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

The Rise of "One True God" Religions
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Author:  Rachael [ Sun Feb 27, 2005 12:37 pm ]
Post subject:  The Rise of "One True God" Religions

I would like to have a brief dialogue with folks on the bicameral mind and its role in the development of early religious theories such as those of Plato.

How did it contribute to the "One God" religions that seemed to rise at about the same time in western civilization...or not?


Author:  Dr. Bob [ Sun Feb 27, 2005 9:24 pm ]
Post subject:  "A History of God" by Karen Armstrong

Rachael, you may want to look at Karen Armstrong's book (1993), A History of God. According to p 35 of my paperback edition (Ballantine Books), Plato's " ... utterly static image of divinity would have an immense influence on Jew, Christians and Muslims..." and on p 36 Armstrong discusses the abstract nature of Plato's ideas such as "'... an idea like Beauty has much in common with what many theists could call 'God'." Armstrong wrote a very good book on this subject. 8)
posted by Dr. Bob

Author:  Rachael [ Sun Feb 27, 2005 10:01 pm ]
Post subject: 

Thank you for the post. Clearly Neo Platonism informed Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Gnostics to various degrees. This however is at some distance from Plato himself and by that time certain of his views had been altered.

I am struck by the intersection of the change of the bicameral mind, the switch to urbanism in the western civilizations and the change in popularity from multiple god forms to a single, all knowing god.

I will try to read as you suggest.
Thank you
R Watcher

Author:  Soupdragon [ Mon Feb 28, 2005 5:45 pm ]
Post subject: 

Does monotheism necessarily rule out lesser gods? Nature tending towards heirarchical systems and all that!

Perhaps the lesser gods were the messengers looking over different peoples, but ultimately reporting to the main man.

If communication with the lesser gods began to break down, perhaps people began to look to the top man -- although unable to hear him -- awaiting his next move. Maybe they felt let down by the messengers?

Author:  Rachael [ Mon Feb 28, 2005 6:31 pm ]
Post subject: 

Hummm...how very neo platonic. There are groups of pagans who are currently following this very concept. The lessor gods being the personal gods who ultimately answer to(and and act as messengers between) matter and the all knowing and ineffable one. Of course the lessor gods also demand more of their worshipers; payment for services recieved, and ritual or praxis among them.

Still it is so very interesting that such a major flip took place in such a short period of time among such a large population. I suspect that sociology had a part in it, but I am sure that there must have been some kind of consciousness shift as well. Have a take on this?

Still digging

Author:  Moderator [ Mon Feb 28, 2005 7:53 pm ]
Post subject:  consciousness / one god connection

There is definitely a relationship between the development of consciousness and the emergence of the "one god" concept, although it's something I need to ponder a little more.

In considering your question, I came across an essay by JJS member and Unitarian minister Todd Eklof that I had not previously read, that may shed some light on the discussion:

One God is Never Enough

I'll invite Todd to join the discussion.

"Every god is a jealous god after the breakdown of the bicameral mind."
-- Jaynes (p. 336)

Author:  Rachael [ Mon Feb 28, 2005 8:32 pm ]
Post subject: 

I am reminded by actually looking through my bookshelf that I had read Ms. Armstrong's work. I am in the process of reviewing it. I should think that it would be very interesting, not to say enlightening to enlarge the group. I look forward to it. Meantime I will also read the essay.
Thanks very much, I really value the resources you are providing.

Author:  Dr. Bob [ Mon Feb 28, 2005 9:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Hermes/Mercury/Angels

I do like the concept of the lesser gods and their messenger functions. Hermes was such a messenger for the Greeks and the Romans adopted Mercury. Along came Christianity with a new emphasis on messengers and they were the angels. New religions need to compromise and adopt some from the old ones. My research area is hermeneutics and that involves messengers interpreting the gods "correctly."

The breakdown of the bicameral mind was certainly a major cognitive shift that probably had something to do with opening trade routes and the development of self-consciousness triggered by the need to communicate with others of difference. Perhaps those who did not make the shift were elminated by natural selection. But it's also possible that it was not genetic but mostly a sociological (paradigm) shift.

Personally as a male feminist I like the idea of many gods because they include female deities.

