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Al evolution but instead is a learned process that came about only three thousand years ago and is still developing The implications of this re. This book is very stimulatingThat is not to say it is correct or incorrect as a theory of consciousness but there are enough examples and provocative ideas to make me think it might be right And that s the whole problem I can t immediately discount it It keeps creeping back into my consciousnessEven when reading it with deep suspicions the very meme of this core idea breaks down the wall between my right and left hemispheres and I no longer have an external agent telling me what I must do No voices no riding in my body like I m not an agent of my own destiny and not even the god of the right side of my brain giving me instructionsI jest kinda For this is the key to the book It postulates that humanity was like a zombie agent in the philosophical parlance than any true consciousness before the advent of writing That language itself was a meme that forced us to develop and re develop our cognitions until we became our own agents doing things by our own decisionsBefore we were all highly perceptive creatures that always acted without reflection We went through our lives followed orders did what needed to be done but never thought of ourselves as actors No I Language as a meme destroyed that boundary Brought creativity into motive the idea of self into all euations It explains why a mass of humanity could accomplish the pyramids on either side of the ocean probably without complaint There was no self Death masks and spirits of the dead gods oracles etc could be heard by anyone and it all came from the outside Separate from us but undeniable like an edict from high The theory is that these commands came from the right hemisphere The creative center of the brain It fits And so much of this book is devoted to the Homeric epics to poetry to possession art and music When it became commonplace the reliance on gods diminished Rapidly We internalized it and it was thanks to languageSo seductiveAnd it sparks my imagination too I think about how many people today want to submerge their consciousnesses again be it by faith in God alcohol drugs or any number of addictions including internet It feels like a biological callback to the times when we did not have guilt or worry We just followed outside orders from kings and gods not caring if we lived or died because there was no self at all to care It s a freedom in the most literal sense of the word Freedom from self I think of Buddhism Or being welcomed in the arms of God in heaven Of raptures and releaseThis is what language freed us from This is also the story of the Tree of Knowledge Which happens to come from right after the time we developed this facility according to JaynesInteresting no Why have we come so far so fast Our humanity is much older than this timeframe and yet it is not this chaotic developed or fractured We selected ourselves either genetically or socially to increase the likelihood of a greater mix of both the left and right hemispheres of our brains And here we areVery interesting


The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

Volutionary scientific paradigm extend into virtually every aspect of our psychology our history and culture our religion and indeed our future. This book is very strange Julian Jaynes came out with strong thesis that our consciousness is the result of culture ie that the organization of our mind was different two millennia BC and started to breakdown around the first millennium BC Highly speculative but at the same time very well founded The author studied thoroughly the ancient texts in order to support his view Definitely worth of reading

