Story vs Myth

Stories can be great vehicles to communicate useful perspectives on reality. They can also communicate destructive perspectives. One thing has become clear to me over the years: Our brains are very bad at separating fact from fiction. For example, if you read a lot of superficial, stereotypical romance novels, you may start looking for relationships in real life that don’t exist. Or if you read biographies of saints with dazzling healing powers, you may put hopes in miracles that will never occur.  Or if you watch too much futuristic science fiction, you may be disappointed by visits to your doctor where they tell you they have no clue what causes your problems.

Though our brains are often fooled by the fiction we consume, other times we can easily separate fantasy from fiction.  The brain seems better able to tell fiction from fantasy when the story is remarkably different from reality.  The flip side is that one clever way to change a reader’s/listener’s opinion on an issue is to tell a very ordinary story and only jazz-up a few important details — add only a few miracles or improbable details.  If you make the story too remarkable, the brain realizes it is fiction, but if you only sparkle-up a few pieces of the story, the brain may be very forgiving and remarkably indiscriminate.

What is the difference between a myth and a story?  As I have written in other posts, words have no real meaning short of the various ways we use them.  That said, for me, myth is a type of story.  And myths often have only small details changed with the explicit purpose of changing peoples’ views. Other people’s definitions of myth may include ‘archetypes’, ‘the divine’, ‘deep reality’ and more, but for me, ‘myth’ is just a fancy way of saying ‘a campfire story meant to trick you.’  But mind you, I love telling campfire stories to my kids, but they can tell by my tone of voice and the setting that “this is fiction for your entertainment!”   But maybe I am being more sly than I imagine.  Maybe by painting my stories as fanciful entertainment and telling them repeatedly, I am slipping in the propaganda through the back door of their minds.  Alas, manipulation is a core piece of human mental ecology.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

7 responses to “Story vs Myth

  1. I”ve been thinking lately about how much my early adult ideas of masculinity were shaped by the hyper masculine action movie stars of the 80s and 90s. Stories become mythologies, which become the archetypes that we seek to build our lives around.

    Which makes me wonder about my gloomy perspectives on the future of life on this planet… how much is grounded in reality and how much in the survivalist SciFi I consumed as a teen?

  2. @ Will
    Those are great examples. Thanx Will.

  3. “The flip side is that one clever way to change a reader’s/listener’s opinion on an issue is to tell a very ordinary story and only jazz-up a few important details”

    Which is the foundation of polarized political talk shows. Just throw some meat to the viewers.

    I remember, as a kid, wanting to live in the fantastic worlds I read about in my fantasy and sci-fi books. In reality I’d be disemboweled by the first orc I met. 😉

  4. “but for me, ‘myth’ is just a fancy way of saying ‘a campfire story meant to trick you.’ ”

    -Poetry will reach a superior dignity, it will become in the end what it was in the beginning–the teacher of humanity.” -Friedrich Schelling, Philosophy of Mythology.

    No secret i love stories and telling them often. we are a story people after all. there is great power in stories, so we must be responsible for what we use. yet on the other hand, we don’t want to throw them out and go all ‘facts and data’ as that leaves the info only to the select few who have the skill set to interpret data. that’s why, IMHO, the evolution/creation debate continues. until we figure out a compelling way to put evolution into a story format, i fear this issue won’t be resolved.

  5. For anyone who enjoys good storytelling, check out the group Celestial Navigations. Here’s a sample: Celestial Navigations – The Train

  6. “What is the difference between a myth and a story?”

    a short, glib answer might be: Age?

    One of the better explanations I’ve heard is this: myth and story are not concerned with “what is” but instead with “what to do”. And so a myth in particular has had an authoritative stamp put on it by some ancient culture. It becomes “What you should do” or “how we should behave” according to that culture.

  7. @ Andrew
    Yeah, “age”, “sanctified [authoritative stamp]” sound like two important components of the difference. Which shows that with time and approval a story which has had effects for a long time are then sanctified as desired effects. Myths were stories. And once de-sanctified, we eject their authority and make them stories again — as they should be.

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