Author:  Moderator [ Mon Mar 14, 2005 12:09 am ]
Post subject: 

If you accept the idea that the bicameral mind gave rise to the concept of gods via auditory hallucinations, then it makes sense that with the breakdown of the bicameral mind (and the silencing of the gods) there would be a shift to one god belief systems.

H.W.F. Saggs (1989) writes that in Mesopotamia, "there came a time when ancient polytheistic religion no longer satisfied, but this did not result -- as it did in Israel -- in a stark assertion of monotheism; rather there was a gradual bland drift towards the idea that all gods were but aspects of the One."

During the time period that Jaynes identifies for the breakdown of the bicameral mind, Saggs describes a "breakdown in the delimitation of functions and personality between deities, so that, for example, Marduk in Babylon and Ashur in Assyria took over the functions and titles of Enlil."

After the breakdown of the bicameral mind and the dawn of consciousness, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism "received their imprint from the teaching of a great religious reformer, who, according to believers, brought a direct divine relevation."

These religious reformers promoted monotheism during the transition to consciousness, when the majority of people no longer directly hallucinated the voices of many different gods.

Author:  Ardery [ Fri Mar 25, 2005 7:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Getting past "God"

As I understand the breakdown of the bicameral mind from Jaynes's book, monotheistic religion occurs as a human confusion in our transition phase between bicameral and conscious orientations. By "monotheistic religion," I mean Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In prayer states, practitioners of these religions still can and do activate the old neurological pathways and hear voices that command and authorize. According to the three religions, these excited states have a conscious author ("God"). By the Jaynesian timeline, consciousness didn't exist for the first multiple millenia of human involvement with these voices. Religious persons like myself are challenged to cultivate and respond to these states without support from unsatisfactory monotheistic doctrines.

Author:  Moderator [ Thu Jul 14, 2005 7:31 pm ]
Post subject: 

...I had a few additional thoughts on this topic, coming back to it again after some time. First off, I want to say I am not a Biblical scholar or religious historian, and my thoughts here may not be accurate and are certainly open to debate. I welcome any commentary, alternate views, etc.

With that said, my rough thoughts on the shift from polytheism to monotheism vis-à-vis the bicameral mind is that initially you had lots of gods because everyone was regularly experiencing auditory hallucinations and labeling these hallucinations as various gods. The religious leaders and clergy of bicameral societies organized these “gods” into hierarchies, which were then taught to others in the community. This helped create some social cohesion among groups, through what Jaynes called the “collective cognitive imperative.” Much like contemporary schizophrenics interpret their voices as God, Jesus, Satan, etc. (i.e. within the context of our modern religious teachings), members of these ancient societies interpreted their voices within the accepted system of gods established by their community leaders.

In the Frontline documentary “From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians,” one religious historian notes that prior to the time of Jesus there were so many accepted gods in Rome that it was roughly akin to “going to the grocery store to shop for gods” (paraphrasing his comments). This is exactly what one would expect if Jaynes’s ideas are correct.

Then, with the breakdown of the bicameral mind and the dawn of subjective consciousness, the voices of the gods fall silent. This inevitably causes a great deal of anxiety among individuals, who feel that "the gods have abandoned them.” This would naturally lead to the question of “why did this occur?” In the resulting confusion, it may have been concluded that the gods became angry due to lack of attention or competition from other gods. Jaynes writes, “Every god is a jealous god after the breakdown of the bicameral mind.”

With the voices of the gods now gone, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the complex hierarchical system of gods that were previously based on the direct experience of hallucinatory commands. The number of accepted gods would naturally decline, as previously established gods begin to blend and merge. Eventually, with only a few remaining semi-bicameral “prophets” still directly experiencing “the gods,” the notion of only one “true” god was born, and then heavily promoted by figures such as Jesus, whose teachings were an attempt to shift religious thinking from the outmoded bicameral system of many gods to the newly conscious system of one god.

Author:  wrbones [ Wed Jul 27, 2005 6:01 am ]
Post subject: 

I don't know that I can ably add to other aspects of the discussions of Jaynes' work on the bicameral mind, but I may have a few thoughts to offer here, or at least, some online resources for consideration.

