Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Religious and other Cults

from Knowing How to Know, by Idries Shah
 (published posthumously in 1998):

Sufi Attitudes towards Religious
and other Cults:

1. Sufis are opposed to fanaticism and closed minds, believing
that these lead to oppression.

2. Many cults using the name 'Sufi' have arisen over the
centuries. They have caused harm to their followers, and
have, at times, given the word Sufi an undesirable flavour.

3. For the above two reasons, initial Sufi activity has, for
centuries, aimed at explaining the nature of real Sufi aims
and also at clarifying the undesirable effect of what today
are called conditioning systems.

4. It has been observed by scholars and others that the Sufis
are almost alone in having assessed and described the two
undesirable factors referred to above. In so doing, they may
have paved the way for contemporary knowledge on
mind-manipulation. While others, for example, were still
thinking in terms of 'the Devil is behind cults', the Sufis
have pointed out the causes of cults as being purely

5. Among the characteristics of a 'false or misguided path',
the Sufis have noted the following features which help to
identify it:

i) The claim that the organisation is the sole repository
of truth, or is the only 'path';

ii) The mistaking of emotional for spiritual states;

iii) Separation of the followers of the group from the
populace at large;

iv) Failure to do one's human duty to everyone,
regardless of such people's confessional position;

v) The emphasis upon hope and fear, and upon reward
and punishment;

vi) Material richness of the organisation, and especially
of its leaders;

vii) The uniqueness of a leader, asserting superhuman or
other qualities or responsibility;

viii) Secretiveness;

ix) Inability to laugh at things which appear funny to
people outside the 'path';

x) Employment of stereotyped techniques and/or rituals
and exercises, not adapted according to the principle
of 'time, place and people';

xi) 'Idolatry': which includes investing people, animals
or things with a special meaning;

xii) Teachers' who are themselves ignorant.

6. Sufis do not actually oppose such cults, since Sufis are
tolerant: but they find it essential to describe them, in
order to show the differences between cults and
Sufism, and to help to prevent people interested in
Sufism from forming or joining such organisations or groups.


The great development in the knowledge of psychology during
the twentieth century has made it possible for Sufis to
communicate in these terms to a world audience.

In earlier days, due to the general backwardness of most
cultures, Sufis were obliged to communicate in established
terminology, which reduced communication. Today, many of
the contentions of the Sufi teachers of the past, still preserved
in numerous classics, can be seen as pioneering the understanding
of spiritual as distinct from sociological groups. Numerous
modern observers have noted this contribution, though it is not
yet fully disseminated among either the general public or even
the specialists, though the process is accelerating.

There are now many references in books, monographs, etc.,
to the above facts.

One of the most conspicuous contributions of the Sufis has
been the assertion that someone's conviction about the truth
of a doctrine may be engineered, accidentally or deliberately;
and to label that as 'religious faith' or anything similar is no
more than a display of ignorance of how the human brain works.
Reluctance to accept the reality of indoctrination as taking place
in all human systems marks the lower-level thinker.


First, elimination: the school, its teachers and students should
be observed for signs of the features (item 5, above) which
identify a spurious school. Second, it should be noted that the
following are among the marks of an authentic Sufi school:

i) It does not restrict attention to any specific literature
or teachings, but expects its students to have a good
knowledge of a wide range of literature, while at the
same time specialising in appropriately measured

ii) It will be able to explain and interpret past
formulations of the Sufi Way, as contained in the
whole range of Sufi literature;

iii) It will be able to explain the process of supersession
of materials;

iv) It will not be culture- or language-based. That is to
say, it will not need to bring in, except at times for
illustration or analogy, words or practices belonging
to cultures and/or languages other than those of the
people among whom the Sufis are working;

v) It will not use outlandish clothes (robes) or words,
etc., extraneous to the local culture;

vi) It will not accept slogans or 'sayings' from past
teachers unless they have an illustrative function;

vii) It does not use intonations, movement, music, etc.,
as a quasi-religious ceremony or as a spectacle, but
has knowledge of such things as parts of a
comprehensive system of applying stimuli;

viii) It will neither claim to have a mission to teach
everyone, nor will it enrol everyone. It will first make
sure that the interested person has enough information
and experience to come to a decision about Sufis and
Sufism in an appropriate manner;

ix) It will make clear the nature of the 'instrumental
function' of ideas, techniques, etc., rather than
regarding them as immutable, sacrosanct, 'traditional'
and so on;

x) It will deal with everyone according to capacity and
character, being neither benevolent nor the reverse:
for kindness and cruelty, while effective and
understood in ordinary relationships, operate as part
of a conditioning system within a teaching or group situation.


There are two kinds of literature. The first kind is Sufic: that
is to say, it is designed for teaching purposes. It is by Sufis, and
essentially directed towards the people of the time in which it
is issued. Subsequent generations have to understand the plan
which underlies it, which the school has a duty to make clear.

The second kind is literature from the outside: materials about
Sufis and Sufism. There is a vast body of this. It is often written
by scholars, who do not understand Sufism, as they assess it
from the academic and mechanical or emotional standpoints.
This is useful only in illustrating the nature and pattern of the
academic mind. It does not teach anything else. The very
abundance of this literature has caused many people to imagine
that they can learn from it. The Sufis, down the centuries, have
often commented upon this material as 'trying to send a kiss
by messenger', or 'teaching the taste of jam through the written
word'. Such, however, is the prestige of the written word that
even otherwise sensible people often fail to understand that an
external assessment can hardly be useful, except of another external phenomenon.

--from Knowing How To Knowp. 333-336

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Our Playful Species

HG Library: Our playful species - Ivan Tyrrell talks with Desmond Morris

Ivan Tyrrell discusses with Desmond Morris why human beings became creative symbolisers and why so many artists lead dysfunctional personal lives. This interview is from the Human Givens Journal Volume 20, No 2, (2013).

