Manny's Reviews > The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral... by Julian Jaynes
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Jan 19, 10

Read in January, 2002

Either a work of unparalleled genius, or completely out-to-lunch loopy. No one, not even Richard Dawkins, appears quite certain which description to apply.

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There are surprising resonances between Jaynes's ideas and those proposed by Feyerabend in Chapter 16 of Against Method. I was particularly struck by the following passage (italics as in original):
The transition from [the Homeric/archaic Greek view of the world] to [the classical Greek view of the world] thus introduces new entities and new relations between entities (this is seen very clearly in painting and statuary). It also changes the concept and the self-experience of humans. An archaic individual is an assemblage of limbs, connections, trunk, head, neck, (s)he is a puppet set in motion by outside forces such as enemies, social circumstances, feelings (which are described and perceived as objective agencies): 'Man is an open target of many forces which impinge on him, and penetrate his very core'. He is an exchange station of material and spiritual, but always objective, causes. And this is not just a 'theoretical' idea, it is a social fact. Man is not only described in this way, he is depicted in this way, and he feels himself to be constituted in this manner. He does not possess a central agency of action, a spontaneous 'I' that produces its own ideas, feelings, intentions, and differs from behaviour, social situations, 'mental' events of [the Homeric/archaic view]. Such an I is neither mentioned nor is it noticed. It is nowhere to be found within [the Homeric/archaic view]. But it plays a decisive role within [the classical view]. Indeed, it is not implausible to assume that some outstanding peculiarities of [the classical view] such as aspects, semblances, ambiguity of feeling enter the stage as a result of a sizeable increase of self-consciousness.
Oddly enough, Feyerabend makes no reference to Jaynes, despite the fact that the third edition, which I am reading, was published in 1990, 14 years after Jaynes.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 58) (58 new)


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio That's basically the overall gist of the book that's accumulated for me over the years of catching little snippets of opinion here and there. Definitely entices me to give it a whirl and see it for myself.


Manny Oh, it's certainly worth reading, even if it does turn out to be all nonsense! Most likely it is. But suppose it was correct? You can't help wondering.



message 3: by Robert (last edited Jan 18, 2010 03:33AM) (new)

Robert Is this the guy who says humans weren't self-conscious until the Classical Greeks?


Manny Robert wrote: "Is this the guy who says humans weren't self-conscious until the Classical Greeks?"

The very same...


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Manny wrote: "Robert wrote: "Is this the guy who says humans weren't self-conscious until the Classical Greeks?"

The very same..."


Oh my...


message 6: by Greg (new)

Greg I don't know about everyone else, but I wasn't self-conscious until sometime around breakfast this morning. Before that, it's all a haze.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I thought the basic idea was that self-consciousness emerged simultaneously with language? Does he think human language came on the scene during the halcyon days of Greece? He can't possibly...right?

Or is it consciousness itself that required language? I think that's what I'd heard before. This is also a loony idea.

I really want to be "open" to Jaynes' ideas but he really doesn't get taken very seriously in the professional world of philosophy of mind and cognitive science. I'm still curious though as I love these topics even at their most speculative.


Manny No, he thinks language came well before "consciousness" as we now understand it, and that Europeans as recently as Homer had no internal monologue. Instead, there was a dialogue with the other half of their brains, which they experienced as literally talking to gods - you should read all the stuff in the Iliad literally. It's a wacky idea!


message 9: by Worthless (new)

Worthless Bum I wonder what Jaynes means by "consciousness". Is he saying that humans had no qualia until the Classical Greeks?


message 10: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jan 18, 2010 11:18AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Sean wrote: "I wonder what Jaynes means by "consciousness". Is he saying that humans had no qualia until the Classical Greeks?"

I can't say for certain, but I don't think Jaynes had a clue about the way more contemporary philosophy of mind painstakingly distinguishes things like "phenomenal consciousness" (i.e. qualia) from "psychological consciousness" (memory, beliefs, desires, intentionality, etc) and all the rest of the conceptual-terminological nuances that take place in that whole discourse. I think he's referring to consciousness in the more common place way, as a straight forward synonym for "awareness" (which of course only begs the all the subsequent probing questions about what the nature of consciousness is in the first place). Again, this is all a mildly educated guess on my part.


message 11: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jan 18, 2010 11:29AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Manny wrote: "Instead, there was a dialogue with the other half of their brains, which they experienced as literally talking to gods

I actually don't find this all too wacky (though in need of some parsing and clarification). But what I take issue with immediately, without reservation, is that this doesn't qualify as consciousness. Delusional consciousness, but consciousness nonetheless.

The development of god-concepts and other supernatural agents as viewed through evolutionary psychology is very interesting stuff. Manny, you may very well enjoy this:

Why We Believe in Gods

It seems far more empirically-founded than what Jaynes' speculation sounds like to me.


Manny As I recall it, Jaynes was using "consciousness" primarily to refer to internal monologue and the sense of an autonomous self. Look at the quote from Feyerabend that I attached to the main review! Quite fascinating...


message 13: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jan 19, 2010 11:28AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Manny wrote: "As I recall it, Jaynes was using "consciousness" primarily to refer to internal monologue and the sense of an autonomous self"

It seems that would be better distinguished as self-consciousness. I definitely see no reason to infer that human beings lacked self-consciousness until Classical Greece. Storytelling itself is a clear marker of self-consciousness, and the evidence is clear that stories preceded the era he's focused on. Further more I think there are copious lines of converging evidence that strongly suggest that homo sapiens have always been self-conscious creatures. The word "sapience" is what distinguishes us from earlier ancestors. And even further (and more controversially) than this I'd argue that many other species are self-conscious but to a less complex or merely different degree than human beings. I doubt that a chimp knows it's a chimp, the way a human knows it's a human, but it seems to me that any degree of awareness of being a distinct entity from an external world qualifies as self-consciousness. A much baser form of it when compared to the highly reflective cognitive abilities that come with human sapience, but self-consciousness nonetheless.


trivialchemy MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "Manny wrote: "As I recall it, Jaynes was using "consciousness" primarily to refer to internal monologue and the sense of an autonomous self"

It seems that would be better distinguished as self-consciousness"


So, self-consciousness call it. The semantics (love them as GRers do) don't really matter. Jaynes is definitely saying something unique and definite, but it's probably best just to read him yourself. It's so borderline crazy/genius that there's no doubt but that you'll pick apart any summary that someone tries to give you. But this, for example --

Storytelling itself is a clear marker of self-consciousness

Jaynes would surely disagree with.

Better yet, just read half of this book. You'll get the picture by then.



Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Fair enough. I'm not out to rain on anyone's parade, just giving my two cents.


message 16: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jan 19, 2010 02:50PM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio My two cents involving a lot of interest in cognitive ethology and contemporary philosophy of mind, that is. I'm hoping (and am open to the possibility) that there's just a semantic bridge to cross and that I'm making too much of the term "consciousness." Again, I've been interested in this book since first hearing about its central ideas a few years ago. I don't want to come off as all 'Bah Humbug' here in my initial questions and criticisms.


message 17: by Paul (new)

Paul If I had language but no self-consciousness then I would be babbling away and making no sense, and that would make me really self-conscious - so I think the guy's right.


message 18: by Mark (last edited Mar 29, 2010 03:31AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mark Are dogs conscious? Self conscious? How about rats? Bugs? Other people? I'm not being a jerk here, I think the idea of consciousness is hard to pin down. The very excellent podcast Philosophy bites has an interview discussing whether or not even all people have a sense of self, which seems related.

Whatever you may think about the Greeks being unconscious, I'd argue there are certainly degrees of it, and there must have been a time when we essentially weren't. Thinking about that transition in the history of civilization is very interesting.What a strange time, and how odd, then and now, to wonder "just how conscious is that person sitting across from me right now?" ...or that person reading this, eh?


message 19: by Robert (new)

Robert Well, I don't know about you, but I can't read when I'm asleep...


Manny I can attend seminars though.


message 21: by Robert (new)

Robert Hahahahahaha!


message 22: by Ted (new)

Ted The title of this book is familiar to me, but I've never looked into it. Someone I'm following is now reading it. The topic (science?) of consciousness was one I had never explored, prior to reading Susan Blackmore's Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction which I found fascinating, and frankly rather mind-altering. (I'm a little self-conscious (NPI) about admitting that about a VSI, since I'm sure many readers judge them to not be "real books"; but so be it.)
What I found a bit strange when I looked at the VSI again was that she doesn't mention Jaynes at all! This might mean that Blackmore is not being objective; or that her book and Jaynes' somehow aren't about the same topic; or that Jaynes is felt by the current "establishment" in consciousness studies to be so far out in left field that he can be ignored.
Anyone have an idea?


message 23: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Mar 11, 2012 11:57AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio From what I've gathered over the years of paying fairly close attention, Jaynes is generally not taken seriously by the established cognitive neuroscience/philosophy of mind/consciousness studies/evolutionary psychology/etc community these days.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio "not taken seriously" could also just mean "ignored or overlooked."


