Strong, Weak & Dynamic Mythologies
I enjoy collecting or creating different frameworks from which to view the world. This is one that I’ve been trying on.
Mythology: A collection of traditional stories belonging to a particular cultural tradition.
There’s a common atheist framing that religion is fairytales and science is real.
I was raised without religion, was a science nerd, and held that opinion for a long time.
But I’ve backed off of that simplistic notion. This is my new framing of the world: everything is mythology.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have certainty? It would. But certainty doesn’t exist. So, in order to live in a world of grey, I’ve started categorizing belief into three types of mythology.
That is to say, it’s better to consider everything a story and nothing a fact. Thinking in black and white is a trap.
Also, I say myth although some people might say fiction. That’s because I’m drawn to epic stories. So even in science, I’d rather know the mostly-but-not-entirely-true story of how humans walked on the moon than I would the genus of the Rosemary plant.
This is the realm of religion. The definition is that you have to take things on faith rather than on evidence. God works in mysterious ways, etc.
I wonder how many people I’m going to offend with this post? Tech-centric rationalists can be pretty blind to the things they say about religion. Here’s my position: You believe what you want to believe. I’m just describing my experience of the world. You’re free to have a different one.
Hard core atheists think religion is a destructive force, for example Richard Dawkins and his Militant Atheism. But I’m not bought into that. The more I learn about the brain, the more I think religion is a rational choice. Here is an institution that brings purpose and community.
You could imagine similar secular institutions, but, for practical purposes, those secular institutions are imaginary. The irony! Religion is a universally available option.
I’m a pro-religion agnostic, I guess.
So not believing is not the same as not respecting. I have a lot of envy for my church or synagogue going friends. But I can’t go because I get tripped up by the “this is true” part.
If there was a religion that said, “All of our stories are useful, but none of them are true, then I’d probably sign up.”
This is the realm of history, which consists of fabricated stories woven around a set of facts. I’m pretty sure George Washington was a real person and that we have his date of birth right.
I’m also pretty sure that the glorified story I read in 6th grade social studies isn’t anywhere near the real George Washington experience.
Unfortunately, most people won’t ever learn, until college history classes, that there are multiple perspectives on historical events.
These historical mythologies have dominant stories that change based on cultural values. For example, the exhibit for George Washington’s home in Philadelphia was recently updated with his relationship with slavery.
(He was a slaver.)
Historians call this multi-perspectivity, which is a fun word to say out loud.
This is the realm of science.
Going back to the definition of mythology as being a collection of stories, you mostly learn science through stories with part of the story being the experimental process.
It’s rare that you actually ran the science yourself. And so, the scientific stories you hear are completely corrupted by human nature, including over simplifications, gross generalizations and fraudulent data.
People say, “It’s a scientific fact!”
A scientific fact you read in the newspaper is likely to be corrupted well beyond falsehood — it’s just as likely to be the exact opposite of what the experimental results point to.
Even good science changes all the time. People forget that because they’re so obsessed with finding certainty.
So, it’d be better to consider science a dynamic mythology. When it comes to science, you want to have strong opinions loosely held.
You could disagree with the above, but I don’t want you to. Some people will read that religion is fairytales, history is not science, science is not fact. And they’ll be offended.
However, I think all three are great. This framing helps me live in world that has shades of grey while not getting completely cynical.
So, don’t disagree, just tell me how you view the world.
This is day #34 of a daily writing experiment. Yesterday’s post was: