Geertz talking about the human "mind"

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Geertz talking about the human "mind"

Postby BadgerJelly on February 10th, 2018, 3:45 am 

I came across this and found it ripe for an open discussion:

... In order to make up our minds we must know how we feel about things; and to know how we feel things we need the public images of sentiment that only ritual, myth and art can provide*.


* my emphasis

For more context Geertz had previously quoted S.Langer:

It is perception molded by imagination that gives us the outward world that we know.

- "Feeling and Form"


And a hint of Aristotle (?) thrown in too in the next section:

... The problem of evolution of mind is, therefore, neither a false issue generated by a misconceived metaphysic, nor one of discovering at which point in the history of life an invisible anima was superadded to organic material. It is a matter of tracing the development of certain sorts of abilities, capacities, tendencies, and propensities in organisms and delineating the factors or types of factors upon which the existence of such characteristics depends.


What is it you think he is referring to here regarding "ritual, myth and art"?
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Re: Geertz talking about the human "mind"

Postby wolfhnd on February 10th, 2018, 6:24 am 

I have no idea why you would choose the words ritual, myth and art except to place emphasis on the social nature of humans. The relationship between culture and biology is something I have mentioned many times in our discussions. As physical beings our brains do not develop properly without the right social stimuli. How much social stimuli and what kind and how much it depends on the individual is open to debate. From the moment we are born we engage in various forms of communication. How ritual, myth and art are influenced by instinct and how instinct influences communication is something we seem to have explored very little until Freud and haltingly up to the present. It seems likely however that ritual, myth and art are cross culturally understood and experienced remarkably similarly. It's tripe perhaps to refer to nature and nurture but that is the simplified expression of what is perhaps not so dualistic as it seems.

The relationship between perception and imagination could be consciousness and dreaming. We take in data and preliminarily organize it according to what our "rituals, myths, and arts suggest and then it is reorganized and cleaned up during the dream state as a sort of house cleaning. Of course the cleaning is also influenced by the external culture in ways we probably are not aware of and house cleaning may include the generation of alternative hypothesis.

I have often suggest that it is best to think of ourselves as colonies of single celled organism existentially dependant on a broader culture. Self is to some extent an illusion unless limited to meaning unique. Every individual and every cell are different and if that was not true there would be no evolution. So the social fabric is also evolved by unique individuals and dependant on that variation to some degree. Cultural evolution seems to develop really slowly in organisms like social insects where the opportunity for variation between individuals is limited by the need to maintain the rigid reproductive regime. Humans do not require the same rigid social structure for a variety of reasons but the point is that cultural evolution happens very rapidly and is only partially restrained by biological factors because culture is "artificially" transmitted by complex language. The relationship between culture and brain seems to be first culture then a big brain in humans. In other intelligent animals the relationship doesn't seem as clear although culture is not entirely limited to humans. It does seem however that culture and not raw mental capability is what distinguishes humans from say elephants and dolphins as much as anything else. This fact may justify the strange choice of words that are in question.
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Re: Geertz talking about the human "mind"

Postby Asparagus on February 10th, 2018, 7:43 am 

Is it that we learn to call a certain feeling "sadness", and subsequently learn when we should feel sad via images of social norms?

For me, emotion is symphonic: always a combo of various feelings. So the notes of the piano may be socially set, but the song of experience is more private.
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Re: Geertz talking about the human "mind"

Postby mitchellmckain on February 10th, 2018, 5:19 pm 

I think the point is that the distinction between humans and animals can only be found in the abstract capabilities of human language, which I believe is the very substance of the human mind. So when we are trying to uncover the process by which the human mind developed then it is the reasons for this capacity for abstraction which needs to be understood. What has taken man from the animal's simple concerns of survival needs to invisible things which have no direct connections to these concerns. The hypothesis, therefore, is that things like myth, ritual and art can be such an instigator for this development. In some sense you can say that abstraction, imagination, and even pathologies like schizophrenia have a common origin in our obsession with things beyond the senses.

Turn the atheist rhetoric that religion represents primitive science around and this connection between religious myth and abstraction becomes hard to dodge. The truth is that science is a product of specialization from activities which served a vast variety of simultaneous purposes from history to philosophy, law, religion, science, education, and entertainment. Because of religious elements we may now label those activities as simply religious but bias in doing so is foolish. But the fact remains that we see in these (religious) myths a drive for an understanding of abstractions like causality however off the mark their claims are now understood to be.

At the very least, we need to understand our reasons for imagining causality in the imaginary things of myth and thus to understand our religious tendencies. It is a fundamental part of our historical humanity even if you believe it to be something which we can and should outgrow (which I admittedly do not).
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Re: Geertz talking about the human "mind"

Postby BadgerJelly on February 12th, 2018, 12:35 am 

I am pretty sure that he is referring to what another anthropologist called the "heirophany" (Eliade, "The Sacred and The Profane")

Basically this means, and later Geertz mentions something much likening to Eliade's view, a (what I would call "betweenness") middle ground for cognitive appreciation - the symbolic that straddles the material practical world and the abstract.

I just realized I have my own take on this that differs slightly to what Geertz is saying ... doubt my idea is new, but hopefully when I outline it later Forest or someone can tell me who has said similar or identical things.
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