TYRRELL: I greatly enjoyed your new book, The Artistic Ape, which features over 350 fascinating artworks from across the world to illustrate your exploration of the evolution of art over the past three million years. It touches on so many topics of interest to me – not only art history but also the origins of creativity and why we humans have the urge to transform what we see. Yet, back in the 1960s, you were mocked for saying in your groundbreaking book, The Naked Ape, that we had not only basic animal needs but also more complex ones.

MORRIS: Yes. I got into enormous trouble for saying that humans have a lot of inborn qualities beyond basic survival ones such as feeding and mating. We are the most playful species, and our brains are designed in such a way that they require continual activity. The worse thing you can do to human beings is put them in solitary confinement with nothing to do. 

TYRRELL: Absolutely: a terrible fate to contemplate. 

MORRIS: I think there are two categories of givens, to use your excellent term: the essential ones, like breathing, feeding, drinking, temperature control and so on – those are class A givens because, without those, you quickly die. The class B givens, which are the ones that you’re interested in, make you thoroughly miserable if they are not met, but don’t kill you. 

TYRRELL: Some people kill themselves when class B needs aren’t met, though. 

MORRIS: Well, that’s right. So let’s say that from slightly miserable through to clinically depressed and suicidal is the range of conditions you suffer from if your class B givens are not satisfied, and they are the ones that have been ignored. No one can ignore the class A givens. But, back in the 50s and 60s, learning psychologists argued that everything else is conditioning. They thought that we came into the world as a blank slate and society wrote everything on it. When I said that this was wrong and that we had a whole lot of other needs, I was vilified. 

TYRRELL: You say in your new book that art began with a need – to celebrate a special occasion. 

MORRIS: Quite so. Life for a herbivore is just non-stop solitary eating whereas, when you kill a large animal, you suddenly have a feast to enjoy and you want to celebrate the knowledge that the tribe isn’t going to starve. So the feast became hugely important to our hunter–gatherer ancestors. Our playful primate brains couldn’t do what lions do – sleep for 16 hours after a hunt and a meal – that didn’t suit our type of brain. We had to celebrate! To make this a special occasion, we started singing, dancing, painting our faces and telling stories. That, I believe, was the root of art. I can’t prove it but when you look at child art, and at the extraordinary artistic creativity throughout all cultures, producing art seems to have become an innate need. We have to visually improve the environment and make it more interesting and this has come out of that early need to celebrate I think. 

A celebration wasn’t just a playful thing – it was beyond that; it also cemented the social bonds of the tribe. You only have to look at the present hunting ritual of the football match to see the way supporters are cemented together by their love of Darlington United or whatever. If it is their club, they care desperately about the goal being scored, because the scoring of the goal is a metaphorical killing of the prey. And, if they win the cup, huge celebrations occur. The passion and emotion that goes into a simple ball game is extraordinary because it recreates that ancient circumstance and gives people a chance to celebrate. 

This whole story of elaborating the environment through art, making everything more attractive, more colourful, more complicated, more exaggerated, seems to me to be so deeply engrained that you have to start thinking, well, maybe this is a given too – a deep seated innate need. I don’t see it as an emotional need; I see it in terms of brain activity – the human brain abhors inactivity. One way it adds activity is in what I call adult play: the arts, scientific research, all the activities that we look upon as our greatest achievements are really just forms of adult play. We are exercising the brain and keeping the brain busy and, if you don’t do that in some way or another, then you cannot flourish. 

TYRRELL: Yes. What we talk about is the innate need to be physically and mentally stretched in several ways. A busy brain is a healthy brain. We find meaning in activity. 

MORRIS: It’s a tremendously important given. I have travelled all over the world, 107 countries now, and haven’t yet found a culture where this need for meaningful activity or play doesn’t apply. I was in an extremely remote part of Africa once, where the people were scratching a living, just surviving; their houses were a few sticks. It was the most appalling inhospitable place I had ever been to; the temperature was about 130 ̊F. They had no belongings – just a couple of spears, a cooking pot and a few goats. Then I looked at their loincloths and they were covered in beads. One particular one had a button and zip fasteners stitched into it; these would have been scraps of rubbish they found somewhere.

TYRRELL: Isn’t that strange? And it goes right the way back. Some amazing 30,000 year-old bead costumes were uncovered in a burial site near to Moscow. There were thousands of ivory mammoth beads and it was estimated that each one of them took an hour to drill! 

MORRIS: The thing is, provided your tribe has the basic survival needs covered, food, shelter and so on, the primate brain won’t let people sit around doing nothing. It isn’t designed that way, so, once you are beyond survival, you have to keep your brain active or you become stressed. 

TYRRELL: But what about these tribes in South America that spend hours lying about in ham- mocks? A lot of people seem to be content to do very little – in our culture too. 

MORRIS: Yes, I have one of those hammocks; it took a girl three years to make. It’s a work of art. I am thinking of some tribes in Columbia, which shut a girl away when she first menstruates, allowing her out only at night, to be washed by her mother. She is isolated in a room and has to stay there for her teenage years making a hammock. It is the most beautiful thing, a creative artistic act, rather than something for resting on. When she has finished her hammock, she is released and there is a ritual dance in which she bumps into young men and knocks them over and, after the dance, she chooses one of them and I suppose they get to use the hammock. But, as for doing very little, yes, there are some tribes who at a very early stage discovered narcotics and magic mushrooms and all these other natural narcotics. The one way that you can overcome the human brain’s need for activity is to drug it, and narcotics have been used for centuries for that. 

TYRRELL: You mentioned child art earlier. I found your descriptions in The Artistic Ape of the innate progression of child art fascinating. 

MORRIS: It is. A colleague of mine went all over the world giving children paper and pencils and found that, at certain ages, they all draw exactly the same things. She was absolutely astonished. They all start by scribbling, then eventually get round to drawing a circle, then put marks inside the circle. Then they gradually organise those marks into a face and have legs and arms coming out of it. This behaviour is universal, as is drawing the sun with rays coming out of it – wherever you go, if children draw the sun, they draw rays coming out of it. But these rays don’t exist in nature! 

