“Anthropologists, who spend their lives immersed in cultures different from their own, have called attention to the parochialism of the Western view of intelligence. Some cultures do not even have a concept called intelligence, and others define intelligence in terms and traits Westerners might consider odd.”
“The ability to tell myths is necessary in order to learn how to ‘think’ …the mythmaker himself is one who ‘thinks well.’”
—Ufaina (Native Colombian People)
“Storytellers make an assumption that historians rarely do, namely that human beings are not rational, that they cannot be understood in terms of “objective” analysis, and that their deepest and most significant experiences are lived on a level that is largely invisible, a shadowy region where the mind and the body move in and out of each other in an infinite number of elusive combinations, and that can only be evoked through allusion, feeling tone… and “resonance.”
Mythopoeic means, quite simply: of or pertaining to the making of myths; causing, producing, or giving rise to myths. It might seem simpler to say “the myth-making intelligence,” but we would lose the connection to ‘poesis,’ and the vantage of James Hillman’s “poetic basis of mind.” Here, Hillman’s idea is amended to say that the basis of mind, more than merely poetic, is mythopoeic. The mythopoeic intelligence is a meta intelligence that works synaesthetically; it is not constrained by literal, or linear thinking—it is associative, “coordinating widely disparate, boundary-spanning
information and competing perspectives.” (see Sara Nora Ross). Beyond information as knowledge, the meta-intelligence brings “wisdom”—as Howard Gardner remarks in his seminal work on the multiple intelligences Frames of Mind: “Wisdom or synthesis offers by its very nature the widest view… considerable common sense and originality… coupled with a seasoned metaphorizing or analogizing capacity.”
More than a cognitive process this associative capacity draws on the whole person—the brain, the entire nervous system, all the senses, the emotions, as well as the body’s visceral senses of stereognosis and proprioception—the broadest notion of “mind” all woven together by the imagination:
“Imagination is Reality. Far from being just one of our cognitive powers, valid in the field of art, scientific discovery and the like, it is our whole power, the total functioning interplay of our capacities… Life itself, insofar as it is informed by imagination, is now poiesis—a work of art.”
Most importantly a life of mythopoeic art involves the untamed associativity of bricolage:
1. a construction made of whatever materials are at hand; something created from a variety of available things.
2. (in literature) a piece created from diverse resources.
3. (in art) a piece of makeshift handiwork.
4. the use of multiple, diverse research methods.
The mythopoeic basis of mind resembles a magpie’s nest: the nest is a large domed structure usually found in a tree or bush with thorns. The nest is made of sticks, twigs, roots and straw plastered with mud. They are well-known for their habit of stealing and hoarding bright shiny objects and using them in their nests. The image is a nest filled with mismatched and unexpected things woven together in a new and lunatic creation. This bricolage is precisely how the mythopoeic intelligence apprehends the world. In Berman’s words: “an infinite number of elusive combinations, and that can only be evoked through allusion, feeling tone… and ‘resonance.'”
To cultivate the image laden syntax of the mythopoeic intelligence we have to shed the constraints—blinders and harness—of the consensus “reality/sanity” world view. Of course this is much easier said than done. Human beings are a kind of animal that require bonds to place and community. When such bonds are severed we inevitably experience feelings of alienation and exile. But they do fail because we’ve made the great error of mooring our lifelines to affiliations, affectations, ambitions, and achievements—these cannot anchor us to the rhythms of the living world because they are abstract concepts, and concepts unlike images are not alive. We have lost our relatedness to the world around us because we no longer trust it. To renew the old bonds we need the sense of imagination—an imagination bolstered by a well developed associative alacrity. To “think well,” as the Ufaina say, our hearts must be filled with mythopoeic images from many stories; the more stories we store up the better our thinking and the more efficacious our thoughts and actions will be.
© 2010 – 2011, Daniel Deardorff. All rights reserved.