Volume 15, Issue 1/2, 2005
Wisdom: Research, Education, Implementation
Truth in Myth and Science
We humans are a curious species. Of all the life forms that inhabit the earth, we alone strive to make sense of the world in which we find ourselves. For thousands of years we understood the world through stories. Our ancestors told stories of how the world began, how our people originated and came to be at this place, and how those people across the river or beyond the mountains came to be where they are. Some stories were of animals and plants in our neighborhood, and their powers to help us, feed us, or cure our ailments. But in the last few centuries, starting in Europe and spreading throughout the world, a new way of understanding began competing with storytelling as a means of comprehending our world. Science supplanted storytelling largely because it empowered us to transform the world in ways that were unimaginable to our ancestors. We understand the world scientifically by describing the world instead of by telling stories about it. The stories our ancestors told no longer explain the world, but are data within the world, part of the world that science (i.e. cultural anthropology) describes. Our stories have become myths, cultural artifacts that may be interesting and a subject of study, but cannot possibly be true. Yet even in societies that have thoroughly embraced science as a means of understanding the world, myths remain a powerful force. Myth and science exist side by side, often creating confusion and conflict.