The Great Cosmic Split: A myth
What follows below is a myth, a story; not a philosophy, a model, or a theory. I share this myth here for the cultivation of what William Blake once called "The Divine Imagination." May the Divine Imagination not be forgotten in this age of misguided pragmatism and cynicism.
The "story time" video below tells the complete myth of the "Great Cosmic Split," in case you prefer to hear it instead of reading. The text that follows, however, does contain more substance.
At the beginning of time the cosmos was subject to a split: a deep slice across the core of existence. The universe became then divided into two very different halfs: the Physical Realm and the Mythical Realm. All the meaning of existence went into the Mythical Realm, while the Physical Realm retained all form.
In the Physical Realm the unfolding of existence became governed by laws of cause and effect, or 'causality.' These causal laws are blind, mechanical automatisms; there is no meaning in them. They operate based purely on relationships of form: Given the right configuration of circumstances, the laws kick in and certain events are automatically triggered regardless of their meaning. In the Mythical Realm, on the other hand, the unfolding of existence became governed by associations of meaning, instead of form. These associations are not mechanical, blind, or automatic, but link events with related meaning through corresponding evocations of emotion.
Some examples may help elucidate the above: In the Physical Realm events are governed by chains of causality. For instance, if you jump off a building (the cause) you will fall (the effect). Chains of causality operate dispassionately and purely according to form: You will fall because the configuration of circumstances is such that there is nothing stopping the law of gravity from pulling you down. You will fall whether you want to fall or not; whether the fall makes you scared or not; whether you are desperate or enthusiastic about life; whether the fall holds any significance for you or not. You will fall simply because there is a blind, mechanistic law whereby mass attracts mass at a distance.
In the Mythical Realm, on the other hand, events are governed by chains of associated meanings. For instance, if you see a baby crying, it may evoke in you the feeling of pain; this feeling, in turn, may unfold into the image of a medical doctor wearing a white jacket and approaching you with a flask of healing medicine; the image of the doctor may then evoke a soothing feeling that, in turn, may unfold into the image of your sitting at the edge of a beautiful waterfall, surrounded by the trees, immediately after having drunk from the flask; and so on, with endless associations of meaning leading to the unfolding of rich, fairytale-like mythologies that, in the Mythical Realm, are entirely and palpably real. Note that there is no relationship of formal cause-and-effect in the way events unfold there; only associations of meaning operating through evocations of emotion. The Mythical Realm is akin to dreams: it does not obey physics, reason, or logic. In a sense, meaning associations are the 'physics' of the Mythical Realm, while the evocation of affections is its 'logic.' Yet, both the Physical and the Mythical Realms are equally real and palpable. There is absolutely no sense in which any of the two Realms is any more or less abstract, 'gaseous,' ethereal, or concrete than the other.
Note how symmetrical and complementary these realms are. In the Physical Realm events unfold mechanically, according to form; in the Mythical Realm events unfold affectively, according to meaning. From the point-of-view of the Physical Realm, the Mythical Realm is absurd and illogical: there is no consistency of form in the way events unfold. From the point-of-view of the Mythical Realm, the Physical Realm is dead and vacuous: there is no significance in the way events mechanically cause other events. But there is a yet stronger relationship between these two realms; a historical secret that has been carefully guarded since the dawn of time.
And here it is: Every chain of causality in the Physical Realm has a twin chain of meaning in the Mythical Realm, like the two sides of the same coin. In other words, there is a chain of meaning in the Mythical Realm that corresponds closely, according to a certain 'translation function,' to each chain of causality in the Physical Realm. This correspondence between chains of causality and chains of meaning is not accidental; it is absolutely necessary for the flow of existence. Indeed, chains of causality cannot unfold without a form of input from the corresponding chain of meaning. Analogously, chains of meaning cannot unfold without a form of input from the corresponding chain of causality. No one chain can kick-start the process of unfolding without the other; they form what Douglas Hofstadter called a 'tangled hierarchy.'
