The Myth of No Myths
In our Western cultural climate, we are mythologically lost at sea. We pride ourselves on being a society without myth, as we consider ourselves grounded in reason, fact, and rationality. But ironically, recognizing ourselves as a people without myth has become our myth. It has become the story we tell ourselves about who we think we are. The no-myth myth satisfies what every myth satisfies: the condition of communicating what a particular culture at a particular time values and holds dear.
What we seem to value is the notion that there is a self-evident distinction between things of fact and things of fantasy, that we can draw an unproblematic line down the middle of phenomena, placing things like myths, stories and fiction on one side and the serious stuff of “adulthood” (science, politics) on the other. But no such line can be drawn. Fact and fantasy actually end up defining each other in their opposition, which also means that they can’t exist apart from one another.
We can thank that period we so quaintly refer to as the “enlightenment” for this distinction between fact and fantasy, as out of this distinctively Western period arose the priority of scientific objectivity and the related faith that our human methods of scientific investigation could eventually explain everything without reference to the ways of old and their “childish myths”. But of course the name of this period in history is ironic, for in our newfound polarization of fact and fantasy, we triumphed over the possibility of becoming enlightened, for in the enlightenment that wisdom traditions seek, fact and fantasy are not opposed but complimentary – two lenses from the same source.
Fact and fiction are bread and butter, as interdependent as the two “sides” of the Möbius strip. If we say there is only fiction in the world and no fact or objectivity (as extreme relativists do) then we make ourselves vulnerable to the currently en vogue notion that we single-handedly create our reality – a view that is dangerous in its solipsistic denial of external regularity and the seemingly law-abiding nature of phenomena (you can’t just create your own laws of nature!). Conversely, if we preach an unwavering absolute objectivity, then we risk the fascist tendencies that arise from this belief. Fascists are always the most unwavering proponents of a hard “truth”, the byproduct of a closed process of investigation. “There is nothing more to know! Knowledge is sealed and accomplished!”
Both views (relativism and objectivism), of course, are ultimately “just” beliefs about the way things are, because the Truth never expresses itself in theories and proclamations. Reality is not a thing touched by words or concepts. All beliefs, stories, facts and theories are road signs pointing toward something that can only be experienced. The question is how much clearer one road sign is versus another, how well one performs its role in guiding us to that experience of opening and aliveness.
So the question becomes: what is the no-myth myth doing to us? If we believe that Truth will only arrive in the language of modern science, have we not cut ourselves off from vast dimensions of experience – ones testified to by Mystics, but also ones more modest, like the life-affirming encounter with good literature, art and poetry? Are not these experiences also pointing us to Truth?
It seems then that rather than being pointed to the top of the mountain, the road signs currently in cultural fashion have been pointing us into a cave, where things can be more easily grasped because there is less lived experience to deal with.
Certainly there have been wonderful discoveries and inventions that have arisen from the “enlightenment”, but the associated ideology of scientism is not one of the more wonderful things to arise from it.
Scientism is belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints.
Scientism is a narrowing of life, the reduction of all experience to scientific categories. In this worldview, love becomes a neurological phenomenon. Art becomes the sign of a psychological pathology. In scientism, we refuse to let life stand alone in its singularity, thus making the present moment an impossible experience. The present gets shuffled into all the categories, labels and concepts that have come before and have been legitimized by the narratives of science.
The no-myth myth is the myth of scientism. If we can pry ourselves away from this contraction, then we can start to appreciate the beautiful expression that is science, but also the not-so-separately beautiful expressions of art and mystical realization. Our perception can then open to the infinitely expressive Truth of sat-chit-ananda, Being-Consciousness-Bliss.
Released from the delusion of this contraction, we come back to the expansive present, blissfully suspended between the complimentary, mutually supportive dimensions of fact and fantasy.