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The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Penguin Psychology) Paperback – 29 Apr 1993
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"When Julian Jaynes . . . speculates that until late in the twentieth millennium b.c. men had no consciousness but were automatically obeying the voices of the gods, we are astounded but compelled to follow this remarkable thesis." -- John Updike The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Julian Jaynes (1923-1997) achieved an almost cult-like reputation for this controversial book, which was his only published work. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
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!
So, the serpent was proved right since he had said to Eve:...in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
What sort of life had God planned for man if he did not want him to know good and evil?? Presumably it was a lesser animal-type existence, since after their transgression they became as gods.
This myth, for myth it is, is full of symbolism, and like all great myths refers to an actual event, or series of events, which forms part of the history of mankind. What the bible story of the Fall refers to is not then concerned with an afternoon adventure in a beautiful garden, but with a revolutionary event within the human mind. Far from being a fall from grace involving the loss of privileges, it was in fact a great mental leap: the birth of consciousness, or self-awareness. The mental state of man before the fall was therefore a pre-conscious state, not involving self-awareness, criticism, good or evil, right or wrong.
Is it possible for man to lead a life in such a mental state?? I believe so.
According to Julian Jaynes in his book 'The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind' this was the normal state of mind up to a few thousand years ago, about the time of the spread of writing.
In a nutshell the theory states that the development of language facilitated more efficient neural inter-hemispherical communications,allowing mankind to form more sizable communities when these hallucinated thoughts where synchronised in the form of a familiar collective authority.Eventually these hallucinated thoughts diminished leaving subjective consciousness in the wake,as well as mass confusion and a need for a guiding authority,out of which much of human religion and culture was spawned.
The main bone of contention is of course the ambiguity of the historical evidence.But the fact remains that 30 years after being published,Jaynes is still being quoted and referred to by a multitude of serious authors and scientists,so the theory must hold water to some extent.
I'm still undecided about the writing style,it seems to be clear enough but quite often paragraphs will require some serious attention which interrupts the flow.The author also introduces some of his own words to explain the workings of the subjective mind which I found to be forgetful in light of more recent neuroscience literature containing more lucid explanations of the same processes.On the whole though it contains more than enough interest to override any problems one may have with the text.