Khayam Arif

This conversation is closed.

What contribution does mythology make towards the improvement of society?

On one side we have sciences and technology,which have eased our lives through inventions but what is the contribution of mythology?

Closing Statement from Khayam Arif

Thank you all for your answers...

  • thumb
    Mar 21 2013: The etymology of the word mythology is Greek: mythos = word + logos = rational argumentation.

    Originally, the myth is a means to "signify" things, only afterwards it became a huge deposit of narratives, characters and situations.

    Myths belong to the collective heritage of most cultures. They transcend geographical and temporal distances: the chosen time is usually the so-called Absolute Past = before history. Most recurring themes are tied to the big existential questions or to natural phenomena which humans could not explain.

    Science is taking care of natural phenomena and now mythology may appear as a form of science-fiction but mythology is not necessarily something distant and alien. It continuously appears in tales, novels, fiction, poetry, theatrical performances...even in cartoons and video-games.

    To answer the question, I agree with Aristotle's concept of "catharsis" (kàtharsin = purification), which states that the performance of myths confronts humans with their passionate and irrational impulses (matricide, incest, cannibalism, suicide, infanticide ...), thus enabling individuals to vent harmlessly, in a sort of mass exorcism.

    In this respect, I think mythology is highly pedagogical- at the time being as it was in the past.

    I apologize for my English. I hope I made myself understood :-)
  • thumb
    Mar 18 2013: The Lord Of The Rings mythology teaches many good values, and the true Viking mythology that the LOTR is partly based on teaches us to live by the Nine Noble Virtues.
    In fact I can think of only one mythology that does not teaches ethics and that is the man created via evolution myth, maybe someday it will grow-up and have a code of ethics.
    • Mar 19 2013: Mr. Anderson (going to have to imagine the tone of voice) you do not seem to understand the difference between science and mythology. Science is based on figuring out how the world works by observation. Mythology is about telling stories that may or may not have moral messages. If evolution had a code of ethics it wouldn't really be science. Attempts to use evolution to imply morality is wrong. For example, Social Darwinism is a way people tried to misuse science to justify inequality.

      Evolution and science can, however, tell us about why we have morals and how these morals work. I know that science denialism is popular with certain political and religious movements, but you should try and understand what science is and not try to claim that it is a form of mythology.
      • thumb
        Mar 20 2013: G’day William

        I disagree to a certain extent, mythology is of a belief/conviction in a myth science also has convictions don’t they? They are not one of the same but they both have convictions which make them simular in their own deductive reasoning processes just because the reasoning processes are different doesn’t make them the opposite or dissimilar overall.

      • Mar 21 2013: I would suggest that science simply provides us with very persistent myths by creating stories which correlate far more smoothly with observable reality than mere yarn-spinning can hope to replicate. (while we're here, I put that it's not clear if smooth correlation with reality is an inherently valuable trait for a myth to have.)

        It may be that some of the stories science provides us with are so persistent that they will persist up to and beyond the heat death of the universe, but that doesn't change that they are essentially stories that we tell to help us understand what's going on.
  • thumb
    Mar 18 2013: Myths helps to serve as social control mechanisms; the work along the same line as stories. They help us to condition our minds to behave in socially acceptable ways; because just as prisons and fines help some people to 'behave', myths and mythologies would do for some.
  • thumb
    Mar 18 2013: Mythology has helped people make sense of the world and their place in it. People who feel well anchored in the world and their worldview often then concentrate on doing things that may be productive or constructive.

    Adherence to a particular mythology as anchor or worldview can have negative effects as well, but you have asked, I think, about benefits.
  • Comment deleted

    • Mar 21 2013: Your point about myth-destruction being part and parcel to the establishment of new paradigms is an important insight, thank you!
  • Mar 18 2013: What we call mythology is the very best world view of people who lived long ago.

    Two thousand years from now, today's most cherished beliefs will be called mythology. It will probably include our belief in security, capitalism, human rights, and perhaps even our notion of freedom (freedom without defined responsibilities). Even science itself is not necessarily immune. Next month a man named Jones might introduce a better method for developing empirical truth. A year from now every serious scientist might be using the Jones method and the scientific method will be added to the trash heap of ideas we call mythology.
  • thumb


    • +2
    Mar 18 2013: I think a better way to phrase your question would be, "Why did humans of past generations feel the need to create myths?" By mythology, I assume we are talking about mythical gods, creation myths and supernatural occurrences. I do not think it is simply about making sense of the world, though that might form part of the motivation. Or blind superstition. Instead, I suspect it could have been a useful component of ancient political institutions that helped leaders to consolidate political power. The divine right of kings is a typical example of this. Even among secular Confucian elites of ancient China, the emperor finds himself invoking the name "Son of Heaven". If a bit of mythology is all you need to strengthen the legitimacy of your rule, why not?

