Julian Jaynes's Theory

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.

Learn more about Julian Jaynes’s theory by joining the Julian Jaynes Society and reading our publications.

Brian J. McVeigh

Brian J. McVeigh has a MS in counseling and a PhD in Anthropology, Princeton University. He researches how humans adapt, both through history and therapeutically. The author of 17 books, his latest publication, "The Self-healing Mind: Harnessing the Active Ingredients of Psychotherapy" (2022), adopts a Jaynesian framework to explain how therapy works. He works as a licensed mental health counselor.

Brian McVeigh

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