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Khayam Arif

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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?


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    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.
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        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.
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        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?"

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