The Myth of “Pure Consciousness”

The Belief in a Fundamental Psychic Process Hinders Progress in Psychology

“If understanding a thing is arriving at a familiarizing metaphor for it, then we can see that there always will be a difficulty in understanding consciousness. For it should be immediately apparent that there is not and cannot be anything in our immediate experience that is like immediate experience itself. There is therefore a sense in which we shall never be able to understand consciousness in the same way that we can understand things that we are conscious of” (Jaynes 1976, p. 53).

I have often wondered why so many well-credentialed researchers continue to bark up the wrong tree in their quest to understand consciousness. Many reasons could be offered, but in a recent discussion on the “Julian Jaynes — The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” Facebook page someone brought up Jaynes’s aforementioned quote. The perspicacity of this citation has always haunted me. After some contemplation it occurred to me that one reason so many struggle to grasp Jaynes is because of their premise that consciousness is a sort of stand-alone psychic force or stuff that can animate our minds the way blood infuses our bodies. In other words, some of us believe in the existence of “pure consciousness” or experience unqualified by conception, association, or immediate apprehension. Whatever “pure consciousness” is, the assumption is that it can be cleanly detached from the psyche in the same way early scientists attempted to isolate the essence of life in a test tube (vitalism). Most researchers, I suspect, do not explicitly know their projects are distorted by this erroneous presumption. And that’s a big problem, because if we are not mindful of our background presuppositions we can never interrogate and test their validity. The belief in an innate, primary psychic process, untainted by empirical experience, hinders progress in psychology.

The Disguises of Consciousness

Can the “I” directly encounter some sheer essence of cognition (whatever that is)? Can one think without thinking? Can one perceive without perceiving? Can one experience without experiencing? Can information be stripped down to an informationless version so that the flow of data is somehow untouched and untreated by the immediacy of the real world? Is there consciousness without content? An experience of experience? I do not think there is since psychological processes by their very nature demand content of some sort, i.e., they require input from the environment.

In the same way there is no such thing as valueless numbers, waterless oceans, or lightless sunbeams, there is no such thing as contentless consciousness. We use the term consciousness as a convenient, ambiguous abstraction, an imprecise generality; its experience arises from a vague, intuitive sentiment. Few of us seriously consider its actual nature, and when we do, we have a tendency to entangle it in perception, thinking, and other psychological processes. This allows consciousness to disguise itself, thereby confusing us about its actual nature. But in the same way we can never discover pure numberness, we can never find unadulterated consciousness. Psyche cannot be distilled down into some quintessence. No fundamental nature of mentation is to be discovered, as if psychological processes possess a substance-like distillate. There is no extract of mind. And yet this appears to be the premise of many research projects investigating consciousness.

Consciousness as a Convenience

Any type of experience, no matter how unprocessed and unmodified, requires an experiencer. But if even the notion of uncontaminated and unsullied consciousness has validity, it implies that someone or something must be registering the experience. Though the “I” of Jaynesian consciousness might seem a candidate for an inner person-like entity that records experience, we need to remember that like other contents of consciousness, it is a product of the machinery of mentation and lacks complete objective detachment from the world.

As an analogy, consider the elements constituting perception: (1) a perceiver (experiencer); (2) perceiving (experiencing); and a (3) percept (the experienced). Is it possible to isolate these three aspects, as if uncontaminated sensation floats about, existing among the three elements? For analytical purposes, yes, but such a maneuver is methodological (for research purposes) and does not mean they can be ontologically disentangled from each other. This point applies to consciousness.

Or consider meditation. This exercise prioritizes our thoughts, provides perspective, and de-emotionalizes our stormy waters of the mind. It may seem as if an “I” were doing the meditation. In reality, however, it is our mind’s tireless stagehands working backstage, supporting a provisional “I.” This subject self is recreated second-by-second in our mental theater, creating the illusion that an executive, in-charge, directing egoic, “I” is the star of the show.

The Benefits of “Pure Consciousness”?

Of course, pure consciousness may exist (in the same way that God may exist), but as of now it is difficult to scientifically demonstrate this. It is not my prerogative to dismiss clients or individuals who claim to have encountered pure consciousness (sort of like the unconditioned “original mind” of Buddhism), anymore than it is my business to argue with them about the existence of God. If some experience or belief helps someone deal with the overwhelming terror is sometimes reality, that is a good thing. Along these lines, Jungian psychology has of late garnered much attention. Despite Jung’s intellectual influence, I do not accept his claims about the collective unconscious and archetypes. However, if these provide growth and guidance for an individual, so much the better.

Q&A on Julian Jaynes’s Theory plus “Conversations on Consciousness and the Bicameral Mind” Book Discussion

Join us for a 90-minute Q&A session with Boban Dedovic, Marcel Kuijsten, Brian McVeigh, Ted Remington, Bill Rowe, Jan Sleutels, and Laurence Sugarman. We will do our best to answer all of your questions on Julian Jaynes’s theory as well as on our latest book, Conversations on Consciousness and the Bicameral Mind.

Have questions about Jaynes’s theory? Do you still have lingering questions after reading Conversations on Consciousness and the Bicameral Mind? This is your opportunity to have them answered directly by the interviewees themselves.

This online event will be held on Saturday, November 5th, 2022 at 1pm Pacific/4pm Eastern/8pm GMT.

Free and open to the public (RSVP required).

More info and RSVP here: https://www.julianjaynes.org/event/qa-on-conversations-on-consciousness/

JJS members can RSVP directly (must be logged in).

Non-members can RSVP by sending us an Event RSVP message.

A link to join the event will be sent to all RSVPs.

Buy Conversations on Consciousness and the Bicameral Mind – on sale now.

Animal Minds? Yes. Animal Consciousness? No.

The Fallacy of “Animal Consciousness” Is Reflected in Popular Scientific Journalism

It always astounds me when people express surprise at the psychological sophistication of animals. Their amazement seems premised on the assumption that an organism either has a mind or does not. A misguided corollary of this idea sometimes heard is that if an organism possesses a mind, it therefore must be endowed with human-like (or at least a near-human type of) conscious interiority. The closer an animal is to the human family (e.g., chimpanzees) the more hope there is that we can communicate with it. And of course canine companions and feline friends that moved in with human families many millennia ago are believed to share human emotions.

What Is “Mind” Anyway?

Let’s begin with a discussion of mind to get our theoretical bearings. Mind has two aspects that need to be appreciated when assessing a particular organism’s psychological abilities: Internal and external. The former describes an animal’s neurological apparatus (in which mental capabilities are grounded) and aptic structures (Jaynes’s term for instincts). How to measure an organism’s mental capabilities is debatable. We might start with the number of neurons: 200 for a tardigrade, 2,253,000,000 for a dog, 33,400,000,000 for a gorilla, 86,000,000,000 for a human, 257,000,000,000 for an elephant. Actually an investigation of an organism’s brain size is not a very good measurement of mental capabilities, since neurostructures and interconnections count for a lot more when it comes to what is commonly called intelligence (the current best predictor is the number of neurons in the forebrain).

Matters become even more complicated when we take into account how neurological hardware interacts with the external aspect of a mind. Here “external” means the environment into which an organism is born and presumably for which it has been evolutionarily designed. Besides providing nutrients, ecological surroundings trigger aptic structures and epigenetic processes. A complex neuro-ecological dynamic exists between the world and neurostructures, and the species in question determines what type of interaction transpires between its neurosystem and its ecological niche. Especially for Homo sapiens the external aspect plays a crucial role in survival and adaptation. While some animals do use tools, on this score modern humans are par excellence implement handlers; they not only utilize tools, they also manufacture them. People do more than just manipulate their environment; they build and repurpose their surroundings in an astounding manner light years ahead of any other known organism.

The Myth of “Animal Consciousness”

Popular scientific articles regularly appear with headlines conveying astonishment that animals might have minds and even consciousness. In “What is consciousness like for other animals and when did it evolve?” it is suggested that observable behavior, such as play, requires some form of conscious awareness, and that because animals engage in relatively complex activities, they must possess an “inner life.” Again, animals undoubtedly have complex minds, but no evidence exists to indicate they are conscious. Some researchers make gigantic leaps of faith without any real support. Consider “The Surprisingly Sophisticated Mind of an Insect.” This is a wonderful example of what’s wrong in certain quarters of comparative psychology. The assumption is that if an organism has a neurological apparatus, such as an ant’s 250,000 neurons, it has a mind, and if a mind, then conscious (whatever that is; it’s not clearly defined in this article so it could be perception, reacting to environmental stimuli, cognitive representations, mental imagery, etc.). In this article we learn that “‘Animals need to know what their movements are and what is happening in the world’ … That gives rise to an experience, which is the fundamental building block of consciousness.” Claiming that “experience” equals conscious is not scientifically useful. We also learn that “Even bacteria know kinds of pain and pleasure — they are hardwired to swim toward some signals but away from others.” The article states that it’s anthropocentric to assume that humans are the only conscious creatures. So animals, even insects, must have it too. The irony is that article’s argument is actually anthropocentric since it is projecting human consciousness into animals. To be clear, I agree with this article’s title that insect minds are sophisticated; but that does not mean they are the same as human minds any more than because I have ears and a nose my hearing and olfactory abilities are on par with my dog’s.

