“According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.”― Plato, The Symposium
“Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends.” ― Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology
Author’s Preface: What follows is a spirited, imaginary conversation across time, between a two well-known scholars: one an ancient philosopher and the other the foremost modern authority on myths and symbols, at a café in Athens overlooking the acropolis. While the conversation is purely imaginary, not overly academic, and rather colloquial at that, the integrity of the thought of its interlocutors on myth, reason and religion has been scrupulously respected, for not to do so would be to fail at arriving at the truth and run the danger of falling into the worst kind of sophistry as described by the ancients.
Plato: Good morning Professor Campbell!
Campbell: Good morning Professor Plato! I trust you don’t mind the title, even though you are so famous that your nick name would suffice to identify you. After all, you were the founder- director-manager, the first professor so to speak, of the ancient Greek Academy; a supreme intellectual institutional achievement which lasted a thousand years.
Plato. Oh, yes, yes, why don’t we simply dispense with formal academic titles? May I just call you Joe and you call me Plato? After all, we are not at a formal symposium or at a formal academic conference; we’re just sipping cognac and chatting at a café in modern Athens in view of the acropolis.
Campbell. By all means, Plato. In modern America, in fact, we prefer to dispense with too many social formalities and pomposity as you seem to prefer in Europe. Perhaps later we may even engage in a chess game and a pipe smoke, should you have the time. Those are pastimes suitable to reflective minds such as ours. I could teach you, if you are unfamiliar with those pastimes.
Plato. Sounds like a good idea, Joe. That way, while we may be discussing transcendent ideas beyond time and space unfamiliar to most ordinary people, we shall not give the false impression to passerby that we are two of those stereotypical unpractical philosophers with a beard, with their heads in the clouds of Mount Olympus, exchanging recondite abstract theories and reveries while smoking a pipe in an club’s armchair; rather, that we are practical men of the world, clever and democratic enough to mingle with the people while putting theory ahead of practice.
Campbell. Indeed, Plato, indeed. Human nature being what it is, it cannot have been a piece of cake for you to manage the logistics of the administration of a great academy and keep discipline among rowdy students and petty competing professors and their contemptuous ad hominem antics and juvenile slanderous attacks on each other. I know something about that. I am an insider at the academy, where I have sojourned all my life, but in reality, intellectually and spiritually that is, I have always felt like an outsider, a non-conventional academic who did not even bother to finish his Ph.D. dissertation, albeit I am presently widely known as the foremost mythology expert and scholar of the Western world.
Plato. Ah yes, I know your reputation, I have also heard about “the Ph.D. octopus,” the essay on the subject made famous by our colleague, your fellow countryman, William James. Excellent insightful essay; an exposé of sorts, it almost made me ashamed of having been the source of the term “academic.”
Campbell: Oh, well. Tell me Plato, do you think we moderns are justified in recognizing you as the first philosopher who brought to a head the conundrums of myth/history, reason/myth, religion/myth; all the more since you yourself repeatedly utilizes mythology and concocted myths galore in your dialogues and treatises, the best known of course being the myth of the cave as found in The Republic?
Plato: Indeed, Joe. The Myth of the Cave, whose narrative occurs in the Republic is a fantastical story, but it does not deal explicitly with the beyond, and is thus different from the traditional myths I myself used and invented. Strictly speaking, the Cave is an analogy, not a myth. Also in the Republic, Socrates says that until philosophers take control of a city “the politeia whose story we are telling in words (muthologein) will not achieve its fulfillment in practice”. The construction of the ideal city itself may be called a “myth” in the sense that it depicts an imaginary polis where we imagine the happy state.
In the Phaedrus I use the word muthos to name the rhetorical exercise which Socrates carries out, but this seems to be a loose usage of the word. In any case, when I inveighed against the bad poets I certainly did not have the likes of Homer and his Odyssey or Iliad in mind. I respect and revere the likes of Homer, or Shakespeare or Dante. What I was critiquing was the mind-set of those banal mediocre poets, the poets who write poems for wedding receptions and then lay claim to the title of great poet; those with no poetical vision who couldn’t even write a decent novel, never mind an epic poem. Did you know that in my youth I had aspirations toward poetry; an aspiration that never left me?
