After reading Jaynes’s The Origin of Consciousness, most people have additional unanswered questions about Jaynes’s theory. To this end, we recently released The Julian Jaynes Collection, which contains new evidence for Jaynes’s theory, previously unpublished lectures by Julian Jaynes on dreams and the nature of the self, rare articles by Jaynes on a wide range of topics related to his theory, and in-depth interviews and question and answer sessions in which Jaynes addresses the most common questions about his theory, clears up common misconceptions, and extends his ideas into new areas not covered in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. This is the next best thing to having a personal conversation with Julian Jaynes. We encourage you to read this book to gain a greater understanding of Jaynes’s theory.
Below is a partial list of the many questions about the theory that Julian Jaynes addresses in the The Julian Jaynes Collection:
The Bicameral Mind
Did everyone hear the gods?
Why should there be voices of the gods? Why would the brain organize itself in this dramatic way to deal with the world?
What was the neurology of the bicameral mind?
Were the brains of bicameral people different from those of modern people with subjective consciousness?
What caused the breakdown of the bicameral mind?
Was the shift away from the bicameral mind caused by a genetic mutation or was it culturally induced?
How were bicameral civilizations structured to give social support to the hallucinated voices of the gods?
Is the difference between modern consciousness and the ancient bicameral mind a difference in the “software” or the “hardware” of the brain?
Do you see vestiges of bicameral hierarchical structure in our political system?
You seem to be focused on Western civilization, but how about Eastern civilizations, particularly India and China?
What about the experience of hearing voices when one is just waking or going to sleep? Does that mean we still have residues of the bicameral mind?
What is the relationship between modern schizophrenics and split-brain patients and ancient bicameral man?
Are you suggesting that all ancient people were schizophrenic?
If you ask a person what he was thinking about yesterday, would this be something that did not ever happen in the bicameral world?
In the model here, does one side of the brain have the attributes of consciousness, since it is making the decisions in terms of the voices of the gods sending it over to the left side?
Why in some cases does the right hemisphere say good things and sometimes bad things?
You indicated there was not a physiological change to bring about the end of the bicameral mind? So what initiated it then? Why didn’t it take place 2,000 years before that, or 10,000 years before that, or 10,000 years after that?
Why does the theory have to apply to every group of people in the world if the bicameral mind and consciousness are cultural inventions?
Are there any matriarchal societies in early civilization?
Before a child can use language, does this mean that the child is not conscious?
Do children go through a bicameral phase in their development?
Do you have any hypotheses on why and when consciousness occurs in infants?
In connection with imaginary playmates, you said that the bicameral mind was innate. Why then aren’t we all bicameral?
I wonder if there are methods or directions we could pursue that would be an improvement in helping the development of consciousness in children?
Did the role of conscience change between the bicameral period and consciousness?
How do you define consciousness?
What are some of the other operations that take place ‘within’ consciousness?
Do you make any essential difference between the word “consciousness” and the word “self-consciousness”?
What is consciousness not?
Is consciousness merely reflecting on ourselves? Is it reduced to self-consciousness?
Is there a more objective way of pointing out consciousness?
How much of the misunderstanding and/or controversy surrounding your theory involves semantics concerning the term “consciousness?”
When did consciousness begin?
Why do you suppose that consciousness developed from the bicameral mind? Would it make you more fit for survival?
Why did consciousness develop? What were the events leading to the breakdown of the bicameral mind?
How is consciousness related to activity in the brain?
I agree that consciousness and perception should be separated and that they have been squeezed together by many psychologists. But why do you think this is so?
I was surprised to discover that the Budda and Confucius were supposedly contemporaries. And they were both not very far from the beginning of the Greek civilization. I wonder if that conjunction fits into your development in the transition from bicamerality to consciousness?
Do you think there might not be some sculptors, painters, and particularly composers who would dispute the idea that language is required for consciousness?
Was consciousness a functional necessity rather than a structural change?
Are there different levels of consciousness between children and adults?
What do you think of the monist school and the myriad interpretations which attempt to reconcile quantum physics, consubstantiation, and consciousness?
You noted that a number of the first religious leaders and philosophers all lived at about the same time: Lao Tzu, Confucius, Budda, Socrates, Zarathustra. It always struck me, especially after I read your book, that something was happening at this time.
Do you consider any possibilities of nutritional effects resulting in changes of consciousness that came about around the agricultural period?