In “Assume that animals have feelings too, say cognitive biologists” it is pointed out that while researchers believe animals have emotions (basic physio-behavioral responses related to adaptation and survival), the question of whether they possess “feelings” is more debatable. While the emotional life of animals (in particular mammals) is more much subtle and complex than we often assume, it is highly doubtful that animals have “feelings” per Jaynes (i.e., consciously interiorized affects). The problem is how we define “feelings” (here we can see how our current terminology is inadequate for the scientific challenges at hand). In “A Two-tiered Theory of Emotions” Jaynes described feelings when he argued that the “new human capacity” — consciousness — stretches out affects over an imaginary spatialized time. This allows us to “dwell on past behaviors or on possible future behaviors and respond to them as if they were presently occurring, with copies of the affects themselves.” There’s no ethological evidence that animals can do this.

Minds and Mirrors

An oft-cited piece of “evidence” that at least primates possess near-human consciousness are accounts of them reacting to themselves in mirrors. But a world of difference separates stimulus-response cognition (a monkey “recognizing” its body in a mirror) versus a person conceptually “recognizing” his or her self. Despite their psychological sophistication, a primate lacks the complex, convoluted, highly symbolic understanding of self that humans acquire over years of socialization. The reason is simple, but one apparently lost on some highly trained people who should know better: A primate is not neurologically equipped to be enculturated like a person. This means that any mental representation of self they might possess operates only in a cognitively primitive, elemental dimension by human standards; the representation simply cannot symbolically recruit other associations to form semantic networks that undergird narratives, definitions of selfhood informed by collective experiences, linguo-conceptualizations, etc. Primate minds are not human minds, any more than elephant trunks are human noses.

See also: Myth 9: “Gordon Gallup’s ‘mirror test’ measures consciousness”

Test Your Knowledge of Jaynes’s Theory!

Test your knowledge of Julian Jaynes’s theory by taking these three new quizzes:

Quiz 1: Basic Knowledge

Quiz 2: Intermediate Concepts

Quiz 3: Advanced Concepts

Each quiz contains additional resources on the results page where one can go to learn more about the question topics.

Quizzes designed by Marcel Kuijsten and Brian J. McVeigh.

Consciousness Is the Word Preventing People from Understanding Jaynesian Psychology

How Jaynes Grappled with Describing This Word Illustrates What He Meant

For many (mis)interpreters of Jaynes, the word consciousness acts as blank canvas upon which they draw and impose their own definitions of what they assume Jaynes meant by this term. The result is serious misunderstanding and a distortion of his arguments.

How to clear up the confusion? The obvious place to start is to look for how Jaynes himself defined consciousness in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (pp. 55, 65‒66). These definitions are fleshed out in an essential but much overlooked section of his book in which Jaynes explains six features of consciousness (pp. 59‒65). In a 1990 Afterword to his book, Jaynes added two more features (I have expanded this list with several of my own features). It is also vital to note well what he did not mean by consciousness (pp. 27‒44). Another commonsensical thing to do is to carefully read Jaynes in his own words rather than getting him through second-hand accounts, reviews, commentaries, critiques, etc.

Examining Jaynes’s Own Words

An analysis of how Jaynes advanced his theories using other terminology besides “consciousness” reveals what this word meant to him. Several points stand out. First, the frequency of “subjective” is salient. Its cognates appear about one hundred times (Table 1). While not quite as precise as qualia (a philosophical term he did not use; it refers to the introspectively accessible, phenomenal aspects of our mental lives), “subjective,” like qualia, denotes first-person, quasi-sensory experientiality (what I term introception to describe the conscious counterpart of perception). One is tempted to wonder what would have happened if Jaynes had used “subjective” rather than consciousness in his book title. I strongly suspect this would have aided readers in appreciating his arguments. With all due deference to Prof. Jaynes, consider the ring of The Origin of Subjectivity in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind or The Origin of Subjective Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Since we’re on the topic, other titles that come to mind are The Non-evolutionary Origins of Subjectivity, The Cultural Invention of Subjectivity, or The Historical Invention of Subjectivity.

Table 1. The Frequency of the Cognate “Subjective.”

Expression Frequency
nonsubjective (dialogues) 1
nonsubjective manner 1
protosubjective 1
protosubjective consciousness 1
subconscious 2
subjective 4
subjective (phases in linguistic development) 4
subjective act 1
subjective age 2
subjective categories 1
subjective conscious man 2
subjective conscious mind 9
subjective consciousness 23
subjective era 3
subjective experience 1
subjective feelings 1
subjective groping 1
subjective identity 1
subjective men 1
subjective mentality 1
subjective mind-space 2
subjective outcroppings 1
subjective phenomena 1
subjective phenomenon (of spirit possession) 1
subjective sadness 1
subjective Saul 2
subjective side 1
subjective states 1
subjective thinking 1
subjective thought 3
subjective uncertainties 1
subjective view 1
subjective world 2
subjectively 1
subjectively conscious 1
subjectively conscious people 1
subjective-self 1
subjectivity 15
ultra-subjective Upanishads 1
unsubjective past 1
unsubjective times 1

The second point is Jaynes’s use of words that indicate the metaphorical meaning of interiority when attempting to conceptualize consciousness (33 expressions) (Table 2). Like subjectivity, the connotation of inner-ness caries a quasi-perceptual sense of an imaginary spatiality centered within the person. In my own writing I have introduced “conscious interiority” as a way to alert the reader that I am referring to Jaynes’s use of consciousness. Like introcosm (a word Jaynes used twice) “interiority” resonates with an inner, imagined location (incidentally, I have also employed the rococo “subjective introspectable self-awareness” whose wordiness is intended to drive home the meaning).

Table 2. The Frequency of Expressions Denoting “Interior.”

Expression Frequency
inner experience 2
inner kingdoms 1
inner mind-space 1
inner space 1
“inner” worlds (conscious) 1
interior (spatial) 1
interior ‘space’ 1
interior dialogues 1
interior mind-space 1
interior self/selves 2
interiority of consciousness 1
interiorization of attribution 1
introcosm 2
introspectable (what is) 2
introspection(s) 10
introspective data 1
introspective psychologists/psychology 2
introspectively 2

Finally, we should pay attention to how Jaynes modified nouns with “conscious,” creating compounds. Not infrequently he prefixed conscious with “subjective” (e.g., subjectively conscious, subjective conscious mind, subjective consciousness) (Table 3; the frequency of the adverbial form — “consciously” — and conscious sans a modified noun are not listed). 

Table 3. The Frequency of Compound Expressions with “Conscious.”

Expression Frequency
conscious age 1
conscious archaism 1
conscious articulate 1
conscious attention 2
conscious automata (T. H. Huxley) 1
conscious automaton 1
conscious causations 1
conscious component 1
conscious concentration 1
conscious conception of time 1
conscious connotation 1
conscious contrition 1
conscious decision 1
conscious deduction 1
conscious desire 1
conscious entities 1
conscious experience 3
conscious expression 1
conscious faculties 1
conscious familiarity 1
conscious fantasy 1
conscious functioning 2
conscious future 1
conscious habit 1
conscious human (beings) 3
conscious imagery 1
conscious induction 1
conscious “inner” worlds 1
conscious landscape 1
conscious life 1
conscious lives 1
conscious logic 1
conscious man 5
conscious mechanism 1
conscious memory 1
conscious men 8
conscious mentality 1
conscious mind 10
conscious models 1
conscious narratization 2
conscious nonhallucinating robbers 1
conscious objects 1
conscious of consciousness 2
conscious people 2
conscious period(s) 3
conscious plans 1
conscious poet 2
conscious populace 1
conscious portions 1
conscious process 3
conscious psyche 1
conscious psychology 1
conscious reason(ing) 2
conscious recitation 1
conscious referrents 1
conscious reminiscence 1
conscious retrospection 1
conscious Saul 1
conscious self/selves 4
conscious self-control 1
conscious self-reflective men 1
conscious spatialization 1
conscious stage of mind 1
conscious subjective mind-space 1
conscious subjective word 1
conscious thought 2
conscious time 1
conscious way 2
conscious world 1

Other relevant terms Jaynes utilized are preconscious hypostases (sixteen times), preconscious innocence (once), preconscious mentality (twice), and preconscious mind (once). Note that he did not use preconscious in the Freudian sense. To describe consciousless cognition he used nonconscious ten times, nonconsciously once, unconscious 31 times, and unconsciously seven times. He uses consciousless expressions in the Freudian sense only in about two or three places. Other relevant terms that might be mentioned include aware (ten times), awareness (six times), and self-awareness (twice). Finally, he verbified the word conscious four times (“consciousized”).

