“Western Myths of Knowledge: Particles of Stone & Waves of Elixir,” a PhD dissertation and defense by Will Linn

Audio Recording:


Western Myths of Knowledge – Dissertation on Proquest

Above is my dissertation and recording of the defense, below is a sample of my first chapter.

The chair of my dissertation committee was Evans Lansing Smith, who chairs the mythological studies and depth psychology MA/PhD at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Keiron le Grice, who chairs Pacifica’s emphasis in archetypal and Jungian studies, was my external reader. And Maria Tatar, who chairs Harvard’s committee on degrees in mythology and folklore, participated as my external reader.



A dissertation submitted





in partial fulfillment of

the requirements for the

degree of




with emphasis in


This dissertation has been

accepted for the faculty of

Pacifica Graduate Institute by:

Dr. Evans Lansing Smith, Chair

Dr. Keiron Le Grice, Reader

Dr. Maria Tatar, External Reader

MARCH 16, 2015


Copyright by



If a is to b as c is to x, then:

(a) “Stein” means “stone,” (b) but having become a shorthand expression of “steinkrug,” the word has come to represent, for living Germans, a vessel and its portion of elixir. (c) The atom was once seen to behave like an indivisible stone, (x) but now the atom is seen as a vessel of energy and the energy in that vessel, which sometimes behaves like stones, and sometimes like waves. This transformational interpretation was triggered by Einstein, who is not only credited for having proven the existence of atoms, but also their ultimate reduction to energy—not matter—and the relationship of waves with their particulate form. The integration of wave dynamics into the standard foundations of contemporary physics reflects the unchaining of scientific history from the atomistic-stones of reductive materialism.

To imagine the behavior of waves in contrast to that of atoms, consider the difference between the musical instruments of a symphony orchestra and the notes they play. The matter of one instrument will never be able to unify with the matter of another, they will never participate in the same space. On the other hand, every note—each wave—can share space, which is why a single microphone can record all the sounds of a guitar, piano, singer and tambourine as a single wave that can then be recreated by a single-coned speaker and received by a single ear drum. This thought experiment presents the severe behavioral differences of material things and waves: where material things are limited to their boundaries, waves can unify and mutually participate with one another in a shared space.

When reduced to particulates, matter is incapable of sharing space or harmonizing at a distance. From a materially grounded persepective, there are no comprehensible behaviors of reality through which we can imagine ourselves (or atoms) to harmonize, resonate, or unify. The waveform, unlike that of an atom, is capable of union, resonance, superposition and harmony. In contrast with the form of a Classical atom, waves and fields find no hard walls between subject and object. Thus, where belief systems built around the form of Classical (or Newtonian) atoms depend on a perspective in which material things are fundamentally isolated—in which one is estranged from nature, lover, divinity and cosmos—a belief system that includes the wave-form is capable of supporting a worldview in which union and participation are foundational.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Western Myths of Knowledge

Origin stories of knowledge, perhaps more overtly than any other stories, communicate knowledge. There are three religious/mythological/philosophical/scientific traditions that have each taken their turn as the dominant source of knowledge in the “Western” world. These are the Classical, Judeo-Christian and scientific traditions. Each of them present an essential knowledge-narrative. The Pre-Socratic birth of Western philosophy with Thales’ theory of a foundational substance (historically) continues beyond Einstein’s establishment of wave-particle energy as a new foundation for understanding matter. Similarly, the Classical myth of Prometheus and his fire-bringing (mythically) continues beyond his rescue by Herakles’ and hydra blood, just as the Abrahamic story of the Fall continues beyond Adam’s rescue with the blood of Christ.

Through our survey of these three origin stories of knowledge we will discover a shared emphasis on matter upon which this dissertation will establish its foundations. From here we will consider the estranged despair of Prometheus and Adam in the context of existential isolation and egoism while contemplating the relationship of such isolated despair with materially grounded worldviews. This dissertation climaxes in Einstein, Herakles and Christ. Herakles freed Prometheus—his progenitor—from stone and ascended to Olympus. Christ freed Adam—his progenitor—from stone then ascended to Heaven. And Einstein transformed our fundamental understanding of materiality. What the following survey of these stories shows is that their respective continuations of individual knowledge narratives relate to the overcoming of various material(istic) limitations. Upon deeper analysis, it will also be shown that—symbolic and theoretical—fluids and waves play instrumental roles in their respective liberations from material limitation(s), which, in the Classical and Christian myths, accords with atonement.

