Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Myths/science; science/myths--needed...compatible?

"The meaning of things lies not in the things themselves...
but in our attitude towards them"

Antoine De Saint-Exupery

Words fly like buckshot from an old blunderbuss when the subject of the unexplained and the need for the promotion/belief of the unexplained come to the surface. Reasons can be supplied for the need of theological beliefs, but what about the other popular topics such as extra terrestrial beings, yetti/big foot, the Bermuda triangle, Planet X, or mind over matter control to name just a few. Other than the possibility of coincidence of events, why, despite the lack of any scientific evidence and logical approach, do these "mysterious" events survive in popularity. Has theology failed? Does mankind feed off of these wild stories for existence? Why is clear, definitive evidence in most cases lacking, misinterpreted, or totally ignored? Are these stories vehicles of promotion for the charlatans of the world?

This is a complex topic for it covers the span of mankind's development of theology/philosophy [a guide on how to conduct one's life as an individual and as a group], politics [a set of rules to govern a nation and a means to employ such regulations], social behavior, and science to select a few.

Mythology today is just as important as it was over 4,000 years ago. But today, in a largely scientific community, the rigors of scientific methodology often destroy myths. In a way, that is good for it exhibits a means of separating the unessential from the essential--those who want to exploit fear and ignorance for monetary gain. Purchase the latest video tape, book, or watch it on some pseudo science television program that is geared for viewers's statistical revenues rather than authenticity. There are, however, some truly good science programs on the air waves.

Some myths, though unproved, do have a positive value such as those associated with a number of religious movements. Though not authenticated, they nevertheless provide sustenance for many individuals and it thus becomes a matter of faith--that's fine as long as it is understood in its proper perspective. But the event of aliens and others may well represent something deeper--an erosion of some of the basics of a number of religions and in the vacuum of doubt and uncertainty these types of myths appear.

Before the Internet stories were of an oral nature. And much further back that was the only means of passing on a nation's tradition, laws, etc.--at least until writing emerged. It just seems to me that the majority of these bizarre and fantastic claims are driven with making money and perhaps spreading fear and well as priestly control. Ignorance can breed fear.

And then there are those individuals that just have to believe in something--so why not aliens. They in principle are more intelligent, and in some cases, offer a non-understandable hope either as a category of one or a group i.e., mankind.

Current mythology [ideology in some cases] is perpetuated by some religious institutions basically in their endeavor to maintain their status quo. Those are standard myths and are sometimes replaced and supplemented by new urban myths expressing probably some psychological aspect of the human psyche. Examples again: Alien visitation [past/present], alien interaction with some humans, crop circles, Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis, shroud of Turin, Planet-x, a staged moon landing, Yeti, and on and on. Some myths are highly localized and take on the persona of regionalism. Nevertheless, despite the validity of these phenomena, they may represent a psychological need for some individuals. For a broader input into the realms of mythology check out the following books by the late authority on mythology, Joseph Campbell: The Masks Of God, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Transformations Of Myth Through Time, The Mythic Image, Primitive Mythology, Historical Atlas Of World Mythology, and The Power Of Myth.

And read Michael Zimmerman's "We Need New Myths An incomplete, distorted mythology fuels the arms race, and a more complete one is modeled in George Lucas' "Star Wars" trilogy"


On 13th August, 1960, near midnight, while driving east of Corning, California, state police officers Charles Carson and Stanley Scott saw a lighted object drop out of the sky. Fearing the imminent crash, they broke suddenly and jumped out of their car. The object continued to fall until it reached about 100ft, at which point it suddenly reversed direction and climbed 400ft where it suddenly stopped and began to hover. Carson wrote in his official report. "At this time, it was clearly visible to both of us. It was surrounded by a glow making the round or oblong object visible. At each end, or each side of the object, there were definite red lights. At times about five white lights were visible between the red lights. As we watched, the object moved again and performed aerial feats that were actually unbelievable". The two officers radioed the Tehama County Sheriff's Office and asked it to contact the nearest Air Force Base, which was Red Bluff. Radar there confirmed the object's presence. The UFO remained in view for more than two hours. During that time two deputy sheriffs and the county jailer saw it from their respective locations. According to Carson. "On two occasions the object came directly towards the patrol vehicle; each time it approached, the object turned, swept the area with a huge red light. Officer Scott turned the red light on the patrol vehicle towards the object, and it immediately went away from us. We observed the object use the red beam approximately six or seven times, sweeping the sky and ground areas. The object began moving slowly in an easterly direction and we followed. We proceeded to the Vina Plains Fire Station where it was approached by a similar object from the south. It moved near the first object and both stopped, remaining in that position for some time, occasionally emitting the red beam. Finally, both objects disappeared below the eastern horizon."

Carson noted, "Each time the object neared us we experienced radio interference".----UFO Sightings

Okay, let's take a look at this classic, and unexplained, 1960 sighting. Bear in mind the phenomena will still be unresolved, but at least a number of approaches will be entertained and a possible alternate more plausible explanation provided--the main one being a psychological need for such reports of UFO's [perpetuation of mythology]. Not enclosed in the text above [and found elsewhere] is the printed material that there was alleged corroborating testimony from two deputies, a jailer, and some [?] inmates: "On their return to the Sheriff’s office they found that the object and been seen by two deputies and by the prison jailer, who had taken his prisoners on to the roof to observe it."

There is a lot happening here some involving the methodology of logical analysis [the use of simple informal fallacies], alternate physical explanations, psychological reasoning.