Keep It Simple and Just Say Jaynesian Consciousness

When all is said and done, it remains a challenge to discuss with others a Jaynesian perspective when the most fundamental concept of his intellectual contribution — consciousness — is misunderstood. Jaynes was more than clear in his writings and lectures that he was talking about a specific form of mentation that is not perception, thinking, learning, and any other psychological processes commonly confused with consciousness. In any case, after much consideration this writer has concluded that, in order to preclude confusion and for the sake of clarity, it is probably advisable to rely on “Jaynesian consciousness” when debating with others about the merits of Jaynes’s hypotheses.  

Julian Jaynes Is Not for the Intellectually Fainthearted

But Breaking Jaynesian Psychology Down into Four Hypotheses Makes Things Easier

I first encountered Julian Jaynes’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind almost 45 years ago. Though the book made sense to me, I could see why people would reject its arguments. Nevertheless I assumed that once carefully explained, people may not agree but would at least be able to discern a certain logic behind Jaynesian psychology. How naïve I was.

It has been an uphill battle and many years later I am more realistic about convincing others of the validity of Jaynes’s arguments. In other words, I am not particularly hopeful that many people can be persuaded of what Jaynes had to say. To me what seems blindingly obvious is apparently not so clear to others. I hasten to add that this has nothing to do with one’s intelligence or academic accomplishments, since many well-credentialed commentators still regularly misinterpret Jaynes. Rather it involves the challenge of looking at matters from a different angle, such as interrogating the assumption that the ability to experience consciousness was evolutionarily baked into our neuroanatomy.  

Why should understanding Jaynes be so hard? Again, one does not have to agree with Jaynes. But before dismissing his ideas, we are obligated to first understand them before we critique them. There are numerous reasons why Jaynes is difficult to intellectually digest, but here I highlight two. The first and biggest obstacle concerns one word that has been rendered useless in both the academic and popular scientific literature: Consciousness. Jaynes clearly defines what he means by this term but this is apparently neglected for some reason, even by those who claim to have read his book. I will not discuss this issue here as it has been addressed in many other places. I will only point out that Jaynes is easy to give up on if you do not know what he meant by the single word “consciousness.”

Another deterrent is the sheer range of topics Jaynes covers. It is his adventurous tour through archaeology, linguistics, religious history, psychology, and neurology that many serious academics no doubt find off-putting. Audaciously delving into so many fields with which presumably the average reader is unfamiliar can be a hindrance. Truly he is not for the intellectually timorous, those who like bumper-sticker science (i.e., short and sweet), or the typical scholar who is trained to climb the ladder of academic success by specialization, subspecialization, etc., so that each individual tree is clearly seen standing but the expansive canopy of the forest disappears.

We might also add that perhaps Jaynes’s conversational writing style comes off as simplifying what are regarded as complicated issues. But don’t let his informal and relaxed tone fool you; he sets the reader up for startling conclusions driven by a relentless, highly organized line of reasoning, theoretical clarity and coherency, and a boldness of thought rarely matched in much of the scholarly psychological literature.  

The Four Hypotheses: Making the Jaynesian Paradigm Manageable

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Carl Sagan reworded and popularized the French astronomer, physicist, and mathematician Pierre Simon Laplace’s (1749–1827) principle that “the weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.” In other words, big theories require big data. But we need to break imposing claims down into manageable propositions, and this is what Jaynes did with his four hypotheses:

(1) The Linguistic Construction of Consciousness. Subjective introspectable self-awareness is a learned process based on metaphors. Consciousness, then, is shaped by historical-cultural forces and is not the outcome of evolutionary forces.

(2) Bicameral Mentality―An Earlier, Preconscious Mentality. Before people learned to be conscious, a different mentality governed their behavior. Called bicameral for “two-chambered,” this mentality generated audiovisual hallucinations that were attributed to supernatural beings.

(3) The “When” of Consciousness. Though the transition occurred at different periods in various parts of the world, in most places consciousness emerged around the end of the second millennium BCE.

(4) The Neurology of the Double Brain. If Jaynes’s claims are valid about an earlier, preconscious mentality, its underlying “two-chambered” neurology must be accounted for. This concerns the lateralization of language. More specifically, the change from a preconscious bicameral mentality in which the right hemisphere generated hallucinations to a conscious unicameral mentality needs to be scientifically explained.

These four hypotheses are really just the beginning. They can generate subhypotheses and then sub-subhypotheses that can be tested. As a scientific program, then, Jaynesian psychology can advance by framing smaller hypotheses, formulating theories, and having these empirically analyzed.

The Need to Acknowledge Bicameral Vestiges — Jaynesian Psychology Finds Support not just from the Ancient World

The Ruins of an Earlier Mentality Are All around Us if We Care to Open Our Eyes

This post is inspired by a recent exchange I had with a commentator who saw little value in relying on biblical accounts as evidence to support Jaynes’s theories because they were “fairytales.” Presumably such a criticism could be extended to other writings that constitute humanity’s extensive religious tradition. It is worth responding to this line of critique because it is not an uncommon reaction from those who find fault with Jaynes (and for what it’s worth, Jaynes did not set out to explain the origins of religion; his research was on the origin of consciousness).

Many of those who have read The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind are drawn to what Jaynes wrote about long-forgotten civilizations and ancient religions. Safely tucked away in the historical past, we do not have to face what is disturbingly different. But Jaynes devoted entire chapters to the holdovers from our earlier mentality, i.e., hypnosis, hallucinations among schizophrenics, and spirit possession (other related topics treated in passing are childhood imaginary friends and glossolalia). Despite notable exceptions, unfortunately, for a long-time certain topics were not regarded as worthy of serious investigation by mainstream psychologists, being written off as uselessly psychopathological, shunned to “primitive” and peripheral societies, or even associated with the paranormal (admittedly hypnosis is a more contested, complicated case). There is also, I suspect, an anti-religion bias for some of those who see little value in humankind’s spiritual traditions (which is indeed ironic since Jaynes’s arguments can be used as powerful ammunition by the atheist crowd), especially if those elements of religiosity are closer to home. I remember presenting my research on spirit possession at conferences. The same anthropologists who were interested in the people I studied in Japan were disdainful of Christians who “spoke in tongues” from their own society (North America). It was as if anomalous behavior, at least for some anthropologists, only mattered as something scholarly if it occurred in “exotic” locales.

The Present-day as a Museum of Relics of an Earlier Mentality

Jaynes’s theories become much more persuasive when one surveys the remainders of bicamerality. Bronze Age textual and archaeological evidence only takes us so far. We need to take seriously, from an academic perspective, the present where the leftovers of bicamerality still haunt modern civilizations. Note that we cannot view these vestiges as loitering around aimlessly as if ghosts lost in the wrong century. This is because even now they perform important sociological functions, as alien as they may be to us.

A good place to start is with ethnography. One needs to take into account the overwhelming number of reports and chronicles from non- or preliterate “tribal societies.” Much of this material was recorded in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by explorers, adventurers, missionaries, conquerors, and assorted agents of imperialism. These accounts were not ethnographers in the modern sense, but in any case more recently anthropologists have left and are still providing detailed accounts of divination, spirit possession, shamanism, and ancestor worship. These various supernatural beliefs and behaviors are not silly superstitions sideshows; they are culturally front and center, playing a vital role in the daily life of these small-scale communities.

So this is the problem: We are so used to hearing about anomalous psychosocial practices, as unfamiliar as they are to us, that we assume there’s something inevitable about them, as if they naturally sprout up wherever humans form communities. Then in a very unscientific manner we fail to ask very basic questions: Why are they found in all societies? Why aren’t there any exceptions in terms of global patterns? What do they say about the workings of the human psyche? One would think that if such practices were related to fantastical fairytales, there would exist somewhere cultures that evolved and did just fine without bizarre, unscientific beliefs. To date no such culture has been found.

How Scientism Distorts Our View of the Human Condition

Many fall into the common trap of scientism. This reactionary approach to knowledge means being overly picky about what is respectable or worthy research subjects, quickly dismissing what cannot be readily explained, and having a particularly difficult time taking anything seriously that smacks of the spiritual. Scientism is legitimized by modernity’s “official” (though unstated and implicit) hierarchy of knowledge. Some of us take this hierarchy too seriously. This laddered organization of accumulated learning is arranged so that the closer one approaches the top, the closer one is supposedly to the unvarnished, objective truth. At the lowest level are made-up folktales, magical practices, and unfounded fables found in faraway places. This bottom, more “primitive” level reeks of irrationalities and nonsensical notions.

