Bicameral Breakdown

Discussion of Julian Jaynes's second hypothesis - that before the development of consciousness, humans operated under a previous mentality called the bicameral mind.
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Bicameral Breakdown

Post by Soupdragon »

I've just finished The book. The implications, of course, are profound, and I can't find too much wrong with JJs reasoning.

However, there is one aspect which I find unsatisfactory. Why did the bicameral mind break down over a relatively short period of time? Personally I suspect environmental factors over and above sociological. JJ postulates the increasing complexity of social interaction (too many voices, perhaps) arising from increasing populations.

While The Old Testament provides hints of a lack of any 'analog I', it also mentions one or two other tumultuous events. Floods, plagues, etc. What fun.

Is it unreasonable to suggest that these events were indicative of global changes that may have tripped the switch on bicameral minds?
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Re: Bicameral Breakdown

Post by scarmig »

Soupdragon wrote:I've just finished The book. The implications, of course, are profound, and I can't find too much wrong with JJs reasoning.

However, there is one aspect which I find unsatisfactory. Why did The Bicameral Mind break down over a relatively short period of time?
It's been a couple of years since I read it, but it's stuck with me good. Nice meeting you BTW!

Personally I believe it is a combination of environment and necessity made possible through the adaptability of the human body.

To take a simple explanation first... We all expect that human children will learn to walk. After all, they have spines that are adapted to walking upright, maybe no perfectly, but suitably. They have hips that allow the proper rotation of the leg bones and joints, and they have tendons and muscles in the right places. So we assume that children will grow to walk upright. That's what human children do.

But there have been a number of cases of feral children, children raised by animals that contradict this assumption. Children raised by animals do not learn to walk upright. They learn to run on all fours. No problem, they are just following examples. But the interesting thing is that children never taught to walk upright find it impossible to do so as adults. Quite simply, the bone structures of the hips as children were formed to support walking on all fours, and the spinal column shaped to support those kinds of movements and stresses. Essentially, the body shaped itself to the need, and the need was communicated by example.

The human brain is no different. In fact it is even more malleable and adaptable than bone and muscle structure. It shapes itself to its usage and need. So in my mind, I see where it is possible for mere one generation to experience an evironmental change that encouraged high communication between the two brains in order to survive. Simply creating a large city that lasted more than a decade or two might have been enough.

But once established, that generation of unicameral thinkers would pass on through example to their children, who would develop unicameral thinking much earlier, and thus have more time to encourage and develop it's usage in the brain, further establishing the pattern.
Is it unreasonable to suggest that these events were indicative of global changes that may have tripped the switch on bicameral minds?
I find it interesting that JJ specifically excluded various cultures and regions of the world from his study. As our knowledge of other, obscure cultures grow, I would not be surprised to find humans that did not encounter the need to develop unicameral processes and thus are still functioning quite well with the bicameral divide in place.

Note that many of the South American tribes that are still not assimilated into western culture use strong hallucinogenics to exand their awareness. This may also be a source of unicameral development.
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Post by Soupdragon »

Thank you for an interesting response. From what you say I can see that there is little reason why we should not be able to adapt quickly.

I have a hunch, however, that we were adapting to global changes, perhaps of a catastrophic nature during the periods of bicameral breakdown.

Many years ago I found the work of Immanuel Velikovsky to be of interest, but it was controversial and I struggled to put it into any contemporary scientific framework or context. Velikovsky wrote 'Worlds In Collision' and another book, both of which were roundly ridiculed by the mainstream.

More recently I have taken an interest in the emerging Plasma Universe paradigm. To over simplify, this new cosmology sees The Universe as principally electrodynamic in nature, and permits many ideas excluded by Newtonian and purely gravitational based systems.

While many of the ideas at first seem radical, they don't exclude the possibility of global catastrophy in recent millenia. If our little planet enjoyed different gravitational and/or electrical conditions in its recent past, then perhaps these were more conducive to the functioning of the bicameral mind.

Ancient testimony seems to suggest an obsession with planets which are barely visible now, and most religions have astronomical foundations.

I think a multidisciplinary approach is all important when considering these and related issues.
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Post by Soupdragon »

I have just copied the below from an SIS CD. I'm sure they won't mind.

