The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
Inquire about purchasing the book | Table of Contents | Annotated Bibliography | Class on Nature of Mind

These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

The Collective Memory of Myths

Influenced by Carl Jung, in the 1940s the US anthropologist Joseph Campbell argued that a few themes are ubiquitous in myths around the world. Myths recur in different civilizations and evolve from one civilization to the next one. There is a continuum of myth.  At the origin of a myth there is an archetype, which works as a "memory deposit".  Mythology seems to be a system of entities conceived to mirror the human condition. The rites are "physical formulas" in human flesh, unlike mathematical formulas that are written in symbols, but they are also formulas that describe natural laws of the universe.

Myth appears to be a system which organizes knowledge about the environment and passes it on to others, in particular to future generations.  The reason this system works is that it somehow takes advantage of the way the human brain works. A myth is so constructed that, once inserted in a human brain, it will provoke the desired reaction.  It does not require thinking. In a sense, it "tells" you what to do, without having to prove that it is the right thing to do. It shows you the consequences, or the rewards, so you are prepared for them; or it shows you the dangers and so it saves you from experiencing them in real life.  For example, when the Sumerian city yields the myth of the city of god what matters is not the historical record but the subliminal message: build such a city! The creator of the myth must craft the myth in such a way that it will trick the brain into wanting to achieve a goal. The "creator", naturally, is not one specific author, but rather the chain of humans who use and adapt the myth to their conditions. The myth evolves over many generations and eventually gets "designed" to perform its task in a very efficient way, just like any organ of the body.

Campbell calls myth "the spiritual resources of prehistoric man" and insists on the "spiritual unity" of the human race: the spiritual history of the human race has unfolded roughly in the same way everywhere.

Campbell also implies that myth, just like language and just like genes, obeys a grammar.  Just like language and just like genes, myths have evolved from more primitive myths.  Just like language and just like genes, myths are universal, shared by all humans.  Just like language and just like genes, myth tells the story of mankind, as it follows the spread of races in the continents and their adaptation to new natural pressures.

Campbell's viewpoint contrasts with that of the British anthropologist James Frazer, who at the end of the 19th century claimed that the similarity of myth is due to similar causes operating on similar brains in different places and times. But there may be a bit of truth in both views.




Back to the beginning of the chapter "Dreams" | Back to the index of all chapters