The next level, at least for some, is a bit more respectable: Religion. Though still clouded by questionable legends and the mythical, in the last century or two religion has worked hard to make peace with relentless scientific progress by carving out its own place in the modern world. It has discarded the more objectionable remnants of spirituality (e.g., burning witches at the stake, inquisitions, sacrificing virgins). Interestingly monotheism for some reason is more acceptable to the modern mind (“Western”?) than polytheism. The latter, while actually still followed in many parts of the world, is for some associated with “pagan” belief systems that historically predate or fall outside the Abrahamic lineage of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The third level, more prestigious and respectable than religion, is philosophy. Not as disciplined as science, perhaps, but most philosophers presumably have little patience for myths and fantasy. The crowning top level of the hierarchy of knowledge, of course, is science, with its methodological rigor and disdain for the imaginary and unreal. If broadly understood, science comes in two types, natural and social. Admittedly the latter (which shades over into the humanities) might be too interpretative and qualitative for certain quantitative hard-nosed natural scientists. In any case, both types of science rely on empiricism, detached observation, the systematic collection of facts, and are suspicious of that which is untestable. There are good reasons why modern societies have built this multi-layered intellectual edifice (it certainly resonates with the great achievements of the Enlightenment). And its success and accomplishments are impressive. But it can blind us to the storehouse of humanity, stocked as it is with all sorts of odd but useful pieces of the puzzle that make up the human condition. And when science habitually sweeps too many unexplainables under the rug of inquiry because they don’t accommodate conventional analysis or are not “respectable” as research topics, we fall prey to scientism. The point is many of us confuse the make-believe with the residues from an earlier mentality. But even fairytales have something to teach us.

Does Aphantasia Hold Lessons about Consciousness? Disentangling Visual Perception from Mental Imagery

Science makes progress when it differentiates, discriminates, and separates out from the messy stuff we call reality what we can carefully classify, categorize, and singularize. If our taxonomy is not clear knowledge does not advance since the defining qualities of different properties, processes, and behaviors become confused. Consider psychology’s idiom that does not always distinguish between visual perceptual experiences and mental images. The latter can be defined as introspectable, conscious representations of things that are not actually present. Such images are imbued with a mysterious, almost magical aura because, in addition to being physically absent, they are not shareable with others; only the individual can directly experience images populating his or her inner psychoscape. And as of yet no convincing physical explanation accounts for their existence (neuroscientific studies, as important as they are, that simply correlate brain regions with mental activity do not count). It is almost as if mental imagery dwells in an unrecognized dimension of existence.

Recent research into aphantasia, or the inability or difficulty some have of conjuring up mental images (also misleadingly called “blind imagination”), raises some interesting issues. For one thing, aphantasia forces us to investigate the difference between perception and introspectable experiences. Aphantasia also demonstrates salient differences concerning how the mind works among individuals. Individuals with aphantasia do not lack imagination and they do not struggle with spatial memory (which is different from imagery and may be neurologically stored differently). Interestingly, research has shown that though they remembered fewer objects on tests, aphantasics made fewer mistakes, i.e., they did not create false memories of objects that were not in pictures used in the experiments. Aphantasics appear to be using compensatory strategies, such as the verbal-coding of spatial relations that might make them better at avoiding false memories (Bainbridge, et al., Quantifying aphantasia through drawing: Those without visual imagery show deficits in object but not spatial memory, Cortex, Dec. 3, 2020). Aphantasia may be congenital or acquired through trauma.

Distinguishing between Visual Perception and Conscious Images

Though visual perceptions and mental images share the same neuroanatomical regions, they are very different, and despite being commonly confused, their differences are obvious. Visual perception requires stimuli and sensory receptors, involves both bottom-up and top-down processing, and may be implicated in perceptual illusions. Mental imagery, on the other hand, does not require external stimuli or sensory receptors. It involves only top-down processing and is implicated in hypnoidal experiences, hallucinations, and dreams. Interestingly, visual imagery can interfere with visual perception. When sense modalities are the same, mental images can override perceptual processes. However, when modalities are different individuals are able to perceptually focus on an object or auditory experience. And we might note that while one can experience mental imagery based on sound, smell, taste, or even touch, visual images are more common and easier to form than other sensory modalities.

Two theories have been developed to explain mental imagery. The first contends that a picture-like or “analog” code operates to produce images that retain some of the sensory qualities of visual perception. Relations among images are represented implicitly and simultaneously and each interiorized “sense” has its own type of modality. The second theory proposes a word-like or “propositional” code. Images are descriptions of visual scenes, their relations are represented explicitly and sequentially, and each interiorized “sense” possesses the same modality. Research seems to indicate that both theories have merit. Simple representations use an analog code, while propositional codes seem more apt for richly detailed images. This may be because our working memory can only contain a limited amount of information for complex visual stimuli.

A Jaynesian Perspective on Mental Imagery

Julian Jaynes argued that until about three millennia ago individuals lacked what we take for granted — subjective introspectable self-awareness. When confronted with a novel problem, hallucinated answers and admonishments were triggered that took the form of supernatural visitations. Probably the biggest reason people struggle with understanding Jaynesian psychology is because they confuse sensate-perception with introspection (the latter is what our mind’s eye “sees”; not our bodily, physical eyes). Even researchers commonly conflate perception with consciousness, or they assume that the latter is a mere epiphenomenon of sensation or is not a separate cognitive process in its own right. But sensate-perception (or perceptual reactivity) is automatic and nonconscious, while interiorized experience is a consciousness form of cognition.

If Jaynes is correct, hallucinations still perform an adaptive role in everyday life. However, over time, as hallucinations evolved, their vividness has been watered-down and they are now under volitional control. We call such experiences mental images. In other words, mental imagery is the descendent of ancient audiovisual hallucinations.

A taxonomy of four types can be proposed that teases out order from the roiling, churning, and mixing magma of perceptual, conceptual, and subjective experiences. The first type are perceptions (exteroception, interoception, proprioception, equilibrioception, etc.) which are automatic and nonconscious. Perceptions concern what is (realis). The second type, which like perceptions arise automatically and nonconsciously, are conceptions which are about irrealis (what could be). The third type are superceptions. These describe a layer of experience superimposed over perceptions and built upon conceptions. Superceptions are a mode of supercharged, subjunctive cognition of what might be (surrealis). They subsume three subtypes: (1) introceptions — inner quasi-perceptual, semi-hallucinatory images; (2) extraceptions — audiovisual hallucinations interpreted as divine voices and visitations in ancient times, experienced as transpiring outside but near the individual (peripersonal); and (3) vestigial extraceptions — anomalous behaviors, e.g., hallucinations experienced by schizophrenics and some neurotypicals (voice-hearers). A final type of mentation is coceptions. These describe the coincidence of perceptions and introceptions; such overlapping deludes us into assuming that consciously interiorized experiences are sensory reflections of reality. 

Lessons from Aphantasia

If Jaynes is correct, the ability to evoke mental imagery is not innate but like other features of conscious interiority, learned. In other words, the counterpart of aphantasia, phantasia (imagery) is culturally acquired. If this is the case, we should be able to discern historical differences in the amount of phantasia, and as Jaynes argues, it is very difficult to find accounts in texts and languages of mental imagery before about the twelfth century BCE. Research into aphantasia may offer us clues about mental imagery as being a culturally-acquired ability and help us stop confusing two very different processes: sensate-perception versus conscious, interiorized experience. In other words, studying aphantasia may aid in teasing apart the threads of perceptual, conceptual, and introceptual experiences.

Disentangling Inner Speech, Self-dialogue, and Auditory Hallucinations―The Mind Is a Machine for Sociopsychological Communication

How are inner speech, self-dialogue, auditory imagery, and hallucinations related? And what exactly are hallucinations? Some have suggested that hallucinations are caused by a monitoring defect in inner speech (also termed inner voice, silent speech, subvocal speech, covert speech, self talk, internal monologue, verbal thought, etc.) (Fernyhough, The Voices Within, 2016). Such a claim, however, ignores the overwhelming evidence concerning hallucinations before about 1000 BCE. Any theoretical linkage must take into account one crucial datum: hallucinations were central to normal sociopsychological functioning. The ubiquity and important role of hallucinations in the ancient world as a mechanism for social control (until about the first millennium BCE). The “monitoring defect” hypothesis confuses matters: Rather than hallucinations resulting from a problem with inner speech, inner speech is a type of watered-down hallucination. This is why, arguably, for some an inner voice possesses agent-like properties or is accompanied by a felt presence, suggesting vestigial bicamerality.

Let’s see if we can disentangle the constituents of a “hallucination‒inner speech‒thought complex” while keeping an eye open for patterns that illuminate the nature of these phenomena. I begin with several premises that guide my arguments.

