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Myth and Science

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years ago

On the first page of Chapter One, Levi-Strauss says "I think there are some things we have lost, and perhaps we should try to regain them . . ." Having finished the book, what do you think he means?



Structure and Meaning

Shayna Cass


In the introduction, Levi-Strauss states:


"Although I am going to talk about what I have written, my books and papers and so on, unfortunately I forget what I have written practically as soon as it is finished." [...] "I have the feeling that my books get written through me and that once they have got across me I feel empty and nothing is left." (3)


He then further states that "myths get thought in man unbeknownst to him," and he uses this statement to claim that "his work gets thought in him unbeknownst to him." (3)


I think this is what he is referring to when he says that "there are some things we have lost, and perhaps we should try to regain them..." I may be wrong in making the connection here, but I think that he's basically saying that unconsciously myth gets thought through us and once it gets across us it is lost. By this I mean that I think Levi-Strauss is saying that our thinking is structured in the same way that myth is structured, and the same way language and science and music are structured. On pages 12-13 he talks about rules and meaning: "to speak of rules and to speak of meaning is to speak of the same thing..." He then goes on to say that the need for order "probably exists because there is some order in the universe and the universe is not chaos." So perhaps what he means is that there is a universal order, or structure that exists, and that "all of the intellectual undertakings of mankind" are organized according to this structure and even though we can't see it, it is there. Science is not moving away from this "lost" or "hidden" structure because of course it too is organized according to this structure since we think according to this structure. The job of the structuralist then (as Levi-Strauss states on page 8) is to uncover "the invariant elements among superficial differences."


Things Lost

Abigail Parker



"Things we have lost..." refers to the shift in Western society from myth to science in humans explain phenomena. Of course these two methods – science and myth -- are fundamentally different, and therefore change inevitably implies that something will be lost. Honestly, this strikes me as the nostalgic yearning for what Levi-Strauss sees as humankind’s lost innocence -- however I wouldn’t be so cavalier as to dismiss this thought so carelessly.


Levi-Strauss uses the examples of smells, once thought to be totally subjective, now can be chemically and biologically explained, shown on page 13, "a necessary divorce between scientific thought and... the logic of the concrete." By this “concrete” logic Levi-Strauss refers to the difference between the primitive and the literate mind. The primitive mind as having knowledge of the concrete, that is what is available, and not abstract. The last page compares the change in literature from the myth to the novel; now the novel is disappearing -- something is being lost. What is being lost? In myth, the meaning aspect of language is disappearing, which a new structure, the structure of music, subsequently took over. Now he claims that the serial form is infiltrating both music and literature.


Similarly in Chapter two, Levi-Strauss discusses the nascent threat of globalization emerging. This "over-communication" of ideas is robbing the world of its unique cultural characteristics. On page 20, there was one sentence that struck me as particularly important, "we are now threatened with the prospect of our being only consumers, able to consume anything from any point in the world and from every culture, but losing all originality.”


Jill Coen--response

Going back to question 1, I think the shift from "myth to science" could also be explained as a shift away from sensory thinking to scientific--a schism originally resulting from the negotiation between "experience and mind" (8).  I thought this semantical difference made sense in the context of the second part of Levi-Strauss' (LS) quote: things we have lost and should try to regain.  I'm not sure LS compells us to return to mythological thinking, but instead to increase "the respect for and the use of the data of the senses" by widening the once "narrow channel" of science and reincorporating "a great many problems previously left outside" as experienced by our senses (13).



Lost and Found

Dave Schatz


To understand this quote, we must first take a look at exactly who has lost, a context from which we can see what was lost. The "we" I take to refer to Western society. Levi-Strauss is identifying with this group by using "we", and as a Frenchman, it is implied that it is the collective West. (It is also interesting that we are of the Western Society as readers, prompting some interesting questions about identification and language usage). After reading the book, I think Levi-Strauss is talking about our connections to the myth-based learning and thought, which he almost describes as foundational for science. Myths are based on a worldview entirely different than that of science; it is an understanding of the world through different glasses. He says that in myth, we see an explanation of phenomena through large connections in the overall scheme of the world and universe. Science reduces a phenomena to its own existence, fading out the superfluous facts surrounding new discoveries in nature. It is this separation from myth, a precursor to understanding our surroundings, that Levi-Strauss feels his sense of loss. The split is quite decisive too, as many philosophers of science have held discussions and debates on the intrinsic disconnect of science and all others, which go under the banner of metaphysics. If you look at science though, you may be able to find traces of myth-thinking. Theory has propelled much of the advancement that has taken place over the course of scientific history. Theories are not facts, but are based on what we know is true with corollary assumptions to make sense of a phenomena. How different are these kinds of assumptions, guesses based entirely on experience, any different than the theoretical explanation of the harelip? I find reducibility to be extremely interesting, because we may be able to trace everything backwards and connect it to the larger picture. For instance, it is said that everything in science can be reduced under physics, since physics sets up the laws of the universe.

I disagree that we have lost these mythological bases. Much of our culture is devoted to myth, especially religious considerations. There are movements to put creationism into the classroom, and they have even made it more scientific by calling it "intelligent design". We still use myths, much in the same way as "cultures without writing", for didactic purposes with children.


Lost and Found

Savannah Fetterolf


I would agree with Abigail’s understanding of Levi-Strauss introduction to the chapter on the juncture of myth and science. In this chapter, Levi-Strauss discusses how science has evolved to replace myth as the main explanatory tool available to Western thinkers. He believes that the shift toward science came in to existence during the 17th and 18th centuries when men like Newton and Descartes thought that “it was necessary for science to build itself up against the old generations of mythical and mystical thought” (6). To expand upon Levi-Strauss' explanation, the Scientific Revolution to which he refers was one of the first major schisms between the so-called scientific community and the religious community. When discussed in terms of that specific era's break with religion, it's interesting to consider Dave's comment about the mythological foundations of religion.



I think, however, that Dave raises a good point in terms of the similarities between the mythological and scientific thought processes. More than simply replacing myth, science has used the structure of myth to frame its mode of thought. For example, myths are often framed in a manner that allows them to explain a phenomenon. Science is established in the same manner by laying out a hypothesis, testing its validity, and using the results to support its claim, theorizing an explanation for a phenomenon. In this sense, I do not think that it is completely unfounded to claim that – in Levi-Strauss’s understanding of human thought – “civilized” thinkers have expanded the “primitive” mode of thought (myth-making) to formulate science, which can radically be described as myth substantiated by evidence.



response regarding our class discussion

emma roberts

What Abigail brought up about Lévi-Strauss’s obvious disdain for globalization made me think back to our discussion in class. Lévi-Strauss argues that the “over-communication” and continuing globalization of the world will wipe out the unique cultural characteristics in the world. The cultural dominance which the major world powers, the United States in particular, exert over the less dominant cultures in all corners of the globe is continually increasing, and I can only imagine what Lévi-Strauss thinks of the globalization occurring in his hundredth year…While I do acknowledge the horribly destructive aspects of globalization, I think it would be interesting to address the possible positive outcomes of globalization. The first thing that popped into my mind during our class discussion was how new cultures (and specifically micro-cultures) are created through the process of globalization. I am by no means trying to undermine the value of any culture that has fallen victim to globalization, but I do think that certain beneficial aspects, such as health care or access to resources (although those can be exploited through globalization), have become more available through globalization. In addition, a beneficial or “healthy” aspect of one culture, such as a diet or physical activity could become incorporated into another culture, which would then benefit from this new adopted practice. It’s funny because the example that comes into my mind is yoga being adopted from Indian culture by American culture (specifically the region of Los Angeles ☺ ).


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