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The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art [Paperback]

David Lewis-Williams
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 April 2004
The breathtakingly beautiful art created deep inside the caves of western Europe in the late Ice Age provokes awe and wonder in equal measure. What do these animals and symbols, depicted on the walls of caves such as Lascaux, Chauvet and Altamira, tell us about the nature of the ancestral mind? How did these images spring, sophisticated and fully formed, seemingly from nowhere into the human story? The Mind in the Cave puts forward the most plausible explanation yet proposed for the origins of image-making and art. David Lewis-Williams skilfully interweaves a lifetime of anthropological research with the most recent neurological insights to offer a convincing account of how we became human and, in the process, began to make art. This is a masterful piece of detective work, casting light on the darkest mysteries of our ancestors and on the nature of our own consciousness and experience.

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The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art + The Prehistory Of The Mind: A Search for the Origins of Art, Religion and Science + Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos and the Realm of the Gods
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thames and Hudson Ltd; Reprint edition (5 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500284652
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500284650
  • Product Dimensions: 3.1 x 15.9 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 61,432 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"Combines a lifetime of archaeological research with the most recent insights into the workings of the human brain and the nature of consciousness."


`You will refer back to these precious books again and again'
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
67 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Art and the evolution of the mind 15 Feb 2003
The author posits a fascinating explanation for the origin of art and the creation of images by early mankind: the evolution of the human mind. He theorizes that the people of the Upper Paleolithic harnessed altered states of consciousness to fashion their society and used imagery as a means of establishing and defining social relationships. Cro-Magnon man had a more advanced neurological system and order of consciousness than the Neanderthals, and experienced shamanic trances and vivid mental imagery. It was important for them to paint these images on cave walls that served as a membrane between the everyday world and the realm of the spirit.

Hallucinations were instrumental in personal advancement and the development of society. He refers to the pioneering psychologist William James who already in 1902 pointed out the different states of consciousness and to Colin Martindale who identified the following different states: Waking, realistic fantasy, autistic fantasy, reverie, hypnagogic and dreaming. The sense of absolute unitary being (transcendence/ecstasy) is generated by a spillover between neural circuits in the brain caused by factors like meditation, rhythmic stimulus, fasting etc. The essential elements of the religious experience are thus wired into the brain.