The first premise, from which the others derive, is the Jaynesian perspective on bicamerality, its breakdown due to civilizational upheaval about three millennia ago, and the upgrading of human mentality, resulting in conscious interiority. Second, communication comes in two forms: verbalized and non-verbalized. The former is overt articulated speech while the latter is covert unarticulated mentation. Third, thinking is communication and communication is thinking. This is grounded in the psyche’s profound social nature and how it operates as a machine for sociopsychological communication. Fourth, “self” is shorthand for two interacting, dynamic elements of conscious interiority: (1) a “speaker” (active‒subject or “I”) and (2) a listener (passive‒object or “me”). Preconscious individuals lacked these features of consciousness. Fifth, there is no such thing as an inner monologue. The mind only operates in the dialogical mode, i.e., an audience is always present, whether it is others or our own selves. In other words, after a thought arises, it can either be: (1) turned into speech aimed at others (alter-communication) or (2) become a type of self-communication (“I” → “me”). Sixth, even when a thought is transformed into a verbalization intended for others, it still targets two audiences: (1) others (interpersonal) and (2) self (intrapersonal). Though speech is aimed at another person (“I” → “not-me”), in actuality it operates as “I” → “not-me” + “me.” In other words, when we speak to others, we simultaneously verbalize and hear ourselves speak. Such auto-hearing, as we shall see, is actually key to understanding how hallucinations evolved as a byproduct of auditory comprehension.

Below I analyze the hallucination‒inner speech‒thought complex by looking at it through the prism of the aforementioned premises and injecting some much needed historical context.

(1) Proto-Bicamerality: Auto-command

Sometime before the agricultural revolution a type of hallucinatory “auto-communication” developed, i.e., a person would “hear” his or her own voice (or possibly that of an absent clan leader). This was a side effect of language comprehension selected by socio-evolution as a method of behavioral control. This communicative circuitry reminded an individual to stay on task when carrying out repetitive chores, ensuring social order and economic productivity (preconscious individuals lacked a narratizing self that could plan long-term and envision future outcomes). The neurological substratum of this hallucinated speech is early or proto-bicamerality in which the right hemisphere would “speak” (via verbal hallucinations) to the left. The first hallucinations were not attributed to external supernatural entities (gods, ancestors, spirits). Such attribution would come later as societies became relatively larger, multi-layered, and complex by around 3000 BCE.

Hearing ourselves speak is crucial to the present discussion, since verbal hallucinations arose as an outgrowth of hearing language. In other words, hearing and hallucinations are intimately related. And hallucinations “evolved by natural selection as a method of behavioral control” (Jaynes, The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, 1976, p. 134).

(2) Complex Bicamerality: The Gods Speak to Mortals

Proto-bicamerality was adequate for small-scale hunter‒gatherer economies. However, the agricultural revolution, starting sometime around 10,000 BCE, introduced social complexity whose pressures — increased demographic scale, economic specialization, more established social roles — greatly reconfigured hallucinatory auto-communication. As innovative as it was, proto-bicamerality was no match for ballooning social scale. The consequence was a neurocultural adaptation in which controlling voices were attributed to personages further up a widening and towering social pyramid — departed rulers, divinized ancestors, god-kings, the gods themselves. In other words, hallucinated voices became ideologized and the basis for a world of god-governed, priest-administered, temple-dominated, and urbanized theopolities that proclaimed the success of the momentous agrarian transformation. Complex bicamerality had replaced proto-bicamerality.

(3) Physical Speech of Bicameral Individuals

For bicameral individuals, external, articulated speech directed at others would be heard by the speaker. Such auto-hearing (auto-audition) is an obvious but important fact. However, preconscious individuals lacked a self (i.e., a speaking “I” and listening “me” were lacking). In other words, though they could nonconsciously hear their own speech they could not consciously register it. There was no psychoscape in which to experience one’s self-talk.

(4) Conscious Interiority: Inner Dialogue

Though complex bicamerality was more successful in terms of handling social complexity than proto-bicamerality, even the latter neurocultural arrangement could not keep pace with rapidly increasing demographic expansion and close-quarter and concentrated settlements. These challenges increasingly eroded bicameral communicative efficacy between ruler and ruled, among the masses, and most importantly, among the different components constituting the individual psyche. The next step in neurocultural evolution was the learning of a linguistically-constructed innovation, i.e., conscious interiority. Such subjective introspectable self-awareness, evident from around 1000 BCE, helped individuals navigate a new but confusing sociopolitical landscape.

A key feature of conscious interiority is the mental spatialization or the qualia of having a “space” inside one (usually in the head). This imaginary mind-space functioned as the location of what we call inner talk. What this all means is that we should be able to trace a historical trajectory from hallucinated gods to interiorized selves. Voices that in bicameral times were believed to originate externally and were attributed to supernatural beings evolved into internally located auditory imagery that were recognized as coming from one’s self. What is referred to as inner speech, then, is the descendant of hallucinations. The silent production of words in one’s mind — or talking to one’s self quietly — is the successor to an earlier mentality. Intrapersonal communication (broadly understood, “communication with one’s self” includes self-talk, acts of imagination and visualization, remembering, planning, problem solving, monitoring our self-expectations, and evaluations of self and others [McLean, The Basics of Interpersonal Communication, 2005]). Remember, all thought is a form of communication. A person’s own thought does not have to be perceived as auditory imagery, and interestingly, not everyone experiences imagined speech or mental verbalization. Some just engage in pure thinking (“imageless thought”).

Of course, bicameral individuals possessed a self-communication of sorts, but conscious interiorization has supercharged how the psyche communicates to itself by positioning a scaled-down society of “I” and “me” “inside” the person. Conscious interiority also introduces a psychological reflexivity that is lights years ahead of chimps recognizing their body in mirrors in a stimulus-response manner. This reflexivity is part of the dynamic relationship between the “I” and “me”; this affords the individual that ineffable sense of uniqueness and separateness from others and the world.

From a practical point of view, the adaptive benefits of internal dialogue are obvious in how it permits us to rehearse possible future behaviors, revisit past events to Monday-morning quarterback one’s performance, and help emotional regulation. But the potential for obsessive self-introspection, distressing rumination, or a running commentary of self-defeating self-statements that can interfere with emotional health is the price we pay for this adaptive capability.

(5) Physical Speech of Conscious Individuals

For conscious individuals, external, articulated speech directed at others would also be heard by the speaker. However, with such self-hearing (self-audition) one’s “me” can hear one’s “I” speak.

The Experientiality of Hallucinations, Auditory Imagery, and Thought

Two dimensions are relevant for appreciating the workings of the hallucination‒inner speech‒thought complex: (1) alien-ness versus selfness; and (2) external versus internal. The first dimension concerns authorization, or who or what affords legitimacy to one’s actions/experiences, i.e., in other words, who is governing my behavior (speech). Is the controlling entity my own “I” or is it foreign to my being, something possessed of an otherness? In the preconscious, bicameral period, control was attributed to supernatural entities (divine authorization), while in postbicameral times an individuated self has taken the place of commanding deities and spirits of the deceased (self-authorization). The second dimension concerns the perceived location of heard speech or unarticulated thought; is it within (interior) or outside (exterior) the person? Another way to view the hallucination‒inner speech‒thought complex is from the perspective of to what degree do perceptual qualities play a role. Obviously auditory hallucinations and inner hallucinations possess the quasi-perceptual qualia of hearing, while “pure” thought does not.

We might also mention that some people report that the quasi-perceptual qualities of their inner voice merges with hearing. In other words, the speaking‒hearing distinction is not necessarily clear, and seems to exist on a continuum of “speech” versus “listening.” From the perspective of the features of conscious interiority, we can posit that inner speaking is more of an active “I” process, while inner hearing is more passive and receptive (“me”).

Neuroscience Confirms Julian Jaynes’s Neurological Model

Posted June 10, 2020. Updated October 5, 2021.

Beginning in 1999, research began to emerge confirming Julian Jaynes’s neurological model for the bicameral mind: fMRI studies showing a right/left temporal lobe interaction during auditory verbal hallucinations.

Yet, more than twenty years later, there remains ongoing confusion on this subject (for example, a recent post on the “Star Slate Codex” blog was completely wrong on this issue). To help clear up this lingering confusion, I revisit this topic with an excerpt from one of my related newsletter articles, followed by quotes from related research, related video, further reading, and additional resources:

“Over three decades ago, Julian Jaynes introduced his theory of the origin of consciousness and a historically older mentality called the bicameral mind …

While the technology was not then available to test his ideas, Jaynes suggested a possible neurological model for the bicameral mind. Briefly stated, he reasoned that auditory hallucinations emanate from the areas of the right temporal lobe corresponding to the language areas in the left temporal lobe, and are subsequently processed (or “heard”) in the left temporal lobe language areas. Because of their external quality, the bicameral person experiencing auditory hallucinations interpreted them as the externally generated commands of a dead ancestor, chief, king, or god. To this day, those who experience auditory hallucinations often hear behavioral commands and experience them as being externally generated.

In my chapter in Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness, “Consciousness, Hallucinations, and the Bicameral Mind: Three Decades of New Research,” I discuss a number of neuroimaging studies that emerged over the past decade that provide support for Jaynes’s neurological model. These studies show brain activation in the right followed by the left temporal lobe at the onset of auditory hallucinations. Some researchers infer a possible interaction between these two areas — the language areas of the left hemisphere and the corresponding areas of the right hemisphere — during auditory hallucinations.

