Author Philip K. Dick's letter to edtr. Mark Hurst re Jaynes

Discussion of the influence of Jaynes's theory on works of fiction, film, and in popular culture.
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Author Philip K. Dick's letter to edtr. Mark Hurst re Jaynes

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March 17, 1977
Dear Mark,

Sorry I was somewhat abrupt with you the other night on the phone. It was an expression of my concern about Sherri, nothing more. Her friend Kathy had come over and told me, "I think now Sherri is dying." Kathy is very practical and down-to-earth, and I never heard her say anything like this before. It fits my impression completely. Anyhow, that is our personal problem; on to news about VALIS.

The issue of TIME MAGAZINE which I told you about is off the stands, so I presume you were not able to get hold of a copy. I have the book which it discussed: Julian Jaynes' THE ORIGIN OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND (cost me $13, but it was well worth it). Here is his stunning theory, based on a decade of research:

Humans originally were bicameral — that is, they used two hemispheres of the mind ("bicameral" means "two-chambered"). The left hemisphere was used for speech; the right contained the inner voices of the gods or dead or living kings, which the bicameral man heard as commands to do what was socially necessary; i.e. the inner command voices kept him at his tasks. Extraordinary as it may seem to us, when a king died, his people continued to hear his voice on an inner basis, for some time after he was dead; this is why in the most ancient cultures throughout the world the dead king's body was provided with food, etc., since he, in the form of his voice, was very much alive to his followers. However, somewhere between two and one thousand B.C. man began not to hear these inner command voices; as Jaynes puts it, "The gods fell silent." Man made frantic and even somewhat tragic efforts to get the gods to talk to him as before; for example, this is what the Delphic Sibyls did: they spoke for the god Apollo, but by that time (600 B.C. to 100 A.D.) only a few simple peasant girls could hear the godly voices. And finally even they could not. By 100 A.D. no one could hear the voices of the gods anymore.

In reading Jaynes' book I discover that although he is very certain (and very correct) that these inner command voices issued out of man's right hemispheres, in no way is Jaynes really sure what specifically the voices were, if you follow me. He does not even really claim to know, although he speaks of them sometimes as being introjected voices of former kings now dead. He does not seem to believe or claim that this is all that these voices were mainly he concentrates on the human agony of the loss of these voices, due, he says, to the rise of consciousness in the left hemispheres of men so that they so to speak gave themselves their own commands, were no longer automatons reacting to command voices from their right hemispheres. Bicameral man ceased to exist and modern man took his place. Modern man, as Ornstein says, is cut off from his right hemisphere, from whatever it is now doing — which seems to be a lot, according to Ornstein and Joe Bogen and other researchers, such as I quoted in A SCANNER DARKLY.

Nowhere, though, does anyone except Jaynes — and this is the marvel of his theory — advance the idea that at any tie did the right hemisphere speak to the left. Jaynes says, and I think rightly, that this falling silent of the godly voices is what has come down to us as the myth of the Fall. At one time man talked and walked with his god, but that all ended; hence we speak of the Fall. And the idea of Original Sin is that we ourselves were responsible for these godly voices falling perpetually silent, as they remain up to this day.

Well, now, consider my novel VALIS. Here is an ancient teaching satellite which is also an ancient invisible "godly" life form. Look at what I can add to my book based on Jaynes' book — which due to the TIME article is probably being widely read and discussed, now. Obviously, VALIS/Zebra is the source of these inner godly voices; the right hemisphere is a transducer-receiver for VALIS/Zebra, and at one time VALIS/Zebra spoke to man in exactly the way that Jaynes describes. I therefore in VALIS am saying what the source of those now-silent voices is, which Jaynes does not for the simple reason that he cannot and hence does not try. I say, there was VALIS long ago, talking with man as I talk with other men now. However, I differ with Jaynes in certain crucial respects (and I wrote him a long letter yesterday to outline this); VALIS/Zebra still instructs man, but now it is done subliminally, in dreams, and in invisible manipulation of man's acts through engramming and disinhibition. VALIS/Zebra works on, but in secret. Thus I wrote to Jaynes that although we do not hear the gods any more, that does not mean that they are no longer there and no longer active. To think that because we fail to hear them they no longer exist is a failure to think logically and in fact practically. It would be as if I believed that after you and I, Mark, ceased talking on the phone the other night, you ceased to exist — because I could no longer hear you. (I also pointed out to Jaynes that the voices of the gods still direct us in the form of what we call conscience, which I'm surprised he didn't think of).

