Science has a problem: nobody understands it. Science was bewailing this problem back in the 80s when I worked at an archaeological dig. “How do we get people to care about what we do?” the archaeologists wondered. “Everything we need to say is important to humanity…but so technical.”
Poor science! Only attractive to other scientists.
Enter Peter Godfrey-Smith, scuba diver, professor in the School of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Sydney, and author of several books exploring evolution and origins of the mind. His latest, Metazoa, tackles dense questions indeed: are animals sentient (he distinguishes between “sentient” and “conscious”)? If so, are all animals sentient, or only some? If they are sentient, is their sentience of a sort we can understand? If so, what can we learn from their sentience about the origins and nature of human consciousness?
At the bottom of these sustained bad acts that may imperil us all, or at least those who are “Not-Us”, lie age-old beliefs that Earth exists as a source of wealth and power for the worthy, that it’s a “thing” for our use. But underpinning those beliefs? An even older traditional story line traceable to early creatures’ adaptive behavior, aroused in response to the need to secure the evolutionary advantage. And nowadays, that old struggle almost always takes form in the language of instrumentality; that is, in language—including body language—applied strictly as a catch-and-hold tool.
A Motley Vision readers from way back may recognize some content in this post. The older version appeared as a 2-part piece in 2010, then titled, “So You Say You Want a Creavolution? Well, You Know…”. I’ve since added an introduction and more material about language and the possible tensions that may be at work when competing narratives go to war. This version is also the outcome of a Facebook discussion where I crowd sourced a thinking problem I ran up against in writing an introduction for a chapter of my WIP, Showdown at Crossfire Canyon: At the Interface Between Language and Landscape. The online discussion resulted in a breakthrough that enabled my reworking the chapter’s introduction and fine-tuning the post.
Yes. Yes! In San Juan County, during my field school years in the mid-80s, I saw shocking pot hunting damage firsthand, sites hit very badly. I’m haunted by memories of human skulls and other remains churned up and tossed aside—men, women, children, including a child’s mummified foot—remains meaningful to diggers only as signs that grave good such as pots, jewelry, or other marketable artifacts might lie nearby. The exposed human remains don’t trouble me so much for their grim “to this we must all come” reminders, though there’s always something show-stopping about coming upon human bones. Nor do they impress me for the disturbing evidence they offer of the pot hunters’ disregard for law. To me, what’s telling is the pot hunters’ complete reduction of a culture and its members to “the good stuff”, the shrinking of life and its cultural contexts to mere “things” having market value. Continue reading “Excerpt from Showdown at Crossfire Canyon: Getting Digs In, Part 3”
The quieter woman’s attributing the factually wrong “squeezed orange” metaphor to an archaeologist stuck in my mental craw. No archaeologist who had put in time in the area could have gone on the record with such a false statement without doing damage to their reputation. Crossfire’s own “things” amount to a treasury of archaeological information, barely tapped. Not only are there numerous significantly-sized Ancestral Puebloan sites in the sliver of the canyon I usually haunt, all containing intact sections of their archaeology, but many smaller, telltale sites surround those. Beyond that, the canyon is a puzzle of hundreds of sites, many kinds. In places, lithic and sherd scatters pepper the ground, along with whole or broken arrowheads, tools like axes or awls, or spearheads. But those are just the visible features of sites, what meets an eye with a steady gaze. The density of prehistoric occupation further extends two to four layers vertically into the ground.
And Crossfire’s not alone in sheltering such abundance. When the fight over the canyon erupted in 2007, one proposal for keeping it closed included designating it for permanent closure to OHVs and special protection because of its being a treasure house of culturally sensitive resources. When I mentioned that proposal to Winston, he retorted on that basis, the entire region qualified for closure and protection.
For years after that encounter in the canyon, whenever the “squeezed orange” phrase crossed my mind—which it did often—my curiosity tingled. A few years ago, it bothered me so much I tried googling “squeezed orange” with “archeology” and “archaeologist” but found nothing. Yet for someone who has spent decades running to the Oxford English Dictionary to examine etymologies and relic usages of words and phrases, the striking image had the redolence of a linguistic mystery hinting at a meaningful and important social provenance. “Squeezed orange” seemed to have a story to tell. I wanted to listen, to put it together, if I had to, but in the mid-twenty-tweens, new personal circumstances arose that demanded attention and elbowed the question aside, as similar conditions had done many times and for many years before. Continue reading “Excerpt from Showdown at Crossfire Canyon: Getting Digs In, Part 2”