Each in their own ways, the three prominent Western knowledge narratives begin with and/or describe theoretical entries into matter. The essential examples of this we will consider are the entry of breath/fire into a previously unanimated clay body; the entry into a life within and driven by the material body (which includes eating and defecation, sexuality and death); the burial and/or chaining of mythological progenitors in stone; the birth of Western philosophy with a theory grounded by matter; the pre-Socratic focus on the psyche’s imprisonment within the body; and the Milesian birth of atomism.

With atomism divisible material objects become clearly understood as made up of indivisible material particulates that are fundamentally divided. Such foundational isolation are also found in our survey of Classical and Abrahamic knowledge narratives. When Adam and Prometheus’ humans become limited to a material and mortal existence the transformation is symbolized by distinct symbols like fruit and stones that trigger states of bondage and isolation to which the progenitors react. In the discussion of philosophical materialism and atomism, it will be found that many philosophers experience a form of existential anxiety over a state of isolation and estrangement that Pascal likens in form to that of an atom (Lemay 363).

After showing how the three origin stories of knowledge support a perspective of material limitation that can translate into a sense of estrangement, we will continue to follow the knowledge-narratives with Herakles, Christ and Einstein. As we will see, just as the suffering progenitors were liberated from their material limitations by Christ and Heracles, Einstein liberated the scientific community from its own form of reductive materialism. In surveying the reactions of these hero-saviors and scientists to their progenitors and forefathers, we will find that each present a way of seeing that is not limited to materiality and reductive materialism. Not only do these ways of seeing not result in a sense of estrangement, the religious and mythological narratives even link the transcendence of material limitation with the experience of divine union. Where we will find elixirs to be central to the material transcendence of the two progenitors, the integration of wave dynamics into particle theory was at the center of Einstein’s transformation of science.

Fluids are the only visibly perceptible carriers of the waveform, and they appear as symbolic catalysts for the liberation of both Adam and Prometheus from material constraint. As we will see, fluids are also actuators in the divine reunion of Christ, Heracles and their followers. I believe this is because the waveform—unlike that of the atom or particulate—is capable of superposition, union, resonance and harmony. As previously abstracted, in contrast with the form of a Classical or Newtonian atom, the waveform finds no hard walls between subject and object: Where belief systems built around the form of (Classical or Newtonian) atoms necessitate the fundamental isolation of material things, a belief system that has integrated the waveform is capable of supporting a worldview in which union and participation is foundational. My argument is that the paradigmatic shifts between Adam and Christ, Prometheus and Heracles, scientific materialism and Einstein are in fact congruent representatives of a meta-narrative in which the waveform is an elixir to the isolative estrangement of worldviews grounded by matter.

The origin stories of Prometheus’ fire, the fruit of Eden, and the early history of science represent the Classical, Abrahamic and philosophical establishments of first knowledge—all of which are concurrent with either a mythological or theoretical engagement with materiality. When the essays of Einstein’s miracle year undermined the paradigm of materialism, they simultaneously challenged its reductive form, the particulate, which forever more became entwined with the waveform. When Christ’s blood baptized Adam—progenitor and receiver of knowledge—he was freed from his stone tomb. The wine-blood was then presented as the central actuator of material liberation and divine union in both the New Testament and Grail romances. Similarly, Heracles used blood to free the stone-bound Prometheus—progenitor and bringer of knowledge—and reunited with the Gods by drinking divine nectar (after the same blood actuated his own death). In this dissertation the narratives of Western knowledge-stories are carried through to these un-doings when, in each case, the waveform is presented as a central actuator in the liberation of knowledge from limitation to the forms of materialism.

Organization of the Study

Part One of two will concentrate, one at a time, on the three most prevalent Western origin stories of human knowledge: Prometheus & Pandora (chapter 2), Materialistic Science (chapter 3), and Adam & Eve (chapter 4). The order in which the stories will be considered is that of their entry into common Western consideration: thus, Classical MythàClassical ScienceàJudeo-Christianity. In each chapter, after a general introduction, I will offer a detailed telling of the story I am engaging. I will then examine each story’s most pronounced features on its own terms with the help of secondary sources.  With each of the first three stories, their most pronounced features demonstrate their commitment to a materialistic paradigm. In some way, each of them theoretically engages or symbolically represents materialism. Each of them entertains the notion of fate or fatalism, which in the context of materialistic physics can be seen as causalism (which adherents such as Epicurus took into a fatalistic context). They all also present some form of revolution from a former state that leads to materialistic interests. They all deal with the issue of estrangement, which is consistently recognized in the context of materialism. Bondage is also a recurring theme, and all three are set in the context of knowledge or reason. These themes and considerations are expressed in the most central features of each story; thus, instead of using them to repetitively organize each chapter, they will organically enter into each conversation by way of the more direct consideration of each story on its own terms. For example, in analyzing the Prometheus story I would rather have a section on fire theft than knowledge, or getting chained to stone than materialism, because these are the self-presented dynamics as opposed to an imposed organization.

