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Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux (1932)

by John G. Neihardt, Black Elk

Other authors: Standing Bear (Illustrator), Siegfried Lang (Translator), John G. Neihardt (Afterword)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,229383,130 (3.96)50
"Black Elk Speaks, the story of the Oglala Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950) and his people during momentous twilight years of the nineteenth century, offers readers much more than a precious glimpse of a vanished time. Black Elk's searing visions of the unity of humanity and Earth, conveyed by John G. Neihardt, have made this book a classic that crosses multiple genres. Whether appreciated as the poignant tale of a Lakota life, a history of a Native nation, or an enduring spiritual testament, Black Elk Speaks is unforgettable"--… (more)
  1. 01
    The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker (PlaidStallion)
    PlaidStallion: God, Jesus, Virgin Mary, Yahweh, Allah, Mohammed, Shiva, Buddha, Zeus, Odin, Horus, Emperor of Heaven, Haile Selassie, Great Spirit, Spider Grandmother, Flying Spaghetti Monster—take a lesson:


    MOST PEOPLE ARE familiar with the idea that some of our ordeals come from a mismatch between the source of our passions in evolutionary history and the goals we set for ourselves today. People gorge themselves in anticipation of a famine that never comes, engage in dangerous liaisons that conceive babies they don’t want, and rev up their bodies in response to stressors from which they cannot run away.

    What is true for the emotions may also be true for the intellect. Some of our perplexities may come from a mismatch between the purposes for which our cognitive faculties evolved and the purposes to which we put them today. This is obvious enough when it comes to raw data processing. People do not try to multiply six-digit numbers in their heads or remember the phone number of everyone they meet, because they know their minds were not designed for the job. But it is not as obvious when it comes to the way we conceptualize the world. Our minds keep us in touch with aspects of reality—such as objects, animals, and people—that our ancestors dealt with for millions of years. But as science and technology open up new and hidden worlds, our untutored intuitions may find themselves at sea.

    What are these intuitions? Many cognitive scientists believe that human reasoning is not accomplished by a single, general-purpose computer in the head. The world is a heterogeneous place, and we are equipped with different kinds of intuitions and logics, each appropriate to one department of reality. These ways of knowing have been called systems, modules, stances, faculties, mental organs, multiple intelligences, and reasoning engines. They emerge early in life, are present in every normal person, and appear to be computed in partly distinct sets of networks in the brain. They may be installed by different combinations of genes, or they may emerge when brain tissue self-organizes in response to different problems to be solved and different patterns in the sensory input. Most likely they develop by some combination of these forces.

    What makes our reasoning faculties different from the departments in a university is that they are not just broad areas of knowledge, analyzed with whatever tools work best. Each faculty is based on a core intuition that was suitable for analyzing the world in which we evolved. Though cognitive scientists have not agreed on a Gray’s Anatomy of the mind, here is a tentative but defensible list of cognitive faculties and the core intuitions on which they are based:
    • An intuitive physics, which we use to keep track of how objects fall, bounce, and bend. Its core intuition is the concept of the object, which occupies one place, exists for a continuous span of time, and follows laws of motion and force. These are not Newton’s laws but something closer to the medieval conception of impetus, an “oomph” that keeps an object in motion and gradually dissipates.
    • An intuitive version of biology or natural history, which we use to understand the living world. Its core intuition is that living things house a hidden essence that gives them their form and powers and drives their growth and bodily functions.
    • An intuitive engineering, which we use to make and understand tools and other artifacts. Its core intuition is that a tool is an object with a purpose—an object designed by a person to achieve a goal.
    • An intuitive psychology, which we use to understand other people. Its core intuition is that other people are not objects or machines but are animated by the invisible entity we call the mind or the soul. Minds contain beliefs and desires and are the immediate cause of behavior.
    • A spatial sense, which we use to navigate the world and keep track of where things are. It is based on a dead reckoner, which updates coordinates of the body's location as it moves and turns, and a network of mental maps. Each map is organized by a different reference frame: the eyes, the head, the body, or salient objects and places in the world.
    • A number sense, which we use to think about quantities and amounts. It is based on an ability to register exact quantities for small numbers of objects (one, two, and three) and to make rough relative estimates for larger numbers.
    • A sense of probability, which we use to reason about the likelihood of uncertain events. It is based on the ability to track the relative frequencies of events, that is, the proportion of events of some kind that turn out one way or the other.
    • An intuitive economics, which we use to exchange goods and favors. It is based on the concept of reciprocal exchange, in which one party confers a benefit on another and is entitled to an equivalent benefit in return.
    • A mental database and logic, which we use to represent ideas and to infer new ideas from old ones. It is based on assertions about what’s what, what’s where, or who did what to whom, when, where, and why. The assertions are linked in a mind-wide web and can be recombined with logical and causal operators such as AND, OR, NOT, ALL, SOME, NECESSARY, POSSIBLE, and CAUSE.
    • Language, which we use to share the ideas from our mental logic. It is based on a mental dictionary of memorized words and a mental grammar of combinatorial rules. The rules organize vowels and consonants into words, words into bigger words and phrases, and phrases into sentences, in such a way that the meaning of the combination can be computed from the meanings of the parts and the way they are arranged.
    The mind also has components for which it is hard to tell where cognition leaves off and emotion begins. These include a system for assessing danger, coupled with the emotion called fear, a system for assessing contamination, coupled with the emotion called disgust, and a moral sense, which is complex enough to deserve a chapter of its own.

