Why We Believe in Myths
by Cecilia Beltran
published on December 14, 2010
TED - which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design - offers a series of cutting-edge conferences focused on "ideas worth spreading." This has spawned related, independently organized events under the rubric, TEDx.
Cecila Beltran, a member of the JCF Mythological RoundTable® Chapter in New York City, describes the background that brought her to the TEDxEast conference on Interconnectivity:
When I was a creative for some of the top advertising multinationals in southeast asia, I began to suspect that nobody really knew what a big idea was. I was largely entrusted with pharmaceutical accounts as a creative because they saw that I actually enjoyed perusing through thick raw data of medical research. I would frequently do projects relating to brain development. It was this background that gave me ability to recognize the similarities of the Kabalistic diagram with certain brain functions.
More than a decade in advertising where I learned to use metaphors and symbolism to motivate action through ideas, an unusual religious background, and my medical research mindset all came together in my discovery of the parallels between brain functions and certain key themes that recur in myth, and I began to recognize them everywhere I went. I began to put these discoveries in writing and made it my life work. I now live in New York and frequently participate in the Mythological RoundTable® discussions at the Mythology Café.
When the TEDxEast curator, Julianne Wurm, asked the community in New York to pitch a talk about Interconnectivity, I was selected along with fellow TEDxEast member Debbie Berebichez PhD. to present my ideas to the members as a speaker this past November.
I’m here to talk about why we believe in Myths.
So what are myths? Joseph Campbell (my hero) once said that myths are public dreams and dreams are private myths. They may be illogical but they represent something real. Persistent myths are like recurring dreams. They are there because they are saying something important about our nature.
One of the most persistent myths that I’m fascinated with is the "Seven Days of Creation." This myth is influencing the beliefs of at least three great religions. Mystics call it the Tree of Life, or the blueprint of the universe. But what I found was, if you overlay the diagram to the functions of the human brain, you will see a match.
According to this myth, the prefrontal cortex is where motivation begins. And then the right hemisphere gathers all information and is broken down as logic in the left hemisphere. The motor brain actually withholds or expresses a hypothesis for action and then is transferred by the thalamus region to the rest of the brain. It’s like a conductor. This goes through the lens of our sense of time or space and it goes to the cerebellum where a conclusion or a formula for learning or new knowledge and action takes place. And then it is released in the body, or the brain steam for expression. This sounds to me … like the scientific method. So it may be a metaphor for the brain creating new knowledge, which is ironic, because it came from the Seven Days of Creation.
But it doesn’t really end there.
The brain is made of three brains that evolved on top of each other. The first is the reptilian brain. It is the brain we share with snakes. It is very self protective. It’s primitive. On top of that we have the paleo-mammalian brain, which is in charge of caring for the young. After that, we grew a brain that knows about foresight and planning.
So you can see, inside your head, you have each, a snake, a woman and a man. This is actually the story of your brain. But it doesn’t end there. What happens is when you panic, your reptilian brain sends a neurochemical through your paleo-mammalian brain (which is the “Eve” brain) that paralyzes your cortex from thinking. The result is usually reflex, or worse, crimes of passion. You shoot your family dog for fear it’s a bear and then you feel guilty. Guilt is where the concept of sin comes from. Daniel Goleman calls this process the “Amygdala hijack.” So is this a metaphor for that?
There are actually many myths that parallel neurological functions. To answer the question “Why do we believe in myths?”, I leave you with Joseph Campbell’s words about what the Brahmins say to express the sacred mystery of the self: Tat Vam Asi, which means “That is You.”
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