4 days agoCreated a post • 253 points @Paul_S
This is fascinating. So how would someone who had such a "bicameral mind" experience everyday phenomena? Like hunger, or fear? They would have a voice, not attributed to them, telling them to eat or flee?Reply
I would very much recommend Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s “Foundations of the Science of Knowledge”. It’s a dense read, nevertheless an interesting insight on consciousness.Reply
An amusing coincidence makes it that these days I'm actually reading this book.
I think it's the first time I can comfortably use the phrase 'thought provoking' both in its literal sense as well as a euphemism to describe something. Like most commenters here I found the core hypothesis striking enough on its own, but I have to say that so far (~200 pages in) I haven't seen anything that goes beyond hypotheses and conjectures. So far it mostly reads like an essay in speculative psychology/anthropology, not like anything that can be taken seriously.
As a (layman) fan of Chomsky's scientific work I was also surprised that Jaynes never mentions him, even when discussing linguistics and the origins of language.Reply
It’s one of my favorite books! I have a first edition lying somewhere around my apartment.
Dawkins called it: “either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius.” Janyes’s hypothesis, bicameralism, is thought provoking at its least relevant by challenging our static perceptions of what consciousness actually is. Alongside Feynmann’s autobiographies, this book made me think about not only how language and culture can deeply affect consciousness, but what consciousness actually is in the first place.
My favorite part of the book explores metaphor and language as a means of perception instead of just communication:
“Even such an unmetaphorical-sounding word as the verb ‘to be’ was generated from a metaphor. It comes from the Sanskrit bhu, “to grow, or make grow,” while the English forms ‘am’ and ‘is’ have evolved from the same root as the Sanskrit asmiy “to breathe.” It is something of a lovely surprise that the irregular conjugation of our most nondescript verb is thus a record of a time when man had no independent word for ‘existence’ and could only say that something ‘grows’ or that it “breathes.”
And, of course, his chapter on what consciousness isn’t is really quite interesting:
“Consciousness is a much smaller part of our mental life than we are conscious of, because we cannot be conscious of what we are not conscious of. How simple that is to say; how difficult to appreciate! It is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it. The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. And so consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when actually it does not.”
(I just woke up, so bear with me for some fuzziness in this comment)Reply
One of my favourite books. It contains a colossal amount of ideas, insights and suppositions. In short, it really makes you think.
Even if you disagree with some of his conclusions, it is a fabulous, fascinating read. Just read it with an open mind and consider what he is suggesting. Much of what he says may well be wrong, but certainly not all - read it and come to your own conclusions.Reply
This book continues to attract attention not because it provides any insight into answers to the questions it raises, but because it raises questions nobody has got close to any answers to, but that merit solving.Reply
For those interested, the ebook version of this book goes on sale for $1.99-$2.99 a couple times a year:
If you don't feel like paying the full price, I suggest setting an alert at the above website for it, and you'll probably be able to catch the next sale.Reply
I know this isn't about Turing test or AI, but the origin of consciousness is life. Existence precedes essence.
All the philosophy about AI developing consciousnesses ignores the fact that we have no objective knowledge or observational data of any level of thinking, let alone consciousness, from any source except the living.
AI would have to live (metabolism, self-repair, reproduction at the least) before it could think. Then the proximate cause of it developing consciousness may well be the breakdown of its Bicameral Mind, should one develop, but life will come first or consciousness never will.
That's why Westworld, season one, had so much potential, basically hinting at Penrose's /Emperor's New Mind/, mostly dismissed by AI folks because they want to believe mechanics not organics will do it, then Westworld went off the rails.Reply
Westworld used a version bicameral mind for their fictional theory of robot consciousness. It was quite brilliant.
This theory (also freud, IMO) demonstrates that ideas can have value regardless of being true or false. Just considering such ideas opens the mind to others. The interest so many great science and science fiction authors took in this theory is, IMO, proof.
There are some interestingly elements that are interestingly parsimonious with YNH's take on human history in 'Sapiens.' YNH places a lot of emphasis on what he calls "fictions," which overlaps a lot with Jaynes' "metaphor." Also in common, is the notion that cultural memes, rather than biological genes are responsible for our humanity.
The inner monologue, no doubt, deserves all the pondering it gets.Reply
In The World of Odysseus by Moses Finley and he throws out a line in chapter one:
Homer was so far from Socrates that he was not even cognizant of man as an integrated psychic whole.
The context is:
One measure of man's advance from his most primitive beginnings to something we call civilization is the way in which he controls his myths, his ability to distinguish between the areas of behavior, the extent to which he can bring more and more of his activity under the rule of reason. In that advance the Greeks have been pre-eminent. Perhaps their greatest achievement lay in their discovery-more precisely, in Socrates' discovery---that man is "that being who, when asked a rational question, can give a rational answer." Homer was so far from Socrates that he was not even cognizant of man as an integrated psychic whole.
I looked up that phrase to see what exactly he might be talking about. Almost all of the results concern the Greeks or Romans.
