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The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

The Origin of Consciousness
in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

by Princeton University psychologist Julian Jaynes
Houghton Mifflin/Mariner Books (1976, 2000)

If you are new to Julian Jaynes's theory, start by reading his book, along with Gods, Voices, and the Bicameral Mind, The Julian Jaynes Collection and Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness.

"When Julian Jaynes...speculates that until late in the second millennium B.C. men had no consciousness but were automatically obeying the voices of gods, we are astounded but compelled to follow this remarkable thesis through all the corroborative evidence..."

- John Updike, in The New Yorker

"This book and this man's ideas may be the most influential, not to say controversial, of the second half of the twentieth century. It renders whole shelves of books obsolete."

- William Harrington, in Columbus Dispatch

"Having just finished The Origin of Consciousness, I myself feel something like Keats' Cortez staring at the Pacific, or at least like the early reviewers of Darwin or Freud. I'm not quite sure what to make of this new territory; but its expanse lies before me and I am startled by its power."

- Edward Profitt, in Commonweal

"He is as startling as Freud was in The Interpretation of Dreams, and Jaynes is equally adept at forcing a new view of known human behavior."

- Raymond Headlee, in American Journal of Psychiatry

"The bold hypothesis of the bicameral mind is an intellectual shock to the reader, but whether or not he ultimately accepts it he is forced to entertain it as a possibility. Even if he marshals arguments against it he has to think about matters he has never thought of before, or, if he has thought of them, he must think about them in contexts and relationships that are strikingly new."

- Ernest R. Hilgard, Professor of Psychology, Stanford University

"The weight of original thought in it is so great that it makes me uneasy for the author's well-being: the human mind is not built to support such a burden."

- D.C. Stove, in Encounter

"Daring and brilliant ... well worth reading by any person interested in theories of human learning and behavior, in theory devleopment, and in seeing a scholarly, fertile and original thinker at work."

- Martin Levit, Professor of Education, in Educational Studies

"An exciting, ingenious, heavily documented, beautifully written ... theory of the development of human consciousness."

- George Adelman, M.I.T. Neuroscience Research Program, in Library Journal


At the heart of this book is the revolutionary idea that human consciousness did not begin far back in animal evolution but is a learned process brought into being out of an earlier hallucinatory mentality by cataclysm and catastrophe only 3,000 years ago and still developing. The implications of this new scientific paradigm extend into virtually every aspect of our psychology, our history and culture, our religion - and indeed, our future. In the words of one reviewer, it is "a humbling text, the kind that reminds most of us who make our livings through thinking, how much thinking there is left to do."

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Presents a theory of the bicameral mind which holds that ancient peoples could not "think" as we do today and were therefore "unconscious," a result of the domination of the right hemisphere; only catastrophe forced mankind to "learn" consciousness, a product of human history and culture and one that issues from the brain's left hemisphere. Three forms of human awareness, the bicameral or god-run man; the modern or problem-solving man; and contemporary forms of throwbacks to bicamerality (e.g., religious frenzy, hypnotism, and schizophrenia) are examined in terms of the physiology of the brain and how it applies to human psychology, culture, and history.

*    *    *

"O, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind! What ineffable essences, these touchless rememberings and unshowable reveries! And the privacy of it all! A secret theater of speechless monologue and prevenient counsel, an invisible mansion of all moods, musings, and mysteries, an infinite resort of disappointments and discoveries. A whole kingdom where each of us reigns reclusively alone, questioning what we will, commanding what we can. A hidden hermitage where we may study out the troubled book of what we have done and yet may do. An introcosm that is more myself than anything I can find in a mirror. This consciousness that is myself of selves, that is everything, and yet is nothing at all - what is it?
And where did it come from?
And why?"

— excerpt from the Introduction to The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

Other translations:

Origin of Consciousness French translation

French. La Naissance de la Conscience dans L'Effondrement de L'Esprit. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. 1994.

Origin of Consciousness German

German. Der Ursprung des Bewusstseins durch den Zusamnenbruch der Bicameralen Psych. Reinbek: Rowohlt. 1988.

Origin of Consciousness Italian translation

Italian. Il Crollo della Mente Bicamerale e L'origine della Coscienza. Milano: Adelphi. 1984.

Origin of Consciousness Persian translation

Persian. Translator: Saeed Homayouni, ISBN: 978-964-312-948-4, 2010.

Origin of Consciousness Spanish translation

Spanish. El Origen de la Conciencia en la Ruptura de la Mente Bicameral. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Economica. 1987.

Origin of Consciousness Persian translation

South Korean. Publisher: Yeonamseoga, 2017.