7. The Field of Anthropology
Professors Kornberg and Benedict met for the first time at the home of Dean Barth, where they had been invited to prepare for this honors seminar. The two have become very good friends; indeed, they have begun to have meetings by themselves to exchange information and compare notes on their separate fields. They told the Dean they hoped to continue their conversation on their own. The Dean thought that they might be developing a more than a collegial relationship; indeed, this could be a growing fondness and affection for one another.
Dean Barth: Welcome students. Today we discuss the field of anthropology with Professor Margaret Benedict. Thank you for coming. (Looking in her direction.) And Professor Linus Kornberg in chemistry has agreed to participate in this conversation. (Looking at him seated next to Margaret.) And thank you for joining us.
I am asking Professor Benedict to describe her field of anthropology for those of you who have never taken this subject. Professor, (with a short bow in her direction), would you please start by telling us what anthropology is, and when it began?
Thank you, Dean Barth. It’s good to see you all again.
Well, anthropology is the study of our physical and cultural nature. The idea might have started in ancient times with historians like Herodotus who lived in the 5th century B.C. and traveled to different countries to collect data. Some of the contents of Herodotus’s writing came from what he heard from others on his journey. He recorded his findings in a narrative form like an ethnographic report. [i] In fact, although some has called him the “Father of History”, Cicero called Herodotus the “Father of Lies.” In the past century or so, however, archaeological evidence has tended to corroborate some of Herodotus’s claims that previously were considered false or doubtful. If he is the “Father of History,” we can also say he is an early source for anthropology and ethnography.
But, anthropology, I would say, began in earnest in Europe during the 18th century, when people began to contrast their way of life with those of “primitive” societies. They read reports from explorers and missionaries and thought themselves to be more civilized than those (quote) “primitives.”
Anthropology was created in the 19th century by travelers who followed the models of physical science and natural history. It became a science of humanity and of the evolution of humanity prior to recorded history, a study, that is, of the earliest cultures. Anthropologists added a method for this new inquiry called "participant-observation." [ii]
The first anthropologists wanted to learn what people in other lands were really like; I mean from the inside out, how they actually felt and thought. Fieldworkers combined the objectivity of science with the subjectivity of the people they studied. The beliefs of people came to be a “fact” to be documented as true or false from the standpoint of the fieldworkers studying and analyzing those beliefs. The first anthropologists wanted to know the personal views of “primitives” and then to theorize about this as “data.” They documented “values, beliefs, norms and rituals” in the spirit of science.[iii]
Dean: Professor Benedict, you talked with us on our first day of class about fieldwork skills and practices. How did fieldwork begin?
Benedict: A fellow by the name of Bronisław Malinowski started fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands. Other anthropologists followed in his footsteps, such as Franz Boas on Baffin Island. They developed a method called “participant observation,” which means, learning the life of people in other lands by living with them, wherever they happen to be. Fieldworkers would take social roles in a tribe, say, and look at the world through local eyes, . . . as well as their own. They wrote firsthand accounts on tribal norms and compared them with the norms of other societies.
Dean: So this field was a synthesis of previous models?
Prof. Benedict: Yes. The first anthropologists drew ideas from already established fields of study, like jurisprudence, human history, philology, and physiology. They looked at what they called “artifacts,” which had been collected from tribes, clans, and colonies -- in the way that naturalists collected and studied the flora and fauna in foreign lands. In the process they produced a subject more complex than any other subject in the university.
(The Dean wonders whether this statement is overly arrogant, or might be true, and is glad that professor Kornberg does not argue the point.)
Archaeology, on the other hand, had begun much earlier, with antiquarians in China and in the Middle East. You can see how it originated with Egyptology, when Muslim historians wanted to learn about ancient Egyptian culture.[iv]
Dean: Tell us about the first anthropologists in the United States. Who were they? What were they like? What did they do?
Benedict: Lewis Henry Morgan lived from1818 to 1881. He started his career in the field of law and natural history. Based on his studies of comparative law and from living among the Iroquois, he wrote monographs on “The League of the Iroquois.” . Out of his studies of natural history, he wrote “The American Beaver and His Works.” Although there was no “anthropology” per se in his day, he kept reading reports on primitive societies and in 1877 published a book called Ancient Society, in which he divided human evolution into seven stages: "lower savagery," "middle savagery," "upper savagery," "lower barbarism," "middle barbarism" and "upper barbarism," and "civilization."[v]
Dean: Interesting. Words like “savagery” would not be used today, correct?
Benedict: That’s right. Anthropologists have dropped terms like “savagery” and “barbarism.” Morgan had little evidence to verify what people were really like in those early days. It was difficult to validate his theory, and so other anthropologists and archaeologists found a series of stages with characteristics they could document in more scientific terms. They called them the “Stone Ages”: the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic.
Dean: Tell us about them.
Benedict: I must greatly simplify any explanation I give. These are eras, each with subdivisions that students could study if they really wanted to understand them.
The Paleolithic goes back two and a half million years, to when stone tools were first used. Those tools had a decisive edge for cutting and showed signs that they were chipped for a purpose.
The Mesolithic Age developed with the invention of more sophisticated tools and lasted until about 8,000 B.C. At this point people began planting crops to supply their own food, but they still worked stone to make tools for farming.[vi]
The Neolithic Age developed when people began trading implements with one another. Roads were cut. In warm climates, houses were built of mud brick. More sophisticated language developed along with a more sophisticated religious life. In about 3,500 B.C. tribal leaders encouraged people to erect ritual structures - stone monuments (Stonehenge, for example), burial chambers, and communal houses.[vii]
Dean: So anthropologists in the 1800s began to collect evidence systematically and to judge it scientifically.
Benedict: Yes. Bones, skulls, and artifacts, such as pottery were collected and placed in museums. By 1883, the public had accepted the idea of anthropology, and Edward Tylor created a university department devoted to its study. He was appointed head of the University Museum at Oxford and became the first Professor of Anthropology in 1896.[viii]
He began to organize courses that students would need in order to graduate. He defined the subject of anthropology as “culture.” (“Culture? What is that?” the Dean whispers audibly, and grins.) Well, I teach Tylor’s definition in my Introductory course (signaling quotation marks): “Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."[ix]
Dean: “Culture.” Where does that word come from?
Benedict: The word comes from the Latin cultura, stemming from colere meaning "to cultivate." It referred to the cultivation of the land, but later it became a metaphor, pointing the “cultivation of the mind.” In anthropology it came to refer to the whole body of knowledge formed in civilization and all the different “ways of life” of people. [x]
Dean: Culture. That must be the most complex word in the English language.
Benedict: Yes. In anthropology it refers to anything produced by human beings -- language, technology, ideas, philosophy and methods of housing, food production, music, literature, painting, and sculpture. Anything created by Homo sapiens falls under the word “culture.” It includes all material things, from bows and arrows to bathtubs and atom bombs.
Dean: Everything! . . . this is why the field is so complex. You have to know everything.
Benedict: Well, we specialize and keep learning.
Dean: Culture. How did it begin in prehistory?
Benedict: Culture began when people started to create things and make symbols. It began with the formation of languages and tool making.
The capacity to symbolize is what makes us different from animals. Animals communicate with signs and gestures but not by symbols. There are ethnographic reports that show how symbolizing began in early times.
Kornberg: (breaking in.) I read a report on the language of Australian aborigines. It was fascinating. Students would certainly enjoy reading some of these reports.
Benedict: Dean Barth, you should read Leslie White’s work. It will tell you how an anthropologist would agree with your perspective on evolution. (The Dean’s eyes flash.)
White saw “invention” as the key to evolution. You should put White’s book, written in1959, on your reading list for this course. It is titled The Evolution of Culture: The Development of Civilization to the Fall of Rome. White describes how culture is the sum total of all human activity on the planet and evolves by inventions.
He claims that inventions have brought progressive stages in culture since the beginning of humankind.
Benedict: Inventions are brought about when people begin "harnessing and controlling energy" in some new way. This theory is close to your understanding, right down your alley, we could say. (The Dean’s eyes spark again.) In other words, cultures are changed by the way people capture and utilize natural energy. New technologies bring new cultural ways of life.
Dean: Interesting. In discussing biology, we said that a key invention for harnessing energy is “photosynthesis.” Photosynthesis is a natural method for capturing and transforming sunlight. Now you say that Leslie White proposes “material inventions” as the basis for the evolution of culture.
Benedict: According to White, evolution is about how people harvest energy for use. I can simplify the point for our purposes by jumping over sub-stages. (The Dean nods for her to go ahead.)
In the first stage of culture, people stood erect for the first time, using the energy of their own body and muscles to get around better and more efficiently. They also begin to symbolize. In the second stage, they were able to use the energy of domesticated animals. In the third stage, they developed the energy of plants, which initiated the agricultural revolution. In the fourth stage, they used the energy of natural resources, like coal, oil, and gas. In the fifth stage people began to harness sources of energy from the sun, the ocean, and wind. And this is where we are today: in the era of “alternative energies.” In the 1950s, White saw “alternative energies” as the beginning of a new age of culture.[xi]
Dean: Well! We can go back to check one point. There was a “harnessing of energy” in the formation of particles, atoms, molecules, and cells. …And now there is a similar harnessing of energy in culture. These pieces fit. Look at the invention of the printing press and steam, gasoline engines and jet airplanes, and how the Internet is changing our way of life today. Interesting.
Prof. Benedict: Leslie White would agree with you. Inventions were a key to evolution.
Dean: (pleased, and thinking out loud now.) Atoms invent molecules; molecules invent cells; birds invent nests. (He looks at Professor Kornberg.) Professor Kornberg, in previous classes we have said that invention involves combining the parts of old things and transforming them to a level beyond what had existed before. This invention process appears to be present throughout evolution. (The Dean is pleased, but he is not yet beyond doubting whether his hypothesis could really be true.) Still, I wonder . . . about language, for example. Professor Benedict, how do you see languages evolve?
Prof. Benedict: (She goes to the blackboard and writes) Symbols and Language
Benedict: Animals invented signs (so to speak), and then humans transformed them into symbols. Symbols are different because they take on “meaning.” Meaning is a kind of knowing that transcends a specific time or place.
Animal sounds – like a dog’s bark or a bird’s screech – point to a danger in an immediate place and moment. But symbols have meaning that go beyond an individual moment in time.
Symbols start with words. (Kathleen, who is majoring in religion, thinks biblically: “In the beginning was the Word.”) Words started to have meaning when anthropoids pointed to a specific thing, like a rock, and made a sound in common to indicate that thing. “Rock,” in the singular, is a name for a thing that you can see in the moment. The word points to a specific thing, that one rock. But later it becomes abstracted to refer to “rocks,” in the plural. It moves in meaning from denotation to connotation.
So the word “rock,” referring to a specific rock visible to the eyes, becomes abstractly “rocks,” and soon advances further with associated meanings. A rock becomes linked with references to “solidity” or “foundation.” Associated meanings require more abstraction and feeling, and the word moves from preciseness to ambiguity. Do you follow me?
Dean: So language began from noting specific things, objects, and developed with a wider scope of inner thought. Humans began to create interpretations of a word, with new meanings.
(Looking to the class) Do you have questions? [xii]
Jerry: (Picking up sharply on their previous class in biology.) Do symbols become the units of language – like units of selection in biology? (The Dean glances at Jerry, amazed at his quick parallel.)
Benedict: Yes, but these “units of selection” in language work at a more complex level. Words are not DNA. The body does not transmit them to other
bodies directly. They are remembered in the mind and transmitted socially. Yet this happens more quickly than genetic inheritance, in fact, and more efficiently. (Jerry looks puzzled.)
This is social inheritance, not genetic inheritance. (“Increasing interiority,” the Dean thinks, recognizing another of his principles in the transition from signs to symbols with meaning.) Humans were building an inner space of thought through words that could be passed on to new generations. This step into “meaning” was – what the Dean might call --a transcendent moment. It meant cultivating an inner life, much different from that of animals. (She looks to a class that is writing everything down slowly. The Dean is beaming.) Animal signs point outward toward the danger of a predator but symbols point inward, toward thought. Are you with me?