An anthropologist has an online manuscript, that appears to be a work in progress, posted here: http://cc.usu.edu/~fath6/contents-bible.htm His research is valid, although I don't agree with all of his conclusions. He seems to jump from a secular humanist POV to a Western religious POV ...and back again quite regularly.

The first few chapters are relevant, and explore the origins of religion in the Middle East in an accurate and succinct fashion. It is not an extensive treatise on the topic, but it does touch on many of the major 'players' and of their origins, 'godheadly' speaking...

Another topic that may also be of relevance, although I have not explored it with any in depth research, has to do with certain aspects of The Plasma Universe Theory and The Electric Universe Theory, wherein The Big Bang Theory is rather vigorously refuted. Some components of the Exploded Planet Hypothesis fit within those frameworks as well. (That's a lot of theories, isn't it...)

Anyway, not knowing any better, I can't help but think of the brain's electrical activity in view of those theories. Catastrophism in ancient times, and even pre-historical times, is well attested to world-wide by archaeology, papyri, clay tablets, murals, motifs, and other texts and contexts. If an electrical/plasma solar-wide catastrophe occurred about the time of the beginning's of Jayne's proposed end of the Bi-Cameral Mind, and the earth was in the line of fire, so to speak, there might be a bit of an explanation for the 'gods' to stop 'speaking' to every individual, or for individuals to be able to work together in a pre-Tower of Babel, one-language fashion. Other cultures describe a similar occurrence as that of Babel as occurring in a similar time frame. With one huge cosmic electrical discharge, part of our minds may have been electrically shorted, and the "charge" reversed, or the mechanism damaged in some fashion.

Just ...an undeveloped thought.

"When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic."
- Dresden James

Author:  Moderator [ Wed Jul 27, 2005 12:09 pm ]
Post subject: 

The anthropologist's online book does look interesting - thanks for providing the link. There is a section particularly relevant to the present discussion called "The Rise of Hebrew Monotheism."

The catastrophism / electrostatics issue was raised under General Discussion > Bicameral breakdown:


Author:  brainsoul [ Mon Aug 15, 2005 5:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Religion and the Bicameral Mind

Someone has to inform me if this book's central goal is to defend the thesis of one god. I don't think Jaynes' intention was to offer any solution in that direction--monotheism or polytheism. His main thesis is concerned with the origin of human consciousness (not some religious characteristic or process or entity) as a psychological phenomenon, without encumbering his thesis with any type of religious phenomena. Neither does he endorse any opinon for any specific theology. His hypotheis uses expressed works of human mind (written in stone or papyrus etc.) as data to indicate that our obsession for authorization - man's attempt to understand spoken language led to a gradual process of authorities, confused as personal gods to monotheistic God - and finally to his own consciousness. In my view his thesis confuses consciousness with self-consciousness, for he does not believe in that distinction. I would agree with his many conclusions if he meant self-consciousness. I personally think language helped the breakdown of bicameral mind. Religion has no connection here.

Author:  Moderator [ Mon Aug 15, 2005 5:59 pm ]
Post subject: 

I would say that yes, Jaynes's definition of consciousness is what some would prefer to term "self-consciousness" or that which is introspectable. He outlines his definition quite clearly. Terminology is a major obstacle to discussing consciousness. For example, what others such as Damasio term "core consciousness," Jaynes would describe as sensory perception, awareness, etc.

I would disagree that the theory has no relevance to religion. While Jaynes was primarily concerned with the origin of consciousness, in the process he discovered what he believed to be the origin of gods.

For example, in his 1990 article "Verbal Hallucinations and Pre-Conscious Mentality," he states it more plainly than in his book:

"Verbal hallucinations, we think, evolved along with the evolution of language during the late Pleistocene as the response part of the brain register of all admonitory information. Its survival value at first was simply to direct an individual in various long-term tasks, which cued their occurrence. By 9,000 BC, such voices were called what we call gods. This theory is thus one that explains the origin of gods and therefore religion."

(However, after a 1982 lecture, when asked if his theory explains religion, Jaynes responded that some view the bicameral voices as part of the course of divine revelation [similar to a comment posted earlier by Butterfly], for those that prefer to include God in the theory.)

For more on the transition from bicameral gods to conscious religion see pgs. 317-319

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