Consciousness and the Origins of Art
Thames&Hudson 2004

pg 104 The brain/mind problem
pg 121 The spectrum of consciousness
pg 130 Shamanism Harnessing the brain
pg 144 The San religion

...consciousness is a historically situated selection and evaluation of mental states from a wide range of potential states. It is not a universal, timeless 'given'. Two things we do know are, one, that the brain/mind evolved, and two, that consciousness (as distinct from brain) is a notion, or sensation, created by electro-chemical activity in the'wiring' of the brain.

...mind is a projection, an abstraction; it cannot be placed on a table and dissected as can a brain. Nor, it seems, can mind be placed on a philosophical table and defined and described. Indeed, the age-old mind/body problem continues to niggle despite the ingenuity of generations of philosophers

Most archaeologists agree that something drastic must have happened to earlier forms of the human mind to account for the west European evidence of the Transition, whether that change in mind took place in the Middle East and Europe or, as I have argued, principally in Africa. How else, they ask, can one explain the comparatively sudden appearance of an abundance of body decoration, burials and art?

Steven Mithen : The Cathedral Metaphor

four mental modules:
& social intelligence,
& technical intelligence,
& natural history intelligence, and
& linguistic intelligence. i

...despite the considerable ingenuity of evolutionary psychologists, the explanation is heavily dependent on mental modules inferred, very largely, from animal and human behaviour. How can we be sure that pre‑supiens hominids had the four intelligence modules that Mithen postulates? To what extent are these modules inferred by modern human minds from modern human behaviour? Indeed, is it possible to infer modules from behaviour?

Secondly, we have no direct information on the possible modularity of ancient minds.

the emphasis on intelligence has marginalized the importance of the full range of human consciousness in human behaviour. Art and the ability to comprehend it are more dependent on kinds of mental imagery and the ability to manipulate mental images than on intelligence.

We must see consciousness as much more than the interaction of intelligence modules to create generalized intelligence.

...consciousness is not entirely a construct. Rather, it derives from historically specific responses to and categorizations of a shifting neurological substrate.

pg 121 The spectrum of consciousness

The states towards the far end of the intensified trajectory ‑ visions, and hallucinations that may occur in any of the five senses ‑ are generally called 'altered states of consciousness'

...all the mental states that I have described are generated by the neurology of the human nervous system; they are part and parcel of what it is to be fully human. They are'wired into'the brain

The contemporary Western emphasis on the supreme value of intelligence has tended to suppress certain forms of consciousness and to regard them as irrational, marginal, aberrant or even pathological and thereby to eliminate them from investigations of the deep past.

...the spectrum of consciousness. I first describe the states that Martindale identifies between waking and sleeping. Thereafter, I consider a partly parallel trajectory and further states. According to Martindale's view, as we drift into sleep we pass through: - waking, problem-oriented thought, - realistic fantasy, - autistic fantasy, - reverie, - hypnagogic (falling asleep) states, and - dreaming.

...audio-driving, such as pro­longed drumming, visual stimulations, such as continually flashing lights, and sustained rhythmic dancing, such as among Dervishes, have a similar effect on the nervous system. We also need to mention fatigue, pain, fasting and, of course, the ingestion of psychotropic substances as means of shifting con­sciousness along the intensified trajectory towards the release of inwardly generated imagery. Finally, there are pathological states, such as schizophrenia and temporal lobe epilepsy, that take consciousness along the intensified tra­jectory. Hallucinations may thus be deliberately sought, as in the ingestion of psychotropic substances, or they may be unsought, as in many of the other modes of induction that I have mentioned.

In the first and 'lightest' stage people may experience geometric visual percepts that include dots, grids, zigzags, nested catenary curves, and meandering lines. Because these percepts are'wired'into the human nervous system, all people, no matter what their cultural background, have the potential to experience them.

In Stage 2 of the intensified trajectory, subjects try to make sense of entoptic phenomena by elaborating them into iconic forms, that is, into objects that are familiar to them from their daily life.

