What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close
With rendition switcher

Transcript

Question: At what point in the evolutionary timeline did humans develop creativity?

Donald Johanson:  Yeah, well, everyone when asked that question or ponders that question immediately thinks of the beautiful caves in southwest France, the most famous of course being Lascaux, where you have beautiful polychrome paintings of animals on the walls and so on.  Those are only 20,000 years old.  The work that my colleague at the Institute of Human Origins is doing, Curtis Marean, in sites on the very southern tip of Africa, he is finding pieces of ochre that are engraved.  There are no animal pictures them.  They’re simple geometric designs, small pieces maybe four or five inches long.  Ochre could certainly have been used, those little ochre pieces dipped in water and used as a stamp for example and maybe that identified those individuals as belonging to the same clan or the same group.  There is extensive discovery of ochre pencils and as we know one of the frequent minerals that is used to decorate…  I was recently with the some Masai people in Southern Tanzania, and it was so interesting because I went to a wedding and they used this red earth to paint their faces, and here I appear, you know, looking very different and really feeling like the other, like the outsider, and one of the elderly women came up to me and started painting my face, and a number of things happened.  The first thing that happened was I felt I was included, that I was part of them, that they had accepted me and I felt an intimacy with that person.  You know how it is.  We keep a distance from one another.  We have this personal space around us.  Decorating each other has a very interesting byproduct, which is developing social bonds, and the other thing was that I felt like I could participate and not just simply be an outside observer.  I was there to do photography, but I felt like I was involved in that cultural ceremony of Masai marriage, and we find these 160,000-year-old, four times as old as Europe, implements of ochre that are clearly pencils, so people were decorating one another and themselves and probably mostly each other, because they didn’t have mirrors, so they were probably decorating one another and this was like in a broad sense like when you look at nonhuman primates that groom one another.  It’s a way of developing and establishing social contact and social connectiveness and cohesiveness, so the earliest art really goes back to Southern Africa.  We find…  A little bit later we find pierced shells in the Serengeti.  We find them in North Africa.  We find them in the Middle East, so Europe wasn’t really the place where the creative explosion happened.  It came along with us into Europe and developed over time to the point where you have the first impressionists 25,000 years ago.  I think that is the first sense I had when I walked into Lascaux in the early 1980s was, wow, here was a whole age of Impressionism that preceded our age of Impressionism by 20,000 years.

Recorded on March 19, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

More from the Big Idea for Saturday, September 03 2011

 

The First Art Was Body Art

Newsletter: Share: