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The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art Paperback – 5 Apr 2004


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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: 1.6 x 0.3 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 119,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

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

Review

`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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Pieter Uys HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on 15 Feb 2003
Format: Hardcover
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 By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 5 Feb 2006
Format: Hardcover
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 By A Customer on 11 Jun 2003
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 By Rgh1066 on 28 Mar 2005
Format: Hardcover
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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