Overview of Julian Jaynes's Theory
In January of 1977 Princeton University psychologist Julian Jaynes (1920–1997) put forth a bold new theory of the origin of consciousness and a previous mentality known as the bicameral mind in the controversial but critically acclaimed book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Jaynes was far ahead of his time, and his theory remains as relevant today as when it was first published.
Jaynes asserts that consciousness did not arise far back in human evolution but is a learned process based on metaphorical language. Prior to the development of consciousness, Jaynes argues humans operated under a previous mentality he called the bicameral ('two-chambered') mind. In the place of an internal dialogue, bicameral people experienced auditory hallucinations directing their actions, similar to the command hallucinations experienced by many people who hear voices today. These hallucinations were interpreted as the voices of chiefs, rulers, or the gods.
To support his theory, Jaynes draws evidence from a wide range of fields, including neuroscience, psychology, archeology, ancient history, and the analysis of ancient texts. Jaynes's theory has profound implications for human history as well as a variety of aspects of modern society such as mental health, religious belief, susceptiblity to persuasion, psychological anomalies such as hypnosis and possession, and our ongoing conscious evolution.
Jaynes's theory can be broken down into four independent hypotheses:
- Consciousness — as he carefully defines it — is a learned process based on metaphorical language.
- That preceding the development of consciousness there was a different mentality based on verbal hallucinations called the bicameral ('two-chambered') mind.
- Dating the development of consciousness to around the end of the second millennium B.C. in Greece and Mesopotamia. The transition occurred at different times in other parts of the world.
- The neurological model for the bicameral mind.
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WHY JULIAN JAYNES'S THEORY IS IMPORTANT
There are a number of reasons why Julian Jaynes's theory is very important to understand. These include:
- It provides a more accurate view of human history.
- Jaynes's definition and understanding of consciousness brings more clarity to the issue than other theorists, and encourages us to learn better ways of expanding our own capacity for conscious thought and teaching consciousness to children.
- It explains a wide range of otherwise inexplicable phenomena (divination, idols, monumental mortuary architecture, hallucinations, imaginary companions, etc.)
- It explains the origin of religion.
- It provides a historical context for hearing voices, which is often comforting to those who have the experience.
- It provides a neurological model for hearing voices, which has now been verified in dozens of brain imaging studies, that could help lead to future treatments for those with persistent, obtrusive voices.