Jerry: Let’s see. Animal signs are like dogs barking: they bark at anything that looks, or smells, dangerous. Then humans begin to sound the word “bark” and give it meaning. It becomes a symbol with different associations and variations. A bark could become a howl, a shout… hmmm… a woof, a growl, a yowl, aaa….
Benedict: (surprised at the innovation and pleased.) … A snarl. Yes. Homo sapiens learned to move from barks, screeches, and gestures to symbols with meaning. (“But what is meaning?” Jerry wonders in silence.)
Humans point to visible things like what you are sitting on – a “chair” – and give them names. Then, people begin to generalize the word “chair” – a seat, something for sitting – into a symbol. Now, think about how the variations on types of objects for sitting must be learned with their associations. The number of legs could vary, for example.… The object could be a stool for one human being or a bench for several.
And then, after thousands of years of time, in addition to denoting a object for sitting, the word “chair” has developed a connotative meaning, turning into a metaphor with an entirely new sense. We speak of a “chair” to represent the head of a committee or a university department.” (She is moving quickly here to make her point.)
Dean: So we could say that a symbol is a unit of culture similar to the way that the cell is a unit of biology?
Benedict: Pretty close. People teach infants word-symbols right after birth. The word “milk” is sounded to signal its physical presence for a thirsty infant. Infants sense the presence of milk without hearing the word sounded, of course, but they learn to associate the sound of the word “milk” with the liquid flowing into their mouths. Later the word becomes a symbol, that is, an idea to think about. So learning symbols is a transcendent step for the child. The behavior of humans becomes determined by symbols, part of their cultural inheritance. This change of behavior, then, acts back on genetic inheritance. You might say that “symbolizing” provided greater “evolvability” -- a term you have discussed.
Dean: Evolvability? In this case, you mean a greater capacity for the mind to evolve?
Benedict: Yes. Early words became connected into a language. Words differentiated into nouns, adjectives, pronouns, adverbs, verbs; sentences were born. Single words combined into sentences, and sentences joined into paragraphs, in which ideas were developed and expressed. Ideas gave people the power to think about the past and the future. Philosophers in ancient times were able to think, developing ideas at a very abstract level.
But, respectfully, you should remember: Chinese and Greek philosophers stood on the shoulders of those first “masters of the symbol” who lived some 70,000 years ago.
Dean: So, symbolizing. A new stage… (pondering.)
Benedict: Symbolizing became a new power for human evolution. It moved people beyond their animal habits and instincts and into a new feeling and understanding. They can choose their own future. By this, I mean a greater capacity for humans to shape their own future. Humans became self-determined, more so than animals.
Dean: Whooa. “Self-determined.” What do you mean by that? Do humans have a “choice?”
Benedict: Yes. A feeling of choice – as we think of it – began with symbolization. Ideas, such as “alternative” and “option,” developed. Still later, the more advanced idea of “freedom” arises. Freedom is an idea whose meaning is still evolving through our lives in modern times.
Dean: Ah. (He pauses to think about how to integrate anthropology into his overall perspective:) So now language has its own rules…
Prof Benedict: Language is created first by sounds and soon by writing. (She goes to the blackboard to write:) The physical expression of language evolves in stages:
from pictograms: a picture of the sun in a religious ritual, for example;
to ideographs: a graphic symbol that represents an idea rather than letters;
to hieroglyphs, which are arbitrary symbols in a writing system,
to an alphabet, a set of letters in a fixed and arbitrary way that represents speech sounds.
(Jerry, who is majoring in linguistics, is captivated.)
Each stage of development shows symbols developing from a “particular” representation of something – like the drawing of an animal – to a general idea, and finally, to an individual letter that means something only when combined with other letters. A letter in the alphabet can represent a sound without having any meaning in and of itself. That invention requires people with a strong ability for abstraction.
These advances are all documented:
Around 3,000 B.C., Sumerian were drawing pictograms onto clay tablets. They did this with wedge-shaped reeds on wet clay that dried quickly. Over time, these pictograms – symbols themselves – became more and more stylized...They then developed at a more abstract level into cuneiform writing. Questions?
Mary: That’s fascinating. I think this is the way my field of philosophy evolved --from the particular to the general and then to more abstract thought.
Benedict: Good. In this case, each symbol became more abstract. The goal was for quicker writing, which was more efficient. The invention of language led to other new inventions. That’s what the Dean calls “evolvability” – a greater base of resources to innovate from. (She looks over the class to James, whose head is nodding toward his chest.)
James (loudly)… James... (more loudly. James startles awake, shaking his head..) James, can you help us bring your field of economics into our discussion. You might think about how the principle of efficiency was at work in the evolution of language. Language “speeded up” the change toward greater efficiency in technological inventions, for example. (James is more alert now.) And inventions in technology, in turn, increases human efficiency in all sorts of ways. Look at the way that inventions have increased the speed in human movement -- from walking on two feet to wheels to chariots, from bicycles to cars, jet planes and rockets. Each new form of technology is faster and more efficient. Each one shortens the time needed to get from one place to another.
James: (speaking as though nothing had happened.) In other words, humans created inventions that allowed them to travel faster and faster. And this changed the culture over stages of time!
Prof. Benedict: Yes. That’s Leslie White’s point.
My parents remember how the invention of cars changed the dating patterns for kids in high school. Automobiles led to “drive-in movies” in the countryside. They also created a new way of life in the suburbs: people could live outside the city and drive back into it for work. The qualities of city life combined with the qualities of country life. A new culture was born. There were new dating patterns, new housing patterns, new politics, new associations, and…
Dean: Whoa. Let’s slow down again. In fact, let’s stick to language. Two cultures – like two words -- came together, creating something new. [xiii] (The Dean shifts his feet uneasily. Trying to involve more students, Prof. Benedict has diverted the discussion from her subject of language. But the Dean does not want her to sidetrack into other aspects of anthropology. Professor Benedict nods her head to indicate that she understands.)
Prof. Benedict: The Sumerians developed cuneiform writing about 3000 B.C. Over time, the pictorial representations became simplified, and abstract. Cuneiform was “written,” we might say, on clay tablets; these were symbols drawn with a blunt reed used as a stylus. The impressions left by the stylus were wedge-shaped. This is how the name cuneiform – which means "wedge shaped" – came about: the Latin cuneus means, "wedge." (looking again at James.)
James, this system was more efficient than the earlier one and was passed on to other groups (the Elamites and Persians), who adapted it further. [xiv]
Then Egyptians developed a special system of hieroglyphics. By around 2700 B.C., they had a set of “glyphs,” or written symbols, each of which represented an idea. The hieroglyphic script developed into alphabet subsystems…and language took off. [xv]
Jerry: How did the alphabet begin? And where?
Benedict: It showed up significantly in Phoenicia and Egypt. The alphabet was actually a continuation of the Canaanite alphabet that developed just after 1000 B.C. We call the Phoenician script a "trunk" in the evolving “alphabet tree.” A lot of scripts can be traced through it. Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, and the Phoenician letter-shapes were more abstract in comparison to the "pictographic" shape of Proto-Sinaitic signs. Greek scripts also are all descended from the Phoenician.[xvi]
Jerry: How did the Greek alphabet develop?
Prof. Benedict: It evolved from the Phoenician. But the Greeks modified the script to represent vowel phonemes. They added extra symbols to represent vowels; the Greek could not be read by consonants alone.[xvii]
Dean: So the idea of “synthesis” -- I mean, of putting together different things to create something new -- is the basis for the evolution of language.
Benedict: Yes. And it is all accomplished by “symbolic interaction.”
Prof. Kornberg: But everything began with atoms and molecules. Culture had its physical foundation right from the beginning. (This is an unexpected interruption coming at this moment, but not an unexpected comment from Prof. Kornberg.) Atoms and molecules are the “foundation” of evolution. Everything began from energy and matter. It is amazing! (Kornberg is excited.)
Prof. Benedict: But no one can confirm that atoms and molecules are at the “foundation” of all things without a consciousness. You know them only through your consciousness. Chemistry is founded on symbols and sensation. (She disagrees with her friend, and Kornberg looks nonplussed.)
Dean: (to Kornberg) We talked about that point in our first class. You were not here. The two of us can talk about it after class. (Kornberg looks down, puzzled and upset at what he takes to be a rebuff. It’s true; he was not at the first lecture when the Dean spoke about consciousness being at the root of all “knowing.” The Dean had proposed this as an assumption for their upcoming discussion of a human perspective of evolution. Kornberg looks annoyed, but the Dean looks toward Professor Benedict for an allied subject that might mollify Prof. Kornberg.)
Professor Benedict, do any theories on language and evolution speak to this point made by Professor Kornberg?
Prof. Benedict: (writing on the blackboard:)
Consciousness and Language
The psychologist Julian Jaynes has studied ancient history and neurology. His work throws light on this point. He believes that “consciousness” is purely a function of language. No more, no less. For him, “consciousness” did not evolve with the brain; rather it is a product of language with the special development of the latter. It is the result of symbolizing.
The notion of “consciousness” would not exist except for language. Philosophers have debated this question in the past. Alice, you are majoring in philosophy. Is that right?
Alice: Philosophers – have they? I’m not sure. (Smiles.)
Benedict: Have you read any of the works of Ernst Cassirer? (Alice shakes her head, No.) He proposed that the concept of "being" evolves at a late stage in the evolution of language. The notion of the ego, of an "I," had to appear while language was being constructed from pure sensory experience. Consciousness depended upon this word.[xviii]
Now, Jaynes says that language becomes an “organ of perception” through the expression of an “I.” Symbols brought about this capacity for self-reflection. It starts between, and among, I and you and that. (Points to a chair.) “Consciousness,” he said, is a function of the metaphors that came with language.
Consciousness depends on the ability to create analogues and metaphors. It would not exist without this ability, which evolved with language.
Dean: His thinking is close to our perspective!
Benedict: Yes. And now another philosopher, Susanne Langer, has proposed that most of our abstract words are "faded metaphors." So before the process of "fading" occurred, language could not describe a situation without noting it in immediate experience.[xix]
(Alice is delighted to hear about a woman philosopher, tired of reading the work of old men like Plato and Kant. She will buy Langer’s book.)
Kronberg: Do you mean there is no physical basis for the evolution of language? (Insisting on his earlier point, wanting clarity.)
Benedict: Jaynes says that the human brain in this early stage was “bicameral.” The left and right sides of the brain were physically “not integrated.” They were not "unicameral" as they are today.
The ancient brain was "bicameral" in the sense that two brains were working independently of each other. The left half of the brain was the logic- and language-using half; it generated ideas and commands, which the right brain obeyed. These commands were subjectively perceived by the right brain as coming from "outside"—as if a god was speaking to it.
People did not have adequate symbols to translate the sense data they were experiencing. They did not have the physical brain to reach a subjective level of consciousness. Bicameral humans had to invent this double-level meaning of the metaphor.
Kornberg: How did this change happen?
Benedict: It’s not clear whether it was the two parts of the brain themselves, or the use of the metaphor acting on brain wiring, that brought about the unified brain. Jaynes argues that physical reality and this myth of the gods were fused. The distinction between them would not emerge as separate features of the mind until the birth of an ability to abstract. This capacity became visible with the start of philosophy about 600 B.C.
We do not know the dynamics that may have taken place between the physical and the mental capacities.
Kornberg: Does Jaynes say that the capacity to abstract developed in the brain, or in the mind moving from signs to symbols?
Benedict: He says that the ancients were hallucinating -- because they had this bicameral brain. They heard “gods” speaking directly to them. The earliest people had something similar to schizophrenia.
The area of the brain responsible for these kinds of auditory hallucinations is in the right hemisphere. It corresponds to Wernicke's speech area in the left hemisphere.
Dean: So, he studied the brain like a neurologist.
Benedict: Yes. He says that the most important sensory and motor functions are represented in both cerebral hemispheres, but speech is limited mainly to the left hemisphere. Language that began in bicameral brains liberated the right hemisphere for storing and processing information, unconsciously. It transmitted “directives” to the left hemisphere in the form of auditory hallucinations, which people perceived as "voices of the gods."
Kornberg: There must be a real problem of getting the timing right -- the chronology of how-and-when all of this happened. Signs were evolving into symbols while the left and right sides of the brain were still separate -- before they were integrated.