From Homer in Performance: Rhapsodes, Narrators, and Characters:
The critical bibliography on character monologue in Homeric epic is extensive. Scholars have been divided as to whether to see merely a convention or dramatic technique for representing a character's inner thoughts, or to take the talking thumos as a separate entity, an alter ego that represents a not-yet-integrated psychic whole. Other scholars see the Homeric monologues as evidence of Homeric psychology in general and use them to study Homeric decision making as it prefigures later Aristotelian and Stoic theories about human rationality and motivation.
It sounds close to what Jaynes was saying. The Greeks of Homer were split between rational and irrational selves. Jaynes would have denied that Romans were bicameral or were not integrated psychic wholes. But the phrase is used in The Roman Gaze: Vision, Power, and the Body:
To this end, the Roman incorporated others into himself or herself as witnesses and ideals. "I tell my son to look into the lives of all others as if into a mirror and to take from others a model for himself."
Roman honor, then, was a way of self-regarding as well as other-regarding. Honor required self-splitting; one needed to be, at all times, both the watched and the watcher. For the Roman, there could be, finally, no integrated psychic whole, no stable notion of self. If a Roman had a sense of "integrity" it was one built, paradoxically, on the dividing of the self. Cicero speaks of the self-control needed to resist shameful reactions to pain: "I'm not exactly sure how to say it, but it is as if we were two people: one who commanded and one who obeyed.”
And Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones:
The provisional and contested nature of reality (including the reality of one's being) and the immediacy and particularity of experience infused all Roman ways of thinking. The Romans did not have an "integrated psychic whole," and they tended not to synthesize or carefully correlate parts to a whole. Boundaries and obligations tended to accumulate and to overlap without being codified or systematized. The Romans were slow to deduce principles or create Utopias. There is a reason that modern philosophers and political theorists ignore the Romans: though rich and complex, the thought of the Romans is not easily translated into the categories or linearities of modern Western thought, with its rigid dichotomies and principle of noncontradiction.
Cicero comes right out and admits his bicamerality, but it is clearly not the same type that Jaynes wrote about. It is an artificial or voluntary version, though the second quote suggests they were different in more ways. They seemed to recognize an “animal” part of man that reacted to a stimulus and a “rational” part that was able to modulate that reaction. Jaynes says the Greeks and other ancient people understood that rational part to be gods or kings or ancestors while other authors say the Romans intentionally personified that part as a respected member of society, just to give it a little more force. But they were still split in a way we are not. They maybe had a better understanding of themselves, were able to decouple their actions and reactions from their thinking selves and analyze them. Nowadays our rational and animal parts are a jumble. People come to identify with their reactions and think any criticism of it is an attack on their self. I think that is a big cause of depression and other mental disorders. People don’t know why they react the way they do and feel out of control. They go to therapy to replace what would have been a hallucinated god three thousand years ago. The therapist walks them through their feelings because we forgot how to do that ourselves. That is how I read it anyway. It isn’t too important, the point is that these people believe the ancients had fundamentally different psyches than modern man. I don't actually know if even modern man has an integrated psychic whole.Reply
I concur with many other commenters here, this is a fantastic read. Though, I find the value in this book is not the discrete proposals Jaynes makes - his conclusions on schizophrenia are dubious at best. Jayne’s achievement is in his explaining of the mindset and thought patterns (what Jaynes calls consciousness) of the ancients.
So often ancient man felt alien to me. Not until reading this book have I felt I understand what it was like to have lived millennia ago.Reply
This was a great read. The history of human cognition is obviously fascinating and there is a lot written on subject for me to devour which is great. But what about his thoughts on hypnosis?
I guess it is not as sexy a topic as the history of the mind but his ideas about it are really intriguing. Been a year since I read the book, but hypnosis as painted in the book changes in form with peoples ideas about what hypnosis is, pretty much everything that people say about it is culturally determined and yet it still is real. People will themselves into into filling out these cultural forms where they are in a totally different cognitive state when in the right social context and most people just think of it as a party trick.Reply
Scott Alexander's review of the book is worth reading:
> Julian Jaynes’ The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind is a brilliant book, with only two minor flaws. First, that it purports to explains the origin of consciousness. And second, that it posits a breakdown of the bicameral mind. I think it’s possible to route around these flaws while keeping the thesis otherwise intact. So I’m going to start by reviewing a slightly different book, the one Jaynes should have written. Then I’ll talk about the more dubious one he actually wrote. Reply
This book rocked my world when I was a heady hipster in college 20 years ago. It is interesting, but also mostly belongs in the "literary" category at this point with Freud's work.Reply
This book is worth reading!Reply
Nothing here explains how consciousness arises out of particular arrangement of atoms in the human brain. Many convoluted explanations can be done away with if we consider that consciousness arises outside the brain and the brain is a tuned receiver. Perhaps this field of consciousness exists but we haven't developed a way to detect, test or measure it.Reply
The wider question is how the nature of consciousness has changed through time and what evidence do we have that it has. The example that has stuck with me is when St. Augustine marvels in his Confessions that Bishop Ambrose of Milan could read without moving his lips, suggesting that at one time all thought was subvocalized speech.
