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Julian Jaynes Society Discussion Forum: Exploring Consciousness and the Bicameral Mind Theory since 1997

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 Post subject: Re: Welcome / Introductions
PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2014 7:30 am 
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Hello All (I say "all" with a tinge of irony--pretty quiet around here),

I just finished Origin after coming across a reference to it for the first time recently. Now I'm starting in on Reflections. Jaynes's theory is fascinating! I can't say I'm 100% convinced, but a lot of things do make sense when seen through the lens of the Theory. I wonder, though: could the Theory ever be proved or disproved? Short of using a time machine to go back and study humans to see if they were really bicameral? Maybe "prove" is too strong a word. Put another way: If you're already convinced by the Theory, what would it take to change your mind? Or, if you're not convinced, what evidence would make a believer out of you?

If I understand correctly, children are all born bicameral. In theory, it should be possible to raise them in a way that they would remain bicameral and not "learn" to be conscious, shouldn't it? Has anyone ever tried this? It wouldn't prove that humans were bicameral 3,000 years ago, but it would at least prove that the existence of bicameral, non-conscious humans is possible.

I realize there could be ethical implications to such an experiment. But--again, if I understand correctly--it should be possible for a bicameral human to "learn" to be conscious as an adult, so remaining bicameral until the age of, say, 18 wouldn't necessarily ruin someone's life, would it? It might even be an advantage in some way. For example, Jaynes claims that consciousness isn't a prerequisite for learning. Is it possible that it might even be an impediment to learning? Up to a certain stage of development? Just speculating, but maybe postponing consciousness for a few years would be an advantage.

(Imagine an exclusive charter school based around postponing consciousness, where wealthy progressives could send their children. The final course before graduation would consist of teaching the students to become conscious...)

Also, Wikipedia mentions that "Jaynes's ideas have also influenced writers such as...Phillip K. Dick" (among others). Is anyone aware of any works of contemporary fiction written about a bicameral character? Best of all would be a story written from the point of view of a bicameral person.


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 Post subject: Re: Welcome / Introductions
PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2014 11:52 am 
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Welcome ASD!

Jaynes was asked the same question regarding proof in an interview published in The Julian Jaynes Collection. I highly recommend reading the entire book for a fuller understanding the theory. The question of why some people remain open to the theory while others have a knee-jerk skeptical reaction is also addressed in one of the talks on the 2013 Julian Jaynes Conference on Consciousness audio CD.

My own view is that the available evidence does constitute scientific "proof" in the sense of a more parsimonious explanation for a wide range of otherwise unexplainable phenomenon. Questions that remain to be elucidated are the timing of the transition to consciousness in various cultures, which features of consciousness emerged first (we can perhaps looks at child development to help understand this), and to what extent bicameralism and various features of consciousness overlapped and for how long (what Jaynes called the weak form of the theory).

Yes in theory it should be possible to raise children that are bicameral. In practice, this would not be ethical and in my view, definitely not advantageous in any way for a person living in a modern conscious society. Introspective consciousness is closely associated with language, and there seems to be a window in childhood for learning language, after which it becomes much more difficult, so delaying that process would be inadvisable.

The study of children raised without language is the closest we will likely come to this scenario (however this only teaches us about the role of language in the development of consciousness). See books on Genie, Kaspar Hauser, and other stories of feral children. The autobiography of Helen Keller is also instructive (as quoted in the introduction to The Julian Jaynes Collection). Perhaps more instructive is the study of aspects or vestiges of bicameralism in recently contacted tribes (see the The Mentality of Pre-Literate and Pre-Modern Peoples section of this forum).

Because introspective consciousness is learned, there is large degree of variability in people today. This variability has been studied, although the researchers in general do not cite Jaynes or use the term "consciousness." For example, UNLV psychology professor Russell Hurlburt has found a much greater than anticipated variability in people's internal dialogue in his thought sampling experiments. Another area to look at are studies of people's ability to engage in goal setting and long term planning, which involves the spatialization of time. Some aspects of Jaynesian consciousness may even be correlated with what is being measured in IQ tests.

The goal should not be to raise children that are bicameral, but rather to develop new and better ways of maximizing the development of consciousness in children and adults. We see elements of this happening today, for example teaching reading at an earlier age than was done previously, again with no knowledge of or reference to Jaynes's ideas.

For additional fiction incorporating the bicameral mind idea, see the The Bicameral Mind in Fiction, Film, and Popular Culture section of this forum. There are books by Robert Sawyer, Neal Stephenson, and others, although none that I'm aware of that really explore the idea to its fullest potential or in the way you describe.