Benedict: Yes. Scientists were not there to observe and measure the changes. Jaynes argues that bicameral humans had a poor sense of linear time and were not capable of reflecting on the past or thinking about the future.
Kornberg: He wasn’t there. How does he know?
Benedict: He points to the absence of evidence for “self-reflection” and inner-direction in ancient stories. He believes that the activities of “bicameral man” were governed by habit. When new situations occurred among these early humans, auditory hallucinations provided the direction. It was “stress” that created novelties and new inventions.
Kornberg: But how does he prove his theory?
Benedict: He says we see evidence in the earliest recorded literature where there is an absence of subjectivity. You find early poetry and writings that describe human “action” based on entirely on “external events,” but nothing subjective, no inside perspective. (Kornberg looks puzzled.)
The Iliad is an example of bicameral mentality. It accents behavioral and objective events of the past.
But in the Odyssey, which was written several centuries later, you see how the power of the "gods" could be overcome by human will and initiative.
Dean: Intention. Free will.
Benedict: We see the bicameral breakdown as “time” acquires a new dimension. People now have a sense of the past, present, and future. Odysseus has a new consciousness. The Odyssey could be the first appearance of a “self.”
Kathleen: (Kathleen, majoring in religious studies, feels impelled to speak.) What about the Bible? Do you see a difference between the Old Testament and New Testament?
Benedict: Jaynes says that Hebrew history -- recorded in the Old Testament -- moves from bicameral prophets who proclaimed " thus spake the Lord" to the self-reflective contemplations found in books written much later, such as Ecclesiastes. (“What about Jesus and the New Testament?” Mary is thinking..)
The New Testament, written still later, shows so much more subjectivity. Subjectivity – I mean, the nature and character of an “inner life” -- was well on its way, rapidly evolving at the time of the New Testament.
Alice: Tell us about Greek philosophy? Was there any bicameral brain there?
Benedict: Jaynes sees the bicameral brain showing up in ancient Greek poetry. The relationship between the poets and a group of divinities called the “muses” appears to be the same as the relationship between the "gods" and oracles – a few human beings who, it was believed, the gods spoke through.
Alice: I’m not sure what you mean.
Benedict: The oracles in ancient Greece spoke from a trance; their statements uttered while in a trance state were “hallucinating pronouncements.” They were probably a bridge between those individuals who could no longer hear the "voices" of "gods," and the divine sayings those people still needed to hear from outside themselves. [xx]
Ancient stories and poetry were thought to be "divine speech" coming from the “Muses.” The Muses were said to be the daughters of Mnemosyne, the female Titan whose name became our word for “memory.”
(Professor Kornberg is fascinated by Professor Benedict’s erudition. He listens carefully, but he is also seeing a very shapely figure. He notices white lace at the top of her low-cut blue blouse. He is stimulated but represses this feeling.)
Alice: Plato did not like emotions. He had trouble with poetry.
Benedict: Yes. His was a time of rationality and high abstraction: “Reason” prevailed. Poetry was put down as "divine madness.” Music and poetry took “second place” to “ideas.” But Plato was wrong. Art is evolving with the same importance as Reason.
Kornberg: What do you mean?
Benedict: Art is based on emotions. It is a vital part of the evolution of feeling. People in the Stone Ages probably could feel and name pleasure. But they were not so likely to understand what poets call “the sublime.” So emotions have their own evolution.
Human emotions evolved, in a way, similar to the evolution of signs-to-symbols-to-reason, but they are a class in and of themselves. They began in physical appetites, like the hunger for food. Hunger is an appetite of the body, an early feeling that evolved further with language. It evolved metaphorically to express other “hungers,” with higher feelings—such as a hunger for truth and knowledge.
So there is an evolution of feeling, from sexual excitement and lust to higher feelings of lustiness and spiritual vigor. Feelings evolved from pure physical pleasure to personal joy. (Kornberg is certainly aware of his feeling of pleasure in being with Professor Benedict. Could he say that joy is present in his feeling, too?)
Dean: Ah. You spoke to me earlier about the evolution of music in the United States. That evolution was all about “synthesis,” which you said is at the root of music. Say something about that to students, if you will. I’m sure they would enjoy it. (The Dean sees heads nodding, suddenly eager.)
Prof. Benedict: Well, let me think. (The Dean goes to the blackboard to write:)
In music, synthesis refers to integrating differences in styles. This happens all the time. It happened in the invention of music in a movement from African drumbeats to mixed Indian songs. It happened with classical music, from Bach to Beethoven to Mahler.
Dean: But tell them what you also told me -- about how it happened in popular songs, right here in the United States.
Prof. Benedict: Well, that’s a theory, not easily confirmed.
Dean: Simplify it, if you would, as much as you can. The class would like to hear about this, too.
Benedict: Okay. Look at the evolution of African-American music. Ethnomusicologists see “elements” of one song-movement linking and synthesizing with other song-movements over time. Each new “music style” is like an offspring of “elements” from those that precede it, if I can put it that way for the Dean.
Each new song carries something of the rhythm and melody of its predecessor but is equally new and different. (She shuffles through her briefcase for xeroxes she has made of a paragraph she had copied after talking with the Dean.)
Ah, this is what I was looking for. Derek Gatherer, a social biologist in London, proposed that “syntheses” keep taking place in the evolution of musical styles. You may recognize some philosophy in this account. Here is a summary of his idea. (She reads as copies circulated.)
(a) Swing Music is a synthesis that came out of the opposition of New Orleans styles (thesis) and Chicago styles (antithesis) in the 1920s; (b) Swing (thesis) was opposed by the more traditional Blues-oriented Jump style (antithesis) in the 1930s from which emerged Bebop (synthesis); (c) in the late 1950s and early 1960s Hard Bop (thesis) was opposed by Free Jazz (antithesis); producing Freebop (synthesis); (d) in the late 1960s Freebop (thesis) was opposed by Rock/Soul (antithesis) resulting in Fusion (synthesis); (e) in the early 1980s Fusion (thesis) was opposed by Post-Bop (antithesis), producing M-base (synthesis).[xxi]
(Alice sees immediately that the way in which Prof. Benedict is presenting this history of American music is connected with the thought of the philosopher G.W. F. Hegel. She’s tempted to speak, but since, the Dean appears to be enjoying this case so much, she remains silent.)
This study is curious, but I have not looked at it carefully. This fellow, Derek Gatherer is not an anthropologist. Students can check out his theory for their own pleasure. (She smiles.)
Dean: (to students) This is an aside, so to say, but I know that some of you would like to look up Derek Gatherer’s hypothesis. (to Prof. Benedict) Now, I’d like to get back to today’s main topic. You’ve said that the subject of anthropology includes the physical side of human evolution. Anthropology is also about the evolution of our body, not only our culture.
Benedict: That is a whole other story.
Dean: Well, before we start that, why don’t we all stand up and take a stretch break for a couple of minutes.
(A few of the students had come as a group and told the Dean privately that sometimes the class moved too fast for them to “keep up” “This is a breather,” he says. Students stand and stretch.
Professor Kornberg goes over to Professor Benedict and speaks to her quietly. The subject will now take a turn to which he can contribute, speaking about the chemical aspects. She goes to the board and writes:)
This is where the cultural side of anthropology meets the physical side, and the hard sciences. Paleontologists work on the stages of our human body in evolution.
I will have to summarize. (She teaches this subject in an Introductory Anthropology course and knows the story very well. For this class, she will have to summarize one segment of this history. In particular, she is concerned about whether there are creationists in the class who will not “get” the science. )
Let’s begin with Ardipithecus ramidus, who is probably the most primitive hominid, with strong chimpanzee-like features. This species lived in the forest a little over four million years ago. Anthropologists have debated the status of this fossil. It was placed first within the Australopithecus genus, with a new specific epithet – ramidus. Others later reassigned the hominid to a new genus, arguing dissimilarities between it and other Australopithecines. They proposed the name Ardipithecus. The differences between these categories are very small, “close calls” you might say.[xxii]
You can see the way in which changes were taking place step-by-step in these cases. (She is drawing on the blackboard.)
Australopithecus anamensis had jaws that were more primitive than those of later hominids. And yet, its arm bone is human-like, living around the same time as Ardipithecus ramidus.
Australopithecus afarensis, on the other hand, is a 3.2-million-year-old fossil. This species of hominids ranged in height from three and a half feet to five feet and walked upright. (She speaks slowly as she diagrams the differences.)
At about that same time period, Australopithecus africanus comes along with a slightly larger brain—larger than a chimp's brain—smaller canine teeth, and larger molars.
Later, Australopithecus robustus had a large, heavier, thicker skull and lived around two million years ago (continues marking anatomical differences).
Homo habilis is the first species to make primitive stone tools. He was about five feet tall, weighing 100 pounds, and had a larger brain; but he was smaller than Homo erectus.
Homo erectus —known as "Java Man" – was discovered in Indonesia in 1893. The erectus skeleton is very similar to that of modern humans, but he’s more robust. He was probably the first hominid to use fire, around one and a half million to 300,000 years ago. Now we are getting close to humans, as we know them today.
Homo heidelbergensis had a larger brain than Homo erectus but smaller than a modern human. He was found in Africa and Europe around 500,000–200,000 years ago.
Next, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis appears, with a brain larger even than the brain of today’s humans, living around 230,000 to 30,000 years ago. Would you believe it! This shows that the size of the brain is not the sole basis for assessing progress in the brain’s evolution.[xxiii]
Finally, Homo sapiens, evolves. That is the species of you and me. These “creatures” have been around for over 120,000 years (grinning broadly). [xxiv] And with them—with us— we see the formation of significant symbols, probably starting around 40,000 years ago. Humans began making elaborate tools out of bone, antler, ivory, stone, and wood, and produced artwork in carvings and cave paintings.[xxv] (She looks to Professor Kornberg.)
Prof. Kornberg: (Fresh with these ideas from his discussions with her.) In those 100,000 years, anatomical trends toward smaller molars and less bone mass are in the fossil record. For example, contemporary humans in Europe and Asia have bones that are 20 to 30 percent thinner and lighter than those of upper Paleolithic humans dating from about 30,000 years ago.
(He had planned to continue but pauses to allow Professor Benedict to tell the story.)
Prof. Benedict: About 40,000 years ago, Cro-Magnon tools became sophisticated. Probably Cro-Magnon men invented word-symbols – by that, I mean combined and recombined words – although no one knows for sure. They invented language while also inventing clothing, engravings, and sculptures. (Pauses to collect her thoughts again about how to summarize the long story.)
Over the next 20,000 years, artwork began to appear in the decorated tools, beads, ivory carvings of animals, clay figurines, musical instruments, and cave paintings. So in a period of 100,000 years, Homo sapiens moved from making animal sounds and gestures to creating symbols, new art forms, tombs, pyramids, clothing, and so much more. Questions?
(Silence.) Somebody speak who has not spoken yet today.
Barbara: Does (quote) “invention” apply to both an inner and an outer activity?
Prof. Benedict: Yes, I agree with the Dean about this. The idea of “invention” applies to an inner and an outer activity, all based on combination and synthesis. We talked about how “iron” had to be separated from its impurities by heating, pounding, and reheating. What the ironworkers were doing outside was a reflection of what they were doing inside, while they were in the process of evolving language and self-consciousness.
Barbara: Inside-outside. I don’t understand.
Prof. Benedict: Inside, early people were developing a feeling of choice and inner freedom as they became more self-conscious. They were not as “self-conscious” as we are today, but they were in the early stages of inner development.
A sense of choice came into play with the invention of ways to domesticate crops, outside. People realized that they no longer needed to hunt animals and gather herbs; they could stay in one place and raise grain. They had to have said to themselves at some point, “We have a choice to domesticate seeds and animals.” Those of us today do not know exactly what they said all those millennia ago, but we know that they had to think and plan for the future.
Dean: Do you differ from Julian Jaynes on this matter of consciousness?
Benedict: On some technical matters, yes, but let me say that we both see language as linked to the rise of human consciousness. I see this as a major step in evolution. Language creates a new leap—a qualitative leap—into self-consciousness and all that that brings into human culture. It is an incredible leap forward, like jumping from molecules to cells.
