Palaeolithic thoughtways

This page under development

Although evolutionary psychology can indicate the most likely Palaeolithic drives, motivations, propensities to react in this way rather than that to stimuli, etc., we can only speculate on what Palaeolithic people actually thought and thought about, based on observation of ourselves, extant hunter-gatherer and traditional societies.

This page will list likely Palaeolithic applications of important mental skills and suggest some 21st century equivalents that we can experiment with to see if they tap readily into dormant thoughtways.

Examples of thought ways can be found in the review of the film Atanarjuat (Inuit), the anthropological account of Mornington Islanders and in the writing of Wilfred Thesiger (Bedu).

Examples of our Palaeolithic thoughtways being maladaptive in the 21st century can be found in the pages linked at the foot of the human hardwiring page.

Questioning, learning and rigorous analysis
David McKnight reports that in traditional Mornington Island society, questioning was not encouraged.  This is so contrary to that which is valued and strived for in modern Western education that it requires further exploration. Derrick Jensen writes: 'Consider the Semay of Malaya who "emphatically deny" that they teach their children, but insist "our children just learn by themselves" ... Children learn most activities through imitative play that in time becomes adult behaviour' (p.244).  On page 332, Jensen quotes from Carl Rogers: '... anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential, and has little or no significant influence on behaviour ... I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influences behaviour is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning. Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another. As soon as the individual tries to communicate such experience directly, often with a quite natural enthusiasm, it becomes teaching, and its results are inconsequential ...'. 

John Zerzan has a larger critique of symbolism, including language, and even goes so far as to mark the decline of the Homo species from their adoption language (see the 40,000 years ago page). George Orwell recognized the same problem when he wrote: '... the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one's meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations.'

Ted Kaczynski, recounting his experiences in the backwoods of Montana (long before he had contemplated becoming the Unabomber), said that he began an intensive study of how to identify wild edible plants, track animals and replicate primitive technologies, approaching the task like the scholar he was. 'Many years ago I used to read books like, for example, Ernest Thompson's Seton's "Lives of the Game Animals" to learn about animal behaviour.  But after a certain point, after living in the woods for a while, I developed an aversion to reading any scientific accounts. In some sense reading what the professional biologists said about wildlife ruined or contaminated it for me. What began to matter for me was the knowledge I acquired about wildlife through personal experience.'

References
Jay Arthur, Default Country (2003)
Derrick Jensen, A Language Older than Words (2000)
Theodore Kaczynski, in an interview with the Earth First! Journal (1999)
George Orwell, Politics and the English Language (1946)
Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person
John Zerzan, Running on Emptiness (2002)

Page updated 20 May 2009

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