characters The Mind in the Cave Consciousness and the Origins of Art 107

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Emerging from the narrow underground passages into the chambers of caves such as Lascaux Chauvet and Altamira visitors are confronted with symbols patterns and depictions of bison woolly mammoths ibexes and other animalsSince its discovery cave art has provoked great curiosity about why it appeared when and where it did how it was made and what it meant to the communities that created it David Lewis Williams proposes that the explanat. Brilliant insightful and clear book tying discoveries in cave art and paleolithic culture to neuroscience and emerging study of consciousness At times as others have observed Lewis Williams goes out on what appear to be limbs especially the last chapter on conflict but he makes clear his methodological approach and presuppositions in a way that I think forgives that His approach to the shamanism he discovers in the cave art is uite insightful although at moments I detect hints of reductionist analysis To be clear I do not find the basic claim that mystical experiences are related to neurology reductionist in the least But from time to time especially when talking about the place of mysticism in paleolithic society I think he lapses into a kind of almost Marxist functionalism that fails to appreciate the power of religious experience I also wouldn't have written the conclusion he wrote which sort of takes a gratuitous shot at neo shamanism and various modern primitive new religious movements Not that there aren't shots to be taken but it didn't fit what until then had been a measured thoughtful bookThese are minor points all in all If you are interested in the evolution of consciousness or the ancient religion don't miss this book

characters The Mind in the Cave Consciousness and the Origins of Art

The Mind in the Cave Consciousness and the Origins of ArtIon for this lies in the evolution of the human mind Cro Magnons unlike the Neanderthals possessed a advanced neurological makeup that enabled them to experience shamanistic trances and vivid mental imagery It became important for people to fix or paint these images on cave walls which they perceived as the membrane between their world and the spirit world from which the visions came Over time new social distinctions developed as indi. It may seem odd to give this book only four stars and yet give the older Bahn book on Ice Age art five see but there is a reasonThere is absolutely no doubt of the value of Lewis Williams attempt to create a theory of cave art nor the insights that he provides into consciousness studies and what such studies may be able to tell us about the motivations and culture of palaeolithic homo sapiensThe doubt derives from the same scepticism about what we can ever actually know that we recorded in our review of the earlier work The data is too spread out over too great a length of time and is too represented by what can survive materially to allow any strong claims of knowledgeAll theory in this area tends to tell us about our preoccupations than those of pre historic man and woman although one must concede that each intervention by the Academy does add something a new angle to compare with the angles shown to us in the pastBut caution is inevitable much as one should be deeply cautious about constructing theories of rampant matriarchalism from fat little stone ladies when textiles wood carvings and body decoration have long since decayed let alone social structures and micro environmentsYes there are limitations on what might have been thought which arise from simple ecological truths and which do permit some analogy from current indigenous activity but modern indigenes are not ancient peoples – though to be fair Lewis Williams does put in his own caveats hereBut the real warning signs that we may be jumping too far ahead in our thought processes lies in the closing words of the book The author uotes Julian Jaynes in his claim that we see a break in consciousness in the break between the Iliad and the Odyssey in order to make his own claim Oh dear What is it with academics who take textual history as human history Forget Jaynes Lewis Williams dumps text but replaces it with art eually unwarrantably There is no evidence of actual brain structures changing very much in thousands of years for the simple reason that brain structure is an evolved function and evolution is a slow and wasteful processIndeed Lewis Williams’ core argument depends on comparative consciousness studies that assume such long range structural similarities for them to make any sense and yet here we have appeal to the sort of radical view of consciousness change that appeals to New AgersNeanderthals and Homo Sapiens will have had very different modes of consciousness because of their different speciation meaning different brain structures but we see no necessity for the nature of the sapient form to provide than the fact of art rather than its precise formsThis does not diminish the thesis that rock art forms have some derivation from altered states and that possibly which I find plausible 'artists' and shamans could manipulate social conditions to their own benefit Both those propositions are highly plausibleI have no doubt that homo sapiens has heard ‘inner voices’ in the palaeolithic age but we are eually certain that those ‘inner voices’ are not of one kind that morphs into another kind over time but were as variant then amongst individuals as they are nowThe artistic impulse may just as likely then as now be much complex in its relationship to so called spiritual magical and community impulses than we like to think Lewis Williams’ theorizing seems plausible but I repeat we should not be seduced into believing we knowWhat we have to be careful of is assuming that the rock art we see and the social change being postulated is uite so neatly connected as the theory suggests The truth – we do not cannot and never will know In some cases they may be and in others not Grand narratives are presumptuousNevertheless though perhaps a trifle intellectually confused at the end simply pushing Jaynes back a few thousand years with no sounder evidence than Jaynes has for the claims he makes this book is still highly recommended It is full of scholarly and intelligent material on a number of related issues – Western European cave art itself consciousness studies the history of archaeology and the rock art of Africa and the Americas There is easily enough evidence to come to an independent view of one’s own

