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The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  4,425 ratings  ·  540 reviews
At the heart of this classic, seminal book is Julian Jaynes's 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. The implications of this revolutionary scientific paradigm extend into virtually every aspect of our psychology, o ...more
Paperback, First Mariner Edition, 491 pages
Published August 15th 2000 by Mariner Books (first published 1976)
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Liedzeit You can enjoy Westworld without reading this. But it also does not hurt and you might enjoy Westworld just a tiny little bit more. And no, you do not …moreYou can enjoy Westworld without reading this. But it also does not hurt and you might enjoy Westworld just a tiny little bit more. And no, you do not need any technical background. It helps if you ever wondered what consciousness might be, though. It is very clearly written but you need to be willing to think about the origin of consciousness.(less)

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Jan 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Terence by: GR friend Jim's review
I am giving Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (The Origin) four stars not because I’ve become a devoted follower of his theory – I haven’t – but because it reflects exactly how I feel about it – I “really liked it.” Jaynes writes in such a commanding manner that you’re helplessly swept along to the end (at which point, you can finally catch your breath and begin to assess what’s just happened). Once he’s determined the correctness of his hypothesis ...more
May 17, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: science fiction buffs
Shelves: pop-science
Coming in a close third after Immanuel Kant's Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Come Forward As Science and Beeban Kidron's To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar in the World's Clunkiest Title competition, TOoCitBotBM is surprisingly accessible given the amount of ground it covers. Combining analyses of psychology, archeology, and ancient literature, Jaynes comes up with an astounding hypothesis: early man's mind was nothing like the thing we carry around in o ...more
Jan 30, 2009 rated it liked it
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.


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] thu
Aug 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-shelf, science
This book is very stimulating.

That is not to say it is correct or incorrect as a theory of consciousness, but there are enough examples and provocative ideas to make me *think* it might be right. And that's the whole problem. I can't immediately discount it. It keeps creeping back into my consciousness.

Even when reading it with deep suspicions, the very meme of this core idea breaks down the wall between my right and left hemispheres and I no longer have an external agent telling me what I must
Prerna (on semi-hiatus)
This was a roller-coaster of a book! The principle tenet on which Jaynes's theory of bicameral mind is based is that consciousness only developed in human beings with the evolution of language - in linking the two, he claims that a conscious mind did not exist before civilizations developed language structures. Bicameralism postulates that the subjective conscious mind is an operator generated by metaphors - in trying to understand something we are only finding a metaphor for it and thus the fin ...more
Erik Graff
Sep 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: Linda Sue Harrington
Shelves: psychology
This was one of the most stimulating and important books I've ever encountered by a psychologist. Although flawed in some important respects, it is profoundly provocative, suggesting areas for further speculation and research not only in psychology, but also in the cultural anthropology of religions.

The primary flaw of Jayne's work is his literary evidence for the claim that humans didn't develop reflective consciousness until ca. 1000 BCE. He relies too much on the earlier texts of the Iliad fo
Katia N
Oct 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: consciousness
The idea that humans were not conscious for a long time even during the Trojan war is interesting and provocative if not falsifiable. The idea that consciousness emerged well after language and only due to language follows from the first one to some extent, but still even less likely. The idea that all people were then schizophrenics in our sense of the world now - hallucinating of the voices who guided them and were their gods - even more extreme. But interesting read and the analysis of the an ...more
Jul 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing

Reading The Iliad and the Old Testament of the Bible, I've always wondered about one distinctive feature they both share: an utter lack of interiority, of introspection by the characters. I brushed it aside as the literary style of the times in which they were composed (orally and then textually), but Julian Jaynes has quite a different take: the characters—like the rest of their contemporaries—were not conscious at all.

This claim alone was enough reason to pick this book up. His thesis
Jan Rice
In the process of trying to decide where to begin my review of The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, it suddenly occurred to me that revisiting Julian Jaynes' 1976 book would be a place to start. Since this morning I've lost the thread of why I thought so, but maybe I'll remember as I go along.

I have the original 1976 hardback, but since there's a bookstore sticker on the back that says "2/28/78," I know I didn't read it until then. The impetus was that I was a graduate stude
Dec 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
A mind-fuck of the highest order. A work of polymathemetical genius, probably wrong on many accounts but absolutely original in its approach. Extremely readable, unpretentious prose and probings into one of life's coolest mysteries. You'll never read the Oddessey the same way again, or think about schizophrenia or Ancient Sumeria in the same way. It's speculative power has made many a head spin, I think. ...more
Viewed by many as one of the most important books of the twentieth century and "the most important ... theorizing since The Origin of Species."

