Sunday, March 07, 2010

'Anthropology of the Mind' by Rosemarie Lopes (moi)

This article is published in 'Dream Creation' magazine Winter 2009/ 2010

'Anthropology of the Mind – the rise of a new Homo'

Anthropology is the study of Humankind and Cultures and Anthropology of the Mind is a new field of research in Anthropology which dedicates itself to the study of consciousness. It subscribes to Universalism: all peoples are fully and equally human. For me consciousness is the capacity that allows me to connect with myself, others and the universe. For Prof Chris Knight it is awareness. Human consciousness is distinctively social. Buddhists will tell you it has eight stages and it is a sort of record of everything. But the truth is that no one knows for certain. Despite the fact that every day thousands of scientists and monks alike all over the world work towards either understanding it or attaining it. Consciousness is one of Humankind’s holy grails still.

Certainly in our circles consciousness has become a buzz word. Shift of consciousness this, awareness that, conscious partying, and the list goes on. Since the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle who studied the relationship between mind and soul, humans have wondered about consciousness. Consciousness is the ultimate lotus flower for the spiritual being. In consciousness we have deposited all our hope of redemption and salvation. And we don’t even know what it is or how it works! Isn’t it ironic?

But let’s return to anthropology for a moment. How has this science that claims to study Man, not have looked at consciousness before? The study of consciousness per se within anthropology sprung up in the second half of the twentieth century. One could say anthropology has looked into the evolution of consciousness before, but from the vantage point of human evolution. A good example of this is the work of Richard Leaky in ‘The origin of Humankind’ where he dedicates a whole chapter to the origin of the mind and says ‘the origin of human consciousness, some time within the last 2.5 million years, was the third event’ that ‘marks the history of life on earth’. I would argue the study of shamanism and native mythology in particular can also be considered an early study of consciousness in anthropology. ‘The Raw & the Cooked’ by Lévi-Strauss is the perfect example of such an attempt.

However, Anthropology of the Mind was purposely created in order to look at consciousness in a completely different manner from which anthropology has conducted its research and engaged with the public so far. Traditionally an anthropologist goes to the ‘field’ (or chosen culture), lives there for a couple of years and then comes back and writes a mammoth piece about it. Only a few hundred people will ever read it if (s)he’s lucky largely because only academics or really curious people will ever go to the trouble of reading such accounts. Anthropology of the Mind however, collects its data through specially devised installations located in places such as art exhibitions and festivals. The idea behind this is to create the field as opposed to going to it. Like this the data is collected and transmitted simultaneously. One leaves their own definition of consciousness on the wall and can immediately see others definitions. At the end all the data is collated and the word pattern that emerges is analysed and compared with previously discovered patterns. In time a map of all the data is created making it possible to examine the overall word pattern evolution through time and space. The first of such installations was placed at The Brain Unravelled exhibition in London in September 2009. Expect to see it at some of the UK festivals this coming summer.

For much anthropology is still an intellectual project. Meaning, it’s great to exercise your grey matter but when it comes to real engagement with the public it’s outside its remit. Anthropologists are mere observers. Anthropology of the Mind represents a new phase in Anthropology. It’s rather like a metaphor for the stage which human consciousness evolution is at. The new Homo sapiens are the ones who are in touch with nature and apply centuries of knowledge accumulation to create a sustainable future. There is only one way this world will change: through action. And action is geared by thoughts.

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Baking Times

Wednesday, March 03, 2010