TYRRELL: So why do they draw them? 

MORRIS: I don’t know! It’s part of my work to look at specific responses like this and try to work them out. Why is it, for instance, that chimpanzees, without any knowledge of snakes, are still terrified of them, and why is it that children living in this country are also frightened of snakes when there aren’t any poisonous snakes here? It is because their ancestors had to avoid poisonous snakes that we maintain what I call a deep-seated snake response – I wouldn’t call it an emotion. 

TYRRELL: I would. It’s an innate fear response, and fear is an emotion. 

MORRIS: Well, to me the emotion is only part of it – there is a whole lot more. But, yes, it is indisputable that we have emotional needs. Research done on social networking versus face-to-face encounters shows friendship can’t be maintained purely by screen because something happens in a face-to-face encounter that is totally different. We are a tribal animal and need face-to-face communication, interaction that is subtler than you get via a screen. I was having lunch last week with a behavioural psychologist friend and we were trying to analyse what it is about face-to-face communication that satisfies the social need more than the computer does. A lot of it has to do with smiling and humour and the incidentals of the meeting. 

TYRRELL: In your book you say that art is “making the extraordinary out of the ordinary to entertain the brain.” Isn’t that a bit like psychologist Nicholas Humphrey’s silly idea that consciousness just evolved for us to entertain ourselves? 

MORRIS: I should have said, “to exercise the brain”, perhaps, because entertainment sounds just like a bit of fun. Of course, entertainment is fun, because it exercises the brain and involves play. As I said, one of our special qualities is that we have extended playfulness and curiosity from childhood into adulthood. It is possible, of course, if circumstances grind us down, to lose playfulness. And, of course, the worst thing for us mentally was the introduction of farming, because it turned us back into animals doing repetitive acts, so we were bending over planting rice all day, like a herbivore spending all day chewing. Hunting, on the other hand, was always challenging and full of excitement, skill, brainwork, adventure and danger. Suddenly, through agriculture, we got ourselves into a boring repetitive world that can eventually dull the brain. 

TYRRELL: That dulling seems to happen to a lot of children when they first go to school! In the first few years of life, the world is totally fascinating and then school changes everything. Wordsworth clearly meant this when he wrote, “Heaven lies about us in our infancy! But shades of the prison-house begin to close upon the growing boy.”

I was always intrigued by the direct vision that children have, and that sometimes adults get, when looking at something absolutely magical: a butterfly, a flower, a sunset, a beautiful body – anything in the natural world. But then we seem to want to make a painting or take a photograph of this wonder we can see. I studied fine art at art college and I can see the fascination, and I think your book goes some way to explaining it. It’s almost as if we ourselves are a metaphor for consciousness witnessing creation and that somewhere inside ourselves we intuit this unconsciously and we paint a picture or take a photograph as a way of participating in the process of creation. We simply have to do something with our experience. But there is never ever going to be a painting that captures that initial experience that a child has when he or she first stares at a raindrop or a flower. I can remember those intense feelings of connection to Nature when looking at something in that fresh, childlike way. No painting can recapture that feeling.

MORRIS: Painters that copy the raindrop or the butterfly are a small part of the history of art. Most artists will look at the butterfly and the peacock and say, “My goodness! That is fantastic!” but they aren’t going to attempt to copy it. The copying of the butterfly was something that happened in European art, partly because it had the job of recording history. Early religious art doesn’t copy nature at all. That didn’t happen until a few centuries ago and then suddenly it became the thing to do and the greatest artist was the one who could capture the exact glitter of a butterfly’s wing. 

TYRRELL: I agree but I am saying that the feeling you get with direct perception is rarely got from art objects and I am just intrigued by this. People obviously derive great pleasure from decorating themselves and their environment. But the pleasure we get from these things is of a different quality than directly perceiving and contemplating Nature. Art is about something else. I understand you to be saying that it is good for the brain to be doing something – anything – and decoration, celebrating, dancing, music, painting, all those things that we do, including science, satisfy this need. But there are other direct ways of knowing, too. You paint, of course. 

MORRIS: I do and with art there are two stages; you have to make it before you look at it. With a rainbow you don’t do anything except look at it. But in art, that earlier stage, the making of it, is what is important. You don’t try to copy nature; you try, in your own mind, to improve on it. So humans may put red and yellow paint on their faces and feathers in their hair, etc. In other words, you are trying to exaggerate natural things. You find pigments you can use to intensify the colours that exist. The dull ochre of the earth suddenly becomes bright reds and blues and greens. Art intensifies certain aspects. 

The beauty of a butterfly is something unmatchable because the planet happens to be beautiful. We are very lucky. And the variety of colours, shapes and patterns available to us on Earth just happen to be extremely complex, compared with, say, Mars or the moon. We have a wonderful planet and I have been exploring it all my life. However, what also fascinates me is that, in every culture, that isn’t enough for people. We have to make our own beauty as well as see the natural beauty. When you make your own beauty you exaggerate, purify, simplify, intensify or change the natural shapes, so that what you are looking at is a distilled and exaggerated form of what’s there. 

TYRRELL: Indeed, you link the display behaviour of animals to those basic ‘rules’ that art employs, like exaggeration, purification, composition, refinement, thematic variation. They may have to make themselves more conspicuous to win a mate. 

MORRIS: This is something special to us that we don’t share with other animals: art as a piece of behaviour. I try to explain how the creative drive arose through having a primate brain and hunter–gatherer lifestyle. I think of art as the greatest accolade one can give to our species. The artistic production of the last 40,000 years is to me the most extraordinary aspect of our species and the fact that we can respond to a sunset isn’t as important to me as the way in which people have exaggerated, intensified, purified and modified the natural world because there you are seeing the human brain in operation: that’s what fascinates me. I find that, if I go to another country, of course I can enjoy the beauty of the undergrowth in the tropical rainforest or the colour of the poisonous frogs, or whatever, but I am actually as excited by the artefacts that I find among the tribes who live there. I don’t see them as in competition or as one being more important than the other; to me, they are two aspects of living. 