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 Post subject: Re: Welcome / Introductions
PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2014 12:59 am 
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Hello ASD,
ethical question apart, there is also the technical problem, that we do not know how to raise a bicameral child. In communicating with a child it would be very difficult, to say the least, not to use expressions that reflect our own consciousness and these expressions would be picked up by the child to develop its own consciousness. But even if it were possible to teach the child a conscious-free language that would not be enough. I do not think it is true that we are born bicameral. A bicameral society is just as culture based as a consciousness society. Say, you teach the child to follow simple instructions. There is no need for either consciousness of bicamerality in this. (You can teach it to an animal.) But then there is a big leap to develop the ability to create an instruction for yourself. Wether this instruction is then felt to have originated out of your own "self" your own "free will" or if it feels like "voices from your elders or gods" is entirely a question of the society you belong to, of the examples your parents and peers give you.
In other words to teach a child bicamerality you will have to be bicameral yourself. Otherwise it would be a very hard job to be convincing when teaching the child that in situations of stress it should follow the orders of the gods.


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 Post subject: Re: Welcome / Introductions
PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2014 10:37 am 
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You raise some very good points here Dan... the cultural environment is a critical aspect of it. It reminds me a bit of the story Jaynes tells of the woman who was raised by her voice-hearing grandmother, who learned to hear voices and continued to hear them into adulthood -- although there may be a genetic component to this as well (The Julian Jaynes Collection p. 326). Of course this person was not bicameral; while she was a voice-hearer she had also learned consciousness.


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 Post subject: Re: Welcome / Introductions
PostPosted: Fri May 23, 2014 10:12 pm 
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Well, there's life here yet! Thanks for the replies.

I agree that the technical challenge would be the most difficult. But if bicameral minds are possible, I think it could eventually be made to work. Granted, it might take multiple iterations to get there. I think you'd have to create a kind of refuge, isolated from the rest of the world. How hard do you think it would be to feign bicamerality, as the teachers and parents of these children would have to do? Maybe we'd even have to use robots!

The other question is whether there are any potential advantages in delaying the advent of consciousness in a person, or maybe even just teaching it in a certain way. As opposed to letting kids pick it up on their own. To the extent that their ability to learn increases over time, would delaying consciousness by a year or two or three allow for a better way of teaching it? As in, a way that would increase the likelihood of success later in life, and would be something they'd want for their own children.

On the other hand, would kids be better off if they learned to be conscious at an earlier age? Could we deliberately teach them so they'd pick it up quicker? I'm thinking my earliest memories are from right around the time I was probably becoming conscious. If I'd learned it earlier, would I have earlier memories?

Fascinating stuff!


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 Post subject: Re: Welcome / Introductions
PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2014 1:27 am 
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Actually, I also thought of using Robots for raising children. But I think the problem would remain. We would need to program the Robots in a way to use "Bicamerality vocabular" that we just do not have. I do not think unbiased language is possible. And if it were it might be that some kind of "inner self" would emerge that is neither consciousness nor bicamerality. The better experiment would be, of course, to have Robots learning language themselves and see what happens. That is really hard though, and as far as I can see, AI has given up trying.

Your other question is interesting. I am certain, that a reason why little children are able to learn languages so quickly is exactly that they lack consciousness. I had to learn Latin as an adult. And it was hell. Consciousness would always intercept. Why do I need to learn this? Why are there irregular verbs? Why must there be different languages? On a different level, consciousness is always trying to see structures or reasons. If there are none they will be created. I had a French girl friend once who had a four year old child, a girl. That child was perfectly bilingual. (I do believe that the concept of language instinct is totally nonsensical, but what was amazing was that her German was without accent although her mother and all her friends spoke with a heavy accent. It was only TV where she would learn proper German.) Anyway, when she was about six, consciousness stepped in, and she started to make small gramatical mistakes. If it is "le" soleil, it "must" be "der" Sonne in German. - Of course, the ability to see similarities, to see structures to construct cause-effect-chains is very useful in other cases. But not for language learning.

Another example: I am a Go player, having played for more than 30 years, I play a decent game (3 Dan), but I stand no chance against a Japanese or Chinese Child of 10 who learned the game with four or five. One reason is that we, in Western society, are encouraged to value our own solutions our own insights and to a large extent to mistrust authority. In theory pure reasoning could provide you with the perfect move, but in practice some unconscious division of our brain suggests a move, and consciousness tries to evaluate it and makes a decision. The point is, one will not be a strong player, if the unconsciously suggested moves are bad, to start with. And you only learn the game properly if you do not question the stuff the teacher tells you. You just have to absorb it. Something that becomes very hard once you are old enough, to have learned to be proud of your own problem solving capabilities.
Sorry for rambling on like this...


