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Elephants in the Psychology Department: Overcoming Intellectual Barriers to Understanding Julian Jaynes's Theory

Brian J. McVeigh
In Marcel Kuijsten (ed.), Gods, Voices, and the Bicameral Mind: The Theories of Julian Jaynes (Julian Jaynes Society, 2016).


Few want to confront the pink elephants that crowd the classrooms, offices, and laboratories of psychology departments. Too many careers might be trampled on if the herd - i.e., hallucinations, spiritualist mediums, automatic writing, and poetic and religious frenzy - is directly met head-on. Better to account for those roaming elephants by attributing them to a few loose neurological wires within the individual's brain.

Consider the divine visitations accompanied by thundering voices heard by holy men, priests, and ordinary people in times past. Some of these were certainly literary inventions. However, given their ubiquity in the ancient world and mountain-moving historical impact, others were undoubtedly hallucinations. From the Old Testament to the Avesta (the ancient scriptures of Zoroastrianism), ancient religious texts are replete with divine voices commanding prophets. That the mind would be so organized as to allow something as astonishing as "hearing voices" is a wondrous fact apparently lost on not a few researchers. This is the point: one or two loose wires cannot explain all those pink elephants anymore than dinosaur fossils can be explained away as merely being oddly-shaped stones.