message 25: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Mar 11, 2012 12:18PM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I don't think Blackmore's book would have any reason to mention Jaynes. I'm familiar with Blackmore and she travels in the same circles as a lot of big name philosophy of mind writers (Patricia and Paul Churchland, Daniel Dennett, John Searle et al.) and they have a far different agenda, which is explaining the nature of consciousness itself. Jaynes seems to be engaged with what nowadays is commonly referred to as evolutionary psychology, and from what I can tell, a pretty wildly speculative sort.


message 26: by Ted (new)

Ted Thanks for the helpful messages, Joshua. Your general conclusion seems right to me. However, it's also interesting that the last chapter in Blackmore's book is actually entitled The Evolution of Consciousness. Also, the Wiki article on Evolutionary Psychology (EP) doesn't mention Jaynes at all. It's a long article but I can't judge how good it is. Maybe the lesson is to stick to textbooks when looking into extremely complicated fields like EP? The bottom line for me is that I probably don't want to read Jaynes' book


trivialchemy I think y'all are missing the point. It's hard to talk about where Jaynes "fits in" to the fields of psychology, philosophy and neuroscience -- if anywhere -- until you've read the book. If you're looking for a textbook education, this ain't it.


message 28: by Ted (new)

Ted Well I'm trying to decide if the time spent reading the book would be time well spent; I think not, I have hundreds of other book to read, doesn't seem like a worth while way to increase what I know about these fields.


Esteban del Mal I think you'll get as much out of Manny's review and the ensuing thread as you would the book. There are a few drawings in the book that are interesting; if I recall correctly, Jaynes was hung-up on the outsized eyes of Babylonian statuary. His thesis about consciousness is debatable therein; methinks it had less to do with growing self-awareness and more about the orgasmically fascist release experienced by inflicting Hammurabi's code of laws on everyone. After all, they inscribed the laws on a big phallus.

So, in the end, we see that Freud clearly predates Jaynes.


message 30: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller Manny, the reason why the other copy of the book does not show your review is probably that there are multiple unlinked copies floating around.

I am a GR librarian and can merge them, but fiddling with data like that can be quite time-consuming since one wants to make sure that you don't make any mistakes and end up messing up things even more.

I'll combine the 2 editions as soon as I have a bit of time to devote to it properly since I'm multi-tasking and juggling quick visits to GR with other RL things atm.


message 31: by Paul (new)

Paul I just checked and all the editions of this book, of which there are many, have been combined. This author only has two other titles listed besides this one.


message 32: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller Paul wrote: "I just checked and all the editions of this book, of which there are many, have been combined. This author only has two other titles listed besides this one."

Strange.


Sarah (Warning: Potentially Off-Topic) Traveller wrote: "Paul wrote: "I just checked and all the editions of this book, of which there are many, have been combined. This author only has two other titles listed besides this one."

Strange."


There was a misspelling in the author's name of the other edition. I changed it and combined them. I think it should be fixed now.


message 34: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller Sarah wrote: "There was a misspelling in the author's name of the other edition. I changed it and combined them. I think it should be fixed now.
"


Thanks for taking up the slack, Sarah!


message 35: by Moira (last edited Jun 15, 2012 06:55PM) (new)

Moira Russell Esteban wrote: "if I recall correctly, Jaynes was hung-up on the outsized eyes of Babylonian statuary"

....whut

(THAT WAS SUMER) //was once frogmarched through one of those Plato-to-NATO* Art History 1 courses; that doesn't wear off

Also IIRC the eyes look too big to us now because they were inlaid with precious stones that were stolen later. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-o...


*....well, Lascaux to Picasso, but that doesn't rhyme really.


Manny I didn't know about the stolen gems! Thank you :)


message 37: by Paul (new)

Paul Now remember when you're 'acking round a gilded Burma god
That 'is eyes is very often precious stones


Kipling, "Loot" (Barrack Room Ballads)


Manny I had forgotten that line!


message 39: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller Manny wrote: "I didn't know about the stolen gems! Thank you :)"

Ditto. Never took poetry like that literally..


message 40: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Paul wrote: "Now remember when you're 'acking round a gilded Burma god
That 'is eyes is very often precious stones
Kipling, "Loot" (Barrack Room Ballads)"


Hee, awesome.


message 41: by L.H. (new) - added it

L.H. Thomson Given what we believe we know of pre-Confucian (or primordial) taoism and its reflective nature with respect to the likelihood that man could understand the nature of our own existence (as evidenced by a pantheon of self-mocking Gods), the suggestion that the idea of a broader understanding of self is 3,000 years old doesn't seem far off. The Chinese were at it by 600 BC at the latest.

