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Whatever the weaknesses of his theory, though, this book is definitely worth reading for the sheer number of insights it contains about our consciousness, ancient Greek literature, psychology, history, and our modern world that may or may not exhibit relics of our bicameral past. Five stars. 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' 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 along. The impetus was that I was a graduate 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' book would be a place to start.

The impetus was that I was a graduate student in psychology and a professor spoke positively of it. It has been living in this room longer than there has been a computer here. The thesis of the book goes something like this: ancient man wasn't conscious as we are. According to the hypothesis, that's how what we would now call decision making happened.

Then and here I refreshed my mind via Wikipedia , over the millennium running roughly from to BCE, consciousness as we now experience it emerged, so that deciding what to do no longer consisted of hearing and obeying the voices of the gods. That must be the connection.

Anyway, I think The Origins of Consciousness It is the latter, implying as it does major physiological changes over a relatively few centuries, that is generally questioned. From the start, I thought something else was wrong with the picture since I was doing my research on dreams and Julian Jaynes didn't mention dreams. How could you hypothesize that voices are exclusively a thing of the past or of pathology without considering the circumstance in which everyone hears them? Well, it turns out that in the afterword of an edition a decade or more later, the author says he had to leave out two chapters on dreams at the behest of his editor.

The book was deemed too long. This isn't a book you forget.


  • The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind;
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Plus, it continues to come up on occasion. Some time in the rabbi who was leading the weekly Torah study brought it up, seriously as far as I could tell, as a hypothesis about the auditory experiences of certain characters of the Hebrew bible. This was an erudite and scholarly young man who never would put forth that volcanic action can explain the stories of the ten plagues or suchlike.

I couldn't believe he was serious. I think that, just as people's understanding might err due to, say, Eurocentrism, or American exceptionalism, Julian Jayne's hypothesis erred due to "present-centrism. We suppose ourselves, unlike them, to be independent individuals making rational judgments and decisions. We are not tuned to social expectations. We are not at the back and call of our internalized families. We do not harken all unawares to the tidal pull of our communities. Oh, no. Not us. We are above our biology, or so we think. Dec 03, Matt rated it really liked it.

A mind-fuck of the highest order.

Hypothesis and Theory ARTICLE

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 read the Oddessey the same way again, or think about schizophrenia or Ancient Sumeria in the same way. It's speculative power has made many a head spin, I think.

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Jul 18, Leigh Jackson rated it it was amazing Shelves: evolution , epistemology , philosophy-of-mind , psychology , reviewed. Impressive, beautiful, amazing, and totally wrong. Rivals Leibniz for elegant incorrectness. View all 5 comments. Shelves: poetry , science-fiction.

Synopsis : "Consciousness" is a skill wherein people create a mental world analogous to the physical world in order to attempt hypothetical solutions to novel problems. This skill was developed over thousands of years, following the collapse of an earlier system for responding creatively to unique stimuli. This system, dubbed "the Bicameral Mind" involved the right hemisphere of the brain generating solutions and communicating them to the acting left hemisphere using language as the encoding system.

As a Synopsis : "Consciousness" is a skill wherein people create a mental world analogous to the physical world in order to attempt hypothetical solutions to novel problems. As a result, Bicameral individuals "heard" these solutions spoken to them as if from an outside force. Ancient religions were social developments intended to reinforce and direct this system. All societies have experienced, at some point, a total failure of these Bicameral systems - the breakdown in the Fertile Crescent occurred around BC.

A peiod of relative chaos follows this breakdown, after which new conscious systems are invented or adopted. This is my favorite example of someone not just going out on a limb, but stepping out of the tree altogether, and succedding at miraculously floating in midair. After reading this book, I made it a point to direct all of my scholarly effort to convincing myself of its spuriousness, because if I could not, then all literary argument would seem to me to be completely inneffective.

In short, if Julian Jaynes could effectively prove his thesis in this book, then anyone could be capable of proving anything, regardless of validity. And Jaynes almost does it, which is a feat worthy of renown.

View 1 comment. There seems to be a popular perception that this book is sort of "crazy, but might just be true" possibly inspired by a Richard Dawkins quip. I'm here to say: this book is crazy! But it's a fascinating read, as sort of creative nonfiction. Jaynes, a pretty respected psychologist writing in a time that was perhaps more receptive to New Age-y big picture ideas, thinks that a schizophrenia is the natural, pre-conscious state of humans, which b explains idolatry, ancestor worship and basically all rel There seems to be a popular perception that this book is sort of "crazy, but might just be true" possibly inspired by a Richard Dawkins quip.

Jaynes, a pretty respected psychologist writing in a time that was perhaps more receptive to New Age-y big picture ideas, thinks that a schizophrenia is the natural, pre-conscious state of humans, which b explains idolatry, ancestor worship and basically all religion from ancient times, and that c consciousness is a relatively recent phenomenon which developed when external stresses broke up the "bicameral" societies people whose minds were split into a speaking part, a sort of auditory or sometimes visual hallucination , and a listening part.

He evinces examples from Greek literature, the Bible, and ancient history, as well as neuropsychological studies, his own experiences with schizophrenic patients, and his consumption of hallucinogens.

