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A Myth for Engineering

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    I am reading Karen Armstrong’s A Short History of Myth, and was struck by the following thought: the hunter-gatherers had their logos and myth; the agricultural societies had their logos and myth – only the industrial society is lacking one. Engineering, which drives industrialisation, is based on the scientific method which is 100% logos-driven. Is that why we became detached from the mythical bedrock? Do we need a myth for engineering and technology? And can we create one?


    An intriguing, essential question – though it does strike me that mythologizing is always going on under the surface, whether we know it or not – and the mythic imagination has not treated engineering, technology, or science very well: from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to films like 2001 Space Odyssey, Star Wars, War Games, and more, technology often plays the villain. One could perhaps point to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as deifying engineering and technology – or rather, the human engineers and industrialists driving those technological innovations – but this worldview strikes me as falling short of the mark..

    I would trace that dynamic back to Descartes. The cartesian worldview, in which empirical science is grounded, has effectively desacralized Nature; the natural world becomes inanimate matter to do with as we will (leading some of Descartes’ disciples to even declare animals are automata that may cry out but feel no pain, thus justifying lab animal experiments absent guilt). That worldview holds as long as we divorce and isolate ourselves from nature (which can happen in the asphalt and concrete, steel and glass cities engineering and technology have made possible), but ultimately is at odds with our actual experience of nature – which may explain why in modern fiction science and technology are so often cast as the villain.

    A living myth mirrors nature, whether on the level of the aborigines of Australia or Pueblo tribes of the American southwest, whose myths revolve around the local landscape, or in the complex, exquisite imagery of Kegon Buddhism which imagines the universe


    as a net of gems, each gem reflecting perfectly all the others. It is also called the Doctrine of Mutual Arising … Everything creates everything else. The doctrine works, furthermore, on all levels.” (Campbell, from the appendix in Sake and Satori).


    Particle physicists, from Neils Bohr to David Bohm, have borrowed this imagery to portray the relationships and interactions of matter at the quantum level – relationships and interactions which give rise to the physical universe we perceive … which suggests a shift is underway as the revolution in particle physics pulls us beyond the old Newtonian/Cartesian worldview.

    In particular, advances within the field of physics and biology, the development of depth and transpersonal psychologies, and the emergence of consciousness research (cognitive science and artificial intelligence) and information technologies – particularly the internet – provide a medium through which the collective imagination recasts the universe and our role in it. The same archetypal energies and forces of nature personified in gods, demons, and myth remain in play, but the dynamics are depicted in terms and imagery more befitting Star Trek than Homer’s Odyssey or the Bhagavad-Gita.

    Each of these elements, however depersonalized, contains echoes of earlier myths – the same patterns, the same motifs – “…in new relationships indeed, but ever the same motifs” (Campbell). Science, psychology, and information technology are providing new myths to replace the old – but we read them as fact alone, taking no account of how they act on the imagination.

    Discoveries this past century in the field of quantum physics, particularly regarding the relationship of matter to energy and the central role of perceiver/observer in determining what is observed (Heisenberg, 1934), serve as metaphors as elegant as the Buddhist image of the spontaneous mutual arising of all things. Physicicst David Bohm’s theory of an implicate order underlying/enfolded into the explicate order of the phenomenal universe suggests the metaphysics of an invisible world behind the visible, fundamental to the mystical traditions of every faith.

    Bohm’s holographic model of the universe, Karl Pribram’s exploration of the holographic nature of memory and the brain, and Stanislav Grof’s observations regarding the holographic structure of the human psyche, conjure a realization similar to the alchemical dictum so succinctly inscribed on the legendary Emerald Tablet – “As above, so below; as below, so above.” Any fragment of a holographic image contains within it an image of the whole – which can’t help but bring to mind once more the Buddhist metaphor of the Net of Gems.

    The nonlinear dynamics of chaos theory and fractal science – which find exquisite beauty and complex order hidden within chaotic systems – impact fields ranging from meteorology to marketing. Is it a surprise that most ancient myths begin with order emerging out of chaos – from the face of God moving across the void (tehom) in Genesis or the Babylonian Marduk fashioning the world from the vanquished corpse of Tiamat, dragon goddess of chaos, to Chaos as origin of Eros, first of the gods, in Ovid’s Metamorphosis?

    And then, there’s the internet, which also displays holographic properties – again bringing to mind the Net of Gems. Consciousness researchers see in the internet a model of the way the brain has developed: links “spontaneously” established between disparate groups of cells, creating neural networks that perform specific functions (for example, clusters of cells throughout the brain related to hearing or to memory hook up and establish a network, in the same way those reading these words are linked by an interest in the ideas of Joseph Campbell, and how we relate those ideas to our individual lives and to society as a whole). The internet can also be perceived as a manifestation of Teilhard de Chardin’s noosphere, the realm of consciousness, envisioned as a slender skin that floats upon the biosphere.

    These are but bits and pieces – fragments of a yet unrecognized myth?

    I’m not sure we’re at the stage yet where we can stitch together all those bits and fragments into one whole that everyone will recognize – but something sure seems to be stirring beneath the surface.


