Santa Claus came through with a copy of the Charles Murray book Human Accomplishment. Murray uses statistics to quantify genius and excellence in the sciences, math, art, and literature. Once you accept that excellence is not entirely subjective, his method works fairly well. One of his surprising conclusions is that the rate of human accomplishment (accomplishment per capita) has been declining since the mid 19th century, which may have something to do with Mormonsâ€™ artistic doldrums. Weâ€™ve discussed the book before here.
Iâ€™ve heard a lot about the book and its purposes, but the introduction still surprised me. In it, he says that any description of human accomplishment before Christ must be largely speculative. We have lost the art and the literature and the technology of the ancients. He points to the discovery of the Antikythera Mechanism, a geared device from the first century before Christ which calculated the positions of the sun and the moon. It used a differential gear to do it, which had before been though to have been invented in 1575.
Even more intriguing, Murray entertains the possibility that we may yet discover a lost mother civilization that predates (and surpasses?) the ancient ones we know. He points to some raging controversies about the dating from water weathering of the Sphinx and a few nearby Egyptian monuments. He also refers to the common features that show up in mythic traditions. These are usually explained as structural elements that well up naturally from human nature, but Murray cites a book called Hamletâ€™s Mill
that purports to show that the precession of the equinox, a phenomenon requiring decades of sky watching and recording to observe, (and the knowledge of which does not appear to well up naturally from human nature), is also a common feature of the mythic traditions. Now to Murray, a secular man, this is all intriguing but nothing more than that. He shrugs and moves on.
To a Mormon, this stuff is full of fire and excitement. I donâ€™t know anything about the specific arguments Murray citesâ€”if youâ€™ve something to add, fire awayâ€”but I do know that the idea of a common, worldwide myth fits well with the faith.
The simple explanation is simply that God has revealed the same sorts of things to different civilizations around the world. The other explanation, the one familiar to readers of Hugh Nibley, is that all the wild talk in the Pearl of Great Price is the memory of a great post-Adamic civilization, and that even the symbols and patterns of life that move us and shape us still are just the fading echoes of it. Nate Oman has written about it here and tied it into structuralism and Mircea Eliade (whom Murray mentions). Clark Goble follow-up here (scroll down).
I prefer that commenters who want to discuss Murrayâ€™s book go to the post linked to in the first paragraph. This thread is for worldspanning civilizations lost in the mists of time! For intoxicating stuff.