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Degree of Breakdown/Consciousness in Individuals

Posted: Sat Oct 08, 2005 9:12 am
by slingshot
I encountered the Origin many years ago and have found it to answer many questions related to irrational human behavior. The evidence of consciousness becoming more common as humans evolve seems obvious but I haven’t been able to find a reliable measure of the degree of consciousness attained. Some people are more conscious than others and the breakdown probably occurs in stages or levels and can be seen in societies more easily than in individuals. I would like to know if anyone has compared the individual attributes of a pre-conscious human with one fully, or as full as our current evolution allows, conscious.


Posted: Thu Aug 02, 2007 2:19 pm
by pigeonsailor
I'd be interested to know what in particular you mean by "irrational" and what you mean by "degrees of consciousness." I get the sense you're talking about "wisdom" more than "consciousness in a Jaynesian sense." Am I wrong?

Re: Varying Degrees of Consciousness in Individuals

Posted: Mon Nov 24, 2008 2:26 pm
by Moderator
This is an interesting question that Jaynes preferred to avoid discussing in interviews because of it's potential for controversy.

According to Jaynes, consciousness is composed of at least six different features:

1. Spatialization
2. Exerption
3. Analog "I"
4. Metaphor "me"
5. Narratization
6. Conciliation

Clearly these features can vary in different cultures as well as in different individuals. Let's consider a few examples.

First, in narratization we see ourselves as part of a life story extending on an imaginary timeline into our past and our future. In my research as well as discussions with people, I think this feature varies widely among individuals. Some people seem to be much more "present-oriented" while others seem to think much more about past events and decisions and how those events and decisions have influenced their current situation. They also tend to contemplate a range of possible future outcomes based on the current options available to them. The development of this feature of consciousness can perhaps be seen in studies of children that measure willingness to delay immediate gratification in exchange for some greater future benefit. This could be also be studied by comparing interviews with a person that, for example, holds up a liquor store vs. a person that applies to graduate school, to better understand the underlying thought processes. Another example would be those who have an inclination to save money vs. those who don't. In my conversations with people, among non-savers/future planners I often hear comments to the effect of "we could all be dead tomorrow" or "I never think that far ahead." Perhaps they have not been trained to develop narratization by their parents to the degree that the "future planner" has. In an interview Jaynes argues for the importance of hands-on parenting (instead of day care) to "teach" children to be conscious (in the Jaynesian sense) when they are very young. I would agree with Jaynes that it is largely a learned process but I wonder to what degree there might be a genetic and/or neurological component (frontal lobe dysfunction is thought to be associated with violence and lack of impulse control).

A second example is our internal dialogue (analog 'I' narratizing in a mind-space). We might be inclined to assume that all people share this feature to largely the same degree. But the research of Professor Russell Hurlburt at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas suggests otherwise. For several decades, Hurlbert has engaged in experiments he calls "Descriptive Experience Sampling" where participants are given a beeper and instructed to stop whatever they are doing and write down their thoughts when their beeper goes off. These experiments have revealed a wide variety of inner experience, with some participants allegedly having very little internal dialogue at all. See for example: Hurlburt, R. T., & Schwitzgebel, E. (2007). Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Possible variations in individual Jaynesian consciousness could possibly also be discovered by studying individuals raised in highly authoritarian Muslim cultures such as found in Pakistan or Iran, who are instructed to engage in a range of consciousness-inhibiting activities such as the memorization of the entire Koran, mandatory repetitive verse recitation five times per day (Salat), etc. One could argue these activities are a form of brainwashing that diminish independent conscious thought in favor of strict adherence to established moral codes (bicameral-like external authorities). See, for example: Memorizing the Way to Heaven, Verse by Verse.

Another area that could yield a greater understanding of differences in consciousness in individuals is children raised in isolation/abusive situations (often referred to as "feral children"). These children often have severe deficits in language ability due to lack of socialization, education, and parenting in general. One of the most famous cases is that of Genie in the 1970s. Another is the case of Joseph, as detailed by Oliver Sacks in Seeing Voices. A more recent horrific case was uncovered in Austria in April 2008, in which several children were kept locked in a basement by their father, Joseph Fritzl. It remains to be seen if child psychologists working with such children document (or are even aware of) factors related to the current question.

Finally, those who have studied pre-literate and pre-modern people have documented apparent differences in conscious thought, one example being widely different perceptions of time (see for example descriptions of the Thai Boat People). This coincides with Chester Starr's argument that the early Greeks did not have a modern conception of time and history until as late as 500 B.C. In The Awakening of the Greek Historical Spirit Starr writes:

"Particularly in archaic Greece, which looked at its world through the spectacles of epic and myth and was still organized in a very primitive social and religious structure, the emergence of a sense of historical time could only be gradual and incomplete" (p. 59).

