Myth and Science

The core of the human mind is mythological. Myths congeal communities, provide a temporal framework, and instill in their believers an excitement by placing them at the culmination of the myth: it is their duty to continue it. Myths legitimate and charter institutions. And despite post-Enlightenment pretensions, humans care little for the truth of their myths. They, biological creatures, use their myths to fulfill their needs for community, identity, stability…

Though the scientific mode of thought clearly works, it, too, is a mythology. It yields useful insights for manipulating the world around us, but it is not true in the sense that it is assuredly an exact understanding of whatever the world around us happens to be. It does not escape from the bounds of the human mind, no more a path to direct understanding than any spiritual system and its similar claims of revelation.

But if myths congeal communities, charter institutions, provide epistemological frameworks, then who does the scientific myth serve? Accounts of nomadic hunter/gatherers seem to show a constant process of combination and recombination of social arrangements. A group of five come together, form some temporary myth that floats over the group for the time they cooperate, and dissolve that myth when they rearrange themselves, add new members, leave for other groups and other mythologies. The myths served the needs of the individuals, whereas today the scientific myth, through its claims of truth, subordinates individuals under its demands. The same can be said for the mythologies of humanism or any of the corporate mythologies that keep large organizations going.

Our myths, then, are free-floating, able to be combined and recombined, and have no need for the stasis of truth. Where, though, does this nihilism lead us? If we hold onto our pretensions of truth the realization will destroy us. We will eschew the myths in search of yet another ultimate that somehow escapes the relativity of human thought, and in so doing hit wall after wall until we are bloodied or dead.

But there is a more liberating alternative: to become nomadic again. To enter and leave myths without being bound by them, and even to play the part of a trickster, turning myths upside-down to destroy their pretensions of truth, shattering them into pieces so that their believers can recombine them in a way that serves their needs — the whole purpose of myth in the first place!

Besides, what else are we to do? What does the enlightening knowledge of the frailty of the human mind change about the fact that we still desire, are still bound to our bodies, still need community? While perhaps not real as in true, they are things we cannot escape. If myth cannot grant any ultimate meaning to them, we might as well have fun rolling the dice.

See “The Trickster Science” by Paul Robbins.

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