We live in the time of rationalism. Logic, science and reason are worshipped in the ways in which we used to worship Gods. It’s not hard to see why the myth’s of old and religious texts are increasingly fading into insignificance. The fundamentalism and literalism of reading religious stories as historical fact seems laughable to generations raised on scientific thought. And quite rightly, the last two thousand years have shown us that when religious stories become unquestionable truths terrible evils can ensue.
However, with the new age it is also worth considering what we have lost? William Blake and other romantics have been asking this question for the last few hundred years. If we only explore the measurable are we also denying fundamental aspects of our humanity? Myth, imagination, mysticism and romance.
In Blake’s painting ‘The Ancient of Days’, he depicts his mythic deity Urizen who represents reason and law leaning down towards the earth, measuring with his compass. Blake was deeply troubled by the way in which the enlightenment had led to scientific measurement and reason becoming the only way of understanding the world. Although unmoved by organised religion, Blake passed through the world experiencing many different layers of consciousness, often unable to differentiate between the world of the imagination and every day reality, he experienced a world beyond the material.
There’s no denying that scientific progress in the realms of medicine, technology and an understanding of the physics that underpin our universe are incredible feats of human ingenuity. However, in an age when we look to science to answer all questions, where does the human spirit come in? For millennia philosophers and mystics have been delving into the worlds of imagination, mystical experience and ancient texts to try and make sense of our place in the universe and try to find meaning in existence. The disconnection from the natural world, rampant mental health disorders and existential crises of many of us living in the most advanced societies in human history suggest to me that something is lacking.
So what does this other approach provide us that is lost in modern societies?
I think one of the main things is connection to others, the world we live in and the divine. Those who have had mystical experiences predominantly describe it as a deep knowing that they themselves are in no way separate from the rest of existence. This is a hard concept to not make sound hippy dippy if it hasn’t been experienced but the prevalence of it’s description throughout human history should be enough for even the most cynical to take it seriously. By losing this deep connection as a species we have been able to unconsciously destroy the global ecosystem, our sole source of survival. We have also allowed ourselves to make human beings ‘other’ based on race, religion and nationality and committed some of the worst crimes in history on this basis. Therefore, whilst not wanting to undermine the beauty of scientific thought, I believe that it’s also important at this time to remember that it is one of many powerful tools in understanding the universe we have found ourselves in. Philosophy, mysticism and art may be seen as relics of times gone by to some, but to me, like Blake, they are as valid as scientific thought in understanding important, and often times neglected aspects of what it means to be human.