Jaynes's View of Religion

Discussion of Julian Jaynes's second hypothesis - the bicameral mind, specifically the subtopics of the implications of the bicameral mind theory for religion, neurotheology, and the origin of religion.
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Re: Jaynes's View of Religion

Post by elliegreenwood »

Religions are the inventions of a calculating conscious mind.

I wish to take issue with the above statement. Although this thread seems to have ended in 2006, I can see that many more people read the thread than continued it. Perhaps it will come back to life.. I have recently read the book and more recently revisited what I think is the most important idea in the book. It is very much the theme of this thread.

The best line in the book, I think, is about Jesus Christ reforming Judaism into "a religion for conscious men". It is interesting that the words and deeds of Christ are written of by others, and perhaps this - the written form - is what makes Christianity seem like a pernicious conscious invention. I absolutely disagree with the above statement. I also do not understand the book as an attack on religion. I agree that it is more a conscious explanation of the internalisation and, subsequently and inevitably, the personalisation of the notion of God.

I think that Jaynes does not give his personal view of religion (how he relates to the notion of God) other than

1) in the final paragraph where he states that he was most occupied during his conscious and professional life with the nature and origin of his introcosm, linked back to his finding it in the first chapter of book III as "a fervent search for what I shall call archaic authorization".

This suggests that he was maybe one of those individuals who may have differed from the culturally normal mentality at any given time and lived in conscious isolation as a result, and perished ostensibly alone. I wish I could have met him, looked in his eyes, and smiled at him.

2) in the first chapter of book III:

"mankind as a whole has not, does not, and perhaps cannot relinquish his fascination with some human type of relationship to a greater mysterium tremendum ... what in our time can be more truly felt when least named, a patterning of self and numinous other from which, in times of darkest distress, none of us can escape"

Religion, as a form of conscious social control from within its followers, is also a product of the unconscious. It is different from God. God as the "source" of knowledge of right action, of scientific fact, of equality and human rights, of anything, is within us. Religion is an organised form like art, science, music. Therefore, to me, it seems that Jaynes recognises the validity and value of religion, regardless of how he personally relates to it.

My suggestion for the reason why Jaynes' book is so monumental is that he is saying we need to look differently at the past again, because the logical tradition of western philosophy is wrong, and we need not look forward to finding certainty in new forms or guises either. It is in the archaic authorization of the bicameral mind that we lost due to the written form among other causes.

Therefore, what I take from the book, which is liberating, is that the answer is that we are not alone. We feel alone. But, in fact, we are together, and we are one, and we can talk about this in conversation without consciousness of a subjective, private, egotistical, agenda. Heaven to me is the understanding smile of a companion in conversation with me, beside me under a clear blue sky. This is why I believe in marriage, in the marrige rite of Chirsitianity, in the sanctity of marriage.

The only question for me, which is another thread in the forum, is where the above leaves Islam, which chronologically post-dated Christianity and created a 'different cultural norm' apparently hostile to Christianity because its formers were, I imagine, already 'different'. It is beyond the scope of this thread: Can Chistianity, Atheism, and Islam (the 'opposing' monotheism) co-exist peacefully? I think yes, first individually and then, ages hence, collectively. The hurdles are the same as it was first time around: language, Gods, behaviour, state of mind. How little we and the nature of consciousness have yet evolved from its origin!
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Re: Jaynes's View of Religion

Post by Moderator »

Some of these ideas I addressed some time ago in another thread ("Rise of One True God Religions") but since (as you have accurately pointed out) this seems to be a very popular thread, I'll make some comments here as well. My aim is not to discourage anyone from having their own interpretation of Jaynes's ideas, but only to clarify Jaynes's own views on the subject.

Jaynes avoided making his own views overtly known in The Origin I think primarily for two reasons:

1. He was sensitive to those who held mainstream religious beliefs and did not want to offend them.
2. He probably didn't want to alienate people who might otherwise enjoy his ideas.

For example, when asked the question "Does this theory destroy the reality of religious experience?" after a lecture, Jaynes did not state his own views on the subject, answering instead: "Let me just describe to you a letter that I received from a theologian in a Southern Baptist college where they were reading my book … he said this is how it all fits together for him." Jaynes then relates how this man reconciled Jaynes's theory with his religious views. Roughly paraphrasing: "God started the process of evolution and then slowly step-by-step uses language and the voices to reveal himself, first through personal gods, then through monotheism, then faith, etc." Jaynes then says, "All of that you see can fit into then a Christian interpretation” if you want to think of indeed a God outside of all of this. So, I don't want people to think that I'm trying to be anti-religious in what I've been saying."

(From "Consciousness and the Voices of the Mind." See: http://www.julianjaynes.org/audio-cds.php)

So we can see here that Jaynes did not want to discourage those with religious views from interpreting his ideas in their own ways. But this tells us nothing about what Jaynes believed himself.