From: SIS Internet Digest 1998:1 (June 1998) Home | Issue Contents
Jaynes anyone?
From: Amy

Clark asks:

What about the "Mankind in Amnesia" idea that ancient disasters may still be motivating factors in the modern human psyche?

Amy adds:

I want to take this question one step further. First, I admit I haven't read Jaynes, so perhaps the answer is obvious to those who did. That said, I do know that a catastrophic viewpoint changes practically every aspect of human understanding. So the question I have to ask is whether Jaynes has taken catastrophics into account in his analysis of the human psyche.

In other words, Jaynes' theory of bicamerality is based on a body of evidence, plus his viewpoint/assumptions, which I would guess are uniformist. If the viewpoint is changed to catastrophic, how does this affect his conclusions?

In other words, when God said (poorly paraphrased) this is the land I have promised unto you--go into it and kill everything alive, I suspect that the bicameral interpretation and the catastophic interpretation will be different.

From: Clark
Date: Sun, 24 May 1998 12:26:42 -0400

Jaynes claims that catastrophes were a major causative factor in the emergence of consciousness. In "The Origin of Consciousness..." chapt. 3, he writes: "The loosening of the (bicameral) man-god partnership perhaps by (commercial) trade and certainly by writing was the background of what happened. But the immediate and precipitate cause of the breakdown of the bicameral mind, of the wedge of consciousness between god and man, between hallucinated voice and automaton action, was that in social chaos the gods could not tell you what to do...

"The historical context of all this was enormous. The second millennium B.C. was heavy laden with profound and irreversible changes. Vast geological catastrophes occurred. Civilizations perished. Half the world's population became refugees. And wars, previously sporadic, came with hastening and ferocious frequency as this important millennium hunched itself sickly into its dark and bloody close."


In other words, Jaynes' theory of bicamerality is based on a body of evidence, plus his viewpoint/assumptions, which I would guess are uniformist. If the viewpoint is changed to catastrophic, how does this affect his conclusions?


Jaynes was always nervous about being identified with Velikovskian interpretations of the catastrophes mentioned above. In my view, however, and in the view of many others, Jaynes was a catastrophist, and a brilliant one.

From: Henry Zecher
Date: Sun, 24 May 1998 14:27:21 -0400

Re: Mankind in Amnesia

Velikovsky's theory that ancient catastrophes were still driving factors in modern behavior was his collective amnesia theory. This collective amnesia, by which we forget the traumas of the past and are therefore driven by subconscious reactions, is based on his idea that there is -- throughout the human race -- a collective subconscious mind.

This concept he got from Carl Jung who, traveling around the world, saw common human characteristics and behavior modes from one culture to another. Rather than simply conclude that all humans are basically alike or similar, Jung -- heavily influenced by Hinduism -- postulated the collective subconscious mind. A psychologist friend of mine pointed out the link to Hinduism and told me that, if I read up on Hinduism, I would understand Carl Jung. He was right.

For my money, the entire concept of a collective subconsious mind, and collective amnesia, is nothing more than seeking complicated, exotic explanations for the purely simple.

From: Ted Holden
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998 10:34:27 -0400

I'm beginning to get the impression that, if I had to find out as much as I possibly could about the origins and history of the human race by reading just two books, those two books would have to be Worlds in Collision, and Julian Jaynes' "Origins of Consciousness".

The term bicameral means two-chambered. The main center of the human brain for speech is called the Wernecke area, on the left side of the brain. There is a totally analogous area on the right side and a bridge crossover between them and, for the most part, this right-side analog to the Wernecke area appears to serve no purpose, sort of like the human appendix. Nonetheless, when this right-side Wernecke-analog area is stimulated with electric probes, as is sometimes done in experiments with epileptics, the people usually claim to be hearing voices, as real as if you or I were speaking to them.

Such "auditory hallucinations" are common amongst schizophrenics and you occasionally read about them in cases such as those of Joanne of Arc or David Berkowicz (Son of Sam), but they are rare, and such stories do not usually have happy endings (getting burned at the stake is not a happy ending...). Jaynes, however, claims that such auditory hallucinations were perfectly normal just three thousand years ago and that, in fact, the entire manner in which men used their brains and minds was then totally different from the way in which we use them now, and that the mechanism involved this right-side analog to the Wernecke area of the brain.

