The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
At the heart of this classic, seminal book is Julian Jaynes's still-controversial thesis that human consciousness did not begin far back in animal evolution but instead is a learned process that came about only three thousand years ago and is still developing. The implications of this revolutionary scientific paradigm extend…
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3 authors picked The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?
Julian Jaynes was a researcher and teacher whose whole career focused on describing and understanding human consciousness.
This strange, enchanting book looks at consciousness as an “operation” (like mathematics) rather than a thing. It examines how consciousness constructs an internal “space” in our heads that is an analog for the external world. In this space, we manipulate thoughts and ideas in much the same way we manipulate objects in the material world.
This is a foundational text that calls into question our most basic assumptions about how we experience the realm of thought.
Despite the rather off-putting title, I found this book really interesting. Written by a specialist psychologist, it presented a new theory about the way human thinking has developed from the earliest beginnings. I was particularly interested in his concept that ancient man ‘heard the voice of god’ inside his mind, but as ‘primitive’ humans became more individualised, the gods were heard less often, until they could no longer be heard at all. This resonates with the myths that in a Golden Age humankind ‘walked with God’ but as aeons passed, the gods retreated. At this juncture, people started to construct…
Jaynes controversially suggested that humans were suddenly gripped by a radical transformation of the psyche in the Mediterranean-area Bronze Age, four thousand years ago, when our ancestors spontaneously experienced a kind of software upgrade inside their heads, resulting in them acquiring a new mechanism that operated their minds. This collective mind-storm resulted, some claim, in the collapse of many Bronze Age civilizations. Before this dramatic revolution of the psyche, humans possessed (according to Jaynes) the “double brain of bicameralism” – this meant that ancient humans, in their bicameral phase, had a fundamentally different mental state to that of people today.…
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