Transition from Bicamerality to Consciousness

Discussion of Julian Jaynes's third hypothesis - dating the development of consciousness to roughly 1500-1200 BCD in Egypt, Greece, and Mesopotamia (the transition occurred at different times in different places around the world). Includes analysis of ancient texts (such as the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Bible), linguistics, and archeological evidence from ancient civilizations as it pertains to the transition from the bicameral mind to consciousness.
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Transition from Bicamerality to Consciousness

Post by jasonjenkins »

I reached this site in search of information pertaining to my question about how Jaynes' theory could be correct given the timeframe (just a few thousand years ago) and the fact that human beings already lived all over the planet. I found, on the "Myths vs. Facts" page, the item on 'Myth: Jaynes was an "ethnocentrist."' A statement in the treatment of that "myth" is an answer to my question: "The transition from bicamerality to consciousness took place at different times in different places around the world."

But there's a problem with that answer. As much as we are told that consciousness is a cultural development, the phenomenon described must involve some sort of physiological evolution, right? If brains at one point function one way and later function another way, across civilization, the phenomenon can't be purely a matter of cultural convention. But if physiological evolution is involved: how credible is it that the same physical mutation occurred in different subgroups of the same species thousands of miles apart, and all, coincidentally, within a very short period of time (a few thousand years)? It's kind of like imagining that the poodle could have been bred independently in Europe, China, and the Andes. Are there real examples of that sort of parallel development?
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Re: Change all over the world

Post by DanBlocker »

You are saying there must be some physiological evolution. Jaynes sometimes seems to be saying there might have been a sort of physiological change, but the straight answer should be: No. It is all just culture. If you were transmitted back into ancient Egypt as a small child you would have become bicameral and the Egypt child would be conscious if raised today.
I find this not too hard to believe. Look at our attitudes towards races, homo sexuality, women’s rights. Or smoking. You can see how our brain literally is thinking differently about a lot of subjects. You and I would have probably been racists if born only 50 years ago in some parts of the world. The main thing to keep in mind, as a guard against ethnocentrism, is that a human being with consciousness is not better than one with a bicameral mind (or an animal lacking either). Just like a stone age guy whose tribe has managed to learn the use of fire is not better than the guy from the neighboring tribe. It is just that his chances of survival have improved thanks to a cultural change.
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Re: Change all over the world

Post by Moderator »

Yes Dan is correct. Brain function can change much more rapidly than was ever believed possible — without changes to brain structure — based on cultural and environmental conditions. This is a very frequent question/misunderstanding of Jaynes's theory and is addressed in the About the Theory > Critiques and Responses section of the website. I will paste a the response here for purposes of discussion:
Jaynes did not suggest that the shift from bicamerality to consciousness was a neurophysiological one (see Jaynes p. 122-125). Rather, the same biological brain was used in a new and innovative way based on adaptations to changes that occurred culturally. A child today raised in a bicameral society would be bicameral and a child from an ancient bicameral civilization raised in modern culture would be conscious. Consciousness in the Jaynesian sense is a learned process based on language. To use the computer metaphor, the transition from bicamerality to consciousness was a software change using the same hardware (Dennett, 1986).

Having said that, there could have been a slight genetic component to this change, and new research in genetics shows that humans are still evolving and that genetic changes can move through a population much more rapidly than was previously believed. Consider this quote from the anthropologist Gregory Cochran:

"There is evidence that such change has occurred. My anthropologist colleague at the University of Utah Henry Harpending and I have made a strong case that natural selection changed the Ashkenazi Jews over a thousand-year period or so, favoring certain kinds of cognitive abilities and generating genetic diseases as a side effect. The geneticist Bruce Lahn's team has found new variants of brain development genes: One, ASPM (abnormal spindle-like microcephaly associated) appears to have risen to high frequency in Europe and the Middle East in about six thousand years. We don't yet know what this new variant does, but it certainly could affect the human psyche ... This concept opens strange doors. If true, it means that the people of Sumeria and Egypt's Old Kingdom were probably fundamentally different from us: Human nature has changed − some, anyhow − over recorded history. ... Jaynes may have been on to something" (Cochran, 2007).

Cochran also states that recent discoveries have revealed that "...the rate of human evolution over the past few thousand years is far greater than it has been over the past few million years" (Biello, 2007).

Or this from neuroscientist Michael Persinger:

"Within the last five years science has found that single point mutations on genes can produce permanent changes in speech production. There is now evidence that point mutations, whose mechanisms must still be discerned, can diffuse within decades throughout entire populations. There have been approximately 15 million changes in our species' genome since our common ancestor with the chimpanzee. There are human accelerated regions in the genome with genes known to be involved in transcriptional regulation and neurodevelopment. They are expressed within brain structures that would have allowed precisely the types of phenomena that Jaynes predicted had occurred around 3,500 years ago. Related genes, attributed to religious beliefs, are found on the same chromosome (for example, chromosome 10) as propensities for specific forms of epilepsy (partial, with auditory features) and schizophrenia. ..." (Persinger, 2007).

Finally, recent studies of brain plasticity show that massive changes can take place in an individual's brain during their developmental years. For example, if someone is blind, their occipital lobe (normally used for vision) can take on new roles, in some cases processing auditory or tactile information instead. Hemispherectomy patients, who have had one brain hemisphere removed (usually performed during childhood as a treatment for severe epilepsy), also show dramatic changes in the function of brain areas. Language processing can switch from the left to the right hemisphere in cases where the left hemisphere is removed. Musical abilities, motor capabilities, and attention span can switch to the left hemisphere in cases where the right hemisphere is removed (Battro, 2001). If the brain can adapt this rapidly in an individual, we can also imagine changes in brain function over just a few generations due to cultural or environmental factors given the right conditions.
See also the Introduction and Discussion sections in The Julian Jaynes Collection and "New Evidence for Jaynes's Neurological Model: A Research Update" in Vol. 3, Issue 1 of The Jaynesian.
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Re: Change all over the world

Post by selfreplicate »

Is it safe to say that memes (operating in the cultural environment) have supplanted genes (operating in the physical environment) as the 'engines of evolution' after the advent of (Jaynes') consciousness?

In other words, has evolution been a non-physical thing ever since the mindspace came about?

Or is it at least that the physiological/genetic changes which make drastic differences in human cognition require relatively smaller genetic mutations or a smaller timescale..

Re: Change all over the world

Post by noos »

Hey Jason not sure why my post did not get through, but basically what I said was money developed all over the world before consciousness.
Australian aborigines culture did not evolve in the latter part of evolution but are capable of being conscious.
Some aboriginal languages have the some structure as the welsh language.
Consciousness comes from language and language evolves through metaphor and because we all come from the same place consciousness will develop at roughly the same rate.
Cellular biologist Bruce Lipton in his book The biology of belief, has some interesting theories on physiological evolution you can check him out on conscious tv here. ... 5654303001
apologies for the structure of this post the information is basically the same as the one that disappeared.
Regards Ben
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