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Intro to Myths and Misconceptions

Posted: Tue Aug 18, 2015 3:22 pm
by Moderator
For a variety of reasons, myths and misconceptions about Jaynes's theory abound. Often those who write or comment on Jaynes's theory unfortunately don't first take the time to properly understand it. They seem to often skim the book, only read a summary of it, or for other reasons jump to conclusions about what Jaynes is saying rather than taking the time to really understand the theory. The vast majority of critiques of the theory are based on misconceptions.

Responses to some of the most frequent misconceptions are posted here: ... theory.php

and here: ... eory_2.php

We've also posted this Myths vs. Facts page here: ... theory.php

As new misconceptions are published, we can utilize this forum to stay on top of them. If you find misconceptions about Jaynes's theory, post them here, along with your clarification. You can also request a clarification from others.

Ultimately we'd like to see more people debating what Jaynes actually said, rather than misinterpretations of the theory.

Re: Intro to Myths and Misconceptions

Posted: Wed Aug 19, 2015 5:20 pm
by ignosympathnoramus
Here is an absolute howler: Corballis, The evolution and genetics of cerebral asymmetry (2008):

"Jaynes (1976) speculated that cerebral asymmetry emerged in the second millennium BC, in response to
assorted catastrophes, such as floods, invasions, etc. Prior to this, people were governed by hallucinations,
invoking the Gods, but cerebral asymmetry allowed the left hemisphere to create a sense of self, so that people
took responsibility for their own actions. Jaynes’s theory makes little evolutionary sense, since handedness and
cerebral asymmetry probably go back at least 2 million years, and perhaps even earlier, in hominid evolution"

Re: Intro to Myths and Misconceptions

Posted: Wed Aug 19, 2015 5:38 pm
by ignosympathnoramus
Roughly the same error as the above is made by Barfield in his review:

"The psycho-history of mankind, he says, can be understood only as an age-long progress, or transition, from the dominance of the right hemisphere, through a “bicameral mind” period when the two hemispheres were both about equally effective, into the dominance of the left hemisphere, which largely prevails today and which may end either in the total atrophy of the right hemisphere or, better, in the reestablishment of a proper balance between them."

Jaynes was not saying the hemispheres were "equally effective," but instead, suggested right hemispheric dominance in BC-times (for anything important that is--not habitual tasks, of course). Cerebral asymmetry already existed--the conscious mind is just a different arrangement of that asymmetry (LH-dominant).

Aside from such mistakes, it is also rather annoying that Jaynes is criticized by one party for denying biology any role in consciousness, another party for including all of this nonsense about the double brain, etc--that is, everyone can find something to criticize, so long as they pretend that other parts of his argument don't exist. For Koch, he says too little about the brain; for Barfield, too much. Can't win! (Barfield's review is pretty good though IMO)

"By giving consciousness a cultural origin, says Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, 'Jaynes disavows consciousness as a biological phenomenon.'" ... d-speaking

"A reviewer may be pardoned for raising the perhaps irritating question: Then why all this stress on the not-very-relevant physical brain? If the division of labor between its two hemispheres in any particular epoch is likely to have been organized by cultural and aesthetic activity, and is in any case only inferable from cultural and aesthetic phenomena, to what exactly is it the master key?"