Learn more about Julian Jaynes's theory and the follow-up books that have been published at
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is very strange. Julian Jaynes came out with strong thesis that our consciousness is the result of culture i.e. that the organization of our mind was different two millennia B.C. and started to breakdown around the first millennium B.C. Highly speculative but at the same time very well founded. The author studied thoroughly the ancient texts in order to support his view. Definitely worth of reading.
Jul 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I did read this book, or at least part of it, but really I just put it on here to impress people.
Leigh Jackson

Impressive, beautiful, amazing, and totally wrong. Rivals Leibniz for elegant incorrectness.
Eric Hertenstein
Jun 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: The Ancient Greeks
Synopsis: "Consciousness" is a skill wherein people create a mental world analogous to the physical world in order to attempt hypothetical solutions to novel problems. This skill was developed over thousands of years, following the collapse of an earlier system for responding creatively to unique stimuli. This system, dubbed "the Bicameral Mind" involved the right hemisphere of the brain generating solutions and communicating them to the acting left hemisphere using language as the encoding syst ...more
May 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have absolutely no memory of how I came across 'The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind' or who recommended it to me. If it was you, many thanks. Not only was a fascinating read in its own right, it seems to have inducted me back into challenging nonfiction. For the last two months my mind kept skittering around too much for anything not focused on narrative. Jaynes is undoubtedly an engaging writer, with a delightful intellectual panache, for example: 'A theory is t ...more
Josh Friedlander
There seems to be a popular perception that this book is sort of "crazy, but might just be true" (possibly inspired by a Richard Dawkins quip). I'm here to say: this book is crazy! But it's a fascinating read, as sort of creative nonfiction. Jaynes, a pretty respected psychologist writing in a time that was perhaps more receptive to New Age-y big picture ideas, thinks that a) schizophrenia is the natural, pre-conscious state of humans, which b) explains idolatry, ancestor worship and basically a ...more
May 23, 2019 rated it it was ok

As an argument that Jaynes' thesis actually is true, severely disappointing. I can only assume that the people rating this as 5 stars are impressed by Jaynes' bold and outlandish theory, and not the actual argument that Jaynes sets out for it, which is quite clearly shoddy reasoning with the occasional lyrical flourish to smooth over the logical leaps. Some examples:

- Jaynes establishes that what he calls consciousness -- a sort of mind-scape -- depends on metaphor. He points out that language a
Jul 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Here's an idea: what if consciousness - self-awareness, the 'I' and that private inner 'space' it seems to inhabit - is no emergent phenomenon, result of millions of years of brain evolution, but a purely cultural one derived from language, via metaphor, and which didn't appear sometime back in the Pleistocene, but recently (very recently, around 1200 BC in Julian Jaynes' estimation)?

As ideas go, it's a corker. By that date we were already tilling fields and founding the first cities, the Pyrami
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
Oct 17, 2014 rated it did not like it
His theory is really way out there. I prefer to think that Homer was just made up and not real as all religious books are. Will Durant's "Life of Greece, Story of Civilization, Vol II" irritated me to no end because the first 8 hours or so assumed Homer was based directly on real history. Now there is some truth in Homer, but I figure one can say there is some truth in the bible, but most of it is not historical. Hollywood movies are just as fake and I won't develop a theory based on reality fro ...more
Francesca Marciano
Jun 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Re-read s after twenty years.
This book has been a never ending inspiration. Not an easy read, probably controversial from a strict academic point of view, yet Jaynes formulates the most fascinating hypothesis about the birth of consciousness and the relationship between our ancestors and the divine. How did we acquire consciousness throughout the millennia? The chapter comparing the differences between the Iliad and the Odyssey as the first non bicameral poem is unforgettable.
Alex Lee
Sep 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What's particularly hard to swallow about this book is that Jaynes goes far to argue for undermining not only how we know ourselves but also how we are to account for what we are doing. One of the basic rubrics of science and philosophy is our concept of consciousness, as a container for our individuality and our ability to comprehend/experience. To question consciousness itself in the form that we believe it comes in, in the method by which we determine ourselves is to question the very possibl ...more
Barry King
Oct 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm giving this one five stars not because I agree with it, but because it is so unique and remarkable. It's important to understand that "consciousness" to Jaynes is nothing like perception, but strictly a type of subjective deliberation that we associate with reasonableness, debate, and so on, the stuff that makes modern life: the ability to enter into agreements, law versus appeal to authority, and so on. His contention is that mankind's idea of thought was a different beast three thousand ye ...more
Dec 07, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: other-nonfiction
A remarkable book, even if it's crazy. It's already been reviewed and critiqued in far more detail then I shall. Instead I'll summarize the book with a passage therefrom:

"I have endeavored in these two chapters to examine the record of a huge time span to reveal the plausibility that man and his early civilizations had a profoundly different mentality than our own, that in fact men and women are not conscious as are we, were not responsible for their actions, and therefore cannot be given the c
Cassandra Kay Silva
May 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I am giving this a five not because I buy into what Jaynes is saying, actually if anything I finished the book still a 100% skeptical about his ideas, but because his approach, his idea and his presentation was actually extremely good. Whether this proves true or not it was still vastly interesting and at least a new way at looking at the evolution of man. I mean when we look at evolution as it is we have to determine SOME point in time where man gained this thing we call consciousness. Some poi ...more
Jul 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reallygoodbooks
I have read this book several times. His hypothesis about the acquisition of modern linguistic consciousness is controversial and probably wrong in detail. However, it is very thought provoking, gorgeously written, and is the clearest statement of the uniqueness of the human mind that I have read. Jaynes is (was) a true scholar. He taught himself Greek so he could investigate the nuanced differences in temperament between the Iliad and the Odyssey as part of his analysis of the evolution of mode ...more
Feb 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book is actually comprised of three books. Jaynes had intended on writing four separate books, but wound up putting three of them together into one. He was to write the fourth book later, but never got around to it before passing away, which is a shame since I think he's onto something.

Book 1: "The Mind of Man".

Originally published in 1976 and quite controversial, Jaynes posited that human consciousness is a relatively recent trait of humans occurring around 3000 to 3500 years ago. Origin
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading this book on bronze age mindset nearly as much as I imagine Jaynes did writing it - his enthusiasm, as much as another thoroughly interesting idea, appears on every page. The boldness of both content and style leads to what one must incredulously regarded as overstatements, but the apple beneath the wax tastes sweet enough that I can't fault it even on that level.

The pith of this apple is that, until very recently in evolutionary time (the Late Bronze Age collapse in what would
O, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind! What ineffable essences, these touchless rememberings and unshowable reveries! And the privacy of it all! A secret theater of speechless monologues and prevenient counsel, an invisible mansion of all moods, musings, and mysteries, an infinite resort of disappointment and discoveries. A whole kingdom where each of us reigns exclusively alone, questioning what we will, commanding what we can. A hidden her
Nov 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, psychology
The central thesis: humans don't need "consciousness" and genetically weren't ever preprogrammed to have it, it only emerged under specific conditions. That's not so crazy but details matter. He tries to prove this by reverse engineering the use of language to understand what people thought when behaving historically and obviously since he can't find traces of articulated self-reflectivity that means it couldn't have played much of a role and everything odd can be explained in terms of basically ...more
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Julian Jaynes was an American psychologist, best known for his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, in which he argued that consciousness is a cultural development based on metaphorical language that occurred 3,000 years ago. Prior to the development of consciousness, humans operated under a different mentality Jaynes calls "the bicameral mind." Jaynes argues th ...more

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44 likes · 19 comments
“O, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind! What ineffable essences, these touchless rememberings and unshowable reveries! And the privacy of it all! A secret theater of speechless monologue and prevenient counsel, an invisible mansion of all moods, musings, and mysteries, an infinite resort of disappointments and discoveries. A whole kingdom where each of us reigns reclusively alone, questioning what we will, commanding what we can. A hidden hermitage where we may study out the troubled book of what we have done and yet may do. An introcosm that is more myself than anything I can find in a mirror. This consciousness that is myself of selves, that is everything, and yet is nothing at all - what is it?
And where did it come from?
And why?”
“Our sense of justice depends on our sense of time. Justice is a phenomenon only of consciousness, because time spread out in a spatial succession is its very essence. And this is possible only in a spatial metaphor of time.” 23 likes
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