left biblioblography: GETTING THE GODS TO AGREE

Sunday, October 29, 2006


I just finished Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, and I have to say, it’s quite a read and a –half.

I have spoken at length here about this phenomenon, having experienced it sporadically throughout my life (at my personal cost: I’m sure a few of my readers have perhaps arched an eyebrow, shook their heads, and simply kept silent out of politeness for l’il ole wildman me), but Jaynes in his book mentions this happening in a number of cases, including himself.

I’ve copped to it: I’m sure it doesn’t happen to everyone, or there’d be that much less Thorazine in the world. Rest assured, I’m a very stable person. Really. What? Don’t look at me like that. My (nearly) non-existent rap sheet in the real world vouches for it. So does my medicine cabinet (I take nothing stronger than a couple of aspirin a day and vitamins). I got character references, I tells ya! Been voice-free since 2003. But it happens to a lot more people than most will cop to. Because we fear being ostracized.

Enough about me. Onwards.

One item not covered in my prior post, was a key ingredient that is covered in the book. Jaynes stipulates that there had to be a hierarchy among bicameral minds. Think about it: we’re pack animals. Kinda tough to function as such, when everybody has a different ‘voice’ going on. So, structures were formed, alpha wolves duly elected (if that could be called such) as high priests. If you’ve ever been to a concert, a revival (brrhhh!), or any other group activity, you catch the gist of it. Herd mentality.

It’s a great theory, but has some drawbacks. For one, nobody really began dissecting brains (for scientific use, anyways) until the last few centuries. So it’s hard to substantiate it with any physical evidence. Jaynes also bypassed peer review in publication. It’s not widely accepted in academia, and there are varying degrees of skepticism applied in some circles.

Anyways, a big snip from the above link:(snip)”Jaynes asserts that until roughly the times written about in Homer's Iliad, humans did not generally have the self-awareness characteristic of consciousness as most people experience it today. Rather, Jaynes argued that the bicameral individual was guided by mental commands believed to be issued by external "gods"—the commands which were so often recorded in ancient myths, legends and historical accounts; these commands were however emanating from individuals' own minds. This is exemplified not only in the commands given to characters in ancient epics but also the very muses of Greek mythology which "sang" the poems: Jaynes argues that while later interpretations see the muses as a simple personification of creative inspiration, the ancients literally heard muses as the direct source of their music and poetry.
“Jaynes inferred that these "voices" came from the right brain counterparts of the left brain language centres—specifically, the counterparts to Wernicke's area and Broca's area. These regions are somewhat dormant in the right brains of most modern humans, but Jaynes noted that some studies show that auditory hallucinations cause increased activity in these areas of the brain.[3]
“For example, he asserts that, in The Iliad and sections of the Old Testament in The Bible, no mention is made of any kind of cognitive processes such as introspection, and he argues that there is no apparent indication that the writers were self-aware. According to Jaynes, the older portions of the Old Testament (such as the Book of Amos) have little or none of the features of some later books of the Old Testament (such as Ecclesiastes) as well as later works such as The Odyssey, which show indications of a profoundly different kind of mentality—an early form of consciousness.[3]
Jaynes noted that in ancient societies, the corpses of the dead were often treated as though they were still alive (being seated on chairs, dressed in clothing, and even fed food) and he argued that the dead bodies were presumed to be still living and the source of auditory hallucinations (see ancestor worship).[3] This adaptation to the village communities of 100 individuals or more formed the core of religion. Unlike today's hallucinations, the voices of ancient times were structured by cultural norms to produce a seamlessly functioning society.
“In ancient times, Jaynes noted, gods were generally much more numerous and much more anthropomorphic than in modern times, and speculates that this was because each bicameral person had their own "god" who reflected their own desires and experiences.” (End snip)
“Jaynes further argues that divination, prayer and oracles arose during this breakdown period, in an attempt to summon instructions from the "gods" whose voices could no longer be heard.[3] The consultation of special bicamerally-operative individuals, or of casting lots and so forth, was a response to this loss, a transitional era depicted for example in the book of 1 Samuel.
Leftovers of the bicameral mind today, according to Jaynes, include religion, possession, schizophrenia and the general sense of need for external authority in decision-making.”
(End snip)

(Snip)” Friedrich Nietzsche's explanations of human ethics and moral consciousness in Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morals posit a similar developmental path. The first humans followed a "noble" ethic ("master morality"), but their consciousness was shallow and limited at best. When the Judeo-Christian tradition turned the will in on itself ("slave morality"), as Nietzsche claims, the human soul became complex and intelligent, although it lost the "noble" ethic, which was replaced by an ethic of "ressentiment." Genuine individuality ("immoralism", the Overman) has yet to fully emerge from its socialized heritage; however, the emphasis remains that humans as a social animal preceded humans as individuals, consciously speaking.”
(End snip)

So, in short, humanity longs for those lost days, much like an old man clutches at his spent youth with tremulous hands, watching the wisps of smoke drift away, and fond nostalgia is by no means a proper balm for the maladies of today.

