Julian Jaynes:
"The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" (Houghton Mifflin, 1977)

(Copyright © 2011 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Jaynes conducted a monumental research on the rise of consciousness in mankind, reviewing abundant archaeological, historical, and biological sources of past civilizations.
The stunning result is that until about 3000 years ago human beings were still devoid of consciousness, they still relied, like all other primates,on learned reactions. The people of even the most developed civilizations before 1000 B.C. (ancient Assyria, Babylonia, Mesopotamia, Egypt) were not conscious. Ancient books such as the Iliad and the Bible were composed by nonconscious minds that could not distinguish between real and imagined events. The characters act unconsciously in making their decisions and always rely on "voices". They tend to speak in hexameter rhythms, which are characteristic of the automatic processing of the right-hemisphere brain. Schizophrenics often tend to speak in the same rhythm. These stories are all action and no introspection.
Ancient people, because nonconscious, did not feel responsible for their actions. They had no concept of good and evil.They had no conscious memories. They had no interest in history (past). They had no interest in progress (future). They had no picture of themselves. Human beings did already employ language to communicate with other human beings, and to cooperate and to build societies and civilizations, but, in each individual's head, that language did not serve as conscious thought, it served as communication between the two hemispheres of the brain. Human beings were guided not by conscious reasoning, but by "hallucinations". Hallucinations would form in the right hemisphere of the brain and would be communicated to the left hemisphere of the brain, which would then receive them as commands. This is what Jaynes refers to as the bicameral mind. "God" is one manifestation of the bicameral mind, it is the main voice that would drive individual and social behavior. With the emergence of oral languages, the hallucinating voices for performing fundamental actions became standardized and consequently societies became increasingly organized.
A conscious mind appears in the Odyssey and the most recent part of the Bible, about 3000 years ago. Those writings gradually shift from nonconscious actions to conscious decisions. In the Odyssey, unlike the Iliad, characters are aware of the moral and physical consequences of their actions. Moral issues started spreading in written languages around by the sixth century B.C.. Chinese literature moved from the bicameral mind to the conscious mind about 500 B.C. with the writings of Confucius. Indian literature shifted to consciousness around 400 B.C. with the Upanishadic epic. At that time, the bicameral mind began breaking down under the pressure caused by the complexity of the environment (mainly, society). The hallucinated voices became confused, contradictory, and ultimately counterproductive. They no longer provided automatic guidance for survival. At the same time, the development of writing, and the permanent recording of procedures, in 2,000 B.C., progressively reduced the need for guidance from the hallucinated voices and replaced them with a much more effective means of organizationConsciousness was therefore invented by human beings through a process that entailed the loss of belief in gods and natural selection itself, which started rewarding conscious individuals over nonconscious ones.
Jaynes thinks that, today, governments and religions, and psychological phenomena such as hypnosis and schizophrenia, and artistic practices such as poetry and music, are vestiges of that earlier stage of human consciousness, when action was guided by the bicameral mind, because these are all manifestations of an instinctive tendency towards seeking directions, or, in general, automatic guidance, from others.
Today, these two minds still coexist: the nonconscious bicameral mind that seeks guidance from "authorities" for important decisions in complex situations (such as those related to society); and the conscious mind that creates its own decisions in more local and manageable conditions.
In passing, Jaynes makes a number of interesting points about consciousness. First of all, intelligence and consciousness are not the same thing and they are only vaguely related. Consciousness is not necessary for concepts, learning, reason or even some elementary forms of thinking. Nonconscious beings can develop sophisticated civilizations.
Awareness of an action tends to follow, not precede, the action. Awareness of an action bears little or no influence on the outcome. Before one utters a sentence, one is not conscious of being about to utter those specific words.
Consciousness is an operation rather than a thing. Consciousness requires metaphors to express one thing in terms of another. Consciousness also requires analogy to transform things of the real world into meanings in a metaphorical space. The mental space is created through metaphors and analogies. Metaphors and analogies map the functions of the right hemisphere into the left hemisphere and make the bicameral mind obsolete. Metaphors of "me" and analogies of "I" enabled a greater understanding of the world and of other individuals. In turn, consciousness expands by creating more and more metaphors and analogies. Ultimately, consciousness is a metaphor-generated model of the world.
Consciousness could not have been invented if language had not evolved to the point of facilitating metaphorical thinking. Oral languages developed around 70,000 B.C., written languages began about 3000 B.C., but metaphorical structures did not appear until about 1,000 B.C. Early writings in hieroglyphic, hiertatic, and cuneiform forms reflect a nonmetaphoric and nonconscious attitude.

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