Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The First Graphical Language

I am quite convinced that phosphene maps, or protoglyphs, are the First Graphical Language used in visual expression. I think there is a vocabulary, and there is a syntax. The rules that comprise the syntax have evolved through human experience and human perception of the natural environment.

Palaeolithic humans lived directly in nature, as relatively small beings in a much larger world. It is difficult for contemporary humans to understand the relationship of early humans with nature, because for such a long time now we have lived in human-made environments. But just as contemporary humans quite voraciously 'want to know' what's happening 'out there' and watch the news or talk to neighbours or friends, I think early humans also had this curiousity and shared their knowledge of the greater world with their clan. Graphical depiction is a way to share information either as an aid to a verbal description or as a standalone communication when the subject is either unable to speak for some reason, either because they need to be quiet, perhaps aren't physically present, or may be incapacitated or even disceased.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Maps, Counting & Ownership

In trying to understand where to focus my research, it looks like it's going to be around the area of phosphenes, and what comes after phosphenes, some type of compound phosphenes, or phosphene maps.

I am convinced that somewhere along the developmental path of cognition in humans, there is an area that displays evidence of protoglyphs. I think it is after phosphene expression and before mandala expression. What I call protoglyphs may very well turn out to be phosphene maps.

Here's a proposed order for graphical cognitive development:

1. Phosphene expression (age 2)
2. Unintentional abstraction- phosphene maps (age 2-3)
3. Shape execution -- mandala first, then squares, triangles (age 3-4)
4. Shapes in settings
5. Cartoons in Settings (on the way to the figurative) (age 5-8)
6. Literal, figurative 'life-like' representations in a setting (age 8-?)
7. Deliberate abstraction in drawings and intellect (age 11+)

The idea here is that first, objects are learned, and then the objects are shown in a setting with relationships. First, phosphenes are expressed, and then phosphenes in settings with positions that represent relationships. This dynamic parallels the development of human children, even now, in that first the letters of the alphabet are learned, then words, then sentences. First, the components, and then rules to arrange the components.

The area I intend to focus on is the early paleolithic art of non-representational patterns. After reading an article published by Bednarik (R. G. Bednarik, The Earliest Evidence of Paleoart, Rock Art Research, 2003, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp 89-135), my first thought were that these patterns may represent:
1. Maps of Land/Areas - for shared discussion with others
2. Counting/Record-keeping - perhaps of large animals killed, or victories (notches in a belt)
3. Ownership - identification/clan symbols

Another assumption that I'm making is that learning must come before graphical expression is possible. In other words, something must be known and understood before it can be expressed. What this means cognitively, is that the knowledge, or knowing, was already in place for paleolithic humans, before it was expressed. The advantage of something written down or drawn is that it is unambiguous. How often do we hear, even today, "Put it in writing." Verbal knowledge can be easily misunderstood, and then mistranslated. The game of Chinese Whispers is a great example of how a simple phrase can unintentionally evolve and change as it is communicated from one human to the next.

Something else to think about when the meaning of phosphene maps is interpreted. Humans long ago had the same basic needs that we have today. Food, shelter, community...(a quick look at A. Maslow's hierarchy of needs can perhaps give us an indication of the 'first concerns' of paleolithic people). Issues of land occupation, record-keeping or counting of victories achieved, and ownership are all key parts of life today, just as I think they probably were 42,000 years ago.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Cognitive Archaeology

Cognitive archaeology is a theoretical underpinning of archaeological research that is interested in the material expression of human ways of thinking about things, such as gender, class, status, kinship. This is a relatively new movement in archaeology, probably started as a reaction to the dry positivism of processual archaeology, and related to the post-processual movement. Archaeologists associated with cognitive archaeology include James Deetz and Robert Bednarik; but there are lots of others.


Language as a Front Runner

In some recent research, I was surprised to discover that language evolved before the depiction of graphic symbols. For some reason, I'd thought that graphical symbols came first, or at least -- alongside the development of spoken language. My husband asked, "How do the experts know that spoken language came first?" I had to reply that I didn't know yet why this was 'known' and that I'd have to find some proof, some verification of this assertion.

But, if language did come first, and graphical depictions came after this, this could imply one of two things: 1) graphical depictions were initially linear, because language is a linear form (OR) graphical depictions developed adjacent to or in parallel with the development of language. Because of the way in which the cortex has separated language and visual processing, this leads me to think that graphical depiction may very well have developed after speech, and can be understood as a compound form of speech. (A picture is worth a thousand words).

Apparently, not much research has been done so far in deciphering the meaning of the patterns of the Middle to Upper Paleolithic period. According to Bahn (1998), "Apparently non-figurative art-motifs which convey nothing to our eyes other than the patterning, has existed from the beginning. Indeed, it often dominated the art of the Paleolithic period and its study is one of the long-neglected challenges of archaeology."

