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Master gears of anthropology: nature and culture.

A passion for a lifetime: man and his culture

Known as having been the mentor of Edward Sapir, Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict and Melville Herskovits, Franz Boas (9 July 1858; Minden, Westphalia, Prussia-22 Dec. 1942; New York) is now recognized as the main founder of the American school of anthropology remarkable by its promotion of objective field research and a biometric-anthropometric-linguistic statistic analysis by which four domains intersected, namely ethnology, physical anthropology (somatology), archeology and linguistics, with a view to more deeply understanding the human phenomenon in its intricate web of relationships with itself and the surrounding world. One major focus of Boasian anthropology is thus precisely the clarification of the culture-versus-nature question. In order to better grasp the importance of Boas's answer to this essential question in modern context, we will start by presenting a few fundamental facts related to how he came to grapple with this problem now considered in science as being among the most difficult to unriddle.

Boas's parents, being of Jewish descent, embraced the ideals of the Revolutions of 1848; his father was a merchant with liberal views, and his mother an idealist devoted to science. In this liberal intellectual environment, Boas developed from an early age a passion for nature and an immense desire to see all the things he heard or read about. He was educated in the tradition of liberal romanticism which, for instance, produced a Carl Schurz, and from which are descended also the anarchistic philosophers of the 19th century (cf. Bunzel 1986: 6). He soon acquired an inclination to spend much time with studying books: already at the age of five he was attracted by natural sciences like botany, geography, zoology, geology and astronomy. From the period in which he studied at the Gymnasium in Minden, Westphalia--he graduated in 1877-, Boas began to be interested in the history of culture, from now on starting to accumulate the profound influences shown later on and coming from the "historicist spirit of German idealism," but also from the "philosophy of monistic materialism" that dominated Germany in the period of his adolescence (C. C. Gillispie 1960: 321; cf. Stocking, Jr. 1989: 9). During his teenage years he kept himself far away from philosophic questions, far away from speculations, enjoying any new impression. He studied at the University of: 1) Heidelberg--here he remained for one semester, exploring mostly mathematics and physics; 2) Bonn--four semesters, studying mathematics, physics and botany, and starting a study of geography; and 3) Kiel--four semesters, in which he deepened his knowledge of geography (in the acceptation of Karl Ritter's school) and physics, but he also partially learned philosophy.

As can be seen, in his education he combined fields concerned with idealism and materialism, thus embracing the cognitive horizons of both nature and culture (nurture).

In 1881 he defended his PhD in physics and geography at the University of Kiel--the theme of his dissertation was the study of the colour of sea water by photometric methods (Contributions to an understanding of the colour of water). This theme raised problems regarding the effects of the viewpoint of the observer on the quantitative measurements of perceptive phenomena--an issue that later was to lead to "Heisenberg's revolution": the discovery of the principle of uncertainty (which basically stated that the observer and the observed form a unity). Boas understood that there are fields of experience in which our usual concepts of quantity and measures--that can be added or subtracted--are not applicable. By reading works of philosophers, Boas discovered new ways to think and his previous interests started to fade away, thus leaving room to a fervent wish to understand the relation between the objective and the subjective world. He now observed that his materialist worldview, which was understandable for a physicist, was not sustainable, instead he now forming a new perspective which revealed to him the importance of studying the interaction between the organic and the inorganic domain, between the life of a people and its environment. After having defended his doctoral paper, Boas returned to Minden in October 1881 in order to fulfil his mandatory military service until October 1882.

In his postdoctoral research--firstly in psychophysics, then in geography and finally in ethnology--Boas tried to determine to what degree the quantitative, deterministic and mechanistic statements of the physics contemporary with him--which he initially had accepted--could be applied to the study of psychic phenomena. At first he had the tendency to march towards an extreme "geographic determinism," but subsequently he concluded that the influence of geographic factors constituted an "extremely complex question," which was influenced by an indefinite number of psychological factors, these in turn being impossible to understand in any other way than within a historical framework.

Already in 1882 Boas started to think of emigrating from Germany into the United States, because in Germany one could clearly see the ascent of an anti-semitism that jeopardized his plans for an academic career. However, he continued his studies at Berlin, having been persuaded by his parents who wanted him to stay in his homeland. He gave up his request for a study grant from Johns Hopkins University. At Berlin his interest regarding the migration patterns of Eskimos materialized in plans for an expedition of scientific research that was to last for fifteen months: in June 1883 he came onboard the Germania having as destination Baffin Island from the Arctic Archipelago (1883-1884). The decision to make this expedition was taken by Boas also because at that time no occasion had presented itself that might have allowed him to continue his studies in an area of psychological investigation. Additionally, the decision originated too from Boas's wish to see the world and understand the reaction of the human mind to the natural environment, but also from his hope that thus he would add to human knowledge data about unknown regions.

The confessed mission of his life was precisely to investigate to what degree we can consider the phenomenon of organic life, and especially of psychic life, from a mechanistic point of view. Here, "in the sublime solitude of the Arctic," Boas found in the middle of Eskimo tribes the confirmation of his idea that the notion of "cultured individual" was only "relative" (that is: relational). The year he spent "as an Eskimo among Eskimos" had a profound and slow influence on Boas, who confessed that the Arctic experience alienated him from his previous interests, strengthening his wish to understand the determining factors of human behaviour. He also published a study in which he described the results of his research, Baffinland (1885), about which later he was to confess that they were extremely superficial, because here he had attempted to explain human behaviour as a result of the influence of the geographic environment: this explanation shed no light on the question regarding the motor forces that mold human behaviour.

Those shackles of tradition: the way to really understand man

Deepening the exploration of this question, Boas reached near the end of his life the core of his entire view on social life:

[H]ow can we recognize the shackles that tradition has laid upon us? For when we recognize them, we are also able to break them. (An anthropologist's credo, Boas 1938b: 202; Boas 1989: 42)

In other words, because Boas (like Einstein) did not embrace the belief in the authority of tradition--the revelation regarding the existence of this belief among his faculty colleagues having produced at one time an intellectual shock in him --Boas raised the question of the necessity that these "shackles" be noticed, because only by becoming aware of them could we break them and thus free ourselves.

In the 1880s Boas basically made the decision that his interest in geography became secondary, and his main preoccupation from now on was to be the study of man. On his return trip from Baffin Island he probed the possibilities to get an academic job in the United States, during a visit here in the winter of 1884. He was however to spend eighteen more months in Germany, a period in which he worked as an assistant of Adolf Bastian, the most important ethnologist in Germany at that time, whom Boas considered the "father of all ethnographic studies" and to whom in January 1886 he had proposed the study of the ethnic relation between Eskimos and American Indians. Although Bastian liked the idea, there were no financial possibilities, and so in September that same year Boas was to reach Vancouver Island on his own in order to carry out that general ethnographic research. The last period spent in Germany was still a formative one, in which Boas crystalized his interest for human cultures from the spiritual-scientific perspective of anthropology; that too is why he accepted the positions in the main Berlin ethnological museum and at the Faculty of Geography of Berlin University. In this period "of transition," Boas exhibited anthropologic materials from Alaska and from the north-west of Canada at the Royal Ethnographic Museum in Berlin. After this, in 1886, he decided to leave his country and stay at New York as geography editor of the review Science (he occupied this position between 1886 and 1889). In 1887 he thus launched a merciless attack on the promoters of evolutionism who back then had a dominant position in American anthropology; his target was a firm refutation of the method proposed by Otis T. Mason, who was the ethnology custodian of the National Museum of the United States; on John Wesley Powell the attack was only indirect, because the latter was a director of the Office of American Ethnology, by which he controlled a large part of the resources granted for anthropological research in the United States.

The attack against Otis T. Mason (an evolutionary ethnologist) and, indirectly, against John Wesley Powell (an evolutionary sociologist) referred to The occurrence of similar inventions in areas widely apart (1887). When subsequently Powell joined Mason against Boas's antievolutionary attack, the German anthropologist withdrew rather quickly. In essence, the divergence between Boas and Mason was the following: Mason held that the explanation regarding similar inventions was to be found in the axiom according to which "similar effects spring from similar causes" (Mason 1887). Boas stated that, on the contrary, "dissimilar causes produce similar effects," the irrefutable example offered being a physical one: two phenomena can have an exterior identical aspect, but their immanent, internal qualities may be totally different--identical phenomena can originate from different causes. By this new axiom Boas toppled Mason's theory, arguing that, although "similar causes have similar effects, similar effects do not [necessarily] have similar causes." In short, Boas did not agree that in museums anthropological collections be classified according to tribal objects ("inventions"); instead, they should be so arranged according to the tribes themselves, because the art and style characteristic for a tribe could not be understood in any other way than by exploring the elements produced by a tribe as a whole: for instance, you could not understand the character of tribal/savage music by studying only an instrument--what was necessary was the entire collection of musical instruments produced by that tribe, at least.

Additionally, a complete analysis was possible only if one explored the history and the evolution --in short the "historical development"--of the individual form. In the dispute with Mason in which Boas maintained the "plurality of causes, " the founder of American anthropology followed a line of thought found in John Stuart Mill and from it was to derive an important part of the internal logic of Boas's basic anthropological system which thus contains great indepth coherence and "inner consistency" (Stocking, Jr. 1989: 2). The questions of causality, classification and the relation between elements and totalities were to become central for Boas, the purpose he had in mind being an exploration of the very nature of science in general and, in particular, the nature of anthropology as a science that aimed at "laying down the laws governing the growth of culture," "the growth [...] of human thought" (The Jesup North Pacific expedition, 1905; Boas 1989: 107-108), in a context in which culture for him was at best defined as follows:

[A] historical growth determined by the social and geographical environment in which each people is placed and by the way in which it develops the cultural material that comes into its possession from the outside or through its own creativeness. (Boas 1955: 4)

In this definition Boas announced his view on culture as a living and creative mechanism with internal and external feedback, with intertwining loops that oscillate to and fro between society and the environment, and between each and every individual making up society as a whole, the result being that "objects and customs [are] in constant flux, sometimes stable for a period, then undergoing rapid changes," thus a particular culture permanently defining and redefining itself in a rhythm reminding us of the organic pulse of a heart, with stability and instability being the two universal phases of any cultural evolution. Boas thus qualified the evolutionary cultural process as an integrative interplay and dissolving battle between resilient surviving and ephemeral forms:

Through this process [of cultural change] elements that at one time belonged together as cultural units are torn apart. Some survive, others die, and so far as objective traits are concerned, the cultural form may become a kaleidoscopic picture of miscellaneous traits that, however, are remodelled according to the changing spiritual background that pervades the culture and that transforms the mosaic into an organic whole. The better the integration of the elements the more valuable appears to us the culture. [...] [T]he coherent survival of cultural features that are not organically connected is exceedingly rare, while single detached elements may possess marvellous longevity. (Boas 1955: 7)

Boasian anthropology had thus as a purpose to establish laws of cultural evolution, such as the ones mentioned above, by applying precisely the methods of the natural sciences (cf. Some philological aspects of anthropological research, 1905; Boas 1989: 183ff). But in order to even hope to be able to do that, Boas believed we had to first of all "reconstruct the actual history of mankind," so that afterwards we might decipher the underlying laws of historical evolution (obviously, the problem of American anthropology was that often there existed no historical documents, the lack thereof being compensated by the geographical method: the historical heritage and the evolution of historical contacts were explored by analysis of geographic distribution). In this sense, Boas observed that these laws had seemed at a certain moment to have already been discovered, but because field investigations continued to uncover ever new facts, the theories that had seemed firmly established were utterly shaken. What had seemed to be a "simple and beautiful order" now proved to be something much more complex than had been assumed possible: anthropo-cultural symmetry made room to "asymmetry."

In this respect, Boas seems to be the promoter of modern theories such as those advanced in the 20th century by Thomas Kuhn on the structure of scientific revolutions or those described by the sciences of complexity or by the science exploring autopoiesis (self-constructing mechanisms in which internal and external feedback processes are fundamental and cocreative). Moreover, Boas states the following crucial opinion:

All traits of culture can be fully understood only in connection with the whole culture of a tribe. When we confine ourselves to comparing isolated traits of culture, we open the door to misinterpretations without number, (cf. The mythology of the Bella Coola Indians, 1898; Boas 1989: 155)

This seems to anticipate Alfred Korzybski's idea of "anthropometer," by which the latter founding (in Lakeville, Connecticut) in the 1920s what is known as "general semantics"--tried to explain the nature of logical errors which appear by mixing levels of abstraction in thought processes and which give rise to misinterpretations and even psycho-somatic pathologies. Korzybski (1971) spoke of a potentially infinite chain of abstractions of degree one, two, three, etc., ad infinitum, a potentially infinite hierarchy of language that "rises" into metalanguage, the latter in turn "rising" further on into meta-metalanguage, etc., this process of "ascension" into levels of language being capable of being traced down by the agency of the "anthropometer": a simple device that marked off by wires the connections (see Boas: his interest in causal relations) between the levels of abstaction of human language:

1) level one: human perception of an event perceptive act;

2) level two: the word attributed to the perceived event--description of the perceptive act;

3) level three: statements about the word attributed to the perceived event--conclusion regarding the description of the perceptive act;

4) levelfour: statements about the statements about the word attributed to the perceived event--creed;

5) level five: the action triggered by the creed derived from the conclusion regarding the description of the perceptive act; etc.

We could thus clearly visualize the passages in thought processes--from an abstractive level to another, superior or inferior. Korzybski's idea was the following: any confusion as regards the appurtenance to one or other of the levels of abstractiveness from the chain described above surely led to semantic distortions and even to psychic pathology, in this sense the confusions of this kind being encountered most often in political discourse. In short, the idea was that human perception implicitly presupposed the possibility that such confusions between levels of abstraction take place: when such occurred, in the chain of abstractiveness was inserted an error that led to the distortion of the perceptive truth.

Boas's essential contribution in this sense lies precisely in his having drawn attention to the fact that the crucial error leading to a distortion of the truth regarding phenomenal reality consisted in the attempt to derive general truths regarding a culture by an analysis of its isolated elements (see also Some philological aspects of anthropological research, 1905). Such a method was profoundly vitiated from the very beginning --allowing free access to "misinterpretations without number," because by it one attempted to reach truths that surpassed the coverage capacity of the method, namely truths regarding the causal links between the constitutive elements. On the other hand, Boas was against Otis T. Mason's simply deductive method that used the "technological idea" as supreme principle of classification: he compared anthropological phenomena (similar tribal inventions) that appeared in areas widely set apart from one another, and then he drew conclusions by analogy (cf The occurrence of similar inventions in areas widely apart, 1887). Mason put together similar inventions from all tribes and compared them, but he did not put together all inventions of a single tribe in order to be able to observe the complex character of that tribe. Boas, on the contrary, proposed a study of anthropological phenomena appearing in all tribes from a common psychic cause, being influenced by the environment. In other words, Boas proposed an inductive method--researching the whole history of a single phenomenon, because "in ethnology all is individuality," a thesis derived from the Humboldtian "cosmography" springing from the "affective instinct" (as we shall later see in more detail)--civilization being in Boas's conception not absolute, but relative (that is, relational).

Cultural relativity means cultural relationality: paths to cultural absolutes

According to Boas (1898: 280; Anthropology, 1908), "anthropology teaches better than any other science the relativity of the values of civilization": anthropology liberated us from the prejudices of our own civilization and helped us apply standards in the evaluation of our accomplishments which should have "greater absolute truth" than those standards have which we derive from the study of just our own civilization. Thereby Boas recommended himself as being a comparative thinker who believed in absolute (and eternal) values: Boasian relativity must be understood not as cultural relativism (as too often is the case), but rather as "relationality": the more we look at our own culture by relating to a network as large as possible of other cultures from outside, the closer we get to the core of "eternal" and "absolute truth, " which in Einstein's relativity theory, for instance, was precisely the absolute invariance of the speed of light.

Moreover, Boas seems here to brilliantly anticipate a crucial point in Kurt Godel's symbolic-logical thought: the latter concluded as a consequence of demonstrating the incompleteness theorem--that we will never be able to reach the truth of a system from the inside of that system: only from outside the system its truth became accessible. The same is implicit in the ideas mentioned by Boas regarding the necessity to free ourselves from our own cultural matrix in the attempt to correctly understand another cultural matrix. This is an idea that Boas certainly derived from Adolf Bastian's system regarding the "elementary ideas" as "intangible entities": we cannot, by thought, have access to to the origin of these "elementary ideas" because we are forced in this process to think precisely in the forms of these "elementary ideas." We are dealing here with an ouroboric process, by which we attempt to distinguish the structure of a truth from the very inside of that truth, by using elements of that truth. As regards his comparative approach, Boas (1989: 67; Die Ziele der Ethnologic, 1889) admitted that the purely historical method had to be considered as being incomplete without the "illumination" that derived from the comparative method. More than that, Boas (1989:154; The mythology of the Bella Coola Indians, 1898) did not agree that the comparative and the historical methods used in ethnology are antagonistic: the two were closely connected and represented "checks" on hurried conclusions that one might reach by applying only one of them.

Historical analysis provided us with data regarding the "growth of ideas" in various peoples; comparing the processes of growth of ideas brought us knowledge regarding the "laws which govern the evolution and selection of ideas." (Boas 1989: 154) Additionally, when lacking information, we had to be content with just comparing accessible phenomena and drawing conclusions from similarities or differences. With all that, we could reach an authentic, "objective" understanding of a foreign culture only if we managed to free ourselves of the influences and determinisms forced upon our thought by our own culture. In other words, by looking through the lenses of our own culture at a foreign culture (Boas adopted this notion from Karl von den Steinen: Kulturbrille--the "eyeglasses of culture"), we were going to see only a culturally distorted-filtered version of that foreign culture.