It's also in keeping with what I'd say is a logical conclusion, based on anthropological records of cannibalism: that human emotional and intellectual development really started from an inter-relational baseline of just about zero.

Things like empathy and introspection, which often are heavily informed by outside influences, probably didn't have much value when we were barely upright and wacking each other over the head with clubs.

Empathy obviously would have come first, to bind us in small tribes. But there's no reason to think people would have gone beyond that, with respect to introspection, until much, much later, because it had far less immediate necessity as a species survival function.

I would argue though -- and admittedly I haven't read the book -- that earlier indications of organized faiths, in and of themselves, suggest people were perturbed about their role in the universe. Though early man's reaction may have been bounded by irrational "magical thought", much as would be the case with an undeveloped child brain today, there was still a sense of needing an answer to a question they were posing themselves.

That's not a whole lot less deep than why people have faith now, after all. It may not have been formalized as "I" or "why am I?", but it amounted to the same curiosity.


message 42: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller L.H. wrote: "It's also in keeping with what I'd say is a logical conclusion, based on anthropological records of cannibalism: that human emotional and intellectual development really started from an inter-relational baseline of just about zero. "

What exactly are you saying about cannibalism? That it indicates zero cognitive and emotional development in practitioners thereof?


message 43: by L.H. (new) - added it

L.H. Thomson That's too broad, as the Pacific Islanders certainly still incorporated it for aggressive purposes to scare opponents well after they'd started developing cohesive family units, and the Papua New Guinea cannibals were using it for ceremony into the 1960s.

No, what I'd propose it indicates is that emotions and inter-relationship were developed responses over time, not intrinsic to human makeup. The earliest signs of cannibalism date back more than 10,000 years, to when I would propose we were largely blank slates with respect to interactivity and the requirement for empathy to bond people in groups.

As such, without mankind having broadly developed empathy as a security response, we were more inclined to eat one another. We just saw each other as something to conquer, fear and eat. We didn't see each other as potential compatriots.

Perhaps Jaynes' view of mankind as basically schizophrenically confused for thousands of years supports that; after all, it would help explain the rapid expansion of knowledge after the Minoans, because the nature of introspection is the comparison of self to community, the most important dichotomy with respect to social evolution. It also explains why early man was initially less inclined to work together, although you'd also have to wonder whether the earliest hunter-gatherer tribes could have stayed remotely cohesive in such a state.

It's just theory, I know, but it makes sense.


message 44: by L.H. (new) - added it

L.H. Thomson I'd also add that the idea of empathy as a "pool" that we build over time based on community inter-relationships is supported somewhat by modern polling and studies that have demonstrated less empathy among individuals the more they gain security through wealth.

The rich are different. Many of them give less of a damn about others because they've developed a level of security than renders many civil boundaries moot, places much of their behavior outside the tribal norm, and engenders antipathy towards other less "constrained" pack members.


message 45: by Traveller (last edited Jul 27, 2012 11:34AM) (new) - added it

Traveller I still fail to see the connection between cannibalism and cognitive/emotional development. The Aztecs were a highly developed civilization and yet practiced cannibalism, and cannibalism is still practiced in central Africa today, according to many sources including some UN sources.

...so cannibalism seems to be an eclectic phenomenon and doesn't seem to tie in with any specific cultural characteristics. The Aztecs believed very strongly in an afterlife and their religion absolutely ruled their daily lives. But people who have no superstitious beliefs at all can also be cannibalistic; it simply depends on your specific world view and if your culture holds cultural taboos against the practice.

If a person is dead he is dead, i don't quite see how cannibalism links in with empathy; - respect for taboos perhaps yes, and superstitions, certainly, but empathy and intellect? No. (Almost makes it sound like i am a cannibal myself or, at least an apologist for cannibalism, eh? ;) )

I assure you that i am neither. I just personally don't see the link logically speaking.

Killing a person to eat him, or starting to eat him alive is a totally different matter, and that practice is unfortunately part of both instances that i mentioned above, and that is certainly, by anybody's standards savage.

..but then you needed to say that the evidence you cite proves that people were being killed in this way - and that certainly does impact on empathy, i agree.

