Summary of Evidence for the Bicameral Mind Theory

Julian Jaynes’s theory draws evidence from a broad range of disciplines. The following table organizes the primary areas of evidence, explains their relevance to the bicameral mind theory, provides alternate or traditional interpretations, and identifies sources for further reading. (Revised in August 2021 around Jaynes’s four hypotheses.)

Evidence

Relevance to Bicameral Mind

Alternate Interpretation(s)

Selected References

Hypothesis One: Consciousness Based on Language

Studies suggesting language required for consciousness.

Jaynesian consciousness is a recent development in human history; language necessary create an inner “mind-space” for self-reflection, Jaynesian features of consciousness, complex trains of thought.

Consciousness dates back to at least 35,000 years ago; consciousness not predicated on language.

M. Kuijsten, “Consciousness, Hallucinations, and the Bicameral Mind: Three Decades of New Research,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).

J. Limber, “Language and Consciousness: Jaynes’s ‘Preposterous Idea’ Reconsidered,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).

T. Remington, “Echoes of the Gods: Towards a Jaynesian Understanding of Rhetoric,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Gods, Voices, and the Bicameral Mind (Julian Jaynes Society, 2016).

Further reading:

J.L. Bermudez, “The Limits of Thinking Without Words,” in J.L. Bermudez, Thinking without Words (Oxford University Press, 2003)

P. Carruthers, Language, Thought and Consciousness: An Essay in Philosophical Psychology (Cambridge University Press, 1998)

P. Carruthers & J. Boucher (eds.) Language and Thought: Interdisciplinary Themes (Cambridge University Press, 1998)

L. Vygotsky, Thought and Language (The MIT Press, 1934/1986)

Studies suggesting the development of consciousness in children as they learn language.

Metaphorical language necessary create an inner “mind-space” for self-reflection, Jaynesian features of consciousness, complex trains of thought.

Consciousness dates back to at least 35,000 years ago; consciousness not predicated on language.

B. Rowe, “Two Origins of Consciousness” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Gods, Voices, and the Bicameral Mind (Julian Jaynes Society, 2016).

Further reading:

P. Zelazo, et al, “The Development of Consciousness,” in P. Zelazo (ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness (Cambridge University Press, 2007).

P. Zelazo, “Language, Levels of Consciousness, and the Development of Intentional Action,” in P.D. Zelazo, J.W. Astington & D.R. Olson (eds.), Developing Theories of Intention: Social Understanding and Self-Control (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999).

Studies of children raised without language.

Metaphorical language necessary create an inner “mind-space” for self-reflection, Jaynesian features of consciousness, complex trains of thought.

Consciousness dates back to at least 35,000 years ago; consciousness not predicated on language.

S. Curtiss, “What happens if you are raised without language,” in Five-minute Linguist: Bite-sized Essays on Language (2006)

S. Curtiss & H. Whitaker, Genie: A Psycholinguistic Study of a Modern-Day Wild Child (Academic Press, 1977).

C.L.W. Cleveland, The True Story of Kaspar Hauser, From Official Documents (1893)

Hypothesis Two: The Bicameral Mind

Proliferation of idols throughout ancient civilizations.

Idols and figurines were believed to be actual gods and served to elicit hallucinations.

Other scholars also believe ancient people thought the idols were animated by their gods during certain times of the day; protection from spirits.

W.M. Flinders Petrie, Prehistoric Egypt (J.L. Malter, 1974).

J. Mellaart, Earliest Civilizations of the Near East (Mcgraw–Hill, 1965).

H.W.F. Saggs, The Greatness That Was Babylon (Palgrave Macmillan, 1991).

Widespread use of oracles and divination.

Oracles and divination used to discern the will of the gods after the majority of people no longer were able to hear their voices.

Oracles were performances, akin to present day mediums, for political or monetary gain; trances were real, but caused by drugs or underground vapors.

M. Carr, “The Shi “Corpse/Personator” Ceremony In Early China,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).

Further reading:

E.R. Dodds,   The Greeks and the Irrational (University of Chicago Press, 1983).

A. Guillaume, Prophecy and Divination Among the Hebrews and Other Semites (New York: Harper, 1938).

Burial practices in ancient civilizations: corpses propped up; dead often buried with food, tools, and livestock.

The living continued to hallucinate the voices and commands of the dead and believed they were still participating in their lives.