Campbell: Yes I know, Plato, and it doesn’t surprise me a bit judging from the complex beauty of your ancient Greek prose which depicts your myths so well and fit harmoniously the form and the content. But what I am particularly interested in is finding out why you included myths such as “the myth of the cave” in the Republic? How did that help your rational philosophical discourse about good governance, democracy, justice? You seem to conceive of myth as a clue to the search for life’s meaning. I, on the other hand, see them as a clue to the spiritual potentialities of human life. For me myths are the ongoing search for “the experience of life,” to “finding one’s bliss.” They seem to tell us that the meaning of life is the experience of life, that eternity isn’t some later time, or a long time; that in fact it has nothing to do with time! It is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time usually cuts out. I may be wrong but it seems to me that if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere; that the experience of eternity and transcendence right here and now is the function of life.
Plato: Oh well. Frankly, I am a bit surprised that you should even ask such a question as the eminent mythologist that you are. As you well know, mythology as well as drama sprang directly from the realm of the religious and the symbolical as stories about the gods and their all too human and petty interactions with humans and the universe and nature, stories which at first sight resemble children’s fairy tales, but when looked at closely reveal certain universal truths which later on a psychologist like Jung dubbed “archetypes of the human condition”; the journey archetype, for instance, being one of those. Jung also discovered that those archetypes are universal and occur among people who have had precious little cultural interaction with each other.
This origin from the religious and the symbolical is often overlooked in modern theories on mythology. Dante’s journey in the Divine Comedy is one concrete example of a mythological journey which remains tied to its religious origins, so is Homer’s in the Odyssey, so is Captain Picard journey on the Enterprise space ship; the journey is always a journey into the self looking for its origins and its final destination. They are not historically documented journeys; they are more in the realm of the subjective, the imaginative and even that of the prophetic, more in the way of a myth, but a myth that repeats itself in many forms and among many people, revealing a hidden deeper truth, a truth that goes beyond a mere empirical positivistic explanation of the visible material phenomena. They may not be historically or empirically verifiable but they are certainly real since they exist in the realm of the intelligible just as logic, or mathematics, or astronomy are imbedded in the realm of the intelligible even when utilized for concrete material necessities arising from the positivistic realm of what is empirically verifiable. This akin to belief in the gods or religious faith which remains subjectively even when we are unable to prove it empirically.
Campbell: Well put Plato; you sound quite modern; sometimes I wonder if we moderns have not reinvented the wheel. I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, I would say that you have caught up and even surpassed us moderns in the understanding of the essence or nature of myth: it is not to be considered a lie, or as the mere sugaring of the bitter pill of truth, as you put it when you criticized the bad poets, but a deeper truth to be decoded, interpreted and reflected upon. That’s basically what I try to do in my various books on mythology, especially the one titled “The Hero with a thousand Faces.”
Plato: I have read all your books and they are quite illuminating on the subject of mythology. They invariably expand one’s intellectual-spiritual horizon on the relationship of myth religion and reason.
Campbell: thank you for your kind words Plato, but could you indulge me a bit more by explaining to me your summation of ancient Greek mythology mentioned by you, of Zeus splitting the human being in half so that from then on one half has been searching for the other half? Most scholars, including Jung, interpret that statement of yours via a biological metaphor as the masculine in search of the feminine looking for wholeness, but I suspect that there is much more to it.
Plato: your suspicion is well founded, Joe. The Janus face represents the split which occurred when rationality, beginning with Socrates, my mentor, overpowered the poetical and the mythological so that the poetical began to be defined as the deceptive which lies and puts sugar on the bitter truth of rationality to make it more bearable. Your modern philosopher Pascal points to this error with his statement that “the heart has reasons that reason knows not.” Also there is another highly insightful philosopher of history, Giambattista Vico, from the 18th century, who identified the mistake of much of Western philosophy beginning with me alas, not only in its totalizing tendencies but in the attempt to subside the imaginative and the poetical under the rational and the empirical. The two realms really belong together and have been searching for each other since they were split asunder by Positivism in modern times. He expresses all this in his masterpiece The New Science (1725). When myth is split from the rational it becomes harmful, it ends up in myths such as that of “the master race.”
