Tuesday, 21 September 2010

E. O. Wilson - Extract from 'Consilience' (as regards the relationship between place and the mystical)

The Arts, while creating order and meaning from the seeming chaos of daily existence, also nourish our craving for the mystical. We are drawn to the shadowy forms that drift in and out of the subconscious. We dream of the insoluble, of unattainably distant places and times. Why should we so love the unknown? The reason may be the Parleolithic environment in which the brain evolved. In our emotions I believe we are stil there. As a naturalist, I use an explicit geographic imagery in reveries of this formative world.

At the centre of our world is home ground. In the centre of the centre are shelters backed against a rock wall. From the shelters radiate well-travelled paths where every tree and rock is familiar. Beyond lies opportunity for expansion and riches. Down a river, through a wooded corridor lining the opposite shore, are campsites in grassy places where game and food plants are seasonally abundant. Such opportunities are balanced by risk. We might lose our way on a too distant foray. A storm can catch us. Neighbouring people - poisoners, cannibals, not fully human - will either trade or attack; we can only guess their intentions. In any case they are an impassable barrier. On the other side is the rim of the world, perhaps glimpsed as a mountain front, or a drop toward the sea. Anything could be out there: dragons, demons, gods, paradise, eternal life. Our ancestors come from there. Spirits we know live closer by, and fall of night are on the move. So much intangible and strange! We know a little, enough to survive, but all the rest of the world is a mystery.

What is this mystery we find so attractive? It is not a mere puzzle waiting to be solved. It is far more than that, something still too amorphous, too poorly understood to be broken down into puzzles. Our minds travel easily - eagerly! - from the familiar and tangible to the mystic realm. Today the entire planet has become home ground. Global information networks are its radiating trails. But the mystic realm has not vanished; it has just retreated, first from the foreground and then from the distant mountains. Now we look for it in the stars, in the unknowable future, in the still teasing possiblity of the supernatural. Both the known and the unknown, the two worlds of our ancestors, nourish the human spirit. The muses, science and the arts, whisper: Follow us, explore, find out.

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