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The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind Paperback – 15 Nov 2000

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Paperback, 15 Nov 2000
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Product details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (Trade) (15 Nov. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618057072
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618057078
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 208,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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65 of 68 people found the following review helpful By on 5 Oct. 2001
Format: Paperback
Sadly neglected now, this path-finding study of consciousness uses the latest mapping of the brain (from car crash victims, etc.) to speculate on how self-conscious individuals emerged from tribal group-think. Perhaps the most astonishing fact deployed by Jaynes is that the brain has a back-up speech centre that can be used for re-learning to speak after the active centre has been destroyed. What is this second speech centre for? Why is it mute? Did it once serve a group-think purpose, such a voice-of-divine-monarch-in-head? Jaynes has a long look at the earliest evidence, drawn from so-called Homer's Iliad. This section should be obligatory reading for all students of literature and history. Possibly, it will be one day, when humans have evolved a little further. Jaynes delves into anthropology, psychology, ontology and pathology to produce a theory of the mind that, once studied and considered, is never forgotten. This book is a penetrating contribution to the great, probably uncrackable, mystery of how language came to be. Regrettably, few people ever give it much thought. Until they do, this stimulating work will remain marginal. It deserves to be read and discussed by students everywhere.
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 5 Jan. 2006
Format: Paperback
From a tightly constrained definition of human consciousness, Jaynes offers a wealth of archeological and historical evidence to build his thesis. A novel idea even now, Jaynes proposed that until about 3 000 years ago, the human mind was sharply divided - a "bicameral mind." One part dealt with the normal daily occupations of survival and reproduction. The other part was a conduit for communications with the gods. Jaynes portrays the brain's structure and how it might generate "hallucinatory" voices and images that were construed as supernatural. Not until the civilization of Greece was well advanced did the consciousness we're familiar with arise and partially replace these hallucinatory visions. The pivot point, in Jaynes' view, is the distinction between the Iliad and Odyssey.
According to Jaynes, these two epic poems are qualitatively distinct, with the Iliad expressing the voice of the gods, but the Odyssey shifting to the voice of men. He makes bold assertions, "there is no general consciousness in the Iliad" - presuming the reader has accepted his definition of "consciousness." He dissects the poem in demonstrating it presents only the voices of the gods. By the conclusion of his analysis you may be convinced that if there really is such a thing as "genetic determinism" it certainly resided in the brain of humans who went through life without a single "conscious" expression. The brain created and imparted signals that could only be discerned as "divine." "Will" was absent. "Creativity" is missing from this analysis, although his sections on poetry and music make compelling reading. All was not lost for human beings, however. Conscious today, Jaynes finds in Homer's next poem the sign the evidence of its emergence.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Halifax Student Account on 26 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is more than that mad bloke who thought that our ancestors moved moving around like giant ants. That's the first bit, but, to my mind anyway, you can ignore the disturbing thoughts about our ancestors being unconscious and instead appreciate a fine introduction to psychology and philosophy. I know some reviewers say that this book `is dated', like everything had to be published today, but trust me, it isn't dated. Is Shakespeare dated? I don't bring up the bard lightly, because Julian Jaynes shows off his writing skills; the boy can write!

You see, I made the unfunny `mad bloke' joke above because this is the label attached to Julian Jaynes, but it is grossly unfair. Dan Dennett agreed with Jaynes' hypothesis and Richard Dawkins mention Jaynes in his God Delusion because they know that Jaynes was on to something. The only reason that this book is ignored is not because of an academic conspiracy or the Christian lobby; oh no, the book is ignored because we all want those ancient Egyptians to be Charlton Heston. You will never wrap your head around what Jaynes is saying from secondary sources that just lampoon the man; the best chance of wrapping your head around this is to read the book yourself.

People never mention Jaynes' impressive grasp of the English language and how picturesque his prose was. The Origin was a labour of love, and the meticulous prose is truly impressive and leaves a strong image in the readers mind, indeed, I reckon his book deserves the stamp of literature, rather than academia. Maybe this is why the book is so hated by the solipsistic luminaries of the universities. Jaynes also had an impressive grasp of philosophy, even going so far as to correct the mighty Russell and his chapter on the philosophy of language is extremely well put, and is mile better than Witgenstein's dry wordings. So it's also a sound introduction to psychology, philosophy and mythology; methinks!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By spaghettimonster on 3 Sept. 2011
Format: Paperback
That this was Jaynes' only book is one of the sadnesses of 20th century thought. His was a rare synthesis of ideas drawn from literature, archeaology, neuroscience, psychology and other area. For many his idea that consciousness in the sense we perceive ourselves and our roles in society today is a relatively recent creation is just too radical but the evidence he rallies in support of his argument is broad and compelling. The concept of 'bicameralism' and the carry over of its working into what we might think of as schizophrenic voices is an attractive one. If nothing else it will give the reader a great deal to think about and some delight in the elegance of the argument.
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