Compared to Other Scientific Ideas, Jaynesian Psychology Isn’t So Farfetched

— But How Confident Can We Be that Jaynes Is Right?

We accept as fact the magical transformation of species (Darwinian evolution), the warping of spatiotemporal fabric (Einsteinian astrophysics), and the superposition of particles and “spooky action at a distance” (quantum mechanics). So surely, one would think, acknowledging the cultural roots of consciousness and that supernatural visitations and visions (hallucinations) governed societies seems rather tame. Compared to other well-established scientific ideas, Jaynes’s arguments do not seem so implausible. But many of us still find his ideas unpersuasive. Indeed, while we are comfortable with the way the hard sciences defy our commonsensical assumptions about the how the natural world works, when it comes to consciousness, we feel uncomfortably challenged if confronted by something as so supposedly radical as Jaynesian psychology. It seems we are all “experts,” convinced that our own views must accurately describe something so personal, immediate, and “obvious” as subjective introspectable self-awareness.

The Necessity of Persuasive Evidence

Sweeping pronouncements may be true, but we still need to get into the weeds of empirical investigation and hypothesis testing. Scientific facts rest on decades of painstaking data collecting and experimentation. Progress is often more of a dialogue between competing but equally plausible viewpoints. Rarely are what seem like advances a definitive series of self-assured declarations. Refining terminology, agreeing on protocols, qualifying theoretical stances, and searching for subtlety of expression should be the goal. We need to remember that the aforementioned wild ideas in this essay’s opening sentence do not appear so improbable now, especially after decades of meticulous work that includes the application of mathematical modeling, testing with sophisticated instruments, exploration of unchartered parts of the globe, etc.

What Are the Odds that Jaynes Is Correct?

At least for this writer, the more we learn about human history and our anthropological record as a species, the more commonsensical Jaynes becomes. Let’s look at what we do know. First, hallucinations presently play a salient role, in clinical as well as nonclinical “normal” populations. However, to date they have not been adequately explained. Second, even a cursory examination of Bronze Age civilizations show how utterly different they were compared to post-first-millennium BCE societies. Such dramatic differences need to be confronted intellectually, in particular the role of hallucinatory experiences and the lack of clear-cut mental words where we have written records. Third, the part performed by metaphors in driving forward the evolution of mental words as a response to changing social situations is well established. Fourth, anomalous but ubiquitous psychological behaviors — spirit possession, hypnosis, imaginary playmates, glossolalia, hypergraphia, autoscopy, etc. — have not been adequately positioned into an explanatory and satisfactory framework. No one set of theories (except for Jaynes’s) ties all these behaviors into a neat, parsimonious theoretical package. Unlike the natural sciences, theory-testing in the social sciences and history should be allowed more latitude since the number of variables is so great. With that stated, the validity of a theory can be measured on a scale from highly unlikely, unlikely, 50-50, likely, to highly likely. The question, then, is given the reviews, criticisms, critiques, commentaries, elaborations, and testing of Jaynesian ideas to date, where do his hypotheses fall on the scale? Readers, of course, can decide for themselves. But for this writer we are very much passed the indeterminate 50-50 point, confidently and comfortably in the “likely” position, and probably into the “highly likely” quintile.

The Psychology of Ancient Egypt with Brian J. McVeigh

Join us for a 90-minute interview and Q&A session with Brian J. McVeigh on his latest book, The Psychology of Ancient Egypt: Reconstructing A Lost Mentality.

We will be delving into many aspects of ancient Egypt that are relevant to Julian Jaynes’s theory.

This online event will be held on Thursday, November 16th, 2023 at 4pm Pacific/7pm Eastern.

The hour-long interview will be followed by a 30 minute question and answer session with the event participants.

Free and open to the public (RSVP required).

More info and RSVP here:

A Google Meet invitation with a link to join the event will be sent to all RSVPs.

Read The Psychology of Ancient Egypt: Reconstructing A Lost Mentality – on sale now.

The Importance of Nailing Down the Basics: Commentary on the Jaynes Theory Quizzes

A word of thanks to all those who tested their knowledge of Julian Jaynes’s theory by taking the JJS Quizzes on Jaynes’s Theory. In an earlier blog, “Julian Jaynes Is Not for the Intellectually Fainthearted—But Breaking Jaynesian Psychology Down into 4 Hypotheses Makes Things Easier,” I made the point that a major deterrent to understanding Jaynes is the large range of topics one must be either familiar with or at least open to learning about. One must also suspend one’s preconceptions and take a plunge. Appreciating Jaynes has little to do with being very intelligent or years of academic training; many well-credentialed commentators regularly misinterpret Jaynes. Rather it demands viewing subjective introspectable self-awareness from a very different angle and questioning our assumptions (e.g., the mistaken view that consciousness was evolutionarily and genetically baked into our neuroanatomy). Those who have been “overly disciplined” by scholarly disciplines into well-grooved habits of thought seem to struggle with Jaynes’s daring conclusions, and perhaps this explains why it is often those outside of academia that are more open to his arguments.