Ancient civilizations did not understand concept of death.

M. Carr, “The Shi “Corpse/Personator” Ceremony In Early China” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).

Further reading:

E.R. Dodds,   The Greeks and the Irrational (University of Chicago Press, 1983).

V.W. Von Hagen, World of the Maya (New American Library, 1962).

V.W. Von Hagen, Realm of the Incas (New American Library, 1979).

W. Watson, Early Civilization in China (Thames & Hudson, 1966).

M. Wheeler, The Indus Civilization (Cambridge University Press, 1968).

L. Woolley, Ur of the Chaldees: A Revised and Updated Edition of Sir Leonard Woolley’s Excavations at Ur. (Cornell University Press, 1982).

Major role of hallucinations in the daily lives of people in primitive societies.

Hallucinations in primitive societies share similarities to those of bicameral societies.

None

Marcel Kuijsten, “Introduction,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) The Julian Jaynes Collection (Julian Jaynes Society, 2012).

Further reading:

Daniel L. Everett, Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazon Jungle (Vintage: 2009).

L. Levy-Bruhl, Primitive Mentality (Boston: Beacon Press, 1922/1975).

L. Levy-Bruhl, How Natives Think (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1926/1979).

Auditory hallucinations more common in normal population than previously believed.

Widespread occurrence of hallucinations provides further supporting evidence that, prior to the development of consciousness, hallucinations once were a normal part of mental functioning.

Abnormal brain functioning (no widely accepted explanation for the occurrence of hallucinations).

M. Kuijsten, “Consciousness, Hallucinations, and the Bicameral Mind: Three Decades of New Research,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).

J. Hamilton, “Auditory Hallucinations in Nonverbal Quadriplegics,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).

J. Sappington and J. Hamilton, “On Listening to Voices,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Gods, Voices, and the Bicameral Mind (Julian Jaynes Society, 2016).

Further reading:

P. Brugger, M. Regard, T. Landis, & O. Oelz, “Hallucinatory experiences in extreme-altitude climbers,” Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology, & Behavioral Neurology,1999, 12 (1), 67–71.

S. Escher, M. Romme, A. Buiks, P. Delespaul, and J. Van Os, “Independent Course of Childhood Auditory Hallucinations: A Sequential 3-year Follow-up Study,” The British Journal of Psychiatry, 2002, 181: s10-s18.

B. Greyson & M.B. Liester, “Auditory hallucinations following near-death experiences,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology,2004, 44: 320–336.

A. Grimby, “Hallucinations following the loss of a spouse: Common and normal events among the elderly,” Journal of Clinical Geropsychology,1998, Vol. 4 (1): 65–74.

C. McCreery & G. Claridge, “A study of hallucinations in normal subjects.” Personality & Individual Differences, 1996, 21 (5): 739–747.

D.S. Smith, Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Rethinking the History, Science, and Meaning of Auditory Hallucination (Penguin Press, 2007).

B. Vickers & E. Garralda, “Hallucinations in nonpsychotic children,” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2000, 39 (9), p. 1073.

Auditory hallucinations and imaginary companions in children.

Thought to often involve actual hallucinations, imaginary companions are a vestige of the bicameral mind (one’s “personal god”).

Imaginary companions merely vivid imagination; children have hallucinations for unknown reasons.

D. Pearson, A. Burrow, C. FitzGerald, K. Green, G. Lee, N. Wise, “Auditory hallucinations in normal child populations,” Personality & Individual Differences, Special Issue, 31(3), 2001, 401–407.

D. Pilowsky & W. Chambers (eds.), Hallucinations in Children (1986).

D.G. Singer & J.L. Singer, “Imaginary Playmates and Imaginary Worlds.” In Singer & Singer, The House of Make-Believe: Childrens Play and the Developing Imagination (1992), Ch. 5. See also pgs. 123–127, 278.

M. Taylor, Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them (1999).

Poets such as William Blake, John Milton, and many others inspired by hallucinations.

Inspired poetry is best explained as a vestige of the bicameral mind.

Many poets had symptoms of mental illness.

E. Proffitt, “Romanticism, Bicamerality, and the Evolution of the Brain,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Gods, Voices, and the Bicameral Mind (Julian Jaynes Society, 2016).

