It is now more than a decade since this essay first appeared in book form, and my publishers have encouraged me to add a postscript in which I might discuss the general reaction to this book as well as changes I might make if I were to rewrite it.
A favorite practice of some professional intellectuals when at first faced with a theory as large as the one I have presented is to search for that loose thread which, when pulled, will unravel all the rest. And rightly so. It is part of the discipline of scientific thinking. In any work covering so much of the terrain of human nature and history, hustling into territories jealously guarded by myriad aggressive specialists, there are bound to be such errancies, sometimes of fact but I fear more often of tone. But that the knitting of this book is such that a tug on such a bad stitch will unravel all the rest is more of a hope on the part of the orthodox than a fact in the scientific pursuit of truth. The book is not a single hypothesis.
There are four main hypotheses in Books I and II. I welcome this opportunity to add some comments to each of them.
1. Consciousness is based on language. Such a statement is of course contradictory to the usual and I think superficial views of consciousness that are embedded both in popular belief and in language. But there can be no progress in the science of consciousness until careful distinctions have been made between what is introspectable and all the hosts of other neural abilities we have come to call cognition. Consciousness is not the same as cognition and should be sharply distinguished from it.
The most common error which I did not emphasize sufficiently is to confuse consciousness with perception. Recently, at a meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, a well-known and prestigious philosopher stood up to object vociferously on this point. Looking at me directly, he exclaimed, “I am perceiving you at this moment. Are you trying to say that I am not conscious of you at this moment?” A collective cognitive imperative in him was proclaiming in the affirmative. But actually he was being conscious of the rhetorical argument he was making. He could have better been conscious of me if he had turned away from me or had closed his eyes.
This type of confusion was at least encouraged back in I921 by Bertrand Russell: “We are conscious of anything that we perceive.”1 And as his logical atomism became fashionable in philosophy, it became difficult to see it any other way. And in a later book Russell uses as an example of consciousness “I see a table.”2 But Descartes, who gave us the modern idea of consciousness, would never have agreed. Nor would a radical behaviorist like Watson, who in denying consciousness existed certainly did not mean sense perception.
Just as in the case I mentioned above, I suggest Russell was not being conscious of the table, but of the argument he was writing about. In my own notation, I would diagram the situation as
‘I’ → (I see a table).
Russell thought his consciousness was the second term, but in reality it was the entire expression. He should have found a more ethologically valid example that was really true of his consciousness, that had really happened, such as, “I think I will rewrite the Principia now that Whitehead’s dead” or “How can I afford the alimony for another Lady Russell?” He would then have come to other conclusions. Such examples are consciousness in action. “I see a table” is not.
Perception is sensing a stimulus and responding appropriately. And this can happen on a non-conscious level, as I have tried to describe in driving a car. Another way to look at the problem is to remember the behavior of white blood Cells) which certainly perceive bacteria and respond appropriately by devouring them. To equate consciousness with perception is thus tantamount to saying that we have six thousand conscious entities per cubic millimeter of blood whirling around in our circulatory system — which I think is a reductio ad absurdum.
Consciousness is not all language, but it is generated by it and accessed by it. And when we begin to untease the fine reticulation of how language generates consciousness we are on a very difficult level of theorizing. The primordial mechanisms by which this happens in history I have outlined briefly and then in II:5 tried to show how this worked out in the development of consciousness in Greece. Consciousness then becomes embedded in language and so is learned easily by children. The general rule is: there is no operation in consciousness that did not occur in behavior first.
briefly review, if we refer to the circle triangle problem on page 40, in solving this struction we say, “I ‘see’ it’s a triangle,” though of course we are not actually seeing anything. In the struction of finding how to express this solving of the problem, the metaphor of actual seeing pops into our minds. Perhaps there could be other metaphiers3 leading to a different texture of consciousness, but in Western culture ‘seeing’ and the other words with which we try to anchor mental events are indeed visual. And by using this word ‘see’, we bring with it its paraphiers, or associates of actual seeing.
In this way the spatial quality of the world around us is being driven into the psychological fact of solving a problem (which as we remember needs no consciousness). And it is this associated spatial quality that, as a result of the language we use to describe such psychological events, becomes with constant repetitions this functional space of our consciousness, or mind-space. Mind-space I regard as the primary feature of consciousness. It is the space which you pre-optively are ‘introspecting on’ or ‘seeing’ at this very moment.
But who does the ‘seeing’? Who does the introspecting? Here we introduce analogy, which differs from metaphor in that the similarity is between relationships rather than between things or actions. As the body with its sense organs (referred to as I) is to physical seeing, so there develops automatically an analog ‘I’ to relate to this mental kind of ‘seeing’ in mind-space. The analog ‘I’ is the second most important feature of consciousness. It is not to be confused with the self, which is an object of consciousness in later development. The analog ‘I’ is contentless, related I think to Kant’s transcendental ego. As the bodily ‘I’ can move about in its environment looking at this or that, so the analog ‘I’ learns to ‘move about’ in mind-space, ‘attending to’ or concentrating on one thing or another.
