When The Brain Acquired The Ability To Make Plus/Minus Distinctions

Search For Mind Code Continues

A major influence on Levi-Strauss’s anthropology came by way of Marx and Freud.
Both of these men tended to place extreme emphasis on the concealed aspect of
the motivational force behind human behavior. For Marx this motivational aspect
was a natural consequence following from the social fabric of social structure
and economic realities, while for Freud these motivational aspects were
repressed deep within the person’s psychological experience of the
unconsciousness. Following the path of the thought of these men Levi-Strauss
identified gift giving as the integrative function promoting social solidarity, i.e.,
the incest taboo to be part of the hidden matrix holding together kinship
systems. But, for Levi-Strauss, the hidden agenda behind a person’s motivational
consciousness is nowhere more revealing than can be found in the mythology of
any given culture.

Levi-Strauss began his investigations of myth with the publication of “The
Structural Study of Myth” (1955). He believed myth to contain the “universal
code” that if properly understood would unlock the door to the unconscious as
well as the conscious mind. For Levi-Strauss, mind represented an objective component of the brain and, like any other object, the principles underlying its constitution could be investigated and discovered. With this end as his goal, he investigated the structural nature of myth. In his book, “The Savage Mind,” he sought to disclose in his description of the “concrete logic” of Pre-modern man that “…there is no such thing as `The Primitive Mind’; or, for that matter, `Modern Mind’; there is only `Mind-As-Such.'” [Hayes and Hayes, editors, Claude Levi-Strauss: The Anthropologist As Hero, 1970, p.224]

One cannot read very far into the works of Levi-Strauss without concluding that
he believed he had found the mind’s code, however subtle, variable, and
kaleidoscopically shifting it was, in the elementary logic of Pre-modern man.
According to Bottomore and Nisbet, this universal logic becomes identifiable in
the significance Levi-Strauss places in the concept of binary opposition:

“Levi-Strauss argues that man, by the very nature of his mind, views the world
with binary concepts–for example, odd and even numbers. …(M)an’s capacity to
symbolize with his fellows requires that in the course of evolution the brain
acquired the ability to make “plus/minus distinctions for treating the binary
pairs thus formed as related couples, and for manipulating these relations as in
a matrix algebra.” [Tom Bottomore and Robert Nisbet, A History of Sociological
Analysis, 1979, p.584]

It was precisely in the significance Levi-Strauss attributed to binary
opposition that lead him to believe “the mythical value of myth remains
preserved, even through the worst translation.” [W. A. Lessa and E.Z. Vogt,
Claude Levi-Strauss, The Structural Study Of Myth, p. 292] Using the framework
of binary opposition, Levi-Strauss has given us a description of how to
structurally analyze myth. Accordingly, myths are more susceptible to a
semiological analysis then were kinship systems and he wastes no time in making
that analogy. Acknowledging the Saussurean principle of the arbitrary character
of linguistic signs, he says:

“In order to preserve its (Myth) specificity we should thus put ourselves in a
position to show that it is both the same thing as language, and also something
different from it. Here, too, the past experience of linguists may help us. For
language itself can be analyzed into things which are at the same time similar
and different. This is precisely what is expressed in Saussure’s distinction
between langue and parole…If those two levels already exist in language, then
a third one can conceivably be isolated.” [Ibid. p. 291]


About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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2 Responses to When The Brain Acquired The Ability To Make Plus/Minus Distinctions

  1. Concerning the poster, David, I just heard this a couple of days ago: “What if, when you lose your train of thought, your thoughts go into someone else’s head, and that’s why they hear voices?”

  2. bwinwnbwi says:

    Actually, not only has that idea been around for a long time (Lewis Carroll wrote about it in his famous book), but “it” (the mumble jumble of vacant thoughts occurring in someone else’s head) can be heard almost daily on the nightly news. We hear these disjointed voices coming from today’s Tea Party! Thanks again for highlighting a significant Truth. Take care.

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