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Journal eno2001's Journal: BOOK REVIEW: The Origin of Consciousness (pt. 3)...

I finally got the time to finish reading this large tome. It was worth it. While Jaynes ends the book with no real startling conclusions, he really opens a lot of doors across a lot of subject areas that really do need more exploration. As someone told me in the review of the first book, Daniel Dennet was certainly warranted in calling this book and the theory of the Bicameral mind, "fertile ground".

This last "book" is called Vestiges of the Bicameral Mind in the Modern World. He starts the book off by saying that the shift in the bible from the Old Testament to the New Testament is the reinvention of the beliefs to work with the now more dominant conscious mind. In fact he says, "A full discussion here would specify how the attempted reformation of Judaism by Jesus can be construed as a necessarily new religion for conscious men rather than bicameral men. Behavior now must be changed from within the new consciousness rather than from Mosaic laws carving behavior from without". However, for most of the book Jaynes most obviously avoids touching much on Christianity likely to avoid the controversy. One can extrapolate their own understanding from the bible after having read about the bicameral mind. As I said in my previous review, I don't think any of this is counter to the Christian (or other) faith.

Next he ponders the origins of nearly all developments of post-bicameral human civilizations and how it is possible that they are all the outcome of this new way of the mind: consciousness. He acknowledges that this is out of the scope of his book, but an interesting thought nonetheless. What I found particularly interesting was his one example of how computer science is an extension of greek Logos, or logic. I will pursue this a little further in my next writeup regarding my thoughts on the book overall. He begins to extrapolate from past bicameral echoes in civilization to the last remnants of the bicameral mind today. Prophets, oracles, possession cults, glossolalia (speaking in tongues) and generally any form of entering the unconscious (in a Jaynsian sense) mind.

Another interesting point that he brings up is that when it comes to the separation of the left and the right halves of the brain, women are less lateralized than men. This means that either side of the female brain can perform the processing functions of what would traditionally be done by the opposite side. He notes: "Mental abilities in women are more spread over both hemispheres. Even by age six, for example, a boy can recognize objects in his left hand by feel alone better than his right hand. In girls, both hands are equal. ... And it is common knowledge that elderly men with a stroke or hemorrhage in the left hemisphere are more speechless than elderly women with a similar diagnosis". He suggests that this is why in many cultures figures like the Greek oracles, for example, tend to be female. They are more likely to be able to go into unconscious mental states and communicate with the "god" side of their minds and give voice to that.

For these states of mind to be achieved, unusual surroundings and circumstances are required. The Greek oracles were usually placed in awe inspiring settings and there was an expectation from the people who would approach them asking for wisdom of the gods. The environment and expectations play an important part in attaining the unconscious state. Similarly, with people speaking in tongues, there is the mass belief in the group that is present, that someone amongst them will be given the words from god combined with the spiritual feeling of being in a holy place. You take away the expectations and the environment and these phenomena are much harder to obtain. Another excerpt:

"Since this (unconscious states of mind) is the learning of a now difficult neurological state, so different from ordinary life, it is not surprising that the cues of the induction had to be wildly distinctive and have an extreme difference from ordinary life.

And they certainly were different: anything odd, anything strange: bathing in smoke or sacred water, dressing in enchanted chitons with magical girdles, wearing weird garlands or mysterious symbols, standing in a charmed magic circle as medieval magicians did, or upon charakteres as Faust did to hallucinate Mephistopheles, or smearing eyes with strychnine to procure visions as was done in Egypt, or washing in brimstone (sulphur) and seawater, a very old method which began in Greece, as Porphyry said in the second century A.D., to prepare the anima spiritalis for the reception of a higher being. All of these of course did nothing excpet as they were believed to do something -- just as we in this latter age have no 'free will' unless we believe we have".

By chapter three we are now looking at music and poetry as remnants of the bicameral mind. His opening questions are quite interesting in the context of the rest of his book:

"... And why, particularly in times of stress, have a huge proportion of the readers of this page written poems? What unseen light leads us to such dark practice? And why does poetry flash with recognitions of thoughts we did not know we had, finding its unsure way to something in us that knows and has known all the time, something, I think, older than the present organization of our nature? ... I shall state my thesis plain. The first poets were gods. Poetry began with the (gods of) the bicameral mind. The god-side of our ancient mentality, at least in a certain period of history, usually or perhaps always spoke in verse".