The Need to First Get the Fundamentals Right: The Basic Knowledge Quiz

It is one thing to disagree with a theory; it is quite another to disagree with it without truly understanding the theory. The more unconventional and challenging an idea, the more vital it is, from the beginning, to master the fundamentals. Without a firm basis, things become very confusing, very fast. This is why for anyone who wants to understand Jaynes the results of the first or Basic Knowledge Quiz deserve attention. The mean (average) score for the first quiz was 66.5% (n = 77). The median (the middle value when a data set is ordered from least to greatest) was 70. The standard deviation (a measure of how dispersed the data is in relation to the mean) was 26, indicating noticeable differences among individuals in comprehending Jaynes.

The question that most stumped quiz-takers was Jaynes’s training (77% incorrect). Why is this question so crucial? It is necessary to appreciate his scholarly background since his eventual conclusions were a direct assault on the stubborn assumptions held by his colleagues in mainstream psychology about the origins of consciousness. But I feel the most important question in the Basic Knowledge Quiz concerns Jaynes’s main ideas about the nature of consciousness. If one does not get this one right, the intellectual edifice that Jaynes built won’t make much sense. Significantly, 41% of responses were incorrect. This means that Jaynes’s key argument is not getting through. For those who are interested in obtaining an accurate understanding of his central thesis, this query, and its correct answer, is the place to start. Another question that concerns essential knowledge is the meaning of bicameral mentality (only 56% correct), as well as when consciousness emerged (only 42% correct).

On the positive side, the mode (the number occurring most often in a data set) was 90, which occurred fourteen times, indicating that a number of people have not only read Jaynes but understand his theories quite well. Those who scored 90% (an “A”) deserve to be congratulated. Other bright spots are questions on the meaning of hallucinations experienced today (93% correct) and the role of voices heard during the bicameral period (87% correct).

The Intermediate Concepts and Advanced Concepts Quizzes

Interestingly, the mean for the second quiz—Intermediate Concepts—was 75.3% (n =30; median = 75; standard deviation = 19), almost ten points higher than the average of the first quiz. This shows that some take Jaynes very seriously and it is also notable that some respondents did quite well: The mode was 90 and 100, each appearing six times (the score 60 also appeared six times). In the second quiz all respondents answered correctly the question about the neurological model for bicameral mentality and its relation to being right-handed. Moreover, for the question on the nature of consciousness, 27 quiz-takers got it right.

Not surprisingly, not many did well on the Advanced Concepts Quiz. The questions of the third quiz demand a solid familiarity with Jaynesian psychology. The mean was 61.5% (n = 26; median = 65; standard deviation = 23.9). But even here some impressive scoring deserves attention, as the mode of 90 appeared 5 times. Congratulations again! This is further evidence that some are quite conversant with Jaynes’s theories. Also, on three questions respondents scored a “B” (80%).

Lessons Learned and the Jaynesian Paradigm as a Starting Point

It is of course debatable how to interpret the quiz results, especially since some might argue that statistically not enough individuals took the Intermediate and Advanced Concepts Quizzes. We should note that some respondents took the quizzes more than once (these were counted separately). Nevertheless, there are lessons to be gleaned and we hope that quiz takers are not discouraged. We would like those who were inquisitively adventurous and curious enough to take these quizzes to continue to view the ideas of Jaynes as the starting point for intellectual exploration. Indeed, we hope that readers of this blog are encouraged to do further reading on Jaynes’s theory and then retake the quizzes. Reading Jaynes’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind is just the starting point, and, at least anecdotally, we’ve seen that those that read books on Jaynes’s theory beyond The Origin generally exhibit a far better understanding of the theory. We again thank all those who were up to the challenge of taking the quizzes. Remember, Jaynes is not for timorous thinkers.

Consciousness as “Super-perception”

Like Technological Innovations and Linguistic Coinages, Consciousness Greatly Extends Our Senses, Increasing Adaptability

People commonly confuse and conflate sensory perception with Jaynesian consciousness. Indeed, this is why in much of my writing I have stressed their distinction. However, here I argue that despite their important differences, they are nevertheless intimately related. Consciousness is grounded in our perceptual processes and it is informed by, entangled in, and in many ways defined by sensory engagements with the environment. Consider that consciousness operates because many of the metaphors of mind are rooted in physioperceptual interactions with the world.

