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Close-Mindedness and Mysticism in Science: Commentary on John Smythies's Review

Marcel Kuijsten
The Jaynesian, 2010, Volume 3, Issue 2.


In the decades after the publication of Julian Jaynes's book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, occasional criticisms emerged. In some cases Jaynes responded, but in many cases he did not. There were probably many reasons for this. Jaynes was at times frustrated by the fact that many of his critics had not read or at least not fully understood his ideas. Perhaps engaging critics was not his personality style. While understandable, in some sense it is unfortunate, as criticisms, if unaddressed, can leave some with the impression that they are valid.

I will be taking a more assertive role in countering criticisms and misconceptions. The book Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes's Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited is an important first step toward that end. The book clarifies and further illuminates many aspects of Jaynes's theory, extends his ideas to new areas, and counters criticisms.

In late 2007, John Smythies, a Cambridge educated neuroscientist now at the University of California San Diego's Center for Brain and Cognition, wrote a mostly negative review of Reflections (Smythies 2007). Smythies's criticisms are for the most part about Jaynes's theory in general, rather than the book specifically. I will address these criticisms in some detail here. While I do not expect to persuade Smythies, discussing his wide ranging comments may help clarify certain points of Jaynes's theory for others, as well as illustrate the persistence of both close-mindedness and "New Age" mysticism in science.