All the procedures of consciousness are based on such metaphors and analogies with behavior, constructing a careful matrix of considerable stability. And so we narratize the analogic simulation of actual behavior, an obvious aspect of consciousness which seems to have escaped previous synchronic discussions of consciousness. Consciousness is constantly fitting things into a story, putting a before and an after around any event. This feature is an analog of our physical selves moving about through a physical world with its spatial successiveness which becomes the successiveness of time in mind-space. And this results in the conscious conception of time which is a spatialized time in which we locate events and indeed our lives. It is impossible to be conscious of time in any other way than as a space.
The basic connotative definition of consciousness is thus an analog ‘I’ narratizing in a functional mind-space. The denotative definition is, as it was for Descartes, Locke, and Hume, what is introspectable.
My list of features is not meant to be exhaustive or exclusive. Nor are they meant to be universal aspects of consciousness everywhere. Given the great cultural differences in the world today, just as in the world’s past, it seems to me unreasonable to think that the features and emphases of consciousness would be everywhere the same.
As it stands, the list I have given is I think incomplete. At least two other features should be added: concentration, which is the analog of sensory attention,4 and suppression, by which we stop being conscious of annoying thoughts, the behavioral analog of repugnance, disgust, or simply turning away from annoyances in the physical world.
I would also take this opportunity of commenting on what is called in this book conciliation or compatibilization, which have perplexed some readers. At the risk of even more confusion, I would change this word to consilience, which is Whewell’s better term for my intended meaning of mental processes that make things compatible with each other.5 While this is not so obvious in waking life, it becomes extremely important in dreams. Originally, I had written two chapters on dreams to go in the present volume, but my publishers suggested that because of the length of the book, it seemed more reasonable to save them for the next volume, which I hope will appear in several years.6
Psychologists are sometimes justly accused of the habit of reinventing the wheel and making it square and then calling it a first approximation. I would demur from agreement that that is true in the development that I have just outlined, but I would indeed like to call it a first approximation. Consciousness is not a simple matter and it should not be spoken of as if it were. Nor have I mentioned the different modes of conscious narratization such as verbal (having imaginary conversations — certainly the most common mode in myself), perceptual (imagining scenes), behavioral (imagining ourselves doing something), physiological (monitoring our fatigue or discomfort or appetite), or musical (imagining music), all of which seem quite distinct, with properties of their own. Such modes have obviously different neural substrates, indicating the complexity of any possible neurology of consciousness.
2. The bicameral mind. The second main hypothesis is that preceding consciousness there was a different mentality based on verbal hallucinations. For this I think the evidence is overwhelming. Wherever we look in antiquity, there is some kind of evidence that supports it, either in literary texts or in archeological artifacts. Apart from this theory, why are there gods? Why religions? Why does all ancient literature seem to be about gods and usually heard from gods?
And why do we have verbal hallucinations at all? Before the publication of this book, verbal hallucinations were not paid much attention to, except as the primary indicator of schizophrenia. But since that time, a flurry of studies have shown that the incidence of verbal hallucinations is far more widespread than was thought previously. Roughly one third of normal people hear hallucinated voices at some time. Children hear voices from their imaginary or we should say hallucinated playmates. It has recently been discovered that congenital quadriplegics who have never in their lives spoken or moved, and are often regarded as “vegetables,” not only understand language perfectly but also hear voices they regard as God.7 The importance I put on these studies taken together is that they clearly indicate to me that there is a genetic basis for such hallucinations in us all) and that it was probably evolved into the human genome back in the late Pleistocene, and then became the basis for the bicameral mind.
3. The dating. The third general hypothesis is that consciousness was learned only after the breakdown of the bicameral mind. I believe this is true, that the anguish of not knowing what to do in the chaos resulting from the loss of the gods provided the social conditions that could result in the invention of a new mentality to replace the old one.
But actually there are two possibilities here. A weak form of the theory would state that, yes, consciousness is based on language, but instead of its being so recent, it began back at the beginning of language, perhaps even before civilization, say, about 12,000 B.C., at about the time of the beginning of the bicameral mentality of hearing voices. Both systems of mind then could have gone on together until the bicameral mind became unwieldy and was sloughed off, leaving consciousness on its own as the medium of human decisions. This is an extremely weak position because it could then explain almost anything and is almost undisprovable.
The strong form is of greater interest and is as I have stated it in introducing the concept of the bicameral mind. It sets an astonishingly recent date for the introduction into the world of this remarkable privacy of covert events which we call consciousness. The date is slightly different in different parts of the world, but in the Middle East, where bicameral civilization began, the date is roughly 1000 B.C.
This dating I think can be seen in the evidence from Mesopotamia, where the breakdown of the bicameral mind, beginning about 1200 B.C., is quite clear. It was due to chaotic social disorganizations, to overpopulation, and probably to the success of writing in replacing the auditory mode of command. This breakdown resulted in many practices we would now call religious which were efforts to return to the lost voices of the gods, e.g., prayer, religious worship, and particularly the many types of divination I have described, which are new ways of making decisions by supposedly returning to the directions of gods by simple analogy.