Consciousness can be conceived as a new kind of “super-perception,” appearing only about three millennia ago, a mere blink of the eye on the evolutionary timescale. Not a product of genetics, it was linguistically acquired, transmitted socially from one generation to the next, and cannot be reduced to neurological structures; it is more a “nurture” than a “nature” phenomenon. Being culturally cultivated and historically invented, consciousness is not simply generated by certain parts of the brain, any more than ideas about politics, art, or philosophy are. It is a type of adaptation and affords us a secret, safe stage on which we can test out behaviors and ideas. It allows us to run simulations of behaviors, thereby permitting us to save time and avoid risks and the unnecessary expenditure of physical energy. Consciousness, then, expands and magnifies our senses to novel realms of adaptability.

Perception is not consciousness, and strictly speaking we are neither conscious of the cognitive machinery that produces perception nor perception itself. But we can introspect upon “conscious-ized percepts” (or what might be termed “consciously interiorized perception” or “conscious percepts”). However we describe such forms of subjective qualia, consciousness elevates sensory encounters with the world to a completely new level of complexity, greatly amplifying such interfaces, and creating a powerful adaptation by constructing an introcosm of virtual quasi-perceptions. We mistakenly label interiorized percepts and even abstract thoughts as “perception.” However, such subjective qualia are built upon our consciousless sensory apparatus. Through metaphoric scaffolding, both through the centuries as well as during a person’s sociolinguistic development, the operations of our senses are transmuted into sophisticated mentation.

The Mind Represents and Re-represents the World, Multiplying Our Mental Capabilities

Our current language is not equipped to delineate various psychological processes. So, at the risk of introducing jargon and for the sake of argument, I suggest some neologisms based on “ceptions” or what an organism experiences when its perceptuo-conceptual system interacts with its environment. This terminology is intended to show the relation between hallucinated voices and visions and conscious introspectable experiences. First are perceptions; these are nonconscious operations of the senses. Second are conceptions; these are nonconscious mental representations. Third are “superceptions”; these subsume three types. The first are “extraceptions” or audiovisual hallucinations interpreted as divine commands and visitations in ancient times. The second type of superception is “introceptions” or mental imagery (quasi-perceptions). Unlike consciousless conceptions, introceptions are re-representations. Mental imagery is a cultural ― not biological ― adaptation that emerged relatively recently in human history (about three millennia ago). In other words, imagery is a learned ability, not an innate faculty.

The third type of superception are vestigial extraceptions. These are anomalous behaviors, e.g., hallucinations still suffered by schizophrenics. Hallucinatory reduplications of one’s own body (autoscopy, out-of-body experiences, heautoscopy) are most likely related to the reactivation of vestigial neurostructures that cause hallucinations.  Such “self-hallucinations,” similar to the ubiquitous theophanies recorded in ancient texts, are remnants of an older neuropsychology. Understanding present-day atypical behavior aids us in appreciating the hallucinatory nature of subjective inner visualizations (i.e., mental imagery) as adaptations in modern times.

Mental Imagery as an Adaptation

Important affinities link introceptions (“inner sensations”) with extraceptions, i.e., both are hallucinatory and project images in the mind that do not necessarily portray the reality that our senses register. But there are crucial differences: Mental imagery is volitionally controlled, less vivid, mostly believed to be transpiring somewhere “within” the individual, and is regarded as somehow less real than physical existence. Hallucinations are avolitional, can be very vivid, typically are perceived to have origins external to the person, and are usually interpreted as real. We have insight that mental imagery does not necessarily reflect reality, while hallucinators often lack such insight. What is significant is how in the same way extraceptions were at one time adaptive, introceptions (mental imagery) is also an adaptation.

To conclude, we also might mention one more type of ception: Coceptions. These describe the coinciding of conscious percepts with introceptions; such overlapping deludes us into assuming that interiorized qualia are mere sensory reflections of reality.

Neuroscience Confirms Julian Jaynes’s Neurological Model

Posted June 10, 2020. Updated March 4, 2023.

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 Scott Alexander’s “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.

Consciousness Is More “Nurture” than “Nature”

But Like a Massive Planet, the Gravitational Pull of the Word “Consciousness” Drags our Thinking in the Wrong Direction, Warping Scientific Analysis

The nature-versus-nurture debate has framed discussions about the origins of mind for centuries: Is it innate or acquired? Has it biologically evolved or is it better understood as the product of historical development? To what degree is it learned? To be more specific, what about consciousness, understood here as one aspect of mind?

Many of us assume that consciousness has the qualities of something inborn and is thus more “nature” than “nurture.” Arguably this is because we unthinkingly associate it with perception and some vague notion of cognition (some of us even believe it is a basic property of any organism possessed of a mind). Unfortunately, within the ambit of “consciousness” a host of unhelpful associations swirl around that distorts our understanding. Many believe it is a basic, elemental aspect of mentality, so therefore it must be ahistorical and unconnected to the vagaries of human civilization. If this is the case, consciousness must be deeply rooted in our very distant evolutionary past. Being something evolved, it is thus unrelated to what is learned. This must mean then that it antedates socializing experiences and it emerges whether or not an individual is exposed to learnable elements in a given environment. In other words, similar to sensory perception, breathing, or digestion, consciousness will automatically kick in and operate even without being culturally acquired.

Here a caveat is needed. Like most either-or propositions, the nature-versus-nurture framework oversimplifies reality, especially since human capabilities require both innate and environmental experiences to become operational. So the nature-versus-nurture perspective actually distorts our understanding because in reality, they interact to such a degree and are so intertwined that they can only be disentangled for theoretical purposes. In other words, culture (nurture) is not simply layered over a deeper, “more real” physicality (nature). The nature-versus-nurture perspective is merely a heuristic maneuver to highlight how certain facets of the human condition are not inborn (i.e., enculturation). But what is learned still requires a catalyzing grounding in our physical being, specifically, our neurology. The mind is best considered as an interactant or a result of the coming together of neurological processes plus enculturation.

In any case, for the sake of argument, we can postulate that certain phenomena fit more comfortably and convincingly in either the category of nature or nurture. And consciousness, since it is learned, finds a better home in the nurture category. Many people, mainstream psychologists in particular, have a difficult time conceptualizing consciousness as a recent historical invention because our folk psychology implicitly teaches us that it must be part of an evolved, innate psychic structures and shared with other animals. But consciousness is not a product of evolution and is species specific, i.e., limited to Homo sapiens. Subjective introspectable self-awareness is a cultural innovation, not an inborn trait of our neurological apparatus.

Falling between the Cracks: Jaynes’s Defiance of Scholarly Conventions Challenged Cherished Methodological Assumptions — This Is What Makes Him Hard to Appreciate

Academics make progress when they are inspired by the cross-pollination of ideas, and most researchers, arguably, utilize a multi-disciplinary approach to some degree, i.e., no piece of research fits perfectly into one scholarly field. Much of the academic landscape can be described as combinatory endeavors — social psychology, psychological anthropology, psychology of religion, neuropsychology, neurotheology, etc., to name just a few. Cross-fertilization is a wonderful and much-needed antidote to specialization, subspecialization, sub-subspecialization, etc.

Nevertheless, despite all the hoopla surrounding interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, and transdisciplinary approaches, not everyone is enamored with a multi-faceted approach. Let’s be honest: Department heads, university presidents, publishers, manuscript reviewers, project referees, and the average reader/consumer typically feel more comfortable pigeonholing an article or book into a scholarly field. This probably happens unconsciously. It often seems easier to be narrowly focused and to produce siloed research. After all, mastering one field is hard enough, but becoming proficient in more than one is not only challenging but may hinder one’s climb up the academic ladder. Building bridges is difficult, often unrewarding, work. While in grad school I can remember members of my dissertation committee dismissing my interests as theoretically muddled.

In Search of an Academic Home: Jaynes Transcended Traditional Disciplinary Borders, Making Him Difficult to Pin Down

Where does one position the contributions of Jaynes on the scholarly map? He seems to defy disciplinary categorization not just because his arguments are so wide ranging, but because he combines two fields that seem particularly unrelated: Psychology and history (Table 1). Some jump to the conclusion that the best fit is evolutionary psychology. But while Jaynes certainly was an evolutionist, he was not an evolutionist when it came to explaining the origins of conscious interiority. Jaynes, we should note, was a comparative psychologist by training, and he did not deny the major principles of biological evolution. But he concluded evolution could not explain the origins of conscious interiority. Indeed, Jaynes’s overriding premise was that one needs to investigate cultural changes to account for the origins of consciousness. Jaynes located the emergence of conscious interiority in our recent history and saw its transmission via socialization (not through genes). Moreover, he saw the nature of subjective introspectable self-awareness as ideational and cultural (though it is of course grounded in our neuroanatomy).

Table 1. Positioning Jaynesian Psychology in the Disciplinary Landscape.

