Language and Thinking
  • Myths

    Stories become formalized and repeated as myth, literature, religion and history. Myths are imaginative, explanatory stories that address the big issues such as the origin and purpose of the group, the source of moral authority and the fate of individuals when they die. All human groups, large and small, told stories and enacted rituals that connected individuals in the groups to each other and to world around them. Myths are among the most creative of human constructs and are accompanied by music, dance, painted images, figurines and other artifacts.

    The mythologist, Joseph Campbell, stated: “Myths are products of the human imagination…certain themes and images (archetypes) are constant since the appearance of man. Histories are chronicles of social events, which according to place and time, greatly differ.” Campbell described how the innate themes in myths are buried in local stories that become the specific identifiers or masks of local groups – folk ideas, ethnic traditions and religions.” Campbell studied, admired and understood myths, presenting them as mind-expanding explorations of innate human tendencies. The transcendent value of all stories is to convert a isolated individual who recites the stories into a fully-fledged member of a group.

    Creation Myths

    Every human group is interested in how the world was created. You could argue that there have been 100,000 versions of genesis. Some creation accounts are told by an omniscient narrator who acts as if he witnessed a sudden, dramatic creation. Other accounts tell a story of human interactions with creators who reveal themselves in progressive stages. Since stories are made of words, creation accounts often treat words as the initial creative force and conversation as an evolutionary process.

    A creation story from an Upanishad originating in India about 3000 years BP begins: “In the beginning there was only the Great Self in the form of a person. Reflecting, it found nothing but itself. Its first word was: “This I am.” Whence arose the name “I.” Which is why, when one is addressed, one first says “I” and then tells whatever name one has. The one was afraid. Therefore, anyone who is alone is afraid. If there is nothing but myself, it thought, of what then am I afraid? Whereupon the fear departed. That person was not happy when alone. It desired a mate. It became as large as a woman and man in embrace; then caused that Self to fall into two pieces from which husband and wife arose. He united with her and human beings were born. She thought: “how can he unite with me after producing me from himself? Well, let me hide.” “She became a cow and he a bull and he united with her. From that union, cattle were born” And so on and on.


    Innate human tendencies have been described in variety of ways. The term “archetype” refers to recurrent patterns of design, story-telling, symbol-making and ritual expressions found all over the planet at different historical times. Knowing that each human is the reincarnation of a long-lineage of ancestors, you would expect to find common themes of pattern recognition, group behavior, story-telling and symbol-making wherever you found humans. Species memory, perceptual skills, needs, drives, feelings, desires and behaviors are built in and find common expressions world-wide.

    Urges, desires, designs, feelings cry out from within.Carl Jung interpreted archetypes as an expression of a “collective unconscious” – his term for the repository of innate tendencies built into the human brain. You could argue that the term, archetypes, should point to innate configurations that need not be learned. The distinction between form and content is useful. The form is the built-in part of innate configurations that receive content via feature detectors that recognize patterns in nature. Form is ancient and universal. Content is local and specific.

    The natural world is an immense repository of repeating events, designs and sequences. The original archetypes are manifestations of our built-in receptivity to the patterns of nature. The term ”archetype” can also describe human expressions, manifest as common behaviors such as drumming, dancing, singing, painting and tool-making. Archetype sometimes points to expressions that recur as common elements in religion, art and other story-telling, including literature and movies. Often common characters, themes and metaphors are described inappropriately as archetypes, but are often-copied, conventional characters and plots. There are themes that recur in myths and other stories worldwide. Campbell identified five universal themes in myths: fire-theft, deluge, land-of-the-dead, virgin birth, and resurrected hero. These themes have been repeated with local inflections for thousands of years.

    Hero’s Journey

    Campbell identified the hero’s journey as a basic plot found in myths that involves standard characters and a sequence of episodes. For example, a hero is born into an ordinary world, where he receives an invitation to adventure; he first refuses the call, but is encouraged by a mentor to go forth and explore the unknown where he encounters tests, allies and enemies. If he survives the initial challenges, the hero crosses a second threshold and enters an inner sanctum or cave where he must survive another ordeal to take possession of his reward.

    The hero’s journey requires a final effort to return to the ordinary world with a treasure that benefits all humans. The return is a resurrection that qualifies the hero as a transcendent being. The hero in other words, is not a lottery winner who indulges himself with his prize money, but a superior man who transcends his own nature to become an unselfish benefactor to all.

    • Dr. Gislason wrote: "In this brief reflection I describe some basic truths about languages that are aspects of human nature most likely to endure. I feature storytelling and selftalk as the two most important features of the human use of language. I consider how languages fit in the larger scheme of intelligence and human interactions. Interesting challenges emerge when language is used to describe itself. Spoken language is an innate ability of humans that emerges in all human groups. Spoken language is the key to interaction among humans. There are several thousand languages in human groups that enhance group cohesion and at the same time separate groups that cannot communicate. I trace the evolution of sound communication from animals who have lived on earth for hundreds of millions of years to computer programming that uses condensed forms of cryptic languages that are received and expressed by electronic circuits."

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      Print Books Read Topics Download
      Human Nature
      The Good Person
      Pieces of the Puzzle
      The Sound of Music
      Surviving Human Nature
      Language and Thinking
      I and Thou
      Emotions and Feelings
      Neuroscience Notes
      Children and Family
      Intelligence and Learning
      Religion for 21st Century

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      The Psychology, Neuroscience and Philosophy series was developed by Persona Digital Books. The books are copyright; all rights to reproduction by any means are reserved.
      The author is Stephen Gislason and the publisher is Persona Digital Books.