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

William R. Woodward
Isis, June 1979, 70, 293.

Available in the Member's Area


"... at one time human nature was split into two, an executive part called a god, and a follower part called a man. Neither part was conscious." This was the bicameral mind. Since about 1000 B.C., so runs the thesis of this extraordinary book which defies disciplinary classification, this more primitive mentality of automaton control by hallucinatory divine voices was supplemented by a conscious mind. The mechanism of this "mental evolution" was metaphor, the process of trying to understand the more complex through the familiar.

For the historian of science, this thesis is noteworthy as a primary source which challenges mental evolutionists from Darwin through Lloyd Morgan and William McDougall: not biological evolution over several millennia, it is claimed, but cultural evolution during the relatively brief span of only three or four centuries. But the book is also of compelling interest as a secondary document for the bold manner in which it marshalls literary and archaeological evidence for a question central to language, religion, and science - the origin of consciousness. ...