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The Brno Effect: From Culture to Mind

Abstract

This paper connects to several of Andrew Sherratt’s abiding interests: grand narrative, general theory, Mitteleuropa, typology, the problems of comparative method, and, tangentially, the question of the origin and nature of the relationship between faith and reason. In addition, what I have to say builds strongly on the work of David Clarke, whose powerful influence was exerted on me principally via Andrew. The title reference is to the Middle Upper Palaeolithic mammoth ivory marionette of a male human figure from Brno, Czech Republic, which serves as a pivot for my argument (although the paper does not pretend to present a detailed and fully contextualised account). By building on observations and contentions concerning the unique life-world of humans, it is possible to argue that a recognizably modern form of human intelligence appeared (and perhaps could only have appeared) as a product of some essentially accidental, initially perhaps epiphenomenal, interactions between minds and material artefacts. I want to show that the familiar idea of a genetically-driven reorganisation of cognition, moving from mind to culture, in our genus, can be challenged by a reverse proposition, using a materiality perspective to work from culture to mind.

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Acknowledgments

Having signalled in some detail my debts to Andrew throughout this paper, I should also record the encouragement and influence of the late Ernest Gellner. Proximally, I wish to thank Martin Oliva and Gerhard Trnka; the referees for their helpful suggestions for improvement; and (of course) the Managing Editor. The inferences are my responsibility, as is the roughness of the translations from Kleist and Rilke (which if not simply inept, underscore the translational reality of the Whorf hypothesis, with its Herderian pedigree, lending little support to the Chomsky–Pinker idea of universal ‘mentalese’).

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Taylor, T. The Brno Effect: From Culture to Mind. J World Prehist 24, 213–225 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10963-011-9052-8

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Keywords

  • Brno II
  • Marionette
  • Upper Palaeolithic art
  • Sapient paradox
  • Sherratt
  • Herder