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

Elephant Painting
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Author:  HurdyGurdyMan [ Wed Apr 09, 2008 9:14 pm ]
Post subject:  Elephant Painting

No comments on the training process which might be invloved here, but this is pretty neat. I doubt the self portrait theory, but my curiosity is piqued to investigate a possible connection here to early, pre-conscious cave drawings of bison. Could the animal process of pattern recognition involved here be similar to what early humans were doing when they painted their images? The level of abstraction would involve a rethinking of the animal mind, perhaps. But, if Jaynes is to be believed, early, pre-conscious humans exhibited such abstraction when they created their art.



Author:  Moderator [ Mon Apr 14, 2008 12:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Elephant Painting

Thank you for posting this interesting video.

If the elephant were able to draw this "self-portrait" as it is dubbed freely and spontaneously, this would have serious implications for the presence of a "self-concept" in elephants and warrant a major rethinking of consciousness — even Jaynesian consciousness — in these animals.

Watching a video such as this, one can easily jump to this conclusion. However, it turns out that this drawing is not at all spontaneous and was the result of a great deal of training. Just as B.F. Skinner trained pigeons to perform amazing feats such as playing ping-pong with their beaks, the elephant has been trained to draw lines with a paintbrush in the configuration of an elephant.

To the elephant's perception, they are in all likelihood merely lines on paper. Since the drawing was made only after a period of training, there is nothing to suggest otherwise. For example, the elephant could be trained to draw the first line, then rewarded, then the next line, then rewarded, etc. in the same manner as dolphins and whales trained to perform in shows at Sea World. This is not to take away from the fact that this type of training in elephants is still quite wonderful and remarkable — but it in no way is evidence for self-awareness. (Not to imply that this was the position taken by the initial poster but I think it is the conclusion many others may come to.)

This video could be a good tool for teaching skepticism and considering alternative interpretations. For more on this video see:


As far as cave art, yes, Jaynes argues these were forms of eidetic ("photographic") imagery — spontaneous renderings of hallucinatory images. For a brief discussion of this see Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness pages 107–109.

Author:  HurdyGurdyMan [ Tue Apr 15, 2008 12:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Elephant Painting

Yes, agreed. No self portrait is suspected by this poster. The animals are trained. It's the process of pattern recognition that I find interesting. While not indicative of a bicameral mind, the pattern process in the animal awareness seems, to me, to be the foundation upon which the bicameral mind, with advanced neurological hardware, was able to move to the level of abstraction - a software that can be run only if the hardware is in place.

I think of this exhibit as an interesting example of the possible predisposing framework on which, in more advanced organisms (pre-consious humans), the neural correlates of the mimic process gave rise to vocal sounds, then to gestures, and then to hand crafted representations of visual experience.


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