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At the heart of this classic seminal book is Julian Jaynes's still controversial thesis that human consciousness did not begin far back in anim. I am giving Julian Jaynes The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind The Origin four stars not because I ve become a devoted follower of his theory I haven t but because it reflects exactly how I feel about it I really liked it Jaynes writes in such a commanding manner that you re helplessly swept along to the end at which point you can finally catch your breath and begin to assess what s just happened Once he s determined the correctness of his hypothesis to his own satisfaction there are no wishy washy cavils or cowardly hedging And along the way Jaynes calls into uestion everything you thought you knew about humans consciousness and history Don t relegate Jaynes to the crackpot shelf of your library along with Zechariah Sitchin Erich von Daniken Graham Masterson and others of their ilk Jaynes grounds his claims in actual psychology literature archaeology and history As such you have to take his assertions seriously even if you ultimately reject them The author s hypothesis can be summed up thusly1 Prior to the second millennium BC humans were not conscious by and large2 The right hemisphere of the brain was dominant and directed humans via auditory and visual hallucinations that became the gods and God that appear in ancient literature3 This condition Jaynes calls the Bicameral Mind BM vs the Conscious Mind CM4 The first chink in the BM came with the advent of language when it became theoretically possible to construct an internal dialog and an analog I 5 The final nails in the BM s coffin were the invention of writing and the increasing complexity of urban civilization which proved too much for the BM to cope with6 Conseuently the CM is a product of acculturation not an emergent property of the brain7 The first stirrings of the CM came in the 2nd millennium BC and by the 1st millennium it had become the dominant hemisphere of the brain8 The BM remains with us but in modern society is found only with schizophrenics and under special conditions such as hypnosis deep meditation or religious frenzyIn the early 70s when Jaynes wrote such an assertion found little empirical support but in light of modern research in language evolution archaeology and brain studies it doesn t seem as far fetched I don t believe in Jaynes stark demarcation between the BM and CM but having read works like Before the Dawn Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors Inside the Neolithic Mind Consciousness Cosmos and the Realm of the Gods The Singing Neanderthals The Origins of Music Language Mind and Body and soon The 10 000 Year Explosion How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution it s clear that human evolution is ongoing and can be found in surprisingly recent events That pre language humans processed thought differently seems unassailable Eually certain is that evolution works with the material at hand it could easily be the case that the BM or some neurological process that was not consciousness remained dominant for a long time because the human environment didn t select for consciousness until we began living markedly different lifestyles from our origins On the other hand consciousness of a sort may have been the edge modern humans needed to crowd out their hominid competitors most famously the Neanderthal which would push Jaynes CM back a few millennia If there is a solution to the uestion it remains elusive pending further evidence for how the brain worksLike Caesar s Gaul The Origin is divided into three parts Part I is a bit of a slog as the author goes over current as of the mid 1970s research on brain functions and the nature of consciousness It moves along well enough but can be tough going for those unfamiliar with the subject despite Jaynes generally lucid and reader friendly proseChapter 1 surveys theories about the origins of the CM 1 It s a property of matter 2 it s a property of protoplasm all organisms are conscious to a degree 3 consciousness as learning it s present when an organism can learn from experience 4 it s a metaphysical imposition today Creationism and ID would fall under this category 5 the helpless spectator theory 6 emergent evolution the CM emerges when brain development reaches a certain critical mass 7 behaviorism which denies consciousness altogether and 8 consciousness arises from the firing of axions and dendrites ie it s a function of the nervous system I tend to fall into camps 2 and 6 but Jaynes dismisses them all as inadeuate and contends that its possible indeed it was our condition to conceive of humans with all the traits of learning reason language etc but no consciousness In Chapter 2 Jaynes sets out the features of the CM 1 Spatialization objects of conscious thought are placed in a mind space 2 excerption we think of particulars not wholes 3 the analog I 4 the metaphor me 5 narratization the CM arranges facts into a story and 6 conciliation bringing narratives together into compatible schemata As he writes Subjective conscious mind is an analog of what is called the real world It is built up with a vocabulary or lexical field whose terms are all metaphors or analogs of behavior in the physical world Its reality is of the same order as mathematics p 55Jaynes briefly looks at The Iliad which will be dissected in detail in Part II in Chapter 3 He considers it the first piece of writing that we have full confidence in translating and which is a clear example of the transition from the BM to the CMChapter 4 explains how the BM s hallucinations worked Essentially they were produced whenever a decision point was reached a novel experience that couldn t be handled unconsciously The mind obeys the voices because there s no conscious distance between audition and volition a similar phenomenon is found in hypnosis subjects and schizophrenicsIn Chapter 5 Jaynes presents his evidence for why humans functioning solely with BMs could function and conceive complex civilizations As well he argues that the right hemisphere functions of the brain guiding and planning organizing experiences mirror the traditional functions of antiuity s gods while the left hemisphere mirrors the functions of mere mortals analysis and verbal tasksChapter 6 is largely unverifiable speculation about how language developed which I don t believe holds up well in light of recent research but for what it s worth1 Sometime between 70000 BC to 40000 BC vocal ualifiers are invented his example wahee look out tiger wahoo look out leopard 2 Between 40K and 25K BC imperatives and further ualifiers were elaborated3 Between 25K and 15K BC nouns were invented bases this on the appearance of cave art4 10K 8K BC individual names develop though he makes the point that often these incorporate divine names and don t appear to signify a conscious awareness of individualityIt s also in this latest period that gods arise most likely from the auditory and visual hallucinations of dead chieftains and other prominent members of a tribe In Part II Jaynes theorizes that these deities and spirits became regularized through acculturation Everyone in a particular culture knew that Kshumai god of agriculture appeared to tell the farmer when it was time to plant the wheatPart II is my favorite part of the book a tour de force of icon bashing that leaves you breathless In brief Jaynes believes that BM ed humans coped uite well for millennia though in and