We can, however, glean Jaynes's view from (at least) four sources:

The first two are quotes from The Origin:

". . .the nostalgic anguish for the lost bicamerality of a subjectively conscious people. This is what religion is." p. 297

"The most obvious and important carry-over from the previous mentality is thus our religious heritage in all its labyrinthine beauty and variety of forms." p. 318

Here to me he makes it clear that religion in the modern sense is a vestige of the bicameral mentality, i.e. the longing for the lost auditory hallucinations that had been interpreted as the communication of chiefs, kings, dead ancestors (as in China) or gods.

In his 1990 article "Verbal Hallucinations and Pre-Conscious Mentality," (reprinted in Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness) he states his views more clearly:

"Verbal hallucinations, we think, evolved along with the evolution of language during the late Pleistocene as the response part of the brain register of all admonitory information. Its survival value at first was simply to direct an individual in various long-term tasks, which cued their occurrence. By 9,000 BC, such voices were called what we call gods. This theory is thus one that explains the origin of gods and therefore religion."

Finally, there is an anecdote from William Woodward, his former student and co-author of the biography of Julian Jaynes in Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness. In a 2006 lecture at the Julian Jaynes Conference on Consciousness, he relates a story of having Julian over for dinner. Woodward said grace before the meal, after which Julian said something to the effect of "Bill, you don't believe that!" Woodward replied, "Well, it's a ritual for us, it's good for the children" etc. Woodward goes on, "Julian was the son of a Unitarian minister. Julian did not believe in Christ. Julian did not believe in ritual, except as an illustration of the evolution of consciousness. "Bill, you don't believe that!" in other words, "Bill, evolve yourself." And sure enough, I have evolved.

(To watch Woodward's lecture, visit the JJS YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/julianjaynessociety)

So in summary, Jaynes was clearly respectful of those with religious views or god beliefs. Jaynes encouraged them to interpret his ideas in the context of their own beliefs and he went out of his way not to offend them. However, Jaynes was a scientist and most likely personally held an atheistic or at the very least agnostic perspective. It is clear he felt his theory is the best explanation for the origin of gods and therefore religion and that that origin is in human psychology.
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Re: Jaynes's View of Religion

Post by clivedurdle »

Just finished Jaynes' excellent book and am playing with my consciousness being a balloon I pull around above my head!

I think the concept of it being like maths is very important.

And on religion, I see Jesus as a mythological creation, a godman like Hercules, an attempt to bring back together the godworld and the manworld in a new synthesis.

The gospels are best seen as plays with jesus as the main character - Mark is the original with the others as riffs.

I would check the gospels for their hexamic rhythms. Mark and Homer have already been explicitly compared.

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ ... dmark.html
This is an incredible book that must be read by everyone with an interest in Christianity. MacDonald's shocking thesis is that the Gospel of Mark is a deliberate and conscious anti-epic, an inversion of the Greek "Bible" of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, which in a sense "updates" and Judaizes the outdated heroic values presented by Homer, in the figure of a new hero, Jesus (whose name, of course, means "Savior"). When I first heard of this I assumed it would be yet another intriguing but only barely defensible search for parallels, stretching the evidence a little too far—tantalizing, but inconclusive. What I found was exactly the opposite. MacDonald's case is thorough, and though many of his points are not as conclusive as he makes them out to be, when taken as a cumulative whole the evidence is so abundant and clear it cannot be denied. And being a skeptic to the thick, I would never say this lightly. Several scholars who reviewed or commented on it have said this book will revolutionize the field of Gospel studies and profoundly affect our understanding of the origins of Christianity, and though I had taken this for hype, after reading the book I now echo that very sentiment myself.
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Re: Jaynes's View of Religion

Post by newmedia »


Based on my personal interactions with Jaynes, I believe the moderator is correct. He was a non-believer and one of his motivations was to try to "prove" a materialist origin of religion.

This stance was also partly because he was an outcast in his own profession and was very sensitive that his arguments remained completely within accepted "reductionist" boundaries. Indeed, he was concerned that his cult following among "New Agers" would further hamper his acceptance.

Critically, he did NOT believe that "evolution of consciousness" made any sense at all. Humans aren't conscious by "nature" (i.e. as a feature of our biological evolution) but need to be trained by their cultures. We are sufficiently "plastic" that we can have many different mentalities, without needing to invoke evolution at all. He was also unwilling to speculate on what other mentalities might lie in our futures.

That said, of course Jaynes didn't actually prove anything about religion at all. Overwhelmingly, hallucinated voices have nothing to do with religion. They are/were typically thought to come from dead ancestors who tell us how to behave and not "gods." Chinese ancestor worship and the Confucian Analects aren't religious but have a great deal to do with the decline of bicamerality and the need codify correct social behavior once the "voices" have departed.

Mark Stahlman
Brooklyn NY
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