Dean: So people in these early cultures develop a sense of choice. (nodding in confirmation of her premise.) They can then look ahead and think about the future; I’m referring to your statement about planting crops and domesticating animals.
Benedict: That’s right. People also developed a separate identity – seeing of themselves as different from animals. They knew that they had a greater ability to control their environment.
Dean: And there was, of course, a hierarchy.
Benedict: Hierarchy always exists. It was there in the interrelating of animals, and it is now explained in words. People could see different degrees of choice – which signals freedom -- within a social hierarchy. A relative sense of freedom emerges with castes and slavery. Slaves have a lesser range of choice than their owners do. In effect, evolution is about self-determination.
Benedict: Civilization started with horticulture and evolved into agriculture, and then into a greater division of labor. Eventually, people asked: “What crops should we plant next year?” “What tools do we need?” They had to decide where to plant the crops so that the plants would grow most optimally; they were continually developing the power to think ahead.
That’s different than a scientific perspective that explains everything from the outside. A scientist would probably say that inventions caused people to behave differently, but an anthropologist would be more likely to say that people created the inventions and new ways of life.
Dean: Questions? (Students are mulling over Prof. Benedict’s last assertion. Prof. Kornberg is also thinking. There are no questions. So the Dean decides to reiterate the overall perspective.)
These stages of evolution—from atoms-to-molecules-to-cells, and then from animal to human evolution—are all linked to the primal forces of attraction, repulsion, and synthesis that began after the Big Bang. The atoms and molecules are still active in cells of Homo sapiens and in natural selection. Sexual selection becomes a fusion of human genes, a synthesis of differences between individuals, male and female. (to Kornberg) How does this sound?
Prof. Kornberg: Sexual selection and fusion. Hmmm. As I see it, each stage would have different forces. The subject of physics is not the subject of biology. They all have their own complexity.
Dean: You were not in class when we talked about how the principles of sexual selection were born in the attraction and fusion of atomic elements. And then Darwin’s theory -- the frequency of traits among animals can increase or decrease depending on attractiveness and the power of males in combat – all of which is in biology. This is part of this picture of evolution.[xxvi]
Kornberg: (Kornberg is puzzled by Benedict’s last assertion, but more concerned that the idea of evolution may not have begun in matter.) You say that these fundamental principles of action never left the sciences –that is, never left physics, chemistry, and biology. Well, what about culture?
Dean: Professor Benedict, can we say that the principles representing these original forces are also in the evolution of culture?
Benedict: Yes. The concept of synthesis in chemistry is based on the same principle of fusion as sexual unions—that is, the mixing of chromosomes—but each stage is unique and adds something more to what has come before. Culture carries the same principles of attraction and fusion, but in this they go beyond biological evolution. In cultural development, we see greater self-organization, self-direction, and self-determination.[xxvii]
Kornberg: We have seen self-organization in laboratory tubes. Are you talking about more self-organization in this stage? You see greater self-determination and a greater sense of freedom?
We (chemists) do not apply the idea of “freedom” or “choice” to elements that are self-organizing in a dish. Biologists do not think about sexual union among animals as a “choice.”
Benedict: But, as you may remember from our earlier discussion, we are moving up the scale from chemicals to insects to animals to humans.
Kornberg: Do you think that the “elements” of “choice” could appear in animals?
Benedict: Yes. Chemists have a deterministic view when they look at an amoeba. Everything the amoeba does is determined by the cause and effect of light. But imagine yourself inside the amoeba.
Korbberg: So, you are saying that a female lion chooses the time and place for sex. I should imagine myself inside the lion. (The Dean is surprised and pleased to hear a chemist trying to talk across disciplines.)
Benedict: (her eyes radiating) To see choice evolving you must consider the situation from the perspective of the lion and not just observe its outside behavior. (Kornberg is noticing her beauty.) Sex could be an expression of this principle of “choice” evolving through an animal’s inner life. It is a choice. We see the beginning of an element of the animal as “self.”
Dean: Self? What is a “self”? This idea of “self” is typically associated with people. How could it be applied to biology and chemistry?
Benedict: Professor Kornberg and I have talked about this. He uses the term “self-organization” in chemistry. But, this “self” is different. He may want to pick up his idea. (Looks to Professor Kornberg.)
Kornberg: I did look up the word.
“Self” in this sense means the essential nature of something. It refers to something having the same character throughout. I read that “it” is the union of all the elements of a thing that constitutes its identity.
Benedict: Well! So there! In the laboratory we see elements developing a unique self-identity.
Kornberg: It is true. The subject of chemistry is evolving beyond the study of the molecule. A paradigm shift is occurring. Over the last 25 years, concepts such as molecular recognition and self-assembly have been transferred from biological processes into our understanding of chemical nanosystems. I guess we could say this is happening through the process of synthesis.[xxviii]
Benedict: I’m not entirely sure what he means by this in nanosystems, but I take him at his word. I have to be honest.
Dean: Chemists could be projecting human terms—like “self”—on to the dynamics of their materials. Or, these terms and findings in chemistry may indeed be reflecting the principles of human life. (Silence. Another complex thought.)
Yes, indeed. So this human concept of “self” and “choice” might well have begun as part of the chemistry of life. The word “synthesis” could be a term representing what happens inside of physical reality.
Kornberg: No. Physical reality is not psychological reality. This term “synthesis” describes what happens when oxygen and hydrogen “combine” to produce water. Without getting into the biological details, it could be what happens in the union of male and female producing a child, but it is not the foundation of “reality.”
Dean: Isn’t that odd? The use of the word “self” in referring to a mixture of chemicals. . .
Kornberg: It’s just words, language, no more. “Self” refers to a unit of something that acts on its own. [xxix]
Dean: So you say, but I’m still puzzled. In anthropology, in early civilization, the human self was evolving internally as well as externally. Today, it is humans who continue building these concepts of “self” and “synthesis.”
Benedict: Humans “choose” to make certain tools, choose to plant crops, choose to have sex. Sex is an instinct, and instinct is involuntary, yes; but notice what is happening: something has changed. Humans are now more conscious and purposeful. They can decide to have sex or not. They can hold the instinct at bay and choose to be abstinent. Ask a priest.
Dean: (smiles.) What does this mean? (He looks out the window, thinking out loud.) New degrees of free choice… (Speaking slowly) develop through animal consciousness when the female makes a choice for a mate. Sexual instincts now compete with the interior rules of society. (Pregnant Kathleen is aware of the conflict between her instincts and moral principles.)
Benedict: Yes. So the elements of “choice” appear first in biological evolution. The female animal may choose certain properties of color and strength in a male animal.
Dean: Some inner decision-making starts to appear in animals. Perhaps “choice” is an embryonic form of chemistry, hidden inside biological “adaptation.” (The Dean is puzzling.) Biologists look at animal “behavior” and adaptation from the outside. (to Prof. Benedict) You take another perspective from the inside.[xxx]
Benedict: Often. To see choice evolving, you must think as though you actually are inside the lioness. She is making an inner decision, an internal adjustment, and not by instinct alone. An element of choice develops inside this animal. Some new chemistry is involved. Choice evolves with increasingly complex elements through the process of evolution – until it arrives at the experience we call human choice.
Dean: (looking at the ceiling now as in a great moment of thought.) The lioness now has a mix of the elements of instinct and conscious choice simultaneously. We have to look at these as occurring at the same time, not independently of one another. Instinct “determines” the direction of the lioness, but she is also “self-determining.” This is a dual perspective, which appears to be contradictory. You can view these elements as separate—from both angles—and as interdependent, as happening at the same time…
Benedict: With the advance of more consciousness through language, humans increasingly develop the power to resist instincts. They have a hunger instinct, but at times may choose to fast. They have a sex instinct, but may choose to be ascetic. They make these choices themselves. Questions? (Professor Kornberg is looking at Prof. Benedict’s flowing black hair and blue eyes and is choosing self-restraint. Kathleen is thinking about “abstinence.”)
Mary: (Reticent till now, she says to Professor Benedict:) The Dean told us on the first day of class to ask, “Who are we?” Can you answer that question?
Prof. Benedict: Well, you are “human.” Anthropoids became humans by learning symbols. They became, let’s say, “introspective.” You are a symbol-making animal.
Mary: I am a symbol-making animal!
Dean: Do you remember what a symbol is? (The Dean looks around the class to see if anybody can answer this. Nobody raises a hand.) Well, let’s hear again what Prof. Benedict has to tell us about symbols -- Professor. [xxxi]
Benedict: (She knows it can take several readings of a poem to get its meaning.) A symbol is something that represents something else. The word “tree” stands for a physical tree outside us but the word “tree” that is now sounded, is not the tree. We see the tree with our eyes, and hear the sound of the word we make, but the meaning is supplied by thoughts and images inside the mind. Three things, at least, are going on at once in this process: the tree, the sound, and the image.[xxxii]
Now we are human. Homo sapiens developed from anthropoids by standing erect, but they became “human” by inventing word-symbols with their concomitant images.
And images carry feelings in them, and feelings are different from instincts. Images bring emotions and sensitivities that are more complex, and much subtler, than had existed among animals. (She sees puzzlement in the eyes of some students.) Chimpanzees are close to this capacity to “abstract” from signs and to “feel” as humans do, but scientific studies show a limit to their brain capacity. They cannot symbolize and do not experience feelings at the level of some humans.[xxxiii]
Dean: Now some humans develop more of a capacity for feeling and others develop more of a capacity for thought.
Prof. Benedict: Yes, that’s true.
Dean: Let me follow up with a thought that started us in the direction of our thinking at the beginning of our seminar.
All people go through a process of symbol making. (Benedict nods in agreement.) All university faculties develop symbolic orders of thought. (Benedict nods Yes.) They develop symbols with meanings different from those of everyday life. (Benedict nods Yes.) The theoretical language of chemistry and anthropology “transcends” the language of people on the street.
Prof. Kornberg: (Concerned.) “Transcends!” I don’t like this word: “transcend.” What do you mean by it?
Dean: The language of chemistry is more abstract than everyday language.
Prof. Kornberg: This abstraction doesn’t make chemists any better than others. “Transcend”?
Prof. Benedict: (lightly) I would say different, not “better than.” All languages are different. Linguists in the field of semiotics may explain the songs and dialects in New Orleans, but that doesn’t make linguists better than those who speak the dialects and sing the songs. [xxxiv]
Dean: Prof. Kornberg, can you give us an example of your language in chemistry that transcends our understanding?
Kornberg: Hmmm. (Pauses, sensing a trap. He has profound doubts about this idea. but is glad for the opportunity to speak.) Let’s see…
In chemistry, Abegg’s rule states that the difference between the maximum positive and negative valence of an element is frequently “eight.” (with a friendly look toward the Dean.) Well, anti-bonding molecular orbits are normally higher in energy than bonding orbits. (He looks again. No answer, and now the Dean has begun to smile.) Two electrons occupy them at one time, and in the case of hydrogen, each atom can contribute only one electron. Therefore only the bonding orbit is occupied, while the combined H2 molecule is more stable than two separate H atoms.
Do you understand? (Big smile, somewhat mischievous.)
Dean: No. (Smiles back.)
Kornberg: Does that make me any better?
Dean: No. (The Dean has effectively been “put down.” He realizes that this word “transcendence” is more complex than he had thought.)
Benedict: Now there is more to the meaning of transcendence than meets the eye. It is not just an intellectual matter.
Humans have feelings that are as important as their intellects – maybe more important. If students think they are better than people without a college degree, we have not done our job. If students thought that, liberal arts would have failed. Emotional maturity is the capacity to identify with others.
Dean: Ooo. You’re right! (He realizes he has gone off track.)
Benedict: There is an evolution of emotions and feelings that would be a whole study in and of itself. It also has to do with “who we are.”
Mary: (hearing her question.) Who are we?
Benedict: Well, human beings. But…(remembering her point about arrogance) we should not forget Australopithecus. (Smiles, as her point causes surprised glances.) He knew nothing about symbols; and not a thing about chemistry. Paleontologists honor him. They respect him. He is part of our family.
Benedict: Anthropology teaches you to respect what you study, even the bones of the dead. (She is speaking spontaneously and wondering what she might say next to make her point.)
