By Derek Freeman, James J. Fox
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Extra info for Dilthey's Dream: Essays on Human Nature and Culture
It was Boas’s view that ‘the social stimulus’ was ‘infinitely more potent’ than ‘biological mechanism’. In the thirteenth chapter of Coming of Age in Samoa, Margaret Mead went even further, claiming, on the basis of her enquiries into adolescence in Samoa, that explanations other than in terms of environmental factors could not be made. This conclusion (which in my view is most certainly not substantiated by the Samoan evidence) was taken up with alacrity by many other anthropologists and soon became central to the widely popular anthropological doctrine in which human nature and behaviour are explained ‘in purely cultural terms’.
It was in an essay written in about 1660, long before there was any understanding of evolution and the brain, that John Locke, then in his late twenties, first promulgated the wholly unevolutionary doctrine that humans are born tabula rasa, ‘empty tablets capable of receiving all sorts of imprints but have none stamped on them by nature’. It was this doctrine, as Marvin Harris acknowledges, that at the beginning of this century became the principal assumption of the founders of cultural and social anthropology, and to be very widely accepted by the pundits of the day.
From about 40,000 BC onwards, certainly, the Advanced Palaeolithic peoples began to explore an ever-extending range of new alternatives, and, towards the end of the Old Stone Age, there was, in the words of Jacquetta Hawkes, a ‘sudden emergence of full human creativity’ that ranks as ‘one of the most astonishing chapters’ in all human history. ‘It is evident,’ Jacquetta Hawkes comments, ‘that after hundreds of thousands of years during which the people of each generation normally did exactly what their parents had done and cultural improvement was extremely slow,’ the Advanced Palaeolithic peoples had begun to ‘think in terms of solving problems’.