L.H. wrote: "The rich are different. Many of them give less of a damn about others because they've developed a level of security than renders many civil boundaries moot, places much of their behavior outside the tribal norm, and engenders antipathy towards other less "constrained" pack members. "

Ever thought that that could be working the other way round? That the rich are rich because they are people with intrinsically less empathy?


message 46: by L.H. (new) - added it

L.H. Thomson "..but then you needed to say that the evidence you cite proves that people were being killed in this way - and that certainly does impact on empathy, i agree."

Sorry, thought that was self-evident.

The supposition is that empathy is tied directly to our sense of security, which in turn is tied to our sense of community. How likely would it be for us to have "respect for taboos?", a sense of community, but not the empathy a sense of community engenders?

Doesn't seem likely for cannibalism to be an empathic behavior, generally, except when it's non-aggressive, as is almost exclusively the case with modern cannibalism, in which tribes generally eat the flesh of elders.

However, anthropological evidence suggests cannibalism occurred across the globe at one point; it was more common when it WAS directly tied to antipathy, which in turn can partly be attributed to a lack of communal empathy.

As for the question of the rich, ask yourself why people tend to become more politically conservative as they become more financially solvent. They have more concern for their own interests, because they have more to be concerned about.

That wealth, in turn, only benefits them inasmuch as it affords them a worry-free -- anxiety-free -- lifestyle. In effect, it becomes a substitute for the community the rest of us require for security. And if you don't require community, you don't require empathy.


message 47: by L.H. (new) - added it

L.H. Thomson Maybe I'm overcomplicating a more simple idea by using cannibalism as a specific example.

What I'm talking about generally is the lack of civility in the early world, and suggesting that the comparative lack of the level of community-based civility likely meant people had far less empathy for one another, as modern indicators suggest our levels of empathy change based on our individual sense of security.


message 48: by Traveller (last edited Jul 27, 2012 02:12PM) (new) - added it

Traveller @L.H.: for lack of time to debate about the cannibalism issue, for now, i'll ask you something abut the wealth issue. Have any of the studies you have come across in this regard, polled a person on his/her opinions in varying stages of the same individuals' life, and did it poll people who 'became wealthy'?

In other words, are there any studies that shows that the same person who became wealthy later in life, also became more conservative an less empathetic in their opinions?

I can recall many instances of persons who were born into wealth, but who were indeed empathetic and philanthropic. I can also think of many individuals who attained wealth via non-exploitative means, through means that depended on their own skills and talents, who is or was very philanthropic after they became wealthy.

I agree that there is a type of person who are less empathetic because either they became more wealthy because they were exploitative, and by implication inherently a less empathetic person, or because they simply wanted to hold on to their wealth and therefore held more conservative views.

However, i've seen aplenty non-empathetic people among the less wealthy and among the poor as well.

So i don't quite agree with a view that would imply that wealth 'makes' one less empathetic, though i guess there is sense in your statement: " They have more concern for their own interests, because they have more to be concerned about."


message 49: by L.H. (new) - added it

L.H. Thomson "In other words, are there any studies that shows that the same person who became wealthy later in life, also became more conservative an less empathetic in their opinions?"

Several over the years. I'll see if I can dig up some recent specifics and PM you.

"I can recall many instances...."

Yes, because a deliberate effort was made during the early stages of cognitive development to teach them the necessity of compassion.

I'm not saying it's an absolute; it's a risk factor to occur if there aren't formative positive influences that promote a more objective or centralized position.

Similarly, if they're raised by hippies, there's every chance they'll place too much faith in a communal/shared responsibility mantra, and as we've seen from Marxism, too much of any orthodoxy of belief, right or left, and we become prone to reliance on it, and therefore to increased risk of error from lacking objectivity.


message 50: by L.H. (new) - added it

L.H. Thomson Here's a New York Times story link on a study that reflects our level of empathy being based in our communal interdependence:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/02/fas...

Also, if you read page 9 of Martin L Hoffman's 30-year study of empathy, Empathy and Moral Development: Implications for Caring and Justice, he identifies both automatic triggers of empathic behavior that are likely products of natural selection and based on subconcious visual cues of those we meet; and two that, as the later study shows, demonstrate our level of is affected by cues from experience.

This "perspective taking" and "mediated association" controls the SCOPE of our empathy. In other words, without a shared experience we are unable to experience empathy to its fullest.

This directly ties empathy to communal shared experience; if someone is secure enough, they share little with the general public because they've elevated themselves to a new community or communities in which wealth is the defining boundary.

As you say, there are exceptions. But this commonality, that empathy is dependent on respect for others, helps explain why so many in positions of authority lose their connection to the public.


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