The Cycle of Myth

Myths are the most primal mode of human understanding, narratives used to answer the most profound questions we humans commonly ask (ie. “How did we get here?”  “Why is the world so crazy and scary?” “Why is life so hard?”)  It also expresses the most basic urges and fears that we experience.  Like Zeus, we wish to topple those who have oppressed us.  Like the Olmec, it is rain that sustains our life, and so we create an idol to it in the form of Tlaloc.  Like the predecessors of the Indians, we must have some way of expressing the entropy we see around us, and thus we find Kali.  We understand that it is the earth that shelters us as a mother’s womb, and so we have Tiamat.

Unlike the ancients, we tend to choose abstraction over personification when creating our modern myths.  We have particles to explain the structure of the world, wave phenomena to explain its movements, and an irresistible force to keep the heavens in harmony.  Rather than a pantheon, we use mathematics to quantify the world.

On the other hand, perhaps we are not so advanced beyond the ancients.  The Taoists have a very abstracted conceptual framework for interpreting reality, the Hindus had our modern philosophical schools long before we did, and the Mayans had impressive mathematical capabilities.  Perhaps our modern myths are but the same point on the wheel of culture, and we just happen to be sitting there on the second rotation.  Perhaps we simply find ourselves unable to reconcile the personification with the abstraction as the ancients did. 

The ancients may have intuitively understood that reality is the same regardless of which conceptual methodology we use to interpret it, and that neither strategy is completely right because we always break reality down into something less than it is no matter how we approach thinking about it.  As a result, the only way to see the world  as it is is to not think about it.  How profoundly disturbing this simple fact is to a civilization that prides itself on its rationality.

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