You’re at Free the Animal, but what kind of animal are you?
You’re less strong, less fast, and less a tree prodigy than almost all other primates. And yet, you rule the Earth. Importantly.
…After all, do you have envy of wandering into the forest, trying to strike up a conversation?
Of course not, because you’re so far removed evolutionarily that you can even imagine that a space alien created you, rather than that you are of some similar evolved lineage, and that they behave in mysteriously similar ways, both individually and socially. …And if you don’t believe me, go get a porn orgy video (of humans). Then watch Discovery, Animal Planet, or whatever else it takes to see chimpanzees behaving as they do.
Then take a pause.
I won’t belabor the point, as some find such a thing abhorrent; while at the same time, I embrace it with a certain wonder; a real, not fantastical wonder (that doesn’t involve a space alien with sooper pow3rz).
…It was about this time of year, 21 years ago, that I read two books that changed the course of my life forever. For now, I’ll keep one of those confidential, but the other one was out and about enough. You can see it to the right.
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. How is that for a mouthful? The author has been at room temperature for a while, now, since 1997: Julian Jaynes. And yet he hasn’t really died, as guys like Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett have both referenced him (though I have not looked into the how, why, and what).
That’s all by way of introduction. While it’s best you read the book, only a very few diehards will, so now, I’ll give you an intro to what it’s about and in subsequent posts, I’ll address what it means to you and yours, because I think it means a lot, and penetratingly so.
I hold in my hands his book, which numbers 469 pages before the references start…and I only have it in my hands for two reasons. 1) I accidentally sold it amongst a stack of books to the used bookstore in Arnold, CA; and on a subsequent visit, seeing it on the shelves, bought it back, and 2) I was up at the cabin this last weekend and I retrieved it, because it figures importantly into my manifesto.
Manifesto Manishesco. Who gives a shit, really? …because we move on. But sometimes something is important and this book was important to me, in terms of how it gave me pretty instant recovery over understanding what certain voices in my head were all about.
Now make no mistake. Jaynes is about actual schizophrenia, i.e., the voices are fucking real, i.e., audible. That is, you don’t differentiate them from a real voice, and you don’t really confuse them with your “mid voice.”
Alright, let me summarize. Actually, no, Let Jack Trimpey summarize, because as I was Googling around about more recent dealings with this important book, I stumbled upon a Kindle ebook which can be read in a couple of hours: The Triumph of Addiction Recovery in the Breakdown of the Bicameral, Addictive Voice, or, Who Killed Julian Jaynes?
In his highly controversial work, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, cultural anthropologist and historical psychologist Julian Jaynes, Ph.D., set forth the awkward-sounding hypothesis that human consciousness did not arise entirely from evolving, neural “hardware,” but resulted from unsuccessful adaptive struggles of homo sapiens within the last 10,000 years, more likely around one to three millennia BCE, around the time that written language became established, marking the very beginning of human history. Jaynes brings the startling proposition and insight that human consciousness is a relatively recent development. Until only about 5000 to 6000 years ago, homo sapiens existed as unconscious, robotic animals, without subjective awareness, self-concept, self-direction, planning, introspection, reflection, and abstract reasoning possible only in the realm of consciousness. According to Dr. Jaynes, the bicameral mind was the precursor to human consciousness which greatly distinguishes modern man from his ancient, bicameral ancestors.
Jaynes drew upon the neuroscience of his day to model a bicameral mind arising from a divided, two-part brain wherein the right (god) hemisphere “talks” to the left (man) hemisphere, issuing directions and commands based upon perceptions of problems in one’s environment. Such commands were experienced as vividly-heard, possibly even hallucinated, mental voices experienced as external entities, i.e., “gods.” Bicameral voice-commands were responses to novelty, frustration, danger, stress, or threats to survival, actually precursors to conscious, contemplative decision making and problem solving. The bicameral voice was an expression of survival instinct, so survival itself depended upon faithful obedience to it. Our prehistoric ancestors did not plan their days or have itineraries; instead, god-voices orchestrated the daily drama of survival in a hostile world, voices which they were unable to disobey because they possessed no conscious mind-space in which to consider disobedience or imagine other alternatives.
