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The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind [Paperback]

Julian Jaynes
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 Nov 2000
At the heart of this book is the revolutionary idea that human consciousness did not begin far back in animal evolution. Rather, Jaynes presents consciousness as a learned process that evolved from an earlier hallucinatory mentality only three thousand years ago.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (Trade) (15 Nov 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618057072
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618057078
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.5 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 354,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
62 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A major path-finding work 5 Oct 2001
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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars this isn't what you think it is 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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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Awakening in Greece 5 Jan 2006
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
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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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an extraordinary and important book. 6 Mar 2001
By A Customer
It is a terrible shame that this extraordinary book is so little known. The theory that consciousness as we know it is a modern development, that is, from the last few thousand years, seems bizarre to say the least. But, piece by piece the author draws you through the evidence, and if he is even partially right, this is one of the most important books ever written. Do not be put off by the weighty title, it is not a difficult book to read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very good but spine of book was broken.
Published 12 days ago by frank leaver
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
It's hard for anyone not an up to date specialist in neurology and history to evaluate this fairly but I think that after 40 years it remains a fascinating classic. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Sorrowful investigator
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the most important works I have had the chance to read.
This book delivey was on time in excellent condition. I am so much looking forward to reading more of the same works.
Published 4 months ago by protech3
4.0 out of 5 stars Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
Very good, prompt delivery, completely satisfied with book. Would definitely recommend to others and would use again myself in the future.
Published 5 months ago by Ben Gilbey
3.0 out of 5 stars Not easy to read
I read the above book in parts. I found it very wordy and hard to get through but I still managed to glean some of his interesting theories from it. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Geraldine A.
5.0 out of 5 stars The 'fall' of Man
The Fall is the name usually given to the fate that befell Adam and Eve after they broke his commandment and ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Read more
Published 9 months ago by MR ALAN BAKER
5.0 out of 5 stars An Ur text of modern psycho- history!
The book has an intimidating title, but don't let that put you off; it's a great and thoroughly poetic read, and the ideas contained therein are not difficult to grasp, even though... Read more
Published 11 months ago by The Boogie Man
4.0 out of 5 stars The Evolution of Subjective Consciousness.
Anyone with any interest in cognitive neuroscience,consciousness studies or ancient history,can't avoid coming into contact with this authors intriguing theory sooner or... Read more
Published on 15 April 2012 by nicholas hargreaves
5.0 out of 5 stars Startlingly original thinking
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... Read more
Published on 3 Sep 2011 by spaghettimonster
3.0 out of 5 stars Philosophical folly at its finest
This book is the only one Jaynes (1920 - 1997) ever published. Although he is widely considered a kook, serious authors do quote those of his ideas that corroborate their... Read more
Published on 7 Aug 2011 by Mira de Vries
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