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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: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 75,282 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."

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`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

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Peter Uys HALL OF FAMETOP 500 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Nixon on 5 Sept. 2012
Format: Paperback
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.

David Lewis-Williams is an erudite scholar and an articulate, if not compelling, writer. His thinking spreads more broad than dives deep, it seems to me, very much a part of the current cultural ethos of biological reductionism. The topic is so good and he is obviously so well-researched that this book is still a good read for those interested in such things. It is noteworthy that none other than the great French scholar of cave art, Jean Clottes, calls this work "a genuine masterpiece" (on the cover), but I suspect he is referring to Lewis-Williams' bold new approach to rather well-known and widely accepted suggestion for the origins of these incredible prehistoric cave paintings. I refer to shamanism, which explanation goes at least as far back as Leroi-Gourhan and was certainly well supported in the theoretic works of Joseph Campbell. The fact of these cave paintings alone is enough to make for great reading (though this is not a browseworthy picture book since the reproductions are small and mainly there to support his argument), and the addition of explaining by way of Shamanistic vision activity should make it even more compelling. However, visions are not the thrust of Lewis-Williams' main argument for shamanism. He basically sees evidence in the prehistoric art for an ongoing competition for power and position amongst various shamans. This seems confusing since the paintings strike one as visionary as one would imagine a shaman's flight into other worlds would be, but this confusion lessens when we realize Lewis-Williams isn't buying into any of that sacred journey or even Jungian collective unconscious stuff.
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36 of 40 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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