Science is inherently Mythic
- [Kinda OT but I thought this might appeal to people on this list -SD]
----- Forwarded message from Tom Healy -----
From: Tom Healy
To: novelty lifeboat <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Science is inherently Mythic
Date: Tue, 08 Jun 2004 08:37:51 -0500
from an interview w/ cultural historian: William Irwin
Rebecca: So let me just clarify. You think that myth is the
memory of the whole history of the universe?
Bill: Yes. For example when you begin to unpack the
cosmology in the Rapunzel fairytale, you can show just how
much information is in that.
David: You say that this universal memory is not stored in
the DNA. So where is it stored?
Bill: It's non-locality. Everything in quantum physics now
is rejecting the notion of storage and locality.
David: But wouldn't it be stored in the nucleus of the atom?
Without localization points how can information be
Bill: Well, wave functions aren't localized. Bell's theorem
is all about non-locality and when you're dealing with ten
dimensions then where's the location? Brian Swimme who is a
colleague of mine talks about how if you draw a circle and
you move to a second dimension of a sphere, it's possible to
move out of that circle without crossing a boundary. If you
have a sphere and you go from the three-dimensional to the
four-dimensional you can also do that without crossing a
boundary. So at three dimensions you can say I'm Euclideanly
located here, but in the multi-dimensionality of my subtle
bodies I'm involved with Andromeda.
Part of the yogic thing is to shift from what's called the
fu chi. There's the anamayacosa and then there's the
pranamayacosa, which is the energy body that you use in T'ai
Chi. The anamayacosa is sometimes called the astral body,
but it keeps shifting to the pranamayacosa and back again,
and at each one of those you're adding dimensionality. It's
getting vaster and vaster and at the same time it's
recursive and enfolded so that each point prehends a larger
The whole notion of what is location and what is the body
gets really dicey. What I break with in American culture is
the notion that things are located in elementary particles,
or in genes or in brains, and that by manipulating them
through elite minds at Harvard or MIT, you can control
I'm much more involved in a diversity and an ecology of
consciousness where an individual flame can't exist if
there's not an atmosphere, that we can't exist if there
weren't bacteria in our guts taking care of the poisons. The
new theory about bacteria is that they're actually a
planetary bioplasm and that we're inside them, they're not
inside us - it's like a sheath around the earth. So the
whole notion of location is becoming much more complicated -
and much more interesting.
David: So the problem you have with location is similar to
the problem you have with the idea of representation?
Bill: Yes, that's a good connection. That's why Varella has
rejected the whole representational theory of the nervous
system and wants to deal with concepts like participation
Rebecca: Can you describe the connections that you see
between science and myth?
Bill: If you ask three questions: Who are we? Where do we
come from? Where are we going? Any answer to those will give
you a myth. You can give a Marxist answer, you can give a
sociobiological answer, you can give a Christian
fundamentalist or Moslem answer. So myth is basically macro
thinking. Technical thinking is micro. It's saying, I'm a
neuroscientist, I'm a geneticist and I'm not interested in
answering the big questions. That was originally why I left
M.I.T, because if kids asked questions the professors would
say, forget it and do your problem sets.
If you step back and ask the big questions then you're
beginning to think mythopoeically. If you look at the
narratives of Darwin or even Leakey - all these are
constructed narratives that are inescapably mythic. The
whole notion of explanation falls into mythic structures.
There's a wonderful book on narratives of human evolution by
She says if you go back and study the structure of the
folktale about how the hero leaves a safe enviroment, is
then put through a sequence of challenges and is then
confronted by someone who gives him a gift to be able to go
forward and resolve the challenge and then settle into a new
steady state. You can take that structure of folkloric motif
and apply it to all these different theories of human
evolution. Science is inherently mythic.
When I was saying this stuff in lectures in New York in the
70's, it was kind of against the grain, but that way of
thinking began to come up much more in the `80's, because
Michel Serres in Paris was giving a similar sequence to the
whole nature of mythic thought. So now it's not quite so
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"and you've ruined my business. / How can I sell sorrow, /
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