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Supporting Evidence: New Research
Supporting Jaynes' Bicameral Mind Theory

Vestiges of Bicameralism in Pre-Literate Societies

Supporting Evidence > Vestiges of Bicameralism in Pre-Literate Societies

In his theory, Julian Jaynes describes the role hallucinations played in an earlier mentality, prior to the development of subjective consciousness. Based on Jaynes's theory, it could be predicted that hallucinations and visions could be found among pre-literate tribal peoples. This was documented in early anthropological studies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (see, for example, Primitive Mentality by Levy-Bruhl), and has since been been confirmed by more recent studies. Below is a small sample of research supporting this aspect of Jaynes's theory.

The Illusion of Reality or the Reality of Illusion. Hallucinations and Culture
Al-Issa, Ihsan. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 1995, 166: 368-373.
The aim of this review is to integrate research findings on the role of sociocultural factors in hallucinations and to relate these factors to current psychological theory and research. METHOD. The literature was surveyed by manual search, and the more reliable studies selected for the review. RESULTS. One hundred and thirteen publications were scrutinised and 30 of them were included in this review. CONCLUSIONS. Cross-cultural concepts of reality are related to the development and the threshold of hallucinations. Attitudes toward hallucinations tend to affect the emotional reaction to, and the degree of control of, these experiences. Awareness of these attitudes may help the diagnostician to distinguish between pathological and culturally sanctioned hallucinations. It is important that therapists consider the functional significance and meaning of hallucinations as well as the social context and the stimuli associated with them.

Truth and Error
Brooks, W.K. Science, 1899, Vol. 9, No. 213 (June).
"All savages believe that hallucinations are a means of divination, and, as many intoxicants produce hallucinations, all of the North American tribes make use of these, supplemented with many rites, such as dancing, singing, ululation, the beating of drums, and the tormenting of the body by various painful operations, all designed to produce ecstatic states and the consequent hallucinations."

Stranger in A Strange Land (The Bicameral Mind in Africa)
Buchan, T. Zambezia, 1980, VIII (ii).
The title of my lecture is taken from Robert Heinlein's award-winning novel (Heinlein, 1965). The principal character is a human being called Smith who, having been orphaned in a space-ship disaster, is raised from birth in a Martian society. Returning to earth for the first time in adult life, he finds himself in a culture which, whilst it is recognizably human, is bewilderingly alien and incomprehensible. A White psychiatrist practising among Black patients in Africa finds himself in a somewhat similar predicament, but without Smith's capacity for total comprehension which he calls 'grokking'. Fortunately many major psychotic illnesses manifest substantially similar clinical features and respond to treatment in much the same way, but in areas such as neurotic illness and personality disorder in which cultural factors are important in causation, the situation is much more difficult (Buchan and Chikara, 1980). Some headway can be made by placing an increased reliance on the perception of the universal non-verbal cues of emotional state, and on the patient disentangling of the relevant mores. Many valuable studies in this kind of transcultural psychiatry have been undertaken by workers such as Ari Kiev (1972), Swift and Asuni(1975) and Carothers(1953), but one often longs for the flashing conceptual insight of a Jung or a Freud to illuminate the way ahead. In this respect, it seems likely that the concept of the 'bicameral mind' advanced by Julian Jaynes will prove to be an insight of considerable significance (Jaynes, 1979).

Concepts of Mental Illness Amongst the Rural Xhosa People in South Africa
Cheetham, R.W.S and R.J. Cheetham. TAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 1976, 10 (1): 39-45.
The rural Xhosa people of South Africa have retained social cohesion through traditional custom, purity of language and the dominant role of ancestor worship, traditional medicine and witchcraft in lifestyle, beliefs and ceremonies. Abstract concepts are limited and ego defence mechanisms include projection, displacement and rationalization but cognitive disturbances per se are not regarded as important. Major attention is paid to severe conative and affective disturbances, ascribed to object or spirit intrusion, witchcraft or sorcery, which necessitate treatment by a traditional "witchdoctor". Therapy is community orientated as far as possible unless uncontrollable violent behaviour necessitates referral to a mental hospital.

Some Aspects of the Soul-Concept Among the Bantu-Speaking Nguni-Tribes of South Africa
du Toit, Brian M. Anthropological Quarterly, July 1960, 33 (3): 134-142.

Conceptions of Psychosis in Four East African Societies
Edgerton, Robert B. American Anthropologist, 1966, 68 (2): 408-425.

Psychiatry with the Aborigines of West Malaysia
Kinzie, J. David and J. Malcolm Bolton. American Journal of Psychiatry, July 1973, 130: 769-773.
The authors report on a year's experience with psychiatric patients from aborigine tribes in West Malaysia. Of the 20 cases seen, all but one were psychotic and 16 were also classified as schizophrenic. Withdrawal and running away were common symptom patterns. Only one patient came from a deep jungle area; the others were from fringe areas where sociocultural disruption was more evident. Because of a good preexisting medical service, these patients were easily managed in a hospital that emphasized their own culture. Follow-up in the jungle or villages by aborigine staff members and the use of long-acting injectable phenothiazines resulted in continued improvement of the patients.

Psychosis or Social Sanction
Kroeber, A.L. Journal of Personality, 1940, 8 (3): 204-215.

The Role of Cultural Factors in Paranoid Psychosis among the Yoruba Tribe
Lambo, Adeoye. Journal of Mental Science, 1955, 101: 239-266.

Talking Moai
MacIntyre, Ferren. Rapa Nui Journal, 1999, 13 (3): 107–113.
Analysis of Rapa Nui (Eastern Island) from a Jaynesian perspective.

Mental illness Among Formosan Aborigines as Compared with the Chinese in Taiwan
Rin, H. and T.Y. Lin. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 1962, 108: 134-146.

The Hopi Indian's Mourning Hallucinations
Shen, W.W. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 1986, 174 (6).
One of the 76 alcoholic patients with hallucinations studied in an inpatient alcoholism service was a 24-year-old half-Hopi Pueblo Indian male, who developed a prolonged course of hallucinations after the death of his father. The author suggests that hallucinating experiences might be pathognomy-specific to the Hopi Indians' mourning process, to allow the release of their intensive feelings.

Cultural Determinants of Response to Hallucinatory Experience
Wallace, Anthony F.C. Archives of General Psychiatry, 1959, 1 (1): 58-69.
Hallucination attracts the attention of the anthropologist for several reasons: First, because, as one of the most ancient and most widely distributed of the modes of human experience, most, if not all, human cultures provide definitions of and responses to it which are of interest to the descriptive ethnographer; second, because a vast quantity of content has been introduced into the cultural repertoire of mankind by hallucinatory ideation in dreams, visions, and hypnogogic imagery, and hallucination must therefore be considered in relation to culture change; and, third, because hallucination is often defined in Western societies as a symptom of mental and/or physical disease, and anthropologists play a role in medical research in these societies. It is in the last context, particularly in the area of mental health research, that the present inquiry is undertaken.