As modern human beings, we are mixed, living most of our lives bicamerally, on autopilot mode, scarcely paying attention to the complexities of daily living, but resorting to conscious problem-solving in mind-space as needed. We also daydream in a realm of consciousness, and often create new concepts to serve artistic or practical interests. For example, driving a car is very complex behavior, but usually done quite automatically and effortlessly, even though we are quite alert and aware of the changing surroundings and the tasks at hand. Consciousness, however, is a problem solving mode which occurs in subjective mind-space, such as when one might mentally balance his checkbook while driving a car through traffic, or figure on how to deal with a difficult child while cooking breakfast. The arms and legs do the work on their own, with little conscious attention, while, in our conscious thoughts, we are engaged in some very complicated issues, analytical thinking, and abstract reasoning. We imagine the minds of others, explaining and predicting their feelings and behavior, and we make plans into a future we can “see” in our heads.
Before the dawn of human consciousness, however, life literally happened to homo sapiens. Our bicameral ancestors were not self-aware, nor able to compare various strategies and choose among them. Nor did they anticipate or imagine the feelings or thoughts of others, for they had no inner lives of their own upon which to base such reasoning. There was no past to recall nor future to contemplate and, because their behavior was reflexively automatic, they were incapable of shame, guilt, or remorse. Although savage in their daily affairs, they were as innocent as children or any other beings without consciousness of moral principles.
Bicameral man experienced god-voices as part of natural reality – the god of the hunt, the god of weather, and such. For good fortune on the hunt, the god of the hunt must be appeased, perhaps with a portion thrown into the fire. The riveting voices of gods could also be elicited by certain stimuli such as totems and large-eyed statues and figurines, following the significance of eyes and eye contact in the primordial drama of survival. We might strenuously compare a figurine around the neck as a source of direction to an ancient version of the iPod. Using their priestly skills and demeanor, shamans and other tribal leaders could invoke bicameral voices which commanded a code of social conduct for cooperative functioning of primitive families, communities, and societies.
As conditions for survival become more challenging, resulting from such stress as famine, war, overlapping or competing cultures, or resulting from cataclysms and natural catastrophes such as floods, volcanoes, earthquakes, or climate change, the menagerie of bicameral gods was no longer sufficient to solve problems critical for survival. The advent of writing itself may have squelched bicamerality, such as when god-voices were transcribed into information gained visually rather than aurally. It appears that cultural diversity was fatal for ancient civilizations which depended upon consistent direction by commonly accepted god-voices, such as when war resulted in overlapping cultures having different sets of god-voices. Natural cataclysms presented problems of safety and relocation for which their gods where entirely unprepared, creating dire necessities which gave birth to the invention of consciousness. Finally, in the face of annihilation, when nothing the gods said would work, some individuals experienced a sudden breakdown of the bicameral mind, a moment of clarity during which one could see — objectively at last! — his predicament and his own role in the solution.
Just when all seemed lost, our unconscious ancestor popped a mind, a mental space in which he could envision both himself and his impending problem of survival. Arising literally out of nowhere, came this new, objective viewing point, a vision of the presenting problem through a free-floating eye in mind-space, a subjective, virtual world of operational consciousness in which he was able to manipulate his surroundings and experimentally navigate here and there. No longer was he compelled, for example, to obey a disembodied voice commanding, “Follow the sun to food.” In the private theater of his newfound mind, he was able to “see” that he might stay put and allow food to come to him instead.
For thousands of years, perhaps throughout most of the era of the Old Testament, inner voicegods continued to speak, but finally they no longer gave truth and did not remove threats. Many longed for a return of the voice-gods, which provided emotional security in a hostile world, and they called into the sky for the voice-god to speak, but alas, they were alone, desperately alone in life, seeking animistic solace in the environment or some great beyond. The bicameral godvoices receded, leaving increasing numbers of conscious human beings without the solace and comfort of the omniscient god-voices of their own ancestors. Thus, oracles emerged as representatives of the absent gods, giving oral renditions of their own, vestigial bicamerality, uttering whatever wisdom or nonsense which came forth to them. These performances were of intense interest in the ancient world, even to leaders of empires and states seeking divine guidance in their endeavors, or seeking guarantees for their own intuitions. The Oracle of Delphi takes on new significance in the light of Jaynesian theory, as is the case with many other historical matters.