The most eloquent example in this respect is the following: people perceive / apperceive the unfamiliar sounds of an unknown language by agency of the sounds of their own mother tongue (the collecters of vocabularies use the phonetics of their own language in order to render the sounds of the foreign language), that is why some of the sounds thus perceived may not correspond to genuine phonetic reality, being classified in accordance with their being more or less similar with the sounds in the mother tongue. Phonetic approximations thus made may lead to crucial errors, whereby we come to consider several discrete, but to us seeming slightly similar, sounds in a foreign language as being identical with a certain sound we are familiar with from our own language (Boas 1989: 72ff; On alternating sounds, 1889). Hence Boas drew the radical conclusion that in reality there are no "alternating [or 'synthetic'] sounds," but only "alternating apperceptions" of one and the same sound (if they exist, they are merely sounds that went through the process of apperception; Boas found evidence to sustain this theory in the languages of the Haida and Kwakiutl Indians and in Eskimo). Here Boas touched an all-important issue regarding human knowledge that was later to be studied by Kenneth Burke (1966): the latter came to observe that the terminology we use has a "screening effect" on our mode of understanding reality, the terms used channeling our cognitive energies on certain frequencies that do not necessarily coincide with those of the "real" phenomenon we wish to know.

Likewise, Boas came to understand that the cultural matrix in which we are born is perpetuated in our perceptions regarding other cultures, whose "objective" truths are inaccessible to us to the degree to which we do not free ourselves from our own cultural matrix. Put differently, our perceptions regarding other cultures will be nothing but a kind of "projections," in which the "objective" truths of the other cultures are contents that have been distorted-filtered-channelled through the cognitive energies of the matrix of our own culture. From this perspective it becomes clear why Boas required a "purely analytical study" of language: an Amerindian or other non-Indo-European language had to be studied as much as possible without recourse to the viewpoint of Indo-European linguistics, which could distort the linguistic reality of the tribes under scrutiny, (cf. Letter to Dr. W. Thalbitzer, dated 15 February 1905, published under the title A purely analytical study of language; Boas 1989: 178-179).

On the other hand, Boas (1989: 267ff; Anthropology, 1908) approached a problem that anticipates Alfred Korzybski's idea that man's inventions, once made, have been kept with "great tenacity" and, owing to ceaseless additions, man's accessible resources have continuously increased.

In Time-binding: the general theory (1924 and 1926) Korzybski (1971i: 10ff; 1971ii: 5ff) defined "time binding" precisely as:

1) (in a restricted sense) A continuous process of (linguistic) quickly accumulative transmission of knowledge in human society, based on man's fundamental stratified faculty of building increasingly more complex abstractions. In this sense, culture has a stratified abstractive structure that evolves with the forms of knowledge, either towards complexity, or towards simplicity, or combinations thereof such as the simplex phenomena wherein simpicity and complexity intertwine to various degrees.

2) (in a generalized sense) The totality of factors by which man has become man, i.e. "man as-a-whole" or "time-binder," endowed among other things with the "power to see the old anew." In this latter sense, Leibniz had observed that human genius was defined by this power to see the new in the old, which implied deep knowledge of the psychology of discovery and of invention.

Between 1886 and 1887 Boas undertook his first anthropological field research in British Columbia (Canada), wherein is clearly reflected his increasingly greater interest in history: the justification he gave to J. W. Powell for having taken this decision was that the tribes from this area were influenced more by historical factors than by the environment. His interest for the tribes of the Eskimos materialized through the publication of the volume entitled The Central Eskimo (1888), in which he further explored the results of his Arctic expedition. Also, his interest for the tribes in British Columbia (among which the Kwakiutl tribe especially attracted him: he visited it in 1889 and 1894), and in general for the tribes from the North Pacific region of the American continent, was to be a special and permanent one throughout his life, being directly connected with the "historical" method. In this sense, it is of crucial significance that Boas considered the North Pacific area of the American continent as being the most important possible region of contact between the Old World and the New World, by which the Old World might have arrived into the "new." It was extremely significant that the human types encountered on the North Pacific coast of America, although clearly belonging to the general American type, presented nevertheless great affinities with the North Asiatic human types (The Jesup North Pacific expedition, 1905; Boas 1989: 110). Moreover, there was greater affinity between the natives from eastern Siberia and those from the north-west of America than between the natives of California and the Botocudo Indians of Brazil (The mythologies of the Indians, 1905; Boas 1989: 147).

In 1887 Boas published The study of geography, in which one can sense the tensions manifest in his scientific perspective at that time: he was struggling to understand the nature of the approach used in physics in contrast to that used in history, and he observed that there were two divergent concepts about the nature of scientific research, both however starting from the same premises and goals, namely "establishing facts" for the "discovery of eternal truth." Despite this similarity, the approaches of the two methods, the "physical" and the "historical," differed substantially:

1) The physicist compared a series of similar facts in order to isolate the "general phenomenon" which was common to those individual facts, the latter becoming less interesting for him, while the "general law" thus discovered absorbed his attention entirely.

2) The historian denied that "deducing the laws from phenomena" were the only way to approach "eternal truth"; there was also the path of "understanding," the attitude towards individual facts being in this sense different from that of the physicist: the simple existence of the fact required our undivided attention, and our knowledge regarding this existence and evolution in time and space was fully satisfactory, regardless of the laws deducible from it. The historian was interested in the law only to the degree to which he wished to explain the real history of phenomena, from which the respective law had itself been deduced; the historian recognized the laws of nature in each and every individual event, but his central interest was "the event [itself] as an incident of the picture of the world. "

Therefore, science strives to find universal phenomena in nature and culture (laws), while history endeavours to register unique phenomena in nature and culture (events), both methods sometimes using the information available (like a set of equations) in order to deduce facts that are inaccessible directly (the solutions thus arrived at remain hypotheses if no direct evidence is found for the existence of that element deduced from the set of equations available). Since laws and events are strictly tied up together (the laws manifest only in and through events, while the events manifest only because their structure is governed by a set of laws) in the way in which cause and effect are tied up together, it is safe to conclude that nature and culture in the human equation form a stratified complex and synchronistic assemblage, wherein nature is the body-matter part of the equation, while culture is the mind-spirit part, the two being interconnected simultaneously somehow like in a two-mirror game in which the image of man is reflected back and forth infinitely, from nature to culture, and back again, in an infinite chain of cause-and-effect.

Moreover, according to Boas: 1) the physicist did not study the "whole phenomenon," he only separated it into constitutive elements which he examined separately; 2) the historian studied the "whole phenomenon," being interested not in the constitutive elements, but in the complexity of the whole, whose elements seemed to be "connected only in the mind of the observer."

In the study of nature and culture it is thus essential to use both perspectives (of science and of history): the "mereoscopic" (as in the partial study in physics) and the "holoscopic" (as in the integral study used in the historical method), these being equivalent with a micro- and a macroscopic (telescopic) view.

According to George W. Stocking, Jr. (1989: 11), in this distinction and in his conception on the "historical" method influenced by a Rankean undercurrent (the idea of "detailed, concrete history"), as well as by a Hegelian one (the idea of individual discrete "spirits" associated with specific historical periods / cultural traditions), Boas was tributary to traditional German thought that distinguished between the sciences of nature (Naturwissenschaften) and the sciences of spirit (Geisteswissenschaften), and in particular was influenced by Wilhelm Dilthey's thinking, who in 1883 had published Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften (Introduction to the sciences of spirit) and in the previous years had occupied a position of professor at the University of Berlin.

The article entitled The study of geography reflects in Boas the change in trajectory that his scientific orientation registered during the six years after the defence of his doctoral paper. Still, Boas did draw the conclusions of an Ernst Mach, who came to see in scientific laws only conventionalized hypotheses, whose "truth" content was simply a matter of utility. Contrariwise, being "raised" in the tradition of natural sciences, of the atomistic analytical method and of mechanistic causal determinism, Boas saw in the "physical" and in the "historical" (or, in a larger sense, "cosmographical"--in Alexander von Humboldt's acceptation) method two modes--both valid--whereby science observed the natural phenomena. More exactly, unlike physics, Alexander von Humboldt's cosmography had emerged from an "affective" impulse: the "personal feeling of man towards the world" around him. The Humboldtian cosmographer was interested in the phenomenon itself--without reference to its place in a system --until he affectively grasped the secrets of that phenomenon, its truth. Boas's stance was therefore directed against the Epicurean tendency of the physical method to give "probable or possible explanations": man had to be interested not only in the truth of each phenomenon, but also in the "true history of its evolution," the only one that could satisfy the researcher. The historical perspective according to Boas contained, however, a "strong aesthetic element," which was satisfied by a clear conception on the individual event. As we shall see in more detail later, Boas stated that the origin of all sciences was to be found in two forces: 1) the "affective impulse," i.e. the feeling of personal relationing with the world (this generates cosmography); and 2) the "aesthetic impulse," i.e. man's tendency to set order in the confusion of sensory impressions (this generates physics). In other words, the historical perspective generated mainly by the "affective impulse" contained an ordering generative component which is purely scientific (a vein of physics). Boas's perspective was to be marked off by a convergence between the sciences of spirit (Geisteswissenschaften) and the sciences of nature (Naturwissenschaften), visible in his accepting and combining two branches of anthropology: 1) cultural anthropology; and 2) physical anthropology (somatology).

1) Cultural anthropology was developed by Adolf Bastian who postuled the notion of "elementary thought"/"elementary ideas" (Elementargedanken)--called by Boas "mystical", as fundamental traits common to human cultures everywhere in the world, as fundamental forms of thought that were influenced by the geographical and social environment. The crucial fact for Bastian was the essential similarity of the forms of human thought from all cultures, advanced or primitive. The cultural anthropologist had to discover these cardinal forms of thought and study their modifications under the impact of geographical (natural) and social (cultural) factors. Boas (1989: 267ff) gave his clearest confession regarding his affinity with Bastian's thought in the article entitled Anthropology (1908), in which he observed that Bastian's "elementary ideas" were related in turn with Dilthey's conception regarding the limited possible number of types of thought/philosophy.

2) Physical anthropology (somatology) was developed by Rudolf Virchow, a personality who also stimulated the unfolding of prehistoric archeology and who for Boas represented a model worthy to follow in science because he felicitously combined vast encyclopedic knowledge with the genius for understanding the causal relation between phenomena. (Cf. Rudolf Virchow's anthropological work, 1902; Boas 1989: 36ff). Already in 1883 Boas was learning from Virchow the anthropometric technique.

Boas (1989: 276) explained why he attributed a certain "mysticism" to Bastian's theory: the "elementary ideas" for Bastian were "intangible entities," "no further thought [could] possibly unravel [the enigma of] their origin, because we ourselves [were] compelled to think in the forms of these elementary ideas" (Anthropology, 1908). (With the passage of time Boas became convinced that we will never be able to understand foreign cultures as long as we do not free ourselves, at least in these intellective acts, of the forms of our own culture: by using our own cultural matrix as interpretive grid for a foreign culture we could easily distort the truth). These two anthropological approaches were thus inherited by Boas directly from German anthropology, the method of physical anthropology in connection with ethnology being extensively studied by Boas in 1891 under the supervision of Frederick W. Putnam from Harvard (Boas was appointed here Putnam's assistent). Also in 1891 Boas received his American citizenship.

The convergence in Boas's method between the sciences of spirit and those of nature can be observed also in his constant interest for three factors: 1) race--as a phenomenon which is rather physical than spiritual; 2) language; and 3) culture. This implied that there are three extremely different sets of historical processes that had to be studied empirically in order to determine the distribution of phenomena, and the information gathered from the study needed to be published in order to constitute the data base for future inductive studies, one of the crucial issues that had to be explored being the way in which wholes relate to the constitutive elements. (See the immense volumes, sometimes over a thousand pages each, published by Boas and his collaborators, in which were offered for print fairy tales and myths of the native Americans, descriptions of their dialects and traditions, measurements of the head of aboriginals etc.). The distribution of phenomena was crucial in Boas's project for very precise anthropometric reasons: it was essential for us to know, for instance, the distribution of a tribe in two distinct subdivisions, one in the east and one in the west, because without knowing this fact we could calculate an "average size" of the cranial length of a member of this tribe which in reality does not exist. Boas suggests that the average might yield for example the value 193 mm, when in reality what we find on the field is that the members from the west have a cranial length of 195 mm, and those from the east--191 mm (Remarks on the theory of anthropometry, 1893; Boas 1989: 81).

Boas was of the opinion that in nature indeed there were scientific laws, outside the mind of the observer, but they were not probabilistic or conventional statements, they were instead reflections of "eternal truth." From this perspective the statement according to which Boas was a "cultural relativist" (in the usual sense already consecrated as such) proves to be wrong, just as wrong as the total identification between the notion of Einsteinian "relativity" and that of (cultural) "relativism."

This error constitutes a historical irony that caused much grief to Albert Einstein, who thus came to see his theory interpreted without minimum recourse to its substance. The starting point of Einstein's theory had been the established observation that the speed of light is the same, "invariant, " regardless of the "relative " movement between the observer and the observed light source, a reason for which Einstein wanted to call his theory "of invariance" (Invariantentheorie), and not "of relativity" (as Max Planck named it, with all the fervent opposition from Einstein which lasted for years), since it described the speed of light as a universal constant, and because Einstein was afraid that it would be used as argument for deriving from it the idea that "everything is relative" (which, unfortunately, is precisely what happened), when in reality the theory was based on the belief in the existence in the cosmos of a physical absolute universality (the absolute invariance of the speed of light and the constancy of physical laws). In a lecture held at Princeton University (The general theory of relativity, 1921), Einstein stated the following:

Just as it was consistent from the Newtonian standpoint to make both the statements, tempus est absolutum, spatium est absolutum, so from the standpoint of the special theory of relativity we must say, continuum spatii et temporis est absolutum. In this latter statement absolutum means not only "physically real," but also "independent in its physical properties, having a physical effect, but not itself influenced by physical conditions." (Einstein 2003: 57-58)

Einstein thereby stated that neither time, nor space are absolute, thus denying in the first part of his argument the Newtonian paradigm (in which, on the contrary, they are absolute), but he does not stop here, surpassing the Newtonian paradigm in the direction of a new superior synthesis: the space-time continuum, as quadridimensional assemblage, is absolute. Therefore, "relativity" refers to the (inter)relational reciprocal "elasticity" between the fundamental elements "space" and "time" from the "reticular" inside of the continuum, which, however, as integrated asemblage (space-time taken together), is nevertheless absolute.

By his anti-probabilistic thesis mentioned above Boas placed himself, probably without knowing it, precisely in the future "camp" of Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Erwin Schrodinger and Louis de Broglie, according to whom under the apparent disorder of the cosmos there exists an underlying hidden order that is governed by yet undiscovered laws: these "sacred monsters" of science opposed the purely probabilistic interpretation of physical reality, advanced by the Copenhagen school--represented by Niels Bohr, Max Born and Werner Heisenberg by which all physical reality of phenomena was suppressed. According to Boas, the discovery of the laws that constitute the "eternal truth" did not have to be made by the method whereby the scientific labour started from stating a hypothesis: this path was infinitely inferior to the inductive method. As a link of the inductive method, history was entering the science of anthropology, it became a fundament for deriving the "laws" of human evolution (of the physiological and the psychological character), the cultural "laws" (cf. Stocking, Jr. 1989: 12).

By his publications about the Indians from the north-western coast of America, around the beginning of the year 1888 Boas had already drawn upon himself the attention of the Commission that had been appointed by the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1884 for studying the tribes from the north-west of Canada, so that between 1888 and 1894 Boas spent a total of twelve months in the north-western part of the continent, undertaking five expeditions with a view to carrying out field research projects for the Commission mentioned above, whose president was E. B. Tylor--the local manager, however, was Horatio Hale, who was a promoter of pre-evolutionism "ethnological" tradition (Gruber 1967; cf. Stocking, Jr., cf. Boas 1989: 84). At the beginning of 1889 Boas lost his position as editor of the review Science because of some economical-financial restrictions, that is why in the autumn of the same year he accepted G. Stanley Hall's offer (who was interested in child psychology) to occupy a position as associate professor at the newly established Clark University of Worcester, Massachusetts, in whose framework Boas supervised the first PhD graduate in anthropology from the United States, A. F. Chamberlain, and applied the statistic approach to the systematic study of the growth of children from Worcester (his method of statistic-dynamic analysis of human variability was influenced by Francis Galton's work in the field of biometry and based on Boas's expertise in the field of mathematics). With all that, Boas's activity at Clark University ended in 1892 in rather unpleasant conditions (the revolt of the members of this institution). Fortunately, however, Boas had already for a few years (more exactly from 1888 onwards) gained the capacity to pursue his special interests: for instance, he could without much difficulty spend his summers in the north-western area of the American continent with a view to carrying out the above-mentioned anthropological field research. According to R. H. Fowie (1943), this is Boas's period of "systematic self-professionalization" in the field of anthropology--a fact valid especially for the linguistic and physical-anthropological (somatological) component in which Boas excelled, constituting the central foundation of his didactic method (Stocking, Jr., cf. Boas 1989: 58). In 1889 Boas published On alternating sounds, a pivotal study which contained the core of his subsequent approach regarding culture in general, reflected also in the introduction to Handbook of American Indian languages, Part I (1911). Boas spent some time in Chicago, where, after he contributed to the inauguration from 1893 of the World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago World's Fair)--which presented anthropological exhibits of Indian tribes from the entire continent of North America-, he was offered a position as coordinator of the Department of Anthropology at the Field Columbian Museum of Natural History, working hard for the museum's opening scheduled for May 1894. After some obscure maneuverings by various officials which were aimed at Boas's dismissal immediately after the anthropological exhibits of the Chicago museum were to have been put in place (he found out about it later), towards the end of 1895 Boas was employed by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, this appointment practically ending a period of ten years in which Boas had permanently "migrated" professionally.