J. Weissman, “Evolution and Inspiration,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Gods, Voices, and the Bicameral Mind (Julian Jaynes Society, 2016).

Further reading:

C. Platt,  In Their Right Minds: The Lives and Shared Practices of Poetic Geniuses. (Imprint Academic, 2015).

J. Weissman,  Of Two Minds: Poets Who Hear Voices. (Wesleyan University Press, 1993).

Schizophrenia: Auditory hallucinations of a critical nature.

Patients suffering from schizophrenia experience a partial relapse to the bicameral mind.

Schizophrenia reflects chemical imbalances in the brain; no generally accepted theory on why schizophrenia occurs.

M. Kuijsten, “Consciousness, Hallucinations, and the Bicameral Mind: Three Decades of New Research,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).

Further reading:

R.W. Heinrichs,   In Search of Madness: Schizophrenia and Neuroscience (Oxford University Press, 2001).

A large percentage of patients with schizophrenia experience “command hallucinations.”

In the absence of consciousness, bicameral man hallucinated a commanding voice that instructed him in times of stress or decision-making.

No mainstream theory for command hallucinations.

M. Kuijsten, “Consciousness, Hallucinations, and the Bicameral Mind: Three Decades of New Research,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).

R. T. Hurlbert, “A Schizophrenic Woman Who Heard Voices of the Gods,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Gods, Voices, and the Bicameral Mind (Julian Jaynes Society, 2016).

Further reading:

T.M. Lee, S.A. Chong, Y.H. Chan, & G. Sathyadevan, “Command hallucinations among Asian patients with schizophrenia,” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 2004, 49 (12): 838-42.

D.E. McNiel, J.P. Eisner & R.L. Binder, “The relationship between command hallucinations and violence,” Psychiatric Services, 2000, Oct., 51:1288–1292.

Dreams in ancient times and in primitive tribes radically different from modern dreams; primarily consist of a visitation by a god or a spirit which issues a warning or command.

Difference in dreams reflects a fundamental difference in mentality (bicameral vs. conscious).

Issue is rarely even discussed.

J. Jaynes, “The Dream of Agamemnon” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) The Julian Jaynes Collection (Julian Jaynes Society, 2012).

R. Atwan, “The Interpretation of Dreams, The Origin of Consciousness, and the Birth of Tragedy”, in in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Gods, Voices, and the Bicameral Mind (Julian Jaynes Society, 2016).

Further reading:

E.R. Dodds,   The Greeks and the Irrational (University of Chicago Press, 1983).

W. V. Harris,   Dreams and Experience in Classical Antiquity (Harvard University Press, 2009).

L. Levy-Bruhl, Primitive Mentality (Boston: Beacon Press, 1922/1975).

Hypnosis: Modification of consciousness/behavioral control.

Relative ease with which consciousness can be altered/turned off supports bicameral mind theory.

Hypnosis doesn’t exist; hypnosis is not an altered mental state.

B. McVeigh, “The Self as Interiorized Social Relations: Applying a Jaynesian Approach to Problems of Agency and Volition,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).

Further reading:

A. Gauld,   A History of Hypnotism (Cambridge University Press, 1995).

E.R. Hilgard, Divided Consciousness: Multiple Controls in Human Thought and Action (John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1977/1986).

M. Orne, “The Nature of Hypnosis: Artifact and Essence,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1959, 58: 277–299.

Dissociation and hallucinations in religious figures.

Hallucinations of a religious nature are a vestige of the bicameral mind.

Actual contact with spirits/creator/divine entities.

M. Kuijsten, “Consciousness, Hallucinations, and the Bicameral Mind: Three Decades of New Research,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).

D.C. Stove, “The Oracles and Their Cessation: A Tribute to Julian Jaynes,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).

Further reading:

J. Gardner, Faiths of the World (Kessinger Publishing, 2003).

J. Knoll & B. Bachrach, “Medieval visions and contemporary hallucinations,” Psychological Medicine, 12(4), 1982, 709–722.

W.D. Morain, The Sword of Laban: Joseph Smith, Jr. and the Dissociated Mind (American Psychiatric Association, 1998).

Hypothesis Three: Dating the Development of Consciousness

Absence of consciousness-related language in the older sections of the Iliad. Actions in the Iliad commanded by the gods.

Older sections indicate lack of modern self-awareness in man during this time period. Decisions are made via hallucinated commands.