    I also think mythologies are forms of aesthetic expression of the combined imaginations of the masses. The specific looks of various gods and goddesses reflect the artistic directions of society, while their qualities represent the desired traits of a ideal human being. An extraordinary man, even a king, perhaps would not have sufficed in meeting the imaginative needs of society. Thus it is to be expected that myths will come in to fill up the unearthly notions of mighty gods that live in the far reaches of the skies and the deepest corners of the sea, and intriguing ideas such as omniscience.
  • thumb
    Mar 23 2013: A Russian poet said,

    "Сказка - ложь, да в ней намёк, добрым молодцам урок."
    "A tale is a lie, but with a hint, a lesson for young fellows."

    I'd say, mythology defines cultures. They reflect our worldview. They shape our relation to the universe and to each other. Religious myths are just one example. But there are secular myths as well. In the U.S. there are myths about American history, founding fathers, democracy, pilgrims and Indians, etc. In the Soviet Union, there were myths about communism, heroes who died "for the working people" after October Revolution, civil war in Russia and in the Great Patriotic War known as WWII in the West - much like the myths about Hercules and the heroes of the Trojan war.

    You can't create a nation around a scientific theory. All nations seem to be created around myths. Even families have their own mythologies. Scientific theories and facts about the world change every day. Myths remain unchanged or change slowly and reluctantly. They define who we are as individuals and nations.

    Myths also carry important symbolism which allow people from the same culture understand each other. Belief is not necessary - a mere shared knowledge of the myth does it. E.g. if you are familiar with biblical and Greek mythology, you will understand most of the European art. Another example are idioms like "Gordean knot" or "naked emperor".
    • Mar 25 2013: interesting, i suppose it depends on the intent of the myth - is it to teach a valuable lesson such as the heroic myths of old with a clear moral lesson, or to deceive and control such as the myths about communist leaders? we do have other myths based on ignorance though, such as the one about catching a cold if you go out with wet hair.

      i do have to point out however that scientific theories and facts don't change every day. theories are often refined and improved as we discover more and more detail but not since the medieval ages has any scientific theory been turned on its head. for example the orbit of the planets was long thought to be circular, but with more information this was refined and we now know they are almost but not quite circular. also einstein's equations didn't prove newton wrong, they are just more precise.
      • thumb
        Mar 25 2013: How do you classify myths about U.S. founding fathers and history? I think, it's simplistic to think that the only reason for the Civil War was to free the slaves. Yet, this is how it is presented to children in elementary school. Is it a myth with a moral lesson or a myth to deceive and control?

        I did not say that scientific theories radically change over night, but they do change - scientific papers are published every day. They evolve much faster than myths. And they rightfully stay away from dictating or even suggesting moral rules. My point is that scientific theories cannot replace myths.
        • Mar 25 2013: let's start by defining the terms! a 'myth' is either a traditional story typically involving supernatural beings or events, or a widely held but false belief or idea.
          if elementary school children are being led to believe that there was only one reason for the civil war, that seems to me to have a dual purpose - teaching children the virtue of helping others for no other reason than to be a decent human being, but also ensuring the ulterior motives remain hidden. what do you think?

          regarding scientific papers you're right that they are published every day, but the change is virtually zero. rather they reveal new information, or go into more depth, expanding on what was previously known rather than altering anything. i would agree that scientific theories cannot replace myths, because the two are like apples an oranges; music will also never replace novels. myths are a good way of teaching morals, while science can tell us why having morals is better for the success of the human race.
      • thumb
        Mar 25 2013: I think, we are in agreement about the purpose of the myths. I agree that the myths about the country's history serve the purpose of teaching moral values prevalent in the country. Thus, they build the culture of that country.

        I believe, the myths about communist leaders served the same purpose in the Soviet Union. Of course, if you don't share the moral values taught by the myth, you may say that its purpose was to deceive and control. But it's your opinion. I would still claim that communist myths and religious myths serve the purpose of teaching moral values, even if they are different from your moral values.

