Sunday, September 24, 2006

Modern myth-making

"Are we still a myth-making culture? I mean, from how I understand it, the ancients used myths to explain the phenomena around them, but in this day and age, we think we've already explained everything. Do we still make myths? Or are we doomed to rehash the myths that our ancestors made?"

That was me posing a question in the class that I sat in yesterday. I'd like to think that it was an earnest question, though I won't deny that I was trying to impress the folks around me with such a seemingly deep thought.

"Yes, we are," Dr. Garcia answered. "Up to now there are still areas which science and philosophy fail to answer adequately, and this is the area where myth-making comes in. And, you might note that many of the modern myths already become intergalactic in nature."

In hindsight, it seemed like a silly question to which I already knew the answer. Fiction is my hobby, and I have one leg firmly planted in the realm of fantasy and science-fiction. Of course we still make myths! Star Wars, for example, is our modern fairy tale; in fact, just one among many. All you need to do is take your pick from among the multitudes of choices in fandom.

On the other hand, the modern myths of this category do not really satisfy my criteria for myths of the order that the ancients seemed to hold. No one really looks to Star Wars as a real story, except perhaps in the lunatic fringe of geekdom. The myths of old at least seemed to be wrapped in the essence of reality and were widely believed and accepted by a large number of ordinary people.

Ordinary people. That's one of the keys of a myth of the first order, that it has to be accepted as the truth by ordinary people. Some myths may spring from the imagination of priests and poets, but it takes the mass of ordinary people to give life to them. A very democratic process, we might say.

Perhaps Dr. Garcia was referring in part to the cult of UFOs when she pointed out to the intergalactic nature of modern myths. Some folks, notably in the United States, seem to have made a new religion out of this, sometimes with disastrous results, e.g., Heaven's Gate. But UFOs are too far out in the fringes of society to be considered part of the lore of ordinary people.

To be continued....


  1. Urban legends come to mind... although I get the feeling that you're going to be touching on those in further posts.

  2. We need to the unexplained, it makes life much more exciting. Do you think anyone really cares that there is all sorts of evidence against the Loch Ness Monster - No - We would like to believe there is one.

  3. In the US, belief in UFO's are more widespread than you might think. In 2002, the scifi channel commissioned a Roper Poll on beliefs in UFO's. Here's what they found:

    "More than half (56 percent) of the American public think that UFOs are something real and not just in people's imagination. Nearly as many (48 percent) believe that UFOs have visited earth in some form."

    More on the poll here.

  4. hello dominique. i got your URL from the blogcon reg list... when i saw your name, i felt "blast from the past" - i think we met somewhere in mother ignacia ave. in QC many years ago. remember that brick house? or is that you?

  5. Hey dominique, Commonly accepted knowledge by the common people. Things that come into mind are: Theory of Relativity, Maxwell's Equations, Newton's Laws of Gravity and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. In common parlance, they can manifested as black holes/time warps, electricity/magnetism, gravity and fundamental particles.

    Who says these things can't be Myths after all after years/decades/centuries of future research?

  6. Thanks all for the initial comments. I didn't expect this post to generate so much input in so short a time.

    Sean: I thought about urban legends, too, but I would discount them because they are not generally basis for belief and action. Urban legends are just stories meant to titillate and mystify.

    Mick: thanks for visiting. Yes, the need for belief is one of the points I will touch on in a later post. Already the ideas are starting to pile up.

    Roy: thanks for the UFO survey. "Calling occupants of interplanetary craft..." I guess.

    Chris: Pax. See you later.

    William: True enough, but these "myths" still maintain some distance from the common man's psyche. I'm thinking of some other modern-day myths that are much much closer and much more "sacred."

    Hang on, everyone, I'm about to question some taboos. Laters!

  7. I still don't see why we humans need to find scientific reason for practically everything that happens on the planet. Like, how it rains. Water evaporates into the air and condenses to form clouds then the water droplets fall back to the earth. Rather boring and snooze-worthy. But..let's say that rain is caused by the weaping souls of the dead that pass through the sky to find they're final resting place. A little more interesting, don't you think? It makes me wonder if the human imagination is as alive as it use to be. I guess that the invention of science sent creativity to its grave.

  8. Thanks for the comment, Jessica. I didn't know this entry would touch a chord with so many people.

    Science is simply the new religion, I'm afraid, and as religions go, it's not very imaginative.

    I'm sorry I didn't write some more on this topic, but I will soon. Some ideas are still in percolation.

    In the meantime: "Facts are the enemy of the truth!"