Owen Barfield thought that you could trace the evolution of consciousness through the history of language and made the argument in the book "History in English Words": "In our language alone, not to speak of its many companions, the past history of humanity is spread out in an imperishable map, just as the history of the mineral earth lies embedded in the layers of its outer crust.... Language has preserved for us the inner, living history of our soul. It reveals the evolution of consciousness"Reply
Double slit and delayed-choice quantum eraser experiments clearly proves there is something in humans causes universe to switch statically calculating particle movements rather than statistically calculating results of their movement. I don't understand how this is still being talked meanwhile there isn't much attention to real science.Reply
It's nearly undeniable to me that the conscious mind is not the only thing that inhabits us. If you sit down and meditate, you will quickly realize that:
1. You are not in control of your thoughts without effort (what he describes as 'induction')
2. You are not necessarily the source of your thoughts
By 2. I mean that when you stop having a mental narrative, you realize that thoughts and feelings still come seemingly from nowhere. Like making a sea of waves still, and now being able to see bubbles coming up from below. If you're not creating them, where are they coming from?
On that note, most people behave in patterned ways and repeat patterned mistakes. If you have a conversation with them, they can sometimes show a complete understanding of their situation, how they went wrong and how to rectify. Yet, when later faced with the same decision, they make the same mistake again. Did they really make the decision or did they just think they made it, much like we believe every thought we hear is ours?Reply
If you enjoy Stephenson (specifically Snowcrash or The Big U) you should read this book. It is formative of many of the ideas in both books.Reply
This book and Consciousness and the Social Brain by Graziano have changed the way I read any history book or world analysis. I see value in the viewpoint it informs even if it's not true.Reply
100% worth reading. It will blow your mind.
Then you decide what is worth keeping and what not. But I'm sure you won't regret it.Reply
As mentioned below/above .. Snowcrash by Stephenson uses the concepts of the bicameral mind heavily (he mentions it in the opening acknowledgements), and China Miéville has a novel called Embassytown https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embassytown that doesn't cite that work specifically but feels like a similar exploration along with understandings of simile vs metaphor in the development of language/consciousness.Reply
I'm extremely curious to get a deaf person's take on this. That introspection is an auditory hallucination makes intuitive sense to me. I experience it this way.
How does it work for someone who's primary languages are non auditory? Do you think in sign or written language? Some other way?Reply
If you want to dive deep into Jaynes' ideas and even discuss them live in a group setting, this is the perfect time for you. There is an amazingly social polymath, Shrikant, that used to run live discussion groups in New York City. With lockdown, he turned to zoom and opened the discussions to the world. Among a huge number of other deep ideas and discussions, Shrikant is especially interested in Jaynes' work and, so far, has held 22 discussions sessions, painstakingly working through the various aspects of the book. The next session in the study of Jaynes' work is this Saturday, July 24, at 12pm EDT.
 Mental Space: That which makes us Self Conscious Humans https://www.meetup.com/52LivingIdeas/events/279582843/Reply
What would the implications be for our understanding of consciousness in other species of this hypothesis was true?Reply
There was a nice article in Nautilus a few years back about this work called "Consciousness began when the gods stopped speaking": https://nautil.us/issue/54/the-unspoken/consciousness-began-...Reply
I read just the title and wept in despair, knowing that I could never hope to reach such heights! Oh, the power of a name!Reply
It's a brilliant book, whether or not you agree with its conclusion (I go back and forth, but am sympathetic to his argument). Even if he is completely wrong, exploring his model of cognition and consciousness provides the reader with a different way of seeing and thinking about the world, other people, and one's relationship to them. It's also richly textured and beautifully written.Reply
My first lecture in my first class in my freshman year of college the professor taught this book. The class was mesmerized as all our minds were blown, and we all walked out thinking “College is gonna be AMAZING. We’re gonna learn so much fascinating stuff.”
While the next four years weren’t bad, they never did quite live up to the feeling of that class.Reply
Past related threads. Others?
Bicameralism (Psychology) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20366921 - July 2019 (29 comments)
Mr. Jaynes’ Wild Ride (2013) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19122626 - Feb 2019 (9 comments)
The “bicameral mind” 30 years on: A reappraisal of Jaynes’ hypothesis (2007) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18521482 - Nov 2018 (92 comments)
How Julian Jaynes’ consciousness theory is faring in the neuroscience age (2015) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15677871 - Nov 2017 (90 comments)
How Bicameralism Helps Explain Westworld - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13141112 - Dec 2016 (2 comments)
“There Is Only Awe” – on Julian Jaynes - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9321158 - April 2015 (14 comments)
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7799698 - May 2014 (60 comments)
Origin of Consciousness (bicameral mind) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1510815 - July 2010 (7 comments)Reply