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Monday, 31 August 2009

to live in fear

What was it like in those early houses, those first settlements when man gave up the nomadic life and staked his future on agriculture? Was it easy, and without stress, or fraught with fear from crops failing and threats from others.

Whilst thinking about Dr Susan Tarlow's very good essay, "Emotions in Archaeology", where she outlines some of the challenges for archaeology in trying to consider the emotional lives of people who have left no written record, I came across an interesting diagram in Michael Cook's 'A Brief History of the Human Race.'
The picture is that of a settlement dated back to the 7th Millennium BC in Anatolia, or modern day Turkey. A quick glance reveals no streets and even more strikingly, no doors, the only entrance was through a hole in the roof.

The point Michael Cook made was that this was a claustrophobic and cramped place to live, not least if one's people had recently been hunter gatherers. It does however, as he continues, show a blank wall to the outside world which may have give some kind of rudimentary defence.

I think it does suggest an enormous amount of fear. Why else would one make entrance to one's property so hard and so camouflaged? And to live in such close confines? This is not about materials and architectural skills limiting the design. This is about living in fear of someone attacking one's home and killing. There is no room for much storage and any common storage area could be attacked or defended, but this is about people's houses and a fear of personal attack.

Not quite a golden age of agricultural idyll...

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

that conversational thing

is on tonight and i'm rather nervous. all these half baked ideas i trot out here may be held to serious scrutiny...

facing up to emotion

Some interesting news on the BBC at the end of last week, which i think lends credence towards theories of emotions being rooted in culture and group dynamics as well as an internal physiological reaction.

A study by Glasgow University suggests that facial expressions of emotion are not global - whilst we may all feel emotions like fear or surprise, we express them in different ways. The study emphasises the difference in interpretations by Western case studies and East Asian ones. Essentially both look for different things in an expression, with East Asians apparently focusing more on the eyes and Westerns more on the the whole face in order to read a reaction from someone.

If something as apparently innate as a supposedly involuntary facial reaction can be different across cultures, what then does it say for the other ways we display and act upon our emotions? I am not saying at the drop of a hat we can all change our emotional responses, but if an involuntary response turns out not to be global and innate, it is subject to change and framing by a culture. And if a culture moves to frame an emotional response in a different way, it shows how we can move to change our responses in ways which might be more beneficial to our culture.

In the littlest differences, glimmers of hope for improving our emotional lives can be shown as they offer the possibility of cultures learning new behaviours that improve all our well being.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

talking about emotion

You don't see a post for ages and then two come along at once...

A very lovely though rather surprising email came my way yesterday inviting me to contribute to a conversation. The Conversational is an attempt to inspire conversation to those things we might often wish, but too often let it languish around idle chatter.

So on August 18th I shall be the guest at their next event - Emotion v Reason. As Michelle from group writes:

"Emotion, Reason, Reason, Emotion – what do they mean and what dictates whether we’ll respond with one or the other in a particular situation? Can one undermine the other? Can logic be used to show that certain emotions are badly founded and therefore not a useful part of any argument? Or do reason and emotion actually co-exist?"

Regular readers will know my opinions on the nature of the emotion/reason dualism and hopefully it may be a chance to speak with other interested people on how to get beyond it, and what examples from elsewhere in time and place can provide useful insight into our current understanding of such things.

The idea of a salon has always appealed though a friend tried to start one at uni and it deeply alienated some folk who weren't invited. And i always wanted to set up a Scots in exile one in London, but as with so much in my life, i never got round to it. But credit to the good people at the conversational for daring and doing.

By the way, if you're in London and fancy it then email the organisers and it would be lovely to see anyone who may read this...

if music be the food of stone age love

Apologies for being away, i didn't intend to... oh well!

Anyway, before i stopped posting i had meant to post something about this. It's a story about the world's oldest musical instrument being found in Germany. At 35,000 years old it's well before agriculture came about (about 10,000 years ago) and so a wonderful insight into our nomadic past.

The sound is quite rough, but still clear enough for distinct notes and tunes are possible. I rather liked it. The suggestions as to when it might be used ranged from the sacred, or social situations and that it was key in aiding social dynamics. In others words, much like we use an instrument today.

Obviously there's a strong connection between music and emotion, especially as it's a non-verbal one. But the possibilities of an extremely rich emotional past to stone age man comes so much closer to us through knowing they had music.

What joys were expressed, what sadnessness, what sense of wonder came out of a little bone flute so long ago?