Thursday, June 19, 2014


Myth and Metaphor

Imagination is more important than knowledge"

Stories, fables, legends, and myths can be used to help us find answers to the complexities of life which is riddled with the vagaries, prejudice, mis-information, lack of experience, and just plain ignorance. The difference between thinking feeling is central to the human condition.

We continually weigh scenarios about true and false, right and wrong, good and bad. Understanding the appropriate mode of feeling and behavior amounts to emotional intelligence, which seems to be rather rare-- more of a journey than a destination.

The psychological trauma implied by death can be devastating,  unless we find a transcendent cause or purpose in life, beyond our own self interests. Einstein also said that the most important decision you ever make is whether you live in a friendly universe or a hostile universe. The hero is able to go out and brave the unknown and return with something of value. It is the courage of true heros that portrays our own possibilities to prevail against failure and dispair. Thus the courage of heroism becomes possible at some level in our own lives.  In difficult times, a belief that good will prevail can sustain us.

The science of things has greatly enhanced our objective abilities to control the physical world. But power is seductive, it corrupts, and it has delivered science into the hands of the greedy. Unless our subjective skills catch up, such exploitation will become ever more unsustainable. Every school child is taught how to weigh, measure and exploit stuff, but complex emotions can baffle all but a few.

If you ask people what they want in life,  most will answer, "just to be happy."  Within the biology of being human are many challenges. When we ask the question, “Who am I?” the answer is usually something about our career,  our possessions.  For a very long time, up until a few generations ago, our earth was seen as the center of the universe. And the central theme of the world was the theme of a noble struggle of the protagonist (us) under the aegis of the Divine. So we seemed to be the very center of attention of the largest of all dramas. The theme of the central mythology was to gain an understanding of the natural order of things in order to live in harmony with it.
But we have been thrust into a new paradigm rather suddenly. In many ways the world has changed as much since Darwin as it has in all of history combined before Darwin.  Today we are all struggling with a misapprehension  that we understand more than we actually do. The scientific paradigm would have us believe that whatever isn't measurable or somehow quantified, isn't real. Only very recently physics and metaphysics have come full circle and embraced each other (all is energy). Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics seems to imply a new order of mythology and divinity as well.
When we come to the limits of reason we intuit. It's that simple.  The problem with the pragmatists is they assumed they had a full deck of cards with which to play the game, that the tools of logic and denotation were sufficient to the task of living. But these tools can be quite limited as Whitman so eloquently alluded to in his statement that it "is obvious that there is more to a man than can be seen between his boots and his hat". All the probing, measuring, and quantifying have fallen short of the true stature of man, and once again proved that the man given over completely to reason is as lost as the man given over to his feelings.
We have a sense of self as a cog in the wheels of industrialization. We are daily being barraged with a plethora of circumstances over which we often have no control or understanding.  It is said the greatest single demand made on contemporary man is to adjust, adjust, adjust among variables that are ever increasing, and that the greatest human need is for synthesis and interpretation, for a sense of psychological continuity and emotional closure. Herein lies the harbinger of the new age.
The difference between our technological achievements and our sociological achievements can no longer be tolerated. If it can be said that materially we live, move and have our being in the realms of the gods, then it must also be acknowledged that the way we treat each other and even ourselves is little changed from the darker anthropomorphic superstitions of the Neolithic humaniods. The fact is that "we" do not go to the moon, most of us, or perhaps even to the exotic realms we see on TV, except in our imaginations.  Indeed, most of the population of the world is largely without even the basics of life to a very real and painful extent. We soar in our dreams only to come down hard upon waking to face our isolation and alienation
Accepting a belief is like entering a relationship. For example, the sentence Love is a journey," is a metaphorical expression that is understood via a set of correspondences, which might be called the Love-As-Journey Map. You hold to your beliefs and are guided, led, and governed by your beliefs. So beliefs are guides that dictate actions.  But there are misleading beliefs, we can be quite sincere and dead wrong. Such bigotry brings out our very worst characteristics.
The hope for a pure soul is to be right and not wrong. Without even so much as science or medicine, people were immersed in the unknowable -- in superstition and magic. Good and evil were personified as Gods, and the human psyche was fragmented into a good and a worthless portion. The implications are now well recognized , but the solution to this dilemma still haunts us. These issues are about controlling or containing the emotions. Every natural human act eventually became an object of prohibition, fear, shame, and guilt. At the height of the dark ages anyone could be burned alive for being even accused of a sin.
It was Karl Marks who ridiculed religion as "the opiate of the masses." Unfortunately he never heard of endorphins. We spend a huge portion of our lives in the realm of fantasy. Has the quality and extent of our dreaming changed? If nothing else religion became the most useful tool against anarchy ever known. Today the opiate of the masses is TV and drugs (including alcohol, nicotine and caffeine).
But what is the nature and overwhelming appeal of this escapism? And what for that matter is the true nature of addiction? In the future, perhaps a few decades from now, people may look back on these times as being the chemical dark ages so to speak.  By our dawning knowledge of our own biochemistry, especially the chemistry of the brain, we are beginning to emerge from this anomaly.  Our complex emotions and our complex brain chemistry are still largely not understood, but far more so than they were even to or twenty years ago.
Part of our brain deals with linear, concrete, sequential, concepts, (we have made enormous technological progress in this area). Everything else that is not a finite concept to be quantified or measured is relegated to the other half of the brain so that when we need to deal with something we don't really understand, the mysterious, the numinous, the ineffable, the totemic or sacred, we give it a name and hand it over to this part of the brain to deal with it.
These concepts tend to be emotional, connotative, and as yet still rather primitive, and very much influenced by our attitudes. That is it depends on how you look at it. In most of our lives there comes a time when we find ourselves alone.  The difference between being alone and being lonely is to some extent dependent on how we view ourselves within the context of society. Is your cup half full or is it half empty?
You are guided, led, and governed by your beliefs, so beliefs are guides that dictate actions. You hold to your beliefs but there are misleading beliefs.  One can be quite sincere and dead wrong. Such bigotry brings out our very worst characteristics.
But only those who have a dream can have a dream come true. Myths, legends, stories, fairy tales, poems, and songs may emphasize themes and characteristics such as compassion, truth-seeking, courage, empathy, wonder, humor, imagination, and respect for the Earth and each other.
“What we need is a common story that connects us to Creation, that discovers the sacred, the magic in every moment. We need to evoke the deep sense of connection and relationships, the pattern that illuminates our place, our identity, direction and purpose... We need stories we can share as children of the earth, stories that bring us to a knowledge of ourselves as global beings and as participants in a vast and wondrous unfolding of Creation.                                                - Medicine Story