I would not now make as much of the Thera explosion as I did in II-3. But that it did cause the disruption of theocracy in the Near East and hence the conditions for the learning of a non-hallucinatory mentality is I think valid. But in the general case, I would rather emphasize that the success of a theocratic agricultural civilization brings with it overpopulation and thus the seeds of its own breakdown. This is suggested at least among the civilizations of Mesoamerica, where the relative rapidity of the rise and fall of civilizations with the consequent desertion of temple complexes contrasts with the millennia-long civilizations in the older parts of the world.
But is this consciousness or the concept of consciousness? This is the well-known use-mention criticism which has been applied to Hobbes and others as well as to the present theory. Are we not confusing here the concept of consciousness with consciousness itself? My reply is that we are fusing them, that they are the same. As Dan Dennett has pointed out in a recent discussion of the theory,8 there are many instances of mention and use being identical. The concept of baseball and baseball are the same thing. Or of money, or law, or good and evil. Or the concept of this book.
4. The double brain. When in any discussion or even in our thinking we can use spatial terms, as in “locating” a problem or ((situating” a difficulty in an argument, as if everything in existence were spread out like land before us, we seem to get a feeling of clarity. This pseudo-clarity, as it should be called, in because of the spatial nature of consciousness. So in locating functions in different parts of the brain we seem to get an extra surge of clarity about them — justified or not.
At the time I was writing that part of the book in the 1960s, there was little interest in the right hemisphere. Even as late as 1964, some leading neuroscientists were saying that the right hemisphere did nothing, suggesting it was like a spare tire. But since then we have seen an explosion of findings about right hemisphere function, leading, I am afraid, to a popularization that verges on some of the shrill excesses of similar discussions of asymmetrical hemisphere function in the latter part of the nineteenth century9 and also in the twentieth century.10
But the main results, even conservatively treated, are generally in agreement with what we might expect to find in the right hemisphere on the basis of the bicameral hypothesis. The most significant such finding is that the right hemisphere is the hemisphere which processes information in a synthetic manner. It is now well known from even more studies that the right hemisphere is far superior to the left in fitting together block designs (Kohs Block Design Test), parts of faces, or musical chords,11 and such synthetic functions were indeed those of the admonitory gods in fitting together civilizations.
The reader has by now guessed that a somewhat crucial experiment is possible. Since I have supposed that the verbal hallucinations heard by schizophrenics and others are similar to those once heard by bicameral people, could we not test out this cerebral location in the right temporal lobe of the voices by one of the new brain imaging techniques, using patients as they are hallucinating? This has recently been tried using cerebral glucography with positron tomography, a very difficult procedure. Indeed, the results demonstrated that there was more glucose uptake (showing more activity) in the right temporal lobe when the patient was hearing voices.12
I wish to emphasize that these four hypotheses are separable. The last, for example, could be mistaken (at least in the simplified version I have presented) and the others true. The two hemispheres of the brain are not the bicameral mind but its present neurological model. The bicameral mind is an ancient mentality demonstrated in the literature and artifacts of antiquity.
The last line of Book III sounds indeed like a ponderous finality of judgment. It is. But it is also the beginning, the opening up of human nature as we know it and feel it profoundly because consciously in ourselves, with all its vicissitudes, clarifies, and obscurities. Because of the documentation, we can see this most clearly in Greece in the first half of the first millennium B.C., where the change can truly be called
The Cognitive Explosion
With consciousness comes an increased importance of the spatialization of time and new words for that spatialization, like chronos. But that is to put it too mildly. It is a cognitive explosion with the interaction of consciousness and the rest of cognition producing new abilities. Whereas bicameral beings knew what followed what and where they were, and had behavioral expectancies and sensory recognitions just as all mammals do, now conscious, humans can ‘look’ into an imagined future with all its potential of terror, joy, hope, or ambition, just as if it were already real, and into a past moody with what might have been, or savoring what did, the past emerging through the metaphier of a space through I whose long shadows we may move in a new and magical process called remembrance or reminiscence.
Reminiscent memory (or episodic memory, as it is sometimes called),13 in sharp contrast to habit retention (or semantic memory), is new to the world with consciousness. And because a physical space in the world can always be returned to, so we feel irrationally, somehow certain, impossibly certain, that we should be able to return again to some often unfinished relationship, some childhood scene or situation or regretted outburst of love or temper or to undo some tragic chance action back in the imagined in existent space of the past.
We thus have conscious lives and lifetimes and can peer through the murk of tomorrow toward our own dying. With the prodding of Heraclitus in the sixth century B.C.,14 we invent new words or really modifications of old words to name processes or symbolize actions over time by adding the suffix sis and so be conscious of them, words in Greek like gnosis, a knowing; genesis, a beginning; emphasis, a showing in; analysis, a loosening up; or particularly phronesis, which is variously translated as intellection, thinking, understanding, or consciousness. These words and the processes they refer to are new in the sixth and seventh centuries B.C.15