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The Origin of Consciousness

Julian Jaynes
In David Krech (ed.), The MacLeod Symposium (Ithaca: Cornell Department of Psychology, 1973).
Reprinted in Marcel Kuijsten (ed.), The Julian Jaynes Collection (Julian Jaynes Society, 2012).


In the course of trying to understand the evolution of the mind, I had for a long time been developing various notes and evidence about a new theory of consciousness. But when Robbie MacLeod invited me to bring them together into some kind of public coherence for an address to the APA three years ago, I had reservations. For one thing, I would have liked to have waited for more evidence. And for another, to confess such an involvement with such a taboo subject as consciousness in a world of successful behaviorism was to court its dismissal and scorn. But such was the encouragement of Robbie's request and my trust in his quiet judgment, that I ventured out with my ideas, as I do again in slightly fuller sail this morning.

First of all, let me say that in the problem itself there is a kind of reticence. For how can we think or talk about consciousness? When we try to do so, we are trying to be conscious of consciousness, and is this possible? In any such instance, when what something is, is so elusive and difficult, it is good to begin by saying what that something is not.

Most importantly, consciousness is not nearly as extensive as our language and culture have led us to think it is. ...