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Real World Practical Implications of Jaynes' Theory

Posted: Mon Oct 17, 2016 11:35 pm
by onz

I've been wanted to post this for a while. I'll start off with a simple question to get the discussion going, but could elaborate for hours upon this topic. Can anybody in this community say their life has been completely changed by Jaynes' theory?

My personal answer to this is yes, at the age of 16 it set me on the path to becoming a logical and rationally minded person. Essentially it changed my entire philosophical perspective, it was something I never thought possible - to stop believing in God. This was a hugely powerful change, and I've always been curious to find other people who have experienced the same effect.

I have simplified this a lot, as objectivist concepts also played a large part, but Jaynes' theory was the key trigger.

Looking forward to hearing your stories :) even though this forum is a bit quiet. Maybe WestWorld will cause some of us to revisit the forum as it has for me.

Re: Real world practical implications of Jaynes' theory.

Posted: Wed Oct 19, 2016 3:20 pm
by Moderator
I've had a somewhat similar experience. The answers Jaynes's theory provides on the origin of religion had a profound impact on my worldview very early on.

Another area is the idea that consciousness is learned, therefore variable and, at least to some degree, can be improved upon. I began thinking more about the beliefs we come to and choices that we make completely unconsciously.

Here I think Jaynes's theory dovetails well with the book Thinking Fast and Slow, which could have been titled Thinking Unconsciously and Consciously. I started looking at different areas of life and thinking about the degree to which what I was doing was unconscious vs. by conscious choice.

One example is food. I think most of us tend to eat whatever we grew up eating and whatever is culturally widespread. We're programmed to seek sweets and fats as these things were necessary for our survival in the past but now are easily obtainable. Companies exploit our genetic predispositions by marketing unhealthy products to us that cater to these drives.

It took a few years of making small changes but eventually I was able to radically alter my view toward food, and am now "eating consciously," rather than unthinkingly. I take an evidence-based approach to food and only eat what's both healthy and ethical. One of the most surprising things is how fast one's tastes and habits change. Going in to it I thought I'd have to exert a great deal of willpower and self discipline for the rest of my life, whereas in reality after about three months most unhealthy foods lose their appeal.

That's just one example... one can go through the same process in others areas of life as well. There's a good section on bringing a more rational, evidence-based approach to investing in Thinking Fast and Slow for example.

One can imagine a distant future where the majority of the population are all operating more consciously and rationally in their choices and decision making.

Re: Real world practical implications of Jaynes' theory

Posted: Fri Oct 21, 2016 3:17 pm
by GraemeM
I wouldn't say my life has been completely changed by Jaynes' theory, however learning about his theory has been *part* of a substantial rethinking about what I think life and consciousness is. I began digging more deeply after a sudden realisation about what I ate, which sort of reflects Moderator's experience. In my case, I felt that I could no longer eat animals after learning about how we treat them. That led me to try to learn more about what consciousness is, and how it might be in other animals. I utterly transformed my views on what the inner experience of all animals including humans might be and also what life itself is. And I think, by extension, what the universe is, although here I just have a working notion which doesn't attempt to explain any of the great mysteries.

I admit to a certain scepticism regarding Jaynes' theory in respect to the origin of religion, but I think he has something incredibly important to offer in understanding consciousness. While I don't think he explains the 'hard problem', I've found little consideration elsewhere of his idea of the introspective 'I' form of consciousness arising with language and use of metaphor. But here I think he is almost certainly right.

I've tried to summarise my thinking here, I'd be interested in your thoughts? ... an-beings/

Re: Real world practical implications of Jaynes' theory

Posted: Thu Oct 27, 2016 10:19 am
by Moderator
Another area where Jaynes's ideas have shaped my thinking has to do with predicting the future. There was no concept of chance in the bicameral era (recall gambling traces it's roots to throwing of lots for divination), and with consciousness we've become obsessed with knowing the future/the will of the gods. It continues to amaze me how gullible many of us our when it comes to things like astrology, psychics, palm readers, etc. ... but also stock pickers, sports pickers, market predictors, election predictors, and all manner of "experts" that think they can predict the future (or know they can't but make a living pretending they can). I always treat these with a high degree of skepticism.

GraemeM - I recommend taking a look at critiques of the so-called "hard problem" by Daniel Dennett and others.

Re: Real world practical implications of Jaynes' theory

Posted: Sun Oct 30, 2016 6:50 pm
by GraemeM
Hi Mod, yes I've read some of Dennett and others but I am by no means well read in the field. I suppose the hard problem is a different one from that tackled by Jaynes. Jaynes offers a theory to explain the inner I that experiences the world whereas the hard problem asks how it can be that we can experience an inner I in the first place. I've thought about that a little and have a certain sense of how and why that might be possible but I also get the sense that my ideas about that are not exactly what philosophers mean by the hard problem.

