Elizabeth Wayland Barber Paul T. Barber
When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth
August 19, 2019 Comments.. 116
When They Severed Earth from Sky How the Human Mind Shapes Myth Why were Prometheus and Loki envisioned as chained to rocks What was the Golden Calf Why are mirrors believed to carry bad luck How could anyone think that mortals like Perseus Beowulf and St George

  • Title: When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth
  • Author: Elizabeth Wayland Barber Paul T. Barber
  • ISBN: 9780691127743
  • Page: 135
  • Format: Paperback
  • Why were Prometheus and Loki envisioned as chained to rocks What was the Golden Calf Why are mirrors believed to carry bad luck How could anyone think that mortals like Perseus, Beowulf, and St George actually fought dragons, since dragons don t exist Strange though they sound, however, these myths did not begin as fiction This absorbing book shows that myths origiWhy were Prometheus and Loki envisioned as chained to rocks What was the Golden Calf Why are mirrors believed to carry bad luck How could anyone think that mortals like Perseus, Beowulf, and St George actually fought dragons, since dragons don t exist Strange though they sound, however, these myths did not begin as fiction This absorbing book shows that myths originally transmitted real information about real events and observations, preserving the information sometimes for millennia within nonliterate societies Geologists interpretations of how a volcanic cataclysm long ago created Oregon s Crater Lake, for example, is echoed point for point in the local myth of its origin The Klamath tribe saw it happen and passed down the story for nearly 8,000 years We, however, have been literate so long that we ve forgotten how myths encode reality Recent studies of how our brains work, applied to a wide range of data from the Pacific Northwest to ancient Egypt to modern stories reported in newspapers, have helped the Barbers deduce the characteristic principles by which such tales both develop and degrade through time Myth is in fact a quite reasonable way to convey important messages orally over many generations although reasoning back to the original events is possible only under rather specific conditions Our oldest written records date to 5,200 years ago, but we have been speaking and mythmaking for perhaps 100,000 This groundbreaking book points the way to restoring some of that lost history and teaching us about human storytelling.

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    1 Blog on “When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth

    1. Sara says:

      This is an enthralling exploration of mythmaking and how pre-literate human minds made sense of their world. As an avid history nerd, I have had innumerable occasions to lament the way present day lack of understanding consistently maligns past cultures and eras. We are so beguiled by our own cleverness, by the gadgets we've created, by our modern conveniences we now cannot imagine living without, that we consider humans of past times (when we even bother to consider them) as primitive, fairly s [...]

    2. Benedict says:

      I really enjoyed this book, although the basic thesis (people encode events into stories, and assuming that lets us get at the events a bit by trying to crack the code) wasn't too revolutionary.What WAS great fun was watching the authors roll up their sleeves and dig at the "how" of it. They come up with a list of 50 or more principles by which the human mind encodes the information, and they go through relevant examples. My own poor Christian heart skipped a beat when they explained the cultura [...]

    3. Cheri says:

      I always thought that myths were great stories coming from deep within the human psyche to show us what it is to be human. What an exciting revelation to read about the linguistic and cognitive factors that the authors claim shaped the passing on (and distortion) of historical events in preliterate societies -- and in urban legends today. These tales became myth. I was blown away by much of this: the story of Prometheus makes so much more sense now! The chapter "Of Sky and Time" gave me a sense [...]

    4. Matt says:

      Fascinating from beginning to end, though I agree with the other reviewer who mentions the astronomy chapter kind of going off the rails. Otherwise, I found all the speculation and connections to be a compelling argument of the authors' premise, that myths should not be equated with fictions but understood as documentations of actual events, often extended as oral "history" across time to us. Among the topics discussed are the Great Flood in the mythologies of cultures the world over, demystifyi [...]

    5. Antony says:

      Fascinating exploration into the neuro-linguistic origins of myth by using linguistic constructs and the way the human brain functions. The authors have been able to theorize that most myths are oral interpretations of geological and astrological events. Over time, the stories move further away from the observed event, pass on to other cultures become embellished to keep the "story" interesting and, as a result, lose context and often meaning.This book offers some wonderful evidence into the way [...]

