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4.6 out of 5 stars 274 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 1976
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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Boston: Houghton Mifflin; Reprint. edition (1976)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002JYE7KO
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (274 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,068,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Evelyn Uyemura VINE VOICE on December 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
First of all the book was copyrighted in 1976 and apparently first published in 1982. That is eons ago in the science of cognition and brain imaging. So I would like to know how the past 2 and a half decades have affected the theories in this book.
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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Why is it that the characters in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad and the oldest books of the Bible behave in a manner that seems utterly alien to modern readers, but by the time of the New Testament and the classic Greek dramatists charcters seem to have the same feelings and motivations of modern man? Jaynes addresses this question, among others, in one of the most thought provoking books I've read.
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.
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Format: Paperback
It's hard to describe exactly what this book did to me. Suffice it to say that my views on history, religion, language and consciousness seem to be permanently altered, and my reading and thinking have broadened as a result. Jaynes defines conscousness too narrowly for some philosophers and psychologists, who seem to want it to include all of perception, but for me, his focus on interior dialogue, conceptual space, the notion of self, the ability to narratize and project this self into theoretical situations, is right on target. These are the kinds of things that create our notions of ourselves as human. Considerable space is devoted to anatomy, and split-brain studies, but the bulk of the book relies on archaeology, ancient art, ancient texts, and their use of language. This is the thrust of Jaynes' argument: consciousness arose only relatively late in human development, appearing first in the Middle East at the end of the second millenium BCE., and this consciousness was dependent on language. He theorizes that the right hemisphere of the brain was specialized to recall longterm information, as the left was (and still is, in most people) specialized for language. Pre-conscious people, he contends, hallucinated instructions of a super-ego-like nature generated in the right brain. In the simplest, small scale, early societies, these hallucinations were attributed to ancestors, chiefs, or kings. Eventually they were attributed to gods. As societies became increasingly complex, personal hallucination as a guiding force in life declined in value, and modern consciousness was born. To make his case, Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, Hesiod, and the Bible are examined, ancient carvings and burial practices are considered, and the evolution of religious practices involving idols, sacrifices, prophecy, omens and divination are all looked at. They give support to Jaynes' contentions and open the mind of the reader. This is a book that keeps on giving.
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Format: Paperback
What high standards we have for Julian Jaynes. We ask that he be more revolutionary than Copernicus, whose heliocentric theory was wrong in almost every particular except the one that matters; more consistent than Darwin, who advocated many of the Lamarckian principles that are now considered anathemic to his theory; more positivist than Freud, who despite being just as "unfalsifiable" today as he was 100 years ago is universally considered to have redefined our understanding of the self.

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?
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