A set of sixteen subconscious iconographic types appear in the same sequence, and on the same axial structure, in the art of all cultures since the Ice Age dated to BC 20 000. The layered and rigorous method of visual analysis, named ‘mindprint’, demonstrates that the cultural repertoire is identical in all extant art, including the Ice Age and modern art.
The standard set of sixteen subconscious iconographic types, their optional attributes, their peripheral sequence, the axial spacing of their eyes, and a set of tri-polar features, are analogous to features on a cosmic sphere. Elements of this structure, or visual ‘grammar’, are also traceable in mythology, legend, ritual, and the subtext in literature, as well as ‘hard-wired’ natural structures such as human iris, palm and body reflexology, and some aspects of bio-chemistry, biology, and speciation.
Art offers the most directly testable cultural expression, since it contains figures (characters), with their eyes as focal points (always including one heart as spiritual eye, and one womb as unborn eye, in adjacent positions). The optional but persistent characteristics or attributes such as posture, garb, texture, devices, relative sizes and orientation, are expressed in a fixed sequence; each at a fixed frequency or probability; and confirmed by the position of each eye on an axis with the eye of its opposite or complementary type, analogous to seasons. These axes always cross in one point, forming a subconscious polar axle that also anchors two other sets of ‘poles’, usually marked by limb joints.
Art demonstrates ‘one and many, local and universal’
In the dominant cultural paradigm, art is supposedly based on beliefs and rituals associated with certain animals, or practical considerations such as hunting disguises, or symbolic ritual such as hunting magic. The subject matter is supposedly spread by ‘a common heritage’ and adapted en route. If this is valid, themes and concepts in art, ethnography, rituals, theology, figurines, and rock art should trace divergent ‘evolutionary trees’, and cultural momentum should account for persistent localised behaviour. However culture may rather be sustained by the compulsive, subconscious expression of natural structure, just as finches weave nets, and healers distinguish between herbs by what esotericists label ‘signatures’.
Many disputes in art criticism, such as ‘Picasso borrowed his art from Africa’, versus ‘Picasso transformed African art’, reveal the unspoken and untested paradigm that culture is largely conventional and acquired by learning, thus acculturated, diffused, imposed, and further developed. The common paradigm dictates that isolated themes, motifs, emblems, functions, and other kinds of visual ‘meanings’ could be traced in art history, just as styling and ethnography is, and are all ‘real’, or recognised by cultural members, and not by outsiders. Finding the same universal core elements, or collage of types, particularly in a standard sequence, and moreover confirmed by spacing, in all the art media of all eras, would invalidate diffusion, and the entire current paradigm. The historic paradigm does not recognise universal archetypes, such as the ophiotaurus (snake-bull), unless it is supported by shared ethnography.
Practical, magical and diffused elements in culture invite fundamentalist, conscious explanations. It requires considerable study of iconography, and ‘tacking’ among cultural expressions to ‘read’ art, including rock art. The artistic process and its artefacts may not be as simplistic, arbitrary, or ‘creatively’ different, as migration and diffusion allows. Perpetual cultural expression of natural structure would not yield to theories rooted in a fundamentalist, incidental, historic and diffusionist paradigm.
Gobekli Tepe Neolithic transition era bas relief carving on pillar D43 (photo by Bertholt Steinhilber. Mindprint labelling by Edmond Furter).
Type Aries t3 is a flamingo or long-necked water bird hut totem.
Type Cista (Basket) t3-t2 is a spider hut totem. The crayfish in emblems such as Tarot trump 18, indicates that the shape is more expressive than the species.
Type Taurus t2 and t1 are not expressed, but their hut is. T2 includes the Pleiades, which is expressed as a spider-web in some cultures.
Type Galactic Gate is on the vertical plane, expressing spring in Age Gemini-Taurus.
Type Gemini t15’s head is behind its hut. The figure is spaced by its genitals, like its opposite t7. It may likewise be a skin bag and thus decapitated, expressing the Age Gemini end (as the Agnus Dei currently attaches to the former Age Aries).
Type Cancer t14 is a small bird, and furthest from the pole as usual.
Type Leo t13 is a vulture.
Type Leo t12 is a vulture heart or pendant, more usual at t13.
