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The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body (Anglais) Broché – 1 octobre 2007


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The Singing Neanderthals The propensity to make music is the most mysterious, wonderful, and neglected feature of humankind. In this book, Mithen explores music as a fundamental aspect of the human condition, encoded into the human genome during the evolutionary history of our species. Full description



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Amazon.com: 19 commentaires
15 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Interesting, but not Breakthrough 28 mai 2009
Par Max Blackston - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Mithen's "The Prehistory of the Mind" was one of the most intellectually exciting books that I can remember reading. His thesis is that the sudden flowering of symbolic representation - like the beautiful cave art of Lascaux - only 40-50,000 years ago could only be explained by a radical change in the mind of homo sapiens. The apparent paradox he addresses, is why the undoubted technical abilities of early man and his ancestors - as evidenced in the abundant and often exquisitely fashioned stone and flint tools - had remained essentially at the same level for many hundreds of thousands of years. Throughout this time - including the period from about 190,000 to 50,000 yag during which anatomically modern humans existed - there is virtually no evidence of any use of these abilities to make anything that could be described as art or decoration. Mithen's solution to this paradox is that early homo sapiens had a "modular" mind - consisting of a "social" module, that allowed them to conduct their relationships with others, a "technical" module that helped them learn to manipulate materials and make tools, and a "natural history" module that understood the animals and plants in the world about them. What they lacked was an integration of these modules - "cognitive fluidity" - which would for example have allowed crossover between social and technical modules, and enabled man to use their technical abilities to fashion art or ornamentation which could be used to modulate or manipulate their relationships with others. It was the evolution of this integrative ability which caused the cultural/artistic florescence that we find so remarkeable.

Perhaps because I have followed and found very logical the arguments of the Evolutionary Psychologists, who see the mind as a collection of evolved adaptations to a series of specific fitness problems, I found Mithen's thesis very intuitive and appealing - even though it inevitably involves a great deal of speculation and extrapolation from evidence which can only be described as circumstantial (what the late S.J. Gould unkindly referred to as "Just So" stories).

Because of my enthusiasm for "Prehistory", I eagerly awaited subsequent books from Mithen. His second book "After the Ice - a Global Human History, 20,000-5,000 BC" was a huge disappointment; suffice it to say, that this was one of the few books I have started, and failed to read through to the end. The present book - although not in any way as groundbreaking or as stimulating as "Prehistory" - is a worthwhile read.

In fact it is a very "worthy" book; the central argument is that, as man's early ancestors evolved into fully bipedal hominids, they developed a means of communication, which was not language, which Mithen refers to as "Hmmmmm" - Holistic (consisting of whole sounds not parseable into words and syntax), Manipulative (designed to achieve ends, rather than describe), Multi-Modal (sound and body movement), Musical and Mimetic (using mimicry and immitation). The two two main supporting strands for this thesis involve, on the one hand consideration of the neurological and behavioral aspects of music and language, and on the other, hypotheses based on what is known about the lifestyles and selection pressures on early humans at different stages of evolution.

In the early chapters, Mithen's review of the similarities and differences between music and language, leads to the conclusion that they both evolved from some kind of primitive proto-language-music combination. He then reveals some fascinating aspects about what can only be described as the "competition" between linguistic and musical abilities for brain space. For example, that people with either congenital or acquired neural speech disorders often have enhanced musical abilities e.g perfect pitch - "musical savants". Or, that most infants possess perfect pitch (like many people suffering from autism). It appears that most babies are born with perfect pitch, which is gradually replaced by a bias toward relative pitch. Language acquisition involves the "unlearning" of perfect pitch (which is disadvantageous, because it prevents "generalization" - understanding that songs sung in different keys, or words spoken at different fundamental frequencies are the same.)

