Friday, January 10, 2014

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind - a first look

I’m reading The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, (TOOC) by Julian Jaynes while typing in my and my husband's book The Game of God (in preparation for releasing it as an ebook), which is an interesting experience, and gratifying because the section on the development of the mind in TGOG is not contradictory to Jaynes’ classic.

TOOC is fascinating. It looks at the same period of human history as Ken Wilber’s Up from Eden (which I have described as a frame-changing book for me), but from a completely different perspective. One difference, which I was relieved to find, is that he basically ignores the details of mythology. Both Up From Eden and the similar book Cosmic Consciousness were filled with the names of Gods and it was easy to get overwhelmed. But Jaynes sees all those various Gods as irrelevant details of the larger picture.

Jayne's theory is that humans didn't possess "meta-consciousness," that is, the awareness of being conscious, until about 2500 years ago. Jaynes estimate the use of language developed around 70,000 years ago. Then about 10,000 years ago a new development occurred—hearing a voice in the mind. This was the emergence of the bicameral mind. By “bicameral” he means the two brain hemispheres were split, and the interior voice, a function of the right hemisphere, was interpreted as the voice of a God or King. There was no conception of “self.”

Then about 2500 years ago a breakdown occurred, which was actually an integration of the interior mind as part of a new conception, the self. The gods retreated and quit speaking.

Jaynes provides evidence in many different writings of 2000-3000 years ago. His main texts are the two works attributed to Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Iliad has no terms for self, or thought, or reflection. Everything is directed by the Gods. But the Odyssey is different: all of a sudden there is a hero, an  individual who has thoughts and wishes.

He also uses the Old Testament, and in particular suggests the reader compare Amos with Ecclesiastes, which I did. Amos is almost completely the ravings of God against various peoples, with a very short section about Amos, and none of that has any reference to what Amos thought. In contrast, Ecclesiastes feels like the first self-help book, an advice manual full of the wisdom accumulated by a thinking human being. The author repeatedly says “I thought to myself” or “I applied my mind.”

I think the difference between Wilber and Jaynes is that Wilber believes in God and Jaynes doesn’t. Wilber suggested that those mythical Gods were visions of the actual Underlying Ground of Being, distorted by the level of consciousness of the most advanced people of the time, but real nonetheless. Jaynes calls the Gods “hallucinations.”

This is just a first impressionistic post on the book, I’ll be writing more soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment