The Bicameral Mind

James Jaynes was of opinion that ancient people were not conscious. 

Jaynes definition of consciousness is synonymous with what philosophers call “meta-consciousness” or “meta-awareness“, i.e., awareness of awareness, thoughts about thinking, desires about desires, beliefs about beliefs. This form of reflection is also distinct from the kinds of “deliberations” seen in other higher animals such as crows insofar as it is dependent on linguistic cognition.

Jaynes wrote that ancient humans before roughly 1000 BCE were not reflectively meta-conscious and operated by means of automatic, non-conscious habit-schemas. Instead of having meta-consciousness, these humans were constituted by what Jaynes calls the “bicameral mind“.

For bicameral humans, when habit did not suffice to handle novel stimuli and stress rose at the moment of decision, neural activity in the “dominant” (left) hemisphere was modulated by auditory verbal hallucinations originating in the so-called “silent” (right) hemisphere (particularly the right temporal cortex), which were heard as the voice of a chieftain or god and immediately obeyed.

Jaynes wrote, “[For bicameral humans], volition came as a voice that was in the nature of a neurological command, in which the command and the action were not separated, in which to hear was to obey.”

Jaynes argued that the change from bicamerality to consciousness (linguistic meta-cognition) occurred over a period of ten centuries beginning around 1800 BC. The selection pressure for Jaynesian consciousness as a means for cognitive control is due, in part, to chaotic social disorganizations and the development of new methods of behavioral control such as writing.

Writing came up as late as 2400 BC and thus could be one of the drivers in reducing the role of Bicameral Mind on human consciousness and evolving our independent consciousness.

In other words, Humans before this period did many things by rote or by repetitive actions, aka were Tamasika in extreme. They were not fully conscious or a small percentage of them were and they formed the ruling and priestly castes of the human population. 

An example was a certain priestly caste held sway on Egypt and they intermarried into each other to complete degree with brothers marrying sisters because they felt that other Egyptian classes were not Aware or Conscious. 

The sheer amount of labor engaged in creating a tomb for one person in Ancient Egypt, the pyramids, is a great example. One or maybe two people in that culture were really Conscious or had Meta cognition. All the rest blindly and completely followed the chieftain or King or God in their minds.

Around 2400 to 1800 BC: with writing and other implements, the humans evolved into more and more cognitively aware functions. More and children were being born who were thus cognitively aware and human race as such achieved a tipping point of consciousness.

This is the period which lead to developmnet of Rajas actions like indpendent intropection and then Sattvika thinking in forming own opinions. The language also evolved during this period and its representation as writing. That lead to development of conscious among the ordinary populations as well. Humanity on whole became conscious and thus differentiated from Animals.

The Human civilization also started around the same time. The Ziggurats and the Hittites and Mesopotamians and Indus-Sarasvati Valley to name a few!

The Tool Makers may also be like these early ancient humans prior to awareness or consciousness, habit sufficed for most of the life functions, and to handle novel stimuli and stress rose at the moment of decision, they followed the leader or God.

So Toolmakers may never have been aware or conscious in first place. 

This Bicameralism is also called the Herd instinct in humans.

The bicameral mentality would be non-conscious in its inability to reason and articulate about mental contents through meta-reflection, reacting without explicitly realizing and without the meta-reflective ability to give an account of why one did so.

The bicameral mind would thus lack meta consciousness, autobiographical memory and the capacity for executive “ego functions” such as deliberate mind-wandering and conscious introspection of mental content.

According to Jaynes, ancient people in the bicameral state of mind would have experienced the world in a manner that has some similarities to that of a schizophrenic. Rather than making conscious evaluations in novel or unexpected situations, the person would hallucinate a voice or “god” giving admonitory advice or commands and obey without question: one would not be at all conscious of one’s own thought processes per se. 
An arab proverb goes, Blessed are the mad for they don’t have no care.

Research into “command hallucinations” that often direct the behavior of those labeled schizophrenic, as well as other voice hearers, supports Jaynes’s predictions.

Not to mention, the ancient literature like Iliad and Odyssey or the Old Testament. Or even Bhagwada Gita, which focuses on merger of Self with Parmatma and to eliminate the ID or ego functions which was the norm of humanity and even idealized, not long before the period Geeta was revealed.

For example, in the Iliad and sections of the Old Testament no mention is made of any kind of cognitive processes such as introspection, and there is no apparent indication even that the writers were self-aware.

According to Jaynes, the older portions of the Old Testament (such as the Book of Amos) have few or none of the features of some later books of the Old Testament (such as Ecclesiastes) as well as later works such as Homer’s Odyssey, which show indications of a profoundly different kind of mentality — an early form of consciousness.

In ancient times, Jaynes noted, gods were generally much more numerous and much more anthropomorphic than in modern times, and speculates that this was because each bicameral person had their own “god” who reflected their own desires and experiences.

He also noted that in ancient societies the corpses of the dead were often treated as though still alive (being seated, dressed and even fed) as a form of ancestor worship, and Jaynes argued that the dead bodies were presumed to be still living and the source of auditory hallucinations.

And we all have the examples of Huge funerary homes called Pyramids left by that era of Humanity.

This adaptation to the village communities of 100 individuals or