Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking on the grand design of the universe

Today is Stephen Hawking’s 69th birthday.

The stars lined up nicely this week to provide opportunities to consider the relation of myth to science.  Hawking’s birthday is a good way to cap it off.

Here are three quotes from Frye on cosmology collected in Bob Denham’s Northrop Frye Unbuttoned.

Cosmology is the process of assimilating science into a mythology.  It’s always temporary because it’s always wrong–that is, it’s full of fictions.  The use of mythical analogies to scientific principles (evolution, relativity, entropy, indeterminacy) is cosmological.

Note that contemporary poets can still deal with phases of the moon, the four elements, even the word “universe”–in short, with out-of-date cosmologies–because cosmology, like mythology, comes eventually to speak the language of imagination.

The objective cosmos usually tends to think in terms of a development from chaos to creation and order, from the simple to the complex, from fortuitous collections of atoms of like attracting like.  The imaginative cosmos, on the other hand, thinks in terms of a past Golden Age or a lost Paradise, because it naturally starts with an ideal or model in the mind, of which the present situation is a degenerate form.

Actually, this does not quite round out the theme for the week.  Today is also the birthday of David Bowie, whose apocalyptic imagery is often space-based: from “Space Oddity” to “Is There Life on Mars?” to “Ziggy Stardust” to “Moonage Daydream” to “Starman” to “Ashes to Ashes” to “Loving the Alien.”  A selection of Bowie videos later today.

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