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Introduction to Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness

Marcel Kuijsten
In Marcel Kuijsten (ed.), Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes's Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).


It has now been 30 years since Julian Jaynes first published The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. In it he presented his theory that consciousness was a learned process based on complex metaphorical language, developed after the advent of writing to handle the growing complexities of large societies and trade between differing cultures. Jaynes asserts that prior to the development of consciousness around the end of the second millennium B.C., humans operated under a previous mentality called the bicameral mind, referring to the brain's two hemispheres. When faced with a difficult decision or fight or flight situation, bicameral man experienced an auditory hallucination directing his action, much as modern schizophrenics do today. These hallucinations, the means by which the right hemisphere conveyed stored up experience in the form of behavioral commands to the left hemisphere, were interpreted as the voices of chiefs, rulers, or the gods. To support his theory, Jaynes draws evidence from a wide range of fields, including neuroscience, psychology, archeology, ancient history, and the analysis of ancient texts.