We should live today as today, not as if it were yesteryear: the phantoms of our fathers are but tenous tentacles, easily dispelled by the light of logic. Let us not be second-guessed by legends and mythologies, or old books that lose veracity with each new archeological find. Rather, let us learn from these mistakes, and place them on old shelves, to be dusted off, murmured over, and put back. Today and tomorrow is all we have: that, and the random kindesses we confer upon one another. Love your fellowman, not because of threats, or implied evil, or some egregious tome: rather, love him/her because, as the Bard once said, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”

Be deity-free.

And don’t let the voices get you. Because words only have the power you give them, and because that whisper in your ear is a coin-flip of the id.

And with that, you have my nickel’s worth. Spend it well, and wisely.

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say no to christ said...

Hey Ka, I don't havew time to read right now, I'm on my way out the door to Richard Dawkins book signing.So if you make it I will be wearing a t-shirt that says 'I heart lesbians'. It was the only thing I could think of that would stand out. Lol Hope to see you there. :)


Krystalline Apostate said...

Sorry, wasn't up to the book-signing thing today.
Honestly, I don't even own a book by Dawkins (which I will amend shortly).

karen said...

Interesting theory, bicameralism. Maybe it accounts for dissociative disorder too. My voices have been quiet of late, I'm happy to say.
Right now, my brain will just not stay on the subject though. When I try to focus on it and really think about the implications, some random distraction takes me rapidly and far away.
Maybe later.

How was Dawkins? I'm jealous! :)

say no to christ said...

Dawkins was AWESOME! He is a very handsome chaming man and very funny. He read a few chapters from his new book and gave the crowd time to ask him a few questions. Unfortunately there was way too many people there and only a few got to ask questions and they werent very good ones, IMO. My husband and I took our two girls who also enjoyed his book reading. My younger daughter is a natural science fanatic and couldnt wait to tell her science teacher that she got to meet Richard Dawkins. We also met up with Mark and Judy of godless geeks and went to dinner afterwards. Judy, a chinese specialist was very impressed with our older daughter who is in Jr wings and just got back from Japan two weeks ago and speaks very good Japanese. It was a very good time.

I'm sorry you couldn't make it, but hey, the godless geeks have monthly meatings in Moutain view. Maybe we can meet up there one day?


You would have loved it! Dawkins is a GREAT speaker. He plans on writing more books and touring the bible belt more and more. He has a website where you can keep track of where he is going and a coulpe hours drive is well worth it.


Ok now on to the topic...

Very interesting and I find myself agreeing with alot of it. I dont necessarily agree with the voices being of god or voices for that matter, but I do believe the natural world can talk to us and that the religion we know now has seperated us from it.

karen said...

I think the "voices" are just compartmentalized parts of me. But it's almost like they're talking to me from another dimension.

Thanks for the Dawkins link. Can't wait to see if he's coming nearby!

Krystalline Apostate said...

Glad you had a good time. I got off yesterday, I was bushed, took a nap.
He plans on writing more books and touring the bible belt more and more.
Oy gevalt, I hope he intends to hire some bodyguards!
I suppose we could meet up at the Godless geeks soiree sometime soon. Post-election, I should have some time on my hands. We'll see.
I think the "voices" are just compartmentalized parts of me. But it's almost like they're talking to me from another dimension.
Intriguing. Could it be that the medication is aiding you in ignoring them?

say no to christ said...


I would like to hear your whole story about the voices you hear. I'm not above believing that maybe it is the part of the brain that the rest of us have lost touch with.

Sometimes I am hesitent to tell people that I am a certified canine psychologist cuz a lot of people still look at it as quackery. The reason why is because to understand dogs you have to think like a dog and understand how they connect with the natural world around them. And what we have seen time and time again, is that dogs have an incredible ability to read your every thought. You can not hide any emotion from a dog or any other animal for that matter. I don't think it has anything to do with the supernatural and neither does anyone else in the many fields of animal behaviors. But, most believe it is a natural connection that all life forces have. And in my many years of working with dogs I have learned to pick up on their every thought and at times I could swear heard what they were thinking or feeling. I truly believe that some how our emotions radiate from us out into the atmoshere for others to read.

The other day my daughter was watching mythbusters and they did a poject with plants to see if plants scream or can read our thoughts. Without going into all the details it turns out they responded 38% of the time and 28% of the time when in a seperate room. Which from what I gathered from watching a little here and there of the show, was suprising to the scientist that did the experiment and ment that plants do respond to our thoughts and do respond when threatened.


karen said...

Intriguing. Could it be that the medication is aiding you in ignoring them?
Don't think it's the meds. Have been on meds throughout the last 13 years and they've only quieted in the last 12-18 months. Could be the EMDR therapy I had--supposed to help with integration of the alters. Could be the last round of ECT treatments had something to do with it, although I doubt that. Could be that the talk therapy is also finally helping me to sort things out. Plus, I can't deny that all the atheist contact I've had on the internet has helped huge amounts to quiet the god-fearing ones and to put much of my past in perspective. I have let go of a lot of the anger and hate.

I would like to hear your whole story about the voices you hear. I'm not above believing that maybe it is the part of the brain that the rest of us have lost touch with.
How much time have you got?! ;)
Sometimes I think that too, about the brain, especially when I consider the out of body experiences I've had. Boy, it would be wonderful, if it was something I could control!