Discipline Provides evidence, substantiation, and methodological direction for …
Ancient History Bicameral mentality and postbicameral vestiges
Anthropology Cross-cultural comparisons and postbicameral vestiges
Archaeology Changes in mentality as configured by material and technological advances
Linguistics Language as the socializing mechanism, particularly the role of metaphors, in constructing conscious interiority
Literature and the Arts Understanding changes in how the self and mental states have been represented and explored aesthetically
Neurology How bicameral mentality and postbicameral vestiges function from a neuroanatomical, neurophysiological perspective
Philosophy Addressing mind‒body dualism and other philosophy of mind conundrums
Psychology Experimental and theoretical framework
Religious Studies Bicameral mentality and postbicameral vestiges

Jaynes as a Cultural-historical Psychologist

So what disciplinary labels best describe the Jaynesian endeavor? I suggest “cultural psychology” as a good candidate. Cultural psychology explores how psyche is radically configured — but not determined — by nongenetic social forces. Let’s explain this field by looking at what it is not. First of all, it is not mainstream general psychology, whose primary purpose is the search for a presupposed “central processing mechanism” (CPM) characterized by fixed, abstract, universal, and invariant rules. Rather, the “cultural” in cultural psychology mandates attention to what is socially specific, particular, variable, concrete, contextual, and between people. Psyche is viewed as deeply engaged in the environment, not as disembodied, detached, or uncontaminated by a person’s surroundings. Second, cultural psychology is not cross-cultural psychology, a specialty of general psychology that, like mainstream psychology, assumes a CPM defines the core elements of psyche. The strategy of many researchers has been to sift through all the cultural accretions layered over a CPM. This quest for psychic unity, rather than psychic diversity and plasticity, privileges mind over its environment, form over content, and the deeply hidden over what operates on the surface. Third, cultural psychology is not psychological anthropology. This is an interdisciplinary attempt to discover the laws of the CPM by investigating the social environment. Psychological anthropology, like general psychology, does not appreciate how the psyche is radically configured by external forces. Stated differently, psychological anthropology sees the socioecological context as somehow expressive of deep and invariant psychological processes. This is reductionistic and assumes that society is the consequence of the projection of mysterious psychic forces. Finally, cultural psychology is not ethnopsychology, which has taken a taxonomic, classificatory approach to mind, self, emotions, and norms (similar to ethnosemantics or ethnoscience). Like botany or kinship, this folk belief approach is not person-centered enough.*

An apt description of the Jaynesian endeavor requires one more element that recognizes the role of changes to psyche over time: Historical. Thus, the fully expounded disciplinary appellation that best defines Jaynes’s methodology is cultural-historical psychology. Psyche cannot be surgically extricated from historical processes (strictly speaking, “cultural-historical psychology” is associated with Lev Vygotsky and Alexander Luria, and while their work certainly resonates in important respects with that of Jaynes, for the sake of clarity we need to at least mention this more narrow definition).

Dispensing with Social and Psychological “Essences”

Some thinkers, depending on the targeted topic, react instinctively to which methodology should be employed (anthropological, sociological, historical, or psychological).  But such reactions are often related to academic territoriality, not an acknowledgment of the limitations of a certain methodology. Just because a phenomenon can be understood sociologically does not negate its existence as something psychological, and by the same token, examining the same phenomenon psychologically does not negate its existence as something social. No “social essence” exists separately from a “psychological essence.” The social-versus-psyche divide is a product of methodology, not ontology. Constructed in certain places at particular times, mind cannot be reduced to computational processes immune from culture. Psyche is not an asocial, acultural, ahistorical entity. The orthodox division between formal mental processes and cultural content may reflect the demarcations between psychology, sociology, anthropology and history departments, but it does not do justice to the realities of human mentation.

Mind cannot be bracketed off from society. It is not a mysterious substance dwelling in our heads. Once this is understood, we can look for mind where it operates (among individuals) and acknowledge that what is regarded as external to the mind—institutional settings, meanings, beliefs, values, knowledge—is actually the stuff of mind. We need a socially pragmatic approach to mental operations, i.e., mind is more than an aspect of our neurological apparatus; it is assembled by political processes and the needs of society. Conscious interiority is a set of culturally learned beliefs about volition, motivation, and what supposedly occurs “within” the individual. It is more than neurophysiological processes. What are conventionally referred to as psychological events are in fact also functions of social interaction; that is, the workings of intentional behavior and sociopolitical relations.

* This treatment of cultural psychology is based on Richard A. Shweder, “Cultural Psychology: What Is It?” In Cultural Psychology: Essays on Comparative Human Development, eds., James W. Stigler, Richard A. Shweder, and Gilbert Herdt. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp. 1‒43.

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:

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”