Absence of consciousness-related language does not indicate absence of consciousness; the gods in the Iliad are a literary device.

Homer’s Iliad

E.R. Dodds,   The Greeks and the Irrational (University of Chicago Press, 1983).

B. Snell,   The Discovery of the Mind: In Greek Philosophy and Literature (Dover Publications, 1982).

C. Starr, Origins of Greek Civilization: 1100-650 B.C. (W.W. Norton & Company, 1991).

J. Weissman,  Of Two Minds: Poets Who Hear Voices. (Wesleyan University Press, 1993, discussion of the Iliad and the Odyssey with relation to Jaynes’s theory).

Absence of consciousness-related language in the oldest books of The Old Testament such as Amos. Contrast with consciousness in later books such as Ecclesiastes.

Indicates lack of modern self-awareness in man during this time period.

Absence of consciousness-related language does not indicate absence of consciousness; literary style.

Bible. Contrast Amos (circa 800 B.C.) with Ecclesiastes (circa 200 B.C.).

Evolution of the words psyche, thumos, noos in ancient Greek. Thumos (‘motion’,’agitation’) comes to mean ’emotional soul.’ Noos (‘to see’) comes to mean ‘conscious mind.’

Demonstrates lack of consciousness in the Iliad.

Lack of words for consciousness does not imply lack of consciousness.

E.R. Dodds,   The Greeks and the Irrational (University of Chicago Press, 1983).

B. Snell,   The Discovery of the Mind: In Greek Philosophy and Literature (Dover Publications, 1982).

Evolution of the word shi in ancient China. From its original meaning of ‘corpse,’ shi came to mean ‘personator of a dead ancestor.’

The ancient practice of personation of the dead provides evidence that the people of Shang and early Zhou China actually heard the voices of their ancestors.

The Chinese practice of personating the dead is referred to as an unsolved puzzle.

M. Carr, “The Shi “Corpse/Personator” Ceremony In Early China,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).

Evolution of the word xin (‘heart, mind’) in ancient China.

The linguistic evidence in the Shijing supports the hypothesis that during the early Zhou period, people were losing unsubjective bicamerality and gaining subjective consciousness.

None

M. Carr, “Sidelights on Xin ‘Heart, Mind’ in the Shijing.” Proceedings of the 31st CISHAAN, Tokyo and Kyoto, 1983, 824-825. Summarized in M. Carr, “The Shi “Corpse/Personator” Ceremony In Early China,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).

Evolution of words relating to “mind” in ancient Tibet.

Linguistic evidence from Tibet supports the hypothesis that Tibet followed a similar transition from bicamerality to subjective consciousness.

None

T. Gibson, “Souls, Gods, Kings, and Mountains: Julian Jaynes’s Theory of the Bicameral Mind in Tibet, Part One” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Gods, Voices, and the Bicameral Mind (Julian Jaynes Society, 2016).

T. Gibson, “Listening for Ancient Voices: Julian Jaynes’s Theory of the Bicameral Mind in Tibet, Part Two,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Gods, Voices, and the Bicameral Mind (Julian Jaynes Society, 2016).

Hypothesis Four: Jaynes’s Neurological Model for the Bicameral Mind

Neuroimaging studies show right temporal-parietal lobe activity during auditory hallucinations.

Jaynes theorized that hallucinations in bicameral man originated in the right temporal-parietal lobe. This is the area that corresponds to the language areas of the left hemisphere.

N/A

M. Kuijsten, “Consciousness, Hallucinations, and the Bicameral Mind: Three Decades of New Research,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.) Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (Julian Jaynes Society, 2007).

Further reading:

L.A. Bentaleb, M. Beauregard, P. Liddle, E. Stip, “Cerebral activity associated with auditory verbal hallucinations: A functional magnetic resonance imaging case study,” Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, 2002, 27 (2), 110.

B.R. Lennox, S.B. Park, I. Medley, P.G. Morris, P.B. Jones, “The functional anatomy of auditory hallucinations in schizophrenia,” Psychiatry Research, 2000, 100(1):13-20.

B.R. Lennox, S. Bert, G. Park, P.B. Jones, P.G. Morris, “Spatial and temporal mapping of neural activity associated with auditory hallucinations,” Lancet, 1999, Vol. 353: 644.

