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Caleb Myers
Caleb Myers

The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of...

Jaynes wrote an extensive afterword for the 1990 edition of his book, in which he addressed criticisms and clarified that his theory has four separate hypotheses: consciousness is based on and accessed by language; the non-conscious bicameral mind is based on verbal hallucinations; the breakdown of bicameral mind precedes consciousness, but the dating is variable; the 'double brain' of bicamerality is not today's functional lateralization of the cerebral hemispheres. He also expanded on the impact of consciousness on imagination and memory, notions of The Self, emotions, anxiety, guilt, and sexuality.

The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of...


Okay, people disagree with what it means, and you could disagree with Jaynes, but he says up front that a theory about the origin of consciousness has to have a definition of consciousness, and he presents one.

In his provocative but critically acclaimed theory about the origin of introspectable mentality, Julian Jaynes argued that until the late second millennium people possessed a different psychology: a "two-chambered" (bicameral) neurocultural arrangement in which a commanding "god" guided, admonished, and ordered about a listening "mortal" via voices, visions, and visitations. Out of the cauldron of civilizational collapse and chaos, an adaptive self-reflexive consciousness emerged better suited to the pressures of larger, more complex sociopolitical systems.

An important question in consciousness research concerns its origins. In Julian Jaynes' book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, he suggests that consciousness arose rather recently in human history, sometime between the composition of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Although Jaynes' work as a theory of consciousness has achieved a great deal of attention (and indeed criticism), what has not been widely noted is the prominent role of volition in his theory. In this article I hope to draw attention to these overlooked aspects of his theory, in particular the fact that volition is central to Jaynes' definition of consciousness and that it is changes in the nature of volitional experience that mark, for Jaynes, the emergence of consciousness.

There are few flaws to detract from this attractively produced and fairly priced volume. Had it been written in this country, there would perhaps be more discussion to the devastating effects of drugs and alcohol on the fetus. Instead these agents are simply listed in a detailed table of virtually all social, physical, toxic, and infectious agents known or thought to interfere with fetal development . There is also no special emphasis on the premature infant who has spent the first days or weeks of his life in one of our modern neonatal intensive care units where the infant has far more contact with machines and lights than with parents. While some of the photographs are old and have been printed in earlier editions, they have been carefully selected for content and clarity of reproduction . The photos in the section on "Assessment of Maturity" and "Reflexes and Reactions" are outstanding and these sections alone would be well worth the purchase price of this entire volume. The style throughout is straightforward and direct without being pedantic. In reviewing this book, I spent far more time than I had originally allotted. I came away with the feeling that I had discussed an interesting problem with a senior clinician with outstanding ability and experience who had shared with me the learnings of a lifetime in practice. When I finished I found it quite difficult to bring myselfto donate this review copy to our medical library as I usually do. I wanted to keep this outstanding volume on my own bookshelf for I know that I shall refer to it frequently as should anyone who deals professionally with developing infants and children. John D. Burrington Department of Surgery University of Chicago The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. By Julian Jaynes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1977. Pp. 467. $12.95. This book propounds the extraordinary thesis that human consciousness first developed during the second millenium b.c. One is tempted to pass by so startling a propostion from a fellow scientist with an embarrassed smile. Yet the author's credentials as professor of psychology at Princeton and his reputation from studies in animal behavior, schizophrenia, and hypnosis demand a closer look. I must say outright that it has been a long time since I read anything in the problem of human evolution that was at once so stimulating with original insights and ingenious interpretations yet disappointing, even exasperating, by the incompleteness of its analysis. First let us clarify the author's thesis. By consciousness he apparently means what I think most people would call self-consciousness, that is, the concept of an internal private world within the individual that in some way mimics the external "real" world with which we have contact through our senses. The author refers to this variously as the "inner space of consciousness" and as the "analog I." He conceives of preliterate man as identifying himself with reality and not recognizing the distinction between the external world and an inner consciousness that must, in some fundamental ways, be different from it. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine Autumn 1977 163 The author's idea of bicamerality as a characteristic of this primitive mind is based on modern research on the differentiation of left and right hemispheres of the cortex. The author accepts, perhaps too confidently, the concept that the left hemisphere is the chamber for language, analytic, and executive functions, the right that of spacial, musical, and holistic programming. It is apparently the author's concept that the right hemisphere is the primary seat of cultural patterning and as such dominates the executive function of the left without selfconscious assertiveness being called into play. This dominance may take the form of voices of elders or the deified dead giving explicit instructions at critical junctures. Such commands elicit unquestioned obedience from the executive brain. The author ascribes the breakdown of this bicameral organization and the accompanying emergence of the self-critical independence of the left hemisphere to historical events in the area of the Mediterranean littoral at about 1200 b.c. Archeological evidence suggests that violent volcanic activity (Thera episodes) disrupted the stable local cultures and led to extensive...

