August 15, 2000
What is human consciousness, where did it come from, and what is its place in the material world? These are questions that have puzzled mankind for centuries, and here presented as an entirely new, yet still soberly scientific way to look at human nature – one that demands a revolutionary reinterpretation of human history and human behavior.
Based on recent laboratory studies of the brain and a close reading of the archaeological evidence, psychologist Julian Jaynes shows us how ancient peoples from Mesopotamia to Peru could not “think” as we do today, and were therefore not conscious. Unable to introspect, they experienced auditory hallucinations – voices of gods, actually heard as in the Old Testament or the Iliad – which, coming from the brain’s right hemisphere, told a person what to do in circumstances of novelty or stress. This ancient mentality is called the bicameral mind.
Only catastrophe and cataclysm forced mankind to learn consciousness, and that happened only 3000 years ago. Jaynes shows us how and why.
Not a product of animal evolution, but of human history and culture, consciousness is ultimately grounded in the physiology of the brain’s right and left hemispheres.
Julian Jaynes examines three forms of human awareness – the bicameral or god-run man; the modern or problem-solving man; and contemporary forms of throwbacks to bicamerality: hypnotism, schizophrenia, poetic and religious frenzy, among other phenomena. No scientist in recent time has proposed a theory so bold and encompassing. In the words of one reviewer, it is “a humbling text, the kind that reminds most of us who make our livings from thinking, how much thinking there is left to do.”
The ideas here set forth will challenge basic assumptions and fields as diverse as classics and psychiatry, as well as those of science itself. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind is an arresting and ingeniously powerful achievement.
Julian Jaynes teaches psychology at Princeton University. He lectures widely and has written numerous scientific articles.