        Regarding music and novels, I agree. Mythology and science are different beasts. So, the opening question is like asking "OK, music pleases ears, but what is the contribution of novels?"
  • thumb
    Mar 21 2013: (Continued from second post)
    What is the actual purpose of a myth? I hope you do not think it is simply “to entertain.” Myths are usually entertaining, but that is not their entire purpose any more than the teaching of moral lessons. I have a post on a very similar subject, which will close in a few days. Please search, “What is the value of fantasy?” to contribute. Unfortunately, the subject is too long to cover in a single post.
  • Mar 20 2013: When cultural myths lead to introspection it adds to soceity when it promotes a cultural pathology it does the opposite.The Myth of Sceinttific progress keeps us from challenging Scientism.Myths that promote common humanity promote health in a society.
  • thumb
    Mar 25 2013: I loved the old Greek myths.
    The genesis myth is quite poetic even in English.

    Some of the stories were quite imposing as a child, like the angry Hebrew god drowning everyone - global genocide. And the one about the eyes getting pecked out, then healed again so it could repeat the next day.

    The Maori's and Australian aborigines also have some great myths.

    I guess they were important social technologies for imparting moral teachings and explaining things.

    Probably some value in understanding our past, and perhaps human nature has not changed all that much.
  • thumb
    Mar 25 2013: (CONTINUED)
    "An example of a common goal would be the rescue of the environment. A mythological dream would be to work together to achieve a common desire for a healthy environment. A single individual can do little to help the environment but if we all heroically work together this dream can be attained. The archetypical image of the hero is waiting in your psyche to contribute towards the improvement of society; all we have to do is utilize it."

    by Sean Walker
  • thumb
    Mar 25 2013: I asked my friend to write a comment for this question. This is his response.

    "The purpose of mythology is to relate and connect people to their environment. Not only in accordance with nature but also the landscape of the soul or the psyche, depending on if you are religious or not.

    Nowadays mythology does little good because many religious followers are living under a set of broken myths. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have adopted myth to serve religion to subjugate their believers. Religion often does this. Joseph Campbell once called religion the misinterpretation of myth.

    Mythology does not have to be religious. Mythology is not a message from god, it is a message from your ancestors who were one with nature and used mythology as a psychological tool to keep their people attuned to nature. Consider the American Indians and their way of life.

    The archetypical images of mythology are etched in the psyche and while they are not real in a material sense, they have psychological powers that are manifest in dreams. If an individual or a society has a common dream, the power of what these archetypical images represent comes forth. This power is psychological and real in the sense that our psyche can utilize it to empower us to steadfastly stay on a track that will allow us to attain our dreams, real life goals.

    The hero is the central image of mythology. The hero having conquered his demons and achieved his dream choses to vanquish what is considered detrimental to a healthy condition. He is a doctor, a fireman, a provider of justice. All are archetypical images that came from the psyche and I ask you are they real?

    It is important to realize myth is a psychological mechanism that when properly utilized it gives a society and an individual cohesion. It links people together towards a common goal and at this time, there is no common goal. We are all stuck in the egoistic stalemate of individualism."
  • Mar 25 2013: contribution? i'd say nothing at all. on the contrary myth tends to be greatly detrimental to society, teaching things that just aren't so, which makes minds more susceptible to other false information.
  • thumb
    Mar 25 2013: Mythology is simply another page in the novel of mankind. All the pages are important. We are the culmination of those pages and many, many others.
    Mythology does not improve nor does it decrease society as it is today.
  • Mar 25 2013: One key is to distinguish, what is a myth? It is said a little truth in every myth. I believe myths are generally passed on as oral history first. By the time they are written they have transformed through misinterpretation, opinion, translation, etc. I consider a prime example to be the Christian Bible. The danger is believing or putting any faith into these myths. They are excellent forms of learning as long as you consider the source. It is said that Sir Francis Bacon did NOT say "Knowledge, itself, is Power". He did say "Knowledge is HIS Power', referring to God. Some believe it was Hobbes, Bacon's early assistant, who credits him, making Hobbes the first to actually say it. Did Patrick Henry say "Give me Liberty or give me Death"? If they did not say these things, they are now part of Myths. The point is there is a message, someone said it, and it makes sense. Some individuals are "postertized" to mythical proportions like Washington, Columbus, or even Socrates. Washington had others write for him, Columbus kept 2 logs, and Socrates wrote nothing. Epicurus doubted the existence of his teacher's (Democritus) teacher, Luecippus, because he wrote nothing and Democritus "merged" everything into his work. In conclusion, I will believe the message without believing the messenger. "History is a beautiful thing...if only it were true."-Tolstoy (or someone).
  • thumb
    Mar 24 2013: Mythology, specifically Ancient Greek & Roman, is often inspiring and teaches us a good moral code to live by. This I think is the greatest contribution it has on society although as generations pass the impact these types of mythology will have will weaken.
  • thumb

