Julian Jaynes’ Software Archeology

Daniel Dennett, Canadian Psychology, 1986, 27, 2, 149-154.

Excerpt: … The underlying hardware of the brain is just the same now as it was thousands of years ago (or it may be just the same), but what had to happen was that the environment had to be such as to encourage the development, the emergence, of certain concepts, certain software, which then set in motion some sort of chain reaction. Jaynes is saying that when the right concepts settled into place in the preconscious minds $B!I (B of our ancestors, there was a sort of explosion. like the explosion in computer science that happens when you invent something like LISP. Suddenly you discover a new logical space. where you get the sorts of different behaviors, the sorts of new powers, the sorts of new problems that we recognize as having the flavor of human consciousness.

Of course, if that is what Jaynes’ theory really is, it is no wonder he has to be bold in his interpretation of the tangible evidence, because this isn’t just archaeology he is doing: this is software archaeology, and software doesn’t leave much of a fossil record. Software, after all, is just concepts. It is abstract and yet, of course, once it is embodied it has very real effects. So if you want to find a record of major “software” changes in archaeological history, what are you going to have to look at? You are going to have to look at the “printouts,” but they are very indirect. You are going to have to look at texts, and you are going to have to look at the pottery shards and figurines as Jaynes does, because that is the only of course, maybe the traces are just gone, maybe the “fossil record” is simply not good enough. …