  • Mythology Links
  • George Lucas - Heroes, Myths & Magic - American Masters 1993
  • Joseph Campbell
  • Here comes Luke Skywalker
  • Links to interesting metaphor sites around the world
  • Encyclopedia MythicaAn encyclopedia on mythology, folklore, legends, and more. It contains over 4700 definitions of gods and goddesses, supernatural beings and legendary creatures and monsters from all over the world. - Links
  • Conceptual Metaphor Home Page
  • alt.mythology- FAQ
  • Rebecca Ryan Resources presents - Magazine of People and Possibilities includes interviews with alternative medicine personalities. Find stories and visit the online store.
  • Stories of Creation and Origin - Enjoy these stories about beginnings. Includes "The Origin of Game and Corn," "The Origin of Medicine," and "The Creation of the First Indians."
  • Manitonquat - Medicine Story - Manitonquat has been active as a Wampanoag elder working with American Indians in and out of prison for many years. He has written a book discussing his approach: Ending Violent Crime
  • Bridging the Gap  (An important issue of the Stanford Electronic Humanities Review with a "target" essay on literary interpretation and cognitive science by Herbert Simon and an array of invited responses.)
  • Great Dreams - Mythology - many links
  • Center for the Cognitive Science of Metaphor Online   (On-line texts and numerous links related to the "cognitive science of metaphor.")
  • Cognition and Literature (Interactive web-based discussion forum hosted by the Society for Critical Exhange. Includes a general discussion thread as well as special topics.)
  • The Cognitive Poetics Project  (Information on the work of Reuven Tsur at Tel Aviv University; includes links to several on-line texts by Tsur.)
  • Cognitive Science, Humanities and the Arts  (A resource collection and collaborative bibliography including subsections on film, literature, the fine arts, as well as listings of journals and websites.)
  • CogWeb: Cognitive Cultural Studies  (An experimental site devoted to exploring the relevance of cognitive science to literary and cultural studies, and to the development of cognitive cultural theory).
  • Constructions of the Mind  (Another valuable issue of the Stanford Electronic Humanities Review featuring a number of original essays on artificial intelligence and the humanities.)
  • Consciousness, Literature and the Arts  (An internet journal featuring the relation of literary and other arts to the study of consciousness within philosophy, cognitive science, psychology, neuroscience, computer science, and physics.)
  • I.P.S.A. (Institute for Psychological Study of the Arts)  (Mainly devoted to psychoanalytical approaches, but open to cognitive and neuroscientific perspectives as well. 
  • PSYART - a "hyperlink journal for the psychological study of the arts.")
  • Mark Turner's Home Page  (Includes recent texts by Turner as well as information on his research program in "cognitive rhetoric" and links to related projects and sites.)
  • Mental Metaphor Databank  (A useful compilation of various metaphors used to figure mind and cognition, drawn from literary and other sources.) 
  • The Pre-History of Cognitive Science  (Multi-indexed summaries of Burton, Hobbes, Berkeley, and Locke as theorists helping to establish a space for cognitive science.)
  • Reader Response Research  (Abstracts and e-texts representing David Miall and Don Kuiken's work at the intersection of literary studies and cognitive psychology.)'
  • Many Paths: Mythology Links
  • Mythology Newsgroups
  • Web Talisman - links
  • Blending and Conceptual Integration
  • Cognitive Linguistics Journal
  • Directory of Contemporary Research in Metaphor
  • Literature, Cognition, and the Brain
  • Journal of the Psychological Study of the Arts - Links
  • Metaphor and Symbol - a quarterly Journal
  • UCSD - Department of Cognitive Science
  • Society for Critical Exchange
  • Center for Semiotic Research, Aarhus, Denmark -links
  • The Neural Theory of Language Project
  • The Semiotic Zoo
  • Language, Rhetoric, and Writing at Maryland
  • The Calvin Cognitive Science Bookshelf
  • 4 Mythology - guide to Mythology
  • Bulfinch's Mythology -  hyperlinked edition
  • Jungian and Archetypal Psychology