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Goodreads | Gwern's review of Don't Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle
- book about the PirahΓ£ and their language/culture
- reminds me of julian jaynes
- some interesting analysis in comment

They seem to need relatively little sleep, mature quickly, never plan ahead or make long-term investments (such as making wicker rather than palm leave baskets) or talk about the distant future/past (and will very rarely talk about anything they learned from someone now dead: "generally only the most experienced language teachers will do this, those who have developed an ability to abstract from the subjective use of their language and who are able to comment on it from an objective perspective"), and will casually throw away tools or things they will need soon. They know how to preserve meat, but never both unless intending to trade it; food is eaten whenever it's available, and since they fish at all hours, everyone might wake up at 3AM for fish.

...

They have difficulty understanding foreigners are like them, and can understand language, in a bizarre echo of the Chinese room:

Then I noticed another bemusing fact. The PirahΓ£s would converse with me and then turn to one another, in my presence, to talk about me, as though I was not even there.

...

Their language, in their view, emerges from their lives as PirahΓ£s and from their relationships to other PirahΓ£s. If I could utter appropriate responses to their questions, this was no more evidence that I spoke their language than a recorded message is to me evidence that my telephone is a native speaker of English. I was like one of the bright macaws or parrots so abundant along the Maici. My "speaking" was just some cute trick to some of them. It was not really speaking.

All of this is part of Everett's case that the PirahΓ£ are, like Luria's peasant, ruled by an "immediacy of experience principle" and this yields an extraordinarily conservative culture on which new ideas and concepts roll off like so much water off a duck's back.

Their supernatural beliefs are particularly fascinating: dreams are simply interpreted literally and discussed as supernatural events that happened, and any random thing can be a 'spirit', with regular theatrical performances of 'spirits' who are obviously tribe men (but when asked, PirahΓ£ deny that there is any connection between particular men and spirits, part of their weak grasp on personal identity (I was particularly amused by the Heraclitean tone of one anecdote: "PirahΓ£s occasionally talked about me, when I emerged from the river in the evenings after my bath. I heard them ask one another, 'Is this the same one who entered the river or is it kapioxiai [a dangerous spirit]?'"), where names change regularly and are considered new people). Some of the spirit appearances are group hallucinations or consensus, and Everett opens Don't Sleep with the anecdote of being part of a group of PirahΓ£ staring at an empty sand bank where they see the spirit Xigagai saying he will kill anyone going into the forest that day. This example is a bit perplexing: what could possibly be the use of this and why would they either perceive it or go along with it? Similarly, it's hard to see how the spirit outside the village talking all night about how he wanted to have sex with specific women of the village is serving any role, and the tribesman reaction when Everett walks up and asks to record his ranting is hilariously deadpan: "'Sure, go ahead', he answered immediately in his normal voice". Other spirits make more sense:

PirahΓ£s listen carefully and often follow the exhortations of the kaoaib6gi. A spirit might say something like "Don't want Jesus. He is not PirahΓ£", or "Don't hunt downriver tomorrow", or things that are commonly shared values, such as "Don't eat snakes." Through spirits, ostracism, food-sharing regulation, and so on, PirahΓ£ society disciplines itself.
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april 2016 by nhaliday

bundles : culture ‧ novelty ‧ soft ‧ stars ‧ vague

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