Archive for April, 2015

This seems like an appropriate moment for an entry concerning where things stand right now in terms of the cycle of visions and where they might be headed over the next couple of years.

We’re presently about halfway through a period of accelerated change. Beliefs and attitudes are evolving rapidly and so are the ways people present themselves and interact with the world. But at the same time, not much is actually happening. Battle lines are being drawn, the tension is being ratcheted up, but the last three years have represented something of a pause in the action.

In contrast, 2010 and 2011 were years of major social upheaval, when it seemed as though the sky was about to crack open and allow a new world to emerge. But in the first half of 2012, the lid was clamped back down. The Occupy movement was crushed, Jeremy Hammond was arrested in the Anonymous hack of Stratfor emails, and Julian Assange was forced to hole up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Ever since then, we’ve been in a period of stasis — but two recent developments suggest this may be about to come to an end. One is that public acceptance of the environmental values closely associated with the holism vision has suddenly reached a tipping point. In March, the Bad Astronomy blog at Slate had an entry titled “Unlike Temperatures, Climate Change Deniers Are Falling Fast.” And just a few days ago, Bloomberg News ran an article headlined “Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables.”

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Here’s another current article on the relationship between tool-making and language. Archaeology students were taught how to make hand axes and then presented with questions involving tool-making strategies while brain scans recorded what areas of their brains were activated.

“Greater skill at making tools correlated with greater accuracy on the video quiz for predicting the correct strategy for making a hand axe, which was itself correlated with greater activity in the prefrontal cortex. ‘These data suggest that making an Acheulean hand axe is not simply a rote, auto pilot activity of the brain,’ Stout says. ‘It requires you to engage in some complicated thinking.’

“Most of the hand axes produced by the modern hands and minds of the study subjects would not have cut it in the Stone Age. ‘They weren’t up to the high standards of 500,000 years ago,’ Stout says.

“A previous study by the researchers showed that learning to make stone tools creates structural changes in fiber tracts of the brain connecting the parietal and frontal lobes, and that these brain changes correlated with increases in performance. ‘Something is happening to strengthen this connection,’ Stout says. ‘This adds to evidence of the importance of these brain systems for stone tool making, and also shows how tool making may have shaped the brain evolutionarily.’

“Stout recently launched a major, three-year archeology experiment that will build on these studies and others. Known as the Language of Technology project, the experiment involves 20 subjects who will each devote 100 hours to learning the art of making a Stone Age hand axe, and also undergo a series of MRI scans. The project aims to hone in whether the brain systems involved in putting together a sequence of words to make a meaningful sentence in spoken language overlap with systems involved in putting together a series of physical actions to reach a meaningful goal.”

Since last summer, and particularly over the past two months, I’ve been coming to the conclusion that the story I’ve been telling about how the cycle of visions might have gotten started has been essentially back-to-front

I’ve assumed there was a crucial turning point some 200,000 years ago, when the first true humans underwent a shift in brain organization that enabled them to see the world in terms of structured relationships. That ability was then applied to various areas of experience, producing the initial set of visions.

However, this scenario never struck me as dynamic enough. It implied that the intellectual aspect of the visions came first and that the deep emotional currents which even now drive the periodic rise and fall of successive visions were tacked on later. But that makes no sense in evolutionary terms.

So I’ve turned things around and begun to envision an extended phase of proto-development during which our ancestors related to the world emotionally rather than intellectually.

My thought now is that the real starting point was what I’ve taken to calling the Vision of Everything, which was not rational and analytical in nature but magical and occult. That primordial vision might go back over a million years, to the common ancestor of ourselves and the Neanderthals — or at the very least 700,000, to the time when the first truly elegant handaxes appeared.

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