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Deus Ex Machina: Technological Experience as a Cognitive Resource in Bronze Age Conceptualizations of Astronomical Phenomena

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Mental recruitment of previous technological experience in conceptualizations of non-technological phenomena constitutes a specific kind of unintended cognitive effect of human technological activity. This paper discusses particular conceptual takes on a significant epistemic challenge faced by people in the Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean: that of understanding the factors and dynamics governing and allowing the most important celestial body (the sun) to travel across the sky during the day. Textual sources, iconography and artefactual evidence in combination provide an outline of concrete conceptual solutions to this challenge, which centre on charioteering, i.e., the employment of light, horse-drawn vehicles for high-speed transport. These sources also inform on the actual, practical role played by this technological genre in the context of the eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age. The paper specifies a connection between the actual, mundane and social role of this form of vehicular technology in Bronze Age society, and the conceptualizations of an astronomical phenomenon to which it is recruited. This provides a specific case demonstrating how aspects of concrete, sensorimotor experience of technological activities, here the dynamics of vehicular transport, may ground associative conceptualization of empirically ill-specified phenomena. This, in turn, provides support for the general observation that the conceptual repertoires of individuals and collectives in particular historical contexts are influenced substantially by the experiential spectra associated with the specific ways of life into which they are born.

Affiliations: 1: Interacting Minds Centre, Aarhus UniversityJens Chr. Skous Vej 5, dk-8000 Aarhus


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