What I came across today is fascinating, though, moving on the language first, linear depiction first theory. What does an old secret Celtic language comprised of lines, read right to left, called ogam (ogam: Ancient alphabet, in which letters are formed of parallel lines which meet or cross a base-line. Possibly of Irish origin), and a bird call and morse code (Amercode from the 1920s) all have in common? I'm not exactly sure yet. But they all have linear components that are remarkably similar. Take a look for yourself. It makes me wonder if perhaps bird calls were the initial inspiration for humans to attempt language. And it makes me think about the 'click' language and how and where it originated.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More on Protoglyphs

In thinking about how protoglyphs might form in the mind, here are some 'first thoughts' (recently resurrected from old memories). What follows below is a very rough draft as I work through this sequence.

1. In the earliest stages of development, the brain has a set of hard-wired patterns that are innate and common to all people (phosphenes may be examples of these patterns). Exactly what these patterns look like is still unknown. They need to be identified. The patterns are represented in the brain by neural receptors that are sensitized or physically receptivity to external stimuli for these patterns.

2. As development and learning continues, the brain is exposed to pattern instances experienced in the external environment. Samples of fuzzy data are pieced together, and the pattern becomes 'activated' and robust in the brain. Over time, the pattern becomes 'averaged' into a geometric prototype of the pattern. The brain has now learned the pattern and it can be reliably recalled when an instance is presented in the environment. The interesting thing here is that the presentation of the pattern (in the external environment) can stimulate recall for one or more instances, one or more instances can recall the pattern from memory, or a single instance can recall another instance. I think an advanced mind may lose its ability to recall these lower order patterns, and only be able to recall specific instances. I think protoglyphs may lie just at the border of consciousness or may even be subconscious for some people. For people who aren't 'visual thinkers', it is quite likely that their prototypes reside below the level of conscious thought.

3. More data is presented through multisensory 'enforcing instances'. Each instance that is encountered is mapped onto the geometric prototype. This is a protoglyph. A protoglyph is both the pattern itself, the 'sacred geometry' and all corrollated instances associated to it. Imagine a circle (to represent a pattern) and an array of fuzzier misshapen circles superimposed over the 'perfect' circle as messy data. Each instance now mapped in the mind now also has associated with it all other instances that share this particular pattern/structure.

4. The protoglyphs can combine in ways to create 'compound protoglyphs' or compound patterns.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Alphabet vs. the Goddess

In 'The Alphabet vs. the Goddess', Leonard Shlain (1999) proposes that the process of learning alphabetic literacy rewired the human brain, with profound consequences for culture. Making remarkable connections across a wide range of subjects including brain function, anthropology, history, and religion, Shlain argues that literacy reinforced the brain's linear, abstract, predominantly masculine left hemisphere at the expense of the holistic, iconic feminine right one. This shift upset the balance between men and women initiating the disappearance of goddesses, the abhorrence of images, and, in literacy's early stages, the decline of women's political status. Patriarchy and misogyny followed.

Shlain contrasts the feminine right-brained oral teachings of Socrates, Buddha, and Jesus with the masculine creeds that evolved when their spoken words were committed to writing. The first book written in an alphabet was the Old Testament and its most important passage was the Ten Commandments. The first two reject any goddess influence and ban any form of representative art.


Thursday, August 9, 2007

Oldest Celtic Symbol - Phosphene Composite

This ancient Celtic Design is taken from the Celtic Burial Mound at New Grange in Co. Meath. This design pre-dates the arrival of Christianity in Ireland by some 3,000 years. It is thought to be the oldest Celtic symbol and is supposed to represent the 3 stages of man: Birth, Death, Eternity. (www.bodhran.com/designs.html)

Notice how this pattern is a phosphene composite, made from three identical phosphene images.

Phosphene Motifs in Paleoart

In the search for 'deep patterns' or patterns that may be hardwired in the brain, I've come across the concept of 'phosphenes' (Robert G. Bednarik). Phosphenes are created through electrical stimulation, pressure on the eyeball, a blow to the head or certain hallucinogens.

Phosphene forms are the fifteen known standard form constants of phosphenes -- and most of these are found in the earliest engravings and petroglyphs.

There are concentric circles, oblong eye shapes, parallel horizontal and vertical lines, adjacent wavy lines, spirals, grids, dot patterns in a grid/matrix arrangement, screens or meshes, radiating star shapes, stars enclosed within a circled, irregular closed shapes, the shape of a hand and a burst shape like a spray of grass.


Here are some interesting quotes from research papers:

"There is a good reason why our visual system finds repeated marks such as parallel lines, geometric shapes and certain patterns appealing. It is because they resonate with patterns already integral to the visual cortex, they are related to the way its neurons process visual input. Artistic 'primitive' motifs are of interest to us not because they reflect the properties of the external world, but because they stimulate properties of the visual system."Bednarik (1984)
"It is thought that features are detected by cortical cells forming the bottom layer of a hierarchy of cells that respond progressively to increasingly abstract geometric features" (Barlow 1972).

Hodgson deduces that cells in higher layers could respond to simple geometric patterns (Livingstone and Hubel 1995).

The main references for the above quotes are from research papers by Robert G. Bednarick and Derek Hodgson about Phosphene Theory (Bednarik 1984, 1987, 1990; Hodgson 2000).

While this may be presumptive, I think it would be a good idea -- if one were to be developing a machine that simulates the workings of the neocortex -- to prime this machine with some phosphene motifs, rather than making it learn everything from scratch.