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Demystifying Mythologies

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In Roland Barthes' "Mythologies", a collection of essays, Barthes analyzes Einstein's brain as a mythical object in his essay, "The Brain of Einstein." Barthes believes that Einstein's brain -- "the greatest intelligence of all" -- is "commonly signified by his brain" and therefore "reified" into "an image of the most up-to-date machine." In other words, people dehumanized Einstein from having any physiological or spiritual relevance and instead think of him simply as "matter."

Barthes makes a peculiar simile of Einstein's brain to that of different machines; he writes, "The mythology of Einstein shows him as a genius so lacking in magic that one speaks about his thought as of a functional labour analogous to the mechanical making of sausages, the grinding of corn or the crushing of ore: he used to produce thought, continuously, as a mill makes flour." However, Einstein eventually faced death, like every human, because he is exactly that -- mortal, and this is his greatest and only downfall. Yet since people were so amazed by Einstein's absolutely brilliant mind, we all seemed to forget that he too was human. Thus, "some failure on the part of Einstein is necessary: Einstein died . . . without having been able to verify 'the equation in which the secret of the world was enclosed'." "In this way Einstein fulfills all the conditions of myth," according to Barthes, because that's exactly what our ideal image of his brain as a ongoing machine turned out to be -- a myth.

Nevertheless, our ignorance and perhaps fear of the unknown has motivated us to create even more mythologies, even in the world we live in today. The myth of education, for example; the idea that once it is easily achieved it will provide us with a stable career and a prosperous future. I emphasize the word "easily" because the media has baited us into believing that a perfectly "good" education can be easily tackled by means of taking a few online courses, all the while there being a perfectly "valuable" diploma at the end waiting for us. Not only is this in itself a myth, but it brings me to another myth about education: what is considered to be a "good" education and a "valuable" diploma? Why is it that the reputation of ivy league universities like Harvard and Yale should deliver us a better education and a more valuable diploma than any other? This is simply not true, because it is a generalization and we automatically assume this to be true for each and every person when, really, it varies.

Moreover, we have this idea that if one completes high school, attends university, and receives their diploma, then all will be fine! We will have a great job awaiting us, and that will be that. Well, that's not all! So, what are our motives for getting an education? Is it simply for the sake of getting a good job and making money? Perhaps this is what we've reified education to be; but let's look at the "inner form" of the word "education," "educatio" being a Greek word, "duc" meaning "leading or bring," "e" meaning "out of," and "atio" referring to "a process." Thus, putting it all together, the true and original meaning of "education" is bringing out the best in you, bringing out the best of what you are capable of. Therefore, the modern connotation of the word "education" is a myth, because we should really be looking to get an education to better ourselves, our minds.

Furthermore, when one thinks of education, an image of a diploma automatically comes to mind just as the image of a brain has replaced Einstein as a human being; but does that piece of paper truly measure our greatest worth, our capability? Of course not, because an education can come in all different forms -- not just a college degree. You may be beginning to wonder what we are all doing here then -- preparing for or attending college? Because we should believe that (in my case) by going to a certain university the best will be brought out from inside of us; after all, the best is already there, most of us just are unaware or doubtful.

I can only hope then that the students who will read this article, the ones who will be starting their freshman year or will return to their respective university this fall, will perhaps realize or stop to think what they are in fact doing there, and what they hope to get out of this college experience. I guess it all depends on what you consider a "valuable" education, and a worthwhile educational experience. I have already come to learn that it all goes by so fast, and already too fast in fact for me. So, if you can, take full advantage of this opportunity.

Author's Note: Sources:
Barthes, Roland, Mythologies France, Editions de Seuil, 1957.
Barthes, Roland, translated by Annette Lavers. Mythologies London, Paladin, 1972.


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