Now you may be thinking: "Nonsense. The physical world is causally-closed; that is, it can run itself like a clock without any influence from other realms." In fact, that is not quite true. The laws of physics define merely envelops of probability about what events can, and are likely to, occur. But there are no laws in physics determining what specific event actually occurs. This is a mystery called the "collapse of the wave function." And this is where the input from the Mythical Realm enters the Physical: it is the evocation of a particular meaning in the corresponding chain of meaning that allows and chooses one specific event to materialize in the chain of causality. Without that input of meaning, nothing would ever materialize and unfold in the Physical Realm; it would forever remain a cloud of abstract possibilities.
An analogous dependence plays on the other side of the divide. As mentioned earlier, after the cosmic split all form has ended up in the Physical Realm. Without form to evoke emotion and meaning, no meaning associations can unfold in the Mythical Realm. In the example above, the crying baby, the doctor in a white jacket, the flask of medicine, and the waterfall were all images derived from the forms that unfold in the Physical Realm. Those images are necessary to evoke the corresponding affective states of meaning. Without images, no chain of meaning could ever unfold; the whole thing would grind to a halt. This is where the input from the Physical Realm enters the Mythical Realm.
The Physical and Mythical Realms are locked in a dance of co-dependence across a tangled hierarchy. The Physical feeds the forms required to evoke meaning in the Mythical. The Mythical, in turn, feeds the meaning required to collapse probabilities into matter and energy in the Physical, thereby creating new forms. And so the dance of existence unfolds, like the intertwined snakes of the caduceus, the double helix of DNA, or the Ayahuasca vine.
Living beings exist in both Physical and Mythical Realms simultaneously. Life is a bridge. The part of us that inhabits the Physical Realm has historically received the label "body." The part of us that inhabits the Mythical Realm has historically received the label "soul." These are just labels, and no meaning should be read into them other than what is described in this myth. The aspects of your life that relate to the Mythical are your emotions, dreams, creativity, intuition, heart-felt fantasies, and yes, even your very use of language. After all, what is language but a chain of evocative symbols associated to each other by meaning? Language is Mythical. Similarly, the aspects of your life that relate to the Physical are your sensations; the forms they create in your awareness; the consistency with which these forms are associated through cause-and-effect; your ability to model, explain, and predict their behavior; etc. Science is Physical when done, yet Mythical when communicated through language.
Body and soul are equally real and concrete. Attributions of 'gaseous' or ethereal qualities to the soul derive from historical misunderstandings about the nature of reality. Body and soul also correspond in form. After all, the soul imports forms from the body, while the body imports meaning from the soul. Soul and body are integral parts of one single system. You are both simultaneously; right now. Your soul isn't a separate entity with a separate consciousness; it is you in the same way that the multiple split-off personalities of a patient with Dissociative Identity Disorder are, despite their assertions to the contrary, the same person. You aren't a soul having a bodily experience any more than you are a body having a soul experience. The illusion of an asymmetry biased towards the Physical arises only from the amnesia and dissociation resulting from the split across Realms. As I write this, my soul is living her life in the Mythical Realm in as real and concrete a manner as my ego lives his life in the Physical Realm right now. My soul is also under the illusion that life is biased, but towards the Mythical! During our nightly dreams we can experience more of the world of the soul. Studying her dreams is the art of the seeker in search of her soul.
The life of your soul in the Mythical is constantly influencing your body's journey in the Physical through a steady input stream of meaning. When that influence is particularly noticed, due perhaps to sharpened sensitivity, one speaks of uncanny syncronicities. Similarly, your body is right now influencing your soul's journey in the Mythical through a constant output stream of images (forms). When those images, for whatever reason, begin to dry up, the influx of meaning from the Mythical is consequently reduced and one then speaks of loss of soul. To cultivate the life of the soul, one should pay attention to the images one provides to it; not only visuals, but 'images' of all sense categories: beautiful landscapes, uplifting music, enriching philosophy, etc. Images are the sustenance of the soul. Like fertilizer, with the right images added in one can later harvest a wealth of meaning. A meaningful life, in turn, is more conducive to unfolding into rich images, closing a positive and constructive feedback loop. But beware: negative feedback loops also lurk in the depths of the psyche, and I personally know only too well about them.
Indeed, since the chain of causality unfolds intrinsically in lock-step with the chain of meaning, one has two levers to influence the course of one's life: through influencing the chain of causality and through influencing the chain of meaning. Our culture is myopically obsessed with only one of these levers: the chain of causality. By thinking exclusively in terms of cause-and-effect, we prune our own freedom in half. We enter into a desert of images, which stunts the growth of the tree of meaning in the Mythical, thereby throwing our entire culture into a downward spiral of psychic misery. We're handicapped.