complex relationships ultimately creating the elaborate city states and early nations made possible by the Agricultural Revolution Eventually Sumer invented writing which weakened the authority of the BM by making the gods commands silent and locatable They no longer carried volitional power The BM wasn t immediately displaced It wasn t until the 2nd millennium BC that conditions were right for the fully conscious mind to emerge and even then it would be another 1000 years for it to become dominantI m going to pass over Chapter 1 in this section as it s primarily an introduction Jaynes begins laying out his arguments in Chapter 2 where he explains his belief that all pre CM civilizations were organized as hierarchical absolute theocracies ruled either by steward kings Sumer or god kings Egypt People either interacted with representations of the gods idols or with their living avatars Priest castes arose to regulate this heavenly diplomacyIn Egypt the pharaohs as god kings lost control of the system which crashed c 2000 BC with the end of the Old Kingdom Subseuent periods of political unity exhibit greater and greater consciousness The BM ed steward kings of the Middle East exhibited greater flexibility and coped into the 18th century BC before utter social collapseChapter 3 discusses the social chaos which ushered in the second millennium and the CM Based on surviving inscriptions Jaynes believes that there were no private ambitions or grudges because there was no private space Intercultural relations were carried on my men listening to the voices in their heads or form their idols In times of plenty relations were usually amicable in times of want or stress they deteriorated rapidly The 2nd millennium BC was a period of high stress Externally populations were on the move and nations such as Assyria and Babylon were expanding internally writing continued to weaken the BM s hold on humanity and men were losing the guidance of the gods voices Jaynes characterizes the period as one of anomie and intense fear as humans found themselves alone as they had never experienced the sensation before The response was a breakdown in authority and a calamitous rise in violence Religions began to appear that were than simply ritual but codified moral behavior and set down laws as well It s interesting to note the Jaynes timeline broadly reflects that of the Axial Age the name historians have given to that period when the spiritual foundations of all modern civilizations were laid see Karen Armstrong s The Great Transformation The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions or Rodney Stark s Discovering God The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief or if you prefer it fictionalized Gore Vidal s Creation A NovelThe first transitional culture Assyria arose c 1400 BC savage and semi conscious From 2000 to 1700 BC the Assyrians had established themselves in a far ranging network of trade missions Jaynes suggests that Assyrian traders became contaminated by contact with foreigners and different gods which brought about the consciousness of difference and the idea of another self It also brought about the collapse of that first epoch and the eventual rise of the Assyrian Empire Its legendary cruelty was not a manifestation of the CM but of the BM attempting to reassert control by prompting the Assyrians to destroy what was alien I m reminded of the classic Star Trek episode Return of the Archons and the Body s attempts to destroy Kirk and his crewThe chapter wraps up with a summary of the signs of the CM1 Observation of difference Humans saw something else controlling strangers actions and inferred a similar self within themselves2 Narratization Codification through the written word of past events The birth of cause and effect 3 The invention of lying Not the movie but the idea s the same Humans became capable of projecting an outer persona that differed from their internal one4 Natural selection Though Jaynes doesn t believe the CM has a biological origin he allows that it was a survival trait and that humans capable of consciousness bred longer and faster than their BM cousinsChapter 4 continues to build on 3 s evidence or evidence if you re not buying Jaynes brand of snake oil With the emergence of the CM humans no longer have a direct connection to divinity Because the gods have fallen silent for most we see the emergence of angels and demons ideas of good and evil and divinatory practices where the increasingly rare human conduit still heard divine voices eg Delphi or rituals sussed out divine pleasure eg casting lots In the Abrahamic religions the Fall of Adam reflected this falling away from the gods Man becomes separated from God who used to walk with him in the cool of the evening in EdenChapter 5 turns to The Iliad as one of the clearest examples of the transition from the BM to the CM focusing on several terms that begin as fully concrete behaviors or actions and wind up becoming metaphors of the CM The oddest example being psyche which began life as the verb to breathe became life in the sense of an animating force and ended up meaning soul Chapter 6 finishes the section by taking a look at the Jewish Testament Christians OT For Jaynes even than the Greeks the Hebrews document the end of the BM A summary of his arguments follows1 Contrasts Amos 8th century BC with Ecclesiastes 2nd century BC and argues that the former is clearly a BM Amos speaks only as the voice of God without introspection Ecclesiastes on the other hand is full of introspection and rarely speaks in God s voice or even as His agent2 Development of the nabiim prophets Jaynes believes that the proto Hebrews the khabiru were the remnants of still BM dominated outcasts pushed to the edges of CM ed civilizations From these dregs emerged men like Amos who still heard gods or God s voices and spoke for them or HimProphets became necessary because God was too remote No longer heard He was only seen and then rarely in human form such as a burning bush or a column of fire They were reuired to bring some order to the inconsistent voices The BM s genius for enforcing social control and stable hierarchies was forever gone and God s voice was saying different things to different people Acceptable voices became orthodoxy unacceptable ones became the ravings of the insane a novel category as in a BM ed world everyone was mad from a CM point of view3 Saul is the first fully conscious man in Hebrew history He can t hear God he rebels against Samuel s admonitions and he liesI scant Part III because my fingers grow weary It traces vestiges of the BM still found in the modern world It will come as no surprise that schizophrenia is the clearest remnant but there are also oracles possession including glossolalia poetry and music see Singing for some recent speculations along these lines and hypnosisAs I ve intimated I m not convinced Jaynes has stumbled upon the truth His range of evidence is too narrow too open to interpretation and largely unverifiable But I also know that some remarkable evidence has emerged see my recommendations above among other works that point to recent evolutionary changes in the human brain and it s not inconceivable that our mentation could be markedly different even from that of ancestors within written memory There is too the fact that we are only at the beginning of understanding the brain Evolutionarily speaking the CM is a newborn child of the mind and how it interacts with its unconscious forebears is problematicIn that spirit I recommend reading this book

