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

Julia Bolton Holloway
Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Sept. 1977, 45 (3): 398–399.

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Julian Jaynes, in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, discusses the functions of the human brain, the right hemisphere of which governs music, poetry, analogy, visual and auditory hallucinations, in other words, the gods' sphere, while the left, and now dominant, hemisphere governs speech, literacy, logic, and consciousness. To study the relationships of man and his gods, Jaynes yokes together archeology, literature, and physiological psychology, calling his work "archeo-psychology." His findings - which are useful through hypothetical - are a guide to historians of religion and literature. The bicameral use of idols is spurned in periods of literacy, of left hemisphere dominance: the Exodus Golden Calf destroyed to make way for the Ark of the written Law; the Reformation, with printing, sweeping away the veneration of pilgrim relics. For the study of poetry Julian Jaynes's observations, ranging from the Iliad to Empson, concerning the gods' presence and the verses' music as being part of earlier bicamerality now become convention, are important indeed. He also discusses in these terms prophecy, oracles, glossolalia, demon possession, and schizophrenia. The stark simplicity of the dust cover, despite the lengthy title, mirrors the book's lucid coalition of a multitude of disciplines.