2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art (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. He sees humanity as driven by that ever-present selfish gene, which manifests itself in political struggles even in prehistoric times. Some people like shamans, according to the author, were privileged; in their need to maintain predominance and oppress the masses, they had to demonstrate their great power by orchestrating (not necessarily doing them on their own) better cave paintings (including painting over those of the opposition). That such a biological reduction becomes the ultimate explanation for Lewis-Williams is made clear in his long and rather boring final section attempting to apply recent neuroscientific imaging studies to these prehistoric minds, without any good reason for doing so, if you ask me. Brains do not explain minds, and minds are a cultural phenomenon. Now that I read my own words, I'm going back to 3 stars.