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"The Discovery of the Mind" by Bruno Snell

Posted: Thu Mar 03, 2005 4:29 pm
by Moderator
Anyone interested in augmenting their understanding of this area of Jaynes's theory should read "The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought" by Bruno Snell (the new version has the subtitle "in Greek Philosophy and Literature").

I'm currently re-reading it and would be interested in discussing the relevance to Jaynes's theory.

Selected quotes from Snell:

"... the early Greeks did not, either in their language or in the visual arts, grasp the body as a unit" (p. 7).

"... there is further evidence for our contention that we are dealing with an early stage of European thought, and not with stylization. That Homer's conception of thymos, noos, and psyche still depended to a large extent on an analogy with the physical organs becomes a matter of absolute certainty if we turn to that era of transition when his conception began to be abandoned" (p. 16).

"Whenever a man accomplishes, or pronounces, more than his previous attitude had led others to expect, Homer connects this, in so far as he tries to supply an explanation, with the interference of a god. It should be noted especially that Homer does not know personal decisions; even when a hero is shown pondering two alternatives the intervention of the gods plays the key role" (p. 20).

"'Faith', the credo, requires as its opposite a false belief, a heresy; it is tied to a dogma which people must either attack or defend with their very lives. All this was foreign to the Greeks; they looked upon their gods as so natural and self-evident that they could not even conceive of other nations acknowledging a different faith or other gods" (p. 24).

"... human initiative has no source of its own; whatever is planned and executed is the plan and deed of the gods" (p. 30).

"... primitive man feels that he is bound to the gods; he has not yet roused himself to an awareness of his own freedom. The Greeks were the first to break through this barrier, and thus founded our western civilization." (pgs. 31-32).

"According to his [Homer's] view—and there could be no other for him—a man's action or perception is determined by the divine forces operative in the world; it is a reaction of his physical organs to a stimulus, and this stimulus is itself grasped as a personal act. Any new situation is likely to be the result of stimuli, and the source of new stimuli in its turn" (p. 43).

"This insight into the truth that men have various goals is not yet cleary stated in the Iliad. We find that the Odyssey displays a more subtle perception of the distinctions between men than its predecessor" (p. 47).

"The Homeric scenes in which a man deliberates what he ought to do are deficient in one distinctive feature which makes the decision of Pelasgus what it is: a wholly independent and private act " (p. 103).

"Homer's scenes of reflection and resolution are usually cast in a stereotype form ... The formula: 'it seemed better to him' means literally: 'it seemed more profitable, more remunerative to him.' The decision is made on the grounds that one alternative is recognized as the more advantageous procedure. Evidently this has little to do with subjective choice, not to speak of an internal struggle. And where the final voice is given to a deity the decision is of course wholly determined from without" (p. 103).

"In Homer a man is unaware of the fact that he may think or act spontaneously, of his own volition and spirit. Whatever 'strikes' him, whatever 'thought comes' to him, is given from without, and if no visible external stimulus has affected him, he thinks that a god has stood by his side and given him counsel, either for his benefit or for his destruction. It follows that Homer's men act with perfect assurance, and that they do not know what it means to be burdened with scruples or doubts. Nor do they feel the weight of a personal responsibility for right and wrong. In the tragedies of Aeschylus [525 BC – 456 BC], on the other hand, the agent, conscious of his individual freedom of choice, makes himself personally answerable for his actions" (p. 123).

"It is true that the guilty conscience was not known prior to Euripides; evidently it presupposes a high degree of introspection" (p. 163).

"We are accustomed to look upon the will as the mainspring of action. Bu the will, ever straining and champing at the bit, is a notion foreign to the Greeks; they do not even have a word for it" (p. 182).

"At first the mind is understood by analogy with the physical organs and their functions; the psyche is the breathe, the air which maintains the life of a man; the thymos is the organ of internal (e)motion, and the nous is the mind in its capacity as an absorber of images. Knowledge (eidenai) is the state of having seen; recognition (gignoskein) is associated with sight, understanding (synienai) with hearing, know-how (epistasthai) with practical ability" (p. 198).

"About six hundred years before Virgil, the early Greek lyricists had awoken to the fact that man has a soul [consciousness? - Mod.]; they were the first to discover certain features in the feelings of men which distinguished those feelings sharply from the functions of the physical organs, and which placed them at opposite poles from the realm of empirical reality. For the first time it was noticed that these feelings do not represent the intercession of a deity or some other similar reaction, but that they are a very personal matter, something that each individual experiences in his own peculiar fashion, and that originates from no other source but his own person. Further they had found out that different men may be united with one another through their feelings, that a number of separate people may habour the same emotions, memories, or opinions. And finally they discovered that a feeling may be divided against itself, distraught with an internal tension; and this led to the notion that the soul has intensity, and a dimension of its own, viz. depth (p. 301).

"The Origins of European Thought" by R. B. Onians

Posted: Sat Dec 30, 2006 12:04 am
by godmemes
Thanks for the recommendations.

Long ago I read a few portions of Dodd's book, and I was recently thinking that I should add it to my reading list.

Have you read The Origins of European Thought by R. B. Onians? It has been a long time since I have done so, but I recall it as having been a goldmine of insight provoking nuggets. I definitely intend to reread it soon.

"The Shape of Ancient Thought" by Thomas McEvilley

Posted: Sun Dec 31, 2006 9:25 am
by godmemes
And for anyone interested in the often overlooked connection between ancient Greek religious/philosophical thought and ancient Indian religious/philosophical thought, I recommend The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies, by Thomas McEvilley. (Published in 2002).

These two cultures were far from being opposites: there was interaction, influence, and remarkable similarities.

Posted: Wed Jan 03, 2007 10:00 am
by Moderator
Thanks Mark for those recommendations. I've heard of the Onians book before but I can't remember where. I'll be sure to read it...

Re: "The Discovery of the Mind" by Bruno Snell

Posted: Sat Jul 25, 2009 11:02 pm
by Memento Mori

Re: "The Discovery of the Mind" by Bruno Snell

Posted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 9:09 am
by newmedia

Reading McEvilley (what a name!) on Google Books seems to indicate that he was unaware of Jaynes. Unfortunately, pages 678-731 aren't available, so I can't tell if Jaynes makes it into an index.

After he runs through proto-philosophy and the Pre-Socratics (and the presumed Indian correlates), he still stumbles around by saying, "What isn't clear yet is how to account for this shared intellectual experience." (page 59)

If "The One and the Many" is the original philosophical question and the extensive exchanges between India and Greece (and in between) via trade-routes the mechanism, then isn't the acculturation that led to consciousness the answer to these historic riddles?

Mark Stahlman
Brooklyn NY