The second half of the book descibes what is known about the lifestyles of various early humans - homo ergaster, homo heidelbergiensis, and the neanderthals of the title - . Mithen's objective is to demonstrate that, at each of these stages, those individuals best able to communicate with their fellows, be trusted by them and gain their cooperation would have been the fittest (in darwinian terms). There would therefore have been a strong selective pressure for developing effective communication, and Mithen's argument is that this would have led to the progressive elaboration of communication into his "Hmmmm" - but not to language as we know it. Arguments involving many, many occurrences of words like "might have" and "we can imagine that" (which later morph into less speculative "did" and "were") are inevitable, given the paucity of hard evidence. They require the reader to very comprehensively "suspend disbelief" until the end, in order to see whether the whole edifice stands up or not.

Where Mithen is able to provide evidence or deductive argument from evidence, he does so. He also very conscientiously presents and evaluates evidence and counter-arguments that might contradict his thesis. Personally, I found the argument that, even the neanderthals - perhaps the closest and most recent relatives of modern humans - lacked language, quite convincing. However, Mithen's conclusion from this - that music played a major role in their lives (to the extent of having "performance spaces" in their caves) - left me unconvinced.
6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Musical Language and the Evolution of Music 12 février 2008
Par Montague Whitsel - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
I have long suspected that music must be connected to language and that the evolution of language was somehow linked to our musical ability. Steven Mithen's exploration of this subject leaves me reflective, impressed and with a great deal to think about. His scientific curiosity -- as we have seen in both The Prehistory of the Mind: A Search for the Origins of Art, Science and Religion (1998) and in Before the Ice (2003) -- is epic in scope and yet critical in its method and approach to data (or the lack of it).

In this book, Mithen culls together a trove of evidence relating to the possible origins of music in our species' evolutionary past. I think it needs to be granted from the outset that such a subject is not going to have the same kind of hard, precise evidence that something like skeletal evolution or the evolution of upright walking has in its favor. Given this, Mithen does a superb job of marshalling what evidence there is for music's origin and evolution, and makes you believe it possible, even as you remain critical of his hypotheses. You can see the weakness of some of the lines in his argument, but also the strength of others. Mithen seems humble enough before his subject, without getting wishy-washy in the face of the gray areas of uncertainty.