The past as the present: imitation versus human plasticity

In 1894 Boas published the study entitled Human faculty as determined by race, N which he later reworked to be included in The mind of primitive man (1911). As regards the thought of primitive man, Boas had already since 1894 crystalized his opinion that this was no different from the mode in which human thought kept on functioning at present: it was strongly influenced by the current thought of the tribe, imitation being both conscious and unconscious. This idea had been presented in detail by Gabriel Tarde in his important book Les lois de limitation: etude sociologique (1890) (this work is mentioned in Boas 1911: 114):

[limitation may be conscious or unconscious, deliberate or spontaneous, voluntary or involuntary. [...] Is it true that as a people becomes civilised its manner of imitating becomes more and more voluntary, conscious, and deliberate? I think the opposite is true. Just as with the individual unconscious habits were originally conscious and self-determined acts, so in the nation everything that is done or said by tradition or custom began by being a difficult and much-questioned importation. I should add, to be sure, that many imitations are from the very beginning unconscious and involuntary. This is so of the imitation of the accents, manners, and more often of the ideals and sentiments peculiar to the environment in which we live. It is also plain that imitation of the will of others -1 know no other way of defining spontaneous obedience--is necessarily involuntary. But let us observe that the involuntary and unconscious forms of imitation never become voluntary and conscious, whereas the voluntary and conscious forms are likely to take on the opposite characteristics. Let us distinguish, moreover, between the consciousness of imitating or the will to imitate someone in thinking or doing a certain thing and the consciousness of conceiving the thought or the will to perform the act. Consciousness or volition, in this latter sense, is the constant and universal fact which the progress of civilisation neither augments nor diminishes. In the former sense, there is nothing more variable, and civilisation does not seem to encourage consciousness or will understood in this way. Certainly the savage in whose eyes the ancient custom or religion of his tribe is justice or truth incarnate is no less conscious of imitating his ancestors and is no less desirous of imitating them in practising his juridical or religious rites, than is the modern labourer or even the modern bourgeois of imitating his neighbor, or employer, or editor, in repeating what he has read in his newspaper or in buying the piece of furniture which he has seen in the parlour of his employer or neighbour. But, in fact, in both cases, man is wrong in thinking that he imitates because he wishes to. For this very will to imitate has been handed down through imitation. Before imitating the act of another we begin by feeling the need from which this act proceeds, and we feel it precisely as we do only because it has been suggested to us. (Tarde 1903: 192-193)

Understood in this way, imitation is a foundation of the civilized world as we know it today; without it, no transmission of tradition would be possible, and the drive for the transmission itself to continuously take place is somehow archetypally (hereditarily/biologically: nature; and intellectually / spiritually: culture) programmed into mankind's essence as "the will to imitate" that has been handed down generation after generation through the very act of imitation, which thus reveals itself to be naturally (through genes) and culturally (through memes) encoded in humanity.

In this context, Boas underlined that, as Rudolf Lehmann had observed, even the man of genius from our present society, regardless whether he was a philosopher or poet, imprinted into his work first of all his own personality, his personal life; secondly, the work bore the mark of the period to which it belonged; moreover, the more the ideas being stated were more powerful, the more the work was to be imbued with the "currents of thought" that "fluctuate in the life of the period"--these form what we call the oscilating macro-force-fields of the "pendulum of history." Thirdly, the work was influenced by the distinct tendency in the philosophical thought of the age.

On the other hand, Boas observed that man's tendency to multiply was such that families endowed with the highest degree of culture were the ones that tended to disappear, while their place was taken by the population less touched by the influences of high culture. From this state of affairs Boas drew the conclusion that it was more probable that human intellectual progress should not be hereditary, but rather perpetuated through education, although in the next sentence he states that the educational influences (including the general influence of the social environment) were just superficial by comparison with the hereditary causes. In order for these two hypotheses to not be mutually contradictory, we need to conclude hence that Boas embraced a paradoxical dynamic-static, evolutionary-regressivist (anti-evolutionary) image of man (see the variability in stability, to which he added the idea of typological regressiveness in the case of metissage or crossbreeding), as regards the intellectual development of mankind, the intellectual faculty being a given, something innate, in all races equally, but something influenced/influenceable (stimulated or inhibited) especially by (un) favourable social and natural-geographic conditions (Bastian's theory).

This thesis is connected with the doctrine of the "plasticity" of human types that Boas was to subsequently elaborate in Changes in the bodily form of descendants of immigrants (1911) (reasserted also in Instability of human types, 1911) and which has affinities with the notion of "plastic life" which had been long before proposed by Ralph Cudworth (1617-1688). We recall here the fact that the English philosopher, against the deists of the 17th century, proposed this notion in order to define God's method of creation, namely "not by partial and occasional acts of creation but continuously and progressively through laws inherent in matter" (Clarke 1874; cf. Wilson 1965: 289). The American transcendentalist James Freeman Clarke brought back Cudworth's concept into academic debate (cf. his review published in Galaxy, December 1874), seeing in this idea a piece of evidence that in reality there was no conflict between the theory of evolution and that regarding divine creation:

God may be regarded as creating each plant, while he maintains the mysterious force of development by which it grows from its egg or its seed. (Clarke 1897; cf. Wilson 1965:289)

Boas retained the concept of human plasticity, which was associated, in the American context, both with evolutionism and with creationism (as in Clarke's hypothesis in which the two were reconciled). Boas however does not use it in the previous acceptations of Cudworth and Clarke, although he was looking precisely for the "inherent laws" in matter (about which Cudworth was speaking) and nature. These for Boas were the following:

1) the "laws of hereditary stability";

2) "the laws of environmental variability of the human body" (cf. Psychological problems in anthropology, 1910);

3) the laws governing human "genius," "the psychological laws which control the mind of man everywhere" (cf id.).

He thus underlined that these laws evidenced the existence in the evolution of human society of an intercrossing of the two fundamental tendencies (Anthropology, 1908; Boas 1989: 278):

1) evolutionism: the passage from simple to complex forms; and

2) regressiveness: the passage from complex to simple forms. These are fundamental organic laws whereby nature and culture seem to function.

The history of industrial development, obviously, attested almost entirely an increase of complexity, but human activities that were not based on processes of reasoning did not have the same form of evolutionary unfolding. Boas gave the example of language and art:

1) the grammatical categories of Latin and modern English were "crude" in comparison with the complexity of logical and psychological forms that are encountered in primitive languages;

2) the decorative design of primitive tribes had a complexity of rhythmical structure unequalled in contemporary popular art; and, similarly,

3) in the music of the primitives the complexity is so large, that a contemporary virtuoso would fail if he tried to imitate it.

Therefore, according to Boas we had to admit that simplicity was not necessarily a mark of antiquity, that is why the evolutionary theory of civilization was based on a logical error. Moreover, in 1894 Boas published the study entitled The anthropology of the North American Indian, in which he further explored the thesis of the "plasticity" of human types stating that "the mixture of races results in an increased vitality" (Boas 1989: 195), which seems to constitute a kind of correspondent element in the human sphere of a law of typological "resonance" (two human types meeting in favourable conditions give birth to a new type, endowed with a superior vital "frequency"). This has become by now a well-known phenomenon:

Breeders know that by seeking genetic purity through repeated crossings between closely related animals--inbreeding--they dangerously reduce the animals' resistance to disease. The reverse out-crossing --is more desirable since racial mixing in all species generally increases disease resistance and overall viability. This phenomenon is known as "hybrid vigor." (Cavalli-Sforza 2001: 47)

Ritual and myth

In 1896 was published another important study by Boas entitled The limitations of the comparative method of anthropology, in which the author further explored his criticism against evolutionism, especially in the context of folklore studies and by using a statistic analysis of the distribution of folklore elements. For Boas the process of myth formation constituted a model for the evolution of culture in general: human culture always developed in a specific historical context, and individuals--in a specific culture--transformed the cultural elements transmitted to them by tradition or from the foreigners whom they came in contact with. The totemic organization of the Navajo, Apache and Pueblo Indians could be given rise to by the association of several clans, but also by the disintegration of a tribe that increased its numbers too much, the results in both cases appearing to be identical. Similarly, the geometric designs in primitive art have their origin either in naturalistic forms--that were gradually conventionalized -, or in technical motifs, or they were from the very beginning geometric in nature, or they were derived from symbols. From these various sources, virtually infinitely many, identical forms were born.

A powerful example mentioned by Boas is the quasi-universal use of the mask, whose origin is not always clear. Still, a few functions are well known: 1) tricking a spirit as regards the identity of the one wearing the mask: a means of protection against the spirit of a sickness for instance, who, although it wants to attack him, cannot recognize the bearer of the mask; 2) the representation of a spirit that is personified by the bearer of the mask: under this form he will terrify inimical spirits; 3) the commemoration of a deceased person; 4) the representation in theatre of mythological events. Given the fact that the same ethnic phenomenon can develop from various sources, Boas concludes that it is false to state that the same phenomenon owes its existence always to the same causes. It is false to believe that this constitutes proof that the human mind is governed everywhere by the same laws. Boas confessed in a letter (dated March 1889) to Edward B. Tylor that by using the latter's method of "adhesions" he had managed to reconstruct the initial myths of the tribes from the north-west of the American continent and to determine the migratory routes of these myths. By his method, Tylor had tried to demonstrate--by analysing information from about 350 tribes--the tendency of the "clusters" of cultural habits to appear together, which strengthened the traditional evolutionary hypothesis regarding the development of a culture from matriarchal structures to patriarchal structures.

By Tylor's method, however, Boas researched the phenomenon of cultural diffusion, his conclusions advancing against evolutionary theory, at least in part. Additionally, Boas pointed out the internal paradox of evolutionary theory: physiological (biological) evolutionism stated that related forms had a unique origin (genetically deriving from it), while psychological (cultural) evolutionism stated that related forms had multiple origins (an idea could develop independently in different communities, or in different individuals). This means that the "clock" of culture may strike the same hour (the common idea that emerges simultaneously) in different cultures which have no connections with each other and which, possibly, might also unfold in different evolutionary stages and historical epochs.

Conversely, Boas (1989: 273) observed that while physical anthropology (somatology) was interested in differences between human types, ethnology concentrated on similarities between cultural types from regions set apart from each other (Anthropology, 1908). Moreover, Boas insisted that his historical method explored discrete cultural elements, but not as isolated elements: these could be understood only in relation with the entire culture of a tribe. By studying for instance the morphology of the Bella Coola and Kwakiutl Indians, Boas concluded that in their case the ritual was more archaic than the myth, the latter being invented in order to explain the habits that had been borrowed from foreign tribes: rite was, in this case, the primary phenomenon, and myth--the secondary (cf. The mythology of the Bella Coola Indians, 1898; Boas 1989: 154; The growth of the secret societies of the Kwakiutl, 1898; Boas 1982: 382). The same conclusion was presented by Boas in Summary of the work of the committee in British Columbia (1898), with generalized reference to the Indians from British Columbia, in the context of his analysis of the structure of secret societies:

[T]he myths on which a ritual is founded are probably secondary.

Here Boas explained the evolution of the system of membership in secret societies as result of the combined action of the social system and of the ritual method of "acquiring guardian spirits."

Rite was therefore prior to myth. A similar conclusion, which subsequently was to be considered revolutionary by the American critic Monroe Beardsley, was drawn by Jane Ellen Harrison in Themis: a study of the social origins of Greek religion: tragic myth "arose out of or rather together with the ritual, not the ritual out of the myth" (Harrison 1912: 13); myth (in this case the Greek) had a "shifting manifold character," while ritual was a "comparatively permanent element" (Harrison 1912: 16); myth was "the spoken correlative of the acted rite" (Harrison 1912: 328; cf also Beardsley 1966: 346). Harrison extended her hypothesis in Ancient art and ritual, where she comes to the conclusion that ancient art had its origin also in ritual, the two phenomena being practically impossible to distinguish in their incipient forms: "Greek drama" is "the clear historical case of a great art, which arose out of a very primitive and almost world-wide ritual" (Harrison 1913: V); "[t]he common source of the art and ritual of Osiris is the intense, world-wide desire that the life of Nature which seemed dead should live again. This common emotional factor it is that makes art and ritual in their beginnings well-nigh indistinguishable." (Harrison 1913: 26)

Against evolutionism: culture as diffusive adaptative accumulation

In 1896 Boas became a lecturer specializing in physical anthropology JN (somatology) at Columbia University, New York: the fact that he now obtained his tenure--by the combined effort of Abraham Jacobi (Boas's uncle, a prominent figure in the Jewish-German community from New York) and Frederick Ward Putnam (from Harvard, Boas being his assistent)--is considered as being the turning point in Boas's career. In 1899 Boas was offered a position as professor of anthropology at Columbia University (1899-1942), it would seem as a response to a similar offer from Vienna University. The first PhD coordinated by Boas at this university was that of Alfred L. Kroeber (1901), and until 1911 he had already supervised seven such doctorates in anthropology. In this period he created one of the most important departments of anthropology in the United States.

Until 1900 Boas had already formulated his critique on evolutionism and had renounced the idea of culture as a process of organic growth, on the contrary culture being conceived of as developing by accumulation of foreign material which was adapted and changed according to "the genius of the people" that borrowed it. Culture was nevertheless at the same time an integrated spiritual totality which conditioned the form of its constitutive elements, and mytologies in their present form--containing even "the most sacred myths"--could not be considered as being "simply the result of a rationalistic attempt to explain nature" (cf The mythologies of the Indians, 1905; Boas 1989: 147). Thus, although the phenomena of nature were a fundament for many myths (see the sun, the moon, the clouds, the thunder, the sea, the earth, etc.), yet many of these myths could not be interpreted as being simple observations of natural phenomena. (Cf. Summary of the work of the Committee in British Columbia, in Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science for 1898, published in London in 1899).

After 1900 Boas became interested precisely in the way in which the "genius of a people" (Volksgeist, a notion of romantic derivation) integrated the elements brought together into a culture by the almost accidental accumulation (accretion) of historical processes (Stocking, Jr. 1989: 5).

This phenomenon of historical hazard might suggest that culture is governed by chaotic attractors (as is the case of a gravity pendulum); the question of law however remains valid, namely that of the law governing hazard/chaos itself, bearing in mind that chaotic attractors function too in accordance with invisible, imperceptible types of order of high complexity.

Between 1901 and 1905 Boas held a positon as assistant curator of the Departament of Anthropology of the American Museum of Natural History from New York. He resigned from this position in the spring of 1905 because of a conflict with the newly appointed director of the museum, Herman Bumpus, and this led to a change of his directions of research: the south of the New World. From this position Boas conducted and edited the reports elaborated by the Jesup North-Pacific Expedition (after the name of the president of the museum, Morris Jesup, to whom Boas proposed the idea of the expedition), which, taking place over a period of six years (1897-1902), implying fourteen researchers and being carried out on two continents, had as a main objective researching the relations between the native peoples of Siberia and North America: the question of the peopling of the New World. In this sense, Boas suggested that his early work in ethnography developed precisely being directed towards a clarification of this traditional ethnological issue (The history of the American Race, 1912; Boas 1982: 324ff). In the study entitled The Jesup North Pacific Expedition (1905), Boas (1989: 107ff) described the structure of his field work: the main task was gathering "texts," i.e. traditional materials from the members of Indian tribes, these being phonetically registered directly in the language of the natives and interlinearly translated into English with the help of a bilingual person. What was essential was a practical knowledge of Amerindian dialects, Boas himself coming to speak fluently the language of the Kwakiutl Indians. An essential ethnographic interest was the study of the language and of the significance for Indians of their cultural materials.

Among the most talented collaborators of Boas who registered alone texts of the natives (then sending them to Boas in New York) are George Hunt (with parents of Scottish and Tlingit origin), who lived among the Kwakiutl Indians; and Henry W. Tate (Indian from the Tsimshian tribe). Of course, the practice of gathering texts had been used before, but Boas's merit rests in that he set this practice as the master key of the ethnographic method. When in 1886 he had started to carry out field research on the north-west coast of the American continent, Boas had proceeded from the idea that mythology, alongside with the linguistic and physical features of a tribe, could be also "a useful tool for differentiating and judging the relationships of tribes" (Boas 1989: 85) that is why he dedicated much time and effort for gathering tribal myths as an integral part of tribal tradition. In this direction he followed Bastian, who considered that popular fairy tales and myths constituted the most characteristic expression of "popular thought" (Volkergedanken). Because native Indians did not possess a written history, the mission proposed by Boas was extremely significant even for the Indian tribes: the formation of a documentary corpus which was to originate precisely from the American Indians and which was to thus be equivalent with similar documents of European or Oriental civilization, like the medieval codices or the monumental manuscripts in Sanskrit, Persian, etc.; this corpus was meant for remote posterity, which was to study these documents long time after their "authors" will have died.

