The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Book Review)

George Adelman, Library Journal, February 1, 1977, 102, 3, 392.

Excerpt: This is an exciting, ingenious, heavily documented, beautifully written, and “utterly preposterous” (to use the author’s term) theory of the development of human consciousness. The author, who teaches psychology at Princeton, argues that consciousness is an only recently evolved capacity of the human brain and that going back a mere 4000 years, and even less, most human beings acted not under their own conscious control but followed the command of voices – auditory (schizophrenia-like) hallucinations – that they perceived as coming from the gods. This earlier “bicameral mind” was not conscious but consisted of a commanding half and an obeying half. Jaynes presents evidence for this daring hypothesis from man’s prehistory, archeology, art, and early literature (the Iliad, the Bible, ancient Egyptian chronicles, Eastern religious writing, etc.). One’s first inclination is to reject all of it out of hand as science fiction, imaginative speculation with no hard evidence; but, curiously, if one is patient and hears out the story (Jaynes’s style is irresistible) the arguments are not only entertaining but persuasive. After all, consciousness is a mystery, hypnosis and schizophrenia are not understood, thought is still considered by some to be internal vocalization, etc., and this explanation, outlandish and purely correlative as it is, may be very useful. …

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