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The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art [Kindle Edition]

David Lewis-Williams
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From Booklist

No one who sees our ancestors' cave paintings in places such as Lascaux and Altamira can help but be awestruck by their grace and beauty. Theories about their creation and purpose abound, and Lewis-Williams, a Johannesburg-based rock-art expert, explicates and demolishes most, basing his own on a focus on the nature of human consciousness, particularly during altered states. Lewis-Williams is not the first to connect cave art's hallucinatory imagery with the visions of shamans, but he does offer some startling embellishments, including his argument that the coexistence of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens stimulated the latter to develop their unique image-making capability. Lewis-Williams then analyzes the universal myth of the underworld, which he defines as a purely neurological perception hard-wired into human consciousness. His detailed descriptions and rigorous interpretations do enable readers to see cave walls as our ancestors might have, that is, as the "membrane between people and the subterranean spirit world"; but his insistence that any sense of the spiritual is strictly the product of brain chemistry and therefore utterly irrational may strike many readers as absurdly reductive. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

From Library Journal

For the last 30 years, Lewis-Williams (Rock Art Research Inst., Univ. of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg) has written books and articles about rock art produced by the San (Bushmen) of South Africa and the Cro-Magnon of Upper Paleolithic Europe. This recent work, mainly focused on wall and ceiling art in French and Spanish caves, recalls The Shamans of Prehistory: Trance and Magic in the Painted Caves, which he coauthored with Jean Clottes. That book was considered an important contribution to the field, if not the last word on the subject. That assessment applies here as well, but for the current volume Lewis-Williams has brought in more scholarly methodology and up-to-date research to develop his premise that some of the paintings were produced by shamans who aimed to "fix" on the underworld "membrane" of the cave walls what they experienced in states of altered consciousness. He discusses the development of various theories, past and present, about rock art, Paleolithic peoples, shamanism in hunter-gatherer societies, neurology, and higher-order consciousness. This insightful work could fit in a number of categories-art, archaeology, anthropology, history, early religion, psychology-and is recommended for both academic and public libraries.
Anne Marie Lane, Univ. of Wyoming, Laramie Munhall, Edgar. Greuze the Draftsman.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Thought-provoking 16. Februar 2003
Von Peter Uys
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
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. 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. Lesen Sie weiter... ›
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5.0 von 5 Sternen A beautiful and important book 12. November 2008
Von Ein Leser
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
This is surely one of the best books on the Palaeolithic cave-painters ever written. Lewis-Willimas is able to lead you down to the secret subterrean realms, where 30.000 years ago spirituality, creativitiy and art began to develop and form human societies. After his study of shamanistic rituals of the 20. Century (San people in Namibia and North Americans Indians), he sees parallels to the people of the Palaeolithic times, which probably also tried to get in contact with animal-spirits, which for them existed beyond the thin and "living membranes" of the cave walls. Different from the Neandertal-people the Cromagnon-people werde able to remember and fix their dreams and reactualize them in group-rituals and painting them in their caves. Unifying with the spirits of bisons, lions and horses they tried to win their supernatural powers, and in consequence, building up new social divisions: those who have the "knowledge" and those who have not. That sounds "archaic" in a bad sense, but it was not only for the purpose of selfish Power, but also to build up more efficient forms of social organization (planning the hunting actions etc.)
Lewis-Williams' language is as sensual and colorful as the paintings he desribes. This is not a boring scientific approach, but that of an enthusiastic explorer, which has a strong feeling for the subtilities of art and religion. In the end he writes: we can today be fascinated by the mystical background beyond the paintings without believing, "that they will work in the present day world". But is that really a good ending of the book? Is not a lot of art even today based on a similar animistic and mythological thinking?
Lesen Sie weiter... ›
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5.0 von 5 Sternen ein echter lewis-williams 1. Dezember 2012
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
was mit jean clottes 1996 begann wurde in diesem Buch ausformuliert. David Lewis-Williams am Höhepunkt seines Forschungstreibens. Pflichtlektüre für jeden Paläolithforscher oder Freund des Menschen.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Even in caves there is Enlightenment 12. März 2008
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
Did you think up to now that cave art might be of a somewhat remote scientific and cultural interest? Do you still cling to that dualism of the two cultures believing that only science is real science? Read this book and you will forget about that. First you get some interesting lessons in history of sciences the discovery and explanation of paleolithic art can tell. Further on the author sums up briefly but adequately the essentials of a scientific theory of knowledge. A well defendable concept for the development of consciousness and the resulting social changes is presented. Typical stages of altered consciousness link cave art to shamanism and mystical experience as found in the religious tradition ever since. Common neurobiological and neuropsychological mechanisms (which can be also be oberved in near-death experiences by the way) account for all that. It's just a small step from the paleolithic cave to modern neurotheology as pursued by Newberg and others. When it comes to their social impact these phenomenons of the human mind have an ugly and a beautiful face as we know all to well. Lewis-Williams is at once imaginative in his explanations and uncompromising in his philosophical position: We should distinguish between the pleasure we can derive from works of art we owe to religious devotion and "the terrible belief that God ist speaking directly to us and telling us not only how to order our own lives but also to impose that order on other's lives. What is in our heads is in our heads, not located beyond us. That is the crux of the matter, and is does not diminish Bach, Shakespeare, Donne and Wordsworth." (P. 291)
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Michaelangelo's Palaeolithic roots 5. Februar 2006
Von Stephen A. Haines - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
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. Now, the more developed brain could achieve new levels of thought - "altered states of consciousness" in the author's term. Under certain conditions, the brain might even be imaging itself. Without any means of understanding the images they seemed to be "seeing", Paleolithic humans interpreted these visions as representing a "spirit" world. That world might be "above" in the skies or "below" in the earth. Caves acted as the perfect intermediate place to try to comprehend and react to these phenomena. The more tactile of these "vision-seers" would use the cave walls to depict their visions. Ultimately, the rocks became viewed as a "membrane" between the real and spiritual worlds. The spirits, or "gods" could now be portrayed visibly and even communicated with.