He uses terms like "bicameral mind", "bicameral societies", "bicameral paradigm" etc. He assumes a perfectly normal evolutionary model. He assumes that the human race evolved into this bicameral state, that the bicameral societies were reasonably functional, and that we then evolved out of that state, for complex reasons. He notes that vestiges of the bicameral paradigm, including things like prophecy, idolatry, hypnotism, and schizophrenia, still remain.

I view the bicameral societies as having been mostly if not entirely disfunctional, and the idea of evolving into the bicameral state as impossible for two reasons, one being the known impossibility of evolving ANY complex function, the other the illogic of requiring natural selection or anything like that to cause something to evolve INTO a disfunctional state.

Jaynes does not concern himself much with the antediluvian world, but rather concentrates on a period of time from some dawn of recorded history until the time of the old sections of the Illiad. My own take on all of this, as most are familiar with, is that the kind of capability Jaynes describes was part and parcel of the normal mode of antediluvian communications.

It is interesting to note that for all of the admonitions against idolatry in the OT, such admonitions pretty much begin with the books of Moses and there is no mention of idolatry at all prior to the flood, despite the Lord supposedly being sufficiently bent out of shape to wipe the entire planet at that time; merely a few vague references to "violence" and "corruption".
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Re: Bicameral Breakdown

Post by gungasnake »

Soupdragon wrote:I've just finished The book. The implications, of course, are profound, and I can't find too much wrong with JJs reasoning.

However, there is one aspect which I find unsatisfactory. Why did The Bicameral Mind break down over a relatively short period of time? Personally I suspect environmental factors over and above sociological.

That's absolutely right; electrostatic factors to be precise. Check this out:
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Post by Soupdragon »

Sure. Velikovsky was the man who really started the ball rolling, but he was lacking any method/agent to deliver the sucker punches to planet Earth.

The emerging Plasma Universe paradigm (aka Electric Universe), however, offers insights that were lacking back then.

Electrostatics may indeed hold the key to resolving the problems raised by Velikovsky and Jaynes!

Why and how did big changes rock our little planet?
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Post by sambrenton »

Well, how short is a short period of time?

From the Inductrial Revolution to now was a short period of time, relative to the existence of mankind, and look what's happened.

One of the most daring things about his argument I thought was that it was in fact a staggered change over a period of time. Doesn't he use the Mayans as possible late Bicameralists, unable to understand the 'modern' conciousness they came in touch with?

He also uses writing, and urban population growth, as a great enabler in the breakdown, and these developments happened, if not concurrently, in clusters across parts of the world. So it's the development of societies into certain forms that precipitate the change.
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Post by Moderator »

I agree with the last post. Jaynes mentions the advent of writing and the mixing of different populations as critical factors, and in the Afterward (1990 edition) says in retrospect he might not have made as much of the Thera explosion.

The shift to consciousness in China and Latin America, for example, occurred at different times and was probably unrelated to any specific catastrophic event, except in the general sense that volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, etc. could have prompted the mixing of displaced populations with nearby cultures. It could just as easily be related to population growth and increased trade. Thus, the Velikovsky comparison seems unwarranted.

If so-called electrostatics were involved, you'd expect the entire world population to be effected at roughly the same time. There were probably bicameral tribes in various remote places (Jaynes mentions the Amazon) up until as recently as 100-200 years ago.

Jaynes traces the story of the Biblical flood to older Sumerian myths (it may have been associated with a tsunami). The website linked three posts above takes a literalist interpretation of the Biblical flood account (and the rest of the Bible as well), and seems to be trying to use the ideas of Jaynes and Velikovsky to support religiously-motivated Creationist nonsense -- at least that was my take (note the unsupported slam against evolution as well as Creationist links on main page).

The page also reinterprets/disagrees with Jaynes, saying that in trance states, prophets were in actual communication with "God" ("Prophesy originally involved a trance state, and the prophet attempting to join his mind to that of God in order to know God's intentions, or what he would have us do."), rather than hearing verbal hallucinations originating in the right hemisphere, and attributed by man to dead chiefs or gods.