Reconstructing history

The immediate purpose of Boas's method was, however, the "reconstruction" of the early history of the races of humanity. In the American period, Boas brought essential contributions to the development of statistical physical anthropology; descriptive and theoretical linguistics; and the ethnology of American Indians, with essential studies of folklore and art, the latter being considered as one of the most important factors in the evolution of the tribal social system. Already in the first decade of the 20th century Boas was by far the most important anthropologist in the USA. In 1906, when he turned only fourty eight years old, a honorary volume was dedicated to him, i.e. the kind of publications usually consecrated to coleagues that come closer and closer to their retirement from university didactic activity. After this rare event what followed for Boas was an extremely fruitful period of thirty six years. He founded International Journal of American Linguistics; he was one of the founders of the American Anthropological Association (and its president between 1907 and 1908) and of the International School of Archeology and Etnology in Mexico City (and its director between 1911 and 1912). He was the president of the New York Academy of Sciences (1910)--an institution that was founded by the American physician Samuel L. Mitchill in 1817 under the title The Lyceum of Natural History, to which in the course of time belonged many important personalities such as John James Audubon, Alexander Graham Bell, Hans A. Bethe, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Thomas Huxley, Thomas Jefferson, Claude LeviStrauss, Margaret Mead, James Monroe, Louis Pasteur, Linus Pauling, Andrei Saharov, James D. Watson, etc., and which contributed to the organization of New York University (1831), the foundation of The American Museum of Natural History (1868), the setting up of The Scientific Alliance (1891), etc., becoming one of the most important scientific establishments in the world. He also was the president of The American Association for the Progress of Science (1931).

In the period spent in Mexico he supervised the first archeological stratigraphic research in the New World (Adams 1960; Gamio 1959; apud Stocking, Jr.; cf Boas 1989: 285). In 1908 Boas published the lecture entitled Anthropology, in which he defined the method and purposes of anthropology. We understand from this study that Boas was interested in the reconstruction of the early history of mankind, as well as in establishing the laws underlying the evolution of humanity and which had to be derived from the "ever-recurring modes of historical happenings" (Boas 1989:269). In this particular point Boas comes quite close to the archetypal and mythopoetic/mythocritical theories embraced in the 20th century by C. G. Jung, Northrop Frye, Mircea Eliade, Gilbert Durand, etc., researchers of permanently repetitive patterns. Moreover, this study reveals quite well the roots of Ruth Benedict's concept of "psychocultural archetype" (Aberle 1960; apud Stocking, Jr.; cf Boas 1989:257). Boas emphasized here the difference between history and anthropology: while the historian was interested especially in those events that had and keep on having influence on the evolution of civilization, the anthropologist was equally interested in the life of all the peoples in the world that were regarded as being equally important.

As in the natural sciences, which it resembles more than history, anthropology considers historical events as a sequence of events (without reference to the influence on the evolution of civilization) that consisted in a perpetual repetition of processes of integration and disintegration of peoples and cultures, these being two important vectors of what we call the "pendulum of history": order-disorder (with the necessary nuances: already existing order versus ordering, i.e. movement towards order under the influence of a punctual or periodic attractor; and already existing disorder versus disordering, i.e. movement towards disorder under the influence of a chaotic attractor).

Boas anticipated that anthropology was to become increasingly more a method--which will be capable of being used by numerous sciences and increasingly less a science as such. In his study entitled Anthropology (1908) he also presented his hypothesis regarding the evolution of human types. There were two fundamental, extreme and divergent, types: 1) the Negro race: Africa and the islands around Australia; and 2) the Mongoloid race: the east of Asia and America. The other divergent human types, which developed in an early period, derived--as mutants --from these two fundamental types. Thus:

I. From the Negro race derived two types: 1) the south African dwarf (related to many isolated dwarf tribes from Africa and the south of Asia); 2) the Australian.

II. From the Mongoloid race derived the following mutants: 1) the Malay from the southeast of Asia; 2) the Ainu population in Japan; 3) the European.

This means that at an early period two major divisions formed: 1) the race of the Indian Ocean --all Negroid races; 2) the race of the Pacific Ocean --all Mongoloid races and those related to them. The number of Europeans increased only two or three thousand years ago: the white race constituted initially a very small part of mankind. Moreover, the race of the Pacific Ocean migrated to America very early; after the retreat of ice-sheet, it returned to northern Asia and the whole of the north of the Old World. Boas, however, admits that this information remains largely hypothetical. Additionally, the relation of the race of the Indian Ocean and of the race of the Pacific Ocean with their predecessor, the race of Europe from the early quaternary age, remains unknown.

Still, it was clear from its typological evolution that with humanity "the tendency to form mutants has been ever-present" (Boas 1989:272), which again reflects Boas's idea regarding the "plasticity" of human types. Still, the varieties that have survived until the present day attested that the human types are extremely stabile, within the limits of their specific space of variation.

In other words, Boas added some nuances to his notion of "plasticity" as a complex assemblage of variability in stability. Moreover, the same stability manifested even in the case of race mixture: there was in the case of human races a powerful tendency for hybrids to return to one of the parental types without forming an intermediary race. For instance, in the west of Asia the Semitic low-headed type and the Armenian high-headed type continued to exist, although the respective populations continued to mix together for thousands of years. The racial purity which Europeans boasted with did not even exist, because all nations of the world were equally mixed (Boas 1989: 273).

Between 1908 and 1910 Boas undertook a research project in the field of physical anthropology for the U.S. Immigration Commission, created by Congress in order to investigate the effects of the so-called "new" immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. This commission was to publish about forty volumes by which the restrictive legislation regarding immigration was justified. Between 1908 and 1925 Boas edited the review of the American Folklore Society, for which he had contributed with studies also previously. In 1911 Boas published three essential works that reflect his interest for ethnology, physical anthropology, archeology and linguistics: 1) The mind of primitive man (MacMillan, New York), a series of lectures on culture and race, held by Boas at Lowell Institute of Boston, Massachusetts and at National University of Mexico (1910-1911); 2) Handbook of American Indian languages, Part I, whereby he set the foundation of the tradition of modern descriptive linguistics; 3) Changes in the bodily form of descendants of immigrants, which represented his final report for the Immigration Commission. In the latter, Boas concluded that in the conditions of the American environment the head of certain children of immigrants becomes longer (the children growing taller), while that of others, on the contrary, becomes flatter (the children growing shorter). We were dealing with a visible typological change that could be explained only as a direct effect of the influence of the factors of environment, but it was impossible to determine a clear direction of evolution towards an "American type," because the modifications could be either positive or negative. What was, however, remarkable is the fact that the change in the form of the head took place almost immediately after the arrival of the parents in America: if the child was born in Europe and it arrived in America at the age of even less than one year, it preserved the form of the head which is characteristic of Europeans. If, however, the child was born in America, even if the parents arrived here only a few months before (being therefore conceived in Europe), the child had the form of the head modified in accordance with the American type. Moreover, Boas also came to the following conclusion which is crucial for our understanding of the relationship between nature and culture: the longer the duration necessary for an organ to develop, the greater the influence of the conditions of both environment and society.

Out of these considerations Boas derived the "plasticity " of human types--without having data about its limits--which was real not only as regards the physical characteristics, but also as regards the psychological ones, the nervous system (like the rest of the human organism) being also influenced by the conditions in the environment and in society: if they were favourable, the organs developed well, if not, the latter remained behind (they became "retarded"). Boas noted that this type of typological modifications have been observed also in urban populations in contrast with rural populations in Europe. Two explanations had been offered in this sense: 1) Ridolfo Livi stated that the urban type was caused by a larger blending of local types from cities, which was not the case for the rural areas, where the tendency was in general of isolation by comparison with the urban mode; 2) Otto Ammon and C. Rose explained the urban type as evidence for natural selection: the better type was the one that survived. Boas, however, did not agree with the second explanation (obviously evolutionary in a Darwinian sense): the typological mixture and the typological modification (in the Boasian sense presented above) were sufficient to explain the changes that took place when changing one's environment from rural life to urban life. As a consequence, an essential aspect in Boas's suggested "equation" was the question of "favourable conditions": if these were lacking, certain organs developed deficiently, which triggered modifications in the proportions of the human organism. An essential conclusion drawn by Boas from all these researches was that the populations immigrating into the United States were assimilated, that is why the Americans did not need to fear a socalled "unfavourable influence" of south European immigration on the American population. Boas became the most credible advocate against the legislation that restricted immigration into the United States, as well as against the old idea regarding the "absolute stability of human types" (associated with the thesis of the plasticity of human types), and equally also against the belief that certain human types possess a heredity that is superior to that of others--a conclusion which, obviously, could not be convenient for Nazi ideologues of the superiority of the Aryan race (the Indo-European race, equated with the north European race). (Changes in immigrant body form, 1908; Boas 1989: 202ff; Instability of human types, 1911; Boas 1989: 214ff).

Moreover, the attack against the thesis regarding the superior heredity was extended in the lecture entitled Psychological problems in anthropology, published in 1910 (and integrated in The mind of primitive man, 1911), in which he affirmed that all evidence leads to the conclusion regarding the "essential similarity of mental endowment in different races" (Boas 1989: 244). On the other hand, The mind of primitive man became a point of reference often invoked by those who opposed the new regulations whereby immigration into the United States was limited on the grounds of racial differences. In 1916 Boas published a 1000-page work entitled Tsimshian mythology, in which he analyzed the tribal myths of Indians from the north-western coast of the United States (the coast of the North Pacific) and which was to become an exemplary model for subsequent studies. Other three fundamental volumes followed: 1) Primitive art (1927). 2) Anthropology and modern life (1928), which as a volume soon became a "classic" manifesto, contains the final definition of race and culture: the myth of racial, cultural and ethnic superiority was shattered. The main thesis here was that all human groups evolved equally, but on different trajectories; the mechanism of heritage was more founded in the genealogical trees of the family and less in race. 3) Race, language and culture (1940), a genuine monument of science and culture.

In the 1930s in Nazi Germany Boas's volumes The mind of primitive man and Anthropology and modern life were burned in public autos-da-fe; moreover, his PhD degree, which Kiel University had reconfirmed in 1931 by a special festivity, was annulled. In 1938 Boas published an augmented and updated edition of the volume The mind of primitive man. In Race, language and culture Boas offered a final selection of all his studies that he considered as fundamental, reflecting his new complex theory about race, language and culture: these three factors are not closely related at present, and probably never were. Although Race, language and culture is the volume that best renders the vastness and complexity of Boas's research, still it does not include aspects of his career from which to extract an image of the role played by Boas in the general development of anthropology. In this sense, George W. Stocking, Jr., published A Franz Boas reader: the shaping of American anthropology, 1883-1911 (1974), by which he offered an ideal supplement for the volume Race, language and culture.

Boasian theory maintained that every man is unique, a product of three factors: his own heredity, the environment and culture. The stress laid on the uniqueness of the human being had affinities with Margaret Fuller's thought system. Thereby Boas established a scientific basis for individualism: in a democratic society, the individual was justified, regardless of colour, class or sex, to have access to an equal participation in the life and culture of society, and so to a plenary development of his unique potentialities. Boas wanted to use anthropology as a weapon against intolerance and the eugenic theories of the time, succeeding in nullifying the validity of racist statements that had been used as justification for the Immigration Act issued in 1924, which included the National Origins Clause, whereby Northerners were favoured to the detriment of the "inferior peoples." By 1894 Boas's critique against racism was already crystalized. His perspective required from the anthropologist to be able to understand all the factors that might influence the histories of the peoples. In order to say that the cultural differences are not the result of biological differences, the anthropologist had for instance to know biology; in order to understand the interrelations between man and the environment, he had to know aspects regarding migration, nutrition, specific methods of child raising, illness, the connections between man and his culture. Anthropology became holistic, but also eclectic, being interested in any research fields that proved relevant for the specific problems approached anthropologically. In this complex equation of anthropology as a nascent science, it is not surprising that Boas's theoretical position was often interpreted erroneously.

Ruth Bunzel (1986: 9-10) is of the opinion that there are two fundamental errors as regards the ways in which Boas's essential position was interpreted. Bunzel states the following: 1) Boas was not a "cultural relativist" in the usual sense of the notion according to which in the case of man there are no "ethical absolutes"; and 2) Boas was not an anti-evolutionist, because, although he opposed the ethno-centric version of cultural evolution as postulated in the 19th century (the theory according to which mankind evolved by a unniform series of stages, from savage man to Victorian man, all human stages and cultures having to be compared with Victorian man who was considered as being in possession of the most evolved culture), he nevertheless believed in cultural evolution and in progress especially in the following domains: a) the increase of knowledge and the growth of technology; b) the improvement of man's capacity to control the environment; and c) the enhancement of man's capacity to control his impulse towards aggression, which allowed him to live in peace in ever larger groups of fellow beings.

Surely Bunzel is right to observe that Boas was no "cultural relativist," as we have already seen. Still, as regards the second statement according to which Boas was no anti-evolutionist, Bunzel is right only partially: Boas expressed himself extremely clearly numberless times against evolutionism, although it is true that, in the last analysis, his system validates a convergence between evolutionism and regressivism, the two being universal forces acting in parallel on different levels of reality.

In accordance with systems theory, this model suggests that culture may operate as an assemblage of subsystems, some of which are moving in evolutive direction, while others--in opposite, regressive direction, from the cumulation of their combined effects resulting the global trajectory of culture as a system of subsystems wherein both basic forces (the evolutive and the regressive) operate simultaneously.

Moreover, regarding natural selection (evolutionism in a restricted Darwinian sense), we could see that Boas clearly opposed the explanation suggested by Otto Ammon and C. Rose as regards the origin of differentiation between the urban and the rural type: for Boas this differentiation was not at all evidence confirming natural selection, on the contrary, it was accounted for by the phenomenon of typological mixture and modification, which represents the fundamental Boasian diffusionist-migrationist thesis.

Primitive man: the path to civilization

We have up to this point surveyed in broad outlines the evolution of Boas's thought along several decades of scientific activity. In the following three sections we shall explore the trilogy made up of the volumes The mind of primitive man, Anthropology and modern life and Race, language and culture, whereby the Boasian system of thought reveals itself in all its vastness and amplitude. In this context, we will also make reference to another priceless Boasian "classic," the volume entitled Primitive art (1925), which was and probably is still used by many professors as a "must-read" manual for students of anthropology and art history.

In The mind of primitive man (1911), a course of lectures on culture and race, held at the Lowell Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, and at the National University of Mexico (1910-1911), and published in New York by Macmillan Company, Boas resumes, extends and more profoundly explores the following studies published before: 1) Human faculty as determined by race, 1894; 2) The limitations of the comparative method of anthropology, 1896; 3) The mind of primitive man, 1901; 4) Some traits of primitive culture, 1904; 5) Race problems in America, 1909; 6) Psychological problems in anthropology, 1910; 7) parts of Introduction to Handbook of American Indian languages, Part I, 1911; 8) parts of the conclusions presented in Changes in the bodily form of descendants of immigrants, 1911. The work is a first synthesis regarding the results of Boas's researches up to that date. From the very beginning Boas dismantles the thesis according to which the white race (the European and the North European) were the supreme race. He lays stress on the fact that the development of civilization took place especially by a mechanism whereby the more civilized peoples were conquered by less civilized peoples that, however, adopted from the conquered peoples the arts of life. This is how civilization is the product of a multiple, composite genius of the conquering and the conquered peoples. The ideas and inventions were transferred from the ones to the others by a process of slow intercommunication. As we have seen, by describing "time binding," Korzybski (1971) showed that the progressive accumulation of knowledge in man is much more rapid than in animals, which do not possess a means of registering in written form data acquired in time. Boas underlines in this sense not the rapidness of the accumulation, but the fact that the dissemination of ideas in various peoples--as long as they stay in contact--takes place regardless of race, language or distance, that is why we ought to bow before the "genius" of all peoples, no matter if we are talking about the Hamitic, Semitic, Aryan (Indo-European) or Mongol nations. As far as the greater rapidity in the development of the Old World is concerned, Boas qualifies it as a result of the hazard by which the Old World won an advance of three or four thousand years compared to the New World, giving the following example: two little children of the same age may have more features in common, physically and psychologically, than two teenagers or two old men of the same age actually have. In the latter what happens is the possible occurence of accidental accelerations or retardations of development, resulting in large physical and psychological differences, which, however, does not signify that one of these is hereditarily superior or inferior. Boas suggests that the difference of about four thousand years is insignificant, if we take into account the age of the human race, comparable with geological ages: he cites a study by A. Penck, in which it was estimated at around 100,000 years.

(At present, of course, this age has been recalculated and the newest estimates propose that "African Eve" existed about 190,000 years ago, with the extreme limits of error being circa 150,000 and 300,000 years ago--cf. Allan Wilson et al, apud Stone & Lurquin 2005: 120-, or that the age of homo sapiens sapiens is of about 450,000 years: it is at that time, according to Sitchin and his quickly developing school of thought, that a genetic intervention by the so-called "gods" occurred whereby the already existing advanced primates were made to evolve by a huge leap; Sitchin thus explained the sudden appearance of man as we know him today about which the Sumerian and Akkadian chronicles speak rather clearly; in this context, it is now currently assumed that ancient humans have been using language for circa 100,000 years--cf Stone & Lurquin 2005: 129).

Moreover, the retardation of four thousand years were significant only in case it reemerged--independently --over and over again in the same race, while the other races were to repeatedly manifest the same more rapid evolution in conditions of independence.

Boas, however, observed a paradox: while the tribes of ancient Europe rapidly and efficiently assimilated the more advanced civilization that was offered them, the present primitive tribes become degraded when confronted with advanced civilization, instead of being lifted by it. Among the possible reasons Boas enumerated: 1) the epidemics caused in the tribes of Native Americans at the time of the invasion by Europeans of America and of Polynesia; 2) the immense difference between the tribal economy and the industrial, the first being "exterminated" by the extremely small price of mass-market products which are in open direct conflict with the rather expensive tribal hand-made products;

3) the number of immigrants which surpassed by far the number of tribal natives, who thus saw themselves kicked out of their own homes and native places, there being no sufficient time for gradual assimilation.