We are then informed of the connection between poetry, music and the ancient sacred reading of poems. Ancient poetry was read in a more musical way. Not sung, but certainly with a maintained rather than random inflection. To try and make a more scientific connection of poetry and song to the bicameral mind, he goes back to the established point that speech (for most right handed people) is a function of the left hemisphere of the brain. Song, however is a function of the right hemisphere. He cites some interesting examples such as:

"It is common medical knowledge that many elderly patients who have suffered cerebral hemorrhages on the left hemisphere such that they cannot speak, can still sing.

The so-called Wada Test is sometimes performed in hospitals to find out a person's cerebral dominance. Sodium amytal is injected into the carotid artery on one side, putting the corresponding hemisphere under heavy sedation but leaving the other awake and alert. When the injection is made on the left side so that only the left side is sedated and only the right hemisphere is active, the person is unable to speak but can still sing. When the injection is on the right so that only the left hemisphere is active the person can speak but not sing".

He cites quite a few examples beyond this, but I am only quoting the two above for brevity. He uses these examples, the fact that ancient poetry was closer to singing than speaking to support his notion that the inner voices of the "gods" of the bicameral mind were largely a right brain activity.

Another notable statement of his in the third chapter is that humans are mentally predisposed to focus intently on things that stimulate Wernicke's area on the right hemisphere of the brain:

"...children who were fidgeting or crying stop doing so at the sound of music, but also they smiled and looked straight ahead, turning away from the mother's gaze, even acting as we do when we are trying to avoid distraction. This finding has immense significance for the possibility that the brain is organized at birth to 'obey' stimulation that corressponds to Wernicke's area on the right hemisphere, namely the music, and not be distracted from it, even as earlier I have said that bicameral men had to obey hallucinations from the same area". One of my personal beliefs after reading this book is that the "ear wig" (ie. the song you can't get out of your head no matter how much you want to) is another aspect of this. Or, at the very least, it's a potential way to explain the phenomena. It also makes me wonder whether or not people who don't experience "ear wigs" are "more conscious that those who do? I've certainly noted a correlation between people who are more intellectually conservative and the specific statement saying, "That never happens to me. I have no idea what you're talking about". But that's more topic of discussion for my follow-up...

Near the end of chapter three he makes another interesting statement regarding consciousness which I think explains the tendency towards intellectual arrogance in people:

"Consciousness imitates the gods and is a jealous consciousness and will have no other executives before it".

Pointing to the many facets of civilization that he mentioned in the earlier parts of the book, he provides a few examples of consciousness as expressed within literature, laws, conventions, etc... all strive to eliminate any other form of authorization of action. That is to say, that as humans attempt to find authorization for their actions (since there is no longer a voice in their head telling them what to do) any deviation to something that is the opposite of modern consciousness is disparaged and abandoned.

In chapter four he discusses hypnosis as another vestigial expression of the bicameral mind. His thought is that in order for hypnosis to work, it is necessary to enter an unconscious (again in Jaynes' terms) state of mind. This, he believes, is one of the major components of the bicameral mind, accepting authorization of action without question. Combine this with the internal directives being issued by hallucinated voices and you have the ideal situation for bicameral humans. He notes the hypnosis is the "black sheep" of psychology since it is quite difficult to quantify exactly what is happening. However, in the context of the bicameral mind theory, hypnosis is much more easily explained when it's seen as a vestige of that ancient mentality. In the relationship between the hypnotist and the subject, the hypnotist is taking the place of the bicameral gods. And while under hypnosis, the subject appears to give over complete control to the hypnotist. Of course, there are many anecdotal discrepancies which indicate that the state of mind in hypnosis is not purely unconscious. It is certainly a willing submission to the state.

In this chapter is also becomes a lot clearer that much of what Jaynes has been attempting to explain is the quest for "authorization". The answer to "why" it is that we do what we do in every facet of life. A big question really, and Jaynes' explanation seems to be that when humans were bicameral, the "why" was given to them by the voices of their gods. Once that was lost (and in nearly every kind of religious literature there are lamentations of the loss of hearing god) and consciousness took the place of the internal directives, humans started on their quest for an authority who would tell them how and why they must do things.