Since the publication of Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness, a number of new studies have been published that also show bilateral temporal lobe (‘bicameral’) activation during auditory hallucinations, providing further support for Jaynes’s neurological model specifically and his bicameral mind theory in general.

In 2007, French psychiatrist Renaud Jardri and his colleagues published a study in Molecular Psychiatry titled “Activation of Bilateral Auditory Cortex during Verbal Hallucinations in a Child with Schizophrenia.” They used functional MRI to study the “neural substrates of verbal auditory hallucinations in a child suffering from very early onset schizophrenia.” The analysis performed “shows bilateral activation of the superior temporal gyri” during auditory hallucinations (see the image above). This bilateral activation of the superior temporal gyri during auditory hallucinations is exactly what Jaynes predicted more than 30 years ago.

In an article published in 2007 in Schizophrenia Research, Dr. Iris E. C. Sommer and her colleagues in the Netherlands reported that “the majority of schizophrenia patients showed prominent activity in the right-sided homologues of the classical language areas during AVH [auditory verbal hallucinations] (i.e. in the right inferior frontal gyrus, right superior temporal and supramarginal gyrus), while normal language is generally produced in the left hemisphere in right-handed subjects.” Again, this corresponds precisely with Jaynes’s predictions.

In another study published in 2008, Sommer et al. measured cerebral activation using fMRI in 24 psychotic patients. They report that “group analysis for AVH revealed activation in the right homologue of Broca’s area, bilateral insula, bilateral supramarginal gyri and right superior temporal gyrus.” They go on to speculate that “the association between AVH and activity in right hemisphere language areas could explain the low linguistic complexity and derogatory content, characteristic for AVH in psychotic patients.”

In a 2008 article titled “Functional MRI of Verbal Self-Monitoring in Schizophrenia” published in Schizophrenia Bulletin, psychologist Veena Kumari and her colleagues in the United Kingdom conclude that positive schizophrenic symptoms (hallucinations and persecution) show “exaggerated activation in the right superior-middle temporal gyrus.

Also noteworthy, Dr. Yair Lampl in the Department of Neurology at Tel Aviv University and his colleagues published an article in late 2005 that studied auditory hallucinations in stroke patients. According to Lampl, auditory hallucinations occur only rarely after a stroke. Of the 641 stroke patients in the study, only four experienced auditory hallucinations. Of interest to the present discussion, all of the cases of auditory hallucinations “occurred after an ischemic lesion of the right temporal lobe.”

These new studies provide additional evidence in support of Jaynes’s neurological model. They have been published in peer-reviewed journals by a variety of researchers working in different labs around the world. While their research is highly supportive of Jaynes’s neurological model, these scientists did not have the goal of providing evidence for Jaynes’s theory and in some cases may not even be aware of it. …”

Reprinted from Marcel Kuijsten, New Evidence for Jaynes’s Neurological Model: A Research Update,” The Jaynesian, Volume 3, Issue 1. Read the full article.

Statements Supportive of Jaynes’s Neurological Model by Psychiatrists, Neurologists, and Neurosurgeons

Neuroimaging techniques of today have illuminated and confirmed the importance of Jaynes’ hypothesis.
— Robert Olin, M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus in Preventive Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, in Lancet, 1999, 20, 354, 9173.

“In 1976 Julian Jaynes proposed in his book  [that] the left hemisphere was the site for speech, and the right hemisphere was the site for hallucinations that expressed voices and commands of gods and demons. … Their results provided direct evidence of the involvement of primary auditory areas in auditory hallucinations. … Contemporary neuroimaging data have been used to revive and support … [Jaynes’s] controversial hypothesis.
— Leo Sher, M.D., Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 2000, 25, 3, 239-40.

“… Scientific interest in [Jaynes’s] work has been re-awakened by the consistent findings of right-sided activation patterns in the brain, as retrieved with the aid of neuroimaging studies in individuals with verbal auditory hallucinations.
— Jan Dirk Blom, M.D., in A Dictionary of Hallucinations (Springer,  2009).

“An interesting hypothesis is posed by Julian Jaynes on the “bicameral brain” (sic) where one hemisphere (right) gives orders and the other (left) listens and executes orders. … The latest studies have shown bilateral activation of Broca’s area instead of only left side activation that brings new life to the theory of mind bicameralism. The reduction of lateralization even correlated with the intensity of hallucinations.
— D.M. Pavlović, M.D., A.M. Pavlović, M.D., and Maja Lačković, M.D., “The Neuropsychology of Hallucinations,” Archives of Biological Sciences, 2011, 63, 1, 43-48.

“Jaynes claims that remnants of the ancient bicameral brain (sic) organization can still be found in the verbal or auditory hallucinations associated with hypnosis and schizophrenia. This hypothesis is consistent with the findings from recent neuroimaging studies, which identified the right temporal lobe as the source of auditory hallucinations in patients with schizophrenia.
— Andrea E. Cavanna and Andrea Nani, Consciousness: Theories in Neuroscience and Philosophy of Mind (Springer, 2014).

The theory of a bicameral mind evolved the psychology and neuropsychiatric concepts of some disorders including the one for schizophrenia. … Jaynes’ theories were further confirmed by … other authors. … According to all these findings and theories, it is postulated that anterior corpus callosotomy would be beneficial in controlling the auditory and visual hallucinations in those with schizophrenia refractory to the highest medical therapy.
— Mousa Taghipour, MD & Fariborz Ghaffarpasand, MD, “Corpus Callosotomy for Drug-Resistant Schizophrenia; Novel Treatment Based on Pathophysiology,” World Neurosurgery, August 2018, 116: 483-484.

Supportive Evidence from Peer-Reviewed Articles

The Neurology of Auditory Hallucinations: Evidence from Direct Stimulation, EEG, PET , & fMRI

Key Point: Numerous studies using a variety of techniques implicate the language areas of the non-dominant hemisphere in auditory verbal hallucinations.

Electrical stimulation of the temporal lobe was performed in chronic schizophrenic patients to treat the auditory hallucinations. During electrical stimulation, there appeared different kinds of hallucinations. … In most of these cases, craniotomy of the non-dominant side was performed, and the exposed temporal lobe cortex was electrically stimulated directly.”
— Ishibashi, et al., “Hallucinations Produced by Electrical Stimulation of the Temporal Lobes in Schizophrenic Patients,” Journal of Experimental Medicine, 1964, 82, 124-139.

“Penfield reproduced such experiences by electrical stimulation of the temporal lobe cortex. We have found that similar hallucinatory experiences may arise from subcortical stimulation of the temporal lobe.”
— M. J. Horowitz and J. E. Adams, “Hallucinations on Brain Stimulation: Evidence for Revision of the Penfield Hypothesis,” in W. Keup (ed.), Origin and Mechanisms of Hallucinations (Springer, 1970).

“In reviewing our series of patients it was of interest to note that hallucinations were produced by electrical stimulation of the depth structures of the temporal lobe in certain patients.
— Weingarten, et al. ,”The Relationship of Hallucinations to the Depth Structures of the Temporal Lobe,” Acta Neurochirurgica, 1977, Suppl. 24: “Advances in Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery 2”, 199-216.

Metabolism in Broca’s region and its right-hemisphere homologue correlated positively and significantly in the hallucinating group, as it did in anterior cingulate and left superior temporal areas, and in right frontal and parietal areas.”
— Cleghorn, et al., “Regional Brain Metabolism During Auditory Hallucinations in Chronic Schizophrenia,” British Journal of Psychiatry, 1990, 157, 562-570.

Left temporal lobe activity was found to be decreased with increasing positive symptom’s scores scores. … Patients with a recent history of auditory hallucinations showed an atypical right temporal lobe dominance, which occurred independently of medication status.
— Gordon, et al., “Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) Measures of Brain Function in Schizophrenia,” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 1994, 28, 446–452.

“A large and significant decrease in SSVEP latency in the right temporo/parietal region occurred in the second prior to the report of auditory hallucinations. … This finding suggests that activity of fine temporal resolution in the neural networks in the right temporo/parietal area may be implicated in the genesis of auditory hallucination. …”
— Line, et al., “Steady State Visually Evoked Potential Correlates of Auditory Hallucinations in Schizophrenia,” NeuroImage, 1998, 8, 4.

Metabolism in Broca’s region and its right-hemisphere homologue correlated positively and significantly in the hallucinating group…”
— Cleghorn, et al., “Regional Brain Metabolism During Auditory Hallucinations in Chronic Schizophrenia,” The British Journal of Psychiatry, 1990, 157, 4, 562-570.

Results showed that activation [during auditory hallucinations] first appeared in the right middle temporal gyrus and then extended to a wider area of the right superior temporal and left superior temporal gyri (where the hallucination is “heard”), right middle and inferior frontal gyri, right anterior cingulate, and right cuncus.”
—- Lennox, et al., “Spatial and Temporal Mapping of Neural Activity Associated with Auditory Hallucinations,” Lancet, 1999, 353, 644.

