The “Order, chaos, order” theoretical approach to reconstructing the mythology of a remote past

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The first order is that of a mythology embedded in an oral society, the chaos is that of the fragmentary mythological record in history, and the final order is that of science. This way of articulating a specific theoretical approach was suggested by The Measure of Reality by Alfred W. Crosby. Crosby demonstrates a scientific order emerging with the beginnings of exact quantification which he sees as replacing a qualitative view of the universe. Clearly the thinking had been qualitative in the pre-scientific era but something has been lost sight of in making a simple contrast between the scientific and the pre-scientific modes. This is the fact that qualitative thinking is found in association with quantitative thinking of a kind that is inexact in scientific terms but is quite adequate for the needs of an orally based society. This qualitative/quantitative thinking can be seen in operation in a number of small-scale societies that have been the subject of anthropological studies. These give a means of exploring the possibilities open to a society before writing and before the written historical records. Robin Fox speaks of societies in a remote past which operated within a limited temporal framework and could continue indefinitely to run in the cycles expressed in their kinship systems. Writing was one of the factors that smashed such systems, and what our written records give us is a chaotic range of possibilities, including the reflections of philosophy. Our records come from a period of mythological chaos, and we have the option of interpreting and reassessing them in terms that would have made sense in a prehistoric oral context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-48
Number of pages9
JournalCosmos : the yearbook of the Traditional Cosmology Society
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • order
  • chaos
  • quantification
  • cosmology
  • mythology
  • age-grading
  • Indo-European
  • reconstruction


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