Excerpt from The Science of The Dogon, by Laird Scranton
The information presented in the preceding chapters demonstrates a direct relationship between the symbols and themes of the Dogon creation story and known scientific facts relating to the formation of the universe, matter, and biological reproduction. This relationship is a broad and specific one that is couched in clear definitions and supported by priestly interpretations and cosmological drawings. The parallels between Dogon myth and science run deep.
The Dogon concepts touch on virtually every salient point of the related science and do so in organized and sensible ways. Moreover, the extended parallels between myth and science sustain themselves through complex discussions of the formative processes of the universe and the conception of life.
Correlations between the Dogon myths and science begin with explicit statements by the Dogon priests, which establish that the esoteric tradition of the Dogon is specifically understood to describe the underlying processes by which matter and life were formed. Details of these processes then play out in parallel with modern scientific theory, matching the components and component processes of myth with those of science. This kind of direct correlation with known facts taken in any context other than that of ancient myth would surely be accepted as a positive statement of real knowledge.
It should be emphasized that the scientific interpretations we place on various Dogon cosmological symbols are not arbitrary ones. Rather, they are driven by and are consistent with the ways in which the Dogon elders understand and define their own symbols. These interpretations are aided by the definition of cosmological keywords such as po, sene, bummo, yala, tonu, and toymu - and by symbolic keywords such as "Water," "Fire," "Wind," and "Earth." Such words seem to transcend boundaries of culture, and their likely counterparts in the Egyptian hieroglyphic language often confirm the scientific sense of meaning assigned to the words by the Dogon. In the purest cases, these relationships between words are supported by common multiple meanings or by common related symbols-often by the Egyptian glyphs used to write the words, whose shapes match related Dogon cosmological drawings.
The coherence of Dogon cosmology is upheld by a sensible, well-defined system of symbolic storylines whose themes directly mirror the best modern scientific theories of how the universe and matter might have actually come to exist.The myths express themselves clearly and succinctly, so much so that the statements of the Dogon priests, are often most easily understood in direct comparison with comparable statements from popular modern interpreters of science - authors of the caliber of Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, and Richard Feynman. Our understanding of these statements by Dogon priests is guided and supported by important cosmological drawings that often appear in a similar context and take the same form as related scientific diagrams.
The Dogon symbols and concepts relating to atomic structure so thoroughly mimic their scientific counterparts that, if our purpose was to refute their basis in science, we would first need to explain in some believable way the following extraordinary similarities:
• The po, which is defined in terms similar to those that describe the atom
• Sene seeds, which are described in form and behavior as being similar to protons, neutrons, and electrons and whose "nesting" is recognizable as an electron orbit
• The germination of the sene, whose drawn images are a match for the four types of quantum spin particles
• The spider of the sene whose threads weave the 266 seeds of Amma, much as string theory tells us all matter is woven from strings
• The basic creative impulse of the gods, from whom all of these particles emerged, which is stated in terms that run parallel to the concept of the four basic quantum forces
In many previous examples, this study has demonstrated a consistent relationship between symbols and concepts of the Dogon people and modern science. These examples show, among other things, that the Dogon myths clearly describe:
• The correct attributes of the unformed universe
• That all matter was created by the opening of the universe
• That spiraling galaxies of stars were formed when the universe opened
• That this same event was responsible for the creation of light and time
• The complex relationship between light and time
• That matter can behave like a particle or as a wave
• That sound travels in waves
• That matter is composed of fundamental components
• The correct counts of the elements within each component category of matter
• That the most basic component of matter is a thread
• That this fundamental thread vibrates
• That under some conditions threads can form membranes
• That threads give rise to the four fundamental quantum forces
• The correct attributes of these quantum forces
• The correct attributes of the four types of quantum spin particles
• The concept of the uncertainty principle
• That atoms are formed from smaller particles
• That electrons orbit atoms
• That component particles other than electrons make up the nucleus of an atom
• The correct shape of an electron orbit
• That electrons of one atom can be "stolen" by other atoms to form molecular bond
• That light is emitted by changes in the energy level of an electron
• The correct electron structures of water and of copper
• That hydrogen atoms form pairs
• That sunlight is the result of the fusion of hydrogen atoms
• That water goes through phase transitions
• That the emergence of matter in the universe is related to phase transitions
• The correct steps in the natural water cycle
• That the first single cell emerged spontaneously from water
• That cells reproduce by mitosis to form two twin cells
• The correct sequence of events during sexual reproduction and growth of an embryo
• That female and male contributions are required for sexual reproduction
• That children inherit genetic characteristics from each parent
• That there are 22 chromosome pairs
• That sex is determined by the X and Y chromosomes
• That chromosomes move apart and spindles form during mitosis
• The correct shapes and attributes of chromosomes and spindles
• That sexual reproduction starts with the formation of germ cells
• That germ cells reproduce by a process unique to themselves
• That eggs live longer than other cells
• The correct configuration and attributes of DNA
Given the tribal nature of Dogon society, we might be inclined-as was Carl Sagan-to ascribe any apparent Dogon scientific knowledge to recent contacts with modern cultures. However, upon closer examination, we see that this point of view simply does not hold water. The Dogon cosmological system conveys scientific meaning through a complex system of mythological themes, symbols, storylines, and words.
Time and again, we have shown that these same symbolic elements existed in similar form among the 5,000-year-old mythologies of early cultures from widely separated regions of the earth. The suggestion that this science was conveyed to the Dogon through modern contacts does not adequately explain the presence of these same well-known symbols in ancient myths. The Dogon also profess knowledge of a number of scientific facts that were not known, and others that were not even proposed, by modern science when they were documented by Griaule and Dieterlen in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. These statements of apparent fact also serve to undermine any suggestion that the Dogon could have derived their knowledge from contact with modern sources.
It is important to note that Dogon society carries with it ample signs of an ancient lineage. This can be readily seen in the cultural and linguistic similarities between the Dogon and the people of ancient Egypt, which would be expected of two closely related cultures. The concurrence of these same cultural features among the Amazigh, whose culture is known to date from the earliest days of ancient Egypt, argues in favor of a long history for the Dogon. The Dogon people also observe more than a fair share of rituals and traditions typically associated with ancient Egypt and other elder societies, such as the cultural imperative to build aligned structures, the use of a 360-day calendar, and so on. Other likely relationships to ancient Egypt can be seen in Dogon agricultural practices, in their societal reverence for ancestors, in their peculiarly Egyptian-like civic organization, and in details of their astronomical knowledge.
Other aspects of Dogon cosmology argue for an early relationship between the Dogon and ancient Egyptian mythological systems. For instance, the Dogon tradition of eight ancestors seems to bear a relationship to the Egyptian Ogdoad, and yet the Dogon do not assign actual god or goddess names to these ancestors.
Likewise, there seems to be a relationship between Dogon cosmological drawings and the shapes of various Egyptian glyphs, yet among the Dogon, these drawings have never taken on the status of an actual written language. Dada, the Dogon spider who weaves matter and whose name means "mother" in the Dogon language, exhibits many of the classical attributes of the Egyptian (and Amazigh) goddess Neith.
In fact, other ancient goddesses, like Athena, who are traditionally associated with Neith also are associated with spider symbolism similar to that found in Degon cosmology. Such consistencies suggest that the Dogon system of myth could represent an early incarnation of the Egyptian myths.
The clear implication of the Dogon myths and their apparent relationship to science is that, at some point prior to 3400 BC, mankind was the beneficiary of deliberate civilizing instruction presented (if the Dogon account is to be believed) by careful, well-meaning, knowledge-able teachers. Such instruction could account for the apparently sudden rise of Egyptian civilization from the backdrop of earlier hunter tribes. It could also account for the numerous cultural histories of ancestor-teacher-gods found around the world. The myths, symbols, traditions, symbolic languages, and shrines of ancient cultures-the mnemonic devices by which this instruction was seemingly transmitted and sustained-are the apparent evidence of this instruction, and the serpent - an Egyptian symbol for "the Word"- is the teacher's signature icon.
If the impulse to associate the various ancient world mythologies with a single planned mythological system is driven by apparent similarities between myths of ancient societies, then the confirmation of such a relationship lies in what-to all logical modes of thought-should be their apparent differences, had they actually arisen independently of each other. For example, it is clear that the mere impulse on the part of an ancient society to build a structure that was aligned with the stars would not logically dictate (Jung notwithstanding) a mythology that expresses itself in terms of archetypical symbols such as water, fire, wind, and earth. Nor is there compelling reason for that same culture to adopt a belief that the civilizing skills of humanity, were imparted to them by ancestral teachers. Likewise, there would be no automatic reason for such a culture to assert that written language was a gift from these same teachers. To my way of thinking, one critical omission on the part of most researchers of ancient myth has been to ignore these unexplained similarities, which seem to coexist among widely divergent societies but without compelling reason. These unreasoned connections function like fingerprints found at a crime scene. Often, they are what enable us to positively align parallel ancient mythologies. In my view, these kinds of connections, perhaps along with undiscovered relationships of ancient language, are the likely foundation upon which to build future arguments in favor of a global ancient system of instructional myth.
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