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Voices of the Gods (Book Review)

Colin Blakemore
The Sciences, 1978, 18: 27-28.

Available in the Member's Area


Surely anyone who studies the past tries not merely to describe the actions of the people of other times but also to illuminate the very thoughts that guided them, their personal consciences, their ethical values, the motivations that drove them to do the things that they did. But even for living people (whom we can interrogate, whose electroencephalogram we can monitor, whose perceptual thresholds we can measure) consciousness can only be inferred from their actions. Indeed some philosophers, most notably the late Gilbert Ryle of Oxford, have denied the very existence of conscious deliberation as a magical or "emergent" property of the mind, since its most volitional and intimate aspects, such as "knowing" and "choosing" can only be revealed through the actions of the whole person in particular situations. The externalization itself of supposed internal dispositions destroys their intimate and private nature.

Julian Jaynes, however, would certainly not support the idea that the modern person has no such thing as consciousness. He spends the first two chapters of this interesting and probably important book arguing that consciousness does exist but proving elegantly that it is not many of the things with which it is casually equated (such as an internal record of experience, or the repository of thought). His evidence is largely introspective and he concludes that "subjective consciousness is an analog of what is called the real world." Jaynes uses the term "analog" to mean a map or model, and thus his concept of consciousness comes close to Kenneth Craik's theory of perception as an internal hypothesis about the external world. ...