10 thoughts on “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

  1. says:

    I am giving Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind The Origin four stars not because I’ve beco

  2. says:

    Coming in a close third after Immanuel Kant's Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Come Forward As Science and Beeban Kidron's To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar in the World's Clunkiest Title competition TOoCitBotBM is surprisingly accessible given the amount of ground it covers Combining analyses of psychology archeology and ancient literature Jaynes comes up with an astounding hypot

  3. says:

    Either a work of unparalleled genius or completely out to lunch loopy No one not even Richard Dawkins appears ui

  4. says:

    This book is very stimulatingThat is not to say it is correct or incorrect as a theory of consciousness but the

  5. says:

    This was one of the most stimulating and important books I've ever encountered by a psychologist Although flawed in some important res

  6. says:

    In the process of trying to decide where to begin my review of The Undoing Project A Friendship That Changed Our Minds it suddenly occurred to me that revisiting Julian Jaynes' 1976 book would be a place to start Since this morning I've lost the thread of why I thought so but maybe I'll remember as I go alongI ha

  7. says:

    Amazing Reading The Iliad and the Old Testament of the Bible I've always wondered about one distinctive feature they both share an

  8. says:

    This book is very strange Julian Jaynes came out with strong thesis that our consciousness is the result of culture ie that the organization of our mind was different two millennia BC and started to breakdown around the first millennium BC Highly speculative but at the same time very well founded The author stud

  9. says:

    A mind fuck of the highest order A work of polymathemetical genius probably wrong on many accounts but absolutely original in its approach Extremely readable unpretentious prose and probings into one of life's coolest mysteries You'll never rea

  10. says:

    Viewed by many as one of the most important books of the twentieth century and the most important theorizing since The Origin of SpeciesLearn about Julian Jaynes's theory and the follow up books that have been p