Mütoloogilisest mõtlemisest kahe-jalaga-maa-peal-seletustes. On mythological thinking in the representation of the concept two-feet-on-the-ground

Mari-Liis Madisson


This article focuses on the simultaneous co-existence of mythological and descriptive thinking in common sense discourse. Specifically, it concentrates on the synthesis of types of thought in those understandings that are characterized by the well-known expression having (one’s) two-feet-on-the-ground. In order to provide concreteness for the meaning of the expression, I investigated Estonian cyberspace as one of the most prevalent arenas of common sense discourse, and it appeared that two-feet-on-the-ground is used to refer to rationality, sanity and practicality as opposed to, for example, dreamers, bohemians and people who talk about karma or believe in UFOs. People who use having (one’s) two-feet-on-the-ground as a key element in their self-description assume that the way they understand the world is more rational and closer to reality than that of bohemians and spiritualists. Behind the above-mentioned two notions, which in themselves are not easy to define, there is a gleam of a more general tendency of Western thought. This is the conclusion reached by Rein Vihalemm, who has argued that what is accepted as truthful knowledge on the level of common sense is usually understood as being synonymous with scientific knowledge; in turn, the notion of the scientific is usually connected with inductive-empirical science. This article argues that the understandings that are posited as having two-feet-on-the-ground are mixed with categories that cannot be considered as belonging to inductive-empirical logic. The question of values, metaphysics and teleology is always (at least implicitly) present in those representations. That idea seems to be natural in academic discourse but is not as self-evident on the common-sense level. Those who describe themselves as standing with their two-feet-on-the-ground usually think of metaphysics and teleology as being subjective, useless and distant. In describing the specificity of the logic of two-feet-on-the-ground representations, it is fruitful to use the meta-language of cultural semiotics. This allows for the explication of two fundamental and fundamentally different ways of constructing knowledge: mythological and descriptive logics of signification. The general parameters of mythological thinking are that objects belong in the same class and they cannot be organized in intersections or categories. The other aspect that is characteristic of mythological thinking is that the world is structured according to a binary logic – it is divided into Good and Evil, right and wrong, order and chaos. Non-mythological thinking is based on creating abstractions and organizing objects according to the principles of logic. The main structural operation of mythological thinking is the creation of analogies. Descriptive thinking focuses on the relations of chronology, particular-general and cause-effect. Two-feet-on-the-ground understandings have a tendency to create a holistic approach that connects mythological and descriptive thinking. If a statement is recognized as having (one’s) two-feet-on-theground, i.e. if it contains schemes, calculations, formulae or other items that indicate scientificity (=inductive- empirical) etc., then it is likely that at the common-sense level it is perceived as something good=valuable=rational. Some radical two-feet-on-the-ground representations can even use the apparatus of scientific discourse to explain the purpose of life or the way God connects with his addressees during mystical experiences. I do not mean to imply that the presence of mythological thinking in those understandings is bad or dangerous. I agree with Lotman's idea that it is, instead, unavoidable because in contemporary culture pure forms of mythological or descriptive thinking do not exist: they are always entangled to some extent. However, I do think that not acknowledging a high concentration of mythological thinking in understandings that posit themselves as two-feet-on-the-ground can be a bit tricky because resorting to a purely practical interpretation of the phrase (and the understanding) can result in its manipulative use by demagogues who act under the aegis of science.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7592/methis.v6i8.554


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