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Was Man Really Unconscious for Centuries? (Book Review)

Ned Block
The Boston Globe,March 6, 1977, A 17.

Available in the Member's Area

Excerpt:

Most of us believe that human adults are conscious by nature. Princeon Professor Julian Jaynes in this strange, fascinating book tells us that, on the contrary, consciousness was invented, and relatively recently at that: first in Mesopotamia around 1300 B.C., then 600 years later it spread or was reinvented in Greece and Palestine. He also holds that the Incas lacked consciousness until subdued by the Spanish Conquistadores in the 16th century (the main evidence in this latter case being the ease with which the Incas were conquered by the Spaniards).

The concept of consciousness he usually intends is consciousness as the ability to think, plan, want, hope, deceive and the like. So according to Jaynes, the inventors of writing, the builders of the zigguarats of Babylon and the pyramids of Egypt, the author and subjects of the Hammurabi Code and the familiar characters and original authors of the Old Testament and the Iliad, were "automata, who knew not what they did ... They were what we would call signal bound, that is, responding each minute to cues in a stimulus-response manner, and controlled by those cues." They had no "subjective consciousness in which to plan and devise, and deceive and hope," no "private ambitions, ... grudges, ... frustrations." Hence they were "not responsible for their actions," and undeserving of "the credit or blame for anything that was done over those vast eons of time." ...

Related Commentary:

Critiques and Responses: Part 1

Greek Zombies: On the Alleged Absurdity of Substantially Unconscious Greek Minds

What Is It Like To Be Nonconscious? A Defense of Julian Jaynes