    These ways of knowing and core intuitions are suitable for the lifestyle of small groups of illiterate, stateless people who live off the land, survive by their wits, and depend on what they can carry. Our ancestors left this lifestyle for a settled existence only a few millennia ago, too recently for evolution to have done much, if anything, to our brains. Conspicuous by their absence are faculties suited to the stunning new understanding of the world wrought by science and technology. For many domains of knowledge, the mind could not have evolved dedicated machinery, the brain and genome show no hints of specialization, and people show no spontaneous intuitive understanding either in the crib or afterward. They include modern physics, cosmology, genetics, evolution, neuroscience, embryology, economics, and mathematics.

    It’s not just that we have to go to school or read books to learn these subjects. It’s that we have no mental tools to grasp them intuitively. We depend on analogies that press an old mental faculty into service, or on jerry-built mental contraptions that wire together bits and pieces of other faculties. Understanding in these domains is likely to be uneven, shallow, and contaminated by primitive intuitions. And that can shape debates in the border disputes in which science and technology make contact with everyday life. The point … is that together with all the moral, empirical, and political factors that go into these debates, we should add the cognitive factors: the way our minds naturally frame issues. Our own cognitive makeup is a missing piece of many puzzles, including education, bioethics, food safety, economics, and human understanding itself.
    … (more)
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» See also 50 mentions

English (35)  French (2)  All languages (37)
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
"Black Elk Speaks, the story of the Oglala Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950) and his people during momentous twilight years of the nineteenth century, offers readers much more than a precious glimpse of a vanished time. Black Elk's searing visions of the unity of humanity and Earth, conveyed by John G. Neihardt, have made this book a classic that crosses multiple genres. Whether appreciated as the poignant tale of a Lakota life, a history of a Native nation, or an enduring spiritual testament, Black Elk Speaks is unforgettable" The author sat with Black Elk and others of the Lakota and wrote down as translated a wonderful story of prophesy, being at the battle of the Little Big Horn, and being involved in the Ghost Dance and the massacre at Wounded Knee as well as the attempted breaking/eradication of the native people and their beliefs. This should be required reading in school. ( )
  dswaddell | Feb 4, 2021 |
NA
  pszolovits | Feb 3, 2021 |
Not sure if this is still considered legitimate ( )
  brianstagner | Sep 19, 2020 |
The other editions have a subtile like " Being the life story off.." which should have tipped me off. I was hoping for quotes/sayings of Black Elk, not a blow by blow. Interesting to see this perspective having read Son of the Morning Star. ( )
  shaundeane | Sep 13, 2020 |
i would give this a higher rating but apparently Black Elk did not write it himself. ( )
  JoeHamilton | Jul 21, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
… Based on interviews given by Lakota holy man Nicolas Black Elk (1863-1950)… a moving portrait of Black Elk emerges. He believed he should use his visions and special powers to help the Lakota return to a good life…. Yet he could find no way to make this dream a reality, and Neihardt emphasizes Black Elk's mournful recognition of this failure. However, since Neihardt intended his book as a work of art rather than an anthropological oral history, he felt free to add thoughts of his own and to omit the more optimistic side of Black Elk's views….
 

» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Neihardt, John G.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Black Elkmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Bear, StandingIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lang, SiegfriedTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Neihardt, John G.Afterwordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Deloria, Philip J.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilcock, J. RodolfoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
Dedication
What is good in this book
is given back
to the six grandfathers
and
to the great men of my people.
- BLACK ELK
First words
PREFACE:
It was during August, 1930, that I first met Black Elk.
... John G. Neihardt, 1960
INTRODUCTION:
The twentieth century has produced a world of conflicting visions, intense emotions, and unpredictable events, and the opportunities for grasping the substance of life have faded as the pace of activity has increased.
... Vine Deloria, Jr.
My friend, I am going to tell you the story of my life, as you wish; and if it were only the story of my life I think I would not tell it; for what is one man that he should make much of his winters, even when they bend him like a heavy snow?
Quotations
What is good in this book is given back to the six grandfathers and to the great men of my people. --Black Elk
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
The original edition was titled "as told to" John G. Neihardt. The 1961 edition, at the author's request, reads "as told through" Neihardt.
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

"Black Elk Speaks, the story of the Oglala Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950) and his people during momentous twilight years of the nineteenth century, offers readers much more than a precious glimpse of a vanished time. Black Elk's searing visions of the unity of humanity and Earth, conveyed by John G. Neihardt, have made this book a classic that crosses multiple genres. Whether appreciated as the poignant tale of a Lakota life, a history of a Native nation, or an enduring spiritual testament, Black Elk Speaks is unforgettable"--

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