Bernadette Roberts - What is Self?

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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Bernadette Roberts - What is Self?

Post by Christopher »

This is my first post to this forum so a little background would not be amiss. I am now 65 and doing an MA in Creative Writing at my local university. As part of my studies, I have to write at least 40,000 of a novel, this got side tracked and I am now writing about my adventures in consciousness. It was in doing research on this topic that I came across The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind and given the narrow definition used for the word ‘Consciousness’ I found myself agreeing with much but not all of the theory.

I have on my shelf another book that struck me as able to cast light on the theory but in a most unfortunate way. The book is ‘What is self?’ by Bernadette Roberts. Ms Roberts was a nun for about ten years before having what she called the unitive experience of being one with God. She then left the church and became a housewife for twenty years before returning to her inner path which results in a state of No-Self. She has sense perception but no modern subjective consciousness. In effect it seem to me that what she has done is to destroy the very thing Jaynes calls consciousness and Roberts returns to having no inner perception but God. No matter which way I read her books I come to the same conclusion, she has returned to the bicameral mind state. Religion may not only have risen from the bicameral mind but it looks as if one focuses on the concept of god then one returns to the bicameral mind. Is this even possible?

This field of study is new to me so I lack a lifetime of academic work to be sure of my deduction but I would much appreciate input on this. Am I correct and has Bernadette Roberts regressed to a mode of perception which faded from the human mind five thousand years ago?

I have taken information from Amazon on her last book and added it below.


What is Self?: A Study of the Spiritual Journey in Terms of Consciousness
Publisher: Sentient Publications; 1st Sentient Publications ed edition (1 Dec 2004)
ISBN-10: 1591810264
ISBN-13: 978-1591810261

Product Description from Amazon
Bernadette Roberts stated that she wrote this third book in her series because the previous two ('The Experience of No-Self' and 'The Path to No-Self') didn't give a full enough explanation of her message. For many readers, this latest effort puts all her insights into clearer and sharper perspective. In this book, Ms Roberts explains her concepts about ego, self, and the revelations of the contemplative life in a deeper and more mature fashion, as though her own journey has grown clearer with distance. Readers have remarked that without her understanding and excellent ability to convey so many aspects of the contemplative path (and beyond), much of what she writes about would go unnoticed, or worse yet, misunderstood.

About the Author
Bernadette Roberts is the author of two other extraordinary books on the Christian contemplative journey, The Experience of No-Self (Shambhala, 1982) and The Path to No-Self (Shambala, 1985). She was a cloistered nun for nine years, after which she completed a graduate degree in education, married, raised four children, and taught at the pre-school, high school, and junior college levels. She lives in Santa Monica, CA.
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Re: Bernadette Roberts - What is Self?

Post by jwg144 »

It is difficult to judge that Bernadette Robert's has indeed eliminated her consciousness without having read her book myself. I read a bit about her books and experience on Wikipedia however. It seems to me that while Bernadette has had what she characterizes as two kinds of mystic realization, a unitive state with God, and a deeper realization of "no self" that does away with dualistic consciousness - she nonetheless has available to her a working consciousness as Jaynes defines it. She conducts her affairs, she has written books. For practical affairs I would hazard to say that she has an operating analog I, a mindspace to plan and conduct her affairs. When she needs it, it is available. Meanwhile her mystic experiences don't seem to involve auditory hallucinations or reliance on authority or decisions from outside herself. Jaynes would probably define her desire and attempt to achieve mystic or contemplative states as a holdover from bicameral existence. And perhaps the feelings of closeness with God he would presume to be mediated by right hemisphere stimulation. I prefer not to critique the values Bernadette places on her experiences, and I am not inclined to reduce her experiences to illusion. There may be a shift of her center of gravity away from the normal perception of self in the world to something perhaps like the non-duality spoken about in Buddhism, but her working consciousness with regard to every day affairs seems likely to be intact. The actual features of introspective consciousness in Jaynes terms actually breakdown in cases of schizophrenia, but what happens to mystics is something else I suspect. Normal working consciousness is still there when needed.
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