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

Thomas Bridges
National Review, September 2, 1977, 29 (34): 1008.

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Ancient man was not like you and me; he did not think. Could not, in fact, think. Instead, his actions were directed by auditory hallucinations - voices that became known as gods. In this surprisingly readable study of the complex mechanisms that underlie the development of human consciousness, psychologist Julian Jaynes draws evidence from modern studies of the brain, archaeological finds, and man's earliest literary remains. He concludes: "At one time human nature was split in two, an executive part called god, and a follower part called man. Neither was conscious." Thus, according to Jaynes, man at the earliest moments of Western civilization - man as he is depicted in the Bible and the Iliad - was a bicameral being. Volition, initiative, and planning were controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain which, in time of stress, sent messages to the left hemisphere in the form of auditory commands that were heard as divine voices: "So Hector, faced with the decision-suffering of whether to go outside the walls of Troy and fight Achilles or stay within them, in the stress of decision hallucinates the voice that tells him to go out."

Jaynes traces the often confusing transition from unseen god to god-image to god-king - each able to direct behavior because of man's unwavering belief in the voices. And Jaynes follows the orderly movement of man under the social control of the bicameral mind from hunting group to agricultural community to civilization. ...