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From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes" <ddanehy@siebel.com>
Subject: (urth) Mythopathy and Natural Philosophy
Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2001 12:35:49 

Dan-with-no-discernable-last-name (and my apologies to both him
and Dan Parmenter for misattributing) wrote among the usual Other 
Good Stuff:

> I'm hacking my way through Joseph Campbell right now and wish
> that I had picked up Frazer instead.  

I've been stalled in the middle of Volume 2 of "The Masks of God" for
about three years. I wish I knew how he managed to make such interesting
stuff so dull while still writing pretty well!

> I keep thinking - more stories, less speculation - 

... well, that's a big part of it, of course ...

> Myths to Campbell seem to be primarily religio-political works;
> they appeal to us "universally" because and as long as we
> maintain our allegiance to the ideas that spawned them.

H'mmm. I wonder why the Norse myths appeal to me so much more 
strongly than the Greco-Roman myths, then, with the Egyptian
myths somewhere in between? I can't help wondering what "ideas"
I'm showing my allegiance to here. 

Frankly, I think it's more because I was over-exposed to the 
classical myths as a kid (and especially as a student), but 
had to seek the Norse ones out for myself. Again, the Egyptian 
myths fall in between: I was introduced to them in junior high, 
but didn't have to deal with years of English teachers 
pointing out grotesquely obvious "allusions" and references 
on the assumption that most of the students wouldn't recognize 
them otherwise. I have trouble reading any Greek myth without 
annoying memories of pastoral poetry (for which I have not 
taste whatsoever -- I wish all those nymphs would just 
strangle all those importunate shepherds!) coming to my mind.

But, but ... I have to admit the main reason I like the Norse
myths _so_ much is the worldview. I don't know if it's anything
as simple as "ideas;" it's the whole way of looking at life
as a losing battle that you have to fight anyway, that chaos
_will_ win in the end, but somehow the struggle against it is
not quite senseless. There's nothing in either the Egyptian
or the Greek way of looking at things that moves me quite the
way that does. (The world as French Foreign Legion...?)

> How, if the ancients were so sold on reason, did they
> manage to be so ridiculously wrong about the way the
> world was put together?  And how did the moderns manage
> to get everything (we hope) so right?  The standard answer
> (and I'm inclined, personally, to think that the ancients
> weren't so ridiculously wrong and the moderns not
> necessarily spot on) ...

... I'm inclined to agree; and further to observe that a lot
of the stuff the ancients are popularly supposed to be wrong
about, they weren't. We all know the Greeks knew the world 
was round and calculated its diameter pretty accurately. Not
as many people are aware that the standard geocentric model
of the earth was actually pretty right in its sense of the
scale of the universe -- that is, the idea that the Earth 
could, for all practical purposes, be considered a geometric
point wrt the larger unvierse.

Yes, I believe that if we go point-for-point against the
ancients, where we disagree, we are (in general) the more
likely to be right. But I think we'd disagree on far less than
most people assume.

> ... is that modern science is experimental and ancient
> science "merely" observational.  

Or, to put it even more simply: Reason does not equal

The entire project of modern science is based on empiricism, 
which (a) really didn't appear as a useful model until, what,
about the time of Francis Bacon, and (b) is itself based on 
a set of unproven and unprovable assumptions about how the 
world works (which I think could best be summed up as the 
idea that nature plays fair) -- assumptions that seem to be 
valid only within a few orders of magnitude of our own scale 
of things, but break down very small (say, around where 
Heisenberg and Plank get involved) and very large (say, 
around where Schwarzchild and Chandrasekar get involved).

> In other words Modern Reason expects a certain dirty
> hands-on interaction with the world that probably seemed
> unecessarily messy to the ancients.  And this is why I
> think the detective story is a strictly modern fairy-tale:

Heh. Chandler's classic line, "down these mean streets a
man must go," came bouncing into my head right here.

> the detective has to contend with a real criminal.  For
> all that Dupin prefers to solve crimes without leaving
> his smoke-filled room he still has to put the solution
> to the test.

Or, more Lupine: Nero Wolfe has to arrange his "capers" to
prove what he already knows, to the satisfaction of the
police and/or his client.


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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