TYRRELL: When I was an art student I wanted to paint like Max Ernst did in his jungle scenes – he would start with an eye, which would become an imaginary creature, and a vast dream- like landscape would grow around it. As I know you are interested in surrealism, could you say something about that?

MORRIS: With surrealism you start from scratch without having to worry about representing the external world, so that meant I could explore strange shapes and, as a zoologist, I was interested in biological shapes. So my paintings are of biomorphic imagery and I use my know- ledge of biological shapes, particularly under the microscope, as a starting point. When I was studying the display behaviour of animals, for instance, I realised that in the animal world a red spot was not just a red spot. There were dozens of kinds of red spots. Some of them had a redness that got more intense towards the centre of the spot or towards the periphery or the outline had a slight repetition in it. For most people, though, a red spot is a red spot. But using what I knew from biology in my painting meant that I could make a hundred different kinds of red spot if I wanted to. 

Then I realised that I could change shapes and introduce my own evolution of ‘biomorphs’ in my painting and that’s what I’ve been doing since the 1940s. I am still inventing new shapes and images. The political side of surrealism didn’t interest me at all. It was just that surrealism released me from the chains that were holding back the artist in me when I was a young man. I didn’t want to copy a still life, a bottle on a table with an apple. I admire the technical skill of someone who can paint an apple to look exactly like an apple but, as far as I am concerned, I’d rather look at an apple. 

TYRRELL: Yes, but artists might paint something fairly realistic within a specific context that gives it metaphorical significance. A rotten apple can symbolise corruption, for example, or a fading sunset the end of life or whatever. And that does move people. 

MORRIS: Well, I thought that painting a vase of flowers in art class was an effete activity and wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Then I, too, discovered Max Ernst and thought, “This is absolutely amazing,” and then I found Goya’s horrors of war, which were so moving, and I realised art could be something more than just an arrangement of flowers. Landscape paintings seemed to me to be such an inferior version of the real thing, no matter how well done. But when I came across artists who put their own stamp on it, painting a landscape in a strange way so that it wasn’t quite like a real one, but something more – exaggerating certain aspects, eliminating others, perhaps purifying the colours – that’s when I started to get interested.

You have to remember that, back in the 40s when I started painting, Picasso was looked upon as a madman. When I exhibited my paintings, I was told they should all be burned in a furnace because, in those days, if you were going to paint, it had to be a landscape, a portrait or a still life. If you did anything else you were considered a lunatic. Queen Victoria wouldn’t give Turner a knighthood because she said he was mad. What Turner was doing is exactly what I am talking about. He was taking a landscape and then exaggerating some elements and reducing others and creating his own version, which was very exciting – way ahead of his time. Although, he was strange. Very strange, actually. 

TYRRELL: That is something I wanted to ask you about. A great many artistic people I have met, and dead ones I’ve read about, are eccentric and quite dysfunctional in their private lives. In Godhead: the brain’s big bang, the book Joe Griffin and I wrote about what happened when we suddenly accessed imagination about 40,000 years ago, we discuss this very thing. Simultaneously with becoming creative, we began suffering from mental illnesses because, to be creative and see things that aren’t there, you need a touch of psychoticism. But, also, to stick at something for long periods, you have to be a bit autistic. So the downside of this evolutionary urge for creativity, for looking back at the universe, as it were, was the production of dysfunctional people. A lot of artists have really quite cruel relationships with people. Or they are quite context blind, like Eric Gill. He was a deeply religious Catholic, yet had incestuous relationships with his young daughters. It is a heavy price to pay for creativity, isn’t it, to risk madness? 

MORRIS: Funny you should say that. When I was researching this latest book I realised that, as you have just described very accurately, an awful lot of painters are deeply disturbed. I kept hitting this fact. 

TYRRELL: You do allude to it. 

MORRIS: The more I read about the extraordinary personalities of the artists, the more astonished I became. I now know things about Van Gogh, for instance, that I couldn’t put into print. He was an extreme case but there were a lot of others. Leonardo was a procrastinator. Rembrandt was a spendthrift, who had to sell his wife’s tombstone to pay off his debts. And, of course, Caravaggio – that murderous thug, how on earth did he ever sit down to paint those marvellous pictures? He even tried to castrate someone. I think an awful lot of creative people, not just painters, are remarkably disturbed and I plan to write about this next. My working title is Flaws of the Famous. I actually started thinking that you have almost got to be a bit mad to be an artist and then I remembered Henry Moore, an old chum of mine. Henry was the exact opposite, completely down to earth, could have been a Yorkshire farmer, and yet he was the most creative sculptor of the 20th century – in my opinion – and nothing odd about him at all. 

So madness isn’t essential, but disturbed behaviour in no way inhibits artistic talent. If you look at Caravaggio’s work and you don’t know anything about his private life, you’d never in a million years guess what he was like from his paintings. There is no relationship at all. Yet, in Francis Bacon’s case, you can see a relationship. He was an extreme masochist, as you probably know. He said to me one day, “I think I’ve got the scream but I’m having terrible trouble with the smile.” And I thought, “Francis, yes, that sums up your work rather well.” Of course, the silent scream is something associated with extreme forms of masochism and appears in so many of his paintings. So there probably is a link there, if a minor one. His crucified figures are him, of course, not Christ, which was something that was totally misunderstood – and is why they wouldn’t have him in the surrealist movement. He was very keen to join but they said his crucified figures were too religious. Francis, for whatever reason, didn’t like to tell them that they were self-portraits. Knowing both Francis and Henry Moore taught me that there is no way you can make a blanket statement about the relationship between an artist and his work. 