When reason is split from myth and the poetical it begins to rationalize and justify what ought never be rationalized and tolerates unethical behaviour. Indeed Pascal’s and Vico’s corrections, the corrections of those two Christian humanists were very much needed within the ethical Western tradition, as Emmanuel Levinas has also pointed out in the 20th century via his concept of “the other.”
As you know, in the Protagoras I make a distinction between muthos and logos, where muthos appears to refer to a story and logos to an argument. This distinction is also echoed in the Theaetetus and the Sophist. In the Theaetetus Socrates discusses Protagoras’ main doctrine and refers to it as “the muthos of Protagoras.” Socrates there calls a muthos the teaching according to which active and passive motions generate perception and perceived objects. In the Sophist, the Visitor from Elea tells his interlocutors that Xenophanes, Parmenides and other Eleatic, Ionian (Heraclitus included) and Sicilian philosophers “appear to me to tell us a myth, as if we were children”.
By calling all those philosophical doctrines muthoi I do not claim that they are myths proper, but that they are, or appear to be, non-argumentative. In the Republic I may come across as fairly hostile to particular traditional myths. And in many dialogues I condemn the use of images in knowing things and claim that true philosophical knowledge should avoid images. But I ask you: does Book X of the Republic offer a single repudiation of the best poets of the Hellenic world? Try as you may, you will not find one. What you will find is a complicated counterpoint in which resistance and attraction to their work are intertwined, a counterpoint which (among other things) explores the problem of whether, and in what sense, it might be possible to be a ‘philosophical lover’ of poetry” a la Vico.
I wanted to persuade a wider audience, so I had to make a compromise. Sometime I use myth as a supplement to philosophical discourse Most importantly, in the Timaeus, I actually attempt to overcome the opposition between muthos and logos: human reason has limits, and when it reaches them it has to rely on myth. That is to say, the telling of stories is a necessary adjunct to, or extension of, philosophical argument, one which recognizes our human limitations, and—perhaps—the fact that our natures combine irrational elements with the rational.”
Consider the fact that I chose to express my thoughts through a narrative form, namely that of the dialogue. So you may say that the use of a fictional narrative form (the dialogue, such as the prosaic one we are having right now) will mean that any conclusions reached, by whatever method (including that of academic ‘rational argument’), may themselves be treated as having the status of a kind of myth. So, a sense of the fictionality of human utterance, as provisional, inadequate, and at best approximating to the truth, pervade my writing at its deepest level. It is not that myth fills in the gaps that reason leaves, but that human reason itself ineradicably displays some of the features we characteristically associate with story-telling.
Campbell: Wow! This is interesting stuff indeed! Perhaps we moderns need to reinvent the wheel since we seem to have forgotten how it came about. It partly explains, to me at least, what a Catholic theologian expressed to me in a dispute we were having on “religion as myth.” He told me that it may be true that religions are based on certain archetypes of human nature and myths of the human condition but to say that Christianity is just another myth to be disposed as all the other myths as lies and falsehoods, to put a point across as we do with children’s fairy tales, to be superseded by the scientific mind-set, is to have misunderstood the very nature of mythology which is there to help us better understand transcendental-revealed truths. That is to say, to use mythology as an excuse to dump religion as retrograde, obscurantist, and unenlightened, is to run the risk of throwing the baby out the window with the dirty bathwater.
He also pointed out that Zeus or Atlas are impersonal ideas personified which when worshipped renders us idolaters or narcissists, but the concept of a benevolent providential creator God who takes on human nature to experience the human condition and enters physical reality historically and materially to redeem it is not a philosophical abstract idea to be found in any mythology; I dare say that not even brilliant philosophers like yourself ever thought of it; it is however the stuff of reality and historical events for which 12 ignorant fishermen from Palestine (no experts in Platonic or Socratic philosophy for which they’d be willing to die) were in fact willing to die because their allegiance was not to an idea but to a person who spiritually won the whole continent of Europe in a couple of centuries and gave it its ultimate identity as Judeo-Greco-Roman civilization; a religion this which makes a synthesis between the human and the divine and not only at an abstract theoretical level but at an existential level, and therefore it is humanistic to the core; that at its best advocates tolerance of other traditions, mythology itself, freedom of speech and democratic governance, given that we are all children of the same benevolent father and are commanded to love each other as brothers and sisters.