Fieldworkers living with the Australian Arunta have sometimes fallen in love with them.
Mary: Oh? They get married?
Benedict: Sometimes fieldworkers do not want to come back home. They “go native,” as we say.
So you need training to be a good fieldworker. You need to identify with the people you study, but not get too emotionally identified with them. You need just enough identity to understand who they may be, but not so much as to become totally one of them.
Dean: Some fieldworkers get over-involved emotionally? So, as anthropologists you have to learn “distance.”
Benedict: Yes. When students go out on fieldwork, they find a new identity. They tend to see the people they study as part of themselves. But they must become objective about their experience. So, when they do this in the right way, they develop emotionally. They “mature.” Old emotions mix and synthesize with new feelings. Pain and joy mix to create a new feeling. Questions? (Students are intrigued by the idea of how old emotions might mix to create new feelings, but they are stopped by the very thought, mystified it. There is silence.)
Tom: (Majoring in biology and interested in chemistry, changing the subject.) We mentioned in an earlier class that the DNA could be self-replicating, like memes.
Dean: Good memory! Yes, Professor Benedict, we talked about the power of self-replication. Now this same power of self-replication appears in culture. Could this be a transfer of traits?
Benedict: That’s right. They are called “memes.” (She is impressed by Tom’s awareness of the connection and writes the term on the board so that everyone can see the spelling.) This concept of memes in biology is analogous to what happens in culture. The term is now applied in psychology and sociology as well as in anthropology.
Dean: Does everyone remember this term?
Jerry: (Embarrassed) I cannot remember what it means.
Prof. Benedict: A meme is a unit of culture like the DNA is a unit in the body. It replicates and transmits information.[xxxv]
Richard Dawkins created the word “meme.” Do you remember him? He is the molecular biologist who said that culture has its own replicating units.
Dean: Tom, you mentioned memes in that class. Would you say something about them again now? (Friendly smile.)
Tom: Well, Dawkins described a “meme” as a unit of information in the brain. It is a mutating replicator like DNA, but it also works in culture. It can propagate. He called it a “causal agency.” That’s like it has a will of its own (Grins). [xxxvi]
Benedict: A meme is based on what we call “diffusion,” but Dawkins gave it a special meaning. It becomes a “unit of selection” as traits diffuse from one culture to another. People take an idea, a song, or an invention into their own culture from somewhere else. But all cultures evolve differently, and each at its own pace.[xxxvii] Questions on the meme? (No one asks a thing.) Keep in mind that
a meme is not DNA. And take your time; we need your participation.
Dean: We should continue our discussion of physical anthropology. (The Dean wants the class to ask questions, and the Benedict’s mention of “DNA” signals something to Jane.)
Jane: How does human DNA differ from the DNA of apes? I mean, how close are we to apes?
Benedict: Let me turn to Professor Kornberg about that. That’s more in his field; it’s all chemistry. (She had warned her friend that this question might come up.)
Kornberg: (He goes to the blackboard and writes:) DNA and the Apes
A team of biochemists at the Georgia Institute of Technology compared base pairs of DNA from different species—you know, where each “base” is a letter in the animal’s genetic code. They analyzed the DNA to look at what biologists call the molecular clock.
Dean: Molecular clock? What’s that?
Kornberg: It’s the rate at which an animal’s genetic code evolves. The speed of the clock shows how the span of a generation has changed over the millennia…Anyway, the tests showed that even though humans and chimps split from a common ancestor between 5 million and 7 million years ago, the rate at which their genetic codes were evolving was extremely similar, differing by only 3%. This was much slower than for gorillas and orangutans.
Dean: What does that mean?
Kornberg: A slow molecular clock says that the time between generations is long. It has set humans apart from the great apes, but the chimpanzee's generation time is much closer to humans. The chimps are our closest ancestors.[xxxviii]
Jane: I thought we were close to apes.
Kornberg: Well, yes. But chimps are closer.
Now note this: These researchers propose that humans and chimpanzees could be in one genus, rather than in two different genera. (His smile is bemused.) We are that close to chimps by genomes and clock time.
Prof. Benedict: The same genus! What a difference a category can make! [xxxix]
Prof. Kornberg: But there is also something unusual going on here. It’s called “junk DNA.”
There are three billion genetic letters that spell the human genome; we have identified only a handful that may have contributed to evolution. Human evolution may have been driven by parts of the genome called “junk DNA.”
Dean: Driven by “junk DNA”? What’s that? Junk!?
Kornberg: “Junk” refers to portions of the DNA sequence for which there is no function. About 95% of the human genome has been called "junk." I think the “preservation” of junk DNA over many millions of years of evolution suggests it has a function.
The journal Science has an analysis of the genomes of human, chimpanzee, and rhesus macaque. These non-coding regions contain thousands of sequences that act as genetic switches to turn other genes on or off. This “junk DNA” could be the key to human evolution. [xl] (As he says this, heads jerk forward.)
Kornberg: There is growing evidence that this “junk” – we now call it the “non-coding DNA” -- plays a vital role in regulating gene expression during development. Non-coding DNA regulates the development of photoreceptor cells, the reproductive tract, and the central nervous system. Non-coding DNA regulates the vital roles of development and embriogenesis.[xli] (Heads lift.)
The roles of non-coding DNA are so diverse and pervasive that we now look at these sequences for what is called "concerted evolution."
Dean: “Concerted evolution.” You are over my head, and I can see that I’m not alone. Could you explain that in plain language?
Kornberg: The non-coding DNA is not useless. It is required for genomic functionality. Some chemists say that this provides evidence of “intelligent design.”[xlii] (Heads rise again at the words “intelligent design.” Although the Dean does not know the implications of this statement, Kornberg means that some chemists are now looking to dialogue with theologians.)
Dean: Interesting. What is your understanding of this question?
Kornberg: I have to study the case. I’ll look at it carefully, but I don’t believe that intelligent design is to be found here.
Dean: (looking for more student participation.) Do students have any questions for Professor Kornberg, or for Prof. Benedict? What strikes your curiosity?
Ann: I am curious about primitive religions. What about those early prophets and shamans? Were any of them at any time more evolved than we are? Were some of them ahead of us? (Ann has in mind Lao-Tze, the founder of Taoism; Kathleen is reminded of Jesus.)
Prof. Benedict: (goes to the blackboard and writes:) Ancient Religions
Your question is connected with “consciousness.” According to some ancient beliefs, there are levels of consciousness that transcend us and precede our existence. Evolution then begins with a higher consciousness. This all starts by involution, not evolution.
A Great Spirit creates the universe by "emptying itself" into souls that reduce to what we call mind, which devolves into the material body. This Great Spirit remains and never goes away. It moves from its higher state into “lesser states” of consciousness that are seen as matter. You should read this stuff on ancient religions. It’s challenging. It is the reverse of evolution.
There are theories that our universe may become compressed back into a pre-atomic point of infinite density of the sort that led to the Big Bang. Those who believe in reincarnation often hold this position. But the transmutation of matter-energy involved in a Big Crunch would seem to disallow retention of any remnants of human bodies; hence it would be difficult in this case to maintain that the atoms that had provided persons with an extension of their existence beyond their deaths. What would transpire after the collapse of the universe is unknown, even though some astronomers have conceived of a series of universes following one another.[xliii]
Prof. Kornberg. That’s not science. (He looks concerned. This is off the subject for him and he half-whispers, half-growls:) “What’s involution?”
Benedict: We think of “matter” as the foundation of all things. That everything began with atoms and molecules, and evolved through plants and animals. But ancient thinkers thought it all started with a great Oneness, and it is toward that higher state that we – as material bodies – are returning through “evolution.”[xliv]
Ann: You mean “evolution” is the result of some kind of earlier “involution”?
Benedict: That’s right. Here’s the idea in a nutshell: A Great Presence realizes itself by passing through stages of “becoming” more and more like matter. Some ancient scripts -- and sages -- say that involution is a “descent” from True Reality. This Reality descends and then becomes embodied in matter and, in turn, begins to free itself by evolution. Eventually, all things return to the one Source.
Mary: Where could I read about this?
Benedict: The concept of “involution” is in a lot of ancient writings: in Hinduism, Platonism, Gnosticism, and Manichaeism; Samkhyan, the Vedantic tradition, Tantric cosmology, the Kabbalah, and Hassidism.
Mary: Whoo! (She is so surprised that she has to repeat the point.) So – according to thinkers in these ancient traditions – “evolution” would never have occurred without a previous “involution”?
Benedict: Yes. They would say that the “higher” cannot be explained in terms of the “lower.” The higher does not emerge "out of" the lower, but rather the reverse. How can I put it?
The lower levels – matter – are narrow dimensions of higher spiritual dimensions. The lower, or physical, world is a stepped-down version of a higher spiritual world. There are different sets of vibrations between the upper and the lower.
Dean: (He repeats the idea as it challenges his thesis.) So life looks to scientists as if it is evolving out of matter, but for these sages, it’s the reverse.
Prof. Kornberg: (humorously) It sounds like the Big Bounce.
Benedict: Here’s the point. You could not get the “higher” out of the “lower,” unless the higher were already there.
Dean Barth, this is your own thesis: that consciousness is there hidden in the Big Bang—sleeping, so to say—waiting to appear. Ancient sages say this process of “evolution” is Spirit's own work.
Kornberg: (upset that Benedict sounds like this belief should be considered seriously.) But this is not science.
Benedict: Look. Today there are Hindus, Christian mystics, and Jewish Kabbahlists all of whom hold this view. They say that evolution is a long process of self-realization. And, as I said, their ideas are far from new. This concept was written into ancient Egyptian scripts.[xlv] It’s all about “who we are.”
In Hinduism, the term Maya refers to our world -- this physical world – and Maya is an illusion. Hindus say that Maya hides the soul.
Mary: Then, who are we?
Benedict: In the Hindu outlook, you are a soul, a child of Universal Light. (A silence, then:)
Mary: I don’t feel like I am a child of Universal Light. (Everybody laughs.)
Benedict: Well, in the Hindu belief system, there is a part of you that is not limited to your physical body, an essence that is immortal. To understand better, you could try thinking like a fieldworker. Take the Hindu position: try thinking like a Hindu, feeling like a Hindu. You are part of a Great Source. You are always with a Great Spirit. Otherwise, how does your body do its voluntary and involuntary functions? If you were entirely matter, how could you have the capacity for motion? From this perspective, without light and energy and a spirit to move you, you would be no more than an inert lump. You are inside a great Radiance. You will find in nature an eternal, cyclical Beauty. (She stops for a moment. Professor Benedict is reporting on ancient beliefs as she has been discovering them in her own inquiry, without fully believing in them, but her statements are pronounced with so much persuasion and feeling that they sound like an expression of her own belief. Mary feels the force of them deeply.)
Talk to Hindus who have been in a state of bliss. They will say that their experience is greater than any human ecstasy… Prof. Kornberg remains speechless, dismissing these beliefs, and now the Dean interrupts with his own concern.)
Dean: Professor Benedict, would tell us, objectively, what the steps are of this involution you are telling us about?
Benedict: The great sages and mystics might know, but I want to make clear: I have no way of verifying those stages. I can only report on the beliefs of those who report from their inner experience. Beliefs are my data. (Mary closes her eyes, thinking.)
Hindus say a Great Spirit begins to shed its purity while assuming a finite soul. The human soul that results from this divesting forgets its original “being” with the Spirit. Sages say that a Great Spirit creates “matter,” like the particles and atoms that came about after the Big Bang. Everything that was forgotten during involution wants to come back into that great Holiness, the Whole.
Dean Barth, this is the doctrine of “remembrance,” part of the Vedantic tradition. It should be explained somewhere for students in their readings. (The Dean does not answer.)
Mary: (amazed at these ideas.) Involution means forgetting “who you were,”… and evolution is discovering “who you are”?
Benedict: The phrase most often associated with this concept is Tat tvam asi: “You are That.” Satori, metanoia, moksha, and wu – These are some of the names from different traditions for this idea of self-realization.
Dean: (Interrupts. He wants to get students to think about what they hearing more objectively.) Alice, you are majoring in philosophy. How does this sound to you? (He is confident of her knowledge; she is in Phi Beta Kappa.)
