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Retrospective: Julian Jaynes and The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

Bill Rowe
American Journal of Psychology, Spring 2012, (1-4).

Summary:

A four-part retrospective review of the work of Julian Jaynes.

Excerpt:

In the previous installment we looked at the circumstances surrounding the great Catastrophe of 1200 B.C.E. That historic moment set the stage for a dramatic change in human consciousness. On the far side of that event we see people unencumbered by the stresses of reflexive self-awareness. On the near side we witness the advent of the self-conscious individual. This transition gave the world great literature, art, religion, and philosophy. But it also guaranteed a troubled existence, from the invitation to "know thyself" that we see in the Dialogues to the expulsion from the garden in Genesis for knowing too much. It does indeed seem that "Hellenistic existence had been propelled into an individualism without instruction, an aimlessness motivated by a profound sense of alienation; in short, into a crisis of freedom" (Martin, 1987, p. 24). This is, of course, the metaphorical self, described by Julian Jaynes. We ended the previous installment with a metaphorical rendering of that transition that I called flash blindness: When the lights come back on after the great Catastrophe, they come on with the psychological equivalent of dark-adapted eyes stabbed by the flash of a thousand halogen lights. Whole civilizations stumble their way into the uncompromising brilliance of human subjective consciousness. What do we do now? Now We Pray.