I must confess to you that I am still chewing on what that theologian provided for me on that day. I felt as if I had been check-mated in a chess game, but I don’t think now that he was playing chess with me, out to win some kind of sophistic debate or diatribe. To the contrary, he simply challenged some of the common assumptions of “enlightened” positivistic modernity which I had inherited uncritically.
Plato: well you should have Joe, well you should have. I myself am already ruminating on this whole conversation. While I do so, why don’t we order another cognac, light up a pipe and start a game of chess? Perhaps even take in a soccer game in the afternoon, since it happens to be Sunday?
Campbell: Indeed Plato, soccer games are now the new religion of the brave new world of the EU in which we live and have our being. Some call it the world of globalization. Some, perhaps more wisely, call it “reinventing the wheel,” which come to think of it, can itself be a myth (the myth of Sisyphus?) and an archetype of the human condition. Have you ever noticed that the world of dreams has no Kantian rational categories of the understanding; it is not linear, nor strictly logical and rational and it needs plenty of interpretation once it is recollected? Could the Hindus, who are not even Westerners in their thinking, have it on track when they say that we are all dreaming and when we die we will wake up to Reality, to the point of it all (the Word)?
Plato: I understand the concept of logos, but there are other things such as revealed truth and the need for forgiveness and the theological virtue of charity which I find difficult to grasp as an ancient; plenty of food for thought here; but perhaps it’s only the antipasto announcing the main course still to come. In any case, let the debate go on.
Why Education? How education changed my life
I have a story to tell the world about the importance of education. I was born in a remote village in Madhupurupazilla, under Tangail district, Bangladesh. My parents were illiterate. Unfortunately due to some maternal related complexities, my mother died in 1988 when I was one and half or two hears old. I don’t know exactly. Even, I don’t know my actual birth of date and year. And that’s a common picture for us who born in an illiterate family. Since my mother died at an early age, I had to see the pains of hunger, poverty, malnutrition, health challenges and so forth. I still remember that almost every night, I had to sleep without any food. Sometimes, whole day, I had no food. I still remember that, one day, I and my sister were begging for some food to eat in 1993 or 94. So, that was my life story.
I had no shelter to go except my grandmother’s house. And they were also poor. So, it was really a tragic life for me. I never thought that I will ever have the privilege to have access to education. Who even do not know about from where his next meal will come, where he will go for shelter, access to education is really a dream to him. So, education was a luxury to me. After moving here and there for food and shelter almost five or six years, at last, my grandmother’s house became my shelter. I started to going to school. My life started changing because of the touch of education. I started to teach when I was in Grade five student. My first salary was BDT 20. I continued teaching as house tutor till 2012.
In October 2000, another tragic incident happened in my life. My father committed suicide. I became a full orphan. I was in Grade IX then, was studying in science group at Pakutia Public High School, Ghatail. My father’s suicide shocked me very much. I did not continue study that year. Then, I dropped one year. Next year, in 2001, I changed my school, and got admitted in Class Nine at Madhupur Shahid Smrity High School to have better education. Since the school was far away from my grandmother’s house, I had to shift to Madhupur. But where will I go? Fortunately, I got a lodging opportunity there. I had to teach two children of my lodging master, I had to go for bazar regularly, and to do other household chores on a regular basis. In return, they provided me a room to stay and three time meals. In addition, to pay my tuition fees, I had to go for other tuitions. Life goes on.
In fact, at any cost, I wanted to continue study. But, I don’t know, why? Indeed, I had no guardian who can realize me the importance of education. From my inner side, education touched me and I wanted to study at anyhow. Sometimes, I worked as a day labourer to continue my studies. Even, I remember, in 2004, after appearing my S.S.C. exam, I went to pull rickshaw in Dhaka city because I had extreme zeal to continue my education. And for the grace of Almighty ALLAH, I continued my studies.