Which brings us back to prayer. Julian Jaynes's theory of theorigin of consciousness is inseparable from the story of the origin ofreligion. There is no prayer in the Iliad. The sufferer in the Ludlul BelNemeqi does not pray to Marduk. Hammurabi, like Moses, receives the laws fromhis god, but he does not pray to him. Most pre-Catastrophe recordings thatmay seem prayer-like are better described as formulaic, stylizedimprecations. Statue inscriptions include common endings such as,"Whoever this image shall deface may Enlil his name destroy and hisweapon break" (Jaynes, 1976, p. 229). But on the latter side of theCatastrophe it was a different story altogether. It was indeed a "crisisof freedom," as noted in the earlier quote from Luther Martin aboutHellenistic religions. The immediacy of bicameral agency was replaced by anunending quest for authorization. The list of the ways in which humans triedto fill the vacuum of authority was long and ever changing: "Prophets,poets, oracles, diviners, statue cults, mediums, astrologers, inspiredsaints, demon possession, tarot cards, Ouija boards, popes, and peyote allare the residue of bicamerality that was progressively narrowed down asuncertainties piled upon uncertainties" (Jaynes, 1976, p. 320).

To begin with, there was no sudden breakdown, at least not in theway McGilchrist describes it. A sudden collapse of a barrier is not whatJulian Jaynes's theory describes. Though less attractive as a booktitle, a more appropriate descriptor might be something like a slow-motion"fade to white," that is, consciousness, over a period of severalthousand years, from the beginning of writing around 3000 b.c.e., to the codeof Hammurabi, through the author of the Ludlul Bel Nemeqi complaining to hisgod, the hapless Tukulti-Ninurta imploring an empty throne, and finally thedawning of the self-conscious individual as seen in the Odyssey, the Greektragedies, and the relentless rationalization of the human condition byphilosophers starting somewhere around 600 b.c.e.

There is a sense here in which these two men are not actuallytalking about the same thing. In fact, a reasonable conclusion is that theyare discussing two different aspects of the same phenomena. And I am not sureanyone would ever think otherwise had McGilchrist not commented that Jaynesgot his theory exactly backward. Nevertheless, the claim is out there, so itneeds to be addressed. First, I will see whether McGilchrist'srebellious emissary is the same thing as Jaynes's origin ofconsciousness, and then I will move on to McGilchrist's criticism ofJaynes's view of schizophrenia.

In Jaynes's theory of the origin of consciousness, the voicesplay a central role. They were, essentially, volition in bicameral times. Andwhen they disappeared, something had to take their place. What took theirplace was a narrative self that could take its own behavior as an object.Part of this narrative was a story about volition: that we make decisions,that we choose to do things, that we are the masters of our fate, thecaptains of our soul. McGilchrist does comment, as we saw earlier, on thevoices and on a possible neurological model for their cessation. Beyond thathe does not dwell on the role that the voices played in bicameral times.Therefore, I would guess, he sees no gap that needs to be filled in in the1st millennium b.c.e. This does not invalidate the history that McGilchristunfolds about The Master and His Emissary. In fact, at this point I would sayhis book is essential reading for anyone interested in the role that the mindand brain played in the creation of the world we now live in. But withoutattention to the details of a narrative self, his theory is left with an oddvacancy that is easily filled with a dash of Jaynesian consciousness. 041b061a72


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