MythBlast | The Vicarious Reaches of Cyberspace

The Inner Reaches of Outer Space by Joseph Campbell1986 saw the publication of three seminal books: The Society of Mind by MIT cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky, On the Plurality of Worlds by philosopher David Lewis, and The Inner Reaches of Outer Space by mythologist Joseph Campbell. In their respective fields, each was grappling with what is commonly referred to as the problem of the One and the Many.

Minsky, on the one hand, turned inward to come away with the theory that intelligence emerges from the cooperation of basic units, or agents, working in concert but also propagating a myth of a centralized Self:

But if there is no single, central, ruling Self inside the mind, what makes us feel so sure that one exists? What gives that myth its force and strength? A paradox: perhaps it’s because there are no persons in our heads to make us do the things we want—nor even ones to make us want to want—that we construct the myth that we’re inside ourselves. (Minsky, The Society of Mind 4.2)

Lewis, on the other hand, looked outward and posited, “There are so many other worlds, in fact, that absolutely every way that a world could possibly be is a way that some world is” (On the Plurality of Worlds, 2).

Last but not least, Joseph Campbell attempted a more holistic, Heracleitian approach, considering seemingly conflicting opposites—the inner and the outer—as sharing in a deeper harmony communing in Soul and in Myth:

There is a beautiful saying of Novalis: “The seat of the soul is there, where the outer and the inner worlds meet.” That is the wonderland of myth. From the outer world the senses carry images to the mind, which do not become myth, however, until there transformed by the fusion with accordant insights, awakened as imagination from the inner world of the body. (Campbell, Inner Reaches 5)

Campbell placed a unique emphasis on the role of this “inner world of the body” in the production of myths: “For myths and dreams…are motivated from a single psychophysiological source—namely, the human imagination moved by the conflicting urgencies of the organs (including the brain) of the human body” (Inner Reaches, xiv). In the thirty-two years since these ambitious books were published, we have become increasingly influenced by advanced technologies able to model and mime our minds, bodies, and myths—not to mention our notions of Self.

Earthrise

Earthrise: Earth as seen from lunar orbit by the astronauts of Apollo 8 (1968)

When Campbell sought a primary mythic image for future neo-mythology (i.e. a “global” mythology), he looked no further than those first images from NASA of an Earthrise on the Moon’s horizon (Inner Reaches, 18, see Figure 2). Centuries prior, Cicero related in book six of his De re publica the account of Scipio’s celestial journey in which he looks back at Earth as a sphere. In our time, we have not only that same photo, but also an interactive model produced from satellite imagery assembled in the form of Google Earth. With the added bonus of recent breakthroughs in virtual reality technology, one can even walk the globe with VR headsets via Google Earth VR, experiencing a mundane mystic mirage marketed as a virtual apotheosis (Adario Strange, “Google Earth VR is the godlike virtual reality experience we’ve been waiting for”). Technocrats, technicians, and designers are our mythmakers.

Today we live with an abundance of possible worlds and cosmologies. Our pluralistic era hosts fervent devotees espousing a flat earth on the one hand and philosophers like Nick Bostrom presenting a 1/3 probability that we are living in a simulated construct on the other. The fragmentation of a single world has given rise to pixeled worlds and partisan myths. To the mythologist, these are simply mutharia, mini-myths, looking for germinal material from which to grow. And yet the world itself, according to some traditions, was once fashioned from the body of an ancestral deity or primordial being. Ancient cultures mapped Mundi with divine matter. The Apostle Paul spoke of the cosmic body of Christ, “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5).

During the month of December the ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia, replete with merriment and societal role-reversal to mark, perhaps, a brief restoration of Saturn’s Golden Age: an abundant and blissful era when gods and humans mingled. Today, our Silicon Age promises a singular salvation via ensoulment in cyberspace. But we risk mistaking parts for wholes. We’re beyond metaphor and meeting metonymy. We can still heed Campbell’s words:

…consciousness thinks it’s running the shop. But it’s a secondary organ of a total human being, and it must not put itself in control. It must submit and serve the humanity of the body. (Campbell, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, 181)

Yours,

Robert W. Guyker, Jr.

Robert Guyker photoRobert W. Guyker, Jr. holds a PhD in mythological studies from Pacifica Graduate Institute (Carpinteria, California) and is an Associate Editor for the peer-reviewed online journal, Cultural Analysis: An interdisciplinary forum on folklore & popular culture in collaboration with the Société Internationale d’Ethnologie et de Folklore, and recently joined the editorial staff of Retrospective Methods Network Newsletter, based out of the University of Helsinki, Finland. His writings have been featured in publications such as Heidelberg Journal of Religion on the Internet, Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies, and Immanence: The Journal of Applied Myth, Story, and Folklore. He currently teaches Writing, Storytelling, Anthropology, and Art History at Studio School, Los Angeles.