Monday, August 04, 2008

Julian Jaynes' theory on consciousness and bicameral mind

Excerpt from Reflections on the dawn of consciousness, edited by Marcel Kuijsten

"According to Jaynes, consciousness, as we know it today, is a relatively new faculty, one that did not exist until as recently as 2000 B.C. He holds that a basic difference between contemporary and ancient man is in the process of decision-making. When faced with a novel situation today, man considers alternatives, thinks about future circumstances, makes a final decision, ruminates over it, and finally acts. He then reconsiders his action, evaluates it, worries about it, feels good or bad about it, makes resolves about future decisions, and so forth. The cerebral activity that precedes and follows an action response is consciousness. Jaynes believes that man of antiquity had no consciousness - that when faced with novel situation, he simply reacted. He reacted without hesitation by following the directions of a personal voice that old him exactly what to do. Ancient man called this voice God; today it is called auditory hallucination. To ancient man, God was not a mental image or a deified thought but an actual voice heard when one was presented with a situation requiring decisive action.

Prior to 2000 B.C., according to Jaynes, man was governed entirely by this authoritative voice, but by 500 B.C. man had, for the most part, lost this faculty and was learning to make his own decisions consciously. - John Hamilton"

"I shut my eyes and even if I try not to think, consciousness streams on, a great river of contents in a succession of different conditions which I have been taught to call thoughts, images, memories, interior dialogue, regrets, wishes, resolves, all interweaving with the constantly changing pageant of exterior sensations of which I am selectively aware. - Julian Jaynes"

"When Jaynes describes early civilizations as being populated by people who have not yet developed conscousness, he is not implying these were civilizations of 'zombies'. A clear understanding of Jaynes' definition of consciousness dispels this notion. When Jaynes compares the bicameral mentality to the state of somnambulism, this is meant only to illustrate the lack of a sense of self, a lack of introspection and internal dialogue, and an inability to think about time in a linear fashion. Bicameral man was intelligent, had language, was highly social, and could think and problem-solve; only these processes took place in the absence of an introspectable internal mind-space. - Marcel Kuijsten"

Find out more:
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness - Julian Jaynes's Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited Edited by Marcel Kuijsten

Julian Jaynes Society

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