E-mail Address:

| | | | | | |

Facebook   Twitter   YouTube   Goodreads

< Julian Jaynes Society Publication Index
< Directly Related Articles

The Origin of Consciousness, Gains and Losses: Walker Percy vs. Julian Jaynes

Laura Mooneyham White
Language and Communication: An Interdisciplinary Journal, July 1993, 13, 3.
Reprinted in Marcel Kuijsten (ed.), Gods, Voices, and the Bicameral Mind: The Theories of Julian Jaynes (Julian Jaynes Society, 2016).


In 1978, three years after the publication of Walker Percy's collection of essays on language and our existential situation, The Message in the Bottle, the Princeton psychologist Julian Jaynes published his startling theory about the origin of human consciousness in his The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Neither of these thinkers about consciousness and language, Percy or Jaynes, has been influenced by the other, but nonetheless there is an extraordinary consanguinity between their positions. Beyond the striking parallels between their ideas, moreover, we find an even more interesting divergence, for though Jaynes and Percy agree in many essentials about the nature of both language and consciousness, Jaynes holds to a materialist interpretation of events, events which for Percy cry out for metaphysical explanation. To analyze, as this essay will do, both the and Percy is to illuminate two strikingly similar contemporary systems of belief, one rigorously devoted to transcendent explanations, the other a rigorously devoted to the undermining of the same.