Another eGoup post

Originally published to Yahoo's wittgenstein-dialognet, January 14, 2006.

Note MNS = "modern natural science" in the post below (coined by Timothy E. Kennelly).


In her 'Battle for God' Karen Armstrong shares her view that humans have
always had two modes of information processing: the rational and the

In her mythical golden age, humans weren't confused about the difference,
and the two modes lived side-by-side in harmonious mutual synergy. But in
modern times (her story goes), fundamentalists of various types (including
some scientists) fell into the trap of thinking only the rational mode made
any sense (logical positivism: the rest is nonsense). These folks then
tried to "explain away" any mythological thinking as pointless superstition,
and worked in earnest to purge their minds of anything "irrational."

A popular older movie along these lines is 'Miracle on 34th Street' wherein
a young girl is being indoctrinated by her rationalist mother to not believe
in Santa Claus. When Kris Kringle comes into her life, his first move is to
teach her games of the imagination, e.g. pretend you're a monkey. The
American culture of that day was still resilient and flexible enough to
admit Santa Claus into its case law (a precedent). I fear we've lost that
flexibility today, given the rigor mortis of fundamentalist rationalism
that's set in. Collectively, we've become more psychotic (so where's Kris
when we need him?).

We know from studying ancient Greek civilization that mythological
processing was an important part of their culture: Greeks were always going
to the theater, and were moved by the great tragedies, plus we hope enjoyed
some more light-hearted fare. Oracles were consulted, dreams attended to.
MNS types who think processing information in a mythological vein is
nonsense should ask themselves why it's so hard to do well. Not everyone is
a great screenwriter or thespian. Mythological thinking requires no less
talent than MNS style thinking. Both are valid human modes. We need
science fiction and fantasy just as surely as we need science. The human
psyche is double-barrel by design (oo).

The early Wittgenstein was somewhat trapped in the liberal positivism of his
day, even though his thrust in the TLP was to escape it, by circumscribing
it, and then putting that which had ultimate ethical value outside the
empiricist circle, in the realm of silence (he'd have made a good Quaker).

By the time we get to the PI, the ethical and aesthetic dimensions are more
diffused throughout language, much as music is. Grammar is not
fundamentally one or the other, i.e. language is not founded on a bedrock of
rationality, nor on mythology. It partakes of both -- and we upset this
balance at our peril (yes, I'm editorializing here).

Getting back to Karen, she doesn't think this epidemic of militant
rationalism is equally rampant in all cultures. While many in the west have
succumbed, the world is still full of societies with healthy mythological
pipelines, able to do the necessary dream weaving (an elven craft). Without
their bandwidth and throughput, we'd likely have failed as a species. But
fortunately, that hasn't happened yet. Praise Allah.



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