American Indian writer Vine Deloria, Jr. describes the Western conceptions of a static homogenous understanding of time and a uniform operation of nature as a belief so virulent that explanations of natural events have been forced into this ideological pattern even when the facts were obviously otherwise. In God is Red: A Native View of Religion he recounts the search of present-day astronomers for cross-cultural evidence of a supernova that was visible in the sky in various parts of the world in 1054 c.e. While this event appears to have been recorded in the rock art of American Southwestern Indians, specifically the Anasazi residents of the Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, little about it was recorded in European history. Deloria writes that for centuries in Europe the heavens were understood to be constant and fixed because they were the divine creation of the Abrahamic god. He postulates that because this worldview precluded any chaotic movement in the sky, Europeans did not perceive the event—even though it was observable, because their beliefs overrode their actual experience.
The idea that Indians appeared to have observed a celestial event was lost on the scholars who studied the rock art, and many wrote numerous books on the “primitives,” explaining in salient examples of Western academic ignorance and arrogance, how the Indians could not have known that a very bright star does not exist next to the moon. However, because of the Western worldviews held by these scholars, they were not looking for a record of an event in the sky and because they did not understand the practical efficacy that is foundational to an Indian worldview, they did not see what the art might have been depicting. In light of this type of academic “missing the point,” Deloria questions the entire issue of the interpretation of Indigenous religious symbols and beliefs in Western scholarship.
Despite the racist and colonialist disregard, distortion, and appropriation of Indigenous cultures by Western scholars and the unilinear theories of early anthropology that relegated “primitive” societies to the evolutionarily infantile, it turns out that Indigenous worldviews are incredibly profound and complex, and often mirror theories in quantum physics and the new sciences. In fact, current studies in neuroscience support Deloria’s analysis. Traditionally in Western scientific paradigms, human perception was assumed to be determined by sensory information. However, new data reveals the opposite; that it is our predisposition to see that organizes diffuse visual stimuli into perceptions. It is our “intentional dynamics,” or macroscopic feedback loops driven by the limbic brain, that determine the data we seek and the interpretations we make. It is our emotional expectations and desires that filter what environmental input we focus on, what we process, and what we perceive. This means that what we expect to see we usually find and what falls outside of culturally acceptable parameters, that are usually defined by culturally acceptable narratives, may go unprocessed by the brain as an apprehensible pattern and therefore not be perceived in consciousness awareness.
Vine. Deloria Jr., God is Red: A Native View of Religion (Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 1992). 134.
Michael Winkelman, “Shamanism: A Biopsychosocial Paradigm of Consciousness and Healing,” (Santa Barbara, Ca: Praeger, 2010). 9.