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For as long as cultures have had contact with each other, attentive observers have noticed the similarities between their respective myths. Today, scholars hypothesize that these similarities are either the result of accident, cultural sharing or diffusion, or a shared collective unconscious of symbols. But in his revolutionary book, The Origins of the World's Mythologies, E.J. Michael Witzel argues that there's a better reason for many shared features: common origin. Like linguistics or genetics, he argues that with enough data, you can trace back versions of myths to shared mythologies from the past, all the way back through human history. In the process, he has identified a common, complex storyline shared by mythologies spanning Europe, Asia, the Americas, and stretching out into Northern Africa and Southeast Asia. His work suggests that in the distant past, humanity shared a common set of myths, but prior to the spread of humanity into Eurasia and the Americas, a new storyline developed, which has been retained but modified over the past 40,000 years of history.

Today on MindMatters we discuss the basics of Witzel's theory, the two major types of mythology he has identified, and what it says about human creativity.

Running Time: 01:14:19

Download: MP3 — 68 MB