However, in the enumeration above Boas seems to not have been aware of the fact that the Europeans themselves most probably also "imported" from the Native Americans an extremely pernicious illness, all of which evidences precisely the Boasian theory of diffusionism according to which influences by cultural contact spread radially both ways, not unidirectionally. The disease referred to is syphilis, against which Amerindians appear to have much higher immunity than is the case with Europeans. The story is told by Cavalli-Sforza (2001: 43-44, 105-106):

According to one popular hypothesis, syphilis was common in the Americas and was brought back to Spain in 1493, believed to be its first appearance in Europe, by the first Spanish sailors of Columbus's expedition. Hastened by war, it spread to France and Italy and soon to the rest of Europe. Research on preColumbian mummies suggested that the A and B blood groups existed in the Americas several thousand years ago, but this has not been substantiated by modem analytical methods. If the result could be confirmed, however, it would implicate natural selection in the disappearance of the A and B genes from the Americas. If the O blood group confers some resistance to syphilis, and there are some cues that it may, its frequency would increase relative to the susceptible A and B blood groups during an epidemic. [...] [N]atural selection could have eliminated individuals bearing the non-O blood groups, and a potential reason has been identified--syphilis, a disease that burst into Europe only after 1492. An event that helped spread the disease in Europe was a war against Spain fought by Charles VIII, king of France, near Naples, beginning in August 1494 and ending in February 1495 with the fall of that city. Naples was under Spanish control from then on, but the contagion spread from Spanish to French troops and the Italian population. The disease therefore acquired different names in different countries: Spanish, Neapolitan, French, and Gallic. The hypothesis of an American origin was suggested in the first, excellent scientific description of the disease, which gave the illness its name. This happened [...] in the Latin poem Syphilis sive Morbus Gallicus (Syphilis or the Gallic disease), written by Girolamo Fracastoro in 1530. In the poem, a young American shepherd named Syphilis is unfaithful to the sun god and plagued by ghastly syphilitic ulcers as punishment. But the god forgives him and teaches him a treatment involving an American plant and mercury. In another work, De contagione et contagiosis mortis (Of contagion and contagious diseases), 1546, Fracastoro interprets infectious diseases including syphilis, leprosy, tuberculosis, typhus, and so on, in a remarkably modem way. Fracastoro's extraordinary intuition in all these matters leads me to believe that his theory on the American origin of syphilis, and its transportation to Europe by Christopher Columbus's sailors, is also correct. The theory is given further credence by our current knowledge that type O individuals under treatment for syphilis recover more rapidly (from an immunological viewpoint) than those belonging to other blood groups.

Additionally, although he accepts that human types evolved from a common animal ancestor, Boas (1911: 24) adopts Karl Pearson's conclusions according to which "there is little relationship between the external physical and the psychical character in man." Boas concludes (with L. Manouvrier) that the features of the osseous, muscular, visceral and circulatory systems have practically no direct connection with man's mental capacity. As a consequence, even if between the cranial structure in the black race and that in primates there are larger similarities than between the same structure in the white race and in primates, this state of affairs does not mean that the black race were psychically inferior because it is closer to the structure typical in animals (primates in this case), while the white race were psychically/ psychologically superior.

Boas (1911: 30-75) explores the question of the influence exerted by the environment on human types. He observes that biological science shows us there is no permanent stability of human bodily form. The conception about the development of varieties and species is based on the assumption regarding the cumulative or sudden variation. Boas lays stress on the influence of exterior favourable or unfavourable conditions: these can have permanent effects. For instance, the retardation of the development in a child owing to some unfavourable conditions during childhood may never be compensated completely, even if that child shall continue to grow for a longer period of time, surpassing the normal period of growth.

This Boasian thesis anticipates the similar question regarding the development of linguistic capacity: the "critical period hypothesis," according to which the ability to learn articulated languages is limited to a biologically circumscribed period, approximately from the age of 18 months and up to the age of adolescence. In this sense, E. H. Lenneberg stated in Biological foundations of language (New York, 1967) that this critical period occurred approximately between the first year of life and the end of the age of ten years. The idea of critical period derives from the biological concept of maturation, according to which biological development is programmed to follow a genetically determined sequence of organic modifications. Still, the manifestation of the genetic programme requires adequate conditions of environment. Similarly, experts believe that if a child is not exposed to normal conditions of language interaction and practice during the critical period, subsequently from a biological point of view it is impossible for it to learn the language normally anymore. The critical period hypothesis suggests also that cerebral lesions, which in an adult would cause the loss of the capacity to speak, in little children should not have such drastic effects, because the brain of the child is more flexible, it is still in its formative period, being modelled by forces of maturation, so that there is the possibility that other cerebral areas take over the functions of the damaged area and thus continue the cerebral development in a more or less normal way. Nevertheless, there are clinical indications that certain cerebral lesions in a child may have as an effect definitive impairment of speech capacity, but also that the cerebral flexibility of the child never disappears entirely in the adult. Up to the present time, however, no convincing evidence exists to show that there is a critical point during adolescence beyond which the learning of a language becomes impossible (Matthew Saxton, cf. McLeish 1994: 174), although it is well known that the educators of "savage children"--among whom we may mention the young Victor from Aveyron and, more recently, in the United States, Genie, who was discovered at the age of 14 years --had immense difficulties in their attempt to teach the children how to use a natural language, which in this sense would confirm the idea of the definitive surpassing of the critical period (Ducrot & Schaeffer 1996: 331).

On the other hand, however, Boas observes that the acceleration of a child's development owing to some favourable conditions during childhood will often lead to prematurely reaching the adult stage of development, the bodily dimensions reached being in general relatively larger than the normal type, the mental activity being superior too. The retardation and the acceleration of growth in different conditions of environment have therefore an influence on the relative proportions of the human body and on the mental development, which is governed by laws similar to those that control the bodily development. In this Boas (1911: 49) follows Ernst Meumann (1907i: 59) who came to the following conclusions:

1) in general, children with better bodily development also have better results in school;

2) the development of memory and general intelligence takes place in parallel with the development of the body in children aged between 9 to 14 years. (This situation, of course, reminds us of the old Latin dictum expressed by Juvenal, and earlier in a similar form by Thales: mens sana in corpore sano = a healthy mind in a healthy body).

The plasticity / instability / variability of human types according to Boas is not infinite, but limited; still, as regards mental constitution there is great plasticity, Boas stating that a new environment has visible effects even in individuals who arrived in the new environment during childhood. Moreover, he shows that the structure of the skeleton in Bushmen and Hottentots (Khoikhoi) is different from that of Europeans: Africans have suppler and more solid bones, while Europeans have heavier bones, with an opener structure. This state of affairs is similar in the animal domain: the passage from the savage stage to the domestic leads to similar transformations of bone structure. Africans have a skeleton structure comparable to that of wild animals, while Europeans have a skeleton structure comparable to that of domestic animals. This situation is considered as being of the highest importance, because it shows the way in which external factors influence typological transformations. There are three factors triggering typological changes in the process of domestication:

1) feeding, the way in which the body is used, the mode of life;

2) (more or less) conscious selection;

3) interbreeding between species. For instance, the Eskimo dogs, which are descendants from the great North American gray wolf- Canis lupus lycaon, still interbreed with the latter.

Boas's thesis is that among these three factors the first and the third have been the most active in the evolution of the human races. For example, the Eskimos have an exclusively carnivorous diet, while the natives of South Asia have an exclusively vegetarian diet: the two types of diet will have radically different effects on bodily form. On the other hand, selection in human society like the one operated by certain restrictive laws by which in certain tribes the intermarriage between the children of brother and sister is allowed, while the intermarriage between the children of brothers and the children of sisters is forbidden--although it may have had a certain "selective effect," is nevertheless little likely to have had a consistent influence on the way in which the form of the human body evolved (Boas 1911: 72-73). Laws of endogamy produced, however, distinct typologies: between the castes in Bengal, the inferior castes comprise the characteristic South Indian type, while the superior castes preserve the characteristic North West Indian type. Still, no matter how strict, these laws of endogamy cannot hinder interbreeding between different types. Boas's conclusions are thus the following:

1) one of the most powerful determining factors that led to transformations of human typology is the process of progressive domestication inherent in the civilizing act;

2) the environment has an important effect on human anatomical and psychological structure, that is why in the framework of the same race we have to expect typological and behavioural differences between the primitive and the civilized type.

In this direction of research, crucial contributions have been brought by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza (2001: 10-13), who came to the following conclusions concerning the influence of the environment on the evolution of man's bodily traits:

[The] diaspora of Africans to the rest of the world exposed them to a great variety of environments: from hot and humid or hot and dry environments [...] to temperate and cold ones, including the coldest ones of the world, as in Siberia. We can go through some of the steps that this entailed. / 1) Exposure to a new environment inevitably causes an adaptation to it. In the 50,000-100,000 years since the African diaspora, there has been an opportunity for substantial adaptation, both cultural and biological. We can see traces of the latter in skin color and in size and shape of the nose, eyes, head, and body. One can say that each ethnic group has been genetically engineered under the influence of the environments where it settled. Black skin color protects those who live near the equator from burning under the sun's ultraviolet radiation, which can also lead to deadly skin cancers. The dairy-poor diet of European farmers, based almost entirely on cereals that lack ready-made vitamin D, might have left them vulnerable to rickets [...]. But they were able to survive at the higher latitudes to which they migrated from the Middle East because the essential vitamin can be produced, with the aid of sunlight, from precursor molecules found in cereals. For this Europeans have developed the whiteness of their skin, which the sun's ultraviolet radiation can penetrate to transform these precursors into vitamin D. It is not without reason that Europeans have, on average, whiter skin the further north they are born. / The size and shape of the body are adapted to temperature and humidity. In hot and humid climates, like tropical forests, it is advantageous to be short since there is greater surface area for the evaporation of sweat compared to the body's volume. A smaller body also uses less energy and produces less heat. Frizzy hair allows sweat to remain on the scalp longer and results in greater cooling. With these adaptations, the risk of overheating in tropical climates is diminished. Populations living in tropical forests generally are short, Pygmies being the extreme example. The face and body of the Mongols [...] result from adaptations to the bitter cold of Siberia. The body, and particularly the head, tends to be round, increasing body volume. The evaporative surface area of the skin is thus reduced relative to body volume, and less heat is lost. The nose is small and less likely to freeze, and the nostrils are narrow, warming the air before it reaches the lungs. Eyes are protected from the cold Siberian air by fatty folds of skin. These eyes are often considered beautiful, and Charles Darwin wondered if radal differences might not result from the particular tastes of individuals. He called the idea that mates were chosen for their attractive quality "sexual selection." It is very likely that some characteristics undergo sexual selection--eye color and shape, for example. [...]/ 2) [...] We could ask if sufficient time has passed since the settling of the continents to produce these biological adaptations. [...] We could note in this regard that the Ashkenazi Jews who have lived in central and eastern Europe for at least 2,000 years have much lighter skin than the Sephardi Jews who have lived on the Meditenrranean perimeter for at least the same length of time. [...] 3) Adaptations to climate primarily affect surface-characteristics. The interface between the interior and exterior plays the biggest part in the exchange of heat from the interior to the exterior and vice versa. [...] [B]ody surface has been largely modified to adapt different people to different environments. 4) [T]oday we know that [pure races] do not [exist], and that they are practically impossible to create. To achieve even partial "purity" (that is, a genetic homogeneity [...]) would require at least twenty generations of "inbreeding" [...]. [...] [T]he careful genetic study of hidden variation, unrelated to climate, has confirmed that homogeneous races do not exist. It is not only true that racial purity does not exist in nature: it is entirely unachievable, and would not be desirable. It is true, however, that "cloning," which is now a reality in animals not very remote from us, can generate "pure" races. Identical twins are examples of living human clones. But creating human races artificially by cloning would have potentially very dangerous consequences, both biologically and socially.

Cavalli-Sforza's scientific explanation regarding the existence of Pygmies is indeed most remarkable; he resumed this subject--which is crucial for showing that the human body changes organically in a dramatic manner in accordance with the environmental conditions--in another book, in which he conclusively showed the geometrical-mathematical considerations for such a drastic change in bodily structure (see the following scheme representing cubes of various volumes as a basis for comparison with the human body).

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In the scheme below, when (body) volume is doubled, the ratio of surface to volume is halved, which means that the more volume a body has, the less surface it will have relative to the entire mass of its volume. Since bodily surface is crucial for sweating, an increase in skin surface will result in more area for sweating and thus a greater capacity of the body to cool itself by losing internal heat. If the bodily volume, however, is too large, cooling may become impossible: as can be seen in the scheme above, the ratio of surface to volume tends to zero if the volume is increased indefinitely; conversely, if the volume is decreased indefinitely, the ratio of surface to volume tends to infinity (this phenomenon is explained by the fact that surface is a quadratic function, while volume is a cubic function). Hence Cavalli-Sforza's conclusion: "In a warm and humid environment, it is best to be small." (id.)

In formal mathematical terms, this can be written as follows. If the cube volume = V = [x.sup.3]; and the cube surface [MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

The relation of doubling versus halving mentioned above can be written as strings thus:

x = a, 2a, 4a, ..., [2.sup.n]a

S = 6[a.sup.2], 6[(2a).sup.2], 6[(4a).sup.2], ..., 6[([2.sup.n]a).sup.2] = 6[a.sup.2], 6X4[a.sup.2], 6X16[a.sup.2], ..., 6X[2.sup.2n][a.sup.2] = 6[a.sup.2], 24[a.sup.2], 96[a.sup.2], ..., 3X[2.sup.(2n + 1)][a.sup.2] V = [a.sup.3], [(2a).sup.3], [(4a).sup.3], ..., [([2.sup.n]a).sup.3] = [a.sup.3], 8[a.sup.3], 64[a.sup.3], ..., [23.sup.n][a.sup.3]

S/V =6/a, 6/2a, 6/4a, ..., 6/[2.sup.n]a = 6/a, 3/a, 3/2a, ..., 3/[[2.sup.(n-1)]a]

S/V = 3X[2.sup.(2n + l)][a.sup.2]/[23.sup.n][a.sup.3] = 3X[2.sup.(2n + 1)]/[2.sup.3n]a = 3/[2.sup.[3n-(2n+l)]]a = 3/[[2.sup.(n-1)]a]

For n = 0 (that is for the value where x = a, with /a/ being for instance the unity), S/V = 3/ [[2.sup.(n-1)]a] = 3/[[2.sup.-1]a] = 6/a;

S = (6/a)V = 6V/a;

V = S/(6/a) = aS/6.

If /a/ is unity, then the relation between volume and surface becomes numerically transparent:

[S.sub.1] = 6[V.sub.1];

[V.sub.1] = [S.sub.1]/6

[S.sub.1]/[V.sub.1] = 6, since with /x = 1/, [S.sub.cube] = 6[x.sup.2] = 6; and [V.sub.cube] = [x.sup.3] = 1.

With/x = 0.5/, [S.sub.cube] = 6[x.sup.2] = 6X0.25 = 1,5; and [V.sub.cube] = [x.sup.3] = 0.125; then, [S.sub.0.5]/[V.sub.0.5] = 1,5/0.125 12.

With /x =0.25/, [S.sub.cube] = 6[x.sup.2] = 6X0.0625 = 0.375; and [V.sub.cube] = [x.sup.3] = 0.015625; then, [S.sub.0.25]/[V.sub.0.25] = 0.375/0.015625 = 24. Etc.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The crucial correlation mentioned above by Cavalli-Sforza between body volume and the body's efficiency in dealing with temperature and humidity consolidates Boas's conclusion concerning the inexistence of "pure race" and his research on human plasticity as a real and continuous phenomenon that arises as a flexible response of human life to internal (mentalcultural) and external (physical-social) conditions, man in this equation being a kind of interface at the crossroads of several forcesvectors of nature and nurture, summarized in the table and graphic below.

In the graphic below, the three innermost rings are of highest, high and medium stability: nature: genes, body, cosmos--in this order the degree of stability decreases from a physically "clasical" viewpoint. The two outermost rings--nurture: memes, minds, bodies/institutions/artefacts are of lowest and medium stability (cf the notion that "a word can resist change for 1,000 years"; Cavalli-Sforza 2001: 150; since words are carriers of ideas, and ideas are embedded inside the psyche as "memes," it follows that the rate of idea change should be comparable with the rate of word change). The nucleus and its first ring are marked with continuous line to point out that the genes and the individual body are of highest and high stability (cf. the notion that "a gene can remain substantially unchanged for millions, and even billions of years"; Cavalli-Sforza 2001:150). The third innermost ring (cosmos) is only of medium stability relative to the stability of the genes and of the individual body and from a normal human perception level of resolution. The second outermost ring (minds, bodies/ institutions/artefacts) expresses Boas's (1982: 256) idea that "culture is integrated," and so there should exist at this level what we could call a "socio-cultural heredity" as an integrated form of "cultural heredity" (cf. Cavalli-Sforza 2001: 9; this is an in ter subjective sphere) and "socioheredity" (the corresponding interobjective sphere that makes manifest in the physical space the value patterns of "cultural heredity"). This level of integration ("socio-cultural heredity") is however made possible by the existence of a deeper level of integration, that between mind (memes, "psychological heredity ") and body (macro-biological heredity)--this is the "nuclear" unit of all civilization, for without an integrated interaction between individual and society there could be no human phenomenon. Hence Boas's insistence that culture is causally based on "the interaction between individual and society" (Boas 1982: 257).