The group of hallucinating patients demonstrated right medial and inferior frontal activations (BA 45/46), focal bilateral temporal lobe activations (BA 22, 37), and a left parahippocampal gyral activation.”
— Copolov, et al., “A PET Study of Brain Activation in Response to Auditory Hallucinations and External Speech in Schizophrenic Patients,” Biological Psychiatry, April 2000, 47, 8.

“Patients showed no differences while generating inner speech but experienced a relatively attenuated response in the posterior cerebellar cortex, hippocampi, and lenticular nuclei bilaterally and the right thalamus, middle and superior temporal cortex, and left nucleus accumbens during auditory verbal imagery.
— Shergill, et al, “Functional Anatomy of Auditory Verbal Imagery in Schizophrenic Patients With Auditory Hallucinations,” American Journal of Psychiatry, October 2000, 157, 1691–1693.

Auditory hallucinations were associated with activation in the … temporal cortex bilaterally (with greater responses on the right).
— Shergill, et al, “Mapping Auditory Hallucinations in Schizophrenia Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging,” The Archives of General Psychiatry, November 2000, 57.

Group analysis demonstrated shared areas of activation in right and left superior temporal gyri, left inferior parietal cortex and left middle frontal gyrus.
— Lennox, et al., “The Functional Anatomy of Auditory Hallucinations in Schizophrenia,” Psychiatry Research, November 2000, 100, 1, 13–20.

AVHs [auditory verbal hallucinations] were associated with increased metabolic activity in the left primary auditory cortex and the right middle temporal gyrus. Our results suggest a possible interaction between these areas during AVHs.
— Bentaleb, et al., “Cerebral Activity Associated with Auditory Verbal Hallucinations: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Case Study,” Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, 2002, 27, 2, 110.

Recent functional neuroimaging findings seem to confirm the hypothesis that the right middle temporal gyrus represents the source of auditory hallucinations in at least some schizophrenic patients. Arguably, this lateralization pattern could well be the reason why these inner voices lack the characteristic of being self-generated.
— Cavanna et al. “The ‘Bicameral Mind’ 30 Years On,” Functional Neurology, 2007, 22, 1, 11-15.

The majority of schizophrenia patients showed prominent activity in the right-sided homologues of the classical language areas during AVH [auditory verbal hallucinations] (i.e. in the right inferior frontal gyrus, right superior temporal gyrus and supramarginal gyrus), while normal language is generally produced in the left hemisphere in right-handed subjects.”
— Sommer, et al., “Can fMRI-guidance Improve the Efficacy of rTMS Treatment for Auditory Verbal Hallucinations?Schizophrenia Research, 2007, 93, 1, 406–8.

Group analysis for AVH revealed activation in the right homologue of Broca’s area, bilateral insula, bilateral supramarginal gyri and right superior temporal gyrus. … The association between AVH and activity in right hemisphere language areas could explain the low linguistic complexity and derogatory content, characteristic for AVH in psychotic patients.
Sommer, et al., “Auditory Verbal Hallucinations Predominantly Activate the Right Inferior Frontal Area,” Brain, 2008, 131, 3169-77.

The regions (Broca’s homologue and the right insula) coincide with the areas that showed greatest activation during auditory verbal hallucinations in our analysis of 24 patients (Sommer et al., 2008). It could therefore be hypothesized that auditory verbal hallucinations result from ‘release’ language activity in the right inferior frontal area that is inhibited in the healthy brain.”
— Sommer & Diederen, “Language Production in the Non-Dominant Hemisphere as a Potential Source of Auditory Verbal Hallucinations,” Brain, 2009, 132, 10, e124.

“… Group analysis for AVH [auditory verbal hallucinations] revealed activation in the right homolog of Broca’s area, bilateral insula, bilateral supramarginal gyri, [and] right superior temporal gyrus.
— Sommer, Iris & Kelly Diederen, “Auditory Verbal Hallucinations and Language Lateralization,” in Iris E.C. Sommer and René S. Kahn (eds.), Language Lateralization and Psychosis (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Patients experiencing AVHs demonstrated significantly increased activation likelihoods in a bilateral neural network, including the Broca’s area…”
— Jardri, et al., “Cortical Activations During Auditory Verbal Hallucinations in Schizophrenia: A Coordinate-Based Meta-Analysis,” The American Journal of Psychiatry, 2011, 168, 1, 73–81.

Findings suggest that heightened functional coupling between the left inferior frontal gyrus and right temporal regions leads to coactivation in these speech processing regions that is hallucinogenic.”
—- Hoffman, et al., “Time Course of Regional Brain Activity Accompanying Auditory Verbal Hallucinations in Schizophrenia,” The British Journal of Psychiatry, 2011, 198, 4, 277–283.

“Auditory verbal hallucinations are a cardinal symptom of schizophrenia … The current results indicate that spatial location of auditory hallucinations is associated with the right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ) anatomy, a key region of the ‘where’ auditory pathway.”
— Plaze, et al., “Where Do Auditory Hallucinations Come From?” A Brain Morphometry Study of Schizophrenia Patients with Inner or Outer Space Hallucinations,” Schizophrenia Bulletin, January 2011, 37, 1, 212-21.

Several common areas of activation were observed for the psychotic and nonpsychotic subjects during the experience of AVH, consisting of the bilateral inferior frontal gyri, insula, superior temporal gyri, supramarginal gyri and postcentral gyri, left precentral gyrus, inferior parietal lobule, superior temporal pole, and right cerebellum.”
— Diederen, et al., “Auditory Hallucinations Elicit Similar Brain Activation in Psychotic and Nonpsychotic Individuals,” Schizophrenia Bulletin, September 2012, 38, 5.

AVH [auditory verbal hallucination]-related activity was … observed in Broca’s area and its right hemisphere homologue…”
— Zmigrod, et al., “The Neural Mechanisms of Hallucinations: A Quantitative Meta-Analysis of Neuroimaging Studies,” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 2016, 69, 113-123.

AVHs [auditory verbal hallucinations] were associated with activation in bilateral language and motor regions.
— Ford, et al., “Neurobiology of Auditory Hallucinations,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, November 2019.

The group with complex hallucinations showed elevated activity in the bilateral temporal cortex including Wernicke’s area…
— Marschall, et al., “Spontaneous Brain Activity Underlying Auditory Hallucinations in the Hearing-Impaired,” Cortex, March 2021, 136, 1-13.

Language Lateralization and Psychosis

Key Point: Individuals that process language more evenly in both hemispheres (“less lateralized”) are more likely to experience auditory hallucinations.

Delay in establishing dominance in one hemisphere could be the critical factor that predisposes to schizophrenia.
— Crow, T.J., “Cerebral Lateralization is Delayed in Children who Later Develop Schizophrenia,” Schizophrenia Research, 1996, 22, 3, 181–185.

“These results show the strong association of the right middle temporal gyrus with the experience of auditory hallucination in this patient, supporting the hypothesis that auditory hallucinations reflect abnormal activation of auditory cortex. Language is more associated with the left hemisphere in normal subjects. This finding may therefore reflect the abnormal lateralisation of language function in schizophrenia.
—- Lennox, et al., “Spatial and Temporal Mapping of Neural Activity Associated with Auditory Hallucinations,” Lancet, 1999, 353, 644.

“Twelve schizophrenic patients and twelve healthy controls were scanned while they were engaged in a verb-generation and a semantic decision task. … The results indicate that language processing is less lateralized in patients than in controls. … Analysis of variance of the extent of activity … revealed a significant hemisphere by group interaction … which was due to increased activation in the right hemisphere of the patients.
— Sommer, et al., “Language Lateralization in Schizophrenia, An fMRI Study,” Schizophrenia Research, 2001, 52, 1-2, 57-67.

Schizophrenia patients showed reduced language lateralization in the frontal cortex, because of a more bilateral activation of Broca’s area compared with a primarily left hemisphere activation in healthy controls.
— Weiss, et al., “Language Lateralization in Unmedicated Patients During An Acute Episode of Schizophrenia: A functional MRI Study,” Psychiatry Research, March 2006, 31, 146.

Both the overall auditory cortex and planum temporale volumes and the lateralization to the left hemisphere were markedly reduced in patients. The decrease of lateralization correlated with increased severity of symptoms.
— Oertel, et al., “Reduced Laterality as a Trait Marker of Schizophrenia—Evidence from Structural and Functional Neuroimaging,” The Journal of Neuroscience, February 2010, 30, 6, 2289–2299.

Reduced cerebral lateralisation of language in patients diagnosed with schizophrenia has been documented in a substantial number of studies.
— Allen and Modinos, “Structural Neuroimaging in Psychotic Patients with Auditory Verbal Hallucinations,” in Blom and Sommer (eds.), Hallucinations: Research and Practice (Springer, 2012).

