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Rona and other myths undercut our cosmological arrogance

In Oceanic mythology Rona is a fierce female cannibal who eats her beautiful daughter’s lover.¹

Another Oceanic myth tells of a male god, Rona, who fights the moon to rescue his abducted wife.² According to this story, when the moon tires from the battle with Rona, it wanes. When the moon regains its strength, it waxes.

This is a good example of what might be called alternative logic, lateral thinking or, for some, anthropomorphism. From his fieldwork, the depth psychiatrist Carl Jung observed that archaic myths are logical and meaningful to so-called primitives, just as scientific explanations appear logical and meaningful to many so-called advanced, thinking persons.

More recently, postmodern critiques of science tend to view theories as working myths or fictions instead of facts. This makes sense if one is willing to admit bias and the limits of human understanding.

English: Karl Popper in 1990.

Karl Popper in 1990 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Take Karl Popper, for instance. He points out that scientific theories are never really proved, per se, but only supported. Also, scientific theories are subject to falsification, modification or radical change through, as T. Kuhn suggests, a paradigm shift. We know that Newton’s Laws of Motion perform well for conventional problems. But Einstein’s work is required for areas that Newton couldn’t observe and probably didn’t imagine.³

Somewhat ahead of his time, Jung says he treated so-called primitives with respect and, when interviewing local elders and tribesmen, didn’t challenge their beliefs or try to convert them to a modern scientific or, for that matter, Protestant Christian perspective.4

A considerate move on Jung’s part. Imagine if advanced extraterrestrials publicly visited Earth. Let’s say the visitors could see beyond our common view of directional time and the (apparent) solidity of matter. These beliefs are important to the functioning and psychological security of 21st century mankind. So if ETs revealed too much knowledge too fast, they’d likely blow our minds as David Bowie put it in the song “Starman.”

Likewise, had Jung tried to convince indigenous peoples that the sun’s rising did not depend on contemplation and sacrifice but, rather, the Earth’s natural rotation, he might have upset their psychological wellness.5

This raises questions about our “developed” cosmological assumptions and how they tie in to the idea of progress. Clearly this topic can go in many directions. I touch on some of these in entries on numinosity, spirituality, mysticismscience, psychiatry and scientism, among others.

¹ See http://www.sacred-texts.com/pac/om/om08.htm for the source of these and also for this Wikipedia retelling:

According to Māori legend, a Ngaio tree can be seen on the moon:

The man in the moon becomes, in Māori legend, a woman, one Rona by name. This lady, it seems, once had occasion to go by night for water to a stream. In her hand she carried an empty calabash. Stumbling in the dark over stones and the roots of trees she hurt her shoeless feet and began to abuse the moon, then hidden behind clouds, hurling at it some such epithet as “You old tattooed face, there!” But the moon-goddess heard, and reaching down caught up the insulting Rona, calabash and all, into the sky. In vain the frightened woman clutched, as she rose, the tops of a ngaio-tree. The roots gave way, and Rona with her calabash and her tree are placed in the front of the moon for ever, an awful warning to all who are tempted to mock at divinities in their haste.

English: Hand-colored photograph of Carl Jung ...

Hand-colored photograph of Carl Jung in USA, published in 1910 (Photo: Wikipedia)

² Ibid.

³ See Reddit – Ask Science.

My PhD thesis suggests that Jung thinks and behaves like a postmodern before the idea of postmodernism becomes fashionable. Jung’s father, Paul, was a Protestant minister who said Carl had to “believe.” Jung later writes that he doesn’t know how he is to find this belief. With access to his father’s theological library, the young Jung took to Latin and religious studies like a dove to water.

Jung interviewed a Hopi elder and other Native Americans who held these beliefs. See cgjungpage.org.

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Siva (or Shiva)

Shiva: true2source

Siva or Shiva (Skt: kind, friendly) is a major Hindu god who, according to the dominant theory, evolved out of the mythology of the conquering Aryans in the Indian sub-continent.¹

A bit of a latecomer, Siva nevertheless replaced the earlier Vedic storm god Rudra by becoming part the Hindu Trimurti of Brahma, Visnu and Siva.

In popular folk mythology, Brahma is said to have created the universe, Visnu preserves it and Siva, through his cosmic dance, destroys it. But this is only a general outline, for Siva first created Brahma and Visnu. And instead of merely destroying, Siva also regulates the universe.

In an incident with the Pine Forest Sages, Siva breaks the reclusive sages’ excessive meditation by literally seducing their wives. By sexually enticing their wives, Siva intentionally angers the Sages, disrupts their meditation and diffuses their excessive spiritual power. Otherwise, the tapas (Skt: heat, or spiritual force) generated by the sages’ prolonged and intense concentration would have disrupted the cosmic balance.² So in a sense, we see Siva behaving as something of a trickster.

The Other Side of Siva: Taran Rampersad

The Other Side of Siva: Taran Rampersad

However, Siva is not only a trickster.