In 2006, after appearing HSC exam, I came Dhaka with BDT 1000. When, I was not able to pay my food charge at mess, I decided to sell one of my kidneys. Then, I found tuition at Shahbagh. I was residing in Dhaka Sukrabad. Very often, I went for tuition by walking since I had no bus fare. I still remember those days.
Then, for the grace of ALLAH, I got admitted in Dhaka University in International Relations Department in 2006-2007 academic sessions. Since it’s a public university, I had to pay very poor fees to continue my studies at University. I passed honour’s in 2011 and Masters in 2012 in International Relations from the University of Dhaka. I am sincerely grateful to the people of my country who bearded my all educational expenses. I am deeply thankful to all of my teachers who taught me to shape myself. Especially, I am sincerely grateful to Professor Dr.Delwar Hossain at the Department of International Relations at Dhaka University who extended his generous hand during my difficulties, who showed me new ways to life, facilitated to increase my thirst for knowledge through showing the path of knowledge.
After appearing my Masters exam, I secured the first position from Bangladesh in the MA admission entrance test examination of South Asian University, New Delhi in 2012. Then, I moved to Delhi in 14 August in 2012 to pursue my second Master’s in International Relations at South Asian University. I continued my search for knowledge. The SAARC-India Silver Jubilee Scholarship was imperative to continue my education at SAU. My teachers at SAU helped me to create a new horizon of knowledge. After successfully completing second Masters in 2014, I joined at the University of Rajshahi in 30 November, 2014 as a founder lecturer in International Relations. That opened a new chapter in my life. I learned lots of things from the founder chairman of the Department, Professor Dr. Md. Abul Kashem and from my colleagues and students.
During teaching at Rajshahi University, I was selected as one of the 18 scholars around the world at Study of the US Institute for Scholars on US Foreign Policy Program, funded by the US State Department, hosted by the Bard College, New York for 44 days. It was a great learning opportunity for me. It provided me an international exposure and opened my eyes for the vast world of knowledge.
I continued to read, teach, and write. I even taught 8 courses at undergraduate level in 2017. Then, I moved to Delhi again at SAU, my intellectual home to pursue PhD in International Relations in July 2018. Since my childhood, I just wanted to study irrespective of challenges, and my ALLAH has fulfilled my dream. Now, I am a doctoral student. Sometimes, I even, cannot believe myself that I am a PhD scholar today.
Why am I telling all of these? The point is that it’s all about education. Education changed my life. But still coming in this 21st century, tens of thousands are out of access to education. It is quite ironic that the states of the world spend billions of dollars or armaments than education. This world politics do not work for the tens of thousands voiceless, marginal people in the world. Thus, it’s time to change the world politics for the benefits of people in the world than the state.
In fact, to change the world, we need education. To interpret the world, we need education. So, access to education is a basic human right which needs to be ensured. In this case, only our state cannot do that. Today, non-state actors’ play important role in every dimension in our society from politics to economics. Thus, alongside the government, individuals, groups, academics, scholars, writers, organizations, all need to come forward to ensure access to quality education to everyone to make a better, peaceful world. Can’t we make it?
Hunger and obesity in Latin America and the Caribbean compounded by inequality
For the third consecutive year, the number of those chronically hungry has increased in Latin America and the Caribbean, while 250 million – 60 percent of the regional population – are obese or overweight, representing the biggest threat to nutritional health, said the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Wednesday.
Speaking at the launch of the 2018 Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security report in Santiago, Chile, FAO’s Regional Representative, Julio Berdegue said it was an “appalling” threat to health overall, affecting women and indigenous groups the most.
The Panorama, published annually by FAO, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the World Food Programme (WFP), explores strategies to halt the health threats posed by hunger and malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean.
According to the report, hunger, malnutrition, lack of micronutrients, and obesity largely affect lower income families, women, indigenous communities, Afro-descendants and rural families.
Principle causes of malnutrition amongst the most vulnerable, can be traced back to changes the food systems have experienced in the region, from production to consumption. With a greater strain on the demand for nutrient-rich food like milk and meats, many resort to less costly options which are often higher in fat, sugar and salt.
“Obesity is growing uncontrollably,” Mr. Berdegue said.
Maria Cristina Perceval, who serves at the regional director for UNICEF in the region, said stunting correlates closely to inequality and poverty levels, and being chronically overweight “is also increasingly affecting the poorest children,” highlighting that lower income families have unequal access to healthy diets.
Obesity has become the greatest threat to Latin America and the Caribbean when it comes to nutritional health conditions. Nearly one in four adults are obese and more than seven percent of children below the age of five are overweight—higher than the global average of 5.6 percent.
To address the exacerbation of hunger and obesity, a “multispectoral approach is needed,” Director of PAHO/WHO, Carissa Etienne said, adding that the solution requires addressing social factors just as well as water quality and access to health services.
In response to growing malnutrition, partner authors on the report call on countries to implement public policies that combat inequality while promoting health and sustainable food systems.
Mind-Reading, Mood Manipulation: Grounds for Caution and Optimism at the Frontiers of Science
Eight areas of scientific research with the potential to have the greatest impact on life on earth are today highlighted with the publication of the World Economic Forum’s inaugural Future Frontiers 2018 survey.
The list is an attempt to show how the simultaneous coming of age of a range of technologies is already affecting our future in ways beyond their original premise. By focusing on frontiers with negative as well as positive implications for life on earth, the survey’s findings are also an attempt to galvanize efforts to put in place safeguards to prevent future misuse.
The inspiration for the list comes from a survey of 660 global experts from the Forum’s Global Future Councils and Young Scientists community as well as users of its Transformation Maps. Tellingly, many of the technologies that caused respondents most concern stem from breakthroughs designed to solve problems. The question of how to regulate the “dual use” of technology without stifling research that could lead to sizeable societal benefits is becoming one of the greatest challenges for leaders in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
“The frontiers of science should not be seen as barriers, but rather opportunities to enable collective action in pursuit of solutions to the challenges facing our world today,” said Lee Howell, Head of Global Programming at the World Economic Forum.
The Future Frontiers of 2018 are:
Cause for hope
- Quantum biology: Birds’ ability to navigate thousands of miles or DNA’s propensity to mutate are examples of how biology has evolved to take advantage of quantum behaviours. Nascent research into the role quantum physics plays in the human brain could unlock some of science’s greatest mysteries.
- Machine learning through small data:Artificial intelligence (AI) currently requires huge amounts of data to make relatively small advances in functionality. Conversely, the human brain can typically achieve excellent outcomes through its ability to generalize using very little data. Machines gaining the agility of the human mind would be a game changer.
- Room temperature conductivity:The ability to transmit and store electricity without loss or degradation could herald a clean energy revolution and enable new technologies. Currently, superconductivity is difficult to achieve and prohibitively expensive, a situation that scientists are working to change.
- Venomics: If only the medicines we use today were as effective as natural toxins and venom in binding themselves to specific targets in the human body. With more than 220,000 individual species producing nature’s perfect “super drugs”, the race is on to harness this potential for good.
Cause for concern
- Lethal autonomous weapons (LAWS): Drones and robots have a huge role to play in building prosperous, peaceful societies. Unfortunately, they can also be used in warfare. More worrying still, once deployed they could make their own decisions about the use of lethal force.
- Digital phenotyping: The ability to use technology to predict illness or ailments that are invisible to the human eye is rapidly becoming a reality. The implications for privacy and digital rights are profound if government, companies or third parties discovered a means by which to use the same techniques to secretly capture changes in our mental health.
- Non-invasive neuromodulation: The ability to stimulate the brain using electrical currents is opening up a world of new treatment for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or depression. Without clear regulation, the same techniques could be used to deliver unfair advantages, reinforcing inequalities. Worse still, there is the potential for government to use it to manipulate the mental states of specific groups, such as soldiers.
- Predictive Justice: AI, neuroimaging and big data has opened up a world of possibilities when it comes to identifying individuals and scenarios where a crime is likely to occur. The downside is the risk that the same techniques are used to produce fake evidence and protect the guilty.
Discussion about how to optimize the positive aspects of these future frontiers while mitigating their negative effects will be the focus of a number of workshops and action-oriented sessions at the Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils which will take place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 11-12 November.
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