Alice: Plato's philosophy is similar. Our physical world is, for Plato, a lower reality than the world of ideas. But there is a Form – or essence, sometimes called a realm of “Ideas” – and without this, none of the individual forms – our bodies, say – would exist. Ideas are a transcendent reality.
Benedict: Thank you! Okay. Dean Barth, I’d like to recommend that you assign some readings from the schools of Hinduism. (The Dean is silent.) Shouldn’t students read about the Vedanta school, about the cosmological perspective of one of the longest-lasting traditions that the world has known? (No answer.) Students should understand that, according to this tradition, the world is a divine creation as well as an empirical reality.
Prof Kornberg: But you are not just talking about cosmological theories. These are religious beliefs, and this is a secular course.
Dean: I will look into it. Wait till we get to religious studies.
Benedict: In the Hindu tradition, the Spirit co-exists with the body. The physical body is the grossest manifestation of Consciousness, even as a Great Spirit is also a part of it.
Alice: I think Plato's perspective led to the thinking of Descartes. It developed into a dualism: the mind versus the body. (In spite of his reservations about Prof. Benedict’s direction, Alice’s knowledge of philosophy impresses the Dean.)
Benedict: Yes. But the Vedanta has these two mind-body worlds co-existing.[xlvi]
Plato holds that knowledge is remembering a previous knowledge. Sensation for him is not the source of knowledge; it incites a rational soul. So the soul has knowledge even before it comes into contact with material objects.
Alice: (seeing from a different angle.)
Plato says the soul is reminded of this higher Reality when it contacts the copies of these Ideas in the material world. These copies – which are the material forms of things – are manifestations of the higher level Forms, but at a lower level.
Benedict: The Vedanta says that knowledge is within us already. We have to realize it -- through meditation and spiritual practice.
Dean: (interrupting.) To return to our topic, though: how do we connect all this ancient belief with evolution?
Benedict: It gives us two angles from which to look at the on-going process: a downward arc and an upward arc. The ancient sages claim that there is a “downward arc” – from Spirit to matter. The Darwinian evolution, then, would be the "upward arc." (The Dean and Kornberg dislike this arc- idea.)
Dean: Do students want Prof. Benedict to continue with this? (Heads nod.) All right. (reluctantly).
Benedict: The ancient religions say: the human body carries higher forms of consciousness. So it is possible for a shaman, at what we would consider a more primitive level of consciousness, to see beyond his own body and into a higher level of consciousness. Shamans can see chakras.
Dean: Chakras! What’s that?
Prof. Benedict: Chakras are part of the Vedas. Remember: We are talking about the oldest written tradition in India, dating back to around 2,000 B.C.E. Sages saw chakras as “wheels of energy.” They rotate within the physical body.
Mary: Oh. Do the Hindus still hold to this theory?
Benedict: Oh yes. But it is not a theory. Chakras are seen by mystics, shamans, yogis, and clairvoyants. They are centers of consciousness in the yogic Upanishads (beginning around A.D. 600) and in the yogic Sutras of Patanjali (around 200 B.C.) The chakras and the Kundalini are an integral part of yogic philosophy today.
Benedict: The word Kundalini means "coiled"; literally, like a snake ready to strike. It is energy in the body that is condensed and unconscious, a primal force. Hindus call it Shakti.
Benedict: Shakti is a goddess and also a sleeping serpent. She is seen coiled at the base of the spine and rises -- with proper discipline and right action. (Some students look fascinated, others puzzled and others doubtful.) It is a hidden energetic force, a part of your subtle body. Shakti works through what Hindus call nadis or subtle channels going through your body.
Mary: Is this anything like Chinese acupuncture?
Benedict: Yes. Acupuncture is a form of healing that pre-dates recorded history. Its philosophy is rooted in the Taoist tradition, which goes back over 8,000 years. People would meditate and observe the flow of energy within and without. They saw our internal, or spiritual, nature mingling with nature outside as it evolves through the universe.
Mary: Acupuncture has been proven scientifically to work. You have to wonder if all this is true. You have to wonder how these ideas could be discovered so early -- without science.
Benedict: What I find so amazing is that they were discovered independently around the world in such distant locations. There was no diffusion from one culture to another.
Dean: (impatient now) How do these energies connect with evolution? I do not see the connection.
Benedict: This Kundalini force keeps evolving through the body. Ancient thinkers said that the energy is "awakened" by guided breathing, fasting, visualization, chanting. It is part of our personal evolution – to return to the Source. (The Dean and Kornberg are silent, while noticing the way she appears to be identifying with these beliefs.) The energy rises up a channel through the spine called Sushumna and goes toward the head. This brings you back into this higher path of evolution. Downward and upward: Through this process, you gain a greater understanding of “who you are.” (Mary leans forward and raises her hand.)
Mary: Does this mean that “spiritual development” is connected to evolution?
Benedict: Check it out. Those who keep practicing meditation say the energy rises slowly through your spine and eventually unites with a Supreme Being or, they say, with Lord Shiva. You become enveloped by infinite bliss.[xlvii]
Kornberg: (upset.) Do people in the United States, I mean, well-educated people, believe in this stuff?
Benedict: Native Americans do, for example. And these beliefs came to the United States with immigrants from India and the Far East. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, they became part of a new movement called “Theosophy,” and you find this again in the “Anthroposophy” of Rudolf Steiner. He was well educated and wrote books on Goethe, Nietzsche, as well as books on science and the philosophy of freedom. Highly educated Americans have also studied and followed these paths, including Sri Aurobindo in Integral Yoga, and Meher Baba in his teachings. But the very well-known – and not only well-educated – Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were among the first Americans of note to study and write about Eastern thought.
I am not defending this tradition, per se. I do find it interesting because it links with ancient thought.[xlviii]
Kroneberg: But these are neither anthropologists nor scientists, and this is not “science.”
Benedict: That’s right, but now you remind me. I should also mention Arthur Young, the inventor of the Bell helicopter. Young proposed a scientific version of “involution-evolution.”[xlix]
In physics, you trace the path of light that begins in high-energy photons and transforms into matter. At each successive level, the "uncertainty" of light becomes more bounded – less free, that is – in ways that can be stated precisely in terms of physics.
I should defer on this to Professor Kornberg. (Silence.)
Kornberg: My friend Roger Adams would be interested, but I don’t buy it.
Benedict: But what is thought to happen?
Kornberg: At the molecular level, the more "imprisoned" light quanta retain only the capacity of "timing" in the formation and dissolution of molecular bonds. Supposedly, these original photons or "sparks of life" make possible "the turn" into evolution.
Benedict: To translate into Vedantic terms, this is called the “reawakening” of spirit and the beginning of the upward arc-phase of evolution. So the fourth level, the physical world is a turning point from the involution phase of spirit into matter – the descent phase, and the evolution of life and consciousness – or the ascent.
Kornberg: This is just crazy.
Benedict: Arthur Young wrote about the properties of light. Involution was explained as advancing degrees of restriction on freedom. Evolution was “increasing measures of greater freedom.” His theories paralleled the Hindu tradition.
Hinduism is not my specialty, but I can tell you that the Rigveda and Brahmanda Purana describe a universe that is cyclical – or oscillating – and infinite in time. The universe is like a cosmic egg that cycles between expansion and total collapse. It expanded from a concentrated form — a point called a Bindu. This universe is a living entity, bound to the perpetual cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. (“The Big Bounce!” Kornberg is thinking again. Mary is thinking back to an earlier lecture.)
Mary: (curiosity giving her courage.) Remember when we were talking about the principle of “cycles” in evolution? Cycles. Engines. What’s the purpose of this particular cycle – involution-to-evolution?
Benedict: Again, evolution is about the development of consciousness, about self-realization, moving from lower states to higher ones. Scientists see evolution as “increasing complexity,” and the ancients see an “increasing depth” in the human spirit.
Prof. Kornberg: (humor in his voice again) As I said before: This idea of involution-evolution fits the Big Bounce. (He believes the class is sidetracking from the real subject of evolution.)
Dean: So in Hindu thought, the cosmos itself undergoes an infinite number of cycles, deaths, and rebirths. How do these beliefs connect with a human perspective?
Benedict: The Hindu view is about an “unfolding,” from the Source. Each successive level does not reject the previous level; it embraces and includes it. An integration occurs. (Suddenly she makes a connection.)
Dean Barth, this is your view!
Atoms are included in molecules, which are included in cells that are included in organisms. Each level is a whole and part of a larger whole. Each step includes its predecessors while going beyond them. In this case, the Great Spirit descends before it transcends everything.
But the Spirit is never “above” or “below.” It is always present. Evolution is a series of concentric circles of an “increasing embrace.”
Kathleen: Why circles and cycles? There is a lot of suffering in this world. Why repeat all of this?
Benedict: (She feels emotion in Kathleen’s voice.) Hindus say: We must answer that – individually, by ourselves. We must move through suffering, helping each other through our human capacities for sympathy, and compassion… in order to be at one with the Great Spirit. They say: you must earn the fruits of your labor. Meditation will bring you through pain to a state of bliss. (Still, her answer doesn’t seem to answer Kathleen’s apparent need.)
Prof. Kornberg: Religion is a separate subject. Science is not about gods and goddesses. It’s not about religion. We need a thoroughly objective viewpoint. (Some class members have been raised as Christians. Others are of other faiths, but nothing has been said about “personal beliefs” in this class. Professor Benedict does not say that she is a Buddhist. The Dean does not say that he is an agnostic humanist. Professor Kornberg does not say that he is a Jew. They have all been thinking and speaking in the language of academe.)
Prof. Benedict: But we are talking about ancient beliefs. I am amazed at what people thought in ancient times, and students need to know about their thoughts.[l]
Dean: Higher consciousness? (Students hear a tone of interest. The Dean has raised this concept himself in this course before.)
Prof. Kornberg: Transcendent levels!?! (Students hear doubt and condescension. Benedict hears both, but speaks to Professor Kornberg as a friend.)
Prof. Benedict: Check into this in terms of Judaism. Scientists in the Jewish tradition explain Hindu teaching in terms of the Kabbalah. In fact, there is a scientific model for Kabbalistic cosmology based on the Tree of Life, another Hindu idea. This model is all about transcendence. I’d suggest that you might want to read the work of Leonora Leet.[li] (There is authority in her voice that disturbs Kornberg. The Kabbalah is a mystic branch of Judaism, not part of his belief.)
Prof. Kornberg: This is not science.
Prof. Benedict: I do understand that. But fieldworkers say they have heard prophets and shamans speak of a higher consciousness.
(Buddhists are different from Hindus in their reluctance to speak of “transcendence.” For Prof. Benedict, if anything is “ultimate” or transcendent or to be “known” at all -- it would need to be directly experienced, not just talked about. She is reporting as an anthropologist on the data of historians and fieldworkers, wanting to arouse interest so that students and professors may investigate for themselves.)
Prof. Kornberg: I cannot see how this has any place in our discussion.
Benedict: (Aware of his negativity, she continues, speaking from her field of expertise.) In Australia, Aborigines go into vision quests on a string, a rope, a bird, the back of a snake, or the rays of the setting sun, and heal people. Some use magical crystals to obtain X-ray vision or control a life force. You should pay attention to these field reports because they are part of human variation. (Her eyes are on the class, but they fall back to Kornberg who takes the word “you” personally, as though she is telling him personally what to do.)
Prof. Kornberg: (more harshly now) Nonsense!
Prof. Benedict: (She feels his anger and escalates a potentially tense situation. It’s as if “this is her field,” and she wants students to understand what she is doing.) In Southwest Australia, shamans say they obtain power from the rainbow or from the water serpent, both connected to the sky. The Aborigines have rituals that record and recall the deeds of ancestors and their heroes. The heroes are carved in totems with animal names.
Dean: (wanting to ameliorate their tension.) Hmm. The Aborigines have their own heroes.
Prof. Benedict: But the ancestors in this case are not human heroes. They are birds and animals. Some ceremonies re-enact the story of creation. They dance and beat sticks on the ground with incredible timing.
Prof. Kornberg: (disagreeing more strongly) Merely the power of imagination. That’s all.