TYRRELL: There are lots of mysteries in the arts. I think you should definitely follow up this weird behaviour element. 

MORRIS: The reason I haven’t so far is because I couldn’t find a common link. I think now that there doesn’t seem to be one. The message seems to be that you can be almost any sort of personality and still produce great art. Balthus’s interest in very young girls shows in all his paintings, so his disturbance is very obvious, whereas, with Rembrandt, there is no sign in his work of his overspending lunacies. 

TYRRELL: Couldn’t it be that a lot of these creative people are slightly on the autistic spectrum? They don’t have the same sense of self as every- one else and are context blind. A lot of these eccentric behaviours we see are the result of context blindness, the one feature that runs throughout the autistic spectrum. But creative people also have access to the psychotic brain to imagine things that aren’t actually there, and that side of them, maybe right- or left-brain or whatever, sometimes touches something sublime and lets them do what Caravaggio and other great painters have done. This psychological flaw, where the templates to read context have been disturbed, is what sends them on a search for meaning. I believe something like that is the link you’re looking for. 

MORRIS: Yes, I often wonder—but, as a scientist, I have to be concerned with extreme objectivity. That is my discipline, and I have to look at a species and try to report on its behaviour with- out influencing it from my own personality. I have to be totally objective in my analysis and that’s what I tried to be in The Naked Ape. We can’t be more than animals because, genetically, that is all that we are – but we are exceptional animals. 

In all our status battles and social gatherings, we are just like chimpanzees. It’s when it comes to creativity, inventiveness and innovation that we are unlike animals. Interesting research on Japanese macaques showed that the youngest members of the troop were the innovative ones. It was the young monkeys that learned to wash potatoes to get rid of the grit and the older monkeys, which had lost that sense of innovation, were the last ones to adopt this new discovery. Gradually, this innovation spread through the troop but the higher up the troop the slower the spread. So you had this contradiction that the animal with authority didn’t innovate. The animals with no authority, the young ones, had the creativity and ability to innovate but that meant progress was very slow. In our species, many old people can’t stand new-fangled ideas and technology but the difference between macaques and us is huge – the grumpy old man who doesn’t like new-fangled things doesn’t have the impact on society that the older monkeys have on their troop. This is why our societies have remained open to new discoveries and inventions, and the healthier the culture the more open it is to them. 

On my travels I occasionally hit a society under a tyranny and, my goodness, I am glad to get out of it. I was in Russia back in the 60s and it was really depressing because you could feel the whole culture had been suppressed. I feel so lucky to have lived in a time when we are free to express ourselves creatively. It is sad to think that it is possible for a political system to impose itself on the playfulness of the people. Politics tends to forget that we are a playful species. What interests me, however, is what speeded up the creativity factor – I haven’t dealt with it in the book because I am still puzzled over it. Something seems to have happened at a certain stage, all those tens of thousands of years ago. 

TYRRELL: Yes, the explosive origin of creativity. It was so sudden! Those lovely horses and bears painted in the Chauvet cave 32,000 years ago, drawings which the average person couldn’t do now and yet, just a few years before that, there was no sign of anything comparable in Europe, Africa or anywhere else. They are better than the paintings done at Lascaux about 14,000 years later, which is another weird thing. 

Joe Griffin and I have a theory about this. Michel Jouvet’s laboratory work with cats and dogs demonstrated that animals dream in the REM state and, as we are obviously animals – as you keep reminding me! – it is no surprise that humans also dream. The REM state is a kind of internal theatre. Joe Griffin studied dreaming and he made the major discovery that dreams are metaphorical means of deactivating unexpressed emotional arousals from the previous day. For safety reasons, all mammals have to suppress arousals in certain circumstances, and these patterns of arousal are discharged by dreaming. 

Our pre-modern human ancestors would have had this internal metaphorical theatre and then, presumably through some mutation, we somehow became able to access that metaphorical imagination whilst awake and daydream. From then on, by daydreaming, we could solve problems in our imagination. That brought more complex language: a past tense and a future tense, instead of the present tense that animal language is stuck in. All animal language is oriented to the present moment – signalling of one sort or another. It is only when you have access to imagination that you can draw people’s attention to what happened last year or the year before that or imagine what the consequence of actions you propose to take might be. You can also reflect about people who have died and ask fundamental questions like, “What happens when we die?” 

MORRIS: Yes! That’s the point I make about religion, too; it couldn’t start until we had a future tense. You can only think about death if you have a future tense and then you suddenly ask, “What is going to happen to me when I die?” So you visualise an afterlife. We don’t, of course, know or not if there is some other form of existence. As a scientist, I have to say that the evidence is against it, but I have no proof. So the future tense enables us to visualise the afterlife and this is my definition of religion. But I absolutely agree with you. I have always said that developing the future and past tenses was a crucially important step in our evolution. 

TYRRELL: We could talk about abstractions for the first time. It expanded the context in which we lived a thousand-fold. 

MORRIS: And it meant that, at a certain point in our evolution, we became symbolisers. 

TYRRELL: And that’s connected to dreaming, although the explosive evolutionary development – the relationship between consciousness, day-dreaming, metaphor, language and creativity – hasn’t really been teased out by scientists yet. Most people don’t talk about these topics in a holistic way. Why, for example, did people go deep down under mountains to paint pictures on cave walls? One reason could be that, down there, you didn’t have the distractions that you had out- side, when you had to be alert to every rustle in every bush and every blast of wind or sudden movement, or whatever. To go underground so as to really concentrate and draw mammoths, horses, bears, rhinoceroses and all the other things they painted and drew so beautifully would initially have required great discipline. It also required the ability to go into a trancelike state and draw from memory, whilst awake and interacting with material things like the paint, candlelight and rock surfaces. I’m sure it was an amazing evolutionary jump of more significance than most people realise. 