Indeed, much of organized religion today appears to be based upon the bicameral experiences of their founders, who typically claim spiritual and metaphysical revelations which they acquired audibly, through the mind’s ear, and then transcribed to scriptures and holy books. The pursuit of religion may be understood as profound nostalgia for the bicameral god-voice which is an aural expression of our combined survival drives, i.e., the force of life itself. In the last analysis, the only way any god can communicate with homo sapiens is aurally, using a familiar language perceived through the mind’s ear, which hears all that may be heard. Thus the bicameral scribes of religious scriptures were transcribing, taking dictation, as their title suggests. Prayer, for example, is a call to God which many report is answered with improved intuitions on personal affairs, which might be understood in the context of the mixed, bicameral nature of modern man. As it was said, “In the beginning, was the word…and the word was God.”
Even in this light, religious doctrine should be neither cavalierly nor aggressively discounted because in reality, it was the bicameral voice-god of survival which guided our ancestors through eons of struggles to survive, although largely by killing, raping, stealing, plundering, etc. Eventually, the voice-gods of the jungle evolved into higher-level bicamerality rejecting the law of the jungle in favor of the pro-family, pro-social values necessary for survival in an increasingly crowded, complex world. The newer god-voices rebuked our barbaric, animal nature by serving up admonitions (moral injunctions) against barbarism which reversed predatory law in order to preserve families and civilization. A new family-centered law was set forth in a mixed bicameral moral code made known by the objective, written word of various religions, scriptures which expressed the bicameral will of a single, voiceless deity, one which was essentially hostile to barbarism and associated with “human” qualities of guilt, shame, love, and so on. The written word brought god-voices out of the treetops into the written word of various religions, scriptures which expressed the bicameral will of a single, voiceless deity, one which was essentially hostile to barbarism and associated with “human” qualities of guilt, shame, love, and so on. The written word brought god-voices out of the treetops into the written word, giving rise codes of conduct and religions which protected families, nations and civilizations from internecine barbarity. In the light of Jaynesian thought, we might view human history as a dynamic outcome of the twilight of the gods and our struggle to adapt to a universe which does not speak directly to us as it originally did.
Because Jaynes’ model of consciousness is based on powerful, although liberal, interpretation of archeological and anthropological evidence summarized in Origins, his theory initially met with considerable criticism due to its paucity of compelling evidence and our inability to conduct mental status exams on the deceased. However, Origin has withstood that criticism for decades due to the irresistible appeal of an hypothesis which illuminates, explains, and prompts further investigation.
The Jaynesian hypothesis stands as a possible Rosetta Stone for unraveling some of the mysteries of the human condition, but it also stands as an uncompleted work by a deceased scholar. At face value, however, the Jaynes hypothesis is a way to re-read the history of civilization and religious scriptures from a new, unique viewing point, often to reach exciting perspectives and insights, adding a new dimension to many old, unsettled matters, which when so illuminated suddenly take on a different feel and meaning.
For example, why were prehistoric peoples, even those with language and writing, strangely unconcerned about recording their experiences for posterity? Why did they have so little to say and why were the characters of ancient times so vacuous, so witless, so mute on the obvious, so zombie-like? Why were ancient personalities so preoccupied with gods? Why did they tell us such far-fetched stories and make such impossible claims? Why are ancient scriptures so laced with divine violence, vengeance, and reports of voices and visions? How could our not-so-ancient ancestors have literally believed in and worshipped a menagerie of gods which by comparison would put Italian opera to shame? Why are sacred scriptures so filled with voices, “…thus saith the Lord” and long, first-person, direct quotes of God?
Trimpey, Jack (2009-03-18). The Triumph of Addiction Recovery in the Breakdown of the Bicameral, Addictive Voice, or, Who Killed Julian Jaynes? (Kindle Locations 96-102). Lotus Press. Kindle Edition.
In the next few parts, I’ll cover what I have found in terms of my own reflection and synthesis over various topics including chronic pain, addiction (neolithic food, substance abuse, drugs), and stupid ideas.