Random Thoughts on "Reflections"

Discussion and questions specific to The Origin of Consciousness; Gods, Voices, and the Bicameral Mind; The Julian Jaynes Collection; and Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness books.
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Random Thoughts on "Reflections"

Post by bugsenior »

Random thoughts on Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness

I’ve just finished Reflections and find it of uniformly high quality. Some months ago, when first having read Jaynes’s book, I was intrigued by the originality and coherence of his theory. I wasn’t prepared to accept it as more than a possible explanation of consciousness. I was most impressed by the breadth of his knowledge, including disciplines of history, antiquity, linguistics, archeology, anthropology, sociology, literature, religion, and of course, neuroscience.

With regard to discoveries, historically an innovator usually confronts one or more individuals on the planet pursuing a similar path contemporaneously. Well known examples include Leibniz and Newton “inventing” calculus at the same time, across channel. There was even a priority battle briefly but Leibniz graciously conceded. In fact, the calculus described by each was sufficiently different so as to make it clear that the discoveries were in fact independent but simultaneous.

Darwin was prodded to publish Origin of Species when he received a letter from the young (and penniless) Alfred Russell Wallace, who was making naturalistic observations in Java and Borneo. Wallace independently described natural selection. Darwin’s theory was yet unpublished as he has spent 20 years compulsively cataloging his specimens and refining his theory. On receiving the letter from the obscure young aspiring naturalist, Darwin panicked, once again related to the issue of priority. Wallace graciously conceded to Darwin, and Darwin “rushed” his book into print.

The point of this retrospective relates to Jaynes’s stunning originality. His theory is revolutionary rather than evolutionary, and had he not conceived it, it may never have been propounded. And he may well be right. I can think of at least one work of literature which lends itself to a Jaynesian schema. The “Grand Inquisitor” section from Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov” depicts the religious hierarchy when Christ reappears in Spain. The Grand Inquisitor berates Christ for offering free will to the masses, a terrible burden. He tells Christ that senior prelates have assumed this burden for the masses. In their enlightened or “conscious” state, the clerics “mercifully” maintain the masses in blissful ignorance, providing magic, mystery, and bread. Christ never speaks, and concludes the interview with a kiss. Dostoevsky was branded as having written the most compelling atheistic tract known. His response was that the rest of the novel represents a rejoinder to the Grand Inquisitor.

I note that Daniel Dennett is frequently alluded to in Reflections. His work in philosophy and evolution is quite good, but his recent volume purporting to disprove the existence of God is an exercise in intellectual arrogance. I don’t believe that human reason can provide any insight with respect to the existence or absence of a deity, but it does sell books, viz Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion.
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