The thing about the dogs...don't you think that applies to all animals? Or is it something about the minds of dogs that allows us to commune with them? I swear I can tell what my cats are thinking at times. And I know that they know when I am in distress, because they gather round to comfort me. They will also gather round just to lie with me and snuggle if I stretchout on the floor for no particular reason. But if I'm sick or sad, or really depressed, they approach in an ewntirely different manner, and treat me more cautiously and loviingly. It's weird, and wonderful.

beepbeepitsme said...


Come and annoy "anonymous daniel" and "under the mercy". I am getting sick of using reasoned argument with them.

Krystalline Apostate said...

I'm glad to hear that things are improving, albeit at a snail's pace.
The thing about the dogs...don't you think that applies to all animals? Or is it something about the minds of dogs that allows us to commune with them?
Well, for 1 thing, they can read body language like us (though perhaps not as 'allegorically' as us, hehehehe) - I think it also may be due to a subtle shift in scent: the body changes per chemical shift.
True story: I used to be able to sniff the top of my ex-GF's head, & tell if she was horny.
I was usually right (shift to MP's 'know what I mean, know what I mean, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, eh?').

Come and annoy "anonymous daniel" and "under the mercy".
Ummmm....what's the magic word? ;)
I am getting sick of using reasoned argument with them.
I think you're doing just fine w/'em, darlin'.
Though I note the Kingdom Advancer's seemed to have dropped off the radar (for now, anyways).
I'll swing by sometime soon, if I have the time, & play gadfly.

PastaLaVista said...

Damn KA, I gota get that book. I'm putting that one on my list to read. Excellent post. Fascinating stuff. Thanks for sharing :]

say no to christ said...


I have lots of time for you. Email me or post here. Whatever you are comfortable with.

I'm glad you have been able to hush those god fearing voices. I have been there and know exactly what you mean. My atheism was the biggest sense of relief for me and the nightmares stopped.
And I believe all animals to include the human animal have the ability to sense others including animals emotions. Religion has seperated us from the natural world and many of us have lost our natural instincts that connect us to the natural world. I dont think that the ability to sense emotions is like a special gift, but more like a survival insticnt.

And I hate when christians say animals dont have emotions and empathy! They absolutely do and it appears they have a much better sense of it than any human. Your cats have showed you that.


I agree with most of what you said. Yes, dogs absolutely pick up on our emotions from the slightest change in our body chemistry. But, what has stumped many of us, is how dogs have the ability to sense, when we arent around, when we are coming home, even if it isnt the regular time for us to come home and it was a last minute thing. Dogs tend to know hours before we even leave for home. No one, as of yet, has been able to figure out what they are picking up on, especially sence their owners arent there for them to read their body language or smell their body odors.

Like I've said many times...I dont believe it is supernatural, I believe it is a natural survival instinct that humans have lost.

say no to christ said...

A better way to discribe what I think dogs can hear/feel and maybe to explain what I ment about nature talking to someone who has not lost their animal instinct to pick up on atmosheric energy. And what I mean about atmosheric energy, is how animals can sense the slightest pattern change in the weather way before the weather changes. Dogs also pick up on human energy and it takes enery for a thought to be created. Dogs and humans can pick up on this in one another before the act is committed without even looking at one another. In writing, it sounds hoky, but when you see it in action, you realize its natural bonding and communication that goes on all around us just not with another species.

As for voices...Whos to say there is only one way to percieve things? Certain smells tell us what certain things are without seeing them. Some people get a mental picture and maybe other people and some animals get a mental audio as well or instead. Our senses are all tied to eachother. Maybe some people are hearing everything that they smell or see. I have read about how some people hear things in shapes, or something like that, I cant remember exactly it was a while back, but it had to do with the senses being tied together.

I hope that made sense? I just think the mind has many unexplored areas that could naturally explain what we might precieve as supernatural or even diagnose as a mental disorder, much like they did with homosexuals.

Krystalline Apostate said...

I hope that made sense? I just think the mind has many unexplored areas that could naturally explain what we might precieve as supernatural or even diagnose as a mental disorder, much like they did with homosexuals.
No, that made good sense, thanks.
A synthesia of the senses?

say no to christ said...

Ka said:"A synthesia of the senses?"

Exctly! We are surounded by energy waves and I am almost positive that there is more than just one way to precieve them. I am just not comfortable with deeming voices as a mental disorder and I just cant see Karen, who happens to be one of the most sane people I have come across on the net, as mentally unstable. I also believe that it is very easy to convince those people who precieve things differently, that they have a metal disorder. When it could be a very natural and normal(for them)to get mantal audio as well or instead of a mental picture.

Sorry Karen dont mean to talk about you like your not there, I just had a point to make and you are a great example of what I am talking about.

We love you Karen. :)

David said...

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind - what an amazing book! I read it about 15 years ago and couldn't stop thinking about it for weeks. I should pick it up again. Dawkins commented on it in The God Delusion, saying it was "either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius, nothing in between!"