It was a remarkable evening that I looked forward to all weekend. At 2 AM in Egypt, 8 PM Sunday night April 7th, Josh Gates from Expedition Unknown and Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass opened up the 2,500-year-old tomb of a high priest preserved perfectly on live television. It was simply a fantastic broadcast that did a world of good for archaeology in general and science as a field still very much in its infancy. I often talk about the need for more large-scale programming like this on television. I was quite impressed with the efforts in England while I visited there of the English Heritage group and the Time Team which produced lots of fantastic episodes of excavations on television with great enthusiasm. The funding from the shows allowed them to do enormous amounts of archaeology all over Great Britain which inevitably has advanced the sciences tremendously. Josh Gates is the closest we have in the United States to being able to duplicate such a magnificent feat, so I was rooting for his success. But what he and Dr. Hawass managed exceeded my expectations. I’ve watched the two-hour program three more times since and enjoyed every moment. As Josh said at the end, Egyptian society was around for 3000 years and as scientists there is still a long way to go to uncovering everything we need to know. We are very much looking at the very early infancy of the field of archaeology and there is a lot to learn. And for perspective, we are talking about in Egypt a span of time that they were successful that pretty much eclipses the entirety of our known history in the west or east. We have a lot to learn about Egypt and the cultures that came before it, and we aren’t going to get there by playing it safe and not asking the hard questions about the origins of the human species.
There is growing evidence that the Egyptians or at the very least the Phoenicians were global cultures that had in influence in North America and were crossing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans thousands of years before Christ was born so more investigations into the field of archaeology are important. The field itself is very young, around 100 years and we were too quick as a culture to accept all the discoveries made in the early days as the final testament to a long story that still needed to be uncovered. I tend to think very differently about these kinds of things largely because of the great novel by James Joyce titled Finnegans Wake which framed the whole concept of the Vico Cycle for which all cultures rise and fall and have for the entire span of human consciousness. We have been taught incorrectly in our schools across the world that mankind evolved directly from generation to generation with a kind of thoughtful evolution but that simply wasn’t the case. There were periods of high civilization all around the world at different periods and they fell for similar reasons wherever they were attempted. Egypt was one of the more successful and longest lasting, but there were others after them and before them who scratched at greatness but resided back into themselves and they all followed a similar pattern.
My interest in politics is very much connected to my interest in cultures and what makes success and failures. Society isn’t something that just happens, it is something that must be managed and how and what we do to manage it is very much the million-dollar question. Based on my understanding of world history, which is much deeper than the average curiosity seeker, I have my political preferences that are well on the political right in American culture which of course puts those ideas well to the right around the world. Even left leaning political beliefs in America are rather conservative around the world presently, and I see no reason why this has to remain so. The way to have a successful society is to follow the path of success that works. You can’t just throw any hodge podge idea into something and make it work. For a society to thrive there has to be elements of success in it, and to understand that, we have to be willing to admit such a concept to ourselves from the perspective of academia. Presently academia is in denial and is very unreliable.
I think the best thing to happen to the science of archaeology and the sciences directly connected to it is the Indiana Jones movies. It’s safe to say that Josh Gates was influenced by those movies, but so is most of those working successfully in the sciences today. Indiana Jones made science exciting for a new generation which is why there is this explosion of discovery going on these days largely by amateur explorers. In my own life I received most of my instruction on world history and comparative religion from Joseph Campbell who was something of a maverick academic. He was the guiding light of Star Wars by shaping the direction George Lucas took in creating modern mythology. I loved Star Wars and wanted to know more, so it took me on a 30-year journey that is still very much alive today into the realm of mythology, psychology, philosophy, archaeology, the arts etc. Joseph Campbell taught a very maverick class on mythology at Sarah Lawrence College and gained some fame with his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces which then became the unofficial guidebook for Star Wars—the most modern mythology of our culture. Having proper ideas in the form of mythology is one of the keys to having a successful culture. Mankind needs to understand its relationship to the universe, and once it starts to lose sight of that, the culture will begin to decline, no matter how much wealth or political prestige it has managed to acquire over time. More recently the television show Game of Thrones is a mythology that people are finding a relationship to that is very powerful. Even though the situations are fictional, the content of the story is very much representative of our current culture and it is when this happens that human civilizations thrive the most.
Science works best when it is explored without too much rigidity, and the Josh Gates Expedition Unknown was very much along those lines. The goal of science should not be in making a discovery for the school a scientist teaches at, but in uncovering the past so that we can make decisions for the future as quickly as possible. In understanding the myths of the past so that the myths of our future can help carry us all to a future state of prosperity and understanding. But titles in science such as an archaeology, or a paleontologist, or a geologist don’t do much for science because what we need to learn often crosses over into other fields and if scientists are functioning with too much specialization, they’ll miss the forest for the trees, which happens all too often. Joseph Campbell was very successful because he was able to explore many different fields of the sciences and allowed the evidence to take him wherever it went. He did not function within the parameters that scientists created for themselves, he went where science was. And that is a lesson that we all need to keep in mind these days. Josh Gates certainly gets it and hopefully he can continue to take archaeology and entertainment and push them into the realm of public consumption the way he did with his Egypt Live broadcast. Because there is a lot more to learn and we are just scratching the surface. And that is the thrill of discovery for which drives all successful cultures—which always starts with a question and ends with adventure and realization.
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