    6. Shannon says:

      Did not finish. I listened to the audio book and while it wasn't entirely uninteresting I felt like the same point was being made over and over. Plus the narrator's voice was odd. The way she read made it sound like she wasn't a real person, like Siri was reading to me. Maybe I'd have enjoyed it more if I'd actually been reading it.

    7. Gints Dreimanis says:

      My childhood is in ruins now.

    8. Mohsen says:

      DREAM BREAKER

    9. Jan Chlapowski Söderlund says:

      * * * * * - five star amazing for an aspiring mythopoetist.The two Barbers have written a wonderful book about mythology - what myth is, what it was used for and how myths were (and are) influenced by our minds. While I found this book highly interesting, I have to warn you from the start it is bone dry. The few attempts at whit are dryer than the sands of Sahara on a particularly warm day. But that does not detract from the book's genius, or the wisdom of the Barbers on this subject. According [...]

    10. Shhhhh Ahhhhh says:

      Certainly a vindicating book but I'll try not to allow my egoistic pleasure in being proven right cloud my judgment of its objective merits. This book is a neurolinguistic and cross-disciplinary approach to the assessment of mythology and folklore, building up from first principles and simple rules to demonstrate howe we arrive at complex outputs. Their work seems consistent with Kahneman's work regarding biases and heuristics pervasive throughout the species, though the book doesn't reference h [...]

    11. Kiseruyoru says:

      Oh my good god this is boring! It begins with the entirety of the book in simple, and then proceeds to bore the hell out of you to exaggerate the importance of their particular focus on what myths are. "Myths encode meaningful information" Yes, they kinda do. "Myths exist to convey important information" Ehh. . at's not wrong, but's misleading. Bunch of stories with painfully extracted basic fable lessons to prove these statements.I don't know if anyone ever doubted the various myths tell some k [...]

    12. Sanjeev says:

      This book makes you understand that, how less we think of the Mythological stories, only because the story teller, neglected or forgot to tell the background/full story.This book made a point that, not all mythological stories are made up stories. Some might be the way our ancestors tried to pass on history to next generation. Personally enjoyed the demystification of vampires and dragons.

    13. Vyom Khandelia says:

      Good read as it explains how to link Myths to natural phenomena.

    14. Kevin says:

      Simply dead-on. Pair this with Yoffee and you can pretty much erase the premise of all history prior 2005.

    15. Adam Lewis says:

      Barber and Barber, in this fascinating theoretical analysis of myth, cogently argue that there are kernels of truth at the heart of many of the mythical narratives that are often dismissed without critical reflection. With great balance, the authors lay out the cognitive principles that have constrained the myth-making process in all human culture while at the same time giving arresting examples from cultures around the world and from antiquity. The examples are most heavily drawn from ancient G [...]

    16. Steven says:

      This book advances a provocative theory of myth, one that builds on an earlier case study by one of the authors (Paul Barber) of European vampire myths. The general theory, in a nutshell, is that many myths and legends, even those that are supernatural or highly improbable, have their origins in real observable events. But these events have been transformed in systematic ways that reflect the limits of human cognition in non-literate societies, and that help to ensure that the resulting mythic s [...]

    17. Jonathan Cassie says:

      The productive intersections between myth and cognition, storytelling and neuroscience, have probably never been more thoughtfully explored than in this great book. Taking many of the core myths of ancient cultures, the authors unpack the ways in which these myths encode critical information in such a way that they can be transmitted generation to generation before writing. If the local mountain is actually a potentially deadly volcano and you'd better remember this, even if volcanos can be dorm [...]

    18. Elizabeth says:

      [4½ stars] This book takes a completely different approach to mythology than any I've read before, studying it through cognitive science rather than as literature or archetypal psychology. The Barbers' theory is that many myths describe real events and phenomena, such as volcanic eruptions, the precession of the equinoxes, or the dangers of flammable methane gas trapped in burial mounds. Myths happen when non-literate people pass a description of an event down for generations via an oral tradit [...]

