THE ORIGIN OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND by Julian Jaynes

THE ORIGIN OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In what could be called the Big Bang Theory of Consciousness, Princeton psychologist Julian Jaynes asserts that up to the end of the second millenium B.C. there was no such thing as consciousness. People heard voices--the commands of the gods or their authoritarian emissaries. Such auditory hallucinations dictated the decisions that ruled lives. The two sides of the brain neatly embodied this order. In the author's words, ""the language of men was involved with only one hemisphere in order to leave the other free for the language of god."" Then came the eruption of Thera, the Dorian invasions, the growth and clashes of peoples, the agrarian and urban revolutions. The gods began to lose ground. Out of these conditions of continued high stress, consciousness was born; with it came the extended metaphors of mind space, mind's eye, me, myself, and I. . . Well. What is the evidence? Mostly language in the form of Homeric legend, Mesopotamian, Assyrian, Egyptian, or Hebrew myth. Jaynes states emphatically that the ancients had no concept of consciousness and what appear to be abstract terms like psyche or noes were really concrete--real presences or physical feelings. It is an extraordinary, not to say radical, hypothesis engagingly presented, impressive in its scholarly citations and word counts, pithy in criticism of other approaches to consciousness, interesting in the discussion of hypnosis, schizophrenia, divination, creation in poetry and art as attempts to restore the bicameral stage, but, in the end, utterly unconvincing. To postulate that ancient civilizations as well as extant hunters and gatherers were, subjectively speaking, innocent, that language had yet to evolve to enrich and at the same time disturb mankind with its problems of identity, responsibility, morality, guilt, flies in the face of current linguistic and anthropological studies. To build such an edifice on the anatomical structure of the two-sided brain is to set up a dichotomy no neurophysiologist could defend. Jaynes is to be congratulated for a bold and novel conceit, but it should be treated as that--a novel rather than true history.

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 1976
ISBN: 0618057072
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin