Tuesday, July 24, 2018

WE ARE ONE SPECIES -- The Most Scientific of the Humanities


Anthropology, the study of Anthrop or Man, is a subject that has dominated human thought for millennia. Prior to the scientific revolution, the study of man, as an intellectual discipline, has been the province of philosophy and religion.  As a practical discipline, anthropology was found in the study of history and governance that have focused on what we might call, “proto-anthropology

Proto-anthropology is based upon human observations and practical experience as these related to the daily life and survival of human groups, aka social units. Early humankind was aware that, individually and collectively, humans are both similar to and different from one another. The more intense the individual and collective experience, the greater these similarities and difference were experienced as the existential reality. The less intense and/or less frequent the experience, they were more likely conceived ideationally and envisioned in local myths and belief systems.

Joseph Campbell, in the Hero of a Thousand Faces, is, probably, the most well known of anthropologist/folklorist. With the help of Bill Moyers,  Campbell’s observations and analysis were popularized on PBS TV series in the 1980s "The Power of Myth." Campbell documented the universality of the human themes that he found in his study of myth and folklore. Using the comparative method, he found that these folktales and stories reflect humanity’s ideals for life and their fears about the uncertainties of the universe. Over time, these themes appear to morph into new forms as a society’s socio-economic structure developed increasing complexity over time. These ideational structures also varied with humankind’s relationship to its ecological universe. One may conclude that the ideational domain of culture developed and evolved along with the organic development of humankind’s existential experience.

These myths and folklore are “ideational” representations of a world that is a mystery to the people, who hold these views. They express a statement of the unknown framed in terms of the known. They combine elements of personal experience with elements of the collective speculative. They gain their meanings from how they help to explain the unknown and uncertain. Archaeologically,  we can imagine that the famous cave paintings of  Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave  and  Lascaux, and the early carvings of the Earth Mother figurine are artifacts of storytelling. They demonstrate through the ideational representations on the walls and crafted figurines the unrecorded words of the story teller/teacher/priest. These artifacts maybe our first existential evidence of the ideational domain of Human culture in the form of religion. Today, we can speculate about their meanings, an ideational act in itself. Metaphorically, they are the tree that falls in the forest that we do hear.

The term “humanities” stands for a classification for a wide range of scholarly disciplines that include history, art, crafts, and religion. It represents a form of scholarship that emerged in Western Europe  The common feature of these disciplines is their focus and speculation about the human condition and social experience. They evolved from the human existential experience filtered through the individual’s mind and emotions. They are expressed through some manner of physical behavior a resulting physical act or structure. The important feature of the humanities is that they are a shared experience. The sharing may be a temporary fad or become a foundational belief or ritual practice incorporated into the culture.

The important part of a “humanity” discipline is the relationship that it attempts to express between the individual and the individual’s universe. It represents a structure into which the creator of the experience can express his/her feelings. These individual “feelings and insights” are converted by the individual into an ideational representation. The creator, using his or her individual skills, attempts to communicate their vision to others through his/her creation. The act of expression comes from within, as an act of self-reflection.

Self- reflection involves a conversation with one’s self. “What is this feeling that I have about this experience?” “How can I express it?”  The importance of the ideational expression is in the creative process and not the existential reality. It calls for playing with the available structural elements to create a more interesting structure. That structure becomes an analogy of the experience. The creation is the analogy that is shared with others. The individual's “purpose” is to find “meaning” in the experience. “Meaning” is the function that humanistic structures create – “personal meanings”, and “collective meanings”. Or, what we call, the “superorganic” or “culture”.

Anthropology is the Humanity that approaches its subject scientifically through the process of comparative analysis of the observations of and participation in human activity and experiencing its physical products. In this regard, the anthropologist acknowledges the uncertainty of life. They also seek to understand life by demonstrating how humans have and do attempt to take control of their individual and collective lives.  Humanists and Anthropologist seek out the ways humans give “meaning” to the unknown and their uncertainty about it.

As anthropology became more scientific in its methods and theories there has arisen a counter-movement, "humanistic anthropology" One element of this movement is something called "autoethnography" We will be discussing this method and approach in future articles here in the Superorganic Blogg.

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