"To follow, then, the slow awakening of a historically oriented consciousness of time we must go back before philosophy itself had developed, and investigate the evidence of archaic poetry and art, as well as of the Greek language itself. Although this material adequately shows the reluctance of early Hellas to yield a sense of timeless continuity, the Greeks had come by 500 B.C. to a view of time in human affairs which made history possible, even essential, as a mode by which society explained its present character through the action of time in the past" (p. 60).

See also:
The Mentality of Pre-Literate and Pre-Modern Peoples in this forum.

Study: Poverty Dramatically Affects Children's Brains
"Research has shown that the neural systems of poor children develop differently from those of middle-class children, affecting language development and 'executive function,' or the ability to plan, remember details, and pay attention in school."

Re: Degree of Breakdown/Consciousness in Individuals

Posted: Wed Jun 17, 2009 9:05 pm
by rheiman
I think this thread could certainly be expanded upon. What the moderator describes is often referred to as "time preference". Those with a high time preference live in the now. They tend to have lower I.Q.'s and are more prone to criminality. Those with lower time preferences tend to invest in the future, have higher I.Q.'s and be more law-abiding. I think that, in light of the link between language and consciousness, one could reasonably expect those of more primitive language to also possess lower degrees of consciousness. We could venture to say that language and metaphor are the parents of invention and progress which are the trappings of civilization.

Languages of the Middle East, the cradle of Western civilization, are rich in metaphor and laden with symbolism that goes back thousands of years. I suspect the same could be said for far Eastern languages, also a cradle of early civilization. Then there are vast areas, inhabited by Humans for eons, where nothing of consequence was ever invented. The languages of those areas seem to have no words for abstract concepts. It doesn't seem much of a stretch to say that natives of those lands (speakers of those languages) would experience consciousness at different levels than those among whom advanced language is more ingrained. Could it be that the transition, among those peoples (and their descendants) takes generations - during which time, time preferences remain high? Might this also help explain high crime rates among such people?

Re: Degree of Breakdown/Consciousness in Individuals

Posted: Thu Jun 23, 2016 11:51 am
by slingshot
I think we are in agreement that degrees of consciousness exist with several possible causes. An interesting and near universal human condition is the refusal, or inability, to accept objective reality by political extremist. The acceptance of dogma by the religious right is well known and the belief in Utopian nonsense by the far left is also well known. These departures from reality do not seem related to IQ or any of the other possible causes for differences in consciousness. When attempting discussion with an extremest the quality of their thinking process brings into question their level of consciousness.
The idea of being "present-oriented" could come into play as they do seem to think with a limited range of possible future outcomes.

Re: Degree of Breakdown/Consciousness in Individuals

Posted: Tue Dec 13, 2016 11:54 am
by slingshot
Could the degree of consciousness be an indication of the far left and far right political positions taken by some? If a break down in the bicameral mind would promote consciousness wouldn't a break down in the extreme ideological positions act in a similar way?
The illogical reasoning, if you can call it reasoning, of the religious Right seems just as disassociated from objective reality as the far Left with their beliefs in utopian nonsense.
Could this be another example of bicamerality in a wider sense that is now becoming obvious to those more centered?

Re: Degree of Breakdown/Consciousness in Individuals

Posted: Tue Nov 06, 2018 1:21 pm
by Moderator
I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that far left/right political positions are necessarily a sign of lesser consciousness development. I think it would have more to do with what their specific beliefs are and how they arrive at their conclusions. One can look at the degree that someone's political beliefs boil down to simply repeating simple slogans, platitudes, and memes. People can be essentially programmed to some degree when they avoid engaging in critical thinking about various issues. On the other hand, someone that identifies with the political mainstream could just as easily be "going with the flow" and subscribe to any number of unquestioned assumptions.

To use a historical example rather than a current one, one could say that those who were initially against slavery in the United States were "extremists" and out of the mainstream of the political thought of their time. In hindsight one could easily argue that they could also be considered "more conscious" in some ways. So again, I think it has more to do with how one arrives at their conclusions -- as well as the arguments they use to support their views -- than just whether or not their beliefs are outside of the current mainstream thinking. The degree that someone can support their views with objective evidence, rather than just accepting them on authority or "faith," would also be something to consider. Some political ideologies take on a religious-like quality and are often based on little or no objective evidence. Views that are currently in the mainstream of a given culture at a given time often fall into this category as well, and are simply carried on by "tradition."

Another interesting and related subject is the degree to which certain ideas simply never enter a person's consciousness whatsoever. It could be something abstract, like an ideology, or more practical, such as the degree to which someone thinks long term and engages in things like goal setting. For example, I've often looked at one's ability to engage in things like retirement planning (assuming they are in a position like most of us where such planning is necessary) as a rough gauge of one aspect of consciousness development (i.e. seeing one's life on a time line). If a person is always "living in the moment" - like a non-human animal or an infant - are they in some sense less conscious? I think so.