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The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art (60th Anniversary Edition) Paperback – 5 May 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; 60th Anniversary Ed edition (5 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500600392
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500600399
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 23.6 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,000,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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`The publishing house has rarely put a foot wrong in its 60-year history' -- GQ

`You will refer back to these precious books again and again'
-- Attitude

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`You will refer back to these precious books again and again'

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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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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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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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Format: Paperback
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 practices.

Having accepted that premise, I didn't find much more. The author is careful not to commit himself or even to speculate very much. Why these particular animals? Why so few and far less realistic human figures? How did the artists reach such a remarkble level of ease and proficiency - are the cruder designs from an earlier period? Why did paople stop producing the art - was it the coming of agriculture?

Admittedly, these questions and many others are difficult to answer, but a bit more of an effort would have been appreciated.

And what about the mind outside the cave? What was the landscape like at that time - a barren polar plateau or lush deciduous trees - a harsh or easy life?

Hundreds of questions spring to mind, but this book is very narrowly focused.
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