The Kingdom Within The World Elsewhere (Book Review)

Philip J. West, Salmagundi Magazine, 1978, 42, 146-149.

Excerpt: I am in two minds about Julian Jaynes’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, but that’s my problem; some centuries ago I would have been single-minded and wide-eyed. In obedience then, now in amazement. The book deals de cunctis rebus – as Byron said of Don Juan – et quibusdam aliis [with all things, and a few others besides]. Julian Jaynes heard a voice once only, saying “Include the Knower in the Known.” This book explains what that mand means, how Jaynes arrived at that meaning, and what it signifies for us. “Know Thyself”: “Include the Knower in the Known.”

An experimental psychologist self-trained in Classics, Jaynes capitalizes on recent research in the split-brain and in the evolution of the brain’s sub-structures. Jaynes believes that at first man used both hemispheres of the brain equally, like a bicameral legislature; gradually, as the corpus callosum separated the two hemispheres, one house became dominant and the other was reduced to the status of a standing ad hoc committee. In modern man, this committee functions only in crisis: under conditions of unusual stress, the quiet hemisphere puts out stronger electrical impluses whlie chemical changes cause the conductivity of the brain to be increased. As a result, messages from the non-dominant speech center “leap” the corpus callosum and pass into the dominant hemisphere as auditory phenomena, and we hear voices

Not only are people who hear voices, according to Jaynes, not ipso facto mad, they are, rather, throwbacks to the earlier condition of all men. Similarly, most states of mind our technologically sanitized culture values for their rarity or suddenness – music, poetry, hypnosis …