As subjects move into Stage 3, marked changes in imagery occur. At this point, many people experience a swirling vortex or rotating tunnel that seems to surround them and to draw them into its depths. There is a progressive exclusion of information from the outside: the subject is becoming more and more autistic. The sides of the vortex are marked by a lattice of squares like television screens. The images on these 'screens' are the first spontaneously produced iconic hallocinations; they eventually overlie the vortex as entoptic phenomena give way to iconic hallucinations.
...among 58 reports of eight kinds of hallucinations, this sort of tunnel was the most common. Westerners use culture‑specific words like 'funnels, alleys, cones, vessels, pits [and] corridors'to describe the vortex. In other cultures, it is often experienced as entering a hole in the ground. Shamans typically speak of reaching the spirit world via such a hole.
The Inuit of Hudson Bay, for instance, describe a 'road down through the earth' that starts in the house where they perform their rituals. They also speak of a shaman passing through the sea: 'He almost glides as if falling through a tube.' The Bella Coola of the American Northwest Coast believe such a hole is 'situated between the doorway and the fireplace. The Algonkians of Canada travel through layers of earth: 'a hole leading into the bowels of the earth [is] the pathway of the spirits.' The Conibo of the Upper Amazon speak of following the roots of a tree down into the ground. Such reports could easily be multiplied.
The vortex and the ways in which its imagery is perceived are clearly universal human experiences, and the descriptions of them that I have given will play a key role in subsequent chapters.
...Stage 3 iconic images derive from memory and are often associated with powerful emotional experiences. Images change one into another. This shift in iconic imagery is also accompanied by an increase in vividness. Subjects stop using similes to describe their experiences and assert that the images are indeed what they appear to be. They lose insight into the differences between literal and analogical meanings'. Nevertheless, even in this essentially iconic stage, entoptic phenomena may persist: iconic imagery may be projected against a background of geometric forms or entoptic phenomena may frame iconic imagery.

pg 130 Shamanism Harnessing the brain

...Because the Homo sapiens populations of that period were fully human, we can confidently expect that their consciousness was as shifting and fragmented as ours, though the ways in which they regarded and valued the various states would have been largely culturally determined. Moreover, they were capable of passing along both the trajectories that I have described, though the content of their dream and autistic imagery would have been different.

....'the capacity to experience altered states of consciousness is a psychobiological capacity of the species, and thus universal, its utilization, institutionalization, and patterning are, indeed, features of cultures, and thus variable.

pg 144 The San religion
...both the ethnography and the art require explanation because both are permeated and structured by a set of metaphors and by San notions of the cosmos, which I discuss in detail shortly. Much of the painted and engraved imagery, even that which appears most realistic, is shot through with these metaphors and shows sigus of having been processed by the human mind as it shifted back and forth along the spectrum of consciousness.

San religion is built around belief in a tiered universe. As do other shamanistic peoples throughout the world, the San believe in a realm above and another below the surface of the world on which they live.

Concepts of a tiered universe are, of course, not restricted to shamanistic religions. Heaven above, Hell below, and the level of anxious humanity in between appear in one form or another across the globe. Why should this be so? In the materiality of daily life there is, after all, no evidence whatsoever of hidden spiritual realms above and below.

The answer to this question is, I argue, to be found in a set of widely reported mental experiences. These reports come not only from laboratory experiments but also from an extremely broad range of shamanistic (and other) societies. The experiences fall into two categories: those that are taken to relate to an underworld, and those that are interpreted as relating to a realm in the sky above.

...the neurologically generated experiences of travelling underground and flying are, I argue, the origin of notions of a tiered cosmos. This is, I believe, the best explanation for so universally held beliefs that have no relation to the material experience of daily life. Such beliefs were not inferred from observations of the natural environment. Nor did they easily and swiftly diffuse from a single geographically located origin because they made excellent sense of the world in which people lived. Rather, they are part of the in-built experiences of the full spectrum of human consciousness.

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