6 Apr 2009

In Space of Night Runs Dark Internal: Shepard, Coming Home to the Pleistocene, Ch.4, subsection 2

Paul Shepard

Coming Home to the Pleistocene

Chapter IV: How the Mind Once Lived

Subsection 2

In Space of Night Runs Dark Internal

We previously discussed how our evolutionary ancestors developed their human cognitive capacities. From the thick darkened forests, they emerged upon the savanna's open field. Where in forests it was impractical, now we could hunt. And we did so by means of abstractions from time and space. A far-away animal sound meant game in that direction. Tracks of grass-stalks popping back up meant prey had crossed minutes ago. In a way, we became detectives. Our minds developed capacities for logical inferences to help us track game. If footprints are fresh, then game is near.

By this point in our evolution, our minds became fully human. They were capable of various complex forms of cognition: pantomime, mimicked reference, and conveying the ideas for animals by imitation, for example. Around this time we probably developed capacities for sign language that used conventional signals. And just as we would read each other's signs, we began reading the stars and clouds for signs of things to come.
The afterthought was twin to the forethought: from narration of the past, to the articulated plan, to the formulated strategy of the hunt to be. (55a)
And by these capacities our minds performed logic for hunting. Shepard quotes W.E.H. Stanner as saying
If one wants to see a really brilliant demonstration of deductive thought, one has only to see a blackfellow tracking a wounded kangaroo, and persuade him to say why he interprets given signs in a certain way. (35, emphasis mine)
Lévi-Strauss showed that the "savage mind" was neither childish nor stupid. Its metaphysics is different. The world for primitive thinking is timeless. Present events and past are of little distinction.

Space for them is not homogeneous. Distances are not scaled uniformly.
The lines linking points are not mathematically perceived like the typographic lines in a book; it is a world without tense or causality in language, a world where change is not a measured becoming but a new areness; it is a journey, not a passage through, but a revised at-ness. (55d)
Primitive space is an event world that is signified by sound and "created from interiors rather than surfaces, returning the hearer always to the organic paradigm, life, the body as the source of sound." (55-56)

Space is not geometrical or mathematical. It is dynamic. Primitive minds understand spatial relations in terms of the way their activities correspond with others' activities.

Many Native American cultures have running traditions. The run had "magical ends" and "mystical purposes." One sort was "trance running." Another type is night walking. Here the walker steps through the dark, never looking to the ground. This allows them to develop peripheral night vision. And,
if peripheral information feeds directly into the unconscious, as some believe, we may enhance access to our unconscious by such nocturnal skills as nightwalking. The rational, objective world which occupies most of us each day, usually overrides the nonrational and unconscious world -- which, when neglected, intrudes, disrupts, and overturns our logical mind. (56d)
However, the forager's world did not have such inner conflicts. Their brain's rational and nonrational functions were balanced and acknowledged.
They could see in the dark as well as discern the dark underside of human consciousness. (57)

Shepard, Paul. Coming Home to the Pleistocene. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1998.

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