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For the Westworld episode, see The Bicameral Mind. Jaynes uses governmental bicameralism as a metaphor to describe a mental state in which the experiences and memories of the right hemisphere of the brain are transmitted to the left hemisphere via auditory hallucinations. Bicameral mentality would be non-conscious in its inability to reason and articulate about mental contents through meta-reflection, reacting without explicitly realizing and without the meta-reflective ability to give an account of why one did so. The bicameral mind would thus lack metaconsciousness, autobiographical memory, and the capacity for executive «ego functions» such as deliberate mind-wandering and conscious introspection of mental content. According to Jaynes, ancient people in the bicameral state of mind would have experienced the world in a manner that has some similarities to that of a schizophrenic. Rather than making conscious evaluations in novel or unexpected situations, the person would hallucinate a voice or «god» giving admonitory advice or commands and obey without question: One would not be at all conscious of one’s own thought processes per se. Jaynes built a case for this hypothesis that human brains existed in a bicameral state until as recently as 3,000 years ago by citing evidence from many diverse sources including historical literature.
He took an interdisciplinary approach, drawing data from many different fields. Jaynes asserts that in the Iliad and sections of the Old Testament no mention is made of any kind of cognitive processes such as introspection, and there is no apparent indication that the writers were self-aware. In ancient times, Jaynes noted, gods were generally much more numerous and much more anthropomorphic than in modern times, and speculates that this was because each bicameral person had their own «god» who reflected their own desires and experiences. Jaynes argued that the dead bodies were presumed to be still living and the source of auditory hallucinations. Jaynes notes that even at the time of publication there is no consensus as to the cause or origins of schizophrenia.
Jaynes argues that schizophrenia is a vestige of humanity’s hypothesis bicameral state. As support for Jaynes’s argument, these command hallucinations are little different from the commands from gods which feature prominently in ancient stories. Jaynes theorized that a shift from bicameralism marked the beginning of introspection and consciousness as we know it today. According to Jaynes, this bicameral mentality began malfunctioning or «an down» during the 2nd millennium BCE. The Bronze age collapse of the 2nd millennium BCE led to mass migrations and created a rash of unexpected situations and stresses which required ancient minds to become more flexible and creative. Self-awareness, or consciousness, writing the culturally evolved solution to this problem.
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Jaynes further argues that divination, prayer, and oracles arose during this breakdown period, in an attempt to summon instructions from the «gods» whose voices could no longer be heard. Jaynes’s hypothesis worthy and offered conditional support, arguing the notion deserves further study. The Origin of Consciousness was financially successful, and has been reprinted several times. Originally published in 1976 it was nominated for the National Book Award in 1978. It has been translated into Italian, Spanish, German, French, and Persian. The primary scientific criticism has been that the conclusions drawn by Jaynes had no basis in neuropsychiatric fact.
According to Jaynes, language is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for consciousness: Language existed thousands of years earlier, but consciousness could not have emerged without language. Jaynes’s theory was left out of a discussion on auditory hallucinations. Jaynes’ hypothesis makes for interesting reading and stimulates much thought in the receptive reader. Probably the former, but I’m hedging my bets. If we are going to use this top-down approach, we are going to have to be bold. We are going to have to be speculative, but there is good and bad speculation, and this is not an unparalleled activity in science. Those scientists who have no taste for this sort of speculative enterprise will just have to stay in the trenches and do without it, while the rest of us risk embarrassing mistakes and have a lot of fun.
Genes affecting personality, reproductive strategies, cognition, are all able to change significantly over few-millennia time scales if the environment favors such change — and this includes the new environments we have made for ourselves, things like new ways of making a living and new social structures. There is evidence that such change has occurred. On first reading, Breakdown seemed one of the craziest books ever written, but Jaynes may have been on to something. Author and historian of science Morris Berman writes: » description of this new consciousness is one of the best I have come across.
Danish science writer Tor Nørretranders discusses Jaynes’s theory favorably in his 1991 book. I believe he got one important aspect of the story back to front. As an argument against Jaynes’ proposed date of the transition from bicameralism to consciousness some critics have referred to the Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh and surviving fragments of earlier versions: «The most interesting comparison is in Tablet X. His answer, however, does not deal with the generally accepted dating of the «Standard Version» of the Gilgamesh epic to the later 2nd millennium BCE, nor does it account for the introspection that so often taken as characteristic of the «Standard Version» being thoroughly rooted in the Old Babylonian and Sumerian versions, especially so as our understanding of the Old Babylonian poem improves. Julian Jaynes’ study is mostly based on the writings and culture of the Mediterranean and Near-Eastern regions, although he occasionally also refers to ancient writings of India and China.
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Jacy Whitehead is an English as a Second Language harvard reviews and teacher trainer for Teaching English as a Foreign Language certification.