Two case studies are used in support of this theory: South African San rock art and North American rock art. Chapter 8 is especially fascinating since it offers possible solutions to certain puzzles of cave art, like the mixture of representational and geometric imagery.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Michaelangelo's Palaeolithic roots 5 Feb 2006
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Any book challenging Established Truths deserves a place in your library. This exquisite example closely and vividly investigates the world of Western European rock art. Not an "art critic's" analysis, Lewis-Williams explains the roots of this enigmatic form of human expression. In so doing, he offers new insights into the idea of "spiritual realms" and the formulation of religions. With research delving in areas ignored or forgotten, the author demonstrates why our views of our Paleolithic forebears needs revision. Of foremost importance is the need to shed the notion of "primitive" as a quality attributed to our ancestors. The cave artists were "modern" humans in every sense of the term.
Lewis-Williams opens his study with a review of the first overturning of how we view humanity's track. Cave art had been found as early as the 17th Century, but the discoverers had no idea of the stretch of time those pictures had crossed. Not until the great insight of Charles Darwin, relying on Lyell's vast idea of an ancient earth, did it become possible to view cave art as remnants of prehistoric human life. The technology that could accurately date these pictures pushed the date of their creation back thousands of years. New finds set human artistic expression to more than 75 thousand years ago.
Lewis-Williams contends that these artefacts are the result of a sharp change in human intellect. About 75 thousand years ago, in various places at different times, the human consciousness experienced an elaboration. The immediate environment no longer was the limit of experience. Humans added what is known as "higher order" consciousness to the "primary consciousness" that allowed us, along with most other animals, to survive.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cave Art Explained 11 Jun 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Over the last decade or so David Lewis-Williams and his colleagues at Witwatersrand University have revolutionized the study of rock-art, not only in their native Africa, but also in Europe and elsewhere.
His most fruitful work has been in demonstrating that first, Southern African San 'bushman' painting, and more recently the Old Stone Age cave art of South-West Europe is a product of and also a record of 'shamanic' visionary experience. The key to his arguments has been the integral and repeated presence within the art of 'entoptic' geometric images, that is images derived in trance from the optical nervous system.
These ideas have been controversial, but increasingly today, archaeologists accept them.
Now, in The Mind in the Cave Profssor Lewis-Williams goes further, developing a comprehensive theory to explain the palaeolithic cave paintings of France and Spain. What was once seen as a kind of timeless garden of Eden - if a chilly one, as the paintings were made during the last Ice Ages - has become in his hands a place of real history, of social conflict, one in which however dimly the presence of real individuals, whose individual motivations can be glimpsed, however dimly.
This is archaeology at its best: excitingly argued, breathtaking in its scope. It would be churlish to say too much here about the details - much more fun to find out yourself, by reading the book. Superlative!
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling: a work of rare genius 28 Mar 2005
By Rgh1066
I couldn't understand why a book ostensibly about cave art and anthropology was getting such rave reviews in the general reading sections of the book press. Throughout 2002, newspapers and literary magazines across the world were giving five stars and must read reviews to Lewis Williams' study of the prehistoric mind.
That was before I read it. To call The Mind in the Cave a book about anthropology is a bit like calling Gibbons' Decline and Fall a book about the Romans. This is one of those rare books one comes across that one knows will forever remain amongst the nine or ten best books one will ever read.
The Mind in the Cave is a work of genius that convincingly binds the threads and fragments linking prehistoric rock art across the continents. Lewis Williams' expertise on South African and Botswanan rock paintings and the shamans who created them allows him insights into the Magdalenian creators of the rock art in southwest Europe unreachable by previous commentators. His theories are being discussed with great excitement by the curators at prehistoric cave sites such as Lascaux. Anyone with the remotest interest in anthropology, history, art or religion should read this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Insightfull
A new angle on the art of the Ice Age in Western Europe. It all seems very logical and understandable from an expert on ancient rock art.
Published 14 months ago by bookworm
1.0 out of 5 stars New-Age 'woo woo'
David Lewis-Williams reports his studies of contemporary beliefs and rituals in the context of the local rock art of southern Africa and North America, and extrapolates from his... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Debra
3.0 out of 5 stars Shamanism-Yes! Neuroscience-No.
I probably would be more likely to go for 3.5 stars if that were a choice, but if I must choose 4 is better than 3. Read more
Published 24 months ago by Gregory Nixon
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather narrow and opinionated
I did enjoy this book, although I found the narrative rather slow and cautious. I would have liked to discuss certain ideas with the author, mainly on the rather, perhaps... Read more
Published on 14 May 2009 by Kingsley Flint
2.0 out of 5 stars Critique
Part of me is fairly humble and part of me is not. I did study archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge in the 1970s. Read more
Published on 2 July 2008 by H. Borrill
5.0 out of 5 stars Even in caves there is Enlightenment
Did you think up to now that cave art might be of a somewhat remote scientific and cultural interest? Read more
Published on 12 Mar 2008 by Michael Murauer
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and fascinating
In the Mind in The Cave, David Lewis-Williams explains his theories on the origin of art and the evolution of the human mind. Read more
Published on 29 Dec 2007 by Aphrodite
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but narrow
This is a cautious, well-balanced book, with some lovely pictures, that argues convincingly that paleolithic cave art resulted from altered states of consciousness and shamanistic... Read more
Published on 13 May 2007 by Time and Tide
4.0 out of 5 stars Yeah, but...
This is an excellent book, which by careful sleuthing, reveals a staggering amount of what pre-history cave art tells us about our forefathers. Read more
Published on 3 July 2005 by Kent Guy
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