Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Palaeolithic artist: part 15

graphic: Carin Perron, 1996
When Jung was criticized for speaking of Mandala imagery it seems to be because people had a hard time imagining how Eastern imagery could be part of a Western mind. So in comparing Rembrandt and Shi Ke to discover things about our Palaeolithic ancestors, I imagine the criticism could get much louder.

Jung did not give them George Bernard Shaw's quote: "It's never safe to trust to the intelligence of a ...... audience", instead, he said that Mandala imagery resides in the unconscious, and that because of the inward-looking nature of many Eastern religions, it is mostly them who ever get to see it. We might say that, in a cultural sense, the Eastern mind is introverted, holistic, spiritual and artistic, and the western mind is extraverted, linear, materialistic and practical. But that is a mouthful and it can also get a little confusing, so I prefer to use Mythos for the East and Logos for the West.

The other thing about East and West is that it really depends on how you align the globe for maps. It would be pointless aligning the globe by its poles: all the interesting bits would get all squashed up because of mercator distortions, while the virtually uninhabited North South polar regions would be in crisp detail (if it wasn't for the snow, that is). Are we clear on this now? Good.

When some of our earlier ancestors left Africa they had already started growing larger brains, at the top of their skulls, that is. That area is particularly good for analytical, sorry, Logos type thinking. After all, with everybody heading off into new places one would really have to be able to deal with the unexpected. Instinct would not help, thinking would be best. According to the journal Nature, in a study published in 2004, a mutation happened that started shrinking our huge jaw muscles and, quite by accident, this allowed us to get bigger brains and become smart. Perhaps we should add a little Neo-Darwinian evolution into this scenario: Because it was considered much better survival to nibble rather than to eat great mouthfulls of meat, our  brains became larger and we became more intelligent because there were less muscles restricting the growth of our skulls. Just a minute, we must be missing something. Right! Let's stick epigenetics in there and then see what we get.

As we began to head off in new directions, we encountered all sorts of strange animals and plants and climatic and geographical features that we had not experienced before. Some sort of imprinting mechanism in our brains had been recording, behind the scenes; times when we had suddenly had to think a bit clearer. It had been doing this long before we were anything resembling human, but it was dependent on us breeding to pass this structure along. It was stronger in some folks than in others. One day, a hominid named Duh who did not express this ability very well decided that it would be a great plan to drive the cave bear away from what looked like a pretty comfortable new home. He didn't make it. Over the longest time, this ability became epigenetic switches, that could deliver the goods even if it meant having to nibble instead of wolfing down our food. It was especially useful, because if we were smart enough, we could cooperate with each other better and also come up with ways to prevent other creatures from stealing our food, Just as well, if you ask me. Imagine going into a restaurant and instead of sitting at a table and slowly savoring our food quite politely, we would grab the steak off the plate, hide under the table and growl at anyone who came too close.

Of course, it was not a series of sudden, dramatic  random mutations that happened. It was happening so subtly that it is difficult to assign any cause one way or the other. It is just that those who had this ability less than others, had a lower chance of passing it along.

Back then, there were a lot fewer of us, and during our travels, we became ever more separated by distance and there were even fewer breeding partners to choose from. In one area, these folks started growing their brains in a different direction: toward the back. That is where vision lies and quite a bit of really primitive stuff, too. We could see better, but our "feelings" improved, too. This is because that part of the brain was not really analytical. When someone asked the hominid Hmmm why he did what he did, he could not really say, it "just felt right"

Over time, the smart groups would encounter the large eyed Neanderthals and say "What lovely  big eyes you have, my dear". Of course, some groups, through different experiences were not that nice and just took what they wanted. Everyone is different. There were probably a few biological variations here and there too, and after we all became Cro-magnons, it was a pretty adaptable and very brilliant sort of person who stood in front of a cave wall and produced this wonderful painting of a  boar.

"But", you say, The Neanderthals were more western. In fact, they seem to have lived in the same places as the Cro-magnon cave painters. Yes, but remember, our cleverer, more analytical ancestors had left Africa much earlier and had gone both east and west. A long time later, what was, or what became Neanderthals left and went in all directions, as well. not so many of them made it that far east, because some places had such ideal conditions that it was already getting rather populated. A few of the earlier residents could well have killed the newcomers or drove them away,

Here's where syncretism comes into play: A member of one of the really smart groups is getting fed up with one of his companions, a workman of some sort, always telling him, "Well just tell me what you want, and I will build it". This was starting to be real pain to the other fellow, because he didn't know what to make either, and what was even worse, he couldn't have made it even if he knew what it was he needed to make exactly. He was starting to feel inferior, and that really annoyed him. He remembered travelling a few miles with this other hunter. That fellow was not such a good hunter, but he sure had some great ideas. They kept popping up all the time in fact. The fellow had said, though, that his own people just thought he was a pain, always talking, never working. Sometimes he would just sit there gazing off into the distance and that really annoyed  them.

Our inferiority complex driven human rushes off to see this fellow again, and invites him to come along. "Don't worry", he says, "We won't make you work too hard, and we will really appreciate all of your good ideas." He jumps at the opportunity. These two were each just a little on each side of the Logos/Mythos division and they could understand each other very well. They were very clever, indeed. Other groups were too far apart, stupid and violent, both unable to understand each other. What of those few at the extreme ends? They were completely insane, but in different ways.

East and West do not matter at all. We can barely keep track of the erratic movements of people over the last 4,000 years. Imagine the problems of tracking  movements over 40,000 years. We ended up with what we have now.

Well, this has been fun, but the sun is shining and I think I will wander off somewhere. Tomorrow, I'll bring Jung along to talk about Picasso and other stuff.


  1. I enjoy your posts. They are all over the place and so spot on. Thanks.

  2. Thank you very much, Kathy, that is exactly what I was going for :-)