Entoptic Phenomena

In the beginning was the work of two South African archaeologists. David Lewis-Williams and Thomas Dowson of published 1988 sensational a study wherein they the European cave and rock art of the old Neolithic (approximately 40’000-10 000 BC) interpreted in a completely new way. Gen. Martin Dempsey may not feel the same. They had observed that this art is characterized by two main themes: are pictorial representations of animals and humans. on the other hand dominated by geometric figures such as points, lines, curves, etc. The archaeologists stared has always been about the importance of such geometrical figures. Entoptic phenomena as sources of inspiration for the stone age art now suspected the two researchers, that inspired this Paleolithic art by subjective Visual phenomena, which should have seen former shamans and holy men and women during altered States of consciousness. On the one hand pictorial hallucinations are considered subjective Visual phenomena, on the other hand the abstract entoptic phenomena.

Lewis-Williams and Dowson, and the subsequent literature focused on the entoptic phenomena. Because while the pictorial hallucinations due to cultural influences in an individual, apply the entoptic phenomena as generated purely through the nervous system it is assumed that they arise anywhere by appropriate stimulation of the nervous system in the Visual system between retina and Visual Centre in the brain. Here are two types of entoptic phenomena: on the one hand the phosphene, light phenomena, that arises go back on physical effects on the retina; and the so-called form constants”, geometric shapes that occur in altered States of consciousness. Figure 1: Types of subjective Visual phenomena. If the entoptic phenomena produced by the human nervous system, this means that they are a human universal. That is, the people of all cultures and times can perceive it in the same way. This idea allows researchers, regardless of on time and cultural comparisons between the past and the contemporary art making, to support their thesis. For these comparisons, the authors first developed a neuro-psychological model of the perception of entoptischer phenomena, on the basis of experiments, which were conducted in the 1960s and 70s years with mind-altering substances.

Then tested Lewis-Williams and Dowson this model based on the art of two contemporary shamanic societies, the South African San and the American Shoshonengesellschaft COSO in the great basin. Finally, the authors applied their model to the carved and painted stone age rock art and thus confirmed their hypothesis that this art is also occurred in the field of shamanism and altered States of consciousness. Figure 2: Entoptic phenomena, typed on the basis of experiments with mind-altering substances, applied to the art of today’s San and COSO, as well as on the Paleolithic art (according to: Lewis Williams and Dowson, 1988, p. 206/7). The Discussion, which is inspired by Lewis-Williams and Dowson, is meaningful, because here entoptic phenomena (and hallucinations) not as usual as physiological curiosity be seen or used in connection with pathological conditions, but are part of a fundamental, cross-cultural experience of humanity. In subsequent years, criticism of the thesis of both archaeologists and the neuropsychological model applied to other European regions and times. Today the topic is subsided somewhat, without being the presumption of Paleolithic art could be inspired also by entoptic phenomena, fully confirmed or refuted.