Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Landscapes and Cognition

The past few weeks I've been on the road with a summer institute from the National Endowment for the Humanities in a study of cultural connections between Mesoamerica and the desert Southwest of the United States. What an amazing trip it's been.

Huge Mexico City Demonstration

As the lone scientist with a group of art historians, archeologists, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, and assorted others, I've had a unique chance to observe the workings of scholars in a range of disciplines. Also, I've had the chance to see just where crossovers lie, and where disciplines seem to draw the line at interdisciplinary thinking.

Tape Store

The sort of glue that's holding us all together is a wonderful set of visiting scholars who have introduced us to concepts as wide ranging as mesoamerican iconography, Hopi kinship practices, and the geography of traditional ball courts. Our scholars have travelled extensively with us for on-site interpretive sessions, meals, and conversation.

My NEH Posse

One element that has come through strongly for me is the concept that people in many traditional societies have placed value on their landscape as a source of spirituality and history. Migrations, pilgrimages, and seasonal movements through the landscape all contribute to a sense of physical surroundings as culturally meaningful phenomena.


Coming hot on the end of a trip to Yellowstone a few weeks ago it occurred to me that in the United States we have also created a sort of "sacred" landscape in the form of our National Parks. A fitting thought for the 4th of July perhaps, but one that is not meant to underestimate the brutal realities of European settlement of this continent.

A trip to the Grand Canyon earlier this week taught us the story of the Hopi emergence, something that occurred right in the center of one of "our" national shrines.

Theres so much to write on this and related topics. But I don't want to spend whole pages on it, at least not for now. But to head back to Mexico City however briefly, massive, peaceful student demonstrations on the Zocalo reminded me of the power of collective perceptions of place and time.

Massive Demonstration

More to follow, soon I hope, on space, time, and human cognition. Of course, lots of thoughts on art and science to follow too, I promise.

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