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Reflections on Julian Jaynes's The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

James E. Morriss
ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, 1978, 35, 3.
Reprinted in Marcel Kuijsten (ed.), Gods, Voices, and the Bicameral Mind: The Theories of Julian Jaynes (Julian Jaynes Society, 2016).


Aristotle defined man as the living being who has "logos." This definition has become canonical in the statement that man is the "animal rational," a creature distinguished from all others by his capacity for thought. Although the word "logos" embodies the concept of thought, its primary meaning is language.1 If Aristotle believed man's uniqueness lay in his ability to create language, Western philosophy did not consider this a central issue in its explorations of human awareness. Neither has language been a primary focus in psychology's old debate over the nature of consciousness. This may be changing, however, for Julian Jaynes, a psychologist with a strong philosophical bent, has drawn language into the center of the consciousness controversy with The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. In this beautifully written and carefully documented book, Jaynes suggests that man's uniqueness lies not only in his ability to create language but in the profound effect language has had on man. However, before considering this work, I want to try placing in perspective the issues with which it deals.