Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art Hardcover – 31 Aug 2002
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"Combines a lifetime of archaeological research with the most recent insights into the workings of the human brain and the nature of consciousness." --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
`You will refer back to these precious books again and again'
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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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. The author believes that the trail of images from the cave entrance to the dark, almost inaccessible recesses represents a connecting link beween the two elements of an "above/below" binary opposition. Physical entry into the caves reflected the entry into the mental vortex that leads to the hallucinations of the deep trance state. In other words, the trail from the conscious mind to the deep recesses of the subconscious.
This book provides much food for thought about our earliest ancestors and about the evolution of consciousness. Graham Hancock's absorbing work Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind was written in defense of Lewis-Williams' theory. In addition I recommend William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience, R M Bucke's Cosmic Consciousness, Rupert Sheldrake's Chaos, Creativity and Cosmic Consciousness plus Stone Age Soundtracks: The Acoustic Archaeology of Ancient Sites by Paul Devereux as companion reading to Lewis-Williams' fascinating text. The book includes many figures and 97 illustrations of which 27 are in colour.
"...a table dealing entirely with Australian art is implied to relate to European art, and a typographical error distorts the date of the source (1984); on p. 213, I am listed with several others as having suggested that shamanism existed in the Upper Palaeolithic, when in fact I had never even used the word "shamanism" in print and would not dream of mooting such a notion... "
This archaeological 'New Age woo-woo' misconceives Palaeolithic artists as drugged-up visionaries, portrayed as our modern Western construction (mostly based on Mircea Eliade's 1964 work, 'Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy') of the concept of 'shamans' defines them: wearing costumes that we have dreamed up for them, performing frenetic dances that we have imagined.
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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