More than anything else, the history of the unconscious shows that the mythopoetic worldview, which accommodates the contextual symbolic nature of the psyche, is necessary in order to successfully navigate our interior, psychological lives. Only through a meaningful and authentic relationship to the whole of being human can we engage the many challenges of our contemporary world and lay a solid foundation for future generations to do the same. The preceding posts on the history of humanity’s negotiations with the unconscious show that the means to engage with the unknowable aspects of being human has been through the symbolic form of the mythopoetic worldview. From the otherworlds of the earliest religions, to the metaphors of mythology, to the thoughts of philosophers; from the characters and doubles of literature to the symbol driven individuation of depth psychology, symbolic form has been the bridge from conscious awareness to the mysterious unknown of the unconscious psyche.
We live in an age of dismay and addiction, the results of which manifest in countless social, environmental, and political issues. We also live in an age of unprecedented opportunity. Science provides us with knowledge undreamed of only a few years ago, technology enables rapidly advancing new technology, and we are more aware of our past mistakes than ever before. The challenge lies in the fact that we have rejected many of the subtleties of being human in favor of scientific, technological, and commercial advancements. The main victim of this broad rejection is the intentional engagement with symbolic form and the relationship to the mysterious unconscious. This prevents us from maturing, psychologically and spiritually, on a personal and societal level. Our immaturity in these areas is not only the root of the challenges we face, it prevents us from fully addressing the issues and finding lasting solutions and transformation. As a species, we must reclaim our mythopoetic heritage and re-integrate it into our lives. We must synthesize the mythopoetic and the scientific worldviews into a new mytho-scientific one.
Consider the scenario of someone who has never experienced the object of a car, who knows absolutely nothing about vehicles, mechanics, internal combustion engines, transmissions – or brakes – how would that person engage the encounter? He or she probably would inspect it from top to bottom, but not having any other basis of knowledge with which to compare the experience, would consider it mysterious. If this person was tenacious enough, he or she could eventually learn to drive without understanding the mechanics of the car (as indeed most people actually do), and be able to get around and utilize the rapid form of transportation. This person could also eventually learn the mechanics of the car and understand what it actually is, and this knowledge may or may not contribute to the proper or improved driving of the car; perhaps it would inform a style of driving that leads to better fuel mileage, or less wear and tear on the tires and brakes, but the driving skills, as such, would likely not be improved all that much, if at all. This analogy illustrates humanity’s encounter over the ages with the unconscious. We learned to live with the human psyche before we began to learn what it actually is, and the improvement of our individual lives are not enabled all that much by the scientific knowledge of what it is. We still need to know how to negotiate with it, and for that, science can offer little value, and considering the contextual nature of the psyche, it is unlikely that it ever will be able to.
Humans have not striven, for millennia, to understand, explain, and live with the unconscious for no reason. They have done so because there is something there that needs to be engaged. Only recently, with the discoveries of neuroscience has the relationship to the unconscious shifted from one of engagement to one of classification and scientific manipulation. Even while confirming the archetypal structure of the psyche and offering valuable insights into many areas of inquiry, scientific discoveries do not offer a means of authentically engaging the unconscious and living within its structure. It might be able to tell us what the unconscious is, but science simply does not provide the ‘how’ to engage that ‘what’ on the widespread basis of ‘everyday’ living. That knowledge comes from somewhere else. Scientific understanding will not stop the inherent symbol formation of the unconscious any more than it stops the moon orbiting the earth by explaining gravity or charting the trajectory of orbit. Likewise, a study of human nature and behavior might explain, through sociological, anthropological, or even psychological lenses, why an individual chooses to do x instead of y when confronted by situation z, but it continues to struggle to say what that individual should choose to do, based on his or her life situation and phase of development. That is the value that symbolic form and the mythopoetic view offer. The relationship between the scientific and the mythopoetic worldviews must become one of “yes and…” rather than the current and mutually exclusive “yes, but…”
The gradual rejection of symbolic form as a way of knowing was a product of the evolution of thought throughout our history. In view of the impact this has had on our social and environmental circumstances, it is advisable that we reconsider the value of symbolic forms as a way of knowing and relating to the ineffability of the human experience. We are now at the point where we have sufficient knowledge of our past and an awareness of our position within history to be able to reevaluate and consciously participate in the future evolution. In light of the value that both scientific inquiry and symbolic knowing bring to the human existence, the question immediately arises as to how we can reconcile the continued imperatives of science and social progress with the human need for an adequate and meaningful way to relate to ultimate reality. This goes beyond morals or ethics to deeper questions of what is right for that individual to choose for his or her development in the context of his or her particular circumstances. Symbols are contextual, and any interpretation of their meaning must be made on the foundation of that person’s situation. Symbols predated verbal language, and the symbol creating activities of the unconscious will continue on its task of guiding the development of the species. Relying solely on ‘hard’ evidence, science cannot offer the value of aiding that quest; therefore, a full understanding of the human condition must incorporate a mythopoetic worldview.