All together, a fascinating read; very informative--and courageous. This book will stand as a defense of music -- against its detractors (such as Steven Pinker) as a valuable part of our cultural human 'tool kit' until even more archaeological and paleoanthropological evidence becomes available.
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Incisive 13 décembre 2007
Par Bruce A. Murray - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
If you love music and powerful feelings it evokes, then you'll love the author's incisive and clear-headed style as he unwraps the origins of music.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Two shortcomings in an essential sum of compiled knowledge 17 février 2010
Par Jacques COULARDEAU - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
That book is an essential hoard of knowledge on the history of humanity, of the human species and of some of its capabilities. The human species really appeared when it became bipedal two million years ago, left the forest and moved to the savanna. That mutation that caused the apparition of homo ergaster is a change in its general structure that enabled him to stand, to walk on two feet and to run on these same two feet. He lost the ability to climb in trees, he lost some size of his hipbones and that had a direct consequence on the female who also lost some width in her birth canal, which meant the birth of premature kids. The next stage will come with the hypothetical homo helmei, the common ancestor of homo neanderthalensis and homo sapiens, the former evolving after moving to Europe and the latter evolving in Africa before moving to the world. Another mutation is common to these two branches, hence justifying a common ancestor: the phonological and articulatory organs were those necessary to develop modern languages. Homo neanderthalensis though will never develop such a language, according to Mithen (though I think he did but a rather limited type) whereas homo sapiens will. The difference seems to be in the brain that is bigger (as compared to the body mass) in homo sapiens than in homo neanderthalensis. The brain zone seems to be the Broca zone that is definitely more developed in homo sapiens than in other homo representatives. This Broca zone is not linguistic per se but is the zone that coordinates the various brain areas than are required for any complex activity, like speaking or using a language. The capability that is at stake to invent modern articulated (three articulations: vowels and consonants into syllables, syllables into meaningful morphological units, and meaningful morphological units into complex syntactic units) is the capability to discriminate items in a continuous phenomenon. Note we are speaking of visual items in the surrounding landscape that become the referents as well as of the sonorous items in the linguistic continuous flow that become the words designating the referents. Mithen is particularly convincing when he speaks of the linguistic activity before the invention of language, what he calls the holistic manipulative multi-modal musical mimetic code (Hmmmmm), and how music and language have the same origin in this primitive code. He is quite convincing when he deals with archaeological facts and he dates the invention of modern languages slightly later as compared to the apparition of homo sapiens around 50,000 years ago. He clearly sees the two successive waves of homo sapiens arriving in Europe, the first one around 30,000 years ago (Cromagnon) and the second one that he does not actually study in detail after the end of the glaciation after 10,000 years ago, the Indo-European migration. Yet he underestimates the consequences of bipedalism in female homo ergaster and subsequent species. The life expectancy (closer to 25 than to 35) is so short that to satisfy the migrating and expanding nature of homo ergaster and homo sapiens the female had to start procreating at the age of thirteen and produce at least ten children to have three eventually four surviving adults. That meant the adult female homo ergaster and homo sapiens had to be entirely dedicated to that activity for ten years when she was simultaneously pregnant, carrying a new-born in her arms and carrying an infant who could not walk or run on her back or hip. A division of labor emerged from this fact with the mothers, their newborns and their infants in one dependent group and the rest who had to provide for this dependent but essential group. That implies a life that has to be planned very carefully since the working ones are supposed to provide for not far from two people each. That implies new techniques to make hunting, gathering and butchering a lot more effective. That implies too that regularly the young 13 year olds left the base and moved on. They could easily run 500 or 1,000 kilometers before the females were prevented from running by their pregnancies or babies. This seems to imply they could expand 5 or 6,000 kilometers every century, creating along the way a whole network of camps that could be used as stage-stop later on. Language had to develop in such conditions to make the whole process of education and communication possible. But Mithen neglects linguistic archaeology. His map page 268 of the homo sapiens migrations (he calls them the dispersal that makes us think of the diaspora but this is incorrect) from Africa makes the migration that will produce the Semitic languages, and the migration that will produce the common language (ancestor of Sumerian) from which the Turkic languages and the Iranian languages from which both the Indo-European and Indo-Aryan languages will come, follow the same route down the Nile. The Semitic languages are so different from the other two families that it is impossible to accept that fact, whereas the route along the south coast of the Arabian Peninsula and then the coast of southern Asia led to the Persian Gulf, the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers where the Sumerian language will survive the original common source of the Turkic and Iranian languages. So he cannot understand that the first homo sapiens occupation of Europe was speaking a Turkic language (there are at least two other ways of proving it with linguistic archaeology and plain time lines) whereas the next homo sapiens migration will speak Iranian languages (the Indo-European branch). That would also have provided him with the fact that the oldest harp and musical "treatise" is Sumerian, which puts music in perspective here too, along with Cromagnon's pipes.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne, University Paris 8 Saint Denis, University Paris 12 Créteil, CEGID
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Interesting speculations 29 août 2013
Par cwk - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
An interesting discussion on the origins of music from an evolutionary perspective with contributions from the fields of archaeology, anthropology, psychology along with a bit of of neuroscience thrown in, along with some discussion of the origin and development of language.

Much is speculation and at times one has the impression that the author sees his own speculation as not being all that speculative (e.g. even his main argument that Neanderthals are music-using but not language-using animals is, I believe, still open to debate - as is his statement that music emerged after language evolved). Furthermore some of his assumed truths (such as genetic proof that there was no interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans) appear to me to be more a matter of belief than fact.

In all as other reviewers have indicated and in detail described, a work worth reading and well-referenced.
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