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Alone in the Country of the Mind: The Origin of Julian Jaynes (Interview with Julian Jaynes)

Richard Rhodes
Quest, 1978, 62, 71-78.
Reprinted in Marcel Kuijsten (ed.), The Julian Jaynes Collection (Julian Jaynes Society, 2012).


There is another kind of life, one not much lived anymore: a life of privacy and contemplation, a life sustained behind a single purpose pursued through decades. Its cost is loneliness and perhaps isolation. Its gain, whether it proceeds to obscurity or to triumph, is clarity, and resolution is its goal.

Julian Jaynes, a 54-year-old bachelor and research psychologist at Princeton University, has lived such a life, and it has served him well. Its latest result is a book, imposingly titled The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Published to no great fanfare in January 1977, the book is quietly running away to underground success - it approaches its sixth printing, with more than 20,000 copies already sold. In it, Jaynes attempts to solve an old and elusive problem, the problem of human consciousness and its origin in evolution or in time. Animals, even primates, don't introspect: men do. But when did they begin? The interior 'I' stares out on the world, looks back inward, reflects. A woman frowns and inwardly she is smiling. At our order the past returns for revision, we rehearse the future in simulations that branch like trees, daydreams sweeten our afternoons. Hardly any professionals in the twentieth century have wondered why, or how - psychology having retreated instead to illusions of mathematical rigor, to ambitions of mere control. Jaynes has wondered why since the sixth year of his life, and now he believes he knows.