Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.”

The last time I wrote about the second vision of existence — the kinship vision — I described its emergence in largely practical terms. I suggested that it became necessary when our earliest ancestors, having acquired the useful ability to create mental maps of their surroundings in space and time, began to flourish and spread out in all directions.

As the human community expanded, the kinship vision made it possible for the members of different bands to continue perceiving one another as family rather than as strangers. The Neanderthals never managed that trick, but our own ancestors did. I would guess this occurred around 340,000 years ago, when the ending of an ice age had opened up new territories.

Two elements went into the making of the kinship vision. One was the sense of belonging to a larger whole provided by higher knowledge. The other was a structuring of human relationships using the same mental tools that had previously been applied to the natural world. The basic family roles — mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers — were generalized to encompass more distant relatives. People began assembling mental maps of their own family trees and using those as a basis for action.

At least that’s how I accounted for the origins of the kinship vision two years ago. But at the time, I wasn’t factoring in the underground stream — the magical and occult current of thought that adds an element of the unknown and the uncanny to the otherwise rational and mystical materials of every vision.

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There hasn’t been a new blog entry for the last month because I’ve been busy with two other projects. One is a slightly rewritten and expanded version of the four entries posted here from July 30 to September 8. That is now up at my website under the title The Dance of the Visions and is intended to be a general introduction to my theory of the cycle of visions.

The other project is a more extensive undertaking that Alexei and I have been working on together — a book on the subject of higher knowledge, which should be completed some time next year. Even though my end of it is based largely on material that has already appeared at this blog, there’s quite a bit of rewriting and rearranging involved, and I’m finding it very demanding of time and attention.

I do, however, have a new blog post underway that picks up where the previous one left off, with the question of how the cycle of visions got started in the depths of prehistory. I hope to have it up after we survive Sandy and then get back to posting every 2-3 weeks.

I’ve spent the last week tidying things up around here, tweaking the categories, but mostly creating an annotated list of all the entries to date to serve as a kind of table of contents.

The blog format really isn’t the greatest for doing connected series of posts and keeping everything sorted out, so I hope this helps anyone who’s been trying to keep track..