With his third eye, depicted vertically on his forehead, he emits deadly rays of fire, not unlike the ‘phasers’ of Star Trek or the energy beams generated by Marvel’s Tony Stark / Iron Man. Siva’s death ray incinerates demonic opponents residing in highly volatile spiritual realms.

But, for Hindus, Siva’s third eye has a more passive aspect, symbolizing the locus of spiritual “seeing” and peace. Siva’s third eye is sometimes, perhaps inaccurately, equated with Jesus’ teaching, “Let thine eye be single” (Matthew 6:22, Luke 11:34).

Siva is often depicted in temple carvings ityaphallically (with erect phallus). His linga (Skt: phallus) symbolizes his control over his divine creative power, just as in Hinduism the female yoni (Skt: vagina) represents the cosmic source or life-giving aspects of the divinity.

Siva also rides the sacred bull, Nandi. And he has a blue throat from partially ingesting poison, which otherwise would have destroyed the universe.

His wife is Parvati and he’s said to reside at Mt. Kailasa in the Himalayas.

Siva Thandavam: Velachery Balu / Balasubramanian G Velu

Siva Thandavam: Velachery Balu / Balasubramanian G Velu

In Hindu devotional cults and Western popular spiritualism, Siva is, perhaps uncritically, identified with supposedly “active male” energy that must be united with the Shakti – “passive female” energy – to effect a union of these complementary cosmic energies within an given individual or couple—that is, balancing the Shiva-Shakti.

To some, this way of thinking is nothing more than archetypal stereotypes, rank with sexist connotations.³ To others, it represents sublime truths accessibly only to those spiritually “advanced” enough to appreciate them. And to others, the entire Hindu pantheon is suspect as some kind of devilish manifestation.4

¹ The fact that the Aryan invasion theory has been disputed and continues to be debated complicates the picture, as with most mythological and religious issues. https://goo.gl/MWzrTX

² Most of my academic understanding of the Siva myths comes from the outstanding Indologist, Wendy Doniger. See https://goo.gl/eS6khx

³ Professor Naomi Goldenberg has critiqued what she sees as archetypal sexism in work of C. G. Jung.

Naomi R. Goldenberg, after reviewing Jung’s idea of archetypes as disembodied Platonic forms and on the damage done to women by the mind-body dichotomy, suggests that “feminist theory radically depart from the Jungian archetype [and] from all systems of thought that posit transcendent, superhuman deities.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungian_interpretation_of_religion

4 https://goo.gl/VjgnTg

English: Sculpture of Shiva in copper alloy fr...

Sculpture of Shiva in copper alloy from India (Tamil Nadu). Dimensions: 30 x 22 1/2 x 7 in. Circa 950-1000. Chola dynasty IXe -XIIIe c. (Wikipedia)

 

Photo – Ari Moore via Flickr

 

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Special Theory of Relativity

The Special Theory of Relativity is one of Albert Einstein‘s theories developed in 1905 which, in its most basic form, says:

  • in non-accelerated (i.e. inertial) frames of reference, physical laws always and everywhere apply regardless of the frame of reference and
  • the speed of light (in a vacuum) is constant independent of the speed of the observer

Because the speed of the observer is a frame of reference, the above statements seem to conflict. To resolve these apparently conflicting statements, complex equations were developed, leading to the famous e=mc², where ‘e’ is energy, ‘m’ is matter, and ‘c’ is the constant speed of light.

English: USSR stamp dedicated to Albert Einste...

USSR stamp dedicated to Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to this equation, mass increases with velocity and decreases with a loss of energy.

The implications of this theory are profound. In essence, space and time are interwoven, and not separate entities. Wikipedia says:

Time and space cannot be defined separately from each other. Rather space and time are interwoven into a single continuum known as spacetime. Events that occur at the same time for one observer could occur at different times for another.

What follows from this is hard for many to understand. But it has been experimentally supported:

We are each in our own, individual spacetime because we have each moved in unique directions and velocities in our lives.

So, according to this theory (and the evidence that supports it), while it appears that many events happen at the same spacetime among us, they do not. The reason it appears that things happen at the same spacetime is due to the extremely tiny spacetime differences among us.

Related Posts » General Theory of Relativity

 

Add to this, report errors, suggest edits or voice your opinionAdd to this, report errors, suggest edits or voice your opinion


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Yin (Chinese Thought)

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Yin is the supposed “feminine” in ancient Chinese philosophy. The Chinese characters Yin and Yang originally referred to the dark and bright sides of a sunlit riverbank.

A distinct Yin-Yang school arose around 305-240 BCE, attributed to Tsou Yen. By the time of Confucius, the Tsou Yen school gained scholarly and philosophical recognition. Yin represented the Earth and, according to this schema, the associated elements of darkness, passivity, femininity, negativity and destruction.

By way of contrast, Yang came to be associated with Heaven and all the associated elements of light, activity, masculinity, positive forces and creativity.