    19. So Hakim says:

      An amazing book about genesis of myths, and how to detect possible kernel of truth within them. I like to call this "Folklore Analysis for Dummies" -- but that may be just me. :PIn this book authors Elizabeth and Paul Barber explain how mythologies are, in a way, ancient people's way to communicate something in their history. Obviously after many generations fact and fiction become blurred, giving rise to what we call "legend". However even inside legends there is grain of truth and this point i [...]

    20. Jessie says:

      Not quite what I expected, but very educational nonetheless. I wish I had learned this angle of myth interpretation back in my college Classical Mythology course - would have made it much more interesting. The authors have developed quite a detailed system for explaining HOW and why myths were originally formed and HOW they have morphed over the years into what we think of today as nonsensical literary stories. Most of their examples involve volcano-based myths and they have one confusingly deta [...]

    21. Kendra says:

      I had picked up this book from a local library book sale and it's an advanced copy, so some of the pictures didn't come out very well, which was rather disappointing. Overall, however, this was a really fascinating read about what if the myths were descriptions of events happening like volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. The stories were mythologized because people didn't know how to scientifically describe things back then. Also discussed birthlines, heroes, and how it might seem like someon [...]

    22. Therese says:

      The authors make a strong case for interpreting myths as stories about real events and experiences. Drawing on geology, astronomy, linguistics, archaeology, and literature, they find kernels of truth in various widespread myths (for instance, flood stories and versions of the Prometheus story) and propose a set of principles for understanding how and why a story that begins as factual narrative becomes myth.Elizabeth Wayland Barber (half of the husband-wife author team) has written three other b [...]

    23. Antoinette says:

      Wonderful. Why didn't anyone teach me this? A completely readable and understandable explanation, with documentation, about why so many cultures have similar myths; why characters have similar names; why we get confused about the duplication of responsibilities among gods and goddesses; how and why new mythological characters were imagined; how we derived some English words from mythological characters; and, what happens when someone or some group tries to eliminate a cultural myth. A great expl [...]

    24. Michele says:

      This book starts with a simple fact: A preliterate society only knows what its people can remember, so important information has to be made as memorable as possible. And that, say the Barbers, is what mythology is for. They demonstrate how famous stories from around the world encode information about volcanoes, the precession of the stars, and countless other details. If mythology and related phenomenon are of interest to you, you need to read this book.

    25. Robert Lopresti says:

      This book is a mindblower. It starts with a simple fact: A preliterate society only knows what its people can remember, so important information has to be made as memorable as possible. And that, say the Barbers, is what mythology is for. They demonstrate how famous stories from around the world encode information about volcanoes, the precession of the stars, and countless other details. If mythology and related phenomenon are of interest to you, you need this book.

    26. Kathy says:

      It started out very good and just got better and better. Can't believe they did Hamlet's Mill in one chapter! Last two chapters are provocative and perttuy darn compelling. I'll never look at a volcano, or the night sky, in quite the same way ever again. Quite academic and still totally available to the general public. Bull Nye could learn something about writing from this.

    27. Kathy says:

      I read this book because of my experience with Ms. Barber's prehistoric textile investigations. Of course, this book has myth (not textiles) as its subject and, while I found the information interesting and clearly presented, I have to say I think she has done more complex and thought provoking work.

    28. William Cooper says:

      This is a multiple-read book for me. It is a solid synthesis of information from multiple disciplines, defending a simple thesis: that myths from around the world contain factual information (frequently the stories of volcanic action) which people, once upon a time, needed to know. It's an interesting process which seems to work.

    29. Sally says:

      An interesting book by scholars intersted in the historical origins of myths; however, I found them rather narrow in that they consider their own approach to mythology the only valid one (forget symbolic interpretation, etc.).

    30. Marie says:

      this is a fascinating book - I may have to read it slowly over the year to let each of the chapters sink in and digest the thoughts it inspires - about language, about memory, about culture.I continue to read this book in "chunks" so it sinks in. I love what it makes me think about

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