Our culture's myopia has other surprising consequences: since we only acknowledge the chain of causality, we've developed an arbitrarily restrictive logic whereby only one answer can be true at a time; a kind of mutual-exclusivity. Allow me to explain this with an example: A patient goes to a Chinese traditional medicine practice. There, the Chinese practitioner diagnoses her condition as a blockage of the Qi energy flowing in her body. The diagnosis is explained through elaborate, rich, and evocative images of energy lines, flows, congested junctures, etc. The images make the human body seem to light up with meaning. Later on, the same patient goes to a conventional doctor, who diagnoses her problem as a straight-forward, and very physical, backbone misalignment. The patient then thinks: "Either the Chinese practitioner is right, or my doctor is. Both cannot be simultaneously right, since there can be only one explanation for my condition. It's either Qi blockages or backbone misalignment!" This is a very logical line of thought in our culture; who would dare question it?
Yet it is wrong. The notion of mutual-exclusivity is arbitrary. The video below explains an alternative logic that does not entail mutual-exclusivity of explanations (keep watching past the introduction to computer architecture). The backbone misalignment may indeed be the way the chain of causality is unfolding, but let us not forget that there is necessarily an equivalent symbolic unfolding in the corresponding chain of meaning. There has to be a meaning behind the backbone misalignment, or it wouldn't have occurred. The unfolding of the chain of meaning can be understood and interacted with through images; Qi is one such image, or symbol. Many other images or symbols could be used to evoke similar meanings: Tao, cosmic energy, prana, etc.; or even 'loss of soul.' What matters is not the image per se (that is, it's not the form), but the feeling it evokes; there lies its true meaning.
This way, it may very well be the case that both the Chinese practitioner and the conventional doctor are simultaneously correct; they are simply talking about different chains: the former about the chain of meaning and the latter about the chain of causality. Influencing either chain will inevitably translate into a different unfolding of the other, and a potential cure to the diagnosed condition, since the chains are in lock-step. The more consistent with the laws of physics our actions in the Physical Realm are, the more effectively they will influence the chain of causality and change our lives. Similarly, the more evocative and meaningful our myths and imagery in the Mythical Realm are, the more effectively they will influence the chain of meaning and change our lives. Reason without myth, or myth without reason, leaves half the job undone.
It is ludicrous to believe that, because a very physical explanation has been found for a phenomenon, the earlier symbolic or mythological explanation is somehow invalidated. Both the chain of causality and the chain of meaning are always at play in a co-dependent manner; one cannot unfold without the other. As such, the Physical explanation merely complements the Mythical explanation. Traditional cultures around the world, in their many myths, have been biased towards the evocative symbolisms of the chain of meaning: Shamans talk about forest spirits and ancestors, pagans talk about Earth energies, etc. Modernity, however, has brought this one-sidedness all the way to the other extreme: we now only acknowledge the chain of causality. Both cultural approaches are imbalanced and miss the broader point. The meaning associations of the Mythical Realm – the world of myths and symbols – is no less, but also no more, real and concrete than the mechanical cause-and-effect relationships of the Physical Realm. Human beings span across both Realms. To live our lives to the fullest, we must acknowledge and embrace as real both the meanings of symbols and the forms of matter. Form and meaning.
This has been a myth; one which I hope will contribute to the cultivation of the Divine Imagination and to the fertilization of the Mythical Realm for the growth of the soul. May its images accelerate the unfolding of rich chains of meaning that find their way back into our empirical lives in the physical world. "But is this myth actually true?" I hear you ask. I can only answer this: probably not in the logical, causal sense prevailing in the Physical Realm! But then again, that's not the point, is it?
If you would like to read some more about the ideas behind this myth, I recommend three works to get you started:
- Carl G. Jung, Syncronicity: An acausal connecting principle;
- Patrick Harpur, The Philosopher's Secret Fire: A history of the imagination;
- Bernardo Kastrup, Meaning in Absurdity: What bizarre phenomena can tell us about the nature of reality.