|The Bicameral Mind|
My fascination with Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind was a vague notion his thesis was important to understanding intuition. These provocative excerpts gave me a handle on The Intuitive Self even though I did not agree with the M-1 interpretation of his philosophical musings. Added emphasis appears in red, and my reactions are enclosed in a box: (Note 29)
Originally, this search into the nature of consciousness was known as the mind body problem. . . . It has become the problem of . . . the origin of consciousness in evolution. Where can this subjective experience which we introspect upon, . . . where and how in evolution could all this wonderful tapestry of inner experience have evolved? How can we derive this inwardness out of mere matter! And if so, when? . . .
Let me summarize as a way of 'seeing' where we are and the direction in which our discussion is going. We have said that consciousness is an operation rather than a thing. . . . It operates by way of analogy, by way of constructing an analog space with an analog 'I' that can observe that space, and move metaphorically in it. . . . Conscious mind is a spatial analog of the world and mental acts are analogs of bodily acts. . . .
If consciousness is this invention of an analog world on the basis of language, paralleling the behavioral world even as the world of mathematics parallels the world of quantities of things, what then can we say about its origin? . . . If our impressionistic development of a theory of consciousness . . . is even pointing in the right direction, then consciousness can only have arisen in the human species, and that development must have come after the development of language. . . .
Iliadic man did not have subjectivity as do we; he had no awareness of his awareness of the world, no internal mind space to introspect upon. In distinction to our own subjective conscious minds, we can call the mentality of the Myceneans a bicameral mind. Volition, planning, initiative is organized with no consciousness whatever and then 'told' to the individual in his familiar language, sometimes with the visual aura of a familiar friend or authority figure or 'god', or sometimes as a voice alone. The individual obeyed these hallucinated voices because he could not 'see' what to do by himself. . . .
The earliest writing of men in a language that we can really comprehend, when looked at objectively, reveals a very different mentality from our own. . . . The bulk of the poem is consistent in its lack of analog consciousness and points back to a very different kind of human nature. . . . We may regard the Iliad as standing at the great turning of the times, and a window back into those unsubjective times when every kingdom was in essence a theocracy and every man the slave of voices heard whenever novel situations occurred.
We are conscious human beings. We are trying to understand human nature. The preposterous hypothesis we have come to . . . is that at one time human nature was split in two, an executive part called a god, and a follower part called a man. Neither part was conscious. This is almost incomprehensible to us. And since we are conscious, and wish to understand, we wish to reduce this to something familiar in our experience. . . .
The explanation of volition in subjective conscious men is still a profound problem that has not reached any satisfactory solution. But in bicameral men, this was volition. Another way to say it is that volition came as a voice that was in the nature of a neurological command, in which the command and the action were not separated, in which to hear was to obey. . . .
An old Sumerian proverb has been translated as "Act promptly, make your god happy." If we forget for a moment that these rich English words are but a probing approximation of some more unknowable Sumerian thing, we may say that this curious exaction arches over into our subjective mentality as saying, "Don't think: let there be no time space between hearing your bicameral voice and doing what it tells you." . . .
In the bicameral era the bicameral mind was the social control, not fear or repression or even law. There were no private ambitions, no private grudges, no private frustrations, no private anything, since bicameral men had no internal 'space' in which to be private, and no analog 'I' to be private with. All initiative was in the voices of gods. And the gods needed to be assisted by their divinely dictated laws only in the late federations of states in the second millennium B.C. . . .
So far, we have just looked at the evidence for the breakdown of the bicameral mind. . . . What then takes over their function? . . . Subjective consciousness, that is, the development on the basis of linguistic metaphors of an operation space in which an 'I' could narratize out alternative actions to their consequences, was of course the great world result of this dilemma. But a more primitive solution, and one that antedates consciousness as well as paralleling it through history, is that complex of behaviors known as divination. . . .
Thus as the slow withdrawing tide of divine voices and presences strands more and more of each population on the sands of subjective uncertainties, the variety of technique by which man attempts to make contact with his lost ocean of authority becomes extended. Prophets, poets, oracles, diviners, statue cults, mediums, astrologers, inspired saints, demon possession, tarot cards, Ouija boards, popes, and peyote all are the residue of bicamerality that was progressively narrowed down as uncertainties piled upon uncertainties. . . .
I shall state my thesis plain. The first poets were gods. Poetry began with the bicameral mind. The god side of our ancient mentality, . . . usually or perhaps always spoke in verse. This means that most men at one time, throughout the day, were hearing poetry composed and spoken within their own minds. . . . First of all, early poetry was song. . . . Modern poetry is a hybrid. . . .
In the second millennium B.C., we stopped hearing the voices of gods. In the first millennium B.C., those of us who still heard the voices, our oracles and prophets, they too died away. In the first millennium A.D., it is their sayings and hearings preserved in sacred texts through which we obeyed our lost divinities. And in the second millennium A.D., these writings lose their authority. . . .
What happens in this modern dissolution of ecclesiastical authorization reminds us a little of what happened long ago after the breakdown of the bicameral mind itself. Everywhere in the contemporary world there are substitutes, other methods of authorization. Some are revivals of ancient ones . . . the I Ching, also a direct heritage from the period just after the breakdown in China. There are also . . . various meditation procedures, sensitivity training groups, mind control, and group encounter practices. . . .