Sunday, January 20, 2019

Myths, legends and us

Maybe you know the works of Joseph Campbell, as in his book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces."  You may have heard of criticisms of the work of Freud and others who have tried to understand the workings of the human mind and personality.  The critics have different sorts of complaints but some of them complain that actual evidence supporting theories and even practices in psychiatry and psychology is lacking, unimpressive, missing or contradictory.  As a graduate student, I found the list of "threats to validity" in Campbell and Stanley's book on experimental design memorable and helpful. The list can get a little technical but it starts with "history" and "maturation", terms that point to the past and to growth and change, to the future, too.

You can take just about any mother or K-12 school teacher and talk to them about the mysterious brains, pasts and futures of people, especially kids.  No research or analysis or expert can completely map out what a person of any age has done, can currently do or will become able (or unable) to do. When I saw how inexpensive that good writer Robert A. Johnson's books were on Kindle, I paid attention.  I have enjoyed his "Living Your Unlived Life" and quoted from it a couple of times in this blog.

As you may have guessed, my mother was a female and my sister, wife and daughters.  I understand that close to half of all humans are female. I bought Johnson's "She" and read it aloud to Lynn.  Like Campbell and Jung, Johnson concentrates on aspects of human life that are foretold or exemplified by events in old myths and legends.  To some extent, the typical experience of a human of a given age or stereotype is told in some old stories. "She" is mostly about a typical face-off between an young girlfriend or bride and the guy's mother.  I enjoyed the story and Dr. Johnson's assurance that animosity and sometimes worse can be expected between the new young woman and the guy's mother.

I watched the "Crazy Rich Asians" movie and found the story centered on just this tension.

Now, I am into "He" by the same Robert A. Johnson (deceased in the past year at age 97).  Although there are plenty of movies and references to a similar tension between a father and the intrusive guy who is making off with his daughter, "He" is about a different aspect of male life and psychology.  Johnson says that from the 1200's to now, much of young male life and development is exemplified by the legend of Parsifal and his quest for the Holy Grail. I haven't read much of the book but it certainly inspires me to stop and reflect on big moments in my life, surprising events or strong feelings or both.  Unlike careful science, legends and myths can involve explicitly magical and supernatural events. Such freedom provides a broader palette of ideas, powers, dangers and causes.

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