How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement (MIT Press)
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An increasingly influential school of thought in cognitive science views the mind as embodied, extended, and distributed rather than brain-bound or "all in the head." This shift in perspective raises important questions about the relationship between cognition and material culture, posing major challenges for philosophy, cognitive science, archaeology, and anthropology. In How Things Shape the Mind, Lambros Malafouris proposes a cross-disciplinary analytical framework for investigating the ways in which things have become cognitive extensions of the human body. Using a variety of examples and case studies, he considers how those ways might have changed from earliest prehistory to the present. Malafouris's Material Engagement Theory definitively adds materiality -- the world of things, artifacts, and material signs -- into the cognitive equation. His account not only questions conventional intuitions about the boundaries and location of the human mind but also suggests that we rethink classical archaeological assumptions about human cognitive evolution.
In later periods, these marks, produced by different techniques, at different times, in different cultural settings, would become memory, symbol, number, and literacy—they would become us. I discuss these marks in chapter 8. How could an engraved ochre—or any other form of prehistoric marking, from incised bones to cave art—help us to understand the making of human mind? To answer this question, I attempt a comparative prehistory of mark making, aiming, on the one hand, to examine what connects or separates different assemblies of prehistoric marks (e.
I also owe a special debt of thanks to Manos Tsakiris for his invaluable help, especially with chapter 9. I owe a deep debt to my current home, Keble College at the University of Oxford, where the book was completed. I would like to offer my thanks to the fellows of the college. I owe additional debts of gratitude to Tom Higham, Marc Brodie, and Jonathan Phillips, and to the Keble Advanced Studies Centre for its ﬁnancial support of the ethnographic work on which chapter 9 is based. (I also should express my thanks to all the Greek potters I have been working with in the course of the last few years for their time and enthusiasm.
Let me explain: I am not questioning whether what we call mind can be deﬁned; I am questioning whether such a deﬁnition, foreclosing what we think cognition is and does, would be a useful starting point from an archaeological or an anthropological perspective. In fact, methodologically speaking, this lack of analytic precision about necessary and sufﬁcient conditions, far from being problematic, can offer a tactical advantage well suited to the goal of this book, which is to redeﬁne our conceptual vocabulary by shifting attention away from the sphere of closed categories of persons and things and toward the sphere of the ﬂuid and relational transactions between them.
70 Chapter 4 Figure 4. 3 Linear B tablets from Knossos recording (a) women, probably textile workers, and what appear to be their sons (kouroi) and daughters (korai); (b) chariot wheels listed by form and type of material, including “of elm,” “of willow,” and “bound with bronze”; and (c) swords: to-sa / pa-ka-na PUG 50 [so many swords (sword ideogram) 50 (at least)] (courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford). These small tablets could then be ﬁled in order, like cards in an index. And once a ﬁle was complete it could be recopied onto large tablets.
I explore the reasons why the majority of these conceptions continue to replicate the largely Cartesian predicament of modernity, and I try to identify the problems this causes for the archaeology of mind. In chapter 3, against this background, I summarize the Material Engagement approach and explain how that new theoretical framework could help us to overcome the problems. I discuss the epistemological foundation of and the metatheoretical assumptions behind this new way of looking at the intersection between cognition and material culture.