of those too good to be true tales of how the unconscious can inspire a solution to a problem upon which one has long ruminated.

    “By claiming to have made two major discoveries with the help of dreams, Dr. Wotiz contends, Kekule shrewdly avoided sharing credit with deserving foreign colleagues.”

    But at least the best case would have been that the snake symbol inspired an actual scientist to make a breakthrough. The notion that ancient symbology of the Chinese was prescient of DNA is just plain bonkers.

    Was it intentional to contrast Joseph Campbell and Jordan Peterson via quote at 9:15 to make Campbell a more sympathetic figure and wiser?:

    Campbell: “Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed.”

    Peterson: “Witches are real and they live in swamps.”

    Imagine Bill Moyers doing a multipart interview with Peterson where they talk about lobsters and serotonin.

  5. Mrdead Inmypocket says

    I got a chocolate/vanilla twist cone at Dairy Queen just last weekend. I think Berkshire Hathaway Inc based that on the double helix of DNA, you can see it with your own eyes. Damn it feels good to be an intellectual I tells ya.

    *Walks away singing*
    I’m Louie Giglio and everywhere I go
    People know the part I’m playin
    I give a song and dance, put you in a religious trance
    Ooh what they’re saying?
    There will come a day when youth will pass away
    What’ll they say about me?
    When the end come I know I was Louie Giglio
    and life goes on without me
    Cause…. IIIIII ain’t got nooobooody, nobody…

    (Sorry couldn’t resist)

  6. chrislawson says


    1. The DNA helix is staggered, not rotationally symmetrical as shown in that Chinese painting.

    2. The use of “most archaic” to describe Australian aborigines is insulting, racist, and not even true on its own terms (by which I mean [1] plenty of humans outside Australia had similar levels of technology at the time of first European contact, and [2] the Australian aborigines were not as isolated as Peterson thinks — they were trading with Makkasan fishermen before Europeans even knew the continent existed, and even had trade and intermarriage with SE Asian peoples as far away as the Philippines, linking to a trade network that stretched all the way to South China where Australian trepang was a luxury gourmet item).

    3. Australian aborigines have painted a lot of snakes as they are an important part of their cultures, but two snakes intertwined in a vaguely DNA-esque motif is an incredibly rare design that I have only ever seen (very occasionally) in modern works. I’m no expert on Aboriginal art, but I clearly know more about the subject than Peterson — who you’ll notice did not provide a single example in his talk.

    4. Peterson is exhibiting von Daniken-level credulity here. And yet I’m sure a horde of “skeptical” fanboys will rush to his defence to insist that we are misrepresenting him despite his clear and unambiguous insistence that he believes these ancient depictions are actual representations of the molecular structure of DNA.

  7. says

    “DNA is Chinese to Jordan Peterson”
    Surely it’s a mixture of Greek and Latin??…..You mean the substance, not the name. Never mind.

  8. says

    @6, hemidactylus

    The intertwining snake analogy to the double helix is a bit of a stretch.

    Ya think? :P

    Maybe if the snakes also had one row of legs and were holding hands with each other, then you’d get the middle part…

    Seems to be basic new age nonsense. I probably have it somewhere on my youtube playlist where I collect that kind of nonsense.

    And look at this book, The Cosmic Serpent! This book talks about this snake stuff, yes, but also the story of the drug plants I saw Peterson repeat when he was talking about DMT drugs. Also seems to have nonsense about how learning is “remembering” probably or some silliness, “collective unconsciousness” and all that.

  9. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    Did you know that the structure of DNA is encoded in just about every cell in your body? Coincidence? I think not.

  10. drst says

    @Aziraphale – true, though Baba Yaga lives in a hut on chicken legs in a swamp, IIRC. My thing was JP talked about witches living in swamps like this is some sort of universal constant across different cultures and while there are individual examples, I would not say swamp-living is a common archetype of witches around the world. And there is a sentence I never thought I would write.

  11. rietpluim says

    Peterson, on the other hand, is an ass. The most archaic people ever discovered? WTF? He has no fucking clue, has he?

  12. blf says

    Erzulie Gogol lives in a swamp near Genua, in a cottage with duck’s feet. She is a very famous cook.

    (Interestingly, according to the Discworld & Terry Pratchett Wiki, “Pratchett is accurately and fairly representing many aspects the Roundworld practice of Haitian ‘vodou’, which inspired the demonized ‘voodoo’ of popular culture[, … demonstrating] a respect for an often misunderstood culture”.)

  13. KG says

    The insistence that witches all live in swamps from that recent piece – drsat@3

    Yes, that struck me as odd. Googling “Where do witches live?” and checking out the images, woods and forests are clearly their main habitat, followed by spooky Gothic buildings. And as Giliell@16 points out, a gingerbread house wouldn’t last long in a swamp – rising damp would cause it to subside soggily before the witch had lured her first child victim to the oven.

  14. David Eriksen says

    Damn. Almost 10 years ago, I got a tattoo on my back that features a twisted pair of serpents (from a modified staff of Hermes) turning into a DNA strand. I thought I was clever.

  15. chigau (違う) says

    I changed my reading glasses.
    Now I see the title as

    DNA is Cheese to Jordan Peterson

  16. blf says

    Now I see the title as DNA is Cheese to Jordan Peterson

    This, of course, got the attention of the mildly deranged penguin. She points out there is a loose resemblance between the kook and the attributes of various cheeses: Some cheeses have a strong odor, some cheeses contain stuff which is disgusting, some cheeses are slippery or slimy, some cheeses are lightweight, some cheeses promise much but leave more to be desired, some cheeses are unreasonably popular, some cheeses can drive one to distraction, and there are things called “cheese” which aren’t. However, no one cheese (that she can think of) has all these problems (unlike the kook), and most cheeses have something good (seemingly also unlike the kook).

    The kook is also frequently twisted and full of errors, somewhat reminiscent of DNA. Whilst some so-called “cheeses” are errors, she says, she can’t think of one which is so twisted (albeit string cheese, for instance, can get all tangled, especially if you eat it the way she does).