Stranger in A Strange Land (The Bicameral Mind in Africa)

T. Buchan, Zambezia, 1980, VIII (ii) .

Excerpt: The title of my lecture is taken from Robert Heinlein’s award-winning novel (Heinlein, 1965). The principal character is a human being called Smith who, having been orphaned in a space-ship disaster, is raised from birth in a Martian society. Returning to earth for the first time in adult life, he finds himself in a culture which, whilst it is recognizably human, is bewilderingly alien and incomprehensible. A White psychiatrist practising among Black patients in Africa finds himself in a somewhat similar predicament, but without Smith’s capacity for total comprehension which he calls ‘grokking’. Fortunately many major psychotic illnesses manifest substantially similar clinical features and respond to treatment in much the same way, but in areas such as neurotic illness and personality disorder in which cultural factors are important in causation, the situation is much more difficult (Buchan and Chikara, 1980). Some headway can be made by placing an increased reliance on the perception of the universal non-verbal cues of emotional state, and on the patient disentangling of the relevant mores. Many valuable studies in this kind of transcultural psychiatry have been undertaken by workers such as Ari Kiev (1972), Swift and Asuni(1975) and Carothers(1953), but one often longs for the flashing conceptual insight of a Jung or a Freud to illuminate the way ahead. In this respect, it seems likely that the concept of the ‘bicameral mind’ advanced by Julian Jaynes will prove to be an insight of considerable significance (Jaynes, 1979).