Raiders of the Lost Thesis: A Proposal for Big Culture?

Well, well, well. It’s been a while with no entries in this blog. Mainly due to the end of the last academic year, my awesome vacations during August and, why not, I didn’t feel like communicating or writing.

The year already started and my main proposal is to start the thesis. “But, hey! Before writing anything, you should read a lot”, someone could think. And he would be right. I have never been a reader of essays or articles, but is almost the only way to go, it seems. “But, hey again! You need first a topic”, somebody could also say. And he would be god damn right again! I don’t have a “topic”, as usually people do. However, I expect the topic emerges from the readings. We could say that my research is focused on Culture, with upper or lower “C”, the frontiers or borders that delimit it, and how it evolves. With the hope, of course, of finding some interesting result or conclussion.

For the time being, I have read “Mainstream Culture” by Frédéric Martell, and ending “Maps of Time” by David Christian, and starting “Things and Places” by Zenon W. Pylyshyn. It is not that much, but is a beginning. In this point of my research, and with a lot of weird and strange thoughts and connections in my mind, I started to think in something that could be interesting: Big Culture. Let me explain.

In the last of the books mentioned above, I am discovering how the mind is able to link between the perception and the world. It is a tough start, but it is needed to unveil the mechanisms that operate in the brain, and to understand how demonstrative thoughts and perception are related. As Pylyshyn cites, John Perry “argued that such demonstratives are essential in thoughts that occasion action”, actions by the motor system of the body. And for making this possible, humans need some frame of reference that has not why to be necessarily global, but local. What it could be a good starting point for a cultural references system.

On the other hand we have civilizations. In “Maps of Time”, David Christian summarizes the history of everything, including us, into a cycle of manipulation of energy and emergence of orders more and more complex: the life; what if goes against the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This is not a negative criticism, quite the contrary. He does an extremely brilliant exercise of synthesis, since the creation of the Universe until our days. This idea of energy comsumption-production and malthusian cycles is really valid for pre-modern civilizations, like agrarian or pastoral ones. But in the last two or three hundred years, when the modern concept of time was invented, the comercial networks –as one of the big reasons for innovation– were followed by cultural transmissions. And at the same time, innovation was one of the cause for the biggest increase of population in history. In the current mega-cities, all the “natural” purposes and preocupation of humans are a bit hidden. First, this provokes what Émile Durkheim calls anomia, and secondly, blurred definitions of identity and cultural unity.

Finally we have our current crazy world moved by economic interests, egos, and supposed superior morals: the mainstream culture, as defined by Frédéric Martell in “Mainstream Culture”. This huge research exposes how delicate, vague and artificial are actually all cultures. The complexity of the information networks, joint to global scale comercial networks, defines what we understand by culture. However, while reading this excellent book, a thing just came on my mind: maybe, instead of everything being local and global at the same time, humans have developed an unusual skill for handling cultural scopes across the time.

So, I think maybe it is a good idea to organize a good set of thoughts about what is the Culture, why it exists and what it means. From its origin in the cognitive studies and neuroscience of the brain, to the daily world, governed by complex networks. Without forgetting the process by which we became cultural beings, from our ancestors until today.

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