Lewis-Williams meticulously details how many of the paintings and symbols were rendered. The harsh glare of modern electrical lights, he reminds us, obscure the shifting and apparent "movement" that would be observed by people bearing the flickering oil lamps and torches into the caves. That "reality" gave the images greater impact on the artists and viewers as they worked and communed with the spirit world. No universal pattern emerges from these cave "studios", the author makes clear. Some may have allowed a large gathering to participate, either in the creation of images or in supplementary rituals. Others clearly allowed but one or a few attendees due to the restricted nature of the passages or the rooms containing the graphics. These are not, he says, the renderings of a Paleolithic leisure class, but working images vital to the population concerned. Some may have been strictly local, while others served wide-spread communities at various times and circumstances.

With many excellent renderings of cave art images, some in colour, to enhance the text, Lewis-Williams presents a logically developed and well-substantiated scenario. He stops his analysis at what can be seen and inferred from what we know of Paleolithic people. Yet, if you wonder what would drive people into the deep and darkened recesses of a hillside cave, just walk into the nearest cathedral or even small community church. These are dark, quiet places, severing the visitor from the travails and pressures of daily living. Communing with spirits is the raison d'etre of such temples. Are they the modern expression of the forces that drove our Paleolithic ancestors? [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Stimulating & Thought-provoking 15. Februar 2003
Von Peter Uys - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
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. 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.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Anatomically and Mentally Modern Humans 29. Juni 2003
Von G. Joy Robins - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
David Lewis-Williams has developed a unique insight into the early modern humans that painted the caves of Europe. He reasons that being modern anatomically, the function of their minds that were dependent on brain anatomy must also have been comparable to ours. He makes an excellent case that what we call "altered states of consciousness" were used by ancient shamans to access the spirit world and to interpret it to others in their culture. It is not the real world that is illustrated on the cave walls, but visions and halucinations obtained in various levels of trance. All members of the community could relate to those visions because of common experiences like dreams. For the shamans, this was a source of personal and political power and signaled a stratification of society. The author's ideas are communicated persuasively and interestingly. He makes us think without ever becoming ponderous.
5 von 5 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen I don't understand the hostility directed at this... 25. Dezember 2013
Von Rodulf - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Taschenbuch|Verifizierter Kauf
For someone such as myself, having little scientific training but very interested in understanding our long ago ancestors, this book is awesome. Do I agree with everything in it? No, of course. But the basic premise, that most cave art was produced by people undergoing hallucinations, would seem to me beyond debate. We will never know the exact reasons for these paintings but we can be sure of the universal mind states that produced them.
The hostility that I'm addressing seems to be focused on the image on page 140, a San rock art piece. The San people are recognized as some of the most non-violent on Earth. Their culture, and harsh lifestyle, result in very little interpersonal violence. The image in question is seen by Lewis-Williams as a dance scene. Some of you see a violent attack. We can never know, absolutely, what this scene depicts. But I don't see this having any bearing on the core issue of the book. The San people have been persecuted mercilessly by other Black Africans for at least a thousand years. Surely at some point even a basically non-violent people will throw a spear in self-defense. Does this affect the basic investigation of Lewis-Williams into trance-state art? I don't see how, other than to show that anyone, entranced or not, can get pissed off enough to stick a spear in your gut. And, since the San see disease as arrows, darts, etc. sticking into a victims body, there is at least an argument that that is indeed what is depicted here.
In any event, if you are seeking a psychological/spiritual contact with our European ancestors and want to understand how they may have thought and produced such art, then this is a very good book to study. If you are seeking to emulate these mind states, as I am, it is invaluable.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Even in caves there is Enlightenment 9. Februar 2010
Von Michael Murauer - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Taschenbuch
Did you think up to now that cave art might be of a somewhat remote scientific and cultural interest? Do you still cling to that dualism of the two cultures believing that only science is real science? Read this book and you will forget about that. First you get some interesting lessons in history of sciences the discovery and explanation of paleolithic art can tell. Further on the author sums up briefly but adequately the essentials of a scientific theory of knowledge. A well defendable concept for the development of consciousness and the resulting social changes is presented. Typical stages of altered consciousness link cave art to shamanism and mystical experience as found in the religious tradition ever since. Common neurobiological and neuropsychological mechanisms (which can be also be oberved in near-death experiences by the way) account for all that. It's just a small step from the paleolithic cave to modern neurotheology as pursued by Newberg and others. When it comes to their social impact these phenomenons of the human mind have an ugly and a beautiful face as we know all to well. Lewis-Williams is at once imaginative in his explanations and uncompromising in his philosophical position: We should distinguish between the pleasure we can derive from works of art we owe to religious devotion and "the terrible belief that God ist speaking directly to us and telling us not only how to order our own lives but also to impose that order on other's lives. What is in our heads is in our heads, not located beyond us. That is the crux of the matter, and is does not diminish Bach, Shakespeare, Donne and Wordsworth." (P. 291)
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