Type Celestial pole is an orb on the vertical plane, expressing midsummer in Age Gemini-Taurus.
Type Galactic pole is a vulture elbow.
Type Virgo t11 is a vulture womb.
Type Libra t10 Serpens is a snake.
Type Cista Lid t10-t9 Lupus is a fox.
Type Scorpius t9 is a scorpion.
Type Scorpius t8 is a large bird.
Type Galactic centre is the scorpion’s sting, on the vertical plane, indicating autumn.
Type Sagittarius t7 is an animal skin bag, spaced by its genitals, visible in close-up photographs. (The Egyptian Narmer palette expresses t7 as the eye of one of a row of heads between the legs of bodies. Rock art often has an unfolding ‘buck bag’ here).
Type Capricornus t6 is a triangular body or ‘tailcoat’ head, more usual at t5.
Type Aquarius t5 t21 is a bird, perhaps a vulture chick, with a ‘tailcoat’ body.
Type Aquarius t5 t20 is a water-bird heart, often interchanged with the opposite t12 or t13; or a ‘tailcoat’ serpentine head.
Type Galactic south pole is a neck joint (unusual, and not accounted in mindprint statistics).
Type Pisces t4 is a water-bird or ibis. H/I shapes here may mark midwinter in Age Gemini; in recent art these shapes sometimes appear at Gemini and thus midsummer.
Orientation of the polar features here expresses the inspirational framework of Age Gemini-Taurus (thus far found only in two Ice Age artworks). Both highly decorated Gobekli pillars have type Gemini in the topmost central position (where Taurus t1, Taurus t2 or Aries t3 habitually appear later). The subconscious orientation tentatively supports archaeological dating, with the cautions that the rate of precession and obliquity at that time is uncertain; that art is not astronomy; and that artists tend to express the framework of prior ages, with some fluctuation in transitional periods. The entire structure is subconscious to artists and viewers.
The pillar ‘face’ edge shows a fox pelt loincloth, above another spider, confirming the general theme of the pillar as type Cista Lid t10-t9 Lupus (Wolf), and its opposite, Cista (Basket) t3-t2, sometimes a ‘Medusa head’ type. The two labels are adopted from recurrent myths that are also expressed in two asterisms that are antipodal (spherical opposites), as decanal (adjacent) between two calendric (zodiac) constellations. Reeds and basketry express similar elements as the mythic expedition of Gilgamesh to ‘the reed curtain’.
Theoretical and paradigmatic falsification
Karl Popper, the father of scientific testability, is often invoked, and sometimes misrepresented in claims for the procedure and value of scientific theory. Popper ideally wanted scientific metrics to be agreed before observation, but “on the contrary, analytic concepts such as ‘ambivalence’ make it impossible to agree on such criteria,” he wrote. Instead, ulterior motives and peer pressure dictate the scientific process, findings, and even entire fields. Popper also introduced the term ‘Oedipus effect’ to describe the influence of theory on observation. Academics theoretically test theories against confirmation bias, but fail to detect the bias for their own schools and theories in the scientific paradigm. Verificationism is also questioned in Popper’s observation that some meaningful theories are not scientific, and that meaning does not distinguish science from pseudo-science.
Refutation is merely one form of test. Criticism is a more comprehensive test, beyond the limits of mathematical logic. Many observations become laws without scientific method, and remain beyond the power of science to test or refute. Deductive falsification is therefore more valuable to science than naïve falsification. Methodological falsification raises the value of theories from single statements, to testable groups of statements, capable of adding and testing ad hoc hypotheses for cumulative validity or invalidity.
Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, also found that scientists work within a conceptual paradigm that widely influences the way they see and find data. Scientists defend their paradigms against falsification by adding ad hoc hypotheses to existing theories, serving schools and institutions. This process reveals many sciences as ‘schools’. Imre Lakatos followed Kuhn by arguing that science progresses only by testing research programs.
