In defense of metaphor, mythos and every other approach to implicit truth against the advances of the absurdly over-rational

Here you go, @Klax. Here is an extended quote in defense of metaphor and mythos. I pray that it will reach you. :wink:

So I was finally plodding through the 8th chapter of Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary when it finally became interesting beginning with this passage from Plato’s republic:

The stars that decorate the sky, though we rightly regard them as the finest and most perfect of visible things, are far inferior, just because they are visible, to the true realities; that is, to the true velocities, in pure numbers and perfect figures, of the orbits and what they carry in them, which are perceptible to reason and thought but not visible to the eye … We shall therefore treat astronomy, like geometry, as setting us problems for solution, and ignore the visible heavens, if we want to make a genuine study of the subject …

About this McGilchrist says,

This separation of the absolute and eternal, which can be known by logos (reason), from the purely phenomenological, which is now seen as inferior, leaves an indelible stamp on the history on Western philosophy for the subsequent two thousand years.

The reliance on reason downgrades not just the testimony of the senses, but all our implicit knowledge. This was the grounds of Nietzsche’s view that Socrates, far from being the hero of our culture, was its first degenerate, because Socrates had lost the ability of the nobles to trust intuition: 'Honest men, he wrote, ‘do not carry their reasons exposed in this fashion’. Degeneration, by this account, begins relatively late in Greece, with Plato, and involves the inability to trust what is implicit or intuitive. ‘What must first be proved is worth little’, Nietzsche continues in The Twilight of the Idols:

one chooses dialectic only when one has no other means. One knows that one arouses mistrust with it, that it is not very persuasive. Nothing is easier to erase than a dialectical effect: the experience of every meeting at which there are speeches made.

With the loss of the power of intuition,

rationality was then hit upon as the savior; neither Socrates nor his ‘patients’ had any choice about being rational; it was de rigueur, it was their last resort. The fanaticism with which the Greek reflection throws itself upon rationality betrays a desperate situation; there was danger, there was but one choice: either to perish or - become absurdly rational.

It is my impression that most new atheist advocates and Christian apologists are guilty of absurd rationality. In defense of Nietzsche’s case, McGilchrist goes on cite the neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp,

Although language is the only way we can scientifically bridge the chasm between mind and brain, we should always remember that we humans are creatures that can be deceived as easily by logical rigour as by blind faith … It is possible that some of the fuzzier concepts of folk-psychology may lead us to a more fruitful understanding of the integrative functions of the brain than the rigorous, but constrained, language of visually observable behavioral acts

Finally, @Klax, after perhaps too much prelude, this I think is what made me think of you. But note that in what follows, I’ve inserted []* a phrase in this last quote from McGilchrist from earlier in this passage, to avoid his hemispheric terminology which turns so many people off.

> In this later Greek world, truth becomes something proved by argument. The importance of another, ultimately more powerful, revealer of truth, metaphor, is forgotten; and metaphor, in another clever inversion, comes to be a lie, though perhaps a pretty one. So the statement of truth contained in myth become discounted as ‘fictions’, that is to say untruths or lies - since, [to the “absurdly rational”]*, metaphor is no more than this.


The more I read and hear of Nietzsche, the more I find myself waffling between cheering for something he says, but then (still more often) thinking him the ultimate messenger of decrepitude.

He has bragged that he writes in a sentence what most people take a whole book to write. And perhaps such arrogance is a fitting characterization for somebody who goes where he went. I think he gives us a decent target of what we should absolutely despise, and yet manages to shed valuable insights here and there along the way. I may not be able to prove that, or paint anyone - and certainly not Nietzsche- into any corners with clever argumentation of that; but it’s where my spiritual intuition tells me to go. And I can take some ironic satisfaction in knowing that Nietzsche would apparently approve.


I’ve never found Nietzsche an appealing character but in between tantrums and invective outbursts he can sometimes be brilliantly insightful.

I’m all for anything that provides positive enduring meaning. I don’t regard literature, drama, art, politics, personas and my reaction to them and more as lies. And they’re all made up.

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  • gives up effort not to quibble *

Like works of fiction? The association that rubs me the wrong way is the idea that what is made up is arbitrary. But in good fiction character’s speech and actions can ring true or not. What happens next isn’t random. More than that, good fiction can move us to feel and realize things that aren’t arbitrary and yet were not necessarily the writer’s primary objective. Do you agree that made up things can convey meaning? If so can you see that sometimes the implicit meaning not only exceeds what can be extracted explicitly but affects us in a ways that connect us to it more than just intellectually?

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I have seen many cases of atheists who fail to understand the importance of metaphor, myth, cultural legacy, and a whole host of other features of human society and experience. I suspect that if these atheists sat and thought about it for a few minutes they would see their error. For example, is there any reason for atheists to mock Aesop’s Fables because animals don’t talk? Can an atheist not learn something from Animal Farm even though it is an obvious metaphor? For that matter, we can learn a lot from fiction. I’m a big sci-fi fan, and I love the fact that fiction can delve into important ideas of philosophy, human psychology, and morality.


Ah go on. Quibble!

Fret not, there’s a slip of semantic paper on its edge between us.

I don’t regard good fiction as arbitrary at all. From creation myths through the prophets and the Theban plays, the Book of Daniel and in the avalanche of culture from those times to now. Neither do I regard my untold stories compressed in my emotional responses to music as arbitrary.

So yes, I agree with you completely above, of course.

For many years I felt this to be the most beautiful thing ever said,

Even in our sleep,
pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart until,
in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God -
To tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

Bobby Kennedy’s paraphrase of Aeschylus.

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Careful, if you go on in that vein I’ll just lose my quibbling notion altogether. But I, like you, do not find the Jonah story moves me much at all or says anything of interest. Then again it comes from an ancient oral tradition so why should it? The wonder is that any of them do and yet some do. Perhaps that Bible book is a smorgasbord where many find something that suits even if we don’t all favor the same dish. Or maybe some aspects of our human circumstances do change over time. If so it probably deserves some of the regard one grants their grand parents.

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We’re not cut from the same cloth anymore than believers are. I get a lot out of hearing your take on things over and above your particular scientific expertise which I also appreciate learning from.

Skepticism is a good thing but I’m less sure about debate. I think a better exercise is to make the best case possible for the other side and then point out both the pluses and the negatives, recognizing how much of each is dependent on our own POV.

You got me wrong there Bro’! It does move me and I find it fascinating; it’s remarkably humane, to the point of being an instance of the fingerpost in the fog.

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