2 out of 4 stars
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Mythic Worlds and the One You Can Believe In by Harold Toliver is a pedantic treatise that examines, in essence, philosophical, anthropological and historical ‘myths’ with the aim of using scientific, philosophical, anthropological and historical evidence to try and refute these myths. The first chapter looks at the myth of gods as creators and controllers of events in the universe and human lives. The second chapter looks at gossip as both a binding and destructive force of civilisation, the use of systematic nomenclature as a means of hiding complete reality, and the establishment of stereotypical discourse in science. Chapter three looks at rituals and algorithms as processes that have common methods of inquiry but different modes of application. It also examines the falsity of rituals. It explores the many contradictions that can be found in beliefs about a divine being- especially as far as war is concerned. Taking a closer look at war, chapter three further looks at how war is justified through propaganda, and the human need to give all narratives a beginning, middle and end- even the universe e.g apocalypse. Strangely, it analyses Elizabethan poetry dominated by themes of unwavering, never diminishing love; which to the author is unrealistic.
Chapter four analyses language’s role in the construction and development of myths, especially myths of development. It looks at findings from generative grammar to explore this. This chapter also reviews to what extent deceit and verbal craftiness, (and by implication myth development), is genetic programming or instinctively learned behaviour. Chapter four also explores Milton’s account of the myth of origin in the poem, Paradise Lost. Chapter five explores the interconnection between myth, philosophy and science, with the author postulating that the notion of divinity was created from man’s need to understand or personify, rather than at the time study, natural phenomena. It also explores the gradual shift from myths to philosophy to scientific enquiry. It breaks down how Hebraic monotheism lent itself to Islam and Christianity and was a tool for conserving power; how Hebraic monotheism differed from, yet was similar to other myths of divine origin. It postulates that man’s need for a single creator was an attempt at Grand Unifying Theory. The chapter criticises Francis Bacon’s role in allowing mythology of divinity and science to coexist without undue contact, contradiction or exploration, and how his method inspired philsophers to attempt a reconciliation of myth and natural history.
Chapter six explores the psychological and social values of myths, epics and oracular sermons, and its role as a binding force in communities and/or cults. It also explores them as literature designed to teach rather than as revelations. It looks at what it considers to be contradictions within biblical prophecies and the connection between myth and ritual. Chapter seven explores the emergence of modernism and postmordernism across various disciplines, and how scientific knowledge about the reality of the universe began to emerge. This knowledge, according to the author, has helped those who are aware of it, to a large degree, get rid of their belief in myths. This chapter explores the attempts made by certain famous philosophers, poets and authors to blend truth with errors, combine doctrine with reason, and uplift rhetoric. The chapter analyses the revolutionary effect of Darwin’s theory.
Chapter eight analyses how modernism, renaissance, enlightenment reflected not only social and economic changes, but advancements in technology. It explores how empiricism led to advancements in natural sciences, technology, mathematics etc. It also analyses how modernism and postmodernism rejected positivist empiricism. It then examines how several cosmological revisions spurred a more critical look into the workings and history of the universe which led to the ‘construction of a comprehensive mechanical model by Alexander Humboldt’ that was free from the attempt to justify divine intervention among others, and how it influenced modernist poetry. This, according to the author, would cause biblical studies experts/believers to explain the bible in ways that fit in with new scientific understandings, and even social and philosophical leanings, which up to that point, had been rejected by bible experts. This chapter also examines how difficult it is to separate fact from fiction when both have been mixed, especially in ancient texts.
Chapter nine takes a look at how myth of gods or of a divine being were really just a nationalistic binding force, or part of dynastic leadership that motivated creation of wealth. This chapter also looks at how the status of women has consistently declined over time, and how male dominance strived, even in mythology. It also explores fact checking what the texts say. Chapter ten analyses how groupthink is achieved and how people with varying personalities can unanimously support illusory decisions. This chapter posits that myths function most powerfully at the national level. It also examines learned social vices such as chauvinism, imperialism, pillaging and plundering as influenced by desire to control modes of production. It examines binding social networks, and analyses how technology aids in the dissemination of propaganda, myths, groupthink.
Chapter eleven looks at how groupthink can be a powerful force for great good or terrible harm. It also looks at how imperialism makes a nation powerful, but at the same time weakens it. It looks at the use and abuse of discourse. It looks at the social, political and economic factors of deprivation that lead to turbulence in nations. Chapter twelve attempts to separate myth from reality. It bemoans the difficulty, however, of applying and disseminating this data for the larger populace. It also looks at the human ability of fact denial and fact filtering.
I liked that the author took what is a controversial subject and attempted to apply scientific evidence to support his theories. While the author might have felt he did so, I think he came off as a strongly biased atheist. I say this because there was very little inclusion of scientific theories to refute all the myths the author wanted to debunk. Instead, in my opinion, the author went on an extrapolation of how myths came to develop, why humans feel the need for these myths, and what felt like an academic disdain of philosopher’s theories or methods he rejected. I also really liked the author’s interdisciplinary approach to this topic. The author explored various disciplines: philosophy, literature, linguistics, anthropology, science etc. However, most chapters had almost the same theme- the need to refute the existence of a divine being. I felt like the author went on an unnecessarily long diatribe. This book could have been shorter.
This book might be of interest to those fascinated by atheism, topics about ancient empires, inquiry into human nature etc. Philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, literature students, political scientists, natural scientists, linguists etc. might also find this book interesting. However, academicians who like straight to the point treatises might find this book tedious. People with strong beliefs in a divine being might also find this book offensive. This is a book that looks at complex subject matters in a very abstruse manner. It is not for people who like simplicity. The average person might not want to read this book as it requires a bit of academic intellect to read this book.
There were a lot of grammatical errors -mostly fragmented and run-on sentences and omission of commas, which can sometimes occur when complex subject matters are discussed. I do not think the errors were so terrible as to distract any who might have an interest in this book. I give this book 2 out of 4 stars.
Mythic Worlds and the One You Can Believe In
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