The Savage Mind

by Claude Lévi-Strauss

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In The Savage Mind, Claude Lévi-Strauss explores the structures of human consciousness to make the point that all human beings are capable of the same mental processes. He explores different ways that people organize concepts, such as myth, to help them make sense of the natural world (of direct sensory apprehension) and the supernatural (of beliefs, ideas,and the unknown).

Rejecting the distinction that was then common in anthropology between "primitive" logic and the reasoning of "modern" peoples, Lévi-Strauss insists that the brain is not different. The preferences for different belief systems, contrasted as magic and religion, are cultural and can be learned and communicated the same way as language—through signs.

Some people have a preference for understanding cultural phenomena in terms of cyclical patterning; these are "cold" societies. Others view events as unique, linear sequences; he terms those "hot" societies. Regardless of worldview in those terms, each type is intellectually capable of understanding the other. It would be erroneous, therefore, to posit any scientific basis for believing people in any culture are intellectually superior to others.

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