Anatomy of Myth (1)


When you think of myth, what would probably pop into your head are ancient depictions of legendary gods and superheroes with fantastical powers. There is, however, much more to myth than heroic legends. As a matter of fact, in ancient times, humans did not have the technology to explain ideas scientifically so they created fictional stories and creatures to explain the mysteries of life and death, the course of the day and night, even creation.

Throughout time, there has been a wide range of myths. Ancient divine myths talked about gods and goddesses that ruled the world, usually featuring exaggerated human traits. Cosmogony myths described the making of the world and universe, while nature myths attempted to explain natural occurrences, such as weather and cosmology.

A myth is not an isolated tale but connects in some significant way with other similar stories within a culture, each having its own mythology. Myths are often entertaining; sometimes they can be morally instructive, and possibly inspirational. It is no wonder then that the myths that are most communicated today, through books, movies and such, are prestige myths where a hero, king or god is described. One famous prestige myth is the Roman tale of Hercules; half-god and half-man, he possessed incredible strength. Another is that of Achilles, a hero of Homer's Iliad, one of the oldest works of literature.

What makes myths dangerous though is that they are usually developed through verbal tradition as in the telephone game; by the time the last person receives the message, it may be twisted and totally different than the actual story. Ironically enough, among the most commonly believed myths nowadays are scientific myths, some of which we bust here.

Polaris is the Brightest Star in the Northern Night Sky

Sirius is actually brighter with a magnitude of −1.47 compared to Polaris’s 1.97; the lower the number the brighter the star. Polaris is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor; its importance for us is that its position in the sky marks north, hence the title “North Star”. Polaris is only the North Star for the time being because stars exhibit a slow continuous drift with respect to the Earth’s axis.

There is No Gravity in Space

As a matter of fact, there is gravity everywhere in the universe; without gravity everything would just fly apart. Naturally, the effect of Earth's gravity grows weaker the farther an object is from it; on the space shuttle, however, it is not that far away so the pull of Earth's gravity is about the same as on Earth. It certainly looks like astronauts float around in space shuttles; they even call it "zero gravity"; but the truth is the shuttle and the astronauts in it are in a constant state of free fall towards Earth, always missing it because they are moving forward so fast.

Unfortunately, among the myths that are continuously being generated and propagated, even in this day in time of unprecedented knowledge, more often than not causing mass disturbance among the population, are eschatology myths, which are myths that revolve around the end of the world; the Apocalypse.

*The original article is published in the PSC Newsletter, Big Questions (Winter 2012) issue.

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