Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Archaeology and the psyche: part three ― thinking about things

La Pensierosa (The Thinker)
John William Godward, 1913

“The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking." A. A. Milne, War with Honour, 1940

Michel Foucault's The Order of Things: An archaeology of the human sciences was a revelation to me, not because it taught me a new way to think about things, but because it confirmed that I had been thinking about things in the right way. The conscious mind tends to compartmentalize things and this is how we form classifications of objects. It doesn't matter if the object is a plant, an animal, a coin, artifact, or an archaeological site: if we want to understand it it is necessary to view it alongside other apparently similar objects to know how it connects or does not connect with a greater whole. The simplest division of such objects are called classes and these are seen as the basic units within a classification system. The structure of any classification system is nested within other groups and as it would be too confusing to call each of them a class, we tend to assign other names to them, or in some way or another differentiate these groups. Thus in the biological taxonomy of the Linnaean System we get Kingdom, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. Going down even further, we can add sub-species, variety, and population and it as this point that we find the most disagreements between taxonomists. One type of creature might be claimed to be a sub-species by one person and a regional variation or population by another. At the very bottom of the scale, in a named object, would be individual.

A blatant error would be to confuse an individual with a class. I saw a good example of this with a picture of a Celtic coin in a "fringe archaeology" work by Barry Fell, where he imagined that he was seeing an Ogham word in the design. His mistake was not merely that he had predated Ogham characters by more than three hundred years, but that the device was only partly visible on that individual coin because it had been struck off-centre and part of it was not visible at all. If he had looked at the type (which in numismatics would be the equivalent of Kingdom as the numismatic taxonomy goes type or series, then class, and variety) he would not have made that mistake. This sort of error can also arouse suspicion: was it really a mistake, or did he select that individual to support a greater claim? This question reveals another potential classification system and that is the structure of a fiction. In other words, a plot.

But it does not even end there, because a number of people in discussing the problem will likely start using other terms like "innuendo", "out of context", and "conspiracy theory" (my favorite because it supposes that, if conspiracies actually exist, then no one ever has a theory about any of them). These, in turn might be honest, misguided, manipulative, bullshit, and so on. The Internet is choked with such things. Their language is explained by Phil Agre under the term "jargon". Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

While spending ten years or so establishing the manufacturing orders of Coriosolite coin dies, I came to understand that I could not include classes without abandoning a certain measure of objectivity. Although I started working on these in the mid eighties, just before my daughter was born, the book was not published until 2002, and I did not read Foucault (which validated my ideas) until a year later. Foucault reveals that all classification systems must contain a great measure of subjectivity, and that they are really an invention to serve the purposes of the classifier. These purposes will also have a cultural and/or temporal flavour. The data revealed to me that the coins actually consisted of only Series and continuums of individuals within them, and I came to this realization because instead of picking the arbitrary markers of a selection of motifs to determine each Class, I examined many hundreds of other motifs and the design elements from which they were constructed to order the coinage in an evolutionary manner. That there was such an evolution was my original hypothesis and it was based on their great variety of design.

I utilized my unconscious mind to recover the intentions of the original artists. This is psychic archaeology, and was possible for me because I am an Introverted Intuitive type. It would be virtually impossible for an Extraverted Thinking type to originate, but not so much for that type to follow if they became convinced of its scientific value. Intuitive is an irrational function and thus closer to objective, and thinking is a rational function and thus closer to subjective. I dare say that there will be many of you thinking "What?!!!" at this point. We are used to equating the irrational with insanity and the rational with sanity. This is an indicator of where our societies are on the Mythos to Logos scale. In Jungian terminology it is quite different with respect to objectivity and subjectivity. I'll let Wolfgang Pauli explain further:
"As a matter of fact the physicist would expect a psychological correspondence at this point, because the epistemological situation with regard to the concepts 'conscious' and 'unconscious' seems to offer a pretty close analogy to the undermentioned 'complimentarity' situation on physics. ... It is undeniable that the development of 'microphysics' has brought the way in which nature is described in this science very much closer to that of the newer psychology: but whereas the former, on account of the basic 'complementarity' situation. is faced with the impossibility of eliminating the effects of the observer by determinable correctives, and has therefore to abandon in principle any objective understanding of physical phenomena, the latter can supplement the purely subjective psychology of consciousness by postulating the existence of an unconscious that possesses a large measure of objective reality." C. G. Jung, On the Nature of the Psyche, p. 139n
The method that I decided to use was similar to that of the naturalist who established that sightings and photographs of  "the Loch Ness monster" were of otters: I just looked at the designs without trying to think about them, morning and night for quite a long time. As with that naturalist, a couple of indicators bubbled up to the surface of my unconsciousness allowing me to think about them and thus taking other unconscious aspects into the conscious mind where they could then be thought about and tested. After that point, I was able to "rough out" the entire chronology in a single sitting. I was also preconditioned to be able to conceive of continuums because of my understanding of David Bohm's Rheomode.

Although I had broken with classical classification systems because of their subjectivity, I knew that people still needed something similar for the singular function of assigning a design to part of the chronology, so I created my Groups, explaining to the reader that these could only be used for that function, and that to do otherwise would demote them to Classes. No statistical methods could possibly be applied to them and they were created only as a convenience and as a way to avoid saying "within the chronology somewhere between Coin x and y" These consisted, mainly, where certain parts  of the design changed in unison.

I also developed a system of notation like so:

1. 2. 3. (4. 5. 6.) 7. 8.  The numbers within parenthesis are in an arbitrary and subjective order because there is no evidence to claim their order as objective. Another way of looking at it is: 1. 2. 3. x. 7. 8. where x can be any arrangement of  4. 5. 6. It is a sort of Schrödinger's cat type of situation where the box might be opened by the discovery of new varieties within the continuum which might eliminate the parentheses or lessen the numbers contained therein.

Because I had so many divisions serving different functions, I decided not to use Bob Van Arsdell's better system of allowing for new discoveries of types and varieties by having orders of numbers like 353-5,  355-1, 355-3, 355-5 I did this for design reasons and because my chronological part of the study was the finite contents of a specific hoard and not the "un-finite" nature of a tribe's or region's coinage which might then need new intermediary numbers. It could still be changed, however, within the existing chronology, by adding such a system. In the the twenty years or so since I wrote the chronology, a couple of new varieties did emerge that fitted perfectly into it, and which I described as between a and b. for each.

The distribution patterns that I was able to reveal, that were invisible in the previous classification system, were easy to see regardless of whether a hoard had 85 coins or nearly ten thousand, so the new hoard of perhaps 70,000 coins should not have any effect on these patterns either. I found it interesting, however, that J-B Colbert de Beaulieu, who had invented the previous system, had said that no distribution patterns were visible in the data, but never questioned the thought that this might also mean that such distribution patterns might be revealed by adjusting his classification system to see them. This would have only required the grouping together of  three of his classes as one series, and two of his classes as another and allowing the sixth to stand on its own as a separate series (which would have been easy to identify as not being Coriosolite at all). It could have been done by applying all combinations until the distribution pattern just popped into view without any understanding of the design evolution whatsoever. That, too, is an objective method. My ultimate purpose, however, became much larger than just chronological and distributional matters.

Tomorrow, why the academic method is psychologically "bass-ackwards".

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