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Geo-heredity and the organic number /432/ quantifying man-Earth interdependence

That a phenomenon like geo-heredity ("geographical heredity") must exist is suggested not only by the existence of Mendelian inheritance / regression / reversion (as shown by Boas), but also by the following: 1) Zecharia Sitchin's considerations (cf. Earth chronicles) concerning the fact that the integral physiology of a population adapts to the conditions of a planet, a major factor in this equation being the period of revolution and the gravity of the host planet; thus, if man were to live on a planet like the hypothetical Nibiru (the Akkadian Marduk, or Planet X), whose revolution around the Sun lasts in theory circa 3,600 years, then one Nibiruan year would produce in man an aging equivalent to only one terrestrial year; it is thus presumed that life encodes itself in terms of revolutions-around-the-sun cycles; as such, human physiology--which on Earth is very rapid given the fact that the Earth rotates around the Sun in just one terrestrial year--on a different planet like the circa 3,600-year-revolution-aroundthe-sun cycle Nibiru would reset its internal rhythm so as to correspond to the rhythm of the host planet's rotation around its Sun; from a human perspective, then men would turn, as it were, into "gods," becoming practically "immortal," in the sense of living very long lives compared to a common human standard of a life of only 80 Earth-years, since just 10 Nibiru-years amount to 36,000 Earth-years, this kind of duration, coincidentally, being precisely indicated by The Sumerian king list. Thus, for instance, Alalgar is said to have reigned for 36,000 years, and the same period is attributed to Dumu-zid / Dumuzi ("Son of truth") and to En-sipad-zid-Annak / Ensipazianna; Berossos indicates that Aloros (the same as Alulim) reigned also for 36,000 Earthyears (cf. Jacobsen 1973: 60 n. 113, 65 n. 119, 70 n. 6-8, 71, 73, 74 n. 26; cf also Sitchin 2010: 89ff); and

2) Campbell's reference to the physiological concordance between man and the cosmos: the latter came to realize that such a correlation exists when he read the following passage in a manual of sports:

A conditioned man, who exercises regularly, will have a resting heart rate of about 60 beats per minute or less [...]. Sixty per minute times 60 minutes, equals 3,600 beats per hour. Times 24 hours, equals 86,400 beats a day. (Cooper 1968: 101; apud Campbell 2002: 12)

Therefore, in 12 hours a human heart in a resting state beats 86,400/2 = 43,200 times. In this number Campbell sees a strange piece of evidence that an organic connection exists between man and the cosmos at large:

1) Man as microcosm: 43,200 heart beats/12 h (12 h = one microcycle).

2) The macrocosm (the Earth): 4,320,000 years/macrocycle; 432,000 years/mesocycle.

Here are in synthesis Campbell's (1991i-iv; 2002) remarks pointing to the importance of this number (432):

1) From the poetic Edda we find out that in Valhalla, the celestial hall of Odin's warriors, there are 540 doors; at the end of each aeon, through each of these doors passes a number of 800 warriors. The significant fact is that 540 X 800 = 432,000.

2) From the Mahabharata (and many other texts from the Puranic period, ca. 400 B.C. and after) we learn that a cosmic cycle of four periods has 12,000 "divine years," with each "divine year" having 360 "human years." The crucial fact is that a whole cosmic cycle = 12,000 X 360 = 4,320,000 human years. Our own period in the cosmic cycle is said to be the Kali Yuga, the worst of all, equal in value with a tenth of the whole duration of the cosmic cycle, therefore it is equal with 432,000 years.

3) At the spring (or vernal) equinox (21 March) the sky is not in the same position as the previous year, there being a fall-behind of 50

seconds per year. In 72 years a whole degree is accumulated (50" X 72 years = 3600" = 60' = 1[degrees]), and in 2160 years the amount of degrees accumulated is 30, this being equivalent with the angular space of a zodiac sign/house. The Sun at the time Campbell wrote his book was in the constellation Pisces, but in Jesus Christ's century it was located in the Ram, and in the early Sumerian period it was in Gemini. This progression is called the "precession of the equinoxes," which was possibly discovered for the first time by Hipparchus of Bithynia (flourish ca. 146-126 B.C., a century and a half after Berossos). Hipparchus had found an annual value that was rather close (45" or 46" / year), the discovery of the correct value being in general admitted as having taken place around 1526 A.D. The complete precession of 360[degrees] (the Sun's passing through all the 12 houses of the zodiac, one house having ca. 30[degrees]) occurs in2160X (360/30) = 2160 X 12 = 25.920 years, a period known as the "Great / Platonic Year." Campbell notices the remarkable fact that 25,920/60 = 432. The number of 432,000 years is coincidentally the period indicated by Berossos during which the ten antediluvian kings ruled over the Earth (cf. Jacobsen 1973: 70ff). Moreover, Campbell shows that for the Sumerians the year had 72 weeks of 5 days (72 X 5 = 360), to which were added the 5 festive days. Interestingly, 360 X 72 = 25,920, precisely the value of the Platonic Year. Campbell was amazed that the value of the Platonic Year can thus be discovered purely mathematically similarly, Einstein had been stunned to observe that the astronomical Universe behaves mathematically.

Furthermore, Campbell suggests that these numbers demonstrate that their underlying mythology was born not spontaneously from the psyche (like a dream), but in according with strict correspondences between phenomenon and a certain exact mathematical order that is open to serious common observations. For instance, in the list of antediluvian Sumerian kings mentioned above the number of years results precisely as multiples of 1200 (which in India represents the number of "divine years"): 1200 X 201 = 241,200; 1200 X 380 = 456,000; 1200 X 360 = 432,000. In fact, the arithmetic developed at Sumer around 3,200 B.C. matched so well the "heavenly order" (the one astronomically observable), that the whole ancient Orient (unlike the earlier primitive and later Occidental world) "was absolutely hypnotized by this miracle" (Campbell 1991 ii: 128). For the Sumerians the power of number was unsuspectedly great and far superior to empirical facts, because number seemed to be itself the "the generator of fact" (id,.). More than that:

It [number] was of greater moment than humanity; for it was the organizing principle by which humanity realized and recognized its own latent harmony and sense. It was of considerably greater moment than the gods; for in the majesty of its cycles, greater cycles and ever greater, more majestic, infinitely widening cycles, it was the law by which gods came into being and disappeared. And it was greater even than being; for in its matrix lay the law of being. (Campbell 199 lii: 128)

Campbell thus concluded that the number 432,000 appeared in Mesopotamia (ca. 300 B.C.), in India (ca. 400 A.D.) and in Europe (Iceland, ca. 1100 A.D.), becoming a key factor for understanding the migration of ideas in the world. The Sumerian sexagesimal system itself, which measures simultaneously space and time, produces this interesting number: soss / gesh = 60; ner / gesh-u = 600; sar = 3600; the "great" sar = 216,000 (that is 60 X 3600); two "great" sar = 432,000. As can be seen, the Sumerian system is obsessively associated with the number 3600 (decoded by Sitchin as encoding the number of years of Nibiru's revolution around the Sun, also known as the "Planet of a million years") and 432.

By number, therefore, man came to know more deeply the cosmic order, its essence--the Sumerian Me, the Vedic Rita, the Hindoo Dharma, the Chinese Too, the Egyptian Maat, the Greek Moira--which becomes perceptible in the harmonies and rhythms of music and of life.

Boas (1911: 76-94) also analyzes the question of influence exerted by heredity on human types, showing that the effects of domestication are only secondary when compared with the fundamental effects of heredity: all of man's essential traits are due first and foremost to heredity. The methods by which to demonstrate that the effect of heredity is the most powerful factor in the creation of the form of a descendant have been provided by Francis Galton and Karl Pearson: measuring the degrees of similarity between parent and child.

As regards the relation between heredity and the environment, Boas proposed the following thesis which has not been demonstratated anthropologically, but which is based on an analogy with the behaviour of plants and animals: although a race can modify its type when it is removed from one environment to another, the same race will return to its own type when removed back to the old environment. In the case of "alternating inheritance," variability in children born of parents belonging to the same race will grow considerably when the somatic differences between mother and father are considerable. For instance, when the mother is excessively short, and the father excessively tall, some of the children will be short like their mother, while others tall like their father. In this case of "alternating inheritance" the children do not develop a somatic type that is intermediary between the maternal and the paternal.

The tendency for certain traits of the children to return to one of the parental types is known as "Mendelian inheritance" or "Mendelian reversion/regression," Boas considering that this phenomenon constitutes a strong argument in favour of the hypothesis regarding the "great permanence of human types" (Some recent criticisms of physical anthropology, 1899; Boas 1982: 170). Another conclusion reached by Boas is that the variability of human types is very small in the population that originates from small and isolated uniform groups, and it grows with the decrease of the degree of isolation. Thereby Boas explains why urban variability is clearly superior to the rural.

Boas (1911: 95-123) analyzes the mental features of primitive man in contrast with those of civilized man. As in the case of human anatomy analyzed in the previous chapters, here he explores the influences of the environment and of heredity on the human psyche. He starts from the observation regarding the mental difference between man and animals: what everywhere in the world differentiates man from animals is the existence in man of articulated organized language and the use of tools. The views according to which the white race has superior hereditary powers have been revigorated by the modern doctrine about "the prerogatives of the master-mind," expressed in its extreme form in the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. Such views are generalizations that have the following problems:

1) they do not take into consideration factors like the social conditions of the races: which leads to confusing causes and effects;

2) they are distorted by scientific or humanitarian bias;

3) they are deformed by the wish to justify the institution of slavery or to offer the greatest freedom to the most highly gifted people (Boas 1911: 100-101).

Furthermore, in these views there is no distinction between the racial and the social problem: there is no concern for the cultural/ civilizational level of the races (which is a matter of heredity) and there is instead concern only for what is presumed to represent the mental characteristics of the respective races, regardless of what race we are dealing with (which is a matter of environment).

Boas shows that one of the fundamental laws of psychology is the following: the repetition of mental processes:

1) increases the ease with which these processes are carried out;

2) diminishes the degree of awareness that accompanies their operation (Boas 1911: 103).

This law leads to phenomena of the "repeated-stimulus-similar-response" type (a habitude of the "Pavlovian reflex" type). If a stimulus produces sufficiently often an emotion, then that will tend to trigger it each time: this kind of phenomenon is considered by Boas as belonging to the group of causes involving the environment as an assemblage of recurrent factors.

Hence Boas derives the idea that the activity of human thought may be explained by recourse to two distinct questions that are the causes of the phenomenon:

1) the question of the unity or diversity in the organization of thought;

2) the diversity generated by the variety of the contents of thought as they are to be found in the social and geographic environment. He takes as a reference point the works of Theodor Waitz, Anthropologie der naturvolker (The anthropology of the natural peoples) (1877), as evidence that there is a unity of the human species, and that as a consequence man's mental traits are the same all over the world. Still, Boas considers that the question remains open whether there are or not differences of degree in the mental development of the various races existing today; if such differences of degree existed, that would signify that these races are "on different stages of the evolutionary series" (Boas 1911: 104): the question then is whether civilized man as regards the mental organization occupies a place that is superior to the one occupied by primitive man. Examining the innate faculty is extremely difficult at present, because the gap between our society and that of the primitive tribes is huge and practically impossible to eliminate, so that we cannot create equal conditions for these in order to see if they can assimilate our civilizational mode and if their retardation is not by any means caused by hereditary factors.

Given this difficulty, Boas proceeds to discuss a few basic mental features in primitive man:

1) inhibition of impulses;

2) the power of focusing attention;

3) the power of original thought.

He explores the idea that primitive man cannot control his emotions: this notion neglects taking into account the junctures at which intense control over one's impulses is required in various forms of society. For instance, if you are in a tribe in which people as a rule are not pressed into doing things "in due time," and you wish to do a specific thing in this manner ("in time") with their help, you will notice that they do not hurry at all and they do not lose their temper, while you, being habituated to a different use of time namely an efficient use, will get angry because you feel you are wasting your time and you cannot get that thing done "in good time." The impulsiveness and capriciousness of civilized man versus those of primitive man must be measured by comparing behaviour in acts that have equal importance for each of them. Boas's conclusion is that primitive man can control his passions and impulses just as much as civilized man, but in different directions, on different occasions.

Boas (1911: 109) opposes Herbert Spencer's conclusion that the primitive's "improvidence" (imprudence) were an example of his lack of control: the lack of prudence Boas calls, on the contrary, "optimism," translated as the primitive's feeling: "Why should I not be as successful tomorrow as I was to-day?" But the same optimism exists also in civilized man, because the activity in business is based on the belief in the "stability of existing conditions." Famine in the society of the primitives, like the financial crisis in the world of civilized man, are only exceptional cases, for which measures are taken in due course most of the times.

Boas also analyzes the presupposition that primitives were not in control of a power to concentrate when more complex intellectual faculties are required of them. G. M. Sproat's reports, cited also by Herbert Spencer, regarding the mental weakness of the natives of some Amerindian tribes are referred to by Boas, who shows that he became acquainted with those tribes, but did not draw Sproat's conclusions. The latter was namely wrong when concluding that the primitives cannot concentrate in general because they could not do so on a problem that was important for him: that problem was insignificant--even boring--for them, and so their interest was not at all stimulated. On the contrary, their interest could easily be roused in the extreme, if the topic was appropriate for a primitive, and he himself was often the first to lose his capacity to concentrate in this case; moreover, the respective tribes--without using mnemonic means--were making plans as regards the distribution of their properties in such a way as to make their wealth become greater and their social position become higher: such plans require great foresight, of the kind later Jacob Bronowski (The ascent of man, 1973) considered as being the fundamental faculty that made possible man's "ascent" on the ladder of evolution.

The next aspect explored by Boas is the main reason, invoked by certain researchers, for which various primitive tribes cannot gain access to superior levels of culture: their lack of originality. According to Spencer, primitive man's conservatism is so strong, that the individual never deviates from tradition. Boas mentions that, although it is true that in primitive tribes traditional customs are more of a binding medium than is the case in civilized society, yet originality is not something they lack: Boas thus invokes the appearance of prophecies of all kinds in the Amerindian tribes that had been recently converted to Christianity or even in the ones that remained pagan. The element of originality can be observed in the dissemination of myths and beliefs, which in the process of dissemination undergo various changes operated by the independent thought of individuals--an aspect that can be noticed in the way in which the complexity of esoteric doctrines tends to increase. The history of the ceremonies held by the believers in the "ghost dance religion," documented among others by James Mooney, is according to Boas an excellent example of such individual thought in the Amerindian primitive tribes. The doctrines of the prophets of this religion were new, but they were based on ideas of their own tribes, of the neighbouring tribes and of the Christian missionaries. In the mental attitude underlying this phenomenon of cultural syncretism, whereby man develops the beliefs of his own tribe, Boas sees the basic attitude of any civilized philosopher. The differences between the primitive and the civilized man lie rather only in appearances, but in reality the essential mental traits are the same. This fact, however, does not mean that there are no differences: the differences in structure surely indicate differences in function, both physiological and psychological.

As a consequence, there surely exist differences regarding the mental traits. The structural differences between the brain of the whites and that of the blacks suggest that, by comparison, blacks think more slowly than whites, but this fact has not been demonstrated. Furthermore, Boas believes that the probable effect civilization has on the evolution of the (mental) human faculty has been much overestimated. Primarily, the physical changes that appear in the wake of domestication/ civilizing (the two phenomena being equivalent) can be considerable--these are modifications due to the influence of the environment -, but Boas doubts that in this process there are also changes of the progressive type or of the type transmitted hereditarily, first of all because in the case of Europe, for instance, the number of generations is too small (40-50 generations, although even this number may be too large, if we take into consideration that during the Middle Ages the population still lived in inferior stages of civilization), and second of all because man's multiplying occurs in such a way, that the most cultivated families tend to disappear, and those less cultivated tend to take their place.

That is why Boas concludes that progress is rather transmitted by education, and not by heredity. Although he admits that there are numerous examples of civilized primitives who relapsed into their previous natural life, Boas also gives counterexamples of civilized whites who live alone among the primitive tribes and decay almost invariably into a semi-barbarous condition. Moreover, there are members of various civilized wealthy families who prefer "unbounded freedom" to the "fetters of society," and so at one point or other they decide to run away from home and settle in the wilderness.

Boas (1911: 124-154) discusses the question of race and language, observing three phenomena:

1) the process of maintaining race typology accompanied by a change of language;

2) the process of maintaining the language accompanied by a change of race typology (these first two phenomena, although they seem to be opposite, are closely related and often occur together);

3) the process of maintaining race typology and the language accompanied by a change of culture--by an "effect of imitation" and without mixing blood--(such cases are much more numerous than the first two): Europe's history from the prehistorical periods onwards can be seen as an example in this sense. This last process can be noticed in California, where many languages are spoken and there are many race types, but, with all that, there is cultural uniformity (A. L. Kroeber's research, 1904-1907; cf. Boas 1911: 132).

There are according to Boas three viewpoints that have to be the basis for a classification of mankind, namely race typology, language and culture, because these cannot always be associated--this is a fundamental idea later further explored in the definitive volume Race, language and culture (1940). Two problems captivate Boas's attention:

1) the superiority claimed by certain researchers for the languages of Europe, which are extremely developed as flexional system, against the "cumbersome," unmanageably difficult systems of agglutinative or polysynthetic languages of northern Asia and of America (Georg von der Gabelentz, 1891; cf. Boas 1911: 140);

2) the lack of phonetic discrimination and the lack of the capacity of abstraction/classification as traits of primitive languages.