MORRIS: It was. I was lucky that I went into Lascaux before it was closed. That wonderful image of the Lascaux horse, which I use at the beginning of the book – it is just extraordinary. The impact of that visit on me was enormous and I came away full of questions of the kind you are asking.

TYRRELL: What is remarkable in some of the caves is the over-painting or over-drawing – you look up at the roof and the guides tell you there are mammoths there and all sorts, and you think, “Well I can’t see them!” Then gradually you can, and you realise that they have been overdrawn again and again. Overdrawing is what autistic children do. That is another clue pointing towards what I was suggesting earlier, about how the consciousness we have now is connected to autism and psychosis. 

MORRIS: Well, yes, that certainly is interesting. 

TYRRELL: In The Artistic Ape, you raise the issue of long-lasting religious societies, such as those of Ancient Egypt, or Christianity itself, having a constraining effect on the playfulness of artists, yet most people would still say, even if they are not religious, that walking into a cathedral or beautiful mosque is a stunning experience. 

MORRIS: A rule introduced quite early on in the Islamic story forbade pictorial imagery of any kind. That restriction was fairly widely imposed but I also make the point that the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, where there is not a single pictorial image, has an enormous aesthetic impact. When you get religious control over the form of art, it can’t stop the artistic impulse – all it does is to push it in a different direction. So, much Islamic art became abstract and the abstract art of Islam is glorious. To me it is a shame that there should be an inhibition of any kind but, if you are suppressed, you find a way round it. 

TYRRELL: When you bring up children you need to set boundaries for them and I suppose the boundaries set by the religious cultures in those days was actually good for art because creative people had to make an extra effort to rise above them. They strived to produce something new within the limitations. When you restrain energy, chaos retreats. 

MORRIS: The poet Alan Ginsberg, a true free spirit, once told me that his father had written these words: “Without its banks where would a river be?” 

TYRRELL: That is a beautiful metaphor for what I was trying to say. 

MORRIS: If you can’t have bright colours, you build a cathedral. So restrictions can be valuable in controlling the water in the river – but you can still be creative without them. 

TYRRELL: Without those restrictions, perhaps we might not have achieved so much. Having restrictions sort of kick-starts creativity. 

MORRIS: It’s true that even the most tyrannical cultures, if you think of the Aztecs and the Incas in pre-Columbian South America, for instance, produced great pyramids and works of art. I think this in some ways encapsulates the whole essence of my book: you can’t keep the human artist down, no matter what you do.


Desmond Morris is an internationally renowned zoologist, ethologist, anthropologist, writer and broadcaster. He is the author of many bestselling books on human and animal behaviour, including The Naked Ape, Manwatching and Babywatching. He is also a surrealist artist whose work has been exhibited alongside pieces by Spanish painter Joan Miró. His latest book, The Artistic Ape: three million years of art, is published by Red Lemon Press at £30.00. 

Ivan Tyrrell is the Editorial Director of Human Givens and co-founder of the human givens approach to achieving mental health. His latest book, Godhead:the brain’s big bang, co-written with Joe Griffin, explores the links between creativity, mysticism and mental illness.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Myth of Man, the Mind of Man


"Man is a myth-maker. Myth, when manipulated by unregenerates, is an even more effective man-maker. Man (as he imagines himself to be), in general, is a possibility, not a fact. For most people, the sort of man whom they imagine to exist, or assume themselves to be, does not yet exist." (Idries Shah, 1968)*

“Just before he died, while he was ICR's Director of Studies... Idries Shah amassed a vast amount of material about human ideas and ways of thought. This material, provisionally entitled 'the Myth of Man/the Mind of Man' was intended to become the basis for monographs to be published by ICR and a template for ICR activities. He was unable to finish this project. However, after his death, Cultural Research Services, which acts as the executive of ICR, used this material to find speakers for lectures and workshops and to commission monographs."(Saira Shah, 2013)**


Monograph Series No. 30 

The Role of 'Primitive' People in Identifying and Approaching Human Problems

Contributed by Cultural Research Services

paperback, 22 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0-904674-20-0

This monograph examines the urge to innovate and push out the frontiers of knowledge which has been a characteristic of human thought from man's earliest days. It shows how people -- from the most 'primitive' to the most 'advanced' -- have dealt with human problems in similar ways. This course, set so early in our evolution, has contributed not only to our survival, but to the capacity of the human mind to make startling conceptual leaps. 



Monograph Series No. 31

The Use of Omens, Magic and Sorcery for Power and Hunting

Contributed by Cultural Research Services

paperback, 24 pages, ISBN 978-0-904674-21-7

Early man can, perhaps be called fully human only from the moment he developed his capacity for symbolic and analogical thought. This monograph examines the impact of this breakthrough, focussing on the development of a system of 'magical' thinking, which man has consistently attempted to apply. It discusses the processes behind the remarkably durable and constant 'laws' of magic and it looks at residues of magical thinking which have remained up to the present day. 



Monograph Series No. 32

Ritual from the Stone Age to the Present Day

Contributed by Cultural Research Services

paperback, 24 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0-904674-22-4

In the modern world, our lives are imbued with the residues of rituals which would amaze us if we knew the antiquity of their origins. However, the structure of this fundamental pattern of human thought is poorly understood. This monograph examines the origins and role of ritual throughout history and in the foundations underpinning our lives today and uncovers the startling fact that some rituals may predate the origin of modern man himself. 



Monograph Series No. 33

Problem-solving and the Evolution of Human Culture

Stephen Mithen

paperback, 24 pages, ISBN 978-0-904674-25-5

This paper takes an archaeologist's perspective and traces the role of the adaptation to new problems in the development of human culture. It shows how one major solution-- for instance the rise of agriculture-- in turn created a myriad of new problems to be solved.



Monograph Series No. 34 

Cultural Identity: Solution or Problem?

Peter Wade

paperback, 24 pages, ISBN 978-0-904674-26-2

Cultures were once seen as stable and unchanging. During the past century anthropologists have gradually moved away from this view to one of cultures as flexible and shifting. Ironically their earlier findings have often been absorbed by the very cultures they studied and used by them in defining their own identity.