In chapter five he finally returns to schizophrenia as another possible vestige of the bicameral mind. In short he believes that the brain is still hardwired in many of us for the bicameral mentality, but that culturally, such behavior is discouraged. For one example, imaginary friends that children experience, are largely put aside by our culture as childish and unproductive. So, when someone falls victim to schizophrenia, it's obvious why this is such a huge problem. To be clear, he really isn't saying that there's anything about schizophrenia that can be taken lightly. Early in the chapter, he tries to explain what he believes is happening when someone has schizophrenia in terms of a framework. He talks about the loss of the analog "I" that we all have (that is, how you imagine yourself within your mind) when a schizophrenic has an episode. Accompanying this is the loss of the mind-space in which your analog "I" exists. And there is also the loss of the spatialization of time. The entire world, for a schizophrenic, ceases to be distinguishable from internal hallucination. So why would these traits still occur in an individual from time to time? Here is a bit of what he has to say on the matter (in the section called "The Advantages of Schizophrenia"):

"A curious heading, certainly for how can we say there are advantages of so terrifying an illness? But, I mean advantages in the light of human history. Very clearly, there is a genetic basis to the biochemistry underlying this radically different reaction to stress. ... What biological advantage did it once have? ... The answer, of course, is one of the themes I have stated so often before in this essay. The selective advantage of such genes was the bicameral mind evolved by nature and human selection over the millennia of our early civilizations. The genes involved... are the genes that were in the background of the prophets and the 'sons of the nabiim' (mentioned in the second part of the book as recorded in the bible) and bicameral man before them".

Two other "advantages" are tirelessness and much more acute sensory perception: "...they show less fatigue then normal persons and are capable of tremendous feats of endurance". And. "Indeed, schizophrenics are almost drowning in sensory data. They seem to have a more immediate and absolute involvement in their physical environment, a greater in-the-world-ness. Schizophrenics fitted with prism glasses that deform visual perception learn to adjust more easily than the rest of us, since they do not overcompensate much".

As a final note in the chapter he warns that there are many many competing theories about schizophrenia and all of them are self-defeating once you step into the realm of a competing theory. He then admits that he is merely adding another theory to the large pile of theories that have come before. And he makes it clear that bicameral humans were not schizophrenics, they merely had some traits in common.

In the final chapter of the third book, called "The Augeries of Science" he starts off by summing up and recounting the most important points of his theory and then ends by applying somewhat of a light hearted attack on the methods of science itself, based on it's shared origins with what many today see as it's rival, religion. My favorite section in this chapter is the following (long quote follows) on politics, science and superstition and the origins of beliefs. He calls this solidification of concept, "scientisms":

"That nutrition can improve health both of mind and body is true. The class struggle as Marx studied it in the France of Louis Napoleon was a fact. The relief of hysterical symptoms in a few patients by analysis of sexual memories probably happened. And hungry animals or anxious men certainly will learn instrumental responses for food or approbation. These are true facts. But so is the shape of a liver of a sacrificed animal a true fact (to divine a secret knowledge within it's context). And so the Ascendants and Midheavens of astroologers, or the shape of oil on water. Applied to the world as representative of all the world, tacts become superstitions. A superstition is after all only a metaphier grown wild to serve a need to know. ...

Science then, for all it's pomp of factness, is not unlike some of the more easily disparages outbreaks of pseudoreligions. In this period of transition from it's religious basis, science often shares with the celestial maps of astrology, or a hundred other irrationalisms, the same nostalgia for the Final Answer, the One Truth, the Single Cause. In the frustrations and sweat of laboratories, it feels the same temptations to swarm into sects, even as did the Khabiru refugees, and set out here and there through the dry Sinais of parched fact for some rich and brave significance flowing with trust and exaltation. And all of this, my metaphor and all, is a part of this transitional period after the breakdown of the bicameral mind.

And this essay is no exception.

* * *

His final closing statement of the last book in the set is that ever since the definitive switch from bicameral to conscious minds (which didn't happen overnight) humans have had a longing for a lost "golden age". Looking back to a time when things were better. He, again, suggests that this longing is an echo of the transition from bicameral to conscious humans. A time when authorization of action was not a constant pursuit. A time when all was clear simply because man had no internal motivation. His final analysis applies this idea to much of what has motivated humankind for many millennia. Our quest for betterment, knowledge and mastery of our environment is simply the desire to return to a mythical time when things were perfect. (The Garden of Eden is one of the strongest representation of this sort of perfection)

My overall impression of the book is that it's well worth the effort to read if you are interested in this sort of thing. It's also given me some more ways of looking at things which makes life a bit more interesting. Especially in the way that the bicameral theory is quite easy to fit as an explanation for many human behaviors. Again, if you're the sort of person who people watches and likes to introspect as the reason people behave as they do, this book is your ideal companion. As I mentioned in the review of book two, I liked this book so much that I wound up buying my own copy. I wholeheartedly encourage anyone interested by the review to try and locate a copy to read. Fun book! :)

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BOOK REVIEW: The Origin of Consciousness (pt. 3)...

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Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!