23 September 2006
Reading current translations of early creation myths within the context offered by contemporary anthropologists, one conclusion is inescapable.
Modern research on the subject since Karl Jung, Joseph Campbell and their followers found parallels among early myths and legends from around the world. They concluded that archetypes are universal and such themes were a necessary component of living life as a functional, contributing member of one’s society.
Present day scholars such as David Leeming, et al, take the next step and find story plots that illustrate not only the history of humans, the world and existence but also provide placeholders for all the fundamental research being done today in high energy physics, biotech and space exploration.
That’s all well and good, too.
People describe things in terms of their own experiences. While interviewing candidates for a programming job where resourcefulness is important, we would ask them to explain the work that they do but to a non-technical audience. Few were up to this challenge, unless they either held completely unrelated jobs at some point in their careers or happened to also consider themselves artistic in some sense.
I venture that early myths which originated before the Bronze Age were describing genetic engineering but used metaphor rooted in their own technology: clay.
Biblical accounts make reference to shaping clay and having the breath of life blown into them, creating the first humans.
When a baby today is born premature, he or she is placed within an incubator, with the breath of life– oxygen– being pumped in. How might you explain that scene to the child’s two and a half year old sibling?– probably without even mentioning the word `oxygen,‘ let alone any detail from the periodic table of elements.
Clay is among the earliest technology developed, following the use of a found stick or branch.
Today, we freely speak of extraterrestrial aliens– greys, zetas reticulians, etc– to instill both fear and promise of an uncertain future.
Despite referencing our future, at the heart of this modern myth is something almost plausible to modern society. Space travel is not only plausible but has been experienced within our lifetime: manned trips to the moon, robots roving Mars and beautiful pictures from the Hubble space telescope.
“Ah!” You say, “But the alien stories started before the `race to the moon.‘” Without getting into arguments over dates of the first sightings, there is actually a human characteristic that explains this.
Long before something of sufficient complexity like rocketry can begin practical experiments even with models, there is a critical mass of thinkers on the subject. For this subject thread, literary academics might cite H.G.Wells as the foundation. (Apparently, his “War of the World” finds a new audience with each generation since it was first available in 1897 as a series of magazine stories.)
Before Wells, Indo-Europeans have a legacy of astronomers, all of whom had daydreams, conversations or even writings of their own.
The human characteristic, of course, is “speaking” in various capacities: being expressive, sharing ideas, bragging and exaggerating.
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Return to the ancient myths as descriptions of advanced technology. How might we explain genetic engineering to someone of ten thousand years ago?
Take for instance Dolly, the most photographed sheep of 1997. She’s cited as the first clone. Her particular cloning technique apparently came from seeding an egg with cells from a mammary gland.
Dionysus, “born from Zeus' thigh” is understood today to be akin to a transplanted fetus. Metaphor? Creative license? Maybe.
On Adam and Eve, Eve was “of Adam’s rib”. Depictions of DNA– those ladder-like structures familiar to anyone with a late twentieth century education– look a lot like a set of ribs.
More to the point, if you’ve never seen a ladder before, what metaphor might one use to describe DNA? Better yet, consider how ribs are joined together, then introduce the subject of how DNA is formed by complementary sets of RNA.
Explain that one to the two and a half year old in the doctor’s office with a model skeleton nearby. Now change that nearby model skeleton– for a culture that lived closer to the land– to perhaps an animal skeleton seen the day before while foraging.
By abstracting beyond our present existence and going outside obvious predictions of the future, maybe we can appreciate a possible technology that these creation myths and legends address.
Being such that they are, creation myths and legends aren’t just about telling a story. They are aren’t about just passing knowledge. They aren’t even about instilling a moral code. (There are other narratives for each of those.)
Creation myths touch upon the unanswerable: Where do we come from? Why are we here? It’s an inevitable question that children seem to be hardwired to ask (repeatedly) since the beginning. And so… cultures since before civilization have an answer.
Answering that other seemingly inevitable question from children, “Are we there yet?”– my conclusion is simple:
While Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” now that our own technology has advanced sufficiently, perhaps only now might we have meaning to understand those earliest of metaphors.
Support for this comes from theoretical physicists working on superstring or M-theory.
Take, for instance, some of the most recognizable figures in physics today. Perhaps you caught the 1999 documentary, Me & Isaac Newton with “ice skating physicist,” Michio Kaku. He’s commonly quoted as a qualified scientific expert who recognizes such connections with ancient wisdom documented in the Kabbalah. Kabbalah is believed to contain wisdom “older than creation itself.”
Because M theory describes ten or eleven dimensions to the universe, some find connections to the ten divine emanations of Kabbalah (plus one for knowledge as eleventh). Both describe an identical number of dimensions to have collapsed as a necessary component of our reality coming to be. And so on.
The point being, respected physicists and scholars attempt to reconcile the two: an ancient knowledge versus bleeding-edge hard science.
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Returning to my earlier statements– add to your understanding of the most ancient, earliest myths and legends. It’s well accepted that they were describing what they experienced, but I suggest they also illustrate technology more advanced than our own today.
Whether these people actually witnessed the technology or not would be almost impossible to say.
Mind you, I’m not actually stating my own opinions or beliefs on the subject of creation versus evolution versus aliens versus reptilians versus anything else. I’m merely playing with philosophical arguments to seed further discussion.
Offering an idea has absolutely no bearing on whether one actually believes it or not, and it would be foolish of anyone to assume so.
Taking it to the next level then would imply that humans might be the result of genetic engineering. Biology tells us that the core of our brain, the amygdala (informally referred to as the reptilian brain), is common with other creatures.
Various theories abound at this point, verging on science fiction or insanity, maybe even just creative license.
Or call it history.
Perhaps Adam and Eve were genetic strains. Perhaps the Garden of Eden was the incubator.
Trying a different twist, consider our reality to be more like an immersive virtual reality game. Perhaps eating of the fruit of knowledge was akin to viewing the source code of a web page, thereby allowing that first generation of participants, a guy named Adam and a girl named Eve, to tweak their personas– their characters in game.
After all, reading a novel that contains only descriptions without anything happening is boring.
Writers are told to “show, don’t tell.” More: reveal pieces only as necessary for unfolding the plot towards some end, and upon reaching the end should illustrate a theme.
Back to that Garden– maybe they were just bored and wanted more.