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Digital Dominance: Guns

The Mythic Void

Cassiopeia A Those who abandon mythology for facts are doomed to let their facts become their mythology.

Myths are the stories by which we orient ourselves in the world, and we can no more live without stories than we can live without drawing breath. Facts too are a kind of story – an authorized story – and just as fictions often told become embellished into legends, so facts often stated become the basis for their own mythic tales. These stories, however, have the added burden of authority: those that invest their belief in authorized stories can seldom see the narrative they have written for themselves.

The story that animated post-modernism was that all myths had been laid bare. Swept clean of legendary tales, we are supposed to find ourselves in a mythic void. Like the vacuum of space, however, this void is never truly empty. Beyond the traces of matter and energy, space or space-time itself is always present wherever one might look. So too the mythic void is not empty of stories but is itself a story – one that causes us to look at other stories in a different light, perhaps, but not one capable of moving us to a place beyond mythology.

The mythic void is not an end point, a final state, or an ultimate consequence at all – it is a stage, a perspective, a waiting room on the path to… well, who can say? Those who will not enter the void remain wedded to their mythology – whether ancient or modern. Those who enter the void may find themselves stuck there, casting off all other myths and accepting only the legend of the void itself. But those of us who pass through the void, and return to mythology, we bring back from this place-that-is-no-place a subtle change of mind. It is not so much illumination, more delumination.

Those who abandon mythology for facts are doomed to let their facts become their mythology. Those who escape mythology for the void are doomed to let the void become their mythology. What of those who return from the void – what will we benighted travellers take to be our strange and wonderful mythologies?

The opening image is a NASA Chandra X-ray photograph showing Cassiopeia A, the youngest supernova remnant in our galaxy.


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You are right about the human need for stories, even mythologies.
Myths can be tools, work as metaphors to explain parts of reality we would not comprehend otherwise.
The creation stories in the Bible, for instance can be read literally or as metaphors. If you try to understand them in a metaphorical way and look closely you can see quite a few parallels with the way the origin of the earth and the beginning of mankind is explained by scientists nowadays.
Truth and factual reality often can be found at the deepest level of what seems to be just a myth.

Some people see all religion as collections of myths. However religions are more than just a bunch of maetaphorical stories, atheists call myths. A religion is a way of life, contains psychological and sociological tools for human survival and well-being. It creates culture and community.
Religion translates the deep knowledge of the "undermind" (some call it the "sub-conscious"), the species survival tools, which imprinted in our human DNA, to the limited small portion of our brain, which is the conscious mind.
What you mean by the "mythical void" is probably the turning away from religion by the atheist intellectual elite.
Getting out of the "void" and returning to religion does not mean you have to turn away from reality and factual truth.

While certain complicated facts can be made better understandable through stories, fictional images, fairy tales, myths and metaphors, I do not believe that physical reality is altogether exchangeable for myths.
There are tangible facts. There is truth and there is untruth, lies or errors.
A narrative can be fictional, and while everyone accepts that it is fictional, it can still convey a hidden truth about the world, just like a religious metaphor does not need physical evidence to contain spiritual truth.

However,if a narrative which is a deliberate deception,if it is known to be fictional by their authors but still is being portrayed as reality nevertheless,then it is always harmful, no matter who authorizes this narrative.

I do not believe that the truth needs to be authorized.

Here is what Ghandi thought about it:

An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands even if there be no public support. It is self sustained.

Notsylvia: thanks for your comment! My use of 'myth' here includes religious mythology, but is in no way intended to be restricted to it. My current topic at hand is scientific mythology, nor religious, but political and personal mythologies are just as big a part of what I'm talking about here as anything else.

"What you mean by the 'mythical void' is probably the turning away from religion by the atheist intellectual elite."

No, not really. If I had to pick a simple translation of the term, it would be post-modernism or relativism or something of that kind. But my point is wider, hence the slightly obscure poetic overtones.

Atheism isn't entering the mythic void - it's abandoning one set of myths for another. Most atheists don't even come close to the void in my experience, and those that do are usually less keen to identify as atheists.

"A narrative can be fictional, and while everyone accepts that it is fictional, it can still convey a hidden truth about the world..."

I heartily agree! This, indeed, describes how many Hindus relate to their (religious) mythologies. The obsession with truth is a Western preoccupation, something we seem to have inherited from the Greek philosophers.

"I do not believe that the truth needs to be authorized."

If no-one authorises it as truth, how can it be true? Surely the strongest claim of this kind that can be mounted is that the authority of the truth is self-evident, not that truth lacks authority (and 'self-evident' truths haven't a very convincing track record, frankly). If the truth didn't require authorisation (=validation, verification, etc.) it wouldn't be truth at all.

Regarding Ghandi's thoughts, it's all very well claiming that the truth is self-sustaining, but *who* sees this truth-in-itself? God? (=Brahman, for Gandhi?) Well fair enough, but you and I are not God. To get to the certainty of truth, we require that truth be validated as truth, and however that validity is attained *is* the precisely process of attaining to authority.

Best wishes!

"If no-one authorises it as truth, how can it be true?"

Chris, a quick check: in the word game you are playing, could you define "truth"?

Peter: ah, this is quite challenging, since I don't want to end up in a tautological space.

"True" for me is only ever a logical term, so I take a contextualist view whereby truth must be judged inside a particular system. To get to true, you must have a system and a predicate, and both must be validated by some means (although the predicate could be validated against the system).

So "2+2=4" is true inside the system dictated by the Peano axioms; that the Peano axioms can be applied to the world outside of pure mathematics requires some authority to make the bridge, but that "2+2=4" is true within that system only requires authority to the extent that one can make the checks on the logical statements to confirm its validity (this is what might be called formal authority).

Ostensibly non-logical assertions attain to truth within a system that enables them to step up to logic. This usually requires invoking personal authority at some stage to anchor the claims. The statement that "The Mary Rose sank in 1545", for instance, is a historical claim resting on the authority of (a) the archaeologists et al who reported their findings (b) the calender system. Accepting the latter is like accepting the Peano axioms as a foundation for reference, whereas accepting the former requires trust in the experts - that trust functions as authority in this case.

As one final example, "it is true that the sky is blue" rests on the meaning of the words "sky" and "blue" for its truth - authority in this case concerns the way the words "sky" and "blue" are used in English. Interestingly, in Japanese (say) where blue and green are not distinguished the translation of the above statement would not necessarily be true - because the (cultural) authority that anchors the meaning of the terms doesn't transfer in this case.

Did I answer your question, or just dash off around the houses? :)

Yes, that clarifies quite a lot - thanks. Given trust functioning as authority plus a contextualist view, I can see where you're coming from. In particular, "to be true" is implicitly "for a certain person/group to believe it as truth" in your view; so given your notion of authorised stories, your statement holds.

I do think you should be extremely careful with sweeping ideas like "to be true", however. Not everyone regards truth as contextual, and I fear you'll end up confusing people given that language.

Peter: I am aware that it is more common for truth to be taken as absolute than as contextual. I am working on a new perspective on truth that doesn't go over the edge of the abyss into relativism but doesn't drop anchor in the wildly impassible reefs of absolute truth. The challenge is to provide a way to present this non-foundational truth in a way non-philosophers will find unobjectionable - which will not be easy! :)

Best wishes!

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