When I grew up, in the 1950s, it was a time when researchers were still searching for Bridey Murphy and field and stream magazines still reported sightings of Bigfoot. Flying Saucer Magazine could be found at the drugstore magazine counter, and ESP was thought to have been a proven phenomenon at Duke University.
Concurrently we were administered first the Salk polio vaccine, and then the Sabin replacement. The 20th Century at its mid period was a time when science was coming on strong but beliefs in the strange and supernatural persisted deeply into the general culture of the day.
I liked science, just as I liked Mickey Mantle, but it resided in a place alongside the prophetic dreams of Edgar Cayce and the local church. As a noncritical child, I believed pretty much in everything, including the lost continent of Atlantis. The very fact that I have to provide links to some of these references shows the distance between today and then. Today most of this material has been relegated to the pages of the National Enquirer.
Science, in the meantime, has thrived and grown and has to a large degree undermined the realm of UFOs, yeti, and the supernatural. In places the local church is still thriving, but the numbers are dwindling every year as the congregations age and the true believers leave this life.
By the end of the 20th Century we were well on our way toward a new Age of Enlightenment, if by enlightenment we mean dispelling beliefs that have no provable basis in fact.
By this point in the 21st Century science and scientific thinking have become even more pervasive, despite outbreaks, particularly in the United States, of anti-scientific undercurrents such as anti-vaccination movements and anti-evolution legislation. Frustrating though they may be to a rational person, these movements will die out as surely as the search for Bridey Murphy. There is nothing real to sustain them.
I don’t mind this sea-change in perspective because I vowed, many years ago, not to believe in things for which there was no good evidence. In my case, this included religion.
However, one area I see fading away causes me some lamentation: the receding of mythology as a force of the psyche. Through the 60s and 70s it seemed that Carl Jung, with his archetypes, and popularizers of Jungian thinking, like Joseph Campbell, had somehow tapped into the wellspring of the human spirit. Mythic stories run deep through our emotions and often lead us to a feeling of epiphany. Of all the things I’ve given up from my youth, mythology is the hardest. I don’t mean myth as story—which is eternally fascinating—but myth as something fundamental to the human psyche.
But as brain science knowledge spreads, it seems the concept of a psyche is little more than a brain construct—a side effect of consciousness. Of course there is pushback to this kind of materialistic thinking, a kind of Cartesian split of brain/mind, but it’s difficult for a rational person to see much basis in fact for this view. Nonetheless the idea of a brain/mind split reaches far back in Western philosophy and is hard to shake off simply because it’s been with us for so long.
Like the measles, however, belief in a psyche can be inoculated against by sticking with the hard evidence. In time it will be seen to be as mythical as the lost continent of Atlantis—a pretty, captivating story, but unsustainable as a model of reality.
Dispensing with old beliefs, especially cherished ones, is difficult. Yet the rewards of maintaining evidence-based reasoning outweigh the pain of parting with wish-fulfillment, faith-based beliefs. It cleanses thinking and prepares one for the real world. There comes a time when it’s necessary, for good mental hygiene, to say farewell to Atlantis.