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Consciousness as a Look into the Supernatural

Eugene Subbotsky
SENTENTIA - European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2017, No. 1.


The hypothesis is analysed according to which consciousness is the ability to simultaneously live in two types of reality: perceived everyday reality and invisible magical reality. At some point around 100 thousands years ago, humans became aware of the inevitability of personal death and developed the idea of afterlife — the reality in which spirits of dead ancestors dwell. They also discovered that the spirits have unusual properties: they are invisible, immortal, can read people's minds and feed on smoke from burning sacrificed animals. Due to these discoveries humans became able to look at their everyday world from another perspective and were surprised that their world was designed very differently from the world of ancestral spirits. That was the moment when consciousness as we know it was born: the ability to view the everyday reality "out of the box", from the perspective of gods. This ability of reflection gave rise to new forms of behaviour: Executively controlled action and moral behaviour. Around 30 thousand years ago people developed the way to tangibly represent the invisible world of spirits through signs and symbols, such as cave paintings or figurines made from stone and bone. At the same time, or shortly afterwards, people started using symbolic means for utilitarian purposes, for example, for memorising the number of killed animals or manufactured items of clothes. Eventually, symbolic reality gives birth to written language and mathematics. But the emergence of consciousness, along with achievements, also created psychological problems. The main of these problems was keeping everyday and magical realities apart. In order to make this possible, humans developed a new psychological mechanism: the "effort of realities distinguishing" (ERD). It took millennia for the ERD to achieve the level of perfection it has in modern humans. Like the heartbeat, the ERD in modern humans is automatized and subconscious. Disturbances of the RDE reveal themselves in such forms as hallucinations or religious radicalism. Recent psychological studies showed that the early humans' belief in the supernatural lives on in the subconscious of modern rational people.


American philosopher Julian Jaynes hypothesised that approximately up to 1000 BC the people lacked the ability to reflect upon their own thoughts. In certain circumstances people took their own thoughts for voices of gods and obeyed these voices unconditionally. In other words, ancients experienced auditory hallucinations similar to those in today's schizophrenic patients. In this type of mind cognitive functions were divided between one part of the brain which appears to be "speaking", and a second part which listens and obeys, hence Jaynes called it a bicameral mind. For instance, the voices of gods that characters of Homer's Iliad heard was not a literary metaphor but an accurate description of the voices people of the times written about in Iliad heard. When the ability of selfreflection finally evolved people stopped hearing voices, however under serious mental conditions, such as schizophrenia, the ability of self-reflection gets blocked and the patients begin to hear voices, which they sometimes still attribute to gods.