Boas shows that, firstly, the so-called "alternating sounds" attributed to primitive languages are in reality well-defined sounds, but which are interpreted by Europeans by analogy with the sounds of their own language, sometimes having a certain phonetic value, at other times another--a fact that is contradicted by the phonetic reality of the respective primitive languages. The alleged lack of phonetic differentiation in these primitive languages does not exist. Furthermore, it is obvious that in any language a limited number of sounds is necessary for the process of communication to be easy. Similarly, the total number of ideas expressed by distinct phonetic groups is limited; the latter are called "word-stems" or "elementary stems," and they correspond, as units of meaning, more or less to the "elementary ideas" about which Bastian spoke and to which are reduced the ideas that have to be verbally expressed. But because the total number of personal experiences communicated by means of language is practically infinitely varied--they having to be verbalized by a limited number of "word-stems"--it becomes clear that articulated speech contains, in its underlying structure, an extended system whereby experiences are classified. This crucial phenomenon represents a fundamental feature of human thought (Boas 1911: 143).

What Boas here states amounts to no less than the formulation of a most important thesis: namely that the human psyche is structured like the human language. Jacques Lacan subsequently resumed this thesis, adding a nuance: the human unconscious is structured like a language. Boas explains his idea: in our usual experience there are no two sensory perceptions or emotions which are identical, and yet we classify them, according to their degree of similarity, into larger or smaller groups, whose limits can be determind from various points of view. Despite the differences between them, we recognize in our experiences the common elements, considering them related or even identical. The limitation of the number of phonetic groups by which we communicate distinct ideas expresses a psychological phenomenon: many different individual experiences appear to us as representing the "same category of thought." A phenomenon that is typical for primitive languages is the use of a single term for a large group of similar sense perceptions (for instance, the colour green and blue are rendered by a single term; likewise, yellow and the nuances of yellowish-green), while in the modern languages the tendency is towards terminological differentiation.

On the other hand, any of the languages of the Earth can be "holophrastic" from the perspective of a different language. "Holophrasis," J. W. Powell's concept, signifies the expression of a complex idea by a single term. According to Boas, this is not fundamental for primitive languages: Amerindians, for instance, can have difficulties in expressing general concepts like: "the eye is the organ of sight." This is because primitives do not discuss with each other abstract ideas, but they can express them by reference to concrete objects. The clause above could become in a primitive language: "the eye of any person is their way of seeing." General ideas can hence be expressed in primitive languages, and so philosophical ideas will always be associated either with distinct individuals, or with forms (more or less anthropomorphic in nature) from the religious beliefs of the respective tribe. The primitive will not speak about happiness in general, but he will be able to refer to it as associated with the person that is in such a state. Still, in certain Amerindian languages like the Siouan group purely abstract terms are rather common. Moreover, in certain languages the numeral is not very developed (in the old system of Eskimo, for instance, the numeral was extended probably only from one to ten), a fact that is wrongly considered as evidence regarding the incapacity of the respective peoples to form the concept of superior numbers. On the contrary, Boas underlines that the existence of a defective numeral shows that the respective tribe did not need larger numbers in its usual life, but in contact with civilization can easily adopt the concept of large numbers.

This means that culture (its oscilating, living forms of thought) evolves by the permanent interaction between man and his daily needs: the (natural, social, etc.) context is thus a factor which is profoundly formative for thought processes.

As regards the influence of language on thought, Boas underlines that we need to take into account that the Europan languages have been largely modelled by the abstract thought of philosophers, that is why terms like "essence" or "existence" (i.e. "ex-essence") are in common use, but initially were only artificial instruments for expressing results of abstract thought. Such terms resemble non-idiomatic, abstract, terms that can be formed in primitive languages. Boas concludes that language cannot alone prevent man from advancing towards an abstract mode, i.e. a more generalized way, of thinking, if this is what the culture at its respective stage requires.

In other words, if a certain cultural phase requires it, the culture will model the language in such a way, that abstract language will become possible: culture oscillates towards abstract regions having a high capacity for stratification (linguistic meta-dimensions). Hence Boas derives an important conclusion: it does not seem probable for there to exist any direct connection between the culture of a tribe and the language spoken, except in the sense that the form of the language will be modelled by the culture, but not in the sense that a culture will be conditioned by the morphological features of the language. The language does not provide us with the instruments by which to discover the differences in the mental traits of different races.

By this thesis Boas opposes the theory of linguistic relativity--now known as the "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis," proposed by Edward Sapir (1884-1939) (one of Boas's disciples) and his student, Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897-1941). Boas however, as we shall see, will reconsider this topic changing his theoretical position. In brief, Sapir and Whorf advanced the idea that the structure of our maternal language has a powerful influence on the way we perceive the world. An extreme version of this hypothesis was to state even that people speaking different languages live effectively in different worlds owing to the dissimilar experiences offered to them by the structures of the language they speak. Linguistic relativity was demonstrated by analyzing the organization of the lexis of a language. For instance, in the language of the Eskimos there are several words for designating different types of snow. According to the theses of linguistic relativity, the speakers of Eskimo must perceive certain physical distinctions among the various types of snow, because the words indicating these types provide the necessary means.

As a consequence, speakers of English, for instance, who have only the term /snow/ for naming a "layer of snowflakes that covers the ground or the surface of water," will not perceive necessarily the subtle differences among various types of snow, although they can make a distinction between /molten snow/ and /frozen snow/; for the designation of these types supplementary words are used, there being however no distinct, holophrastic, independent terms to name the discrete phenomenon, which shows the lack of interest, necessity or relevance regarding such a distinction. When such interest exists, however, it seems that the language can extend its thesaurus by enlarging the spectrum of synonymy: English skiers, for example, have developed the terms /powder/ (lit. "dustlike tiny loose particles") and /corn/ (lit. "grains") for naming various types of snow. In general, the attempts to test the "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis" concentrated on the terminology of colours. It has been noted that languages differ very much as regards the way in which they divide the spectrum of colours. For instance, many languages have a term for /yellow/, but it is possible for an object considered yellow in a language to be described by a different colour in another language. With all that, it has been observed that if people are required to choose the best example of yellow from a set of objects, all choose the same way, which points to the fact that all people perceive similarly or even identically the "quintessential," "pure" idea of yellow, no matter what language they speak (Matthew Saxton, apud McLeish 1994: 430). Establishing the validity of the "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis" has been an extremely difficult mission, and many researchers rejected the notion of linguistic relativity or abandoned it on the grounds that it cannot be verified. There are however extreme and moderate forms of the hypothesis: in its extreme form, known as "linguistic determinism," the hypothesis states that language determines thought; in its moderate form, the hypothesis suggests that language can influence the way we perceive and think about the world.

Boas (1911: 155-173) next explores the "universality of cultural traits." He underlines Bastian's idea that the similarity of mankind's fundamental ideas is so profound, that it forms a genuine global "appalling monotony." The metaphysical ideas can be reduced to a few types that are distributed universally. The situation is similar for the forms of society, laws and inventions. For instance, the belief in a realm of the souls of the deceased, to be found in the west, and which can be reached by crossing a river, appears in Greek mythology, but also in the belief systems of the native tribes from America and Polynesia.

On the other hand, Boas shows that the environment alone does not determine the type of culture, although it can influence it, as can be seen from the way houses are built: the igloos of Eskimos, the wigwams of Amerindians, the caves of the desert tribes, etc. He emphasizes that the influence of the environment can be great, but it can become active only when it is exerted on the mind: the traits of this mind "must enter into the resultant forms of social activity" (Boas 1911: 163). We can never say that the mental life is explained only by the influence of the environment, just as we cannot say that the environment is explained only by man's influence on nature. Boas (1911: 171) resumes here Bastian's theory regarding elementary, mystical ideas as fundamental forms of thought, as intangible entities "that develop with iron necessity wherever man lives," and about whose origin we can know nothing, because we are forced in this exploratory act to think in the forms of the elementary ideas that we are exploring in the first place.

The human mind is made in such a way that "it invents them spontaneously" or it "accepts them whenever they are offered to it" (Boas 1911: 171). The Diltheyan vein in Bastian's line of thought can be observed in this particular case from his constant references to the visions of primitive man in comparison with the theories of the philosophers; but Boas shows that the problem of the origin of elementary ideas was approached from a psychological viewpoint by Wilhelm Wundt (Wilhelm von Helmholtz's assistant)--one of the founders of experimental-physiological psychology (the volumes published between 1873 and 1874), the first professor in the world to hold a course of lectures in scientific psychology (in 1862, at Heidelberg University) and the one who created the first laboratory of psychology in the world at Leipzig (in 1879)-, who thus tried to derive a theory of popular psychology, the result of his research being his monumental work in 10 volumes, entitled Volkerpsychologie (The psychology of the peoples), published between 1900 and 1920. The function of association from the beliefs of primitive peoples was discussed by Wundt here, while the study of suggestion and of hypnotism in primitive life was undertaken by Otto Stoll.

For Bastian the essential thing was the fundamental similarity of the forms of human thought from all the cultures of the world, regardless of the advanced or primitive level these were at. Boas lays stress precisely on the theories that analyze the similarities of a large number of fundamental ideas and inventions all around the earth and which are based on the phenomenon of the universal distribution of certain cultural elements like the use of fire, the art of cutting, sawing, drilling, the work in stone, etc. He underlines also the fact that language is too a trait common to all mankind, that is why it probably has its roots in the earliest possible ages.

Moreover, very often the useful cultural conquests tend to be transmitted with extremely great speed, so that these become common too. As an example, Boas recalls here the case of tobacco: it was introduced into Africa after the discovery of America, and shortly thereafter it spread throughout the African continent, at present being so deeply rooted in the entire culture of blacks that it is difficult to suspect that it is in fact of forign origin. Another example is the spread of Amerindian maze throughout the world: already in 1539 it was known in Europe, then through Tibet it reached China betweeen 1540 and 1570.

On the other hand, certain cultural institutions are spread only in certain parts of the world:

1) the institutions of the oath and the ordeal are on a large scale to be met in Europe, Africa and Asia (with the exception of the northeastern part of Siberia), but they are absent in America;

2) the formal judicial procedure is important in the Old World, while in the New World (North and South America) it is almost completely absent from all tribes, these, under the aspect of general cultural evolution, being comparable with the tribes of African blacks;

3) the riddle, the proverb and the moralizing fable are largely characteristic of the Old World, but they are absent in the northeast of Siberia and in America. The conclusion to be drawn is that Europe, large parts of Africa and Asia (with the exception of the extreme northeast of Siberia) form a unity. As regards America, Boas pointed out that the median parts of this continent played a similar role as that played by Central Asia in the Old World: from here radiated numerous of the most characteristic traits of the subsequent superior civilizations that developed in Central and South America.

Boas (1911: 174-196) then analyzes the evolutionary theory of civilization. He observes from the start that "the inventive genius of all races" and of the countless individuals have contributed to the building of the "industrial perfection" of the present time. An excellent example of the general theory on the evolution of civilization is the theory of the evolution of agriculture and of the domestication of animals discussed by Otis T. Mason, W. J. McGee and Eduard Hahn. In this sense, Boas (1955: 80) emphasized that these two human occupations could not possibly have had the same source:

1) agriculture was developed by women, by gathering plants as "food supply";

2) herding derived from men's "devotion to the chase."

Otherwhise, E. Hahn is, according to Boas, the first to have advanced the idea, shared also by Boas himself, Eugen Fischer and Berthold Klatt, that man lives like a domesticized animal, and that is why he must be considered as being a "domesticated form." A similar evolution can be observed in the decorative art that developed passing through three successive increasingly more complex stages:

1) realism--the artistic method: perspective; result: physioplastic truthful art;

2) symbolic conventionalism--the artistic method: suggestive and descriptive (cf. Alfred Vierkandt, 1912; apud Boas 1955: 79); result: ideoplastic art (with "nature remodeled by thought") (cf. Max Verworn's terms; Boas 1955: 84ff);

3) pure aestheticism.

This suggests that culture moves on from a materialistic-physicalistic mental condition towards a spiritual-idealistic.

Similarly, in religion we notice a typical evolution in human thought, with well-defined stages:

1) initially, the mind focuses on phenomena of nature, when everything appears under anthropomorphic form: the rock, the mountains, the celestial bodies are animated anthropomorphic beings, endowed with will power; these help or threaten man (see for instance the Sumerians' belief that planets were governed by intelligences, those invisible powers becoming for the Greeks the nous, and for the Hindus the mahatman or the world soul, etc.); then:

2) the mind observes the activities of the body and of itself, which leads to the formulation of the idea of soul as an entity which is separated from and independent of the body; then:

3) knowledge and philosophic thinking increase, and religion and science unfold from these simple beginnings.

Culture in this case first organizes itself uni-linearly (natural religion, all-unifying animism), then bi-linearly (the body-soul/matter-spirit separation), and then multi-linearly (scientific, religious, philosophical, artistic, etc., knowledge), with portions of convergences of the evolutionary lines (between religion-science, science-philosophy, art-religion, art-science, etc.).

Boas shows that the similarity of these phenomena in various parts of the world has been considered as a proof concerning the fundamental unity of the thought of all human races and concerning the validity of the evolutionary theory of civilization according to which human societies developed everywhere in parallel, passing through gradual stages of evolution. Boas, on the contrary, shows that human societies have developed unequally, some possessing certain cultural elements, while others not, some passing through certain evolutional stages, others not: an advanced civilizational level does not presuppose that the society that reached it passed necessarily through all the intermediate stages which led to that advanced level (for instance, it has not been demonstrated that a matrilineal tribal structure comes first, to be then followed by a patrilineal or bilateral social structure; cf. Boas 1955: 80).

In other words, culture can pass through (semi-) leaps, syncopes, regressions to inferior evolutional levels, progressions to much more advanced levels, which shows that culture has an elastic, adaptive, living nature, just like the individual members giving it birth in the first place. There is no "regular universally valid sequence" in the evolution of mankind's civilization (Boas 1955: 80).

Furthermore, Boas underlines the fact that science acknowledges the existence of cases of "convergent evolution," whereby human societies start from initial distinct states of affairs and get to the same results (in that sense, we can think of the different methods used to prepare an athlete: thus, even if the paths are different, the goal is always the same, namely obtaining victory). What is certain is that a single cultural element may have various origins, and from it can be derived different cultural elements. The situation described by Boas can be logically summarized as follows:

1) The theory especially supported by Boas of convergent evolution: starting from different cultural elements (symbolized by "E") from different cultures (symbolized by "C"), we have initially: [E.sub.1] ([C.sub.1]), [E.sub.2]([C.sub.2]) and [E.sub.3]([C.sub.3]); from here we get, following three different cultural lines, [C.sub.1]; [C.sub.2], [C.sub.3], to the final common element [E.sub.4]: [E.sub.4]([C.sub.1]), [E.sub.4]([C.sub.2]) and [E.sub.4]([C.sub.3]) (similar effect, [E.sub.4], from different causes, [E.sub.1], [E.sub.2], [E.sub.3]); or

2) The theory of "similar effects from similar causes," supported by evolutionists like Otis T. Mason: starting from similar cultural elements from different cultures set apart from each other by vast distances: [E.sub.1]([C.sub.1]), EX([C.sup.2]) and [E.sub.1]([C.sub.3]); from here we get, following three different cultural lines, [C.sub.1], [C.sub.2], [C.sub.3], to the final common element, [E.sub.4]: [E.sub.4]([C.sub.1]), [E.sub.4] ([C.sub.2]) and [E.sub.4] ([C.sub.3]) (similar effect, [E.sub.4], from similar causes, [E.sub.4], [E.sub.4], [E.sub.4]).

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In this sense, Boas emphasized the improbability for a custom to have a single origin. On the other hand, according to him there is a single set of three universal features in industrial evolution:

1) the constant addition of new elements to the knowledge that has already been gained (what Korzybski theorized as "time binding");

2) the increasingly greater refinement of the methods and the results obtained by these methods;

3) the periods of temporary regress.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Moreover, Boas points out that, although the similarity of ethnic phenomena is important, the individual variations too are just as important, these being in general neglected in ethnological studies. The situation is precisely reversed in the studies carried out in physical anthropology, where the focus is instead on physical differences, given the fact that the similarity of the fundamental physical human traits are obvious. In addition, Boas reproaches the supporters of the theory of evolutionism the fact that they postulate the existence only of the passage from simplicity to complexity, when reality evidences the existence of "two tendencies [that] intercross":

1) the passage from complexity to simplicity;

2) the passage from simplicity to complexity.

Nevertheless, in the history of industrial development the tendency has always been towards increasing complexity. Human activities that do not depend on reason, however, do not unfold in accordance with this strictly evolutionary pattern. The primitive languages, for instance, being among the most important witnesses regarding human evolution, taken as a whole are complex. The tendency of languages is therefore to start from complex forms so that afterwards they move towards developing simple forms, although in the linguistic phenomenon there is in parallel also the opposite tendency. The same happens in the case of art and music.

The theory of evolutionism is thus based, partially, on a logical error: the classification of anthropological data in accordance with their degree of simplicity was reinterpreted as signifying a historical sequence (namely, it was assumed that the vector /simpler/ means automatically, "logically," the vector /earlier/, a modal-structural aspect being taken to carry with it, logically, a temporal aspect), without there being any attempt to prove if the simpler forms indeed do precede the more complex forms (as has been demonstrated by Boas, language evolution may go also in the opposite direction, from complexity to simplicity, not only from simplicity to complexity). Hence the thesis that between race and culture there is no close connection.