Inventions and Inventing: Finding Solutions to Practical Problems

Kevin Byron

paperback, 30 pages, ISBN 978-0-904674-27-9

Dr. Byron traces the history of invention and its landmarks from very early times to the present day with its unprecedented network of innovative interaction. He considers the creative process itself and the circumstances in which it flourishes.



Problems, Myths and Stories

Doris Lessing

paperback, 20 pages, ISBN 978-0-904674-28-6

In the present-day West, stories are often regarded as mere entertainment. In other times and other places we find a different view: stories provide instruction for the young and are part of a general education, often conveying what cannot be conveyed by other means. Here is a huge treasure-house of literature which has helped to make us what we are.



Monograph Series No. 37 

Modern Primitives: The Recurrent Ritual of Adornment

Contributed by Cultural Research Services

paperback, 20 pages, ISBN 978-0-904674-29-3

This study sees present-day forms of body adornment-- piercing, tattooing, branding-- as part of an unbroken tradition practised by tribal groupings over centuries and in all parts of the world. It examines what these practices may have signified in the cultures in which they originated and how they are to be understood in modern Western society. 



Monograph Series No. 38 

The Pagan Saviours: Pagan Elements in Christian Ritual and Doctrine

Contributed by Cultural Research Services

paperback, 24 pages, ISBN 978-0-904674-30-9

The development of Christian ritual owed much to the pagan mystery cults (e.g. Mithraism) of ancient Greece and Rome. In this paper many of the extraordinary similarities are identified and the question of how ritual may prove more durable than its original context is discussed. 



Monograph Series No. 39

The Marketing of Christianity: The Evolution of Early Christian Doctrine

Contributed by Cultural Research Services

paperback, 24 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0-904674-31-6

The form that Christianity takes today, its doctrines and dogma, owes an untold amount to the personalities and disagreements of the Apostles. In this monograph, we see how in its early days this major religion would have taken quite other directions and how these were gradually marginalised and eventually lost, thanks mainly to the outstanding persuasive skills of one man: St. Paul. 



Monograph Series No. 40 

The Press Gang: The World in Journalese

Philip Howard

paperback, 22 pages, ISBN 978-0-904674-32-3

Many people read and read more in newspapers than in any other print medium. In a witty essay, Philip Howard of The Times draws on years of experience as a journalist to identify and analyse the nature of this almost universal literary style: Journalese.



Monograph Series No. 41 

Taboos: Structure and Rebellion

Lynn Holden

paperback, 28 pages, ISBN 978-0-904674-33-0

Dr. Holden looks at the origins and variety of taboos in many cultures and traces their persistence and influence in present-day societies.



Monograph Series No. 42 

Paranormal Perception? A Critical Evaluation

Christopher C. French

paperback, 28 pages, ISBN 978-0-904674-34-7

The author describes different types of paranormal experience and argues that, whether ESP exists or not, we should nonetheless expect it to be widely and often reported.



Monograph Series No. 43 

The Unseen World: The Rise of Gods and Spirits

Contributed by Cultural Research Services

paperback, 24 pages, ISBN 978-0-904674-35-4

This monograph examines ways in which, over thousands of years, human beings have attempted to answer questions about the nature of reality. It considers some of the solutions, religious, magical and other, which they have devised. Many of these solutions, despite having lost their usefulness, survive even into the present day.



Monograph Series No. 44 

Godmakers: The First Idols

Contributed by Cultural Research Services

paperback, 24 pages, ISBN 978-0-904674-36-1

People have always used images to embody gods and spirits, no doubt in an effort to give form to the intangible and render it more comprehensible. This paper looks at some of the many ways in which human beings have tried to do this and what they have derived from the endeavour. 



Monograph Series No. 45

The Universal Ego

Alexander King

ISSN 0306 1906, ISBN 978-0-904674-37-8
Published 2005 A5, 20 pages

Dr King, former Director General for Science, Technology and Education at the OECD, discusses the idea that at some point in time a 'vivifying phenomenona'-- the Universal Ego-- of his title entered the process of evolution to produce the Universe and the World as we now see it. He stresses the importance of developing an awareness of its continuing, and not always beneficial, operation in human life.


Monograph Series No. 46

Conclusions from Controlled UFO Hoaxes

David Simpson

ISSN 0306 1906, ISBN 978-0-904674-38-5
Published 2005 A5, 32 pages

The 1960s and 70s were a time of keen interest and belief in unidentified flying objects (UFOs). David Simpson, until 2001 on the staff of the National Physical Laboratory, describes how he and some friends were drawn to test these beliefs with a series of hoaxes. He shows how belief can persist even in the face of evidence which completely discredits it.


Monograph Series No. 47

Jokes and Groups

Christie Davies

ISSN 0306 1906, ISBN 978-0-904674-39-2
Published 2005 A5, 32 pages

For many years Professor of Sociology at Reading University, Christie Davies here examines how jokes operate within social groups. Using many examples ranging from disaster jokes to jokes about social and ethnic groups, he suggests that the most significant aspect of jokes is not what they reveal about their tellers, but what they tell us about societies which object to them.



Monograph Series No. 48 

Creative Translation

David Pendlebury

ISSN 0306 1906, ISBN 978-0-904674-40-8
Published 2005 A5, 24 pages

The author examines the creative process involved in the translation of poetry, taking his examples from German and from the Persian classical poets. He contends that the difficulty of conveying the full range of meaning in such works in another language should not discourage people from making the attempt, and offers some practical advice to those who feel inspired to do so.