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 Post subject: Re: Welcome / Introductions
PostPosted: Thu Aug 21, 2014 10:11 am 
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Hello,

I am a librarian who is quite interested in Bicameralism, and also in the catastrophes of the earlier civilizations. In other venues, after reading peer-reviewed studies about the electromagnetic alterations experienced by the planet during the Bicameral timeline, as evidenced in the geologic record, I wonder what combination of effects that may have had on the body.

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Kenneth Pfaff
Head Librarian, The Grotto Library


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 Post subject: Re: Welcome / Introductions
PostPosted: Wed Sep 17, 2014 4:55 pm 
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Hello Kenneth,

This topic has come up before (but may have since been pruned). My thoughts are that the transition from bicamerality to consciousness took place at very different times in different places around the world, so it's unlikely to have been a major contributing factor. We have to remember Jaynes's timeline was primarily concerned with Greece and to a lesser extent Egypt and Mesopotamia. The transition likely took place much later in the Americas and in isolated places such as Easter Island. We also see accounts of vestiges of bicamerality in preliterate societies up through the twentieth century.


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 Post subject: Re: Welcome / Introductions
PostPosted: Wed Mar 04, 2015 10:50 am 
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Hello everyone,
I'm a former history grad student who only became aware of "world history" and "big history" a few years after I was formally done with my studies and stumbled across Jared Diamon's GG&S. Amazingly, I never heard of Julian Jaynes at all in school and only stumbled across his name when I was looking up info on the Bronze Age Collapse and Axial Age this past summer. I finished Origin this past fall and I was blown away! I just started Iaian McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary which has a somewhat similar thesis, although he argues that it wasn't a breakdown of the bicameral mind but rather the domination of the left hemisphere over the right that precipitated the Axial Age. As with Nietzsche & Heidegger, he sees the increasing dominance of the left hemisphere's reductive rationality and overanalysis in our (post-)modern age as deeply problematic. I look forward to discussing these topics with all of you and learning as much as I can.


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 Post subject: Re: Welcome / Introductions
PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 4:43 am 
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Welcome!
Did Diamond mention Jaynes? I don’t remember. GG&S is a good book, except for the racism. The inhabitants of New Guinea could do everything we do (building cities, flying to the moon) if they only wanted, but we could never do what they do (not getting lost in the jungle). Also, everything what he says about German beer is utter nonsense.


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 Post subject: Re: Welcome / Introductions
PostPosted: Thu Dec 29, 2016 3:42 pm 
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bdavid wrote:
I finished Origin this past fall and I was blown away! I just started Iaian McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary which has a somewhat similar thesis, although he argues that it wasn't a breakdown of the bicameral mind but rather the domination of the left hemisphere over the right that precipitated the Axial Age. As with Nietzsche & Heidegger, he sees the increasing dominance of the left hemisphere's reductive rationality and overanalysis in our (post-)modern age as deeply problematic. I look forward to discussing these topics with all of you and learning as much as I can.


I don't know why I am so late to this party, but I too have just finished Origin and have recently discovered McGilchrist. Frankly, I think IM complements JJ and may give an even stronger argument for the breakdown of the bicameral mind that is not inconsistent. Both are software oriented, both gradual, both inevitable.


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 Post subject: Re: Welcome / Introductions
PostPosted: Tue Nov 28, 2017 8:52 am 
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Hi all. While Jaynes' interest is in an imbalance in communication between the left and right sides of the brain of those who lived 3000 and more years ago, mine is in those with a similar imbalance living today. No one else but Jaynes has ever discussed this topic except for the odd sentence here and there in the scientific literature, so I'm naturally drawn to his writings.

I call this imbalance "brain skew" which can go in either the right or left direction (to the left being reminiscent of the brain of Jaynes' bicameral man where the gods of the right brain speak to the man in the left brain) and posted about it under the "The Bicameral Mind: Breakdown, Neurological Model, Evolution, etc." topic.

I read here someone else had a reply from Jaynes he was thinking of posting, so I'll post mine. It was 1983, and I posited an attraction between two people who have a brain communication imbalance opposite of each other (brain skew left in one person, brain skew right in the other), discernible through facial asymmetry. I called this "complementary attraction" and wrote him about it. Here's his reply:

Image


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Gods, Voices and the Bicameral Mind               Julian Jaynes Collection               Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness               The Minds of the Bible               Abstracts from the 2013 Julian Jaynes Society Conference on Consciousness and Bicameral Studies



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