A statistical test of visual grammar
This study of the structure of visual expression started by isolating recurrent motifs in rock art, and comparing their prevalence in different cultures, areas, eras, and media, to formulate potential test of origins, developments, and diffusion routes. The test isolated sixteen recurrent types, consisting of clusters of optional motifs; however their visible attributes tested to be of equal prevalence in all cultures and media; to always appear in the same sequence; and as pairs of opposite with their eyes on an axial grid. Classical and modern artworks intended as control tests, revealed the same complex core content and structure. Thus no culture is the origin of the structure of visual expression, although culturally popularised styling is diffused to client cultures, which invariably already have counterparts in different styling. The isolated attributes are thus revealed as archetypal, with the potential to identify more attributes, particularly among the lower frequency options. The origin of art is revealed as perpetual subconscious archetypal expression, which is proposed as a ‘grammar’ or ‘DNA’ of art and culture. The diffuser is revealed as individual visual inspiration, therefore collective subconscious structure, or a compulsion for structural perception and expression. The potential arises to further identify and describe cultural structural standards in other media, such as myth, legend, ritual, literature, religion and social behaviour.
Scenes with fewer than eleven figures may be considered sequentially and geometrically inconclusive, and also happen to be a minority in most cultures. Scenes with more than 50 figures may also be considered inconclusive, unless the scene divides into two or more imprints. In artworks where more than a third of the figures are large, small, bovine, bent, arms up, inverted, or of any listed attribute, such attributes are not statistically accounted, but ascribed to the general theme, which is usually readable. Thus an artwork may be tested for these attributes in the sequence of figures that are marked by axes to their eyes (with two standard, adjacent exceptions). A total of 170 artworks were thus tested. Sequential attribute frequency variations ranging from 3% to 11% were found among random batches of 50 artworks each, dropping to 2% to 7% in randomly mixed batches of 100 artworks. About 2% of variations may be due to damaged, overpainted or indecipherable features. Results are predictive of samples of 100 artworks. Samples of 20 invoke significant variations on the order of 50%, and may reflect cultural bias. Minor frequency attributes such as birds, tails, snakes and social status, show relatively larger variations in small samples.
These visual attributes were confirmed as predictive at a variation of about 4% (sample 170);
t1 t2 Taurus 48% twisting
t1 t2 Taurus 19% bovid
t3 Aries 42% neck long or bent
t4 Pisces 26% rectangular?
t4 Pisces 25% squatting
t5 t20 t21 Aqu 44% varicoloured
t5 t20 t21 Aqu 31% overbearing action
t5 t20 t21 Aqu 30% horizontal
t5 t20 t21 Aqu 24% large
t6 Capricornus 48% ingress or egress
t7 Sagittarius 25% bag or manifestation
t8 t9 Scorpius 34% bent forward
t8 t9 Scorpius 31% strength feat
t10 Libra 53% arms V or W
t10 Libra 34% with a staff
t11 Virgo 87% on her womb
t12 t13 Leo 85% on his heart
t12 t13 Leo 14% feline
t12 t13 Leo 11% inverted
t12 t13 Leo 10% weapon
t14 Cancer 45% ingress or egress
t15 t0 Gemini 33% rope
t15 t0 Gemini 21% bag
t15 t0 Gemini 09% sceptre
t15 t0 Gemini 08% twinned.
Polar markers found in the relevant positions are;
Ecliptic pole 49% (26% limb joint)
Galactic pole 81% (68% limb joint)
Celestial pole 60% (50% limb joint)
Galactic south 65% (50% limb joint)
Celestial south 55% (37% limb joint).
Further conceptual and arguable traits were also identified, but not statistically tested. General or ‘baseline’ ambiguity of some attributes, such as ‘weapon’, is about 3%. The combined visual, statistical and geometric evidence (25 attributes or positional features of significant frequency above 19%; in sequence; confirmed by the standard axial grid among eyes), indicate a collective, universal, subconscious, compulsive, and thus archetypal structure in visual expression. Very few conscious, individual or cultural artistic quirks or programmes interfere with the artistic process in sufficiently complex scenes. All of the 530 artworks tested before and after publication of the book, confirm 65% to 85% of the elaborate mindprint test. The test itself should not be considered comprehensive, and additional features may reveal more of the archetypal structure, and of its regular expressive frequencies.
How to reveal typology and structure in an artwork
Revealing the mindprint structure of expression in an artwork is relatively simplistic, compared to the complex implications;
Identify a likely periphery of eleven or more figures.
List the figures in roughly circular sequence by any distinctive attribute, such as a posture, function, species, or device.
