THE ORIGIN OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND by Julian Jaynes

Origin of Consciousness  At the heart of this classic, seminal book is Julian Jaynes’ still-controversial thesis that human consciousness did not begin far back in animal evolution but instead is a learned process that came about only three thousand years ago and is still developing. (Amazon precis.)

This is a big book with huge ideas.  It posits the notion that early man was not conscious in the way we today are conscious, and were directed in their everyday actions by internal voices they attributed to the gods.  These voices can be considered similar to the auditory hallucinations heard today by schizophrenics, but also by numbers of people who hear a voice or voices maybe only once or twice in their lives, but are certain it is a distinct voice from their thoughts.

He calls this the bicameral mind, where the right hemisphere has control of the mind and actions of the individual.  He suggests that early man had no sense of ‘self’, no analog ‘I’.    His theory is that consciousness developed gradually, with the right hemisphere losing control, which is when the people stopped hearing the voices of their gods, and we begin to find evidence of this in prayers begging the gods to speak to the individual.

Jaynes argued that the change from bicamerality to consciousness  occurred over a period of ten centuries beginning around 1792 BC. The selection pressure for  consciousness as a means for cognitive control is due, in part, to chaotic social disorganizations and the development of new methods of behavioral control such as writing.  He says that writing began to take over the function of the voices of the gods, and was a strong impetus for the push into what we consider consciousness today.

This was written over the span of about a decade and finished in the late 70’s, but not published until 1982, when it received not just mixed reviews but outright disdain.  However, with the advances and changes in neurobiology and the neurological sciences today, scientists are giving Jaynes a new look-see, and it will be interesting to see what comes of it.

If you are at all interested in the subject of consciousness, I highly recommend you read this book.  It will change forever how you view the Iliad and the Odyssey, and the Old Testament of the Bible.   It is his only book.  A promised second volume never appeared, and he died in 1997.

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3 comments on “THE ORIGIN OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND by Julian Jaynes

  1. […] to mind Julian Jaynes’ concept of the early not-quite-fully-developed mind as bicameral in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind ,and how he believes early Man heard voices which dictated his daily life, and that Man was not at […]

  2. […] that book, one of the more compelling and fascinating concepts for me comes from Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind wherein he posits the notion of a split brain giving the illusion of voices and personalities that […]

  3. […] and the bicameral condition, Julian Jaynes and his bi-cameral consciousness theory which I discussed here.   and God and the digital universe.  I have always said the internet was like God – […]

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