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Phil_Goetz5 comments on Excluding the Supernatural - Less Wrong

37 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 12 September 2008 12:12AM

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Comment author: Phil_Goetz5 06 October 2008 11:02:40PM 0 points [-]

could you elaborate on the psychology of mythical creatures? That some creatures are "spiritual" sounds to me like a plausible distinction. I count vampires, but not unicorns. To me, a unicorn is just another chimera. Why do you think they're more special than mermaids? magic powers? How much of a consensus do you think exists?

Sorry I missed this!

I think it may have to do with how heavy a load of symbolism the creature carries. Unicorns were used a lot to symbolize purity, and acquired magical and non-magical properties appropriate to that symbolism. Dragons, vampires, and werewolves are also used symbolically. Mermaids, basilisks, not so much. Centaurs have lost their symbolism (a Greek Apollo/Dionysus dual-nature-of-man thing, I think), and CS Lewis did much to destroy the symbolism associated with fauns by making them nice chaps who like tea and dancing.

Now that I think about it, Lewis and Tolkien both wrote fantasy that was very literal-minded, and replaced symbolism with allegory.