Boas (1911: 197-243) analyzes the forms of thought in primitive man in contrast with those in civilized man. The following differences can be noted:

I. In primitive man: 1) the elements that make up the sky and the weather belong to the organic world; 2) the boundary line between man and animal is not salient; 3) health and illness seem to him independent realities/entities that can enter organisms (the illness is "extracted" by absorption or other procedures, it being possible for it to be "thrown into people" or locked up in wood in order to prevent it from returning); 4) conditions like famine, exhaustion and other physical sensations are regarded as independent objects; 5) life is a material object that can be separated from the body; 6) the brightness of the sun is an object that can be worn or put aside by the sun itself; 7) the movement of the self and the movement of objects are similar, that is why the objective world in motion has human qualities (anthropomorphism); 8) the classifications of phenomena are simple and made unconsciously, without the conscious use of reason.

II. In civilized man: 1) the elements that make up the sky and the weather are inanimate objects; 2) the boundary line between man and animal is salient; 3) health and illness seem to him conditions of an organism; 4) physical sensations are regarded as conditions of a being; 5) life is a property of the body, one of its conditions; 6) the brightness of the sun is one of its attributes; 7) the movement of the self and the movement of objects belong to different spheres, namely the psychic and, respectively, the physical; 8) from the simple and unconscious classifications of phenomena made by the primitives, by the conscious use of reason, derive superior, more efficient systems of classification.

Boas draws the important conclusion that the entire classification of man's experience from various forms of society follow different paths; any sense perception is interpreted on the basis of the information inherited through tradition; from this state of affairs derives the importance of folklore as a factor determining the way of thinking (see Wundt 1900-1920). Similarly, Boas shows that a related phenomenon is the vast influence exerted by current philosophical opinions on human beings, as well as the influence of the dominant scientific theories on the approach methods used in scientific activity --a phenomenon that was subsequently studied in detail by Thomas Kuhn in The structure of scientific revolutions (1962).

Boas derives also the following concatenated conclusion: 1) in order to understand the evolution of modern science what is necessary is an understanding of modern philosophy; 2) in order to understand the history of medieval science what is necessary is an understanding of medieval theology; 3) in order to understand primitive science what is necessary is an understanding of primitive mythology.

He therefore observes that in the development of culture there are evolutional sequences that represent keys for decoding the meanings of related evolutions: we decipher scientific thought by the mythological, theological or philosophical thought, in accordance with and depending on the evolutionary level we are at.

Philosophy, theology and mythology are different terms for the same influences that model the "current of human thought" and determine the structure of the explanations found by man for the phenomena of nature. Boas lays stress on the fact that we never analyze the phenomena completely. If we were to do it, progress would no longer be possible, because any phenomenon would require an infinite quantity of time for a complete analysis.

Incompleteness is therefore inevitable, just as subsequently, in a different register, Kurt Godel was to demonstrate. In this context, Korzybski (1924 and 1926) was to state that any concrete event was defined by an infinity of characteristics, so that our perception of that event did not constitute the event itself, but an abstraction of first degree, a reduction of first degree, necessary in order for the perceptive and intellective act to take place.

Boas, however, points out that the primitives' analysis (explanation) of the phenomena inevitably contain the primitive traditional elements that are considered as being true, that is why the conclusions of such analyses are accepted as absolute truths. But in the evolution of civilization there is an evident tendency to eliminate increasingly more the traditional elements and to single out more and more the hypothetical fundaments of the processes of reason, so that reason becomes increasingly more logical--because in it the elements of the traditional heritage are thought over increasingly more attentively and more completely, with evolution unfolding there being more and more thinkers who wish to liberate themselves from the "fetters of tradition" (Boas 1911: 206).

If in certain primitive hordes there is the custom according to which any foreigner is considered an enemy, the duty of any member of the horde being to banish, or even to kill, the foreigner, the process of civilization leads to a gradual strengthening of the feeling of "fellowship." Boas observes the following civilizational evolutionary series:

1) feeling of fellowship in the horde;

2) feeling of unity of the tribe;

3) acknowledging connections being established because the groups are neighbours;

4) feeling of fellowship between members of different nations.

The national feeling is the attribution of preeminence to the nation to which we belong, so that our own values (language, customs, traditions) are considered as being of the highest importance, it being right for us to preserve them and to force them on the rest of the world. The feeling of solidarity in the horde and the national feeling are, according to Boas, of the same rank, the latter being, notwithstanding, modified by the extension of the idea of fellowship due to the more advanced civilizational level. Anthropology in Boas's acceptation thus promotes superior tolerance, it proving that also other civilizations, not only our own, can have values, but it is possible for us never to be able to appreciate these values if we are never to be set in a circumstance in which to grow (physically and intellectually/ culturally) under their influence.

On the other hand, in the primitives' worldview, religion and science; music, poetry and dance; myth and history; fahion and ethics, etc., are interwoven. In the primitives every thought is associated with their main purpose and, furthermore, all actions and thoughts are associated with other ideas, often religious or symbolical, that is why these gain superior meanings. The institution of the taboo is such an example; trespassing against it causes horror. Moreover, in the primitives the creation of customs is in general an unconscious process, these being associated with mental automatisms. As regards their origin, the primitive tries to find explanations alone or from the elders of the tribe, and he often comes to what Boas calls "secondary explanations" or "secondary interpretations," which have nothing in common with the real historical origin of the respective customs, they being only personal deductions--derived by conscious reasoning and based on the general knowledge of the tribe--regarding the reasons that might have led to their creation.

This fact is considered by Boas as being among the most important anthropological phenomena. This phenomenon is however present also in modern society: what happens most often is that we first wish and act (unconsciously / automatically) and only then do we try to justify our wishes and actions (consciously / rationally), which from the perspective of romanticism might be called an "Epimetheus complex" (as we shall see, the Greek Epimetheus signifies precisely "subsequent thinking"). On the other hand, a universal trait of primitive societies all over the world is the association--in natural myths--of cosmic events with human events, a fact that can be observed in primitive decorative art, in which the aesthetic motif is combined with the symbolic motif, contrary to the state of affairs in modern art, in which the aesthetic motif is either independent, or associated with utilitarian ideas. Hence Boas derives the fundamental feature of totemism as manifest in the Amerindian, Australian, African and Melanesian tribes: while in primitive art form tends to be associated with ideas that are totally foreign to it, the social unity tends to be associated with various manifestations of nature, especially with the divisions of the animal kingdom. Primitive cultures are distinguished by the fact that the impressions about the outside world are closely associated with subjective impressions which the first generate regularly, but which are determined especially by the social environment.

With the passage of society from primitivism to civilization, we notice that the subjective associations gradually disappear, this process having led to a maximum of anti-subjectivism in the modern scientific method. Thus culture strongly oscillates towards the materialist-physicalist pole.

Civilized man thus loses the capacity to understand the nature of subjective associations present in the mind of primitive man, a reason for which primitive thought seems to us heterogenous. Similarly, the thought of civilized man--perceived by the latter as being homogenous--seems to primitive man just as heterogenous, although from the perspective of civilized man this fact is not obvious. In this phenomenon Boas finds the explanation regarding the conservatism of primitive thought and the mutability of civilized thought: resistence to change is due especially to the emotional reactive factor.

An example of a paradoxically creative conservatism of primitives, however, is the "dream designs" of the North American Indians: the artist dreams of a new pattern and he transposes it into his art, which is, however, restricted by being forged in the matrix of the local tribal style or styles; this means that such an artisan will work without copying, and yet "his imagination never rises beyond the level of the copyist." In other words, he freely uses the local style (s)--implying "familiar motives composed in customary ways"--in order to create new design patterns (cf. Boas 1955: 157, 180). This procedure very much resembles the condition of the Lakota medicine men (pejuta wichasha): according to Powers (1992), the shamans of this tribe learn the sacred language, which can be derived from the profane language by applying a number of strict linguistic rules (such as reduplication, simplification / attenuation, word order inversion, affixation, and metaphorization), but in their secret prayers they use not only the general sacred language known to the initiates, but also a different sacred idiolect that nobody else can understand but they themselves individually and their protective spirits (subsumed under the tutelary deity called Wakan Tanka, lit. "the sacred great"). This is considered by Powers to be a characteristic way whereby the Lakota language, culture and spirituality are kept fresh, ever new, although always the same. That is precisely what we mentioned above as the primitives' creative conservatism, their way to combine law with freedom, custom(s) and traditional style (s) with their individual voice. This phenomenon is more widely spread than one might think at first sight: in the western world there is only one type of alphabet, but no two persons will ever have the same handwriting hence there is always room for individual freedom even inside the matrix of the most conservative forms of expression as is the alphabet system.

The above-mentioned phenomenon described by Powers (1992) may be associated with the nature of how chants are created, since sacred prayers in the Lakota sacred language may contain also chanted rhythmic segments:

In the recital of myths rhythmic structure is sometimes attained by the addition of meaningless syllables that transform the recital into a chant. Thus the Fox Indians will add in the recital of the Culture Hero legend, the syllables nootchee, nootchee. A. L. Kroeber and Leslie Spier tell us that the myths of Southern California are chanted. Edward Sapir has observed the Song recitative in Paiute mythology, each animal speaking according to a definite rhythm and tune to which the text is adjusted. I have recorded an Eskimo tale from Cumberland Sound in which the travels of the hero are recorded in a chant with interspersed melodic phrases. In wails the repetition of the formal cry of moaning at short intervals and the rapid, even pronunciation of the recital creates rhythmic structure. (Boas 1955: 315)

Culture in the stage of the primitive is almost motionless and unflinching, while in the stage of the civilized it is extremely fluid and versatile. In other words, in primitive thought emotional associations are a decisive factor, hence deriving the resistence to what is new.

Boas however does not mention a notable exception from this rule governing primitive tribes: it is well known that the Navajo Indians have a culture and a religion that are grounded precisely in the notion of movement/dynamicchange (the Wind being in this sense one of the natural phenomena of the greatest importance), a reason for which their exile from their native places was perceived by them not as a punishment, but as an event that is in the nature of things. This original and fundamental feature of the Navajo Indians is regarded as an essential reason for the flexibility of this tribe, which at present came to be the most important of all Amerindian tribes:

Although healing is an important component of many Native religions, its all-encompassing role in Navajo ceremonial life distinguishes Navajo religion from other Native religions in which individual healing and efforts to guide environmental forces are both important, but are not so closely linked to each other as they are in Navajo religion. Invocation of the spirits working within environmental forces is an essential part of healing ceremonies in virtually all Native religions, including the Navajo religion, but the latter is unusual in its focus on individual healing as the principal means of regulating the environment and reinstating its original harmony. [...] Recognition of this interdependence between human beings and surrounding forces is built into the grammatical structuring of the Navajo language. The verb "to go" is as central to the construction of Navajo language as the verb "to be" is in English, and open to even more differentiations; anthropologist Gary Witherspoon counted hundreds of different forms of "to go" in Navajo. [...] [Njothing is inert or without involvement with other things. [...] These ceremonies not only enabled the Navajo to identify with the strength and beauty of their homeland but also to associate the process of change forced on them by immigrants and U.S. agents with their own traditional respect for movement and hence with their own healing and empowerment. Whereas religious traditions in other Native groups have sometimes become wedded to images of the past, the Navajo investment in process has facilitated an embrace of social change that is a hallmark of Navajo history. (Porterfield 2002: 226-228)

To this notable exception could also be added the case of the Hopi Indian tribe, which was founded by a tradition of waves of well-planned migration patterns (spanning the spectrum of the four cardinal points: north, south, east, west), which remained a cultural dominant in their modes of thought (cf Waters 1977).

On the other hand, Boas explains the ease with which civilized man accepts change by the fact that he acts mainly with a rational purpose in mind: his own actions do not enter his mind sufficiently deep in order to establish emotional associations. Moreover, Boas anticipates Thomas Kuhn's ideas in The structure of scientific revolutions when he observes the following: in civilized society there is always an open attitude concerning the change of activities that do not have an emotional value, a fact which is valid also for the case of fashionable activities; still, there are also activities that are maintained with great obstinacy, even against reason, their power resting in their emotional value: the old ideas tend to be preserved, even if the background is an irresistible cognitive progress. Exactly as Kuhn was to observe in the 1960s in detail, Boas (1911: 241) drew attention to the following crucial aspect of evolution:

The history of the progress of science yields example after example of the power of resistance belonging to old ideas, even after increasing knowledge of the world has undermined the ground on which they were erected. Their overthrow is not brought about until a new generation has arisen, to whom the old is no longer dear and near.

Likewise, Boas observes another compensatory "law" in the development of civilization: while a very frequently repeated activity becomes completely unconscious, the diminishing of the degree of awareness entails a heightening of the degree of emotionality in the case when omission of such extremely repetitive activities occurs, as well as in the case when performing activities opposed to that extremely repetitive activity (opposed to the habit) occurs. What is required in order to eliminate an action that has become a habit is an enhanced will power, the process of elimination per se implying strong feelings of extreme displeasure. The phenomenon of psychic automatization by repetition was explored by Arthur Koestler in The act of creation (1964), in which he came to postulate the existence in the human psyche of a "gradient" of consciousness, a continuous scale of degrees of mental awareness, that is a continuity between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind, the passage from conscious to unconscious mental processes being made gradually, by an infinite (and infinitely fine) variety of degrees of awareness.

Erwin Schrodinger advanced a similar thesis in the now famous work Spirit and matter (presented as lectures in 1956, but published in 1967). Schrodinger (2001) stated the following:

[M]any reflexive processes exist that do pass through the brain, yet do not fall into consciousness at all or have very nearly ceased to do so. [...] [I]ntermediate degrees between fully conscious and completely unconscious [processes do] occur. [...] |T]he key is to be found in the following well-known facts. Any succession of events in which we take part with sensations, perceptions and possibly with actions gradually drops out of the domain of consciousness when the same string of events repeats itself in the same way very often. But it is immediately shot up into the conscious region, if at such a repetition either the occasion or the environmental conditions met with on its pursuit differ from what they were on all the previous incidences. [...] The gradual fading from consciousness is of outstanding importance to the entire structure of our mental life, which is wholly based on the process of acquiring practice by repetition, a process which Richard Semon has generalized to the concept of mneme [...]. On the first few repetitions a new element turns up in the mind, the "already met with" or "notal" [i.e. the characteristic mark] as Richard Avenarius has called it. On frequent repetition the whole string of events becomes more and more of a routine, it becomes more and more uninteresting, the responses become ever more reliable according as they fade from consciousness. [...] [A] girl plays her piano sonata "well-nigh in [her] sleep." [...] But whenever the situation exhibits a relevant differential [...], this differential and our response to it intrude into consciousness, from which, however, they soon fade below the threshold, if the differential becomes a constantly repeated feature. Faced with changing alternatives, bifurcations develop and may be fixed in the same way. [...] Now in this fashion differentials, variants of response, bifurcations, etc., are piled up one upon the other in unsurveyable abundance, but only the most recent ones remain in the domain of consciousness, only those with regard to which the living substance is still in the stage of learning or practising. One might say, metaphorically, that consciousness is the tutor who supervises the education of the living substance, but leaves his pupil alone to deal with all those tasks for which he is already sufficiently trained. (Spirit and matter, chap. 1).

From Boasian perspective Schrodinger's ideas above become intelligible from at least three viewpoints of anthropology--biological, linguistic and cultural--the process of learning, codified at the somato-chemical, psycho-linguistic and socio-cultural level, revealing itself as a kind of materio-spiritual "hoarding up" of actions that are precious / valuable / useful for life. Without this process of "mnemic" exemplary plasticity, life would cease to be able to be functional-flexibile, becoming a torture of systemic rigidity; the pendulum of culture, history, human thought, etc., would freeze to a full stop.

Boas (1911: 244-250) then offers a summary of his book. One of the strong conclusions is that by his research he comes to be convinced that there is no direct connection between "physical habitus" and the mental endowment, which leads to the elimination of racial prejudice. Still, the environment influences, in a limited way--the form that the human body takes, a fact demonstrated in the case of people who move from rural to urban areas, as well as in the case of those who left Europe to immigrate to America. The human nutritional system also influences the form of the body: a domestic diet has effects that are different from those caused by a primitive diet. Additionally, the degree of "domestication" (among others as effect of nutrition) in man influences the mentality. Another conclusion underlined by Boas is that languages are modelled by thinking, and it is not thinking that is modelled by language; as mentioned, at this point Boas was opposing the theory of linguistic relativity as proposed by Sapir and Whorf (Sapir had advanced the fundamental hypothesis that man perceives the world mainly through language). In Anthropology and modern life (1928), Boas was to return to this topic, admitting that language can influence the stream of thinking, in other words, that language can have an impact on the evolution of culture and history.

Boas (1911: 251-278) finally resumes the debate on the racial problem in the United States. A conclusion he draws is that the mental and physical human traits are modified under the influence of the environment. Nevertheless, the modified types cannot be considered--due to sheer lack of evidence--as being superior to others. He thus concludes that the so-called danger looming over the American nation from the direction of European immigrants is not real, because the newly arrived Europeans modify their structure under the pressure of the environment. A similar crucial understanding was the following:

[M]ental life is so plastic, that no hereditary inability can be assumed to exist in any of the peoples of Europe. (Boas 1911: 268)

In the 1938 edition of The mind of primitive man, Boas reformulated and underscored certain anthropological questions taking into account the new developments in science. In the Preface, he lays stress on the idea that there is no fundamental difference between the modes of thought of primitive man and those of civilized man, as well as on the idea that there is no close relation between race and personality. He was evidently irritated by the turn of events in Germany, where dictatorship, among other things, no longer allowed a full development of science. Boas (1938: VI) thus asserted with prophetic force:

The suppression of intellectual freedom rings the death knell of science.
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Title Annotation:pg. 103-145
Author:Stroe, Mihai A.
Publication:Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity
Date:Sep 22, 2014
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