PHYLOSOPHY OF EVOLUTION

I haven't seen Westworld. Jul 23, Kate rated it it was amazing Shelves: nonfiction. I did read this book, or at least part of it, but really I just put it on here to impress people. Jul 14, Vladimir rated it it was amazing Shelves: philosophy-and-social-sciences. This book is very strange. Julian Jaynes came out with strong thesis that our consciousnesses is the result of culture i. 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.

Jul 05, Richard rated it really liked it Shelves: d-mind. Here's an idea: what if consciousness - self-awareness, the 'I' and that private inner 'space' it seems to inhabit - is no emergent phenomenon, result of millions of years of brain evolution, but a purely cultural one derived from language, via metaphor, and which didn't appear sometime back in the Pleistocene, but recently very recently, around BC in Julian Jaynes' estimation? As ideas go, it's a corker. By that date we were already tilling fields and founding the first cities, the Here's an idea: what if consciousness - self-awareness, the 'I' and that private inner 'space' it seems to inhabit - is no emergent phenomenon, result of millions of years of brain evolution, but a purely cultural one derived from language, via metaphor, and which didn't appear sometime back in the Pleistocene, but recently very recently, around BC in Julian Jaynes' estimation?

By that date we were already tilling fields and founding the first cities, the Pyramids had been built and the Iliad written - all by non-conscious human beings according to Jaynes. He was no crank though: graduate of Yale and lecturer at Princeton, the nature of consciousness was the lifelong focus of his work as an ethologist. His theory was presented at a meeting of the American Psychological Society in Washington DC admittedly to a mostly nonplussed audience and The Origin of His theory rests on the brain's division into two hemispheres: earlier than around BC, instead of the introspective thinking familiar to us today, the right hemisphere solved problems non-consciously, passing on its instructions to the left where they were experienced as hallucinations particularly auditory hallucinations which the people themselves interpreted as the voices of gods.

The gods, in other words, seemed entirely real to them and directed their lives; the resulting societies were authoritarian, rigidly stratified and stable, almost like those of social insects think Ancient Egypt.

The Evolutionary Advantages of Art

In the Near East though, around Jaynes' critical date, this 'bicameral' mentality broke down due to demographic and other stresses, and was gradually replaced by the self-aware modern mind; the resulting societies, this time, were composed of true individuals. This book is in three parts: the first outlines the theory, the second examines the evidence and the third considers possible vestiges of the bicameral mind still around today; and if all this sounds like Velikovsky or von Daniken, well it isn't exactly. In Jaynes' case the most common reaction, from academics in particular, has been a sort of head-scratching bafflement.

I think this is at least partly because The Origin is beautifully written - even its trickiest ideas are explained simply, clearly, and in prose which a lot of good fiction writers would envy. What criticism there has been has focused mostly on the extraordinary timescale involved, and on Jaynes' interpretation of the Iliad - and anyone interested in Mesopotamian archaeology, or who knows the Iliad well or the Old Testament, or the Epic of Gilgamesh will soon see why.

I can't help wondering, too, how much of the scepticism is a gut-reaction to Jaynes' choice of the term 'hallucinations' a word which comes with a lot of baggage: drug use, mental disorder and the idea of Achilles and Abraham resembling schizophrenics. There's also the presence of the Julian Jaynes Society which issues newsletters and books defending and promoting the theory, but which has precisely the opposite effect on me at least : it makes the whole thing look a bit cultish, like Scientology.

My own scepticism comes from a different direction altogether though: another implication of this theory is that, if true, it would mean that only human beings are conscious - something I don't believe for a minute. Apes, elephants, cetaceans, corvids and perhaps others all show every sign of self-awareness. Overall, I'm left with the feeling that this isn't all nonsense, that there's truth lurking at the heart of Jaynes' theory; I thought the first chapter, where he outlines what consciousness is not , what it doesn't do, by far the best - I agreed with every word of that.

It's just that, from that starting point, he immediately veered off in a direction very different from the one I would have gone in.

Introduction

It's still, though, as thought-provoking a read as I've come across for some time. Sep 09, Alex Lee rated it it was amazing Shelves: philosophy , , science , favorites. What's particularly hard to swallow about this book is that Jaynes goes far to argue for undermining not only how we know ourselves but also how we are to account for what we are doing.

To question consciousness itself in the form that we believe it comes in, in the method by which we determine ourselves is to question the very possibl What's particularly hard to swallow about this book is that Jaynes goes far to argue for undermining not only how we know ourselves but also how we are to account for what we are doing. To question consciousness itself in the form that we believe it comes in, in the method by which we determine ourselves is to question the very possible ordering of how we coexist today.

This isn't to say that our conception of ourselves isn't natural, or that consciousness itself isn't natural, but that is to say that we don't have to live as we do or be how we are. When one argues for the dissolution of such a basic structural artifact, it becomes terribly difficult for people to follow in how to evaluate that argument. Many of the comments around this book reflect both how clear and powerful Jaynes is in setting up his argument, but also many of the comments display a complete lack of trust in his argument because they do not see a deeper underlying appraisal of how to evaluate what he says.

Its true that in a big way, his ideas are unfalsifiable. We can't disprove them. We can't do EEG readings on people that were alive many generations ago.