Bicameral Mind & Innovation - A Tough Combo?

Discussion of Julian Jaynes's second hypothesis - that before the development of consciousness, humans operated under a previous mentality called the bicameral mind.
Post Reply
Posts: 1
Joined: Thu Oct 07, 2010 10:39 am

Bicameral Mind & Innovation - A Tough Combo?

Post by KABOOOOM »

First off I have only recently discovered the works/theories of Julian Jaynes, but within the last few months I have read the OC, The Dawn of Consciousness, Muses and Madmen and all of the back issues of the Jaynes Society newsletters. Needless to say that I find the subject matter to be fascinating. While we may never know what elements of Jaynes' overall theory he got essentially correct and how the "real" timeline compares to the one proffered by Jaynes, I still feel that he likely got more right than he got wrong.

In any event, I am still left with many questions and gaps of understanding with regards to the OC and its attendant principles. I am hopeful that others that frequent these forums may shed some light on the following:

How does innovation occur within the Bicameral Man?

Bicameral Man ("BM") is portrayed as a very task oriented person, quite adept at accomplishing normal day to day tasks (hunting, fishing, playing, mating, child rearing, building shelter, etc), while relying on his R/H (Right Hemisphere) inner voice to give guidance whence encountering any uncertainty or stressor that he may encounter in his daily life. BM presumably was quite adept at observing natural phenomena and deriving cause and effect (e.g., methods of trapping fresh drinking water following a storm). Presumably, the R/H inner voice drew insight solely from the totality of observations of the natural world that surrounded BM, as I have not seen any suggestion that the R/H voice was somehow "all knowing" or had the wherewithal to draw upon information outside of that which was the result of the direct life experiences of his own individual "host" person (for lack of a better term). Within the suggested Jaynesian timeline, mankind was able to produce tremendous breakthrough accomplishments -- Grammatical rules for a greatly expanded use of language, Writing, Weapons, Design and Building of the Pyramids, Agricultural techniques, Domesticating Livestock -- to name a few. Within "modern man" (post-OC), it is possible to extrapolate as to how "innovation" like this would have occurred and it is apparent to me that, among other things, "collaboration" and "learning through trial and error" would both play a big role.

It is difficult for me to fathom as to how BM would "collaborate" with his fellow Bicameral humans to produce incredible innovations. I have not seen it suggested anywhere that a given BM's R/H inner self was capable of direct communication with any entity other than its "host" (and all such communication was a one way flow). Thus, all of the abstract thinking and creative problem solving abilities were essentially contained within a "closed system" that being the R/H inner selves of each individual who could issue commands to its host but could not "collaborate" directly with other R/H entities. I see this as a very limiting constraint from which to spawn innovation.

Also, I view BM society as essentially a perpetuation of the Alpha Male ("AM") society. Packs of silverback gorillas roam in groups of 20 to 25, led by an AM with other members of the group never venturing more than a couple of hundred yards away from the pack. I envision that a variant of this AM model was what governed early packs of Homo Sapiens ("HS") who lived as hunters and gatherers. Within these HS packs it would be the AM who effectively would be perceived as the "voice piece" of each individual's R/H self. The ultimate "command control", hierarchical model. As we fast forward into the "civilized era", per the Jaynesian timeline, we have several thousands of years under which the relevant king or pharaoh essentially still served as the AM, albeit of a larger group of citizens. Still pre-OC it was this king or pharaoh (AM) that was perceived by the citizenry as the R/H inner voice issuing commands and providing direction at times of uncertainty. Again the AM (pharaoh, king) in charge of a village or region would only have access to its own R/H closed system of information from which to issue edicts to its subordinates. Furthermore, all R/H inner selves presumably were not intellectual equals, but presumably fell across a normal bell shape curve of intellectual prowess. The AM that would lead a region would not have been selected based upon any determination as to where such AM's R/H self fell along this spectrum of capabilities or intellectual prowess, so presumably (at least on average) the intellectual talents within an AM R/H self were of an "ordinary" variety. So again, assuming that there was no direct R/H to R/H interaction amongst people and assuming that the "strategic course" of action was cascaded down from the R/H self of the region's relevant AM, I struggle as to how within such a society we would have achieved such stupendous levels of "innovation".

I welcome any insight, views or opinions. Thank you.
Site Admin
Posts: 351
Joined: Sat Feb 26, 2005 1:03 pm

Re: Bicameral Mind & Innovation - A tough combo?

Post by Moderator »

Thanks for the post — it's an interesting question that I think comes up for quite a few people. The short answer is that learning as well as innovation (think of it as unconscious creative problem solving) can occur without introspective consciousness. Innovations would come as a flash of insight from the unconscious, much as they often do today. We have the illusion that consciousness in involved in problem solving to a greater degree than it is.

As far as collaboration, keep in mind bicameral people still had language. They were just like you or I minus the ability to introspect (roughly speaking). So once a right hemisphere-based insight occurs, it could subsequently be communicated to others via language. Things like language rules that you mention developed automatically (non-consciously), weapons would be an extrapolation from tools, etc. Writing in the bicameral era was primarily limited to cataloging goods or in other cases non-existent. For example the Iliad was transmitted through song and written down later during the early conscious period.

What is harder to explain is projects that would require a great deal of long term planning such as building the pyramids. My personal view is that Egypt was the first civilization to begin the transition to consciousness. Further, something Jaynes doesn't get into much in the book, is that certain aspects of consciousness (discussed starting on page 59) could be attained while other aspects have not yet developed. Another possibility is differing levels of consciousness in different individuals within a given cultures, with the leadership demonstrating greater degrees of consciousness than the labor forces. This is just speculation but we can extrapolate back from our present society where differing levels of consciousness between individuals is clearly present.
Post Reply

Return to “2.0. Hypothesis Two: The Bicameral Mind”