Thursday, July 15, 2010

Malafouris on transforming the "Handaxe Enigma" 1

So, what exactly is this "handaxe enigma"?  Roughly, it is a debate over two different ways in which humans might make Acheulean handaxes: either by intending to make an envisioned symmetrical tool or by intending just to knock off chips.  (In truth, Malafouris at time seems to set up the debate as over an intentional way of making the handaxes versus an unintentional way.)  And one might think that Malafouris' project is to show how EC will help resolve this debate.  See the following, for example:
Broadly speaking there are two main sides in the 'hand axe debate'. On the one hand, we have those archaeologists (e.g. Wynn 1995; 2002) that identify 'conscious intention' behind the symmetry of the hand axe, although as we shall be discussing below, they differ on the precise selective forces or mechanisms that they see as furnishing the main influences on hand axe morphology (for a good summary discussion see Lycett 2008 ). On the other side of the debate, many archaeologists would disagree with the above interpretations arguing that the perceived symmetry in stone tools is simply the consequence of the manufacture technique, rather than the product of human intention (Noble & Davidson 1996; McPherron 2000). On this construal, symmetrical handaxes are simply seen as more effective cutting and chopping tools that do not involve any conscious choice on the part of Acheulean toolmakers (e.g. Ohe11987; Mitchell 1996; Simao 2002).
     How are we then to understand the cognitive life of this object? What questions should we ask of it? My contention is that what we call 'the handaxe enigma' (Wynn 1995) needs to be placed altogether on a different ontological foundation. We need to abandon our common representational/internalist assumptions, and recognize knapping as an act of thought; that is a cognitive act.  (Malafouris, 2010, p. 14).
One might have thought that EC is supposed to help us decide between these two interpretations, but instead (per the last two sentences) EC is just a proposal for rethinking the description of these two alternatives.  This is repeated later.
I propose, that' active externalism' clearly points out that the problem of human intentionality which the handaxe ' enigma' primarily embodies, is grounded on the false assumption that intentional states are 'in the head' whereas in fact in many cases they can be seen to spread out across skin and skull. Consequently, in the last part of this paper, I will attempt to describe knapping as an embodied cognitive process which criss-crosses the boundaries of skin and skull, since its effective implementation involves elements that extend beyond the purely 'mental' or neural realm.  (Malafouris, 2010, p. 17).
 Ok.  So, this transforms the problem.  Now, the handaxe enigma is not about competing hypotheses about intentions in the head, but about competing hypotheses about intentions spread out over brain, body, and world.  I don't see that this does much to address the anthropologists who were interested in the enigma in the first place.

Moreover, one might have hoped that Malafouris would show how EC could help resolve the debate, hence that this would be some evidence in favor of believing in EC.  Yet, we seem only to get an EC reformulation of a debate with no apparent payoff.  Why would this tranformation be helpful?

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