The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

  1. Jaynes argues that up until 2-4,000 years ago, men were not conscious but followed the voices of gods. As language and writing developed, consciousness began to emerge which then displaced these voices. On the surface it seems crazy but Jaynes does an incredible job of making it seem plausible
Key Takeaways
  1. So little of what we do we are actually conscious of
  2. Most fascinating part of language is use of metaphors, especially that of the human body and vision. All language can be thought of as metaphor
    1. Consciousness is the work of lexical metaphors – consciousness came after language
  3. Consciousness an operation rather than a thing
    1. Conscious mind a spatial analog of the world, mental acts analogs of bodily acts
  4. Mind of Iliad – Gods take the place of consciousness.
  5. Following what the hallucinated voices say is what Jaynes means by the bicameral mind
    1. Obey voices because coming from “within” and are omnipresent
  6. Left hemisphere = language, argues part of the right hemisphere is for the language of the gods
  7. Bicameral mind is a form of social context which leads to larger communities which leads to civilizations. 
    1. Voices helped with enduring tasks (pyramids, etc.)
  8. Each new stage of words leads to new perceptions and attentions which eventually lead to changes in culture
  9. Invention of names allowed people to be “recreated” when absent
  10. First kings became gods as their commands were “heard” from beyond the grave
    1. Religious rituals, statues evolved directly from the God’s voices, satisfying their needs
    2. Large areas of worship, treating dead as alive and idols are universal to all cultures
  11. Language, writing, space for analog “I” all contribute to consciousness
  12. Prayer and everyday worship weren’t necessary as they heard the voices all the time
  13. Divination developed because voices disappeared. Omens, sortilege, augury, spontaneous divination
  14. Evolution of psyche from livingness to soul and soma (body) lead to dualism
  15. Word changes lead to concept changes which lead to behavioral changes
  16. The first gods were poets, poetry and music began with the bicameral mind
  17. Bicameral men did not imagine, they experienced
  18. Drastic changes from hypnosis indicative of bicameral mind
  19. Schizophrenia, at least in part, is a return to the bicameral mind
    1. Hallucinations, breakdown of “I”
  20. Since loss of voices, man has been in a constant search for authority
What I got out of it
  1. Supremely interesting read. Mind was blown for the first third of the book or so and then I kind of lost interest with his examples and evidence. Fascinating argument though