S.S. Shergill, E. Bullmore, A. Simmons, R. Murray, P. McGuire, “Functional anatomy of auditory verbal imagery in schizophrenic patients with auditory hallucinations,” American Journal of Psychiatry, 2000, 157:1691–1693.

S.S. Shergill, M.J. Brammer, R. Fukuda, S.C. Williams, R.M. Murray, P.K. McGuire, Engagement of brain areas implicated in processing inner speech in people with auditory hallucinations,” British Journal of Psychiatry, 2003, June, 182:525-31.

S.S. Shergill, M.J. Brammer, E. Amaro, S.C. Williams, R.M. Murray, P.K. McGuire, “Temporal course of auditory hallucinations,” British Journal of Psychiatry, 2004, 185: 516–7.

Research from split-brain patients shows hemispheres can function so as to seem like two independent persons.

Bicameral man as well as modern schizophrenics perceive hallucinations, emanating from an independently acting right hemisphere, as coming from outside themselves.

N/A

J.E. Bogen, “The Other Side of the Brain: An Appositional Mind,” in R. Ornstein (ed.) The Nature of Human Consciousness (Viking, 1973).

M. Gazzaniga, “Principles of human brain organization derived from split brain studies,” Neuron,1995, 14, 217-228.

M. Gazzaniga, “Consciousness and the cerebral hemispheres,” in The Cognitive Neurosciences (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995, pgs. 1391–1400).

M. Gazzaniga, “The Split Brain in Man,” in R. Ornstein (ed.) The Nature of Human Consciousness (Viking, 1973).

R. Puccetti, “Two brains, two minds? Wigan’s theory of mental duality.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 1989, 40(2):137-144.

A.L. Wigan, The Duality of Mind (1844/1985, with new Foreword by Joseph E. Bogen).

Research from split-brain patients and patients with brain damage shows the right hemisphere has language ability.

Jaynes theorized that hallucinations in bicameral man originated in the right temporal lobe (area that corresponds to the language areas of the left hemisphere).

N/A

M. Gazzaniga, “Right hemisphere language following brain bisection: a 20-year perspective,” American Psychologist, 1983, May, 525–537.

Joseph, R. 1996. Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology, and Clinical Neuroscience. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

J.E. LeDoux, D.H. Wilson & M.S. Gazzaniga, “A divided mind: Observations on the conscious properties of the separated hemisphere,” Annals of Neurology,1977, 2, 417–421.

A. Searleman, “A review of right hemisphere linguistic capabilities,” Psychological Bulletin,1977, 84, 503–528.

Right temporal lobe epilepsy/excitation associated with increased religiosity/”God” experience.

Bicameral man interpreted hallucinations as “voices of the gods.”

Right temporal lobe has connections to areas associated with meaning in the brain; inborn neural circuitry for religious experience in the brain.

K. Dewhurst & A.W. Beard, “Sudden religious conversion in temporal lobe epilepsy,” British Journal of Psychiatry, 1970, 117, 497–507.

M. Persinger, Neuropsychological Bases of God Beliefs (Praeger Publishers, 1987, pgs. 9-22).

V.S. Ramachandran & S. Blakeslee,   Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1998)

M.R. Trimble, The Temporal Lobes and the Limbic System (England: Wrightson Biomedical, 1992).

Studies have found associations between the right hemisphere and negative emotion.

Hallucinations are often critical and condemnatory in nature. The right hemisphere tends to “look down on” the left hemisphere.

N/A

N.R. Carlson, Physiology of Behavior (Boston: Allyon and Bacon, 1998).

E. Perecman, Cognitive Processing in the Right Hemisphere (Perspectives in Neurolinguistics, Neuropsychology, and Psycholinguistics) (Academic Press, 1983).

Right hemisphere dominant for infusing prosody into language. Prosody is the rhythmic and intonational aspect of language. Emotional aspects of language a right hemisphere function.

Jaynes describes rhythmic nature of ancient hallucinations as well as in modern unmedicated schizophrenics.

N/A

R.K. Kretz, “The evolution of self-awareness: Advances in neurological understandings since Julian Jaynes’ ‘bicameral mind’.” Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences & Engineering, 2000, Vol 60 (12-B), pp. 6413.

D.M. Tucker, “Lateral brain function, emotion, and conceptualization,” Psychological Bulletin, 1981, 89(1), 19–46.