Chapter 2 features Prometheus. After introducing and contextualizing the great Classical progenitor, I will work through his story by way of its sequential focal points. The first topic of consideration will be his role as progenitor and creator of humans from clay. This will lead into a conversation about his role as a rebel and freedom fighter, as he demonstrated by fighting with Zeus against the Titans, then siding with humans against Zeus. From here we will discuss the Promethean sacrifices. The next section will be on the fire-theft itself, and the next on his consequent bondage. Finally we will address Pandora’s creation from clay. Throughout these sections, beneath their surfaces, key themes will be considered: materialism, fate, rebellion, estrangement, bondage, and knowledge, which simultaneously emerge from the story and speak to the emergence of materialism as the paradigm of first knowledge. Ultimately the conclusion of chapter two will be angled towards a summated exposition of the story’s elements and their communication of an entry into materialism.

Chapter 3 begins where the history of Western philosophy always begins, with Thales in Miletus. I will follow the development of his premise—materialism—through to the decline of Classical philosophy and science. I will then examine the recurring emphasis on matter as primary, then the fundamentality of causation, the revolution of an empirical epistemology, the recognition of estrangement as a consequence of materialism, philosophical interpretations of matter as shackles or bonds, and ultimately the paradigm of knowledge these motifs constellate. In chapter two I avoided the direct patterning of the chapter after these motifs because I wanted to approach the story on its own terms; however, in the case of philosophical and scientific materialism, these motifs represent the core features of their conversation.

While I stop the story of materialism with Classical history, I involve European scientists in the exploration of their motifs, whose abbreviated story is appended for those with interest. There is chronological reason to tell the story of Enlightenment science after the introduction of Judeo-Christianity, but I have decided against two chapters on science, and to stay focused on origin stories in Part One. That said, European science built on and elaborated the Classical model of materialism. And it will be of central importance to communicate the consistency between their vision of materialism as the joined forces against which Einstein and others would later react. The consistency can be recognized through the growth of the first into the next. For example, while certain Classical philosophers recognized the notion of estrangement as a consequence to material existence, the clarification of this point—as we recognize it now—came from Descartes’ description of the “subject-object” divide. Bacon developed their empirical interests into the scientific method; and though the first atomists gave theories about mechanistic causality, Newton developed a mathematical model to describe such interactions. The complication is that, while I am not telling stories about Perseus or Moses that exist in the middle of the narrative developments engaged by this dissertation, Enlightenment science is not just a story in the middle. In many ways, the Scientific Revolution is its own origin story that restarts science, almost, at the beginning. However, though it may seem like the origin of the materialistic paradigm as we know it, they were reading and referencing the contributions of the Classics who initiated their knowledge. Again, for these reasons I am compromising by involving European science in the consideration of those motifs Classical philosophers understood to be central features of a materialistic science.

Chapter 4 features Adam and Eve in Eden. After introducing the symbols and figures of the garden and offering a detailed telling of their story, I will enter into analysis in much the same way as in chapter two. By my reading, the story demands the organization of its analysis into a consideration of the garden, tree, snake, first couple, satan’s fall, the first couple’s fall, post-exilic life, and death. y engaging the religious myth on its own terms, the conversations of materiality, fate, rebellion, estrangement, bondage and knowledge emerge organically. Ultimately, as in chapter two and three, the conclusion will be a summary of how the story communicates an un-separated entry of human beings into the paradigm of materialism and/as first knowledge.

The Conclusion of Part One will consider chapters 2, 3 and 4 in each other’s contexts. In this short reflection on the conversation through chapter four, the consistency of these origin stories and their communication of an entry into worldviews grounded by matter will be the central point. In this segment I will also entertain some of the implications and nuances of the scenario, and unlock the door “Part Two” seeks to open.

Part Two articulates three responses to materialism as presented by Heracles, Christ, and Einstein: release from materialism, participatory union, and the actuation of these transformations by way of an elixir or waves. Once the conclusion of part one brings the three traditions into a concordant expression of materiality, I do not want to re-divide the conversation into each mythological tradition—especially when my effort is to demonstrate their similarities. Also, there is an impulse to step back and tell the stories of Christ, Heracles, and modern physics in their relative entirety, but beyond impractical, it would take us away from their specific responses to the questions and problems presented by their progenitorial origins. All of Heracles’ labors are available to our conversation, but the only stories that are a priority to tell are those relating to Prometheus and the consequences of his actions. The entire life of Christ is available for consideration, but the stories that will necessarily appear in the dissertation are those involving Adam and the consequences of his actions. Similarly, while an exploration of quantum mechanics and string theory would be an adventure (especially considering the limitation of my knowledge about them), this is not required by the argument. In Part II, I am seeking to isolate the moments in those narratives started by Prometheus, Adam, and Thales when reductive materialism is transcended and participatory union is actuated, by elixirs.

Chapter 5 starts with a consideration of material negation, liberation from the material world or flesh, and the theoretical pivot from reductive materialism. This will include symbolic interpretations of Adam’s liberation from Golgotha’s stone—as presented by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher—Christ’s liberation from both his cave and material-mortality, Prometheus’ liberation from the stone, Heracles’ liberation of material-mortality, and physics’ liberation from reductive materialism. The essential conclusion from this content is that the Classical, Judeo-Christian and Scientific traditions present moments of pivotal release from materialism, and that they are actuated by the great hero, savior, and theorist: Heracles, Christ and Einstein.

The next part of Chapter five looks specifically at the achievement of union and the possibility thereof: the return of Adam and Christ to divine union, and the extension of this promise to their followers; the reconciliation of Prometheus with Zeus and the return of Heracles to Olympus; and some of the first/key ways that scientists have come to acknowledge and utilize participatory union. This will involve both a symbolic interpretation of the story as well as a look at participatory rituals, common beliefs, and interpretations pertaining to the traditions.

The last portion of chapter five considers the symbolic elixirs or theoretical waves in each story as the catalysts or actuators of both material liberation and union: the hydra-blood that killed Prometheus’ eagle (which was procured with the fire-brand as a weapon) and allowed Heracles to set him free, the same blood which triggered Heracles return to Olympus by way of death, the divine nectar that was given him by, Hebe, the cupbearer of the gods, and the milk he drank from Hera’s breast. Further vessel and elixir symbolism surrounding Heracles will be considered: the golden chalice Zeus gives Alcmene when Heracles was conceived, the cornucopia he won with a wife from a fight, the Sun’s golden cup-boat he used to cross the ocean, the use of wine and cup to retrieve the golden apples that are also found on the wreath of Dionysus, the waters with which he cleaned the stables, the golden rain by which his grandfather (Perseus) was conceived, and so on. In the context of Christ’s story we will start with his interaction with Adam, when the blood and water poured from his wound on the cross and baptized the progenitor, freeing him from the stone below and restoring him to union with God. The same blood and water filled the legendary Holy Grail, from which he last drank wine. With these events in mind, I will consider the milk grotto where he was nursed, baptism, the rock at the mouth of the Jordan on which he built his church, his walking on water, his healing with water, the turning of water to wine, and other stories.

Before moving into a discussion of wave dynamics in physics I want, in this single section, to amplify freely into Classical and Abrahamic examples of waves as actuators of material liberation and/or union with the divine, nature or lover. For example, I will look at the wine and blood of the Christ story as found in Grail romances across Europe: the blood of the spear, the wine of the cup, the blood of the decapitated head, and the water Merlin’s knights drink in the Vita Merlini to undo that madness they entered by eating poison apples. Water of the ZamZam well and the story of Gabriel using a golden vessel to pour its knowledge into Muhammad’s breast will be considered, as will Rumi’s use of water droplets to describe one in many and many in one. The hemlock that returned Socrates to a state of undisrupted wisdom will be considered, as will the wine of Dionysus, the music of Orpheus, the waters of Lethe, Mnemosyne, and the waters withheld and by Demeter when Persephone is in the underworld that she restores upon her return. A note on the grail legends’ influence on J.R.R. Tolkien will be considered in the context of Bilbo’s retrieval of the silver cup in juxtaposition with Thorin’s search for a stone heart of the mountain, as will T.S. Eliot’s emphasis on water as that which redeems wastelands.

Thales, Pythagoras and Plato’s theories on water and harmony will also have to be reconsidered in this context, which will introduce a perspective by which their paradigmatic counter position to materialism will be anchored to the rational-mechanics of wave dynamics. This reconsideration of harmony in the context of waves will lead us to the reconsideration of waves in the context of harmony. When engaging the introduction of wave mathematics to the materialistic history of physics, I will be focused on the demonstration of how this implies a revolution in Western intellectual thought that allows for participatory union to play a role in world-view formation. This conversation will start with the photoelectric effect, but extend into a deeper consideration of electromagnetic waves, gravity waves, and De Broglie or matter waves. It will also be supported by more accessible examples of wave dynamics, from mechanical waves on a string to kinematic experiments (in which matter participates in sound).