Is it possible that a great number of the world population is nearly “unconscious” according to your definition?
How do we know that people didn’t have consciousness before the bicameral period and then lost it?
What is the future of consciousness?
What is the next stage beyond consciousness?
The Consequences of Consciousness
What is going to be in the second volume?
Were you saying that shame was not present in preconscious people?
Do you argue first of all that shame societies are not conscious? And secondly, how do you respond to the notion that shame supposes consciousness in the sense that to feel shame, one would have to put oneself in the place of others and see oneself from their perspective?
Is creativity a harking back to the bicameral mind?
Critiques / Response to the Theory
How has your profession received your ideas?
What criticism has there been of the theory?
Do you get much response from people with an artistic background?
What type of responses have you received? Have the responses you’ve received been different from scientists as opposed to those working in the humanities?
Why do you think the theory is so controversial?
Has there been a growing acceptance of your views?
Does resistance to your theory stem from the notion of saying other cultures differ from ours is somehow wrong?
What are the weak points of your theory? If you were a critic of your own theory, what would you criticize?
Recalling how people reacted when Darwin reduced man to a product of evolution, do you think some people refuse to consider your theory because they are unwilling to accept that consciousness also has a traceable origin?
What are dreams in this theory?
Can introspection occur in dreams?
What are your thoughts on dream interpretation?
What about animal dreams?
How do you define thought and feeling?
Evidence: Cave Art, Pyramids, Burials, Neurological, etc.
What about the cave drawings in Lascaux?
How about the pyramids of Egypt? Surely the pharaohs who built them as their tombs were thinking ahead to their afterlife, and that would be consciousness.
How do you account for the presence of symbolic objects in graves?
Has there been any recent physiological research that you’re aware of which has a bearing on the theory?
Are there any areas in which your theory tries to explain too much?
What would it take to convince you that the theory is wrong?
Have you changed or modified any of the ideas in the book?
I still can’t believe all this, saying that ancient people are not conscious like we are. How can you prove it?
Glossolalia (Speaking in Tongues)
Have you worked at all with the contemporary phenomenon of glossolalia and the relationship of that both to the understanding of the present, post-bicameral period, and also projecting back into the period of the bicameral mind?
Was there humor in the bicameral period?
Julian Jaynes: Biographical Questions
How did you first come to your theory on the origin of consciousness?
What have been your greatest influences?
What was your childhood like?
What’s the relationship between language and consciousness?
I wonder if you had anything to say about inter-species language or what the consequences are for the mind of other species learning language?
Was there any difference in moral developments in the bicameral mind?
What consequence or significance does the theory have for people who are living today?
How is music related to the theory?
What about pain? Pain is certainly conscious and ancient people and animals surely feel pain.
Relation to other Theories
Have you recognized any affinities between your theory and those of the “gods” of psychology — i.e., Freud, Jung, James, etc.?
You say that in the process of the breakdown we “became our own gods.” Isn’t this another version of the existential line that modern man is alone in the world and must learn to take responsibility for his own actions?
Do you know of any historical examples (other than your own) of the idea that human consciousness is a recent historical development, or that it was a social (as opposed to evolutionary) phenomenon spurred by the development of language?
What do you feel is the place of your theory in the history of Western thought?
Harry Jerison in his book Evolution of the Brain and Intelligence (1973) a number of years ago suggested that consciousness was the highest level of abstraction of the sensory input and that’s the level we work at. I was wondering if this fits into your model, Dr. Jaynes, and what the various participants think about this?
Your theory seems to discredit the reality of religious experience before consciousness. Could you give me your opinion of the reality of religious experience after consciousness?
What can you say on mystical religious conversion experiences?
Why shouldn’t we assume that the Marxist critique is correct: a mystical, or perhaps purely Machiavellian, elite controlled the theocratic structure and used the “fiction” of the voices of gods as means of maintaining power and control?
Can a being be unconscious and still have a concept of ‘self’?
Therapy & The Treatment of Mental Illness
Does this theory relate to therapy in any way?
Have you said anything that could be of help in treating schizophrenia?
Tribes & Pre-Literate Societies
Have you ignored modern pre-technological societies in your search for evidence of the bicameral mind?
What about the primitive societies of today, are they bicameral societies based on your interpretation?
If consciousness is learned from generation to generation, does this imply that there are bicameral groups today — hunter-gatherer societies, for example?