Julian Jaynes Society Discussion Forum: Exploring Consciousness and the Bicameral Mind Theory since 1997

Conscious Kings?
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Author:  martinem [ Tue Sep 01, 2009 6:44 am ]
Post subject:  Conscious Kings?

In bicameral times, as I understand it, a difficult decision wold be passed on (unconsciously, of course) to the right hemisphere which in turn was under influence of the next priest in command. The buck would stop at the king who then would have the most complicated decisions to make. Isn't it plausible that he would be one of the first to develop consciousness?

Author:  Moderator [ Tue Sep 01, 2009 3:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Conscious kings?

Just to provide some clarification, I don't think decisions were passed unconsciously between persons. I know that was probably not your intention here but I can see it being misread by others.

An individual would hear their own right hemisphere-generated directions for day-to-day decisions, attributed to their personal god (in Egypt, their "ka"). Larger, more important decisions were hallucinated by the chiefs/kings and communicated verbally down the hierarchy. I think sometimes people unfamiliar with Jaynes's theory tend to forget that bicameral societies had language and were speaking to each other.

The question of whether or not the leaders in any given society were conscious has come up in previous discussions I've had with people. In some later cases they might have been, but I don't think this was the case in the beginning. They were making larger decisions but we can see even in modern politics that leaders make bad decisions as well as good ones, and in either case many individuals lower in the social hierarchy will blindly follow along.

Jaynes tends to make the shift from bicamerality to consciousness a very stark transition (I think partly for dramatic effect) but perhaps the shift took place more gradually over several generations with some individuals or social sub-groups making the transition before others, as well as different elements of consciousness (analog I, spatializtion of time, etc.) being developed at different times. I don't think all of the elements of Jaynesian consciousness were necessarily developed simultaneously.

But yes it is certainly plausible that those in the leadership would begin developing elements of consciousness first. Also those in the clergy, early scribes, proto-intellectuals — anyone with a social role that required less physical labor and more time for thought and learning.

Author:  martinem [ Wed Sep 02, 2009 5:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Conscious kings?

Hello Moderator!
Thank you for your quick replies to this and my other questions about slavery and about right-brain function. It is actually the first time I get to discuss these topics with someone else. You probably know how difficult it is to discuss preconscious mentality with noninitiated people.

I'd like to bring up some further suggestions on your answer:

About preconscious decision passing: Let me propose a picture of an archaic farmer harvesting crops. He is working pragmatically and is dealing with minor problems such as eventual tool breaking, etc. This is accomplished mainly without hallucinatory commands from the right brain. Suddenly he rises his head looking for a sound that might be a threat. After a while a voice from the right brain tells him "Harvest the crops!" and he goes back to what he was doing. This order has been programmed in the farmer's right brain hemisphere (unconsciously, of course) by his boss. The hard working farmer is not discontent with his task, in fact he doesn't even get tired. Now something more difficult happens, such as for example, the crops are already harvested by someone else. The farmer then just stops and waits for hallucinatory commands. The right brain have somehow a bigger perspective so it might solve the problem, but most probably it would tell the left brain: "go to your boss". The archaic farmer goes unconsciusly to his boss, and speaks with a monotone voice: "The crops are already harvested. What now?". In that manner, wouldn't it be possible that decisions would be propagated upwards through the hierarchy?

It's nice to realize that this forum is open to critics of Jaynes theories such as when you propose that the transition to consciousness wasn't as sudden as Jaynes suggests. I agree with that consciousness probably evolved gradually. Furthermore I share what I think is Dennet's view on consciousness, that it is not generated by complexity but identical to complexity. In that case the more complex perspective a mind has, the more conscious it would be. I see two gradients in the levels of consciousnesses, one upwards along the hierarchy and one forwards along time. These curves (or the surface, if you prefer) is of course not straight (flat) but full of leaps and discontinutities.

Author:  Moderator [ Mon Sep 21, 2009 4:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Conscious kings?

It's an interesting scenario, and probably quite possible.

One thing however I want to comment on is I think we need to get away from this idea of the "monotone voice."

For some reason it is quite common for people to imagine bicameral people as zombie-like or robotic. I don't think this was the case at all. I think all we need to do is look at examples of pre-literate or tribal people for a closer approximation to behavior under a bicameral or semi-bicameral mental model.

Author:  martinem [ Fri Sep 25, 2009 3:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Conscious kings?

About the monotone voice: I thought I remembered i passage in The Book where Jaynes discusses monotony of voices, but I can't find it now. I see now that aprosodia occurs in schizofrenia, but it is more typical for autism, depression and lesions to the right brain hemisphere. So I was wrong about the monotone voice. I guess I just wanted to create a more spectacular scene.

I agree with you that the robotic, zombielike picture is stupid, but bicameral man must have been different from us! The farmer coming to his boss is for sure not witty or ironic. He is not intriguing nor manipulative. He doesn't lie or try to fool his boss. He is not peaking at the boss, trying to find out his hidden agendas or underlying incitaments. His language is poor, with no words for subjective experience. His body language, including the tone of his voice, expresses only direct affects such as fear or shame and not emotions as anxiety or guilt (as described in the afterword of The Book).

He is not a man whom I could approach with a grin and say: Whats up? Out of work are you?

I guess I would find his eyes rather empty of life and perhaps animal-like.

Author:  Moderator [ Fri Oct 09, 2009 9:49 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Conscious kings?

I attribute the "monotone voice" idea (which has come up before) to one sentence Jaynes wrote: "They were noble automatons who knew not what they did" (p. 75).

Jaynes liked this type of dramatic language, and I think it helped to excite people's imaginations about the theory. In most cases his poetic descriptions are enjoyable and illuminating. However, this one description has lead to a number of misconceptions about "zombie-like" bicamerals. I think what he meant here was simply the lack of introspection, and in later lectures he never used this type of description.

When we look at examples of hallucinating pre-literate tribal people, who, depending on the example are usually in various recently post-bicameral stages, there is nothing zombie-like about them. They have limited inner mental life but they can be just as animated as non-human primates are. Their eyes might be "animal-like" as you say but think of how lively even a dog is. Bicameral people were non-conscious but intelligent, had basic language, and were probably more social than modern conscious people in the sense that they would have typically lived and worked surrounded by others. They would be able to express first tier (non-conscious) emotions such as fear and excitement.

But there are profound differences as well, which you've mentioned.

Author:  ebuchman [ Fri Oct 09, 2009 10:54 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Conscious kings?

"examples of hallucinating pre-literate tribal people"

Such people exist, today?! Where!?! Direct me to the literature, please!!!

Author:  Moderator [ Tue Oct 13, 2009 2:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Conscious kings?

See the "The Mentality of Pre-Literate and Pre-Modern Peoples" topic in this forum.

I would definitely start with Lévy-Bruhl's Primitive Mentality (available through most larger libraries). I've already posted many of the relevant quotes from the book.

There is a lot of information out there (on aborigines, etc.) that has not been interpreted from a Jaynesian perspective.

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