The main value for my book VALIS is that just as the work of Ornstein and Bogen formed a scientific basis for A SCANNER DARKLY, so will Jaynes' revolutionary new work form a scientific basis for VALIS. Jaynes has not really gone far enough (he says, however, that he plans to push his work further in a forthcoming book). He makes a completely convincing case for the "lost inner command voices of the gods which have now fallen silent" but he does not try to explain the objective origin of the voices (by the way, he says that in our times, among modern man, the voices show up as the hallucinated voices which schizophrenics hear, that in fact schizophrenics are the remnants of bicameral man, unable to function, not understood or appreciate, in the modern world; also, the voices which schizophrenics hear tend to deride them rather than guide them: they are demon voices, not godly voices).

That fits in with my book VALIS inasmuch as Houston Paige either is schizophrenic or fears that he is. A good scene might be one in which Paige, tottering on the edge of schizophrenia, begins to hallucinate, but instead of hearing godly command voices which instruct him as to how to cope with stress situations, they, as is so common in such voices, mock and insult him, a travesty of the ancient godly voices — these voices, in fact, in degenerate form.

I will have Sadassa Sylvia be reading Jaynes' book. She, of course, will suppose that the now-silent godly command voices issued from the Aramchek satellite. Meanwhile Paige, who also has read the book (or anyhow the article in TIME) supposes that these voices emanated from Zebra.

The point is, Jaynes' theory, research and book form the first scientific basis for VALIS/Zebra that I've yet come across, except, of course, the gene pool abreaction and disinhibition which I believe I already mentioned to you. The advantage to this is that TIME has given it good publicity.

I frankly don't think that Jaynes in his forthcoming work is going to be able to give a satisfactory account (assuming he tries to) of the objective origin of the right hemisphere command voices. Also, I am not thoroughly satisfied as to the reason he gives for them falling silent; i.e. the rise of modern conscious man; after all, aren't there primitive tribes today who would have, we should suppose, whatever archaic kind of mind our own cultural ancestors once had? But they, too, no longer hear any godly inner voices, yet they are at least as primitive as the Greeks and Hebrews of one thousand B.C. It seems more likely to me that the source of these voices fell silent, rather than the way Jaynes supposes it: that we simply can't hear them now because of changes in us.

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Re: Author Philip K. Dick's letter to edtr. Mark Hurst re Ja

Post by misterrosen »

I wish I'd known about this letter sooner. Fascinating.

It contains errors.

The main error is Dick's statement that 'originally man was bicameral'.

Jaynes states explicitly that man was not bicameral originally, but became so 'later' when complex language was developed.

Dick then explains that Jaynes does not adequately explicate the hemispherical differentiation and thus the cause of voices being heard on one side rather than the other.

By way of plausibilizing (or narratizing - Taleb style)...

As complex language came into use, human brains now performed a nearly fundamental shift in processing. Some part of the brain anyway. A part including memory, hearing, vocalization, control, social networking, etc. now had a means or sophistication available to it that had never been known. A level of complexity we likely have yet to 'max out'.

It's absolutely unreasonable to believe that the two hemisphere's shared equal capability to process this information. It's converse is that one side was better able than the other to learn to 'speak'. I refer here to the 'act' of vocalization.

It's simple, in contrast, to believe that the similar area of the brain in the opposing hemisphere could process similar information, but would NOT control speech, outwardly.

There's no discernible conflict in believing that said 'internal' speaker would be able to transmit, by internal hidden vocalization, the 'other' thoughts relevant to the decision maker. But the 'speaking' side of the brain would, of course, I think, use the voice of the speaker in internal thoughts, if it was able to have them. (Rather, let's assume that this side of the brain, at the time, had no capacity to think internally, and instead consider this side to 'think out loud', like the elders in a tribe of American Indians having a pow-wow.

[for a thought experiment, imagine you are a cowboy, watching these indians. How would you prove, from observation alone, that these indians 'first' formulated their words in a mind space? Would this 'consciousness' be evident and different in any way?]

In any case, if Hemi-A needs to speak to Hemi-B, and Hemi-B's voice is already in use externally, then some other voice would need to be used in order to get a clear message across. For sake of 'ease', let's assume Hemi-A chooses Hemi'B's 'life-partner's' voice. Someone who is around, might have some say, is familiar, and whose voice we have a clear stored memory recording of. [By the way. How could said person avoid an instantaneous belief in ESP?]

So, Hemi-B chooses a familiar voice, transmits the message and moves on with processing information as though nothing untoward had happened.

The issue here is not how we evaluate modern aborigines, rather, what is left to discover is where the dividing line is between simple syntax of language, the kind apes are now shown to have capacity for, and complex language that just by 'existing' [the syntax, not the vocabulary] 'causes' a communications throughput sufficiently expedient to blur the differences between our dual brains and leave us with the impression of a single brain unit we call 'I'.

