Myth 3: Jaynes was an “ethnocentrist.”
Fact: This origin of this misconception is particularly confusing. A definition of ethnocentrist is: “the tendency to evaluate other groups according to the values and standards of one’s own ethnic group, especially with the conviction that one’s own ethnic group is superior to the other groups.” This myth probably arose with individuals who did not read Jaynes’s book but skimmed it or read summaries which mistakenly lead them to believe Jaynes based his entire argument on ancient Greece. Jaynes focuses on Greece because the oldest reliable writing (the Iliad) comes from Greece. He also examines the evidence for his theory in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Mesoamerica. He did not know Chinese so he could not evaluate the evidence for the transition from bicamerality to consciousness in ancient China. However, this has been done by Dr. Michael Carr (see Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness, pgs. 343-416). More recently, Todd Gibson has documented evidence for the transition from bicamerality to consciousness in ancient Tibet (see Gods, Voices and the Bicameral Mind, Chapters 14 & 15). Similar evidence for vestiges of bicameralism can be seen in nearly all pre-literate or pre-modern societies (Lévy-Bruhl, 1926). The fact that some cultures value trance states and hallucinatory experiences is evidence for Jaynes’s theory, not against it (specifically his third hypothesis), as is sometimes argued. The transition from bicamerality to consciousness took place at different times in different places around the world. Furthermore, nothing about Jaynes’s theory implies the superiority of one culture over another.