Informal Fallacies:

1.) The appeal to "authority". Here, it is the appeal to law officers. The whole idea using this fallacy is that it almost shot itself in the foot by citing the prisoners as eye witness testimonies. However, many sightings are appealed to via means of scientists [?], pilots, law enforcement--even President Jimmy Carter.

2.) Close to the above [regarding the prisoners] is "selective observational data". In many cases, pertinent data is omitted.

3.) And then there is the appeal to "ignorance" whereby the promoter of this event wishes the event to be true and accepted even though there is truly a lack of evidence to make such a justification.

Lack of Physical Evidence:

This is a segue from #3.) in that there is not one shred of physical evidence for corroboration. This appears to be one of the biggest challenges for the myth makers being scrutinized by analysis in all UFO stories.

Psychological Reasoning:

There is a lot to this approach and can be applied individually or as a culture. Here is some interesting information: The classic years of UFO citing [from about 1950 to 1967] came in time packets: 1950, 1954, 1957, 1959, 1967. Any particular reason[s]? Social reasons? Perhaps, interest in the original story waned and needed revival every two or three years. The other interesting item is that the reported dimensions of these crafts are generally larger from North American sightings as compared to European sightings. Freud? However, one must also understand a couple of things about society at that time: The "Cold War" was a huge issue [ultimate annihilation], space exploration grabbed the public attention, and religion began to falter in spiritual matters of mankind’s relationship [through science] to the universe. One of several interesting psychological offerings came from Carl Jung who, in simple terms, believed that all civilizations share a selective consciousness of relevant relationships which were represented by symbolism such as earth and water or circle and triangle. The circle [roundness] as the sun, moon, representation of the universe--FLYING SAUCERS [?] Also, when mankind is troubled or fragmented [the "Cold War"; religious failings], mankind will find refuge in the symbols. It may not be as far fetched as it appears for it is evident that existence is full of troubles even though the "Cold War" has evaporated and replaced by terrorism; that religion has failed to patch the weakness of their ability to integrate and embrace a science oriented civilization. Seen any angels lately?

There is popular belief in the Jung approach and can be just as confusing and untenable as Freud. You must admit that Freud's compartmentalization of the mind is as bizarre as Jung's "collective unconscious" notions. Actual existence of these features may or may not exist but are nevertheless worthy tools for understanding human actions--individually and as a society. The examples you provided are significant for many reasons. The Harry Potter series is a wonderful delight in the reintroduction and clever blending of many old myths. Why are they popular? Well, that’s a much deeper issue and just may boil down to the fact that children as well as adults just enjoy a good story of fantasy. It may represent a somewhat secret realm where the laws of physics are suspended and provide an avenue for an alternate perspective of a possible reality. Maybe we just like good story. Of course, like the Star War episodes there is something beyond the obvious entertainment value of the spectacular and constant contesting of the laws of physics and that is the philosophical issue of "good and evil"--a modern morality play. All of these are major sophisticated perpetuation of the stories of Osiris, Isis, Gilgamesh, David and Goliath, and any of hundreds of mythological figures.

No doubt mythology and religion/theology are tightly bound, but there is a mythology bond to science as well. I am not exactly sure why other than to popularize and provide quaint stories of interesting and significant figures of science. Such mythology may not meet the iconoclastic status of a defiance of physics as exemplified in religion/theology and contain ulterior motives. And too, much of the broadly defined mythology takes on the form of anecdotes. Nevertheless, many are fun to read and the truth taken with a "grain of salt".

What about Archemedes?

One day as Archemedes was lowering himself into one of the public baths in the city, he noticed that some water flowed over the sides of the tub. It is said that he became so excited that he ran out of the bath house through the streets of Syracuse, yelling, "Eureka! Eureka!" In Greek it meant, "I found it! I found it!"

One myth led to another: The Golden Crown incident.

What about the Battle of Marathon?

Though this is probably a long forgotten story of the Marathon battle between the Greeks and Persians of 490 B.C. it is nevertheless a case where scientific investigation can shed some truth of past events. Historical accounts are detailed from the ancient texts of Herodotus and Plutarch and the story roughly goes like this. The victory of the battle was transmitted via a runner en route to Athens--one Pheidippides who ran nearly 25 miles in September, delivered his message of battle victory and warning of a sea surprise, and died on the spot. End of story--well, not quite. Apparently some individuals began to investigate the physiology of long distance running and astronomical events and came up with a new perspective. That the Battle of Marathon was not in September 490 B.C., but more likely in August 490 B.C. Poor Pheidippides most likely died from heat exhaustion as climate, season, and human endurance didn't mix well. Furthermore, moon phases [astronomy] was a significant factor for recent scholars and modern sleuths to formulate the dates of the events. It can get complex and best left to Tariq Malik's article "Marathon Man: Astronomer Sleuths Revise Date of Ancient Run".

What about Ben Franklin?

I'm sure we all recollect the representational images of Ben Franklin flying a kite in a thunderstorm and discovering the power of lightning. Well, while colorful, it is false. Franklin was not stupid and knew full well the power of lightning and certainly new better than to participate as a conductor of sky to earth lightning. Lightning rarely discriminates and will shorten life spans quickly. Actually Franklin was doing experiments on static electricity. His documents even indicated that the so-called "Philadelphia Experiment" wasn't even conducted in the city and that the actual experiment was done in the country from the top room in a two story house with specific safety features such as holding a ball of hemp for insulation.

What about Galileo?

"Historians are not sure if Galileo ever carried out experiments at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. So why, asks Robert P Crease, has the story become part of physics folklore?"

"The legend of the leaning tower"

What about Newton?

British UFO data released

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