This, I think, can be proven with a single example. First though, let me remind us that if we transited brain development stages (invisible friends for instance?), from infancy, through childhood, into adulthood, AND we experienced a shift in processing technique, a gradual shift, could we notice it happening? Absolutely not.

So, imagine your parent, or yourself if you are a parent, scolding a child who has done something thoughtless, and saying:

"What were you thinking? Didn't you think about what was going to happen?"

If the child is younger 5 or 6(?) the answer is almost patently NO. Because this child does not yet have an introspective mind space with which to think about anything. They think out loud, if at all. [Also, I suspect, it means the child is still incapable of lying]

I believe it's already shown that we 'learn' to introspect because the culture instructs us how. That is, we learn to 'think', because everyone else does, and so we better learn how.

Not everyone thinks as well as the next guy, and even as adults, many think best when thinking out loud.


BTW - Dick's letter includes various bad inferences - see Black Swan - Taleb, for info on how we fool ourselves.
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Re: Author Philip K. Dick's letter to edtr. Mark Hurst re Ja

Post by selfreplicate »

I am surprised at the lack of mentioning the collective unconscious in regards to the bicameral mind.

When Dick, in this letter, asks for the origin of Jayne's bicameral voices, can we not just give him the 'collective voice'?

Jung theorizes archetypes, some type of a right-brain structuring protocol. More directly, however, Levy-Bruhl refers to the "collective representations" of 'primitive' man, which gives them a socially/culturally regulated form of absolute knowledge. They always know what to do in a situation, they never question anything new; not only have they not lost the ability to hear their bicameral voice, but they never heard it as a voice at all.

For them, their collective unconscious is passed down through ritual, expressed through them as direct action. Later, and in some of the groups Levy-Bruhl mentions, these laws/omens/mystic knowledge are passed down through the voices of dead ancestors.

Overall, I would have to say that the gods Dick looks for are a remnant of genetic transmission, still expressing itself in the form of ritual, then through verbal communication, and so on until the locus of the transmission is no longer from a shared space, but nested in the individual.
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Re: Author Philip K. Dick's letter to edtr. Mark Hurst re Ja

Post by misterrosen »


My impression is that collective unconscious is not applicable in this case. Rather, the left brain, which reasons and problem solves at a higher level, has to 'transmit' this information to the right side in order for bicameral man to function better. The 'voice' then is heard as an expression from left brain to right brain. Interestingly, this is perceived 'one way'. Bicameral man does not 'converse' with God, rather, he receives information, typically very insistent, and cannot be argued with.

Joseph Campbell integrates Jung's symbols beautifully, and does relate this to common memory or common 'source' for mythological traditions, but no where does Campbell or Jung suggest that these voices/sources 'know everything' in a real sense. Not to my knowledge anyway.

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Re: Author Philip K. Dick's letter to edtr. Mark Hurst re Ja

Post by selfreplicate »

Is it true that Jung/Campbell saw the collective unconscious as a reservoir, passive, and not something that interacts? I think it is, like you said, but it's a distinction I haven't really thought about until now.

I guess what I'm trying to uncover is a way to see the collective unconscious as an expression of the genetic information in humans. Perhaps Jaynes' voices, Jung's archetypes, and ancient people's mythologies are all expressions of a post-genetic evolution? The former is direct instruction and the latter are some kind of more advanced schematic structure for decision-making, whereas genetic code is like an instruction, and natural selection a kind of decision-making.

Perhaps there is some relation between the collective genepool that has advanced the human species (at least until the advent of consciousness), and the artificial arena of human society (which requires new tools for survival, hence myths and bicameral voices).

In the same way that we now see, in the 21st century, how crowdsourcing/collective intelligence can provide answers more effectively than previous systems of decision-making, weren't we once (and still are) using large populations to cancel-out bad genes? I mean, I know it seems like straight meta-physics, but can't the collective unconscious be a form of non-physical(?) genetic-like information communicated to the organism via things like voices and myths and dreams and rituals to make them more well-adapted to their surroundings? (And some even say it is physical in that it resides in synaptic structures; Cloak, Primbram.)
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Re: Author Philip K. Dick's letter to edtr. Mark Hurst re Ja

Post by benda »

What this letter DOES prove, however, is that Dick was NOT inspired by Jaynes while he was writing "A Scanner Darkly" (he only learnt of Jaynes' ouevre after he'd finished working on the novel). Therefore, I believe that the post on this forum stating that "A Scanner Darkly" was inspired by Jaynes (viewtopic.php?f=17&t=972&p=2257) has to be modified.
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