Provisionally tag the list, or the artwork, with likely type numbers from the statistical list, such as type Libra t10 for a figure with a staff, Aries t3 for a long neck, Leo t12 or Leo t13 for a feline, Taurus t1 or Taurus t2 for a twisting hero or a bovine, Aquarius t5 for skin paint or a lurching posture, etc.
Tag figures ingressed or egressed towards or away from the centre, as Capricornus t6 or Cancer t14.
Tag a pregnant figure as Virgo t11, an adjacent major figure as Leo t12 or t13, and the adjacent figure on the other side as Libra t10.
Infer a clockwise or anticlox sequence, and provisionally complete the labelling.
Count the number of eyes (one per figure in the periphery, for example 17), assume the lower even number (for example 16), subtract two (for example 14), skip half of this number (for example seven) between eyes, working in both directions. Draw tentative axes between the eyes of potential opposite pairs.
If three or more axes cross at the same point, find the likely Virgo t11 womb, and Leo t12 or t13 heart, and tentatively redraw errant axes by not using their eyes, unless their eyes also find counterparts across the axial centre.
If three or more peripheral figures in the same area remain unaccounted for, assume a higher equal number (for example 18; skip eight), and repeat the test.
Resolve the sequence by splitting up or combining the split in the major types (Taurus t1 and/or t2, Aquarius t5 t20 +/t5 t21, Scorpius t8 +/t9, Leo t12 +/t13).
Connect adjacent types from eye to eye (with the two exceptions) as a ragged ellipse.
Find a polar marker near the equator, between Leo t12 and Virgo t11, or between Aquarius t5 t20 and Pisces t4, or both; often on a limb joint (including a jaw).
Find a polar marker nearer the axial pole, on or near the Gemini t15, Cancer t14 or Leo t13 axis, often a limb joint. It which may be vertical or horizontal from the axial hub, or from one of the galactic poles. Connect the polar markers to form two mirrored polar triangles. One or two poles may be unmarked. Infer the inspirational dating (spring point) from the type that precedes this ‘celestial’ polar axle (midsummer-midwinter) by an approximate 90 degrees, and mark it as ‘spring’.
Apply the set of labels to the figures and the structural points, in sequence (deleting two or four of the split-type labels if there are only fourteen or twelve typological figures;
[ta1] and/or [ta2] [cis] [ar3] [pi4] pGs
[aq5-20] /[aq5-21] [cTail] [cp6] [sg7] Galaxy
[sc8] and/or [sc9] [cLid] [li10] [vi11] pG
[le12] and/or [le13] [cHead] [cn14] [ge15] Gate
[poleC] [poleCs] Spring
[pE] at the geometric centre, is left unlabelled to avoid clutter.
List these type numbers, with the basic distinctive attributes or characters identified (such as cp6 Pan), to compare to other artworks, to mindprint statistics, stories, myths or other typological sets.
Extensive works may contain two adjacent, interlocking or ‘mirrored’ mindprints, each with similar but never identical features.
Designing art ‘according to’ mindprint is of course possible, but difficult and pointless. It is difficult to find relatively skilled and recognised artworks that do not contain mindprint, apart from portraits, landscapes, still-lifes, commercial decoration, and photographs. Handmade copies of inspired art retain some of the original inspiration, but transform, ‘translate’ or incorporate it into a new mindprint in the eyes, mind and hands of the copyist.
Tacking reveals unity
Archaeology does not recognise archetypes in the cultural record, but it is carefully probing theoretical disunity, or tacking. Application of evidence based on different theories, hypotheses, approaches or assumptions, “intertwine different strands of mutually supportive evidence, and use one strand to cover a gap in another… the cumulative weight of disparate, multidimensional evidence and data can be rationally decisive… intertwined cable-like arguments are more appropriate in rock art research and archaeology in general, than chain-like arguments that fall down if one link is weak.” (Wylie 2002, in Lewis-Williams and Pearce, 2012).