Prof. Benedict: Some colleagues argue that shamans “play-act,” but this argument overlooks research in psychology, which extends over several decades. Psychologists have studied trance behaviors, also ecstasy, hypnosis, possession, altered states of consciousness, etc. This matter remains an open inquiry.
Kornberg: Where is the science? (“So anthropology is definitely not a science,” he is thinking.)
Benedict: (She feels the growing distance between them.) Some anthropologists argue that there is no special trance, no higher consciousness, only an excess of normal behavior in all of this.[lii]
Many different religions have been evolving in society, step-by-step. (The Dean notices that they are out of time and signals to her, his hands forming a “T” for time so the class can see.) The early religions included the practices of the shaman, magician, seer, diviner and soothsayer, prophet, and priest. Well. Okay. I see that we are out of time. And there is so much more to say about early societies!
Dean: I’m sorry. I need to summarize this discussion. This class has truly been fascinating. I feel like I have taken two semesters of anthropology. (Everyone laughs.) Let’s see what we might conclude…(He writes on the blackboard:) Conclusion
What do you think? Did we make some progress today? (looking toward Professor Kornberg.)
Kornberg: I think we need to make a clear distinction between science and religion.
Dean: Professor Benedict, what do you think?
Benedict: I think that Professor Kornberg needs to learn more about anthropology. (A sharp rebuttal. Stunned, students laugh uncertainly, embarrassed.) He needs to know that beliefs can be “facts” from the standpoint of human beings. That’s anthropology. (Students grin more openly, happy now to see this frank difference of opinion. This happens all the time in their dormitories, but now it gives them a sense of being human, not so inferior.)
Dean: Okay. I promise you that we will deal with that problem in our next class in sociology. (He clears his throat.)
We began with a history of anthropology and a definition of culture. “Culture,” we heard, may be the biggest word in the English language because it includes everything made by humankind – from spears to atom bombs – and from human feelings to great ideas. The subject – culture – may be our largest one so far.
Physical anthropology, on the other hand, is a study of our physical body in evolution. It links with the physical sciences – chemistry, physics, and biology. I think these two sides of anthropology – cultural and physical -- help to explain where we are in our quest. We must put together the evolution of consciousness with the evolution of the brain. (He sees a student knitting his eyebrows.)
Do you recall? We bounced back and forth between the brain and consciousness. Which, … or what, is reality? We talked about language evolving inside the mind -- from signs to symbols – and then outside -- in pictographs, hieroglyphics, and the alphabet. This is an inner-outer dynamic, and it has to be…synthesis all the way. (Kornberg is still unconvinced.)
The bicameral brain became unicameral, right along with the appearance of language. On the one hand, Professor Benedict was talking about the physical evolution of Australopithecus, and then she talked about the evolution of consciousness and the brain. (Professor Benedict feels like more needs to be said to clarify this, but holds her tongue.)
I confess. I am even learning about chakras and kundalini. These are new concepts to me.
It was interesting to see how a scientist like Arthur Young would explain “involution” and “evolution” on the basis of physics. Professor Kornberg, thank you for bringing in the thought of Professor Adams. (He bows to Kornberg to thank him.) Professor Adams talked about how everything is based on vibrations – physical and psychological.
Aha! I wonder. Could “vibrations” be the subject that links science and religion? Do all of us have a vibrating physical body that goes along with our vibrating consciousness? I don’t know. (speaking openly now to the problem between Benedict and Kornberg). Professor Benedict and Professor Kornberg: Could you join us in our next class? I hope you can come back. We need to answer that issue on science better. (Both nod their heads but are doubtful about where any further discussion might lead.)
So, in conclusion?
Professor Benedict has been coaching us on the principles of fieldwork, teaching us how to bring together our own identities with other identities, and to keep our distance -- finding the right “balance” in our lives. That’s what liberal arts is all about!
And finally: I consider it a great advantage to have an expert chemist joining us on this venture. We learned a lot about DNA and where we stand with the apes and the chimps. Yes. We are working together.
That’s what liberal arts is all about!!
Thanks for listening. Have a good day.
(Professors Benedict and Kornberg have grown so far apart that they will not be meeting again until the next official class. He lets her go out first, but only nods toward her once curtly on the way out.)
[i] Carolyn Dewald and John Marincola, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2006.)
J. A. S. Evans, Herodotus. (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982.)
[ii] Officially, anthropology has four main divisions: first, physical anthropology, which includes a study of biological evolution, genetic inheritance, and the fossil record of human evolution; second, cultural anthropology, which includes the study of language and communication, subsistence patterns, kinship, sex and marriage, socialization, social control, political organization, class, ethnicity, gender, religion, and cultural change; third, archaeology, which includes prehistory and early cultures around the world and techniques for finding, excavating, dating, and analyzing material remains of past societies; fourth, linguistic anthropology, which includes communication, processes that focus on nonverbal communication, and the structure and history of languages.
[iii] Bronislaw Malinowski, The sexual life of savages in north-western Melanesia: an ethnographic account of courtship, marriage and family life among the natives of the Trobriand Islands, British New Guinea. New York: Halcyon House. 1929. E. E. Evans-Pritchard, The Nuer, a description of the modes of livelihood and political institutions of a Nilotic people. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940.
Severyn T. Bruyn, The Human Perspective in Sociology (NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1966).
[iv] Okasha El-Daly, Egyptology: The Missing Millennium: Ancient Egypt in Medieval Arabic Writings (UCL Press, 2005).
[v] In Ancient Societies (1877), Lewis H. Morgan distinguished three eras: savagery, barbarism, and civilization. Each new stage was brought on by inventions. The creation of fire, the bow, and pottery introduced the “savage era.” The domestication of animals, agriculture, and metalworking characterized the “barbarian era.” The invention of the alphabet and writing produced the era of “civilization.” For Morgan, the invention of technology was a major force behind the evolution of civilization.
Morgan was a member of the New York State Assembly in 1861 and of the New York Senate from 1868-1869. In 1880 he was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Soon after leaving college, Morgan went to live among the Iroquois, studying their social organization. In October 1847, he was formally adopted into the Hawk gens of the Seneca tribe, and received the name "Ta-ya-da-wah-kugh." The fruit of his researches was The League of the Iroquois (1851; new ed. 1904), which, says J. W. Powell, "was the first scientific account of an Indian tribe ever given to the world." He conducted further research, which resulted in his Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family (1869).
[vi] The Paleolithic is actually divided into three periods linked with inventions: the Lower, Middle, and the Upper Paleolithic. The Lower Paleolithic (from c. 2.6 million years ago down to about 100,000 years ago) took place with the Olduwan, Acheulean, and Clactonian “cultures”. Then there is the Middle Paleolithic (c. 300,000 to 30,000 years ago with the Mousterian and Aterian “cultures.” Finally, the Upper Paleolithic (c. 45,000 to 10,000 years ago) with the Châtelperronian, Aurignacian, Gravettian, Solutrean, and Magdalenian cultures. See The Encyclopedia Americana. (University of Michigan: Grolier Incorporated, 1989.)
James Steele and Stephen Shennan, The Archaeology of Human Ancestry: Power, Sex and Tradition. (United kingdom: Routledge. 1996.)
[vii] Copper, which could be beaten into ornaments and soft weapons, appears about 8,000 B.C. in the Tigris and Euphrates region. This is where civilization and agriculture were beginning. Later it appears in Egypt and among the Chinese and the Inca in Peru. About 5,000 B.C. pottery appears, and about this time, copper is melted out of its ore.
[viii] Tylor’s first publication was based on his trip to Mexico in 1856. He took notes on the beliefs and practices of the people he encountered, published Anahuac: Or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern (1861). He wrote his most influential work, Primitive Culture in 1871. This influenced young scholars, such as J. G. Frazer, who thereafter contributed to the study of anthropology.
[ix] Edward Tylor, Primitive Culture. 2 vols. 7th ed. (New York: Brentano's. 1924 [orig. 1871]) p. 1. Anthropology: An Introduction to the Study of Man and Civilization. (New York: D. Appleton. 1909 [orig. 1881]).
[x] Sir Edward B. Tylor's texts -- Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art and Custom, published in 1871 and his Anthropology: An Introduction to the Study 0f Man and Civilization, in 1881 -- began to be used in universities. In 1923 Alfred L. Kroeber, published his Anthropology, which became the primary text for the next twenty-five years. From this point forward, anthropology began to emerge in universities.
New texts kept coming. In 1931 Alfred Kroeber and T. T. Waterman published Source Book in Anthropology, a collection of classic writings on anthropological matters by various authors from Herodotus to Margaret Mead. In 1954 Robert H. Lowie published An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, which was revised and enlarged in 1940 with ethnographic sketches of 10 different societies. In 1936, Ralph Linton published The Study of Man. The next year Alexander Goldenweiser published his Anthropology, An Introduction to Primitive Culture, a revision of his earlier book Early Civilization (1922). In 1942 Eliot Chapple and Carlton Coon brought out Principles of Anthropology. In 1967 Marvin Harris published his The Rise of Anthropological Theory, presenting anthropology's historical developments.
[xi] Leslie White’s best known works include The Science of Culture: A Study of Man & Civilization (1949), The Evolution of Culture (1959), The Concept of Culture (1973), and The Concept of Cultural Systems: A Key to Understanding Tribes & Nations (1976).
[xii] “Denotation” is the literal meaning of a word, while “connotation” is the suggestive meaning of it. For example, the word “city” denotes individual places such as London, New York, Paris. Some of the suggestive meanings that the word "city" connotes are the attributes of largeness and urbaneness.
[xiii] There are many theories about the way in which evolution is based on the principle of efficiency. For example, David Raichlen, an assistant professor of anthropology at The University of Arizona, conducted a study with Michael Sockol from the University of California at Davis and Herman Pontzer from Washington University in St. Louis.
Raichlen and his colleagues published "Chimpanzee locomotor energetics and the origin of human bipedalism" in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) during the week of July 16, 2007. They hypothesize that the reduced energy cost of walking upright provided evolutionary advantages by decreasing the cost of foraging. “Study Identifies Energy Efficiency As Reason For Evolution Of Upright Walking,” ScienceDaily (July 17, 2007.
[xiv] David Sacks, Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet from A to Z. Broadway Books. 2004.
[xv] The Egyptians also had a set of 24 signs representing consonants that they used only for representing proper or foreign names. This system did not become widespread because the elite class of priests wanted to maintain its monopoly. There was no interest in simplifying their writing system.
It died out and was only deciphered in 1822 by Jean Francois Champollion, who translated the Rosetta Stone, which had the same text written in Egyptian hieroglyphics and in Greek.
[xvi] Phoenician is a direct descendent of the Proto-Sinaitic script. Like Proto-Sinaitic, Phoenician is a "consonantal alphabet" also known as "abjad." It only contains letters representing consonants. Vowels are generally omitted in this phase of the writing system.
The major change between Proto-Sinaitic and Phoenician is graphical.
[xvii] The Roman alphabet evolved over 4000 years and didn’t reach its present form until the end of the 18th century. Europe lapsed into illiteracy after the fall of the Roman Empire; only monks in monasteries were literate. Writing was chaotic; one monk could not read what another had written. Before the invention of the printing press, there existed different alphabets, according to each scribe. When the printing press made books common and language became increasingly standardized, more people began to learn to read.
[xviii] Ernst Cassirer, Language and Myth (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1946). Cassirer notes that in ancient myths, the "word" is a primary force in which all being and doing originate. In almost all great religions, the "word" is the instrument of creation and "gods" were said to convey their commands in the spoken word: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," writes Saint John of the Gospels.
Cassirer asks why the "word" was given this extraordinary character. The interlocking relationship between language and religion cannot be due to mere chance, he said (44-62). Cassirer says that the gulf between specific perceptions and general concepts is so great that it must have been bridged only by early language, which induced the process without human awareness. (16, 74–76).
[xix] Susanne K . Langer, Philosophy in a New Key (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1942), 140.