[Just as a side note, it seems as though some people tend to be attracted to controversial fringe theories in general, and then try to link up or associate their favorite fringe theories as somehow offering support for each other. When trying to gain acceptance for a controversial theory such as Jaynes's, the last thing you'd want to do is associate it with an even more controversial theory like Velikovsky's.]
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Re: Bicameral Breakdown

Post by ignosympathnoramus »

Moderator: I agree. I personally have a penchant for certain "fringe" theories and have noticed in myself a strong urge to find connections between them. This goes beyond just trying to unify a worldview, too. For many of us who realize that much of the mainstream is leaving out a great deal of truth for various reasons (political correctness, getting funding, etc), there is a conspiratorial intuition that we should find the greatest truth in whatever books the mainstream is most threatened by. I recall Robert Anton Wilson's remark that he got exceptionally interested in Wilhelm Reich as soon as he learned that his books were being burned (literally). However, on this point I think that there is some non-conspiratorial convergence between EU catastrophism and JJ. The required bridge between the two comes from your own suggested reading list: John Geiger's "The Third Man Factor." (an absolutely phenomenal book by the way!)

On page 166, in the very section dedicated to discussing Julian Jaynes, Geiger summarizes the views of Michael Persinger, who is "another researcher who has built on Julian Jaynes's theory."

"In 1988, Persinger suggested the existence of a link between hallucinations and electromagnetic disturbances, whether produced internally by the brain, or externally by other natural sources such as solar flares and seismic activity, or by man-made sources such as microwave transmission and electrical devices. There is, he and his colleagues wrote in the International Journal of Neuroscience, growing evidence that suggest that 'the right hemisphere of the normal brain may be more sensitive to changes in geomagnetic activity.' He theorized that these fluctuations cause micro-seizures that in turn produce altered states, notably the sense of a presence nearby. A number of other studies have connected geomagnetic activity to certain brain responses. One revealed a statistically significant correlation between the solar wind, with its embedded magnetic fields, and historical reports of hallucinations, both of which peak in the months of March and October."

Now, again, I agree that combining two rather speculative and/or fringe theories is extremely perilous. However, one does not need to buy the whole Velikovskian scenario of Venus as a rogue comet to see a solid connection between EU catastrophism and JJ. All you need is a rather massive auroral storm caused by a solar flare, such as the one that caused the Carrington Event:
Persinger's theory seems to help account for "contagious madness" or shared hallucinations as least in terms of getting everyone "in the mood."

Lastly, I would like to note that there are various levels of "fringeness" even within EU theory. I personally find Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs to be the more circumspect and plausible exponent of EU theory:
You simply cannot deny that humans have witnessed intense auroral displays, and if Persinger is right, then the connection between world mythology, transient atmospheric phenomenon, and hallucinations seems to be plausible.

p.s. there is a comet set for a near-miss of earth in some 15 years or I guess we will all see if electrical discharge phenomenon take place between the two bodies, ala a Velikovskian scenario
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Re: Bicameral Breakdown

Post by shrimperdude »

I'm seeing on the telly pictures of an asteroid that has passed by the earth a mere 200,000 miles out; an incident that coincides mysteriously with the NASA launch of two payloads purported to be gravitational field analysis equipment bound for lunar insertion; we are kept in the dark for a reason:there are dangerous troglodytes inhabiting our planet whose reactions to the truth are just too unpredictable & too potentially dangerous. The truth about human consciousness; about the voices & the ultimate source of all intelligence may indeed be known & well understood by some advanced human forms who prefer anonymous security to the imagined alternatives; this stuff could be much more dangerous to social stability than any of the other hidden truths. I just finished an examination of 1st & 2nd Samuel for a Sunday School Class I taught this past Sunday; Bible scholars(term needs definition) disagree on just what is 'ark' & what is 'ephod;' apparently there are places where the one term gets substituted for the other in a not so subtle obfuscation of the tribes' use of divination when engaging the enemy on the battlefield; my class could not be led or coaxed into a discussion of these matters because(and I pointed this out to them with mixed reactions) they clearly have a problem with AUTHORITY, divine or otherwise; they were told in less than politically correct terms that their concept of GOD'S WILL & His ability and methods of communicating it to His 'children' were primitive ones that held no value for their self-development & needed some serious revision in the near term(there were no tomatoes thrown; perhaps because they are out of season).
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