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The Brain-Mind Relation, Religious Evolution, and Forms of Consciousness: An Exploratory Statement

Doyle Paul Johnson
Sociological Analysis, Spring 1988, 49 (1): 52-65.


It is proposed that Julian Jaynes's theory of the evolutionary transition from a bicameral mind to consciousness (The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, 1976) corresponds roughly to Robert Bellah's "historic" stage of religious evolution (see SA 12:8/64B3726). This synthesis provides a perspective for relating the physiological level of brain organization, the subjective level of religious experience and consciousness, and large-scale patterns of social organization and change. Jaynes's model of language and brain processes is compared briefly with our contemporary understanding (derived from George Herbert Mead and others) of the internal conversations that are part of the subjective experience. As an alternative to evolutionism, it is suggested that both Jaynes's and Bellah's theories can be applied to alternative forms of mentality that may exist in any historical stage with varying degrees of acceptance. A major distinction among different people in this regard is their need for external authority and their self-autonomy, especially in coping with stress.