The Conclusion of Chapter 5 will organize and summarize the consistent and repetitive presentation of waves as actuators of freedom from the limitations of matter and the achievement of union and/or its conceptual possibility.

Chapter 6: The Conclusion starts with a re-examination of the details I have extracted from the stories of Prometheus and Heracles, Adam and Christ, and the theoretical paradigm of materialism that emerged from philosophy and science. From here I attempt to build my Irish wall. From the web-like negative of its cracks, I deduce its implied statement: Paradigm A leads to a wasteland which is redeemed by paradigm B. Paradigm A is generally recognized as reductive materialism, but what it really depends on is the metaphor system beneath, which we project on ourselves and grow into wounding worldviews. Paradigm B is especially recognizable by its integration of the metaphors implicit in wave dynamics—the behaviors of fluid—and the potential for union implicit therein. This sets up the statement that the relationship between these two paradigms can be understood through reason—as preferred by science—or symbolic narratives—on which a connection with religious mythology most greatly depends.

Where billiard ball atoms, particles and material things are fundamentally isolated by their rigid boundaries, one microphone can record the simultaneous sounds of an entire orchestra as a single wave. From a paradigm of strict atomistic materialism, fragmentary isolation is fundamental. On the other hand, resonance and union with nature, lover and God(s) become philosophically conceivable when metaphors abstracted from the behavior of waves are integrated into the foundations of one’s belief system. This occurred within physics when Einstein combined wave dynamics with particle physics to describe the photoelectric effect, and in Western religious mythology when Heracles and Christ imbibed the apotheotic elixirs of nectar and blood-wine. In the context of their traditions, Einstein freed the philosophical mind from the reductive materialism by which it was born (according to Aristotle). Similarly, Heracles and Christ freed Prometheus and Adam, who, after giving knowledge and suffering to humanity, were chained to or buried under stone.

This will lead us to conclude: If the restriction of Western mythical progenitors (Prometheus and Adam) to stone can be seen as paradigmatically congruent with the founding of Western thought on material grounds (as stated by Aristotle), and if the imbibing of apotheotic elixirs by their saviors (Heracles and Christ) can be seen as paradigmatically congruent with the integration of wave dynamics by Einstein and later physicists, then the solution to reductive materialism by Western myth and science should be seen as mimetically dependent on the form of waves and their behavior—fluid, EM, or any other.

After I have tightened my dissertation into the essential statements, I want to demonstrate how a congruent turn in narrative can be seen in recent history. Among other examples I will address, the dematerialization of money and entertainment combined with the explosive embrace of wireless wave technology point to our collective transition towards new “common sense” foundations that resonate with those I have shown to free us from the paradigm of reductive materialism. Technology is dematerializing our lives and bringing them into closer participation with one another by utilizing waves. Perhaps the Apple iphone is the most familiar example: unlike an axe, fruit or lever, the iPhone has zero value in the material world or to the material body save maybe as a paperweight. However, the Apple iPhone is the Swiss Army Knife of our day, and one of the most useful tools in modern life. Floating in a sea of electromagnetic waves, it connects with such immaterial realities as a typing interface, the internet, video and game worlds, photo albums, online banks, and so on. Its touch screen furthers the dematerialization of human interfaces that we saw in the first computer screen, which many of us have come to spend more waking ours looking through than moving through materiality.

While widespread technological (and thus behavioral) dematerialization is readily noticed by the astute citizen of the modern world, so too is the sense that we are inundated by radio, TV, cell phone, Wi-Fi and satellite waves, which enable the union of an object with its prioritized source—despite its physical isolation there from. Examples of dematerialization and the utilization of a wave’s capabilities of participatory union are becoming so ubiquitous, so second nature, that the evolution of common human intelligence beyond the dated paradigm of materialism seems virtually unavoidable. The interest of my dissertation is to draw specifics of this paradigmatic shift into distinct consciousness by contextualizing what I see to be going on with the most pervasive traditions in Western memory: The paradigmatic shift through which we are going mimes those paradigmatic shifts between Prometheus and Heracles, Adam and Christ, and the tradition of materialistic physics overturned by Einstein and modern physicists. Beyond their congruent negations of the materialistic paradigm, they present symbolic or theoretical waves—capable of union and harmony—as the appropriate response.

Western Myths of Knowledge – Dissertation on Proquest

Categories: Will Linn

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