[xx] Delphi is known for the oracle at a sanctuary dedicated to Apollo. The role of the Delphic oracle began in the last quarter of the 8th century B.C. and continued until the 4th century A.D. The priestess of the oracle at Delphi was known as the Pythia. Apollo spoke through his oracle, who was an older woman of blameless life originally chosen from prominent families, and later from among the peasants of the area. The prophetess took the name Pythia and sat on a legendary tripod seat over an opening in the earth. According to legend, when Apollo slew the serpent Python, its body fell into this hole and fumes arose from its decomposing body. (The word Pythia comes from a Greek word meaning “to rot.”) Intoxicated by the vapors, the prophetress would fall into a trance, allowing Apollo to possess her spirit. In this state she prophesied. The oracle spoke in riddles, which were interpreted by the priests of the temple. There are different versions of this story. H. Parke and D. Wormell, The Delphic Oracle, (Basil Blackwell, 1956), vol. 1, pp. 387-389.
[xxi] She is summarizing an outlook proposed by Derek Gatherer, School of Biomolecular~ Sciences, John Moores University, Liverpool L3 3AF, United Kingdom. Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems ,Volume 20, Issue 1, 1997, Pages 75-92
[xxii] Tim D. White, Suwa Gen, and Asfaw Berhane (1994). Nature, 371: 306–312.
[xxiii] Christopher Stringer and Clive Gamble, Search of the Neanderthals (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1993). While the largest Homo erectus brains were about 1250 ml, and modern brains average about 1200–1500 ml in volume, female Neanderthal brains were about 1300 ml and those of males about 1600 ml, extending up to 1740 ml.
[xxiv] She is careful to avoid all the controversies. Anthropologists actually go into greater details and argue viewpoints. Homo sapiens idaltu, for example, is an extinct subspecies of Homo sapiens that lived almost 160,000 years ago in Pleistocene Africa. Some argue that humans began two million years ago and assume Homo erectus, Homo ergaster, and Homo heidelbergensis to be part of the human story.
[xxv] A.C. Walker and P. Shipman. (1996). The wisdom of the bones. New York, NY: Alfred E. Knopf. M. H. Wolpoff, X.Z. Wu, and A.G. Thorne (1984). “Modern Homo sapiens origins: a general theory of hominid evolution involving the fossil evidence from east Asia,” in F.H. Smith & F. Spencer (Eds.), The origins of modern humans, New York, NY Alan R. Liss.
[xxvi] Traits selected for by male combat are called "weapons," and traits selected by mate choice are called "ornaments.” Eberhard, W.G. Sexual selection by cryptic female choice. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.) J. Roughgarden, M. Oisho, and E. Akçay, (2006). "Reproductive social behaviour: cooperative games to replace sexual selection." Science, 311: 965-969.
[xxvii] J. Fraser Stoddart and Hsian-Rong Tseng
“Supramolecular Chemistry And Self-assembly:
Chemical synthesis gets a fillip from molecular recognition and self-assembly processes.” Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, Los Angeles, CA. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, U S A. 2002 April 16; 99(8): 4797–4800. Published online 2002 March 12. doi: 10.1073/pnas.
[xxix] The self, as G.H. Mead said, is the only thing in the world that can be an object to itself. So the “self” symbolizes the learning process. It is a process of learning this tension of opposites. It is how we learn about the outside and inside. The “self” can become anxious when the two sides are not united, or in the worst case, become schizophrenic. The self is always growing through this tension. The process is not an easy one. What occurs with the self at a more micro level is equivalent to what is taking place, according to the ancient sages, on a larger scale in the universe: a unification of opposites at higher and higher levels. David L. Miller, Ed. The Individual and the Social Self: Unpublished Essays by G. H. Mead. (University of Chicago Press, 1982). M.J. Deegan, ed. Essays in Social Psychology. (Transaction Books, 2001)
[xxx] Synthesis is a common practice in chemistry, “a purposeful execution of chemical reactions in order to get a product, or several products,” but at the moment, Professor Kornberg is looking at this motif from the perspective of history. The process of synthesis escalates through time and becomes a matter of human will and design. Sexual union, for example, is an act of cooperation between male and female and that involves blending new genes to renew the creation story.
[xxxi] Symbols are abstract, but they may appear as signs, for example, to denote places of interest on a map: e.g., crossed swords to indicate a battlefield location. But to understand them, people must think about their meaning. The word "snake," spoken or written, is not a snake, but a symbol for a snake. Yet, to someone walking in a jungle, the frantic call “Snake!” is a sign of danger.
How do children learn the difference between symbols and signs? If we watch them learn a language, we see that it is not easy to abstract from a sign to a symbol. The word “fire” shouted is a sign of danger. The child may have been burned in the past, and so the word is a sign quickly learned, but the idea of “fire” takes time to understand. Children can repeat the word “table” as a sign of and object in front of them, but it takes time to learn to generalize about “tables” in the abstract. This requires creating an inner image of tables. A table begins with one concrete object (a signed object), and then another different table and another, then others, all with the same name, until finally the idea of a spatial table top in general, and a table top with legs in general, come together to form an abstract image of “tables” that cannot be seen but are imaged in the mind.
[xxxii] A printed symbol can represent an element, a quantity, quality, or relation, as in mathematics or music. A sign is different. It could be a gesture or sound that stands for something else. A bird may screech to its flock as a sign of danger, but a symbol is a sign with meaning. A symbol can be profound with many layers of meaning.
[xxxiii] Some scientists view animals as using both tools and symbols. A question remains as to whether primates also have some elements of self-awareness. A new generation of neuroscientists, psychologists, and ethologists are trying to test the question by empirical science. Elizabeth Pennisi, “Primate Abilities: Are Our Primate Cousins 'Conscious'? Science, 25 June 1999:Vol. 284. no. 5423, pp. 2073 - 2076DOI: 10.1126/science.
The concept of a human “self” emerges from a social communication through symbols. The “self” is a social experience; one’s own being becomes also an object of itself through symbolizing. Human consciousness stands in that tension between “I” (subject) and “me” (object). The self evolves in this tension, seeking resolution: a subject and object coming together, upward and onward. John Dewey and Alfred North Whitehead considered G.H. Mead, from which these ideas derive, a thinker of the first magnitude, a classic example of a social theorist whose work does not fit easily within conventional disciplinary boundaries. Charles W. Morris, (ed.) Mind, Self, and Society (University of Chicago Press, 1934.)
[xxxiv] By “semiotics,” she means the systems underlying language, beyond a specific language. Semiotics, or semiology, is the study of sign processes (semiosis). It includes the study of how meaning is constructed and understood. See the writings of Charles Morris, Writings on the general theory of signs (The Hague, The Netherlands, Mouton, 1971, orig. 1938). Also, Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913), the "father" of modern linguistics. Saussure proposed a dualistic notion of signs, relating the “signifier” as the form of the word or phrase that is uttered, to the “signified” as the mental concept. According to Saussure, the sign is completely arbitrary, i.e., there is no necessary connection between the sign and its meaning. This sets him apart from philosophers such as Plato, who thought that there must be some connection between a signifier and the object it signifies. See also, Charles W. Morris. In his 1938 Foundations of the Theory of Signs, he defined semiotics as grouping the triad – syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Syntax studies the interrelation of signs, without regard to meaning. Semantics studies the relation between the signs and the objects to which they apply. Steven Cohan and Linda M. Shires. Telling Stories: A Theoretical Analysis of Narrative Fiction. (New York: Routledge, 1988.} William Readings, Introducing Lyotard: Here He Is. (New York: Routledge, 1990.)
[xxxv] Dawkins proposed that memes are analogous to genes, and memetics analogous to genetics. In his book The Selfish Gene (1976), Dawkins used the term "meme" to describe a unit of cultural transmission analogous to the gene, proposing that replication also happens in culture, although in a different sense.
[xxxvi] Dawkins did not provide a clear explanation of how the replication of units of information in the brain controls human behavior and, ultimately, culture. So the term "unit of information" came to be defined in different ways by anthropologists who took him seriously.
[xxxvii] According to anthropologists, not all human societies must pass through the exact same stages of evolution. Julian Steward and Claude Lévi-Strauss have argued that patterns of development reflect fundamental similarities in the environment and structure of human thought, but there are a lot a variables influencing cultural evolution. These new ways of life and their symbolic structures grew in great diversity.
[xxxviii] Ian Sample, Science Correspondent, “Closer to Man than Ape, The Guardian, January 24, 2006. According to scientists, who report in the US Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, findings suggest that human traits emerged 1 million years ago, a fleeting moment on evolutionary scales.
[xxxix] For some time there have been doubts about the chimp’s position in evolution. In 1775, scientists first got around to naming the chimpanzee, noted the similarity of chimps with people, and put them under the genus Homo, but by 1816 chimps had been pushed into their own genus, Pan, which has survived to this day. In 1991, the Pulitzer prize-winning ecologist Jared Diamond called humans "the third chimpanzee," setting humans alongside the common chimp and its cousin, the bonobo (Pan paniscus). By 1999, confusion over the biological status of chimpanzees had prompted scientists in New Zealand to join forces with lawyers to petition the country's government to pass a bill conferring "rights" on chimpanzees and other primates. Ibid.
[xl] "Long before it's in the papers. "World Science, September 26, 2008. Courtesy Yale University and World Science staff. In recent years, scientists have found that many “control regions lie within so-called “junk DNA”—gene sequences whose function had been unclear, because they don’t directly code for the production of molecules, as other DNA does.
[xli] S. J. Ting. (1995). “A binary model of repetitive DNA sequence in Caenorhabditis elegans.” DNA Cell Biology, 14: 83-85. E. R. Vandendries, D. Johnson, R. Reinke, “Orthodenticle is required for photoreceptor cell development in the Drosophila eye.” Dev Biol 173: 243-255. 1996. B. L. Keplinger, A. L. Rabetoy, D. R.Cavener, “A somatic reproductive organ enhancer complex activates expression in both the developing and the mature Drosophila reproductive tract.” Dev Biol 180: 311-323. 1996.
[xlii] J. F. Elder, Jr., B. J. Turner. (1995). “Concerted evolution of repetitive DNA sequences in eukaryotes.” Q Rev Biol. 70: 297-320.
[xliii] R. Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (W .W . Norton &Company, New York, USA . 2nd ed . 1992) 7 - 107 .
[xliv] Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1977.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man. Collins Fontana Books, London, 1959.
Ken Wilber, (2005). Kosmic Karma, Shambhala Publications, online.
[xlv] There is a special literature on the mystery of the higher Self. Muata Ashby, Mysteries of Isis: Ancient Egyptian Philosophy of Self-Realization and Enlightenment (Sema Institute, 2006).
[xlvi] Vedanta implies "the end of all knowledge" and is not restricted to one book. Huston Smith, Forgotten Truth: The Primordial Tradition.
[xlvii] Christopher Hill, “Is kundalini real?” In: John White, Kundalini: Evolution and Enlightenment (1990), 106-119. C.G. Jung, “Psychological commentary on kundalini yoga,” Lectures 1, 2, Autumn 1932, Zurich, Switzerland: Spring Publications 1976, 2-33
[xlviii] Susan Wright, Chakras in Shamanic Practice: Eight Stages of Healing and Transformation (Destiny Books, 2007)
[xlix] Arthur Young, Geometry of Meaning, 1976, New York, NY: Delacorte Press, 1984; The Reflexive Universe: Evolution of Consciousness, 1976, New York: Delacorte Press; The Bell Notes: A Journey from Physics to Metaphysics, 1979, New York: Delacorte Press, reprint ed. 1979, Doubleday, 1984.
[l] Ann Fienup-Riordan, Boundaries and Passages: Rule and Ritual in Yup'ik Eskimo Oral Tradition (University of Oklahoma Press, 1994).
[li] Leonora Leet, The Universal Kabbalah (Inner Traditions, 2004). Leonora Leet received her Ph.D. from Yale University and is a professor of English at St. John’s University, specializing in Renaissance English literature. Her books on the Kabbalah include Renewing the Covenant, The Secret Doctrine of the Kabbalah and The Kabbalah of the Soul.
[lii] Noel Wilson Smith, Current Systems in Psychology (Wadsworth Publishing, 1999). There are equally strong views on each side. Ken Wilber sees shamans as reaching into a higher (transcendent) level of consciousness. Ken Wilber, Up from Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution (Quest Books, 1996.)