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Journal eno2001's Journal: BOOK REVIEW: The Origin of Consciousness (pt. 2)...

(NOTE: I started writing this review about two weeks ago and it was written in short spurts while on my bus ride to work. So if it's a bit disjointed that's why. Hopefully, I'll get a bit more time when I write the review on book three.)

Where to start? This second part of the book was a lot harder for me to get through. It was densely packed with history, which I must admit to always having found a bit dull. That's just a personal quirk of mine. Still, I love the book thus far. I can't wait to finish book three so that I will have taken the whole thing in. Part of the reason I haven't been able to go though book two (The Witness of History) as quickly is that I had to prep for part of last month for a public speaking engagement. That took more time than I expected. Nevertheless, I just finished book 2 on the way home tonight. For the purposes of review, let's simply accept what Jaynes is proposing about bicamerality as a known fact. I'm not saying I believe his ideas 100%, I'm just saying it's easier for me to write the review from that perspective simply to get the information across. On with the review...

In the first chapter of book two, we start with a focus on the origins (graves and the dead) and importance of idols in bicameral civilizations. Jaynes suggests that idols were triggers for the bicameral human hallucinations, which is why they were so prevalent. In many early human civilizations, the idols are everywhere. In homes, architecture and even hidden in the construction of the homes. Most of book two's focus is on Mesopotamia and Egypt as the primary examples of bicameral civilizations and their shift to conscious civilizations. But he does touch on other civilizations as well.

To explain a little bit about where Jaynes believes that idols came from, I'll need to mention that he believed that bicameral humans heard and saw hallucinations that they believed were gods. Many times the appearance or voice of these gods looked or sounded like friends, relatives, or even dead people that the person knew well. He also states that if there were similarities between schizophrenia and bicamerality, that the hallucinations would have occurred mostly during stressful times. What could be more stressful than the death of someone close to you? So he believes that people who had a recent experience of losing loved one would likely be more prone to hallucinate the voices and images of those loved ones.

Throughout the later portion of book one, he explains that many early writings have the gods taking on the appearance of dead relatives and friends. So in this occurrence, many ancient cultures believed that the dead become like gods. As an example he talks about the burial houses of Eynan. One of the earlier examples of this shift to burial within a building. It is at this point that the dead are transformed from mere corpses into the proto-idols that lead to the development of intricate idolatry. The pervasive presence of these idols in the bicameral civilizations leads us to the notion that they served a much more important purpose than religious statuary. Jaynes believes the idols were instrumental in the encouragement of bicameral hallucinations. They were reminders of the authority of the god hallucinations and gave bicameral humans a motivation that they otherwise lacked.

Jaynes discusses early formal human graves (Eynan was discussed in the last few pages of book one in detail) and how they were usually a building in which the dead were propped up and taken care of. The dead would be given all the comforts of the living. Jaynes surmises that this was done by bicameral humans because they still experienced visions and voices of the dead. Indeed the dead had become godlike. Initially this type of burial was performed as a standard for anyone. However when they experienced the hallucinations of their dead which led them to believe that their dead had become gods, the nature of the buildings changed over a few generations. These burial houses became the "house of god". Today those words are still used to describe places of worship. Thus the rise of early religions were closely tied in with proto-idols and bicameral hallucinations. (NOTE: I realize this is quite controversial for people who are religious. It does not have to be mutually exclusive to faith.)

One of the more interesting excerpts from book two in the early portion was the potential explanation of how a strong and dominant culture like the Incas, who had conquered and ruled their land to great effect could be easily overtaken by a small group of men from a different culture. He suggests that this was a meeting between bicameral and conscious civilizations:

"It is possible that it was one of the few confrontations between subjective and bicameral minds, that for things as unfamiliar as Inca Atahualpa was confronted with -- these rough, milk-skinned men with their hair drooling from their chins instead of from their scalps so that their heads looked upside down, clothed in metal, with avertive eyes, riding strange Llamalike creatures with silver hoofs, having arrived like gods in gigantic huampus tiered like mohican temples over the sea which to the Inca was unsailable -- that for all this there were no bicameral voices coming from the sun, or from the golden statues of Cuzco in their dazzling towers. Not subjectively conscious, unable to deceive or narratize out the deception of others, the Inca and his lords were captured like helpless automatons. And as it's people mechanically watched, this shipload of subjective men stripped the gold sheathing from the holy city, melted down its golden images and all the treasures of the Golden Enclosure, it's fields of golden corn with stems and leaves all cunningly wrought in gold, murdered it's living god and his princes, raped its unprotesting women, and, narratizing Spanish futures, sailed away with the yellow metal into the subjective conscious value system from which they had come. It was a long way from Eynan".

