Born in West Newton, Massachusetts, Julian Jaynes did his undergraduate work at Harvard and McGill and received both his master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from Yale. After Yale, Jaynes spent several years in England working as an actor and playwright. Jaynes later returned to the states, and lectured in psychology at Princeton University from 1966 to 1990, teaching a popular class on consciousness for much of that time. In addition, he had numerous positions as Visiting Lecturer or Scholar in Residence in departments of philosophy, English, and archeology and in numerous medical schools. Julian Jaynes was an associate editor of the internationally renowned journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences and on the editorial board of the Journal of Mind and Behavior.
Julian Jaynes published widely, his earlier work focusing on the study of animal behavior and ethology, which eventually led him to the study of human consciousness. His more recent work culminated in 1976 in his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, a nominee for the National Book Award in 1978. Articles on Jaynes’s theory appeared in Time magazine and Psychology Today in 1977. Criticized by some and acclaimed by others as one of the most important books of the 20th century, it remains as controversial today as when it was first published. Expanding on this book are several more recent articles published in a variety of journals such as Canadian Psychology, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, The History of Ideas, and Art/World.
He was in high demand as a lecturer, and was frequently invited to lecture at conferences and as a guest lecturer at other universities, including Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Rutgers, Dalhousie, Wellesley, Florida State, the Universities of New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Prince Edward Island, and Massachusetts at Amherst and Boston Harbor. In 1984 he was invited to give the plenary lecture at the Wittgenstein Symposium in Kirchberg, Austria. He gave six major lectures in 1985 and nine in 1986. He was awarded an honorary Ph.D. by Rhode Island College in 1979 and another from Elizabethtown College in 1985.
After he retired from teaching at Princeton University, Jaynes went to live at his home on Prince Edward Island. He died of a stroke on November 21, 1997 in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Jaynes donated funding for scholarships and conferences to the University of Prince Edward Island. He also donated his extensive psychology library to the Psychology Department there. The Dr. Julian Jaynes Memorial Scholarship in Psychology was established at the University of Prince Edward Island to create a lasting memorial to a renowned psychologist and author, in tribute to his achievement, and in respect of his wish to support and encourage young people in the study of psychology. The Julian Jaynes Conference on Consciousness was organized by Professor Scott Greer and has featured speakers such as Daniel Dennett, Michael Gazzaniga, Richard Restak, Karl Pribram, and many others.
In June 2013, The Julian Jaynes Society Conference on Consciousness and Bicameral Studies was held in Charleston, West Virginia. This was the largest conference entirely dedicated to Julian Jaynes’s theory on consciousness and the bicameral mind ever held. The multidisciplinary program featured 26 speakers over three full days, including keynote talks by Professor Roy Baumeister, Professor Merlin Donald, and Dr. Dirk Corstens, and was entirely dedicated to exploring various aspects of Jaynes’s theory. The conference brought together Jaynes enthusiasts from around the U.S. as well as Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, Thailand, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.