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Jaynes and McLuhan and Writing Systems

Posted: Tue May 13, 2014 5:17 am
by newmedia

I just received the CD of the 2013 Jaynes conference, where Merlin Donald keynoted, and it reminded me of my conversations with both men -- about Marshall McLuhan.

I met Julian in his office at Princeton and then flew to Prince Edward Island to spend a day with him, shortly before he died. In that conversation, he told me that he had come to view the development of consciousness as linked to the use of the alphabet, a view which he associated with the work of Marshall McLuhan.

I met Merlin in the back of a campus bus at Rudgers, after he had given a talk that I came down to hear. In that conversation, he told me that two of his greatest influences were Julian Jaynes (who he mentioned in his book) and Marshall McLuhan (who he had not mentioned in print.)

I have subsequently become an "amateur" McLuhan scholar and also involved with cultural developments in China. In late 2012, I helped to organize a "Forum on World Civilizations" at the United Nations, where I was the final scheduled speaker.

In my presentation, I noted how the fundamental differences between the West and the (Chinese) East was "grounded" in their writing systems. As the most basic of "communications technologies," these two systems -- one alphabetic and the other ideo/picto-graphic -- create the environments in which our "consciousness" develops. Since the environments are different, then our respective "consciousnesses" (plural) must also be different.

These differences, I suggested, reflected quite different psychological responses to the "Axial Age," from which Jaynes' "Origin" developed (being careful to not use the term "evolved," since Jaynes was emphatic with me about how that was not appropriate.)

The Confucian Analects, which were not actually written by the "sage" but by his disciples, is perhaps best understood as the "rules" for behavior in a world where the "voices" were no longer speaking. As in other places (circa 500BC), the "bicameral mind" was fading and needed to be replaced with written communications.

This is the shift from the "mythic" mentality to the "theoretic" mentality, as described by Donald in his "Origins of the Modern Mind" and by Jaynes in "Origins of Consciousnness."

Has anyone in the wider Jaynes community done any work on "writing systems"?

And, has anyone in this group (other than Merlin Donald) made the connection between Jaynes and McLuhan (and/or others discussing similar topics like Eric Havelock in his "Preface to Plato")?

Mark Stahlman
Jersey City Heights

Re: Jaynes and McLuhan and Writing Systems

Posted: Wed May 14, 2014 12:06 pm
by Moderator
It's a great question but off hand I can't point you to any research on this. I know Jan Sleutels, who has spoken at several of the conferences on Jaynes, is also interested in McLuhan and the impact of media on psychology. You might look for some of his publications or see if he can point you to other research.

Hopefully others will add to this topic as well.

Re: Jaynes and McLuhan and Writing Systems

Posted: Sun Jun 08, 2014 9:58 am
by newmedia
Thanks -- I have send an email to Prof. Sleutels and await his response!

The problem is that Jaynes makes no "sense" without trying to take changing technological environments into account. I presume that most people on this list never met the man and only know of him through his book -- which he considered to be *wrong* on many accounts.

In particular, when I interviewed him at the end of his life, he had discarded the various "migration" and other "stress" explanations he offers in "Origins" and had replaced them with the *alphabet* as the "cause" of consciousness.

Merlin Donald figured this out. But it seems, now that I've listened to all the speeches from last summer's conference, that many others have not . . .

Mark Stahlman
Jersey City Heights

Re: Jaynes and McLuhan and Writing Systems

Posted: Wed Jan 15, 2020 10:16 am
by benjamindavidsteele
That is interesting. Offhand, I'm not sure I've heard any discussion about Jaynesian consciousness and aslphabetic language. I'd be curious to hear anyone's thoughts on this.