Put another way, I think that say a human being, a dog, or a bat all share a capacity for experiencing qualia in the same sense as is meant by Chambers "hard problem", yet I don't think that what Chambers is talking about has anything like the qualitative character he thinks it has. By this I mean to say that subjective experience is a constructed phenomenon that actually specifies its own properties and we are therefore misled when we try to explain what that is and I thus have substantial sympathy for Dennett's position.

For example, take Nagel's exposition on the nature of qualia or subjective experience being "that which it is like". I think there is no such thing so to use that as a distinguishing feature for subjective experience seems rather arbitrary. I have particular sympathy for the ideas of physicalists like Prinz, Graziano and lately Matt Faw's Hippocampal Simulation theory, but even these fail to explain the hard problem in terms of Chambers' particular framing of it. Perhaps the problem with the hard problem is that it doesn't exist in the first place...

The fact that Jaynesian consciousness as a linguistic phenomenon must also be in the same position of specifying its own properties makes sense as it can only build on the shared foundation for simply experiencing that evolved in animals long before we evolved language.

Re: Real world practical implications of Jaynes' theory

Posted: Wed Dec 14, 2016 12:15 pm
by slingshot
I understand the loss of religion and Jaynes finally gave me the answer to why all human societies, all over the world, have the same concept of god or gods and very similar myths about them. The fact that a belief in supernatural beings is universal gave me the idea, when very young, that it had to have some truth in it.
Jaynes has been the only reasonable source of an explanation that I've found.

Re: Real world practical implications of Jaynes' theory

Posted: Sun Dec 18, 2016 6:32 am
by Gororules
Jaynes does mention he did not want to eradicate religion. For many, if not all, religions that survived into the 21st century, they all require the concept of "faith" because we do not hear the voices anymore.

Re: Real world practical implications of Jaynes' theory

Posted: Thu Dec 22, 2016 12:26 pm
by slingshot
"Faith is believing something you know ain't true." (Mark Twain

Re: Real world practical implications of Jaynes' theory

Posted: Thu Dec 29, 2016 12:14 pm
by EEprofessor
What changed my life was reading Hubert Dreyfus' What Computers Can't Do:A Critique of Artificial Reason when I was a grad student and after reading Jaynes only recently, I wish I had read JJ first.

Jaynes theory has completely altered my world view, it explains so many, many things and it provides, at least in my opinion, the blueprint for creating a sentient machine.

What is regrettable is that JJ was 1) a psychologist and 2) wrote a book instead of published journaled monographs. This is why he has not been taken seriously and why his theories are on the fringe. If my theory is correct, then I think we will find JJ's work amongst the most revered of all time.

In his defense, if he had not been a psychologist, he would not have had the broad view to make the connections that he did. As for a book instead of journal papers, he knew there wasn't time. What an incredible genius.

Re: Real world practical implications of Jaynes' theory

Posted: Fri Jan 27, 2017 8:25 pm
by Moderator
EEProfessor, I'm glad to hear that Jaynes's theory had such a profound impact on you.

On your other point, I'm skeptical of the idea that had Jaynes published his theory in a series of journal articles that it would be enjoying greater mainstream acceptance today. This idea comes up from time to time but I feel that the acceptance of the theory has much more to do with the nature of the subject matter (i.e., consciousness) than the vehicle of publication. Here are a few reasons:

1. Other theories that have gained mainstream acceptance were initially published in book form, such as Darwin's Origin of Species.
2. Jaynes did in fact publish several articles on his theory in academic journals, such as Canadian Psychology.
3. Nearly all new ideas that don't build on existing theories are initially met with skepticism, if not outright hostility, and this includes those published in academic journals.
4. With an exponential increase in the number of professors and journals, journal articles today are like drops of water in a sea of academic publications, and most have no significant impact whatsoever. Had Jaynes only published a few journal articles and no book, there's a good chance we may not even be discussing it today. Perhaps if Jaynes had been working with a group of colleagues over a period of decades and they had published 100+ articles on his theory, that would have had a greater impact on mainstream psychology's acceptance of his ideas.
5. People refer to the lack of mainstream acceptance of Jaynes's theory of consciousness as if it were unusual. In fact, there are currently no widely accepted theories of consciousness.

Currently the field of consciousness is highly fragmented, only recently no longer considered taboo, and probably decades away from any type of consensus. Many theorists are championing their own ideas, and many of these are quite outlandish, including many of those discussed at some of the larger conferences. Well known, mainstream consciousness theorists talk about things like thermometers and smart phones being conscious (I'm not making this up), that the entire universe is conscious, etc. etc., so the chances that these people will suddenly abandon their non-evidence based views and accept Jaynes's theory is quite remote. But I think what's most important at this stage is not mass acceptance but that new open-minded people continue to discover Jaynes's work and learn from it.