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In Response to Mr. Jaynes

Updated on December 10, 2010

Our Thoughts on Thoughts

Our Thoughts on Thoughts

            I raise my pen from the pad and stare out the window. Thunder approaches and I can smell the moisture in the air. The ominous sound that follows is observed as a soft applause from an audience none should seek to attract. Still, it makes its advance as I close my window.

            From an empirical standpoint a phenomenon has occurred. My senses had made me aware of the impending dangers of the rain pouring into my room and soaking my drafts. It is the interpretation of these senses into the physical action of shutting the window that serves as evidence alluding to a long ancient process from which we received a blessed gift.

            But is gift the wrong name for this? The question being, if scientists are truly empiricists, do they falsely label something that we had made for ourselves as a gift given to us externally? When ancient man looked from the cave and saw the rain pouring on a cold night, did he cry because of the rain itself or because he had lost the opportunity of making a fire outside and gaze on stars. It is our ability to have thought that led us to where we are now and will be the key transportation to where we will go in a world we will make for ourselves.

            Thought processes can be viewed through technology, and although we may not yet be able to fully comprehend their meanings we certainly watch the lightshow in our heads with an anticipating grin. Psychologists are eager to seek correspondences such as these and since thought is the product of consciousness where better than to start at psychologist Jullian Jaynes’ book “The Origin of Consciousness: The Bicameral Mind”.

            Jullian Jaynes is credited for composing the theory of the bicameral (two-chambered) mind which is aimed to define how our ancient ancestors thought and viewed themselves based on a double-brain neurological model. “History does not move by leaps into unrelated novelty,” says Jaynes, “but rather by the selective emphasis of aspects of its own immediate past.” Today we think with what Jaynes calls a unicameral mind. A unicameral mind is a mind that can think of itself, as itself, and for itself which is an important advantage taken for granted each and every day. The bicameral mind on the other hand is far less gracious.

The bicameral mind was not just the one mind but two physical brains that worked separately from one another. The left half of the brain was responsible for logics and linguistics and therefore generated the ideas and commands that the right half of the brain had to obey without question as they presented themselves as external voices in the form of mental hallucinations. (

In his book, Jaynes makes the radical suggestion that ancient man was not making his own decisions. Rather, ancient man hallucinated voices of guidance and instruction from his own mind to interpret for himself. He also claims that schizophrenia is an altered form of this bicameral mind, lingering as a disease tying people to an outdated thought process as they too can hear voices of instruction overbearing their own ability to make decisions. This also explains why people would have desired to conjure polytheistic gods who spoke directly and intentionally to people and as to why these gods were so naturalistic and anthropomorphic rather than supernatural or alien. But all this was wiped away by the spread of the unicameral mind that swept over the ancient world like a virus taking with it the blind innocence of the lost world.

“My God has forsaken me and disappeared,

My Goddess has failed me and keeps at a distance.

The benevolent angel who walked beside me has departed...”

             Transcribed from Ludlul Bel Nemeqi Tablets

                        This, to me, is an absurd and questionable monolith. I am drawn and cannot look away, yet I cannot explain or elaborate fully as to why I am so drawn or why I cannot ignore the radical and possibly unfounded ramblings of Jullian Jaynes. Whether his theory is accurate or inaccurate, say the writers from, it is definitely a fun thought to entertain because it serves as a universal explanation for the creation of a god, the need for a higher power, schizophrenia, mental causation, and the mind-body problem all in one!  

            When researching in other areas of the study of our minds one can find that maybe an idea such as this isn’t as farfetched as the ideas we had already put into existence. I’m sure that evolution didn’t come to be worshiped by every seventh grade science teacher all at once but rather it did so with time and understanding. We suspend our disbelief when we watch movies and plays in order to give a sense of entertainment and allow ourselves to feel like we had done something purposeful when in all actuality we had just been sitting down in a chair in a theater for hours on end. I beseech you to suspend your disbelief here not for entertainment but for a higher understanding and appreciation for something you may have not seen at first glance.

            After reading all of Jaynes’ material I must admit that I was a bit of a skeptic myself. However, there are many strange coincidences that when applied to Jaynes’ theory of the bicameral mind may show themselves not to be coincidences at all.

Matthew Walker, assistant psychology professor at the University of California, has found that an afternoon nap clears up the brain allowing it to absorb more new information. “Sleep is a very ancient process in which our brains wander through several stages of sleep only to arrive hours later in the same bed we had lain down in but feeling like we may have traveled somewhere,” Walker says “Sleep is sophisticated. It acts locally to give us what we need.” Would you imagine that the intricacies of our sleep patterns serve no purpose other than to be a mess to interpret?  This study had opened my hesitation to accept Jaynes’ claims because I had forgotten how truly complex we humans can be in comparison to other known life forms. If sleep would act locally to give us what we need then suppose it was the ancient man composed of two inner beings that said to him that he had long had the desire to manifest himself as one deity. Suppose the bicameral man conversed within himself and came to the conclusion that this voice in his mind that he unknowingly created for himself had become more of a burden than a gift. Is it outrageous to assume that he could not resolve these ailments from within himself? It seems to be the only answer that the one who had to clean the mess he had made in his mind was himself. Through the process of sleep, I believe, man could dream of being free from the shackles of his own oppressor and that it was this lucid dreaming that allowed the human brain to analyze itself and reverse the wrongs it had done to the psyche of man. Thus, the unicameral mind was birthed from sleep.

            In the end, none of these radical claims are absolutely true or false. They can be just as proved as disproven and many are skeptical to follow in his ways as these are ideas that, whether or not accurate, emit a sense of fear and embarrassment to our evolved selves as Jaynes’ shows us a mirror in which we can see ourselves for what we hadn’t before. We hold ourselves in too high regards in my own opinion. We are not the divine messengers of a higher force with a higher purpose or worth. We are people living our lives day to day and we still have a long way to go in understanding a purpose in our being here if there exists one at all. We are still just as primitive as the bicameral man if we had evolved from him and learned nothing from it. 


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    • damian0000 profile image

      damian0000 7 years ago from Belfast

      Very interesting and thought-provoking hub!