Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The role of the Mythos in Truth

... Truth and Myth part 2

The word 'myth' has been demoted. Now, it's used to label a story or a theory as untrue. "That's a myth" is now an acceptable substitute for "That is utter and complete hogwash." Once, myths were used to express a profound truth that can't be expressed any other way. Once, myths were used to express meaning.

The mythos is probably closer to the truth than any scientific theory we can ever think of. All science does is look for facts--the facts on the surface, the facts that can be measured, verified, tested, and democratized so that theyre available to everybody. Truth is different. It's not available to everybody. It's only available to the few. It's only available for those who have 'eyes to see and ears to hear.' It's only available to those with the perception adequate to the thing being studied.

Professor Richard Taylor writes in his article Religion and Truth (Issue 47 of Philosphy Now) about the story of Sisyphus, whom the gods condemned to move a rock to the top of a hill, whereupon it would roll back down. Sisyphus was doomed to move that rock up the hill through eternity:

Thinkers for generations have sensed in this myth a meaning, possibly a profound truth only dimly seen. Perhaps it is the image of an indominatable will. Or of the tenacity of the human spirit in the face of endless failure. Or it could be an image of justice. It has also been thought to symbolize the meaninglessness of human existence. In any case, what gives the story depth and importance is that it is thought to contain a truth behind the banality of the imagery.

Now suppose a professor of classics were to insist that this story has to be historically correct. He maintains that this myth, like so many others contained in ancient texts, must be considered true as it stands and not properly subject to interpretation or any search for hidden meanings. He thinks that he must take this position in order to uphold the worth and dignity of the classics and their venerable authors. Otherwise, he thinks, people will want to dismiss mythology as a mere collection of fairy tales, unworthy of serious consideration.

Concerning such a misguided classicist we could say, first, that he has completely missed the point; second, that far from upholding the worth and dignity of the classics, he has trivialized them; and third, that he has made a fool of himself.

The Discovery channel has a show called Mythbusters. The show examines urban legends and scientifically examines their veracity through a series of tests designed to show whether or not the stories are scientifically plausible. If the facts in the story fail to pan out after rigorous scientific testing, then the myth is declared 'busted.'

There is another show called Urban Legends wherein they examine popular urban myths and determine if theyre factual or not but also try to determine the meaning behind them. More often than not of course, the story on the surface is not factual. But the message these urban legends wishes to convey is not the story itself, but what is behind the story. Urban myths arise from the alienation, the paranoia, the isolation one feels in living in the city.

Myths, far from being trivial stories to amuse, are bearers of profound truth, once you get beyond what it's saying on the surface. The mythos is the only way Truth can be conveyed because Truth is beyond the senses. "The Tao that can be spoken of is not the Tao." The Tao can only be conveyed through the mythos.

(Part 3 soon. I hope...)

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