Another interesting comment on the Incas and Spaniards later in book two is a quote from something written by one of the Spaniards in a book about the conquest. He wrote of their idols and how they listened to their voices. He claimed it was the work of the devil as that was the only way he could interpret these indigenous people who paid great attention to their idols. Here is the quote that he included from "The Conquest of Peru":

"... it was a thing very common and approved at the Indies, that the Devill spake and answered in these false sanctuaries ... It was commonly in the night they entered backward to their idoll and so went bending their bodies and head, after an uglie manner, and so they consulted with him. The answer he made, was commonly like unto a fearefull hissing, or to a gnashing which did terrifie them; and all that he did advertise or comment them, was but the way to their perdition and ruine".

Introduced in the second chapter of book two and probably the most interesting portion of book two for me is the origins of written language. As we progress through different bicameral civilizations, he returns to his original statement that written language was the catalyst that resulted in the breakdown of the bicameral mind. No longer was it necessary to have these voices in their heads to tell them what to do and how to do it. They now had pictograms in uruk, hieroglyphics in Egypt, cuneiform in Mesopotamia. The progression from the initial representation of visual events to symbols that represent phonetic events is a very very important development. He points to the fact that picture based languages can only tell someone of something they already know (think about the standard icons for play, pause and stop on VCRs, media players and the like. If you don't know what they mean, they mean nothing). When we get to real written languages however, it is now possible to communicate information to the reader that he doesn't know. This shift to written language now gives humans a place to put down the processes, rules and laws that they need to guide them. Many of the earliest writing turn out to be very detailed manifests of who is responsible for what in a city, or inventories of resources. And of course the earliest human laws, the Code of Hammurabi. Jaynes suggests at one point that the reason that the word for "speak" is used in the Code is that these laws came from bicameral voices that were originally perceived as spoken. As such, it is likely in Jaynes' opinion that the written language still triggered auditory hallucinations in the bicameral humans of the time.

Slowly through book two we are taken from the state of bicamerality to a short period of people who were somewhere in between, and eventually to subjective consciousness. Along the way, there is much lamenting in all of these civilizations of their gods abandoning them. They no longer see or hear from their gods. There is also intimation of the the possible "generation gap" between those who are still bicameral and those who are becoming conscious. To illustrate this point he refers to Hesiod. He complains about his foolish brother Perses who refuses to do the will of the gods. Why would he if he does not hear the voices but instead has an internal motivation that doesn't need to follow any imagined gods?

As consciousness in humans develops along with written language, the tone of the writing changes from mere directions, lists and procedures, to that of more complex thought. Those changes are evidences by expressions that start to value the character and trustworthiness of an individual being written about. Something that would not be possible to even contemplate in a bicameral mind. And with these changes, the passage of time also begins to be recognized. Time becomes "spatialized" as humans begin to see the importance in documenting past events. This is the dawn of written history. As one can see, written language is the epicenter for many of humanity's developments. While that's pretty obvious on the surface, the effects on how humans think is far more subtle.

He spends the majority of chapter five focusing on words used in the Illiad which were interpreted by scholars to mean things similar to various emotions or feelings. However, Jaynes outspokenly indulges in re-interpretations of the meaning of these words in the context of bicamerality. In redefining these words, he redefines the culture that the Illiad arose from to be in line with his theory. This might be why his theory was not so well accepted by academia (among other reasons). However, if you keep your mind open to the possibility of his theory being correct it gives you a whole new starting point to look at Illiad, Odyssey, Hesiod and others.

I won't go into much more detail about book two other than to say it was essential to understanding the breakdown of the bicameral mind. We learn of the invention of written language (which I must admit is more fascinating than I would have suspected), the discovery of introspection, the creation of the concept of love, the invention of the soul and many other more esoteric and lofty ideas about what makes us ourselves. I apologize for this rather quirky review, but time was short and I promised myself I wouldn't read book three until I finished this review. Since I'm itching to finish the book, I'm itching to finish this review too! :) I hope that I will be able to do book three a bit more justice. As an aside, I should note that I loved the book enough so far to purchase my own copy from Amazon. I think it's a book I will probably return to for some ideas in the future.

Once I'm done reviewing the third book, I plan on possibly writing up something about the thoughts it inspired in me regarding further possible changes in the way humans think and what that means for humanity in future generations.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Origin of Consciousness (pt. 2)...

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The greatest productive force is human selfishness. -- Robert Heinlein