A Vestige of the Bicameral Mind in the Modern World

Elisabeth Bell Carroll, paper presented at The Julian Jaynes Society Conference on Consciousness and Bicameral Studies, Charleston, WV, June 2013.

Abstract: Rick Strassman states in his essay, “Endogenous Hallucinations and the Bicameral Mind,” that DMT or N,N-dimethyltryptamine is a potent endogenous psychedelic found in the human body. Further, Strassman observes that the DMT and bicameral states have in common at least two characteristics: (1) previously unknown information is communicated and (2) there is an abiding certainty that the presence conveying this information is an independent other, existing externally. I have lived with temporal lobe epilepsy since childhood, and I examine my own auditory and visual hallucinations in the light of Strassman’s research, noting that the biochemistry of the spiritual experience may have bearing in my case. Indeed, I may have been able to manage my active relationship with the divine from ages 4-17 due, in part, to the relational nature of the DMT state, as I interacted in a perceptible environment with a free-standing independent other, who was hallucinated yet impossible to resist.

Further, I examine the sequential stages of Julian Jaynes’s bicameral-mind theory as they correspond to my own experiences of hearing the voice of an authoritative god. I was age 4 when my appendix ruptured. As our family priest anointed my body in a rite hours after surgery, Jesus appeared in the hospital room, leaned close and said, “Good night, Elisabeth.” Jesus spoke to me from time to time until I was 17, yet that summer He abandoned me. In my daily journal, I named this loss the Blessed Withdrawal of God. Although I had lived with petit mal seizures ever since the appendectomy, my parents had never consulted a physician about my malady. At age 17, I sought out a medical doctor (an oracle), hoping to awaken a lost certainty, wondering if the freeway to the consciousness of God had been opened by my seizures. Via a form of recapitulation theory, I present the Jaynesian stages as congruent to my own growth into subjective consciousness.

Hospital policy guidelines in 1954 were not child-centered as they are today, and parents were often advised against visiting an inpatient child. For weeks after surgery, I was pinned to the sheet of my crib to allow intravenous liquid to flow evenly. Jesus visited my cribside and spoke to me, in lieu of my parents, and I relate this coping resource to the phenomenon of sensed presences during extreme and unusual environments (EUEs), the research of John Geiger and Peter Suedfeld. Additionally, in my home the child who experienced auditory hallucinations and visions of God was not pathologized or medicated. A fervent Irish-Catholic family, we were uncritical of each other’s personal nearness to God, so in that regard, I hypothesize, we were like a family in bicameral society. Above all, I hope to show what it was like to have a stalwart knowing Other break into my private consciousness.