Guide to Anthropology for Teachers and Students
Aesthetic Realism Explains a Crucial Social Science / By Arnold Perey, Ph.D.

Anthro TECH Site of the Month Award study sphere award of excellence

Now We Begin

Anthropology (as many texts tell you) is the study of people. It comes from two Greek words: Anthropos and Logos. “Humanity” and “study.” In this context the word anthropos in ancient Greek, which means "man," really means men and women both, or "Humanity."

All this implies that anthropology includes the study of ourselves as well as other peoples. But the understanding of the human self is still very limited in the academic social sciences, so that an anthropologist may know a great deal about Paiute Indian culture and very little about himself. That was the situation I found myself in when I first began to study Aesthetic Realism in 1968 with its founder. Then I began to learn about myself, and humanity as such, with an incomparably new depth and accuracy, based on the principles by Eli Siegel that I quoted on the previous page. Here are the first two again (the second is a different wording than the previous page).

1. The deepest desire of everyone is to like the world on an honest basis.

2. The greatest inward danger of a person is giving way to contempt as a means of establishing one's own personality. Contempt is the addition to self through the lessening of something else.

Through what I was then beginning to learn, Anthropology, the study of people, took on a new dimension for me.

Part 1. Anthropology as a Whole

Anthropology is divided into four fields which correspond, roughly, to combinations of two pairs of opposites: the past and present, and mind and body. The four fields are: (A) Archaeology, (B) Physical anthropology, (C) Linguistics, and (D) Cultural anthropology.

A. Archaeology is the study of people in prehistory, the distant past. Even though archaeologists find only the physical things the people left behind, archaeologists are interested in their minds—for it's their thoughts that shaped these artifacts, conceived of patterns etched on them, thought of seasons and patterns of travel across the landscape guiding tribal movements. Archeologists want to know, for example, did early hunting folk on the Mediterranean shores make summer tents by the shore and winter caves in the hills, and if so, why? What was their language like? Why are some caves in France and Spain like art galleries, with deep recesses filled with paintings? Why are so many rock faces in Africa covered with paintings?

We do a lot of digging to unearth information buried in the ground that tells us about how they lived, what they made, how they may have thought.

These ancient minds had in them pictures of the world. We know these had points of similarity to the pictures of the world in our minds. But they also thought about stone, animals, bone, and wood in a way we do not. The patterns of flint spear points were in their minds, like we have the patterns of ipods and skyscrapers in ours. Their tools are in the ground now. The hands they used to shape these tools are in the ground too. Their feelings come to us through the things they made.

B. Physical anthropology is the study of man as an organism according to Fairchild's Dictionary of Sociology and Related Sciences. That means physical anthropology accentuates body, not mind. But the shapes and sizes of the brains of ancient ancestors are studied too, to learn what they can tell us about the beginnings of our own ability to talk, and think, and feel. Our minds belong to our bodies as much as our livers do.

There are two kinds of physical anthropology. One kind is about the very distant past. The other is about people's bodies today.

The "past" kind of physical anthropology studies evolution—how people today came from a creature millions of years ago that looked like a tree shrew (to put it bluntly). How did it become an ape, then a "man-ape" or Australopithecine, then a fully human being?

The other kind of physical anthropology studies the present-day variations of the human race—how skin color came to be, and eye shapes, and so on. It has been found that there is no difference in the human brain no matter how many differences of skin tone and hair texture there are. The reason for this is beautiful, as we'll see.

DNA is useful in tracking the past and how our ancestors travelled the globe in the last 100,000 years. Their complexions and hair and the overall shapes of their bodies changed to suit different climates and also to meet new ideas of what makes a person beautiful to look at.

C. Linguistics has two branches: historical linguistics studies the past and structural linguistics studies, mosty, languages that are alive today. All linguistics, being the study of language, is part of the study of culture. In that way, linguistics accentuates mind, not body. But inseparable from language is the way you make sounds: the study of what your tongue and teeth and lips and breath do to make syllables and words. Professor Higgins, in My Fair Lady (or Shaw's Pygmalion) was a linguist.

Just as you have a skeleton which evolved throughout a long past, every language today has a mental skeleton, or structure, that evolved over thousands of years. Nouns and verbs are part of that structure for many languages. So, once again, linguistics has two divisions within it: structural linguistics and historical linguistics. One corresponds to the present and the other to the past. But they need each other and are often joined.

D. Cultural Anthropology accentuates mind and the present. Cultural anthropologists (like myself) study the cultures of people living today and try to understand them and describe them accurately. Most anthropologists define culture as learned behavior, and that means it's only the things we do that we have been taught to do consciously and unconsciously. Aesthetic Realism includes in the study of culture all the things we know and do because there is no firm line dividing what we've learned and what we're born knowing.