Read more here » Yin-Yang


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Thomas Young (1773 – 1829)

English: Wave particle duality p known

Wave particle duality p known (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thomas Young (1773-1829) was an English scientist, physician and Egyptologist. He made important contributions toward deciphering the Rosetta Stone, has been called the father of physiological optics, and has made other significant contributions in the history of ideas,¹ but he’s remembered most for conducting the famous double slit experiment in 1803.

In this experiment light was said to behave like a wave due to an observable interference pattern. This suggests that light is a type of energy, as opposed to a collection of particles.

In 1905 the view of light as energy was challenged or, perhaps, better said, confounded by the Hungarian-German Nazi Philipp Lenard, whose own experiments demonstrated that light also behaves like a particle, which is normally understood as a unit of matter.

Diagram for the double-slit experiment

Diagram for the double-slit experiment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Until this point in Western intellectual history, a history that Richard Nisbett² and others say is almost obsessively concerned with rational categories, matter and energy were thought to be entirely different because, according to previously available observational frameworks, matter behaved differently than energy.

Since the discovery of the apparent duality of light as matter and energy, however, an entirely new series of experiments and theories have arisen about the enigmatic “stuff” of the universe.

This search includes what physicists have recently called the “God Particle” (Higgs boson). If its existence is confirmed, this would apparently resolve some inconsistencies in theoretical physics, as it now stands.

Related Posts » Democritus, Hume (David), Particle, Particle-Wave Duality, Schrödinger (Erwin), Standing Wave

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Young_%28scientist%29#Death.2C_legacy_and_reputation

² Richard E. Nisbett, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently… and Why. New York: The Free Press, 2003.


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The Big Bang Theory

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a ...

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a small region of space in the constellation Fornax, composited from Hubble Space Telescope data accumulated over a period from September 3, 2003 through January 16, 2004. The patch of sky in which the galaxies reside was chosen because it had a low density of bright stars in the near-field. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Big Bang theory is a popular scientific theory but by no means a proven fact about the development of the universe.

The Big Bang theory suggests that a massive cosmic explosion took place about 14 to 20 billion years ago, out of which our known universe expanded and developed.

The theory does not account for how the matter/energy required for the hypothesized explosion got there in the first place. Nor does it account for the high degree of specialization and structure found in life that theologians say points to an intelligent designer (i.e. God).

The Big Bang theory is not, as some believe, an adequate replacement for theologically-based creation stories. The Big Bang is nothing more or less than a scientific theory that has captured the imagination of many people.

Not everyone is aware of the fact that many scientists are critical of the Big Bang. The discussion can get pretty technical, so I’ll just outline three leading links for those interested:

The idea of the Big Bang Theory is so popular that it’s not surprising that a hit TV show goes by the same name. IMBD.com sums up the TV show as follows:

A woman who moves into an apartment across the hall from two brilliant but socially awkward physicists shows them how little they know about life outside of the laboratory.


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Cosmology

Hildegard of Bingen receives divine inspiration – Image via Wikipedia

Cosmology is a term used by anthropologists, philosophers, scholars of religion and theologians to denote an individual or group understanding of the world, the universe and beyond. This “map” may or may not include an account of creation.

In contemporary science the term cosmology denotes the creation, structure and evolution of the universe, as with the Big Bang theory.

For all their social legitimacy and status, from a spiritual standpoint modern scientific cosmologies can fall short by ignoring the possibilities of hellish, purgatorial, astral and heavenly realms that could permeate and interact with life on Earth and, indeed, life throughout the universe (assuming life exists beyond our planet).

Perhaps most scientific cosmologists in the 21st century are so focused on their way of seeing the world that there’s little or no room in their hearts, minds and souls to experience numinosity. If they did, they’d probably revise their theories to make them more comprehensive.

Cosmology arguably bears a direct relation to ethics. But these two spheres of inquiry are usually kept apart by philosophers, scholars and theologians. This arbitrary separation of cosmology and ethics has its pitfalls. For instance, a dominant cosmology that excludes the importance of numinosity is probably not going to seriously consider persons claiming to experience numinosity. As a result, persons of numinosity might be marginalized and discriminated against.

The Milky Way Galaxy measured on different wavelengths – Image via Tumblr

While many may naively suppose that science pins down truth, a look at the range of current scientific cosmologies (note: plural) will hopefully dispel that belief.

Instead of truth, what we arguably find is a group of stories, not entirely unlike the ancient myths that preceded them. True, these more recent stories are based on scientific (i.e. measurable and replicable) observation.¹ But their fragmentary nature highlights the fact that human beings cannot really grasp the whole. Not that there’s any harm in trying. But when researchers lose their sense of humility and start overreaching the limits of their observations, all sorts of problems can arise.

For an excellent list of the latest scientific imaginings, see Historical Cosmologies (the latter entries in the chart). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmology. And for a brief timeline see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_cosmology.

¹ At least, this is what we’re told. In reality fraud and deceit can creep into the halls of science, just any other human endeavor. See Broad and Wade, Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science.