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characters The Mind in the Cave Consciousness and the Origins of Art 107 ✓ Emerging from the narrow underground passages into the chambers of caves such as Lascaux Chauvet and Altamira visitors are confronted with symbols patterns and depictions of bison woolly mammoths ibexes and other animalsSince its discovery cavViduals exploited their hallucinations for personal advancement and the first truly modern society emergedIlluminating glimpses into the ancient mind are skillfully interwoven here with the still evolving story of modern day cave discoveries and research The Mind in the Cave is a superb piece of detective work casting light on the darkest mysteries of our earliest ancestors while strengthening our wonder at their aesthetic achievement. First of all I now want to reread my books on cave art David Lewis Williams DLW in Mind in the Cave has given me a lot to rethink and I want to compare ideas with the fresh set of eyes he has given me I also have Dancing at the Edge of Death The Origins of the Labyrinth in the Paleolithic yet to read which should also be amazingA few thoughts1 DLW uotes Levi Strauss with praise for his ideas about myth which include a that myth contains dualistic themes such as lightdark divinehuman etc and b that the purpose of myth is to provide a logical model capable of overcoming a contradiction with which DLW agrees and adds myth is ultimately fated to failI disagree with both of these problems in Levi Strauss Non dualism in fact is a hallmark of myth demonstrated by the impossibility of reconciling mythic cosmos even those relatively contained The Hebrew creation myths are an example There are two in the Bible and they seem exclusive yet are simultaneously integrated into the Christian mythos apparently with acceptance by even the most fundamental of literalists The Norse creation myths have the same problem; two different myths providing different though not dualistic or opposed ways of understanding origin Obfuscation and ambiguity are the mythic normSecond the purpose of myth is not to provide a logical model of anything If it were it would always fail as DLW stated However there are no criteria for failure so it is impossible to fail On the contrary myth has no purpose in that it's not an entity that decided to instruct or enlighten Myth is and the reader or listener makes it what it is much as DLW argues for the cave art although the idea eludes him because he has failed to understand myth2 DLW says the silliest thing He writes concerning the interactions between H sapiens and H neanderthal When there was conflict it seems likely that it was the Homo sapiens men who killed the Neanderthal men and ravished their womenWhatFirst he has no evidence of meetings between the two species except for the fact that they have been shown to co exist in Europe over a period of time Second he ignores the fact that Neanderthal was robust and not stupid Third he assumes the two species would recognize each other as potential rivals andor mating objects This third one seems ridiculous Imagine for a moment that Neanderthal is as intellectually dissimilar as he claims in the book Also we know that the two species were morphologically uite dissimilar If they were to come across each other by chance it is possible they would view each other as for example a gorilla and chimpanzee would today Why assume the chimpanzees would kill the male gorillas assuming they could and rape the female gorillas More likely each group would make wide detours to avoid confrontation with the other3 DLW will come back to this interaction between Neanderthal and H sapiens many times because he uses it to explain the relatively rapid flowering of cave art in Europe I can't buy it for at least one of the reasons above that I don't know of evidence describing how the two groups would have reacted to each other and DLW doesn't provide anyThe other reason I don't buy it is because DLW assumes that Neanderthal's consciousness is so alien to H sapiens on a par with animals who do not possess memory of their dreams that they cannot form ideas about an afterlife I will agree that Neanderthal was probably as different to H sapiens as DLW says but we don't know in what manner he was different Yet he claims the impetus for the revolution was due to this deficiency of Neanderthal a psychology H sapiens supposedly understood and which affected H sapiens so greatly as to make him feel superior DLW calls it an inescapable conclusion and therefore crawl deep into caves to begin illustrating his superior abilities of memory and imaginationDid DLW toss this strange idea in because he reuired a cause and effect for this issue of the flowering of cave art How did it advance his thesis that shamanism was the basis of cave art He showed he can support his thesis without grasping at superior consciousness straws but maybe he felt the revolution worked against his arguments and therefore he wanted to shore up his chain of logic I don't know4 Three of many online references suggesting that Neanderthal possessed a consciousness UN like that proposed by DLW who claims they were incapable of remembering their dreams or forming a concept of an afterlife If he's right he needs to show the evidenceRethinking Neanderthals 2003 Smithsonian MagazineOldest Discovered Burial SiteKaren Armstrong Myths and the Modern World 20055 I thought he did an amazing job of providing and explaining the evidence for shamanism as the creative force of rock art There were many aha moments for me and I came away with a sense of things falling into place which a good hypothesis should provide The membrane analogy worked well for him and the reader is led to understand how this necessitated the touching of the membrane and to accept it In contrast the idea of the caves as art for the sake of art looks shallow indeed and DLW's shamanism hypothesis fits in many if not all the ways that a sympathetic magic explanation does not fit Although I pointed out at a little length where I thought the book and hypothesis was weak the greater part of the book is well worth reading It contained thorough evidence for laity like me and stellar interpretation6 I would love to leave these ideas with a good deal of praise for this book but there was one odd misstep by the author At the end he added this strange disclaimer that while shamanism may have worked for these early people he felt it had no place in the modern world What that had to do with ANYthing at all is beyond me Better to do his research and let others decide their own spiritual paths