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The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind Paperback – August 15, 2000
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I also note that the author taught at Princeton University (he died in 1997), so his theories ought to have received a hearing. But apparently the follow-up book he intended was never published, and he was considered somewhat of a maverick, if not quite a crackpot. This website offers some perspective: [...]
His theory, in simplest terms, is that until about 3000 years ago, all of humankind basically heard voices. The voices were actually coming from the other side of the brain, but because the two hemispheres were not in communication the way they are now for most of us, the voices seemed to be coming from outside. The seemed, in fact, to be coming from God or the gods.
So far, so good. That is certainly imaginable to most of us, because we know that schizophrenics and some others still hear voices in apparently this manner today.
But he also posits that many sophisticated civilizations were created by men and women who were all directed by these godlike voices. What is not very clearly explained (a serious gap in his theory) is how all the voices in these "bicameral civilizations," as he calls them, worked in harmony. But his theory is that ancient Greece, Babylon, Assyria, Egpyt, and less ancient but similar Mayan and Incan kingdoms were all built by people who were not "conscious" in our modern sense.
When one hears voices, whether then or now, the voices tend to be commanding and directive, and the need to obey them compelling. Free will is not possible.Read more ›
Basically, he posits that lacking full consciousness (yet having language), prehistoric man's actions were often governed by voices, which are in many ways similar to certain forms of schizophrenia. His full argument is much deeper and far more subtle than I can deliver in a one-line synopsis.
The book is not a drum-beating New Age manual for making peace with our proto-selves, although many readers seem to have taken just that away from his discussion on the origins of religion.
The thesis is, of course, utterly unproveable, and both orthodox classicists and anthropologists are at odds with it. But it is remarkable in its originality. One needn't be convinced by the book to enjoy it; read it purely for Jayne's breadth of knowledge and his originality of thought and it will be well worth your time.
Whatever Jaynes may have gotten wrong, his insights into the problems posed by consciousness, the self, and political evolution seem more giant each time I revisit this book. Too few scholars are willing to look at the darker chambers of the human psyche through history, especially the vulnerability of the mind to the "power of suggestion" found in hypnosis and schizophrenia, and the recurring, prominent role of trance in religious ritual. Like Freud, Jaynes reminds us we aren't half as rational and autonomous as we tell ourselves we are (ironically it is the "faith-based" philosophies that seem most threatened by this idea.)
150 years ago we bristled at the suggestion that our distant ancestors were apes. Even the "intelligent design" crowd doesn't take issue with this fact today. But to suggest that our ancestors of just 200 generations ago were, by our modern standards, just plain nuts raises all the old hackles. Why? Are we each afraid, at such a small remove, that we might personally revert to our quasi-schizophrenic, bicameral origins? If Jaynes had postulated an origin of consciousness 10 millenia ago instead of 3 would be breathe more easily?Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is an amazing book and I'm surprise that I am just now getting around to finding out about it and reading it. Read morePublished 25 days ago by Periphery
He's either a brilliant genius or mad - in any event it is a fantastic read. Thoroughly researched and generally well written. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Michael Warren Jr.
Too much dissection of the mind. I don't believe we ARE the mind at all, that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Paula Tuttle
Jaynes makes us go back to our origins. ancient ways of acting,belief systems, voices.He strings together ideas from many different disciplines, anthropology, psychology,... Read morePublished 3 months ago by technoguy
Some of the best theory 'food for thought' in a long time. Reading the book cover to cover is to experience a very convincing case. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Trey Menefee
This is the brilliant work of a genius. Read it carefully and you see the seeds of many later derivative ideas, but here they are woven into a coherent whole that is just... Read morePublished 4 months ago by OldDad