Advancing human cognition through technology: The impact of writing on civilization [Denise Schmandt-Besserat, ISSS 1998 Plenary Session, July 21/98]

[Plenary session, July 21/98, 9:25 a.m.]

Denise Schmandt-Besserat, Center for Mideastern Studies

Archaeologist, responsible for excavation between two rivers (Tigris & Euphrates) in Iraq

Sumar, 5000 BC -- beginning of the state

Sumar, 3000 BC -- technology accelerating, beginning of metallurgy

Talk: Want to show that writing was key to civilization

Goddess: an accountant, who passed on writing to the humans

Found in excavations earliest text, in tablets: cuneiform at 3100 B.C.

Invention of writing is the result of banal extensions of abstraction

History: System based on abstraction -- elements of daily life into symbols Tokens were still very concrete: dealing in a one-to-one correspondence, numbers were not extracted. Then evolution to cities, tokens could become IOUs, with markings to show partially-finished goods. Gradually shift when token aren't pressed into clay, but drawn. Summary: writing is the product of a series of abstraction. Created an abstract system which could manipulate data, as not done before. For the future (from an archeologist).


Is society sustainable? Innovations in cognition, conceptual leap forward by emergence? Solutions as conceptual revolutions, not as resources.

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