    Gord G

    • 0
    Mar 23 2013: Society is a mythology.
  • thumb
    Mar 21 2013: (Continued form previous post)
    Judeo-Christian and Islamic Scriptures are meant to be revelatory (you do them great disrespect to claim otherwise). They are written as histories and poetries; they have symbolic elements, yes; but their purpose is to reveal divine truth to humankind. This much is plainly stated in each holy book. This, like science, is one of humanity’s traditionally preferred ways to discover truth.
    Surviving mythologies of pagan societies bear no resemblance to revelatory scripture but are closely related to the apocryphal kind of story. That is, they do not infuse morals into society because they do not claim divine authority to do so; rather, they utilize morals already accepted (perhaps by divine mandate) to tell a good story. St. Patrick did not have to raise CuChullain’s ghost to convince a pagan king that sin is divinely punished; but the story was much better that way. The gods of Asgard and Olympus never wrote a single moral law in their entire careers; they themselves are nearly human in personality, with all the imaginable plethora of virtues and vices, and so their stories are human stories. The pharaohs may have abused religion to strengthen their own authority, but is that myth proper? There is no story in it; and none of the Egyptian mythologies I have read bear any relation to historical kings. Egyptian mythologies, like the others, are tales of the gods interacting among themselves. And finally, going as far back as we can – The subject of prima nocta is dealt with harshly in the Epic of Gilgamesh, but no one ever said, “The purpose of the Epic of Gilgamesh was to teach people that prima nocta is wrong.” This is a moral incorporated into the story; the moral came from somewhere outside of the myth, and while the myth may teach it, the primary purpose of the myth is not to teach.
    (Continued in third post)
  • thumb
    Mar 21 2013: Hello all,

    I would be much obliged if Khayam could clarify his own definition of “mythology,” so we could comment on that rather than each of us attempting to define it ourselves, then commenting on our own remarks. But as the old saying (in America, at least) goes, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

    It’s rather interesting to me that most commenters here have united religion/mythology/ethics, with the assumption that all are meant to be swallowed unquestioningly together – that truth is merely assumed from them. Science, when done properly, never assumes truth but discovers it. If the myths are not true, religions lie; and why not replace religion with science? (See notes of Tolkien’s discussions with C.S. Lewis for ideas of Christianity as a “true myth.”)
    Allow me to suggest that religion and mythology are different things, and that the primary purposes of mythology are usually not religious.
    I’ll begin by pointing out that religion and ethics are strongly tied to Judeo-Christian and Islamic mythologies, but not to many others. And let me take a moment to say that I’m not calling the Qur’an or the New Testament or the Torah a body of myths. Judeo-Christian and Islamic cultures do, however, have many myths inspired by their holy books, which naturally incorporate their morality.
    Take the apocryphal “acts of the apostles” for example. In the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles (do not confuse it with the apocryphal “acts”), St. Peter confronts a magician named Simon, who wrongly tries to bribe God to forgive his sins. The same story is repeated apocryphally, except that St. Peter and Simon the Magus have a sort of grand duel in which it is revealed (as the New Testament already points out) that Simon’s magic is fake. The same moral lessons are presented in both cases; so why did the apocryphal writers feel the need for a new version?
    (Continued next post)
    • thumb
      Mar 22 2013: Hello Sterling,
      Actually it is one of those questions which boggle my mind. I wanted to know how people from different cultures respond to this question. I don't want to influence their views by giving my own definition of mythology. However I personally don’t place religion in category of myths.
  • Mar 21 2013: Often priests were a source of knowledge and education.

    A common believe helps you form a bond, something you and your neighbors have in common that makes it easier to lead people, form countries and work together for a common goal.

    It established rules and some kind of punishment. Even when the chances of getting away with a crime are present, you maybe refrain from doing something "evil" because a higher power will punish you even if people don't.

    It establishes trust. If that other person has a good live, he or she is probably a good person. So you can trust him or her, work together, trade and form agreements. The belief that a higher being punishes or rewards a person might help get rid of suspicion, which is a huge advantage in building a society.
  • thumb
    Mar 21 2013: I think what we really need to do is except that at one point in history it was considered truth. Much like how science works what at one point in time was considered truth now is not. In science things we prove wrong we don't consider that as mythology.
    • Mar 21 2013: I think you are right and have this to add. There used to be a saying for anything you don't know "There be dragons there." Time might just distort the past
      • thumb
        Mar 21 2013: Never heard that saying what are its origins?
        • Mar 25 2013: Centuries ago, it was a notation used on maps, placed at the edge of the known world.
  • thumb
    Mar 20 2013: Myths typically involve supernatural characters and are endorsed by rulers or priests. They may arise as either truthful depictions or overelaborated accounts of historical events, as allegory for or personification of natural phenomena, or as an explanation of ritual. They are transmitted to convey religious or idealized experience, to establish behavioral models, and to teach.

    In the USA we have modern day myths that are common to our society. "Hi, I am from the IRS and am here to help you". "This is the most transparent administration in the history of American politics." "There is no reason to be concerned about spending more money than we make". "The cause of all ills in the US is the 1% ... take away all of their money and your life will be better".

    In the USA the term myth is often substituted as a political promise.

    I wish you well. Bob.
  • thumb
    Mar 20 2013: G’day Khayam

    First of all mythology isn’t just of a religious belief but it is a religion as anything that incorporates a belief/conviction is of religion for example science has certain convictions in knowing how an atom works or the understanding of the theory of relativity it’s all of a religion but it’s not religious. Mythology relates to folklore or of a traditional belief of a myth or practice which sounds very much like a religious practice but not always.

    I don’t believe science as a whole has eased our lives altogether because for one a thousand years ago we didn’t have the threat of a nuclear holocaust wiping out all human kind, this today is even a bigger threat to us than ever which does add to everyone’s stress level. If you look at Iraq for instance I don’t think a lot of boys killed & maimed over there would agree that science has eased our living.

    Is mythology contributing to our existence? If we talk about easing of course it does as anything to do with anything spiritual has but only to those who are open minded to these concepts of understanding however mythology doesn’t necessarily mean it’s of the spiritual either but in the most they are. Mythology is also of any belief in certain myths for example Australian aboriginals believe in a rainbow serpent but it’s not because of a religious order but accepted just as truth without doctrines as such that one must follow to be a believer it just is (isness), it’s just of religion a faith/conviction.

  • Mar 19 2013: I need to ask another question first. Is religion mythology? I believe it is...

    Religion inculcates an iherent bias towards mythology as the sole arbiter of ethical thinking. Mythology as a simple analog for ethical thinking is fine, but the problem is that the analogy bnecconfused as reality by a majority of the world, with horrible side effects of seperating people far more than it brings them together.

    I do not believe the modern mythologies of religion do us any great service in the spread of morality; pedophile priests and suicide bombers of the world suggest otherwise. As we have seen on the TED stage, no religion provides a moral leg up over the others; the tales of compassion and ethical bevior range across race and creed; even animals show ethical behaviors we once relegated to only the "saved" among us.

    As stories, mythology, and indeed any religion can inform and enlighten. I am reminded of Thomas Jefferson's book, "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth", where he held Jesus up as a life with examples we should all follow. Yet Jefferson was never a Christian; in a reply to a friend who asked, knowing Jefferson's atheism, what his beliefs were, Thomas replied "I am, sir, an Epicurean", referring to Epicurus' famous remark "What need have we of the gods, now that we have science?" Yet he found value in the mythologies passed down by his forbearers, enough so to write a book. Notice though, he goes no further than Jesus' life; he was not proselytizing, but offering example and analogy, not doctrine.

    It is in the transformation of parable to doctrine that the damage is done, that men insinuate their own thoughts into the "teachings" of their mythologies. Fatwahs from mullahs, Fred Phelps and his family, the Crusades; none of these memes has a base in the books they profess to worship.A modern world, as even Epicurus knew a millenia ago, has no need for these mythologies besides the stories they tell, beyond that lies harm
    • thumb
      Mar 20 2013: G’day Scott

      Yes I agree as a whole religious mythology has divided us somewhat but I wouldn’t like to know what this life would be like now if we had no common bonds at all through human history because all common bonds are of a religious belief of some sort. If religions around the world didn’t evolve to become more ethical within their structured beliefs we would probably still sacrificing babies & virgins at the altar.

      When you think about this isn’t a group of scientists with common grounds also of a religious belief like having a belief in constructing nuclear devices to destroy all human kind? I think I know that wasn’t their intentions but it’s a plausible possibility which was helped by a group of people (scientist) who have a common bonding.

      I find it awfully strange how one group of people with their ideological beliefs/convictions can continually have ago at others groups when they are just as bad themselves, I’m dumb founded as it makes no logical sense!!!!