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How Art Made the World episode 1

venus of willendorf

egypt obsessive order ancient greece naked perfection

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v.s.ramachandran: herring gull test
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Venus of Willendorf
Venus of Willendorf

The Venus of Willendorf is one of the earliest images of the body made by humankind. It stands just over 4 inches high and was carved some 25,000 years ago. It was discovered on the banks of the Danube River, in Austria, and it was most likely made by hunter-gatherers who lived in the area. The environment at that time was much colder and bleaker then present-day, a remnant of Europe's last ice age.

The people who made this statue lived in a harsh ice-age environment where features of fatness and fertility would have been highly desirable.

The question is why were prehistoric humans stimulated by an exaggerated image such as this? The answer, according to neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran and others, lies in the workings of the human brain, in a neurological principle known as the "peak shift."

The people who made this statue lived in a harsh ice-age environment where features of fatness and fertility would have been highly desirable. In neurological terms, these features amounted to hyper-normal stimuli that activate neuron responses in the brain. So in Paleolithic people terms, the parts that mattered most had to do with successful reproduction - the breasts and pelvic girdle. Therefore, these parts were isolated and amplified by the artist's brain.

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