Changing Stories? (Part 1: Culture)


Like many people working at the intersection of religion and science, Ilia Delio in Making All Things New (2015) remarks on the human ‘inability to modify core religious beliefs according to what we now know about ourselves’ –thanks, that is, to new knowledge made possible by advances in the sciences. These recalcitrant core beliefs, she notes, are founded on ‘the power of religious myth [which] runs deeper than science, even though the beliefs are based on outmoded notions of the physical cosmos’ (55). The tension of the underlying questions: ‘why and how does change happen?’ ‘what has to change?’ and ‘what has to stay the same?’, echoes through all movements of growth, all expressions of transition, all kinds of ascending, all kinds of deepening.

Coming from a literary background I resist the suggestion that myth is some sort of obstruction to progress. No: myth is manna. On myth, belief is predicated.

Before “belief” came to mean “opinion,” it typically referred to devotion or trust. It was an experiential word, and not a philosophical one, that indicated what a “believer” held dear or loved. “Belief” was a disposition of the heart.’

Diana Butler-Bass (here)

Myth is a continuity, something nourishing and time-worn (in good and less good ways). It is a stabilising influence in the cultures and communities out of which it has arisen–or, it has been up to now. It is also true I think, that myth does not function in the same way it once did; doubtless a contributing factor that plays into our ‘outmoded notions of the physical cosmos.’

This very engaging article ‘Increasing the Bandwidth‘ explains the idea of ‘cultural bandwidth’ and the strains a globalised world brings to bear on our ability to usefully store and integrate information. [The whole thing is worth a read.]

Our culture as a whole has a very wide interface with reality, with telescopes, microscopes and many other instruments, with scientific institutions and scientific methods used to increase that bandwidth. However, unlike early cultures, the large amount of information makes it impossible to hold all members of society together inside one single cultural framework. Inside the total culture, subcultures are forming whose bandwidth might even be narrowing, and might be more or less intentionally be restricted, through ideology, denialism, consumerism etc.

In the Beau Lotto video on perception and stories I linked to recently, the blurb includes the lines: ‘our senses tell us stories about the world and we can control those stories to change our perceptions and ourselves.’ This is an intriguing claim. I want to know how it works. I’d like to believe it, even. Does the claim hint at something about conversion? About metanoia (which I’m using here to mean a total refresh for humanity, but not necessarily in a religious sense)? Are there methods for changing stories –via attention, say; via the body? And what are the time scales involved? Are the mechanisms similar or different for the individual and the collective? 

Image: The Flammarion Engraving, found here


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