Mythos and Logos

The ancient Greeks saw two ways of thinking and acquiring knowledge Mythos and Logos. Mythos looks toward the timeless, and the deepest recesses of the human mind. It is not concerned with practical matters of objective reality but with how to find meaning and live authentically in this world. As such, the primary tools of Mythos are stories, myths, poetry, and art. The ultimate measure of Mythos is utility, whether it works for people.

Logos on the other hand is concerned with objective reality.  Logos looks towards those things that are measurable and testable. Normally this implies numbers, polls, and other mathematical or scientific data. Therefore the primary measures of logos are logical consistency, and independent verification by unbiased observers.

Based upon this worldview Mythos and Logos are opposite poles of a polarity. This implies that both are essential, though one might be more useful in some aspects of life and the other more useful in other areas area.

In the 19th century scientists began to see myth as an attempt at a literal explanation for natural phenomena. In other words since early man was unable to conceive of impersonal natural laws, they explained natural phenomena by attributing souls to inanimate object. This gave rise to animism which over time evolved through various stages, starting with mythological ideas and gradually progressing to scientific ideas.

This represented a dramatic change in view from earlier Greek thought. Rather than seeing mythos as addressing an entirely different area than logos, this approach pits what it interprets as primitive thought (Mythos) against modern scientific thought (Logos). Such thinking implies that a rational human (as if there is any such thing) must abandon myth.

The underlying belief was that anything that could not be ovserved and explained by the science of that day either didn’t exist or was irrelevant. In an extreme example of this Behaviorist psychology denied the existence of the human mind asserting that what appeared to be cognition was either instinct or conditioned behavior. The odd thing is that this belief is in fact a myth; it is a story about how the world works; a story that shows it’s believers how to find meaning and live authentically in this world. Moreover it is a story based upon assumptions that are no more provable by direct observation than any other myth.

This invariably happens when one pole of a polarity becomes dominant in a society. The other goes underground, it’s there but we can’t see it. If we do see it, we insist it’s something else. Moreover, it gains power over us because it’s hidden. We deny it in ourselves and hate it in others.

This is the state our culture, Logos has become the only valid basis for thought. The word myth is used colloquially to describe a story that is “not true”. Much of modern Fundamentalism has accepted this view at face value. Therefore they struggle to assert that their world view is scientific, to assert their worldview is based on Logos.

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