The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art

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The Mind in the Cave by David J. Lewis-Williams | Waterstones

Describe the connection issue. SearchWorks Catalog Stanford Libraries. The mind in the cave : consciousness and the origins of art. Responsibility David Lewis-Williams.

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Physical description p. David Lewis-Williams. This specific ISBN edition is currently not available. View all copies of this ISBN edition:. Synopsis About this title The breathtakingly beautiful art created deep inside the caves of western Europe has the power to dazzle even the most jaded observers. Emerging from the narrow underground passages into the chambers of caves such as Lascaux, Chauvet, and Altamira, visitors are confronted with symbols, patterns, and depictions of bison, woolly mammoths, ibexes, and other animals.

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Since its discovery, cave art has provoked great curiosity about why it appeared when and where it did, how it was made, and what it meant to the communities that created it. David Lewis-Williams proposes that the explanation for this lies in the evolution of the human mind. Cro-Magnons, unlike the Neanderthals, possessed a more advanced neurological makeup that enabled them to experience shamanistic trances and vivid mental imagery.

It became important for people to "fix," or paint, these images on cave walls, which they perceived as the membrane between their world and the spirit world from which the visions came. Over time, new social distinctions developed as individuals exploited their hallucinations for personal advancement, and the first truly modern society emerged.

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Illuminating glimpses into the ancient mind are skillfully interwoven here with the still-evolving story of modern-day cave discoveries and research. The Mind in the Cave is a superb piece of detective work, casting light on the darkest mysteries of our earliest ancestors while strengthening our wonder at their aesthetic achievements.

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From Publishers Weekly : In attempting to discern how Paleolithic Homo sapiens "became human and in the process began to make art," Lewis-Williams, an emeritus art historian at a Johannesburg university, focuses on the glorious but mysterious cave painting of western Europe, made between 45, and 10, years ago.

Buy New View Book. Other Popular Editions of the Same Title. Search for all books with this author and title. Customers who bought this item also bought. Was it an individual or communal enterprise? Does it locate the roots of human culture in totemism, or sympathetic magic, or initiation rites? The cumulative effect of all the grand theories in the first half of the twentieth century was to turn the cave paintings into a kind of Rorschach ink blot test, where every theorist saw their own version of human genesis revealed.

Structuralism was the last grand attempt at a definitive decoding of cave art, but its overarching theory that the paintings mediated binary oppositions left many specifics and anomalies unaccounted for. Since then, scholars have tended to fight shy of the big questions, and limit their researches to accumulating ever more detailed analyses of paint scrapings and cross-hatching techniques. But David Lewis-Williams has had enough of this.

Lewis-Williams sets about his task in brusque, no-nonsense fashion. His strategy is to build a scaffolding of parallel, intertwined arguments, drawing together neurobiology, contemporary hunter-gatherer rock art and the environmental and social conditions of Ice Age Europe, and see what shape emerges from the salient facts. The result is a dense but well-organised book which mounts a closely-argued, original and compelling case.

The first building-block of his argument is consciousness: we have little idea of the culture and society which produced the cave art, but we are certainly dealing with humans with anatomically modern brains generating a symbolic culture. In his view, most theories of how human intelligence developed place too much emphasis on the functions of reason and problem-solving, which only became privileged in our culture within the last few centuries.

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There is, he maintains, a broad spectrum of consciousness, of which active reasoning represents only one end. The first include closed-eye patterns, phosphenes and form-constants which, as Lewis-Williams has previously shown, map closely onto both San and Palaeolithic cave art. These evolve into a second stage of visions, which present iconic and symbolic content.

The first stage is neurologically based and identical across all cultures; the second, crucially, is interpreted differently in different cultures. But what was this pre-existing scheme? This is the big question: what was it which prompted the entire package of cave art, figurative carving, body-painting, ritual burial and the rest to emerge in Europe around 40, years ago?