Playwright Tennessee Williams once wrote,
It is almost as if you were frantically constructing another world while the world that you live in dissolves beneath your feet, and that your survival depends on completing this construction at least one second before the old habitation collapses.
Although Williams was referring to the creation of a play, not the world, theories of the creation of the Earth and life upon her has rarely failed to interest. Today, scientists have arrived upon what seems to be a logical and scientific chain of events which explain Earth's creation, but strength of conviction in their own theory has been just as strong in earlier societies and cultures. Even this day and age has seen argument against our 'obvious answer' to the creation enigma. Is it possible that we're only another society to be laughed at by future generations? Based upon some near-eerie similarities between our theory today and the 'stirring of the cosmic ocean' and 'emergence' myths, that might be the case. Witness two such examples: creation by disassembly as told by the ancient people of the South Pacific and the Tibetan theory of revolution occurrence in the 'stirring of the cosmic ocean'.
Creation By Disassembly - Going to Pieces
One similarity is somewhat obvious and self-explanatory. Today, in contemporary theory, it is generally accepted that there occurred a 'big bang', wherein pieces of the young, compacted universe suddenly expanded on a grand scale. Specifically, between the times of 10-36 and 10-34 seconds1, the universe 'may have experienced inflation when space expanded by a factor of 1030, during which time different parts of space were flung apart at speeds greater than that of light'2. All planets and cosmic matter, logically, are pieces of the formerly compacted universe, now flung wide.
This disassembly is also seen, with some differences, in a myth by some inhabitants of the South Pacific. Some South Pacific islanders imagined the universe to be the interior of a giant coconut shell called Avaiki3. According to the myth, there lives a demon woman at the bottom of the shell in an apparently fetal position; her name is 'Vari-ma-te-takere', translated as 'The Very Beginning'. She is so desperate for offspring that she literally takes herself apart and creates them from the pieces of her own body, just as we today consider our world to be pieces of the universe in its compacted state.
Revolution: Stirring of the Cosmic Ocean
Another similarity between our modern astronomy and folklore is related to the circulative emphasis placed upon ceremony and myth in the tale of the stirring of the cosmic ocean, a creation myth still followed by some Tibetans and Indians4. In the ceremony, participants mimic the actions in the myth by circulating a pole that represents Mount Meru5. According to the story, Mount Meru is the centre of world around which everything in the universe rotates. Like the Indians and Tibetans, we now believe that everything in our solar system rotates around one point - the sun. Admittedly, the sun and moon and stars reappear every day from one side and disappear to another, but why would these similarities exist? It would not be illogical for a people to believe that a new sun would reappear every day, and yet like our modern sun and moon the Tibetans believed that Rahu and Ketu eternally chased around Chandra and Surya, the figures representing the moon and sun (respectively).
Human Hardwiring or Cosmic Intuition?
What is the explanation for these parallels? Perhaps it's not so much a cosmic inkling on the part of the Tibetans but rather human hardwiring. Yes, we have test upon scientific test to back up our current beliefs about the origin of the universe. However, perhaps there was once some sort of evidence to back up beliefs about Ketu and Rahu, or about Vari-ma-te-takere for that matter. In essence, although it is a disturbing thought, someday people may laugh at 20th Century scholars at the same time that they laugh at those of the Tibetans of the past.
Ultimately, whether the similarities between our modern science and the beliefs of those of the past are coincidence, divine inspiration, or simply symptoms of the same sickness, they are obvious and undeniable. If, as Santayana, philosopher, once said,
... remembering the past is the only hope for progress, then the key to unlocking the mystery of creation may be to study the ideas of those who went before us.