Here's what I suspect is the truth about the world. The world we perceive through our senses, I accept to be real. But the only thing we can be sure is real is the world of our thoughts. Given that lack of knowledge, it is at least equally likely that there is an objectively existing world that corresponds to our imagination, as that there is one that corresponds to our senses. We simply assume the latter, as Berkeley points out, without any real justification. We might as well also assume the former, yet we arbitrarily do not. We arbitrarily decide it is "not real."
Our one great warrant that the sensory world is real is the apparent truth that we sense the same things (albeit this is a bit circular--we can know of "we" only through the sensory world in the first place). But we have that same warrant for the world of the imagination. Not only do our fellow dream personages seem to experience the same thing in dreams, but even in the context of the sensory world, we imagine the same things, at least in broad strokes. For example, everywhere around the world there is an essentially similar concept of a huge winged serpent: if I say "dragon," you have a pretty distinct idea of what I am talking about. Everywhere there is a story of an ancient, world-consuming flood. The image and legends of Mary in Western Europe and Guan Yin in East Asia are eerily similar. When the Greeks and the Romans conquered or traded with some new people, they never had any trouble recognizing their own gods there. Christianity, Hinduism, and Taoism all imagine godhead, illogically on the face of it, as a supreme Trinity. Why is it, similarly, that the sound “ma” is or forms part of the word for “mother” in so many unrelated languages?
|Thai Dragon (Nagaraja).|
If one studies comparative mythology, the similarities are too great not to require some explanation. Jung noted these similarities, and the same similarities in dreams and hallucinations, and theorized that they somehow reflected the structure of the brain. But this does not make as much immediate sense as assuming they simply reflect an objective reality that these dreams or hallucinations are perceiving, as our eyes and ears perceive the physical world. Just, for most of us, not in as sharp focus. That is, there really are dragons, existing not physically, but spiritually, independent of our perceptions of them. There really are the gods Zeus, Thor, Krishna, and Ishtar.
|Native American Dragon (Quetzalcoatl)|
This, I think, was indeed the operating assumption of most cultures until fairly recently. Theoretically, it is still the operating assumption of anyone who is genuinely religious: the world is filled with angels and daemons of various kinds. St. Paul never denied the Greek gods, for example, existed. He said they were daemons.
Most of us see all this for the most part as if through a glass darkly. Most of us lack the spiritual sight to see dragons clearly, although there always does seem to be something within us that can respond to a well-drawn image of a spiritual being. It takes an artist, or a shaman, to have a clear perception. Unfortunately, I suspect, in modern times, in our Western European culture, those with such shamanic perceptions are usually simply declared mad. In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man, as H.G. Wells pointed out, is not made king. He is simply not believed. That there is no position in our culture for a shaman (or a prophet) means, by default, that many people are declared mad who would not be elsewhere. In Korea, for example, they would simply become mudangs, and would have a recognized job and social function.
|Indian Dragon (Nagaraja).|
Our dreams and hallucinations, and the ancient stories that enthrall us, to the extent that they can enthrall us and command our dreams, are then our warrant for a great deal of information about the spiritual world. From them, we know, for example, that the soul survives death. Creatures of the spirit world are generally, as an objective experienced fact, more or less immortal. We know that there is a heaven, and we know there is a place of torture, a hell. We know a vast range of things, preserved in our many myths and legends.
No kidding. There be dragons here.