Tacking at best could reveal blind spots in a cultural set, a research problem, or in conclusions. At worst it could assume conscious meanings in essentially subconscious expressions, through no error of ‘theoretical disunity’ itself. The risks of introducing an artificial structure as mediator between self-identified expressions, such as an Old Kingdom Egyptian set of gods versus an Aztec myth cycle, are outweighed by the advantages. The approach of comparing rock art to mythology by tacking (Alison Wylie, 1989, and 2002, after Richard Bernstein, and after Clifford Geertz) recognises our inherent creative and scientific impulse for tacking. Art, particularly nationalist and spiritual art, and myth also help to sustain one another by intuitive tacking, but neither is the origin of the other. So-called ‘correspondence theory’, if interpreted fundamentally or simplistically, is one of the main layers of camouflage that keep our archetypal expressions hidden from conscious view. Constellations and sky maps are usually unmistakeable, but they are absent in most rock art and art, despite consistent efforts by many authors to spot them. Ironically, correspondence theories have not identified the standard artistic set, geometry or subconscious context, despite and probably due to its close resemblance to star maps.
Ouzman (1998) notes that “repeated patterns suggest that individual artistic inspiration was subject to some more widespread cognitive system.” Yet science and even art history seems incapable of formulating our mindscape, past or present. The main ingredients of the most elusive aspects of culture; aesthetics, beauty and inspiration; were thought to be indefinable, infinitely mutable, independently created, supported only by high culture, unique to Western fine art, transfused, learned, and fragile. Culture now appears to be highly standardised by subconscious impulse, inherently static, unlearned, robust, and accessible to any prodigy or peasant.
Evolutionary assumptions are themselves archetypal, and long predate Darwin. Democritus of Abdera wrote; “Men’s progress was the work not of the mind but of the hand,” implying that thumbs allowed us manipulation, which exercised our brains. However, that episode had closed before the era of Homo Sapiens and of art, since there is no evidence of short-thumbed or long-thumbed artists, or of half-formed mindprints, in the extant art of any age. Culture change or supposed cultural evolution, a pervasive concept applied in categories where it has no place (as Von Deschend ironically emphasised in a television interview), implies that artistic expression, including design, conscious and subconscious meaning, structure, applications and inspiration, should have improved over the last 6000 odd years, or at least since the Ice Age. Yet only the numbers of artists and works have increased, apace with exponential population growth, while the core structure and content is unchanged.
Implications of visual archetypal structure
Mindprint as a kind of ‘DNA’ of culture, holds several implications for a range of sciences and crafts. Artists, archaeologists, anthropologists, mythologists, psychologists and sociologists could learn more from one another, and from cultural artefacts worldwide, than the current practices of each science allow. Scientists could follow the example of esoterica in comparing apparently unrelated sets, or ‘tacking form disunity’. Historians and art historians could accept archetype as the implicit, collective, subconscious ‘programme’ in all cultures.
Calendric features on macro and micro level could reveal a limited history of archetypal expression, which is either cyclic or pendulous, but probably not evolutionary. A process similar to adaptation and mutation, could resolve supposedly ‘evolved’ elements in the material record. Artists could take pride that they express archetypal structure from spiritual inspiration as their core craft. This study has several implications for art history and thus for artistic training, but few for practical art. Psychologists and sociologists could investigate personal and social healing techniques by exposing patients to relevant, coherent elements of form and identity, in the way that the allegorical Asclepius or Moses raised allegorical serpents on staffs to heal the people and the land, the legendary Arthur raised a grail, and Jung diagnosed and prescribed myths to patients. Patients need not necessarily consciously understand the ailment or the treatment. Archaeo astronomers could recognise the human capacity for imposing a particular universal conceptual set and structure on material culture, instead of looking for ‘lost’ proto-science. Our range of conscious and subconscious symbolic, social, health and political applications is untaught, and perpetually original.
Edmond Furter is the author of Mindprint, the subconscious art code (2014, Lulu.com). He is an environmental impact assessor, and book editor. His research focus is on the expression of natural archetypal structure in cultural media. Comments are welcomed on https://edmondfurter.wordpress.com/
Becker, Nico; Gobekli Tepe grey pillar
Breuil, Abbe; Trois Frere engraving reproduction
Parry, Elspeth, 2002; A guide to the rock art of the Matobo hills, Zimbabwe. Amabooks, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
RARI, Rock Art Research Foundation, Wits University, Johannesburg
Saudi Aramco World; Bir Hima rock art
South African Archaeological Bulletin, SA Archaeological Society
South African Tourism; ‘Three magi’ rock art image
Steinhilber, Bertholt (Gobekli pillar D43 photograph)
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