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The Origin of Art in Entoptic Phenomena
January 29, 2006 5:49 PM   Subscribe

The Origin of Art in Entoptic Phenomena Relatively recent research suggests cave art is neither simply 'art for art's sake' nor 'hunting magic', rather a representation of entoptic phenomena associated with hallucinations during altered or trance states of consciousness. These images are common to modern and prehistoric humans all over the world, and can be readily found in contemporary art. (see also some further reading, cool entoptic Kutie Catcher, AskMe)
posted by MetaMonkey (13 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great post, but one thing:

It seems to me that this doesn't describe the 'why' so much as the 'how.' Entopic forms may dictate the way in which images are stylized, and how humans are able to interpret stylized images as representations of the given subject matter, but where does this explain motivation? This doesn't seem to rule out 'art for art's sake,' 'hunting magic,' or any 'symbol theories.'

Or did I miss something?

However, as an explanation as to how certain shapes are inherently part of our visual dictionary, this is great. Thanks!
posted by es_de_bah at 6:51 PM on January 29, 2006


[this is ### ~~~~ .0oO.o ]
posted by drumcorpse at 8:31 PM on January 29, 2006


This thread needs more pictures.
posted by empath at 8:38 PM on January 29, 2006


I spent some time this weekend casually hunting bighorn sheep. It was nice.
posted by loquacious at 8:42 PM on January 29, 2006


No linguistic comment.
posted by kozad at 8:45 PM on January 29, 2006


empath: Tangentially related pics are available in my profile. But I'm not going to link them inline here, both out of bandwidth concerns and to avoid outright self-linking.
posted by loquacious at 8:57 PM on January 29, 2006


es_de_bah, I agree it doesn't rule out the earlier theories, but builds on them. From reading the links my understanding of the motivation is that the entoptic cave art serves as a ritual device used to achieve altered states (like maybe they stared at them while drumming or eating cactus or something); a focal point to induce trance.

empath, you are quite right. After finding all the textual material I was too shagged out to find the great pictures I knew were out there somewhere. Its harder than I thought finding kick-ass cave art photos.
posted by MetaMonkey at 4:46 AM on January 30, 2006


This is one pearl of a post that necessitated much research. Thanks MetaMonkey for sharing.

The Shaman was using "art", it would be better to speak of visual signs, in order to share his visions about reality with his fellow tribesmen. Visual signs were indeed considered as a tool to glue the individuals in the tribe around a common "worldview" which was a sine qua non for the survival of the tribe. Art was thus attributed a societal functionality since the beginning of human times and that functionality that was devised tens of thousands of years earlier... well remained in application as late as around 1900. Is this not most stunning?

I guess that too much emphasis has always been put on transes and altered states of consciousness... those were only techniques to reach "knowledge" while the substance of the act to give visual signs has mostly been relegated to the dustbin of history. But what is important is nertheless the substance and not the way to reach it.

If interested by this approach see my recently published ARTSENSE
posted by laodan at 10:01 AM on January 30, 2006


Great post, thanks MetaMonkey.
I read most of the links (but not "further reading") and this doesn't answer a question I have wondered about for years:

Why don't these guys really "do it": find a seasoned group of knowledgeable LSD users and let them have a few trips inside the caves? (Europe had a sub-arctic climate at the time, so no peyote; if shamans used anything, it was probably amanita muscaria, which is not easy to use. So it would have to be LSD or mushrooms or some of the better drugs designed these past years.)

For any other scientific endeavor, this would be the best way to explore these theories. Because of the dumb legal stigma attached to hallucinogenic drugs, these scientists write at length cross-quoting each other and juggling with theories with no experimental data. They compare data from prehistoric sites with modern art or notes from laboratory subjects, but they seem unable to add 2 + 2 and do some experiment themselves.

Yes, to "find a knowledgeable group of seasoned LSD users" would not be easy, but as with parietal paintings, to found them you'd have first to look for them.

On preview: laodan: "what is important is nevertheless the substance and not the way to reach it".
Good point but, in this case, I am not so sure: it certainly can be argued that galaxies are more important than telescopes, but you can't separate one from the other: the tool itself defines the experience; also expressed as "the medium is (half) the message".
posted by bru at 10:35 AM on January 30, 2006


Hmm, I don't remember entopic phenomena from either of my perceptual psych classes; but that was a long time ago! Thanks for the links.
posted by Eideteker at 6:01 PM on January 30, 2006


...it would be better to speak of visual signs, in order to share his visions about reality with his fellow tribesmen. Visual signs were indeed considered as a tool to glue the individuals in the tribe around a common "worldview" which was a sine qua non for the survival of the tribe.

laodan, thanks for the comment, very interesting stuff. I hadn't considered unification of perception as a function of art, primitive or otherwise, but that makes a lot of sense.

I'm puzzled by your statement,

remained in application as late as around 1900.

What are you suggesting changed at this point? That art was no longer societally functional? If so, why?
posted by MetaMonkey at 8:28 AM on February 3, 2006


loquacious, I just noticed you have a site full of entoptic fun. Real nice images. They shimmer in mine mind.
posted by MetaMonkey at 8:32 AM on February 3, 2006


Some great pictures in this thread.
posted by MetaMonkey at 9:22 PM on February 6, 2006


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