Instinct and education are opposites that are one everywhere in our thoughts and feelings and behaviors. At birth, we have the biological instinct, for example, to eat. The things we eat are the results of what we've learned and also what our biology tells us to do: no culture anywhere in the world eats rocks for lunch or snacks on wood. That's pure biology. But some eat pork and some won't. Some drink milk and some don't. Then there's personal taste: Do you like your veggies raw or cooked? Where does biology end and education or personal choice (which are also contrary aspects of our lives) begin? It's rarely clear-cut with us humans.

Every aspect of culture is education and instinct at once—whether it's eating a corn dog, stalking a kangaroo, or playing a flute made of a reed. Every culture has a long past, and evolved to meet new circumstances of heat and cold, wet and dry climates. So you see mind and body, past and present, education and instinct, are intricately and wonderfully joined in the branch called Cultural Anthropology. But the field, as studied today, accentuates mind and the present time.

These four divisions are all the study of people. And people of the upper Amazon, or the Lower East Side of New York, or the Transvaal, are always trying to get into a more pleasing and efficient relation with more and more of the world. This is another way of saying they are trying to like the world, see it as friendly. They may succeed, or they may not. But anthropology is always a study of the two biggest opposites in our lives: World and Self.

How Can We Bring Together All Four Fields?

Imagine a near-human ancestor on the bank of the Olduvai stream in Africa. He's smiling and uttering syllables that imitate the sound of the water. He likes the sound of the water. It is now nearly 2 million years ago. And he's in the midst of the beginnings of language. This is linguistics, at its fount: a self trying to come to terms with the world outside of oneself, using articulated sounds.

Later, as night would begin to fall, he may hear a rustle in the bush and snatch up a large stick to protect himself. He's still trying to be comfortable in the world—this time by ridding himself of danger. If he finds a stone and knocks it against another stone to make a sharp edge, it's part of the beginnings of technology. If someday his bones were seen by Louis B. Leakey, the large figure in African archaeology and physical anthropology, Professor Leakey would then be in the midst of physical anthropology—"people as organisms." If the stone our ancient Australopithecine had chipped were found, it would belong to archaeology. The two, physical anthropology and archaeology, are inseparable. Together they are called paleoanthropology.

All four fields of anthropology are brought together by the idea of Aesthetic Realism that the deepest and most necessary purpose of a person is to like the world on an honest basis. Out of this concept we can see the meaning of tribal technology, rites, and arts. This is true of ancient people and people now in East or West Africa, Central Asia, and Brooklyn, New York.

Take the people of Oksapmin, New Guinea, with whom I lived in 1967-8. A man or woman in New Guinea, like me, is trying to get into the best possible relation with the world: the ground he or she walks on, sweet potatoes, pigs, pandanus, rain, children, inlaws. At the same time men and women often do not have an easy job of it. People have two attitudes to the world all the time: for it and against it. For and against are opposites, and unconsciously we are always asking: what kind of a world is it—good or bad? Are people essentially selfish and phony or is there good in them as the essential thing? We simply have to try to make sense of the good and bad in the world, in people, and in ourselves. On our accuracy our whole lives depend. This is true in New Rochelle, New Zealand, New York, New Caledonia, the New Hebrides.

The two attitudes of a Papua New Guinea farmer—just like mine or yours—show in his work. He is a farmer of sweet potato and taro, and also raises pigs. He has dealings with his neighbors. And he feels on the one hand that he has to watch out for people, and his own good comes from being better than they are. On the other hand he has the opposite feeling, that he owes something to his family and neighbors and he hopes they do well and are strong. This is a self-conflict. It is exactly like mine, and like other Americans. Whether we hope a rival does well or glory in his or her defeat is a question in high schools, academic departments, daycare centers, and on the sands of the Kalahari Desert.

This conflict is resolved in art. In Oksapmin art, the two attitudes are shown to have something that joins them. For example there are carved arrows which have two faces, one smiling and one frowning, showing the two feelings of for and against, joined in a single sculpture. And there are more ways.

When art shows us that the contradictory things in the world really can be one, it helps us to like ourselves and like life. It makes us more efficient. Art is a necessity, and makes for the finest emotions in a human being. This is true for New Guinea and New York, Hong Kong and Sydney, Australia.

Now we will look at the four fields of anthropology one by one.

Depsin, one of the men whose friendship I valued
in the Mountain Ok area of Papua New Guinea


Copyright © 1975, 2008 by Arnold Perey