Gods, Voices and the Bicameral Mind: The Theories of Julian Jaynes (Book Review)

Philip P. Ardery, Louisville, KY,  November 14, 2016.

In this, the fourth full-length book published by the Julian Jaynes Society, Marcel Kuijsten brings together essays by 14 contributors who explicate, expand, and apply the hugely novel theory of human psychic evolution set down 40 years ago in The Origin of Consciousness In The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Notwithstanding the success of Jaynes’s theories in explaining and predicting historical and neurological discoveries, his work continues to require vigorous and tenacious promotion because, as this book shows, important potential applications remain to be tried. These applications involve not just refining knowledge, as in contributor Todd Gibson’s reconstructions of ancient Tibetan culture, but also guiding personal and societal development going forward.

Contributor Brian McVeigh, who studied with Jaynes at Princeton, suggests a change in terminology to help others build on Jaynes’s achievement: “I have, perhaps rather presumptuously, decided to use the term ‘interiority’ in place of consciousness. Interiority (or ‘conscious interiority’) denotes an imaginary place or the belief in a ‘mental space’ that exists ‘in’ the ‘head,’ in which a ‘self’ moves about and psychological events and processes transpire. Interiority is not biologically innate (nature); rather, it is culturally constructed (nurture).” Contributor Bill Rowe explores child development stages as documented by Chinese as well as Western psychologists and demonstrates that the appearance of conscious interiority follows and is conditioned by an earlier acquisition of executive skills – “response inhibition, task flexibility, working memory, and cognitive conflict resolution.”

This book gives stimulating insights into a wide range of topic areas, but its greater value, in this reviewer’s opinion, is to prod educators and all of us to recognize that the omnipresent “I” in our individual lives is culturally constructed. “I” is not the essence of my being. It’s an attribute. It doesn’t define “me.” Can humans discern a path forward to a less messed-up world? It may depend on whether, as Kuijsten states in his introduction, we “find better ways to teach [conscious interiority] to each successive generation, as well as find ways to continue to develop and expand our own [conscious interiority] throughout life.”