The cave as an ontological arena

You are aiming to create a breakthrough in your discipline. You are an artist or an entrepreneur competing in a fierce world and you feel you need a brain boosting supplement. However, you live in a country where for some (incomprehensible) reason, marihuana and those wonderful LSD microdoses are banned. What can you do?

Don’t despair. Relax and accept that you are still living in the Old Stone Ideas Age. And learn what your creative ancestors do.

In this paper, we present a novel hypothesis as to what led humans in the Upper Paleolithic to penetrate and decorate deep, dark caves. Many of the depictions in these caves are located in halls or narrow passages deep in the interior, navigable only with artificial light. We simulated the effect of torches on oxygen concentrations in structures similar to Paleolithic decorated caves and showed that the oxygen quickly decreased to levels known to induce a state of hypoxia. Hypoxia increases the release of dopamine in the brain, resulting in hallucinations and out-of-body experiences. We discuss the significance of caves in indigenous world views and contend that entering these deep, dark environments was a conscious choice, motivated by an understanding of the transformative nature of an underground, oxygen-depleted space. The cave environment was conceived as both a liminal space and an ontological arena, allowing early humans to maintain their connectedness with the cosmos. It was not the decoration that rendered the caves significant; rather, the significance of the chosen caves was the reason for their decoration.

Yafit Kedar, Gil Kedar & Ran Barkai (2021) Hypoxia in Paleolithic decorated caves: the use of artificial light in deep caves reduces oxygen concentration and induces altered states of consciousness, Time and Mind, DOI: 10.1080/1751696X.2021.1903177

One of those papers that helps you see the world through other eyes. Who knows! Maybe the eyes of the authors writing in a deep dark cave!

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