[IWAR] SOCIOLOGY Boyd impact on development, life

From: 7Pillars Partners (partnersat_private)
Date: Sun Mar 01 1998 - 17:58:10 PST

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    This may not seem immediately connected/interesting, but consider the impact of
    this sort of abstraction on the Boyd cycle, as well as _because_ of the Boyd
    cycle.  --MW
    Expert: Ancient artists were stressed-out
     March 1, 1998
     Web posted at: 2:33 p.m. EST (1933 GMT) 
     PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) --
     They all have the same simple
     quality -- cave paintings, carved
     heads and masks from long-dead
     Stone Age people and art works
     from existing tribes. 
     Anthropologists and other experts
     once dismissed the simplified faces, which lack detail and proper
     proportion, as evidence the artists were untrained or
     unsophisticated. But a Harvard University psychiatrist has another
     Stone Age tribes were just plain stressed out, says Dr. Anneliese
     Pontius of the Harvard Medical School. Constant fear -- of
     dangerous animals, evil spirits and other tribes -- changes the way
     the brain functions, she says. 
     Basically, the brain takes shortcuts under stress so it can work
     faster in dangerous situations, she told the American Association
     for the Advancement of Science. These shortcuts are reflected in
     art and may show up in other ways as well. 
     "They are not stupid errors or childlike errors or intellectual
     inferiority," Pontius said after testing people ranging from the Dani
     and Asmat hunter-gatherers in Indonesia to Canadian Inuits and
     Aucas in the Amazon. 
     "These hunter-gatherers live under very pervasive threat to their
     lives from other tribes and from animals -- snakes and even
     insects," she told a news conference at the AAAS. "When the sun
     sets everybody flees into their huts out of fright." 
     Tests designed for nonliterate
     She wanted to test brain function but most tests reflect culture and
     require the subjects to be literate. So she used two tests that can
     check visual and spatial functions in the brain -- the simple
     "draw-a-person-with-face-in-front-test" and one in which the
     volunteer uses four colored blocks. 
     "These tests are ideal for assessing such functions in large groups
     of intelligent but nonliterate peoples because elaborate verbal
     instructions are not required, the tasks are relatively simple and the
     data 'yield' ... is rich," she said. 
     Pontius found that people at a Stone Age development level draw
     simpler versions of faces than literate people. Faces drawn by
     modern-day hunter-gatherers looked much like faces in art left by
     early humans. 
     "It's not a cultural difference because it exists in dyslexics," she
     said, referring to people with a fairly common reading disability.
     She also found that very young babies, who are primed to respond
     to faces, reacted more quickly to the simpler, Stone Age-style
     The differences in the tests are subtle. For instance, literate people
     usually draw the bridge of the nose narrower than the tip and
     include the brows above the eyes, while nonliterate and dyslexic
     people make fewer such distinctions. 
     What could be happening is that the brain is using a shortcut -- in
     this case the subcortex -- to process information. Brain processing
     in the subcortex is faster, to the tune of about 250 milliseconds --
     250 thousandths of a second -- Pontius said. 
     '250 milliseconds may mean life or death'
     "If your life is at stake, 250 milliseconds may mean life or death,"
     she told the news conference. One does not need subtle
     distinctions to flee from a snake or to recognize an enemy's face,
     she suggested, but this becomes a habit in continually strained
     "Any processing goes first through the subcortex and then, if it is a
     more subtle type and has detail, it goes through the cortex," she
     told Reuters in an interview later. She said the subcortex evolved
     earlier and is a kind of pre-processor in the brain. 
     Pontius tested people with dyslexia and with brain damage that
     affects subcortical processes and found the same effect. She said
     her findings also vindicated the primitive groups, who some
     researchers had dismissed as intellectually inferior. 
     Pontius, who is also a child psychiatrist, believes her theory could
     explain why inner-city children fall behind in school. They are
     simply stressed out and afraid, she suggests. 
     "It reflects the behavior of people in fear for their lives." 
     Pontius said she was struck by news reports of high levels of
     violence and police presence in schools and thinks her tests might
     be useful there. 
     "It is a new, testable hypothesis," she said. "The enormous illiteracy
     rate in inner-city schools might be explained by this." 
     But she admitted she had not tested inner-city children herself and
     did not plan to. "I don't dare to do it," she said in the interview. "It
     is too dangerous." 
     Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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