“…[R]educed language lateralization is a weak trait marker for schizophrenia as such and a strong trait marker for the experience of auditory hallucinations within the schizophrenia population”
— Ocklenburg , et al. “Auditory Hallucinations and Reduced Language Lateralization in Schizophrenia: A Meta-Analysis of Dichotic Listening Studies,” Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, April 2013, 19, 4, 410-8.

Patients with schizophrenia exhibited significantly decreased leftward hemispheric [language] lateralization.”
— Alary, et al., “Functional Hemispheric Lateralization for Language in Patients with Schizophrenia,” Schizophrenia Research, Sept. 2013, 149, 1-3, 42-7.

Right Hemisphere as “Alien Intruder”/Sensed Presence/Externally Perceived Voice

Key Point: The origin of auditory hallucinations in the non-dominant hemisphere may be what gives them their “external” quality.

In schizophrenia, defective interhemispheric integration, probably neurochemical, may lead to disinhibition of the awareness by the left hemisphere that it is being “influenced” by an unknown “external force” which is fact the right hemisphere.”
— Nasrallah, Henry A., “The Unintegrated Right Cerebral Hemispheric Consciousness as Alien Intruder: A Possible Mechanism for Schneiderian Delusions in Schizophrenia?Comprehensive Psychiatry, 1985, 26, 3, 273–282.

“The hypothesis of vectorial hemisphericity predicts that left hemispheric intrusions of the right hemispheric equivalent of the sense of self should be associated with the experience of a “presence” of someone else. The neurophenomenological profile of a woman whose medical history satisfied these theoretical criteria … is presented. ”
— Persinger, et al., “The Sensed Presence as Right Hemispheric Intrusions into the Left Hemispheric Awareness of Self: An Illustrative Case Study,” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1994, 78, 3.

“We report evidence of isolated conceptual knowledge in the right hemisphere of a woman with chronic anarchic hand sign after ischemic infarction of the central four-fifths of the corpus callosum.”
— Baynes, et al., “Isolation of a Right Hemisphere Cognitive System in a Patient with Anarchic (Alien) Hand Sign,” Neuropsychologia, 1997, 35, 8.

The second component is alienation, which is the failure to recognize the content of AVH as self-generated. This failure may be related to the fact that cerebral activity associated with AVH is predominantly present in the speech production area of the right hemisphere.”
— Sommer, et al., “Dissecting Auditory Verbal Hallucinations into Two Components: Audibility (Gedankenlautwerden) and Alienation (Thought Insertion),” Psychopathology, 2010, 43, 137–140.

[A] lack of synchronization between Broca and its homolog may lead to the erroneous interpretation of emotional speech activity from the right hemisphere as coming from an external source.”
— Ćurčić-Blake, et al., “When Broca Goes Uninformed: Reduced Information Flow to Broca’s Area in Schizophrenia Patients With Auditory Hallucinations,” Schizophrenia Bulletin, September 2013, 39, 5.

Alien hand syndrome after corpus callosotomy reveals its underlying mechanism. 3 out of a series of 18 patients demonstrated ALS after callosotomy. Distinct features were bihemispheric language dominance and genuine left-handedness. Both hemispheres come with capacities for independent action. Loss of contralateral inhibition appears a major mechanism underlying ALS.
— Helmstaedter, et al., “Dr. Strangelove Demystified: Disconnection of Hand and Language Dominance Explains Alien-Hand Syndrome after Corpus Callosotomy,” Seizure, 2021, 86.

Auditory and Visual Hallucinations and Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

Key Point: Patients with temporal lobe epilepsy (abnormal brain activity in the temporal lobes) also occasionally experience both auditory and visual hallucinations.

See Section 2, “Auditory Hallucinations in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy” (Case Reports)
— Shafica Karagulla, “Psychical Phenomena in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and The Psychoses,” British Medical Journal, March 1955, 1, 4916, 748–752.

“A case report is presented to illustrate problems in managing the schizophrenia-like psychosis of temporal lobe epilepsy.”
— Sidney Bloch, “Problems of Treatment in the Schizophrenia-Like Psychosis of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy-A Case Report,” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 1968, 2.

“One of them — a 32-year-old female with a right temporo-occipital focus — had a seizure pattern which included a vision of Christ coming down from the sky.”
— Dewhurt and Beard, “Sudden Religious Conversions in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy,” British Journal of Psychiatry, 1970, 117, 540, 497-507.

“Hallucinations are infrequently seen in prepubertal children. … We here report the case of a child who presented with psychosis and nocturnal hallucinations and for whom temporal epilepsy was eventually diagnosed and successfully treated.”
— Kechid, et al., “Hearing Hallucinations in a 12-Year-Old Child: Psychotic Disorders or Temporal Epilepsy?”, The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2008, 10, 4, 328–329.

“MEG revealed interictal epileptic discharges within the anterior partition of the right superior temporal gyrus; signal-to-noise ratio of these discharges was overall poor in EEG. The findings suggest that auditory vocal hallucinations without verbal content can evolve in the right hemisphere and are probably independent of language lateralization.
— Hug, et al., “Voices Behind the Left Shoulder: Two Patients with Right-Sided Temporal Lobe Epilepsy,” Journal of the Neurological Sciences, June 2011, 305, 1–2.

“The psychoses of epilepsy are well recognized complications of seizure disorders, diagnosed easily from the history. However, in the absence of recognized seizures, the diagnosis can be challenging.”
— Edward Needham, “Temporal Lobe Epilepsy Masquerading As Psychosis – A Case Report and Literature Review,” Neurocase: The Neural Basis of Cognition, 2012, 18, 5.

“Hearing voices (i.e. auditory verbal hallucinations) is mainly known as part of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. However, hearing voices is a symptom that can occur in many psychiatric, neurological and general medical conditions. … The third patient is a 27-year-old woman with voices caused by temporal lobe epilepsy.
— I.E. Sommer and D.W. van der Spek, “Hearing Voices Does Not Always Constitute A Psychosis,” Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde, 2016, 160, D492.

The purpose of this case report is to document a patient with cinematographic hallucinations, with corresponding right temporal lobe seizures on electroencephalogram (EEG).
— Nelson, et al., “A Unique Patient with Epilepsy with Cinematographic Visual Hallucinations,” Epilepsy & Behavior Case Reports, 2016, 5, 78-79.

“Psychiatric disorders are very common in epilepsy. … Here, we report a case of a young female who was suffering from complex partial seizure with secondary generalization and who subsequently developed schizophrenic symptoms. … the patient who had a right-sided lesion developed schizophrenic symptoms.”
— B. Sweetha, “A Case of Untreated Mesial Temporal Sclerosis in Right Hemisphere Presenting As Schizophrenia,” University Journal of Medicine and Medical Specialities, 2019.

Further Evidence from Split-Brain Experiments

Psychological experiments conducted with “split-brain” patients, who have had their corpus callosum severed (the primary connection between the two brain hemispheres), provide further evidence for Jaynes’s neurological model. These experiments suggest that the two hemispheres can in some ways operate independently, express different preferences, that one’s sense of self is associated with the language-dominant hemisphere, and that the actions of the right hemisphere can often feel “alien” to the person (with the right hand holding a newspaper to read and the left hand knocking it away, for example). See Elizabeth Schechter, Self-Consciousness and “Split” Brains: The Minds’ I (Oxford University Press, 2018) for a recent, extensive discussion of this fascinating research.

Related Video

Iris Sommer: Investigating Voices
Describes the experience and neurology of auditory hallucinations and shows the accuracy of Julian Jaynes’s neurological model.

2-Minute Neuroscience: Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)
Explains the basics of fMRI as well as some of its limitations.

Further Reading

Julian Jaynes, “The Double Brain,” in J. Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Houghton Mifflin, 1976/1990), Ch. I.5.

Marcel Kuijsten, “Consciousness, Hallucinations, and the Bicameral Mind: Three Decades of New Research,” in M. Kuijsten (ed.), Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness (Julian Jaynes Society, 2006).

Robert Olin, “Auditory Hallucinations and the Bicameral Mind,” Lancet, 1999, 354, 166.

Leo Sher, “Neuroimaging, Auditory Hallucinations, and The Bicameral Mind,” Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 2000, 25, 3, 239-40.

Elizabeth Schechter, Self-Consciousness and “Split” Brains: The Minds’ I (Oxford University Press, 2018).

Iris Sommer and Rene S. Kahn (eds.), Language Lateralization and Psychosis (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Mousa Taghipour and Fariborz Ghaffarpasand, “Corpus Callosotomy for Drug-Resistant Schizophrenia; Novel Treatment Based on Pathophysiology,” World Neurosurgery, August 2018,116, 483-484.

Review additional peer-reviewed supporting evidence for Julian Jaynes’s neurological model.

Brain fMRI image reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Jardri, et al, “Activation of Bilateral Auditory Cortex during Verbal Hallucinations in a Child with Schizophrenia,” Molecular Psychiatry, 12, 319, Copyright 2007.