Meaningwave, Jordan Peterson and the Divided Brain

One of the more fascinating things to emerge in the world of music in recent years is a genre called Meaningwave. Adam Narkiewicz is the mind behind the new sound, a British DJ who goes by the name Akira the Don.

The core concept behind Meaningwave is thus: Akira the Don takes the words of inspirational figures and puts them to music. While this may seem fairly straightforward and not entirely new, never before has it been done at such a prolific rate or in such a manner. Akira the Don has effectively distilled the essence of men as varied as Jocko Willick, Marcus Aurelius, Joe Rogan, Naval Ravikant, Elon Musk, Jordan Peterson, and many more into music: Joe Rogan sounds like motivational hard rock mixed with goofy drums; Naval Ravikant has a cool, jazzy feel to him; and Jordan Peterson’s music is full of deep, melancholic chords. 

All of which begs the question: is it a coincidence that a fast-growing new genre called Meaningwave should emerge online in our day and age?

We are currently witnessing extreme levels of social unrest in the West. Core tenets of Liberalism are under attack by parts of the Progressive Left while a new Populist Right has emerged in the form of Donald Trump, Victor Orban and Marie Le Pen. Although it would be foolish to reduce these developments to one cause, one recurring interpretation is that the West is in the midst of a meaning crisis. The meteoric rise of Jordan Peterson in recent years, a psychologist whose core ideas all concern meaning, seems to point to the validity of this claim.

Seen in this context, Akira the Don is arguably the musician of our times. And yet, strangely, something about Meaningwave seems to elude mainstream consciousness – just like the idea of a meaning crisis itself. It’s almost as if meaning and articles about things of relevance exist in different realms. Which may, in fact, be the case. After all, what, precisely, is meaning? Words don’t seem to be the conducive to this concept, at least not in any crisp, definitive way. Music, on the other hand, is very different. The power of music to inspire deeply transcends language.

Jordan Peterson has often spoken of meaning as an “instinct” that tells you “when you are in the right place”, a place that can be described as “at the border between chaos and order.” Perhaps another way of describing the state of being in the right place – in relationship to other things – is harmony. Interestingly, Akira the Don has said that when he first heard Jordan Peterson speak, it didn’t sound like speech, but rather like he was singing, so it felt natural to put Peterson to music. Is this partly why Peterson’s lectures have such a profound effect on so many people? Because his speech resembles song?

The dichotomy between music and words is a well-known problem in philosophy, as it relates to the limits of language itself. As Nietzsche put it: “Compared with music, all communication by words is shameless, words dilute and brutalize, words depersonalize, words make the uncommon common.”

Fascinatingly, the dichotomy between music and words as they relate to meaning may correlate to an actual dividein the brain: another influential figure whose work has grown in popularity in recent years is Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist. In his seminal work The Master and His Emissary (2009), McGilchrist thoroughly investigates the relationship between the two brain hemispheres. McGilchist explains that both hemispheres participate in almost everything – language, creativity, analytic thinking – but what sets them apart is how they see the world.  The left hemisphere’s relationship to the world is disembodied, virtual, and explicit: it’s good at grasping and naming things. It conspires to manipulate the world, and in order to do so it creates a kind of conceptual map. The right brain, on the other hand, sees the whole. It’s relationship to the world is embodied and implicit, is sees the relationship between words and things, it sees what’s in between – which is where the power or stories, poetry, music, and meaning resides.

Seen through the lens of the divided brain, the power of Meaningwave becomes apparent. To illustrate this, let’s go back to the beginning. In a way, a Meaningwave track isn’t born when Akira the Don has an interesting idea or hears a Jordan Peterson lecture. It begins years earlier. It begins with the man Jordan Peterson himself, an individual who spent 13 years of his life writing Maps of Meaning (1999), a lengthy and highly descriptive work, which – as the title suggests – resembles a map. 

 McGilchrist often reiterates the well-known adage: “The map is not the territory”, because it corresponds to the way the two hemispheres work: The left hemisphere takes information from the right and creates a virtual re-presentation. So in struggling to understand meaning in the world, it seems Peterson first created a very complicated map. But as McGilchrist also explains: “There needs to be a process of reintegration, whereby we return to he experiential world again.” Maps are, after all, not ends in themselves. They serve the greater whole. Hence the title of McGilchrist’s work: “The Master and is Emissary.” The right brain is – when functioning properly – the master, and the left his emissary.

In the case of Jordan Peterson, the map he created evolved over years into the best-selling book 12 Rules of Life (2018), a hands-on, practical guide – a guide which would then become the basis for his lectures and presumably the foundation for Peterson’s actions in his own life.  Finally, Akira the Don sampled the most powerful and poignant bits from Peterson’s lectures, effectively distilling Jordan Peterson into music. 

One can see this process as a regression in the sense that after every iterance, less information remains. However, one can also see the move from Maps of Meaning to a JBPWave album by Akira the Don as a progression: one in which something becomes more and more condense and therefore rich with meaning. This former is s left brain analysis, the latter a right brain interpretation. 

As Schopenhauer put it: “Music expresses only the quintessence of life and of its events, never these themselves.” Thus is the brilliance of Meaningwave.

One Reply to “Meaningwave, Jordan Peterson and the Divided Brain”

  1. Thanks Julian Paul Merrill for the cultural update. I knew nothing about Meaningwave until I read your comments. But Akira the Don is “the musician of our times.” Okay, I get that if in our times we tend to try to make meaning meaningless. After listening to 20 minutes of “Meaningwave Masterpieces,” I’m hearing lots of standard 4 beat or 8 beat hip hop interpolations with spoken word recordings of varying degrees of interest. For me the music mostly detracts from the experience of really hearing (the receiving, not the sensory experience) the words. Far from enhancing the meaning, it muddies it.

    The Don decides to repeat, echo certain words, repeat phrases. Is this for musical value or for emphasis in meaning? The intensity of a poem like Bukowski’s “Born for This” is shattered by these manipulations that he didn’t agree to. I welcome the silence between words. Bukowski’s voice and the silent inter-word spaces ARE the music.

    “Distilled the essences of men as varied as Jocko Willick, Marcus Aurelius….into music.” No. The music does not manage to distill the essences of these men. It cannot.

    Also, if I understand, you say that “…one can also see the move from Maps of Meaning to a JBPWave album by Akira the Don as a progression: one in which something becomes more and more condense[d] and therefore rich with meaning….” would be a right brain interpretation. I don’t see it that way. More condensed is how the left brain wants things to be…so they can be more easily understood without nuance, pesky details, idiosyncratic word choices of a full text. It wants to reduce a person to an essence. It wants meaning to be straightforward, re-presentable, graspable, pinned down. Maybe that is why Jordan Peterson crafted his many years of work into 12 rules, to appeal to that kind of desire on the part of his audience. Then maybe Akira the Don took that and went further down the same road of condensation.


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Daniel Tutt

writing on philosophy, psychoanalysis, politics

Žižekian Analysis

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