Monograph Series No. 49

The Crusades as Connection: Cultural transfer during the Holy Wars

Contributed by Cultural Research Services

ISSN 0306 1906, ISBN 978-0-904674-41-5
Published 2006 A5, 32 pages

The time of the Crusades is often depicted as one of unrelenting animosity between Christianity and Islam. This monograph presents another view: in parallel with the savage hostility, there are many recorded instances of warm relationships between Franks and Muslims, as well as an acceptance of each others religious views and practices. Then, as today, the conflict between two cultures, while exposing their differences, offered an opportunity for greater study and understanding. 


Monograph Series No. 50

Baptised Sultans: The contribution of Frederick II of Sicily in the transfer and adaptation of Oriental ideas to the West

Contributed by Cultural Research Services

ISSN 0306 1906, ISBN 978-0-904674-42-2
Published 2006 A5, 32 pages

Born in the last years of the 12th Century, Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily, has been called "the first modern man upon a throne". Twice excommunicated, self-crowned King of Jerusalem, he maintained close contacts with the Muslim world in defiance of Papal authority, and provided a channel for bringing Islamic and Greek cultural, philosophical and scientific concepts to Europe. 


Monograph Series No. 51

Brain Development During Adolescence and Beyond

Dr. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

ISSN 0306 1906, ISBN 978-0-904674-43-9
Published 2007 A5, 20 pages

Until relatively recently, it was widely believed that the brain ceases to develop after childhood. However, recent research has demonstrated that the human brain continues to develop during adolescence and beyond. Dr. Blakemore describes the developmental processes that occur in certain parts of the brain during adolescence, and the implications of this development for teenagers. She also describes recent studies showing that the human brain may retain its 'plasticity' throughout adult life. 


Monograph Series No. 52

Collective Behaviour and the Physics of Society

Philip Ball

ISSN 0306 1906, ISBN 978-0-904674-44-6
Published 2007 A5, 32 pages

In this monograph, Philip Ball suggests that certain kinds of social behaviour are collective phenomena that do not follow in any trivial or easily anticipated way from individual behaviour. They may best be analysed by importing some of the tools and techniques that have been developed in the physical sciences for describing systems composed of many interacting entities. Understanding such forms of collective behaviour may in the future be vital to the creation and maintenance of a stable, just and equitable society. 


Monograph Series No. 53


Dr. Kevin Byron

ISSN 0306 1906, ISBN 978-0-904674-45-3
Published 2008 A5, 26 pages

Dr. Kevin Byron received his doctorate in applied physics from the University of Hull and after graduation spent some 25 years in research in the telecommunication industry. In 2001 he was awarded a research fellowship with The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) in the UK for studies on creativity in education. Kevin is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and a Visiting Senior Fellow to the Physical Sciences branch of the Higher Education Academy at the University of Hull. 


Monograph Series No. 54

Music, Pleasure and the Brain

Dr. Harry Witchel

ISSN 0306 1906, ISBN 978-0-904674-46-0
Published 2008 A5, 19 pages

Dr. Harry Witchel received his PhD in Physiology from the University of California at Berkeley. He continued his wide-ranging research at the Medical School in Bristol (UK). This included work on the effects of emotionally arousing stimuli ( on autonomic activity. In 2003 he was a Visiting Professor at the University of Florence, Italy, and in 2004 he received the national honour of being chosen for The Charles Darwin Award Lecture by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a popular lecturer at science festivals throughout the UK, and has participated in many public programmes for The Royal Society, The Royal Institution, BBC Television, Midweek with Libby Purves on Radio 4, Café Scientifique, the Dana Centre for the Brain, and the University of Bristol. He is at present with the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, University of Sussex. 


Monograph Series No. 55

Fields of the Mind

Dr. Rupert Sheldrake

ISSN 0306 1906 ISBN 978-0-904674-47-7
Published 2009 A5, 20 pages

Dr Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of more than 75 technical papers and several books, the most recent being The Sense of Being Stared at, and Other Aspects of the Extended Mind. He studied natural sciences at Cambridge University and philosophy at Harvard, where he was a Frank Knox Fellow. He took a PhD in biochemistry at Cambridge and was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, where he was Director of Studies in biochemistry and cell biology. As a Research Fellow of the Royal Society, he carried out research at Cambridge in developmental biology. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California, and Director of the Perrott-Warrick Research Project funded by Trinity College, Cambridge. 


Monograph Series No. 56

Why do we leave it so late?

David Canter

ISSN 0306 1906 ISBN 978-0-904674-48-4
Published 2009 A5, 28 pages

We need to understand the social psychological processes that introduce inertia into our reactions to our environment, and limit our ability to reduce environmental threats. These are the same processes that have led to many emergencies in the past getting out of control to become disasters, despite clear early warnings of imminent danger. These ways of relating to each other, and the habits of where we do what, underpin our slowness to respond to the demands of climate change. 


Monograph Series No. 57

Scheherazade and the global mutation of teaching stories

Robert Irwin

ISSN 0306 1906 ISBN 978-0-904674-49-1
Published 2010 A5, 24 pages

In this wide-ranging essay, renowned Arabist Robert Irwin outlines the history and purpose of teaching stories, their role in the Islamic mystical tradition and the didactic uses of tales from The Arabian Nights to modern science fiction.


Monograph Series No. 58

Consciousness, will and responsibility

Chris Frith

ISSN 0306 1906 ISBN 978-0-904674-50-7
Published 2010 A5, 32 pages

Recent advances in our ability to observe the human brain in action reveal that most of what our brains do never reaches our awareness. Professor Chris Frith, who has pioneered the use of brain imaging to study mental processes, explores the implications of these findings to our understanding of human cooperation, altruism and social responsibility.


Monograph Series No. 59

Extraordinary Voyages of the Panchatantra

Ramsay Wood

ISSN 0306 1906 ISBN 978-0-904674-52-1
Published 2011 A5, 32 pages

What makes the ancient Sanskrit fables of the Panchatantra so durable and well travelled? What role did live storytelling have in their origin and steady migration? What is the function of such stories, if any, beyond entertainment? Why are they so beautiful and hauntingly compelling?