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8. Innovativeness and Symbolism as System Properties

The long-term behavioural stasis typical of the earlier palaeolithic can therefore be understood as the outcome of a system in which the transmission of knowledge through social fields operates at a rate sufficiently slow that novel knowledgeable practices perpetrated by creative agents are unlikely to be perceived by and transmitted to the high-level scale domain of socially incorporated knowledge. Innovation occurs, but it does not persist. Relative to knowledgeable action, socially incorporated knowledge under those conditions functions as a high level static constraint; relative to socially incorporated knowledge, knowledgeable action is a static low-level boundary condition, delivering an averaged and integrated signal upwards through the hierarchy. By the same logic, the innovativeness claimed for modern humans is what would be expected if the rate at which knowledgeable practices were transmitted increased, since it would render high-level domains of knowledgeability sensitive to transformation by low-level events.

Figure 5

Figure 5: 'Archaic' human behaviour and the social construction of personhood. Because the social transmission of knowledge operates at low process rates it is unable to transmit dynamics at both the high process rate, low level domain of knowledgeable action and the intermediate process rate scale domain of the construction of social personhood, to the low process rate, high hierarchical level of socially incorporated knowledge. With respect to both the construction of social personhood and knowledgeable action, socially incorporated knowledge is a static, constraining upper boundary condition. With respect to both socially incorporated knowledge and the construction of social personhood, knowledgeable action is a static lower boundary condition delivering an averaged and integrated 'signal'. Consequently both socially incorporated knowledge and knowledgeable action lie outside the dynamic scale range of the construction of social personhood and are not available for incorporation into its dynamic processes.

The emergence of symbolism can be understood in similar terms. The construction of social personhood occupies a scale domain of knowledgeability, as we have seen, intermediate between the domains of knowledgeable action and socially incorporated knowledge. It emerges from and provides a theatre for practice, and can incorporate not only other people but things, animals and places. If the transmission of knowledge proceeds slowly, then the scalar gulf separating knowledgeable action and socially incorporated knowledge can be so great as to place both beyond the dynamic scale range of the social construction of personhood. In system terms, there can be little or no dynamic interrelation between long-term structures of technical knowledgeability, their creative practical enactment by knowledgeable agents, and the constant relational processes that constitute the attainment and maintenance of personhood (Figure 5). An increase in the rate at which knowledge is socially transmitted, however, by bringing knowledgeable action and socially incorporated knowledge into closer hierarchical proximity, will bring both within the dynamic scale range of the social construction of personhood. Long-term structures of technical knowledge and their manifestation in the practical actions of social agents then become available for incorporation into social personhood (Figure 6) as aspects of socially incorporated genres of material culture, deployed creatively by agents as resources in and proxies for personhood, thereby carrying social signification. Stylistically formalised artefacts, geometric and depictive decorations or shells worked into adornments of the body (all of which are widely recognised as expressions of modern human behaviour) are examples of the expression of personhood through material culture symbolism.

Figure 6

Figure 6: 'Modern' human behaviour and the social construction of personhood. An accelerated rate at which knowledge is transmitted through social fields leads to the high-level scale domain of socially incorporated knowledge becoming sensitive to dynamics at both the intermediate level of the social construction of personhood, and the high process rate, low hierarchical level of knowledgeable action. The three scale domains of knowledge converge upon each other, becoming mutually sensitive and conditioning, so that socially incorporated knowledge and knowledgeable action are available for incorporation into the construction of personhood. Consequently social practices in which personhood is incorporated into the production of and engagement with socially received forms — symbolism — is enabled.


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