    The mythic element of ancient monuments were their connection to the Story.

    An arena for ritual representation  of the  myth,

    and an abode, a sacred space – to invoke the Mythic beings.

    the Mayan temples ,the Pyramids, the Ziggurat, the Konark ,the Jagannath Angkor Wat…. All represented the threshold of material existence and a stepping stone to what happens after.

    A kind of launchpad of transcendence.

    And what we see now for eg. the Eiffel tower are showcases of Mans hubris. Our edifices now tell the story of  a precocious kid raucously declaring his insusceptibility to the flow of time. Man has become the God and his worshippers. And he wants everything to submit to his will.

    From the Indian perspective: The conflict of forces turning the Cosmic engine  The symbols of creation -sustenance- and destruction , and the depiction of the Garbha griha ( the sacrosanctum literally the Womb house) concept in Hindu temples is worth exploring.




    Hey There, Captsunshine,

    For some reason the image wasn’t coming through, so I used my admin superpowers to replace it with another (which I pulled off Wikipedia).

    I’m curious about the Garba griha – who is allowed to enter the inner sanctum in Hindu temples?

    In the Tabernacle, a tent constructed according to Mosaic specifications by the Israelites during their mythic 40 years wandering the wilderness, the sanctum sanctorum, or Holy of Holies, was where the Ark of the Covenant resided (the wooden Ark contained the Ten Commandments, inscribed by the hand of God atop Mt. Sinai, and a gold cover which served as the “mercy seat” for the divine presence). Only the High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, and that only one day a year – which doesn’t quite jibe with the fact the inner sanctum also contained a golden menorah consisting of 7 oil lamps that were never to be extinguished, so someone had to pop in on a regular basis. Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem (and successive temples on that site) was a more permanent version of the Tabernacle on a grand scale, but followed the same basic design.

    In India, are regular adherents able to enter the Garba griha, or is that just for priests?


    I am reading all your replies, guys… not replying because I am still mulling the question over. Seems to me there is something, some meaning, hidden in what we in the industry call the “man-machine interface”. It has changed a lot from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times assembly line behemoth to a stage where we are hard-put to define where man ends and where machine begins. I have to think on it, or let it go. Maybe the insight will come by itself.

    • Dear Stephen, Thank you for sharing that eresting bit about the Ark of Covenant .
    • Yes only the  temple priest is allowed to enter the GG. He needs to perform sone purifying rituals whenever he enters. And remains throughout the rituals  that commence by bathing the idol dressing him/her up according to theto the tradition which varies with the course of the day.
    • And invocation so that the idol is infused by divine energy through riruals and mantras (sanskrit version). There are three aspects that are intriguing. The Brahmin priestly class flourished as they were an indispensable part of temple traditions.
    • But the science of Temple worship is not Vedic. The knowledge is derived from the Agamas, which some consider non vedic.
    • In fact the Vedic people never worshipped Idols.
    • The temple is built as a proportion to the dimensions of the idol of thepresiding deity.
    • The deity is seen as the core living aspect of a town or village and the protector.
    • Interestingly many Town and villages lend their name to the deity aand the temple the idols and rituals are unique to the place.
    • For eg. The local deity in my town is regarded as an aspect of  Vishnu of trinity.  But he is identified as a local somuchso that even non hindus consider him  a divine quality that emerges in their hometown.
    • The living presence, the subtle suggestion of the rabbit hole that leads to the next dimension.
    • All require us to leave the Ego at the doorstep before we enter the sacred space.
    • I

    Intriguing about the incarnation of the local deity being identified with the specific geographical region. In one sense, the same could be said of the biblical God and the Tabernacle of the Israelites; Yahweh wasn’t originally tied to a geographical region, but was the deity of a nomadic people. Eventually, once those nomads invaded Canaan and settled down, taking the land as their own, Yahweh, with the Temple Solomon constructed in Jerusalem, morphed into a local deity … who eventually was promoted to the top dog (alpha male god?) of all creation.

    One major difference between the god of the Israelites and those of your local temples is that the Holy of Holies was veiled – not only was the High Priest the only individual allowed to enter, but the inner sanctum was walled off from view by a heavy veil. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that doesn’t appear to be the case with the garba griha – though they can’t enter the room that holds the divine presence, seems adherents are able to peer into the garba griha.


    Sorry for the weird format. Still learnin how to do this on mobile phone.

    Yes the doors are open on designated intervals usually after the deity is all decked up and between meals and a siesta. This is accompanied by temple rituals like pooja or worship that the public can witness.

    At a distance. Its a very powerful experience  the sights the sounds the fragrance and the audible  yearning of the faithful to get as close in prqyers as well as physically.

    Moving on to another Religiouss tradition .

    Is the Abrhams religion and how he built the house of God in Mecca

    The Kaaba.

    This will be of immense interest tonthe architect or anyone exploring the  geometric mysteries.

    That Kaaba literally means Cube in Arabic.

    And the ancient obssession of circlinbthe square is ritually enacted dduring Hajj. When the faithful circumambulate the Cube.




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