image: Wikimedia commons (link).
A previous post explained that trying to formulate a hypothesis for a complex set of data can be compared to trying to put together an engine -- and, we might add, trying to assemble that engine without access to a manual and without any labels on the parts to help explain how they might relate to one another or how they might contribute to the whole. In most cases, investigators have to figure out how the parts might possibly fit together without the benefit of having seen how the finished product is supposed to look.
If you were faced with the task of trying to put together a complex piece of machinery such as a very sophisticated engine, one which you had never seen before but which you realized was critical to your very survival (perhaps critical to your escape from a desert island), you might try various different "hypotheses" or ways of fitting the thousands of little pieces together into a coherent whole.
If you had a lot of parts left over at the end of one attempt, then you would probably have to pull it all apart and try a different idea.
You might need to pull it apart and start again even if your early attempt managed to get the motor firing on a few cylinders (for example, one or two cylinders out of eight), because you realize that it's not assembled properly, it will not give you enough power to do the job, some parts are likely going to experience severe wear because the overall arrangement is not configured as designed, and the whole thing might seize up or fall apart at a critical moment.
However, the temptation might be very strong to try to convince yourself that the engine is assembled properly (or at least "close enough") -- even if it is only running on two or three cylinders out of eight or more, and even if you can see several pesky "extra parts" lying around that didn't seem to have anywhere to fit in when you put the engine together. You might even try to ignore the extra parts (and the fact that the engine doesn't seem to be operating anywhere close to full power), and pretend that they don't really matter.
I would suggest that when it comes to the ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories given to humanity at some point in the very distant past, many of us find ourselves in just such a situation, especially if we grew up in a culture in which the "original engine manual" or the cultural knowledge of how the "engine" works has been lost -- the engine in this case being analogous to the ancient wisdom which is contained in the world's myths and scriptures.
We may have a sneaking suspicion that the way we are putting the engine together (or that the way someone else has told us that the engine is supposed to be put together) is not exactly right -- because it doesn't seem to be running at anywhere near "full power," and also because we notice a few miscellaneous "extra parts" which don't seem to fit into the "engine design" we are using. But the idea of tearing it all down and trying a different way of putting it all together might seem too terrifying or too disorienting and unsettling -- and besides, we might tell ourselves, we don't want to risk losing the power we're getting out of the one or two pistons that are actually working in the thing as it is put together now.
I myself was in just such a situation in my own personal life, having tried to "assemble the pieces" according to literalism, and feeling that the worldview that resulted actually seemed to work pretty well, although certainly not "perfectly well." However, when I began to notice more and more pieces lying around that didn't fit, I eventually had to admit to myself that the model that I had been using was irreparably flawed, and I had to take things apart and start over.
I share this personal story and this (somewhat simplistic) analogy because I think it might be helpful to others who might face similar situations, and also because it can help all of us to be understanding and sympathetic towards those who are extremely reluctant to look at any other possible way of "assembling the pieces" in any given complex situation (especially when it comes to the ancient scriptures). It can be very easy for any of us to point to how well two or three cylinders seem to be working, and it can be very difficult to decide that we need to tear it all apart and try a different way of assembling the pieces, thus risking the two or three cylinders that do seem to be firing "reasonably well."
The analogy is also helpful for another reason: it can help us to understand the possibility that there may actually be "bad mechanics" out there who are telling us to put the engine together in ways that actually will not work -- or at least ways that will not work at anywhere near full capacity.
These bad mechanics might be spreading incorrect ways of assembling the engine out of their own misunderstanding of how it should really fit together -- or they might be doing so because they actually do know how it should be assembled, but they would rather have the only fully-functioning turbocharged V-8 in town (or in the world). If we admit the possibility of "bad mechanics" (and we probably should not rule it out entirely), then it is possible that there could be a combination of both types: those who don't actually know better, and those who do.
There are many other metaphors which could also be used to describe the way that the ancient scriptures can be misinterpreted or misused, but the engine metaphor seems to me to be one particularly helpful way of thinking about the issue -- especially because the ancient wisdom itself does in fact function like an engine: it actually does have the power to impact our daily life, to help us become aware of and integrated with our Higher Self, to become (among other things) less susceptible to having our mind or our emotions run away with us, and to working on the spirit body which Alvin Boyd Kuhn discusses in conjunction with the myth of the phoenix (among others) in Lost Light (see for instance pages 550 - 555 and 571 - 572).
In this metaphor, then, my series of books entitled Star Myths of the World, and how to interpret them might function as a series of "engine manuals" as far as I have been able to sketch out thus far the system which appears to be underlying the world's myths and sacred stories. An engine manual is not the same as the engine itself -- you can't make a car or a boat actually move down a road or up a river by simply dropping a bunch of manuals in the engine compartment, instead of the engine itself. However, with a well-illustrated guidebook that explains the way the parts seem to relate to one another, what their names are and what their purpose might be, as well as some discussion of the "big picture," it then becomes easier to approach the actual sources of power themselves -- humanity's ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories -- and find out what they can really do.
I do not pretend to have all the pieces reassembled, by any means. That, in fact, is why this engine metaphor is (in my mind) so helpful: because I believe we are still engaged in the process of trying to understand it all, and I believe it is important to be aware of the possibility that we might need to take apart what we've already put together (perhaps take it apart many more times), even if what we've previously built seems to be "firing on one or two or even three cylinders."
As mentioned in several previous posts, including this one and this one, the authors of the seminal text Hamlet's Mill have compared the world's surviving texts and fragments of myths, rites, and even fairy tales -- and the underlying system which seems to animate and inform them all -- to a "great world-wide archaic construction," (pages 4 - 5) -- "a huge framework of connections . . . a true edifice" (8) -- and they use other metaphors throughout their work.
As we try to fit together the pieces of this vast world-wide construction of which they speak, whose ruins seem to peek out from beneath the sands and jungle creepers, and whose scattered blocks litter remote forests and tropical islands, perhaps the metaphor of assembling an engine (without a manual) might be helpful to us (especially as we encounter others who have tried to assemble the pieces in various different ways, some of which may work more or less well than others, and some of which might leave out various pieces which should probably fit in easily, once we are able to see the big picture correctly, if ever).
Because, in the engine-assembly analogy, if we are working with a flawed hypothesis of how the whole engine should fit together, all of the pieces won't fit and the engine won't work as well as it was designed to, even if it does produce some limited power. However, if we ever do hit upon the right overall conception (in any complex puzzle), it is often the case that every part which was left out earlier will suddenly fit in perfectly to its proper place.
I do enjoy imagining what this "great world-wide archaic construction," this "huge framework," might look like, if we were able to see its outlines snaking across continents, through dense forests and snowy tundras. Below is a "photoshopped" image I created to give just a tiny impression, and tying in the "engine metaphor" -- although in reality I think of the "archaic construction" more like a huge and mysterious musical instrument, designed to produce its powerful effects through sound and vibration (and not an actual internal combustion engine of any sort), and operating in both the material and the Invisible Realms.