This post arises from a confluence of thoughts that have been brimming in my mind for quite some time now.
I have been thinking about an automated way to track memes. Loosely speaking, a meme is an idea that transmits from one person to another. I believe ideas are very powerful. Some of my favorite movies are based on “ideas” — for example, Inception and V for vendetta. The quotes from V for vendetta are particularly relevant –
Evey: “Remember, remember, the Fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot. I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot… But what of the man? I know his name was Guy Fawkes and I know, in 1605, he attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. But who was he really? What was he like? We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught, he can be killed and forgotten, but 400 years later, an idea can still change the world. I’ve witnessed first hand the power of ideas, I’ve seen people kill in the name of them, and die defending them… but you cannot kiss an idea, cannot touch it, or hold it… ideas do not bleed, they do not feel pain, they do not love… And it is not an idea that I miss, it is a man… A man that made me remember the Fifth of November. A man that I will never forget.”
Creedy: “Die! Die! Why won’t you die?… Why won’t you die?”
V: “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.”
Truly an epic scene!
Now, the connection to myths. I’ ll admit, I am a sucker for reinterpretations and alternative ways of looking at things. After reading the “The immortals of Meluha”, I stumbled upon this article by Amish Tripathi. This is a really cool interpretation of the myths around Indian Gods. The idea that mythology is just history in disguise is not new — it is known as Euhemerism (more info here and here).
I have wondered how the concepts of religion has managed to survive the test of time. Whether you are religious are not (I dont say whether you believe in god, since I believe god is a very personal and subjective concept), you have to stand in awe of the effect that religion has on the world. What convinces people to believe in religion so much that they propagate religion even when they fully dont understand it? You need the “magic of myth” — a powerful idea along with evidence that that suggests it would be impossible for a human to accomplish something like this without “divine help”. For instance, we believe Vyasa wrote the Mahabharata. It seems like a gargantuan task for someone to create something so beautiful just by imagination — hence we might believe the characters actually existed and Vyasa was a powerful sage who could describe the war so beautifully. What if say, the Mahabharata was written by about 100 like-minded people who wanted to share their observations about life and created an amazing story? And what if they called themselves ‘Team Vyasa’? If you really believe in your idea and want to change the world, I believe the last thing you would care about is whether you get credit for your idea or not. So, they could have given up (short-term) individual fame to ensure the immortality of their ideas. The idea itself is not that alien — even in today’s world, you can find countless examples — for instance, hackers around the world create (amongst other things) high quality open source software. If you are not convinced, you should also check out this video — the surprising truth about what motivates us). Think of this hypothetical situation — 200 years from now, someone could promote the idea that the first computer was given by God to Steve Jobs (Steve Jobs since he is an inspiration for a lot of people) and destroy all evidence that points otherwise. Ok, that was a bit far-fetched, but you get the idea :).
tl;dr: What if what we believe as myths were actually a really smart strategy by our ancestors to ensure that their ideas stand the test of time? I know it’s a long shot, but why let facts get in the way of a good story ;)? I really want to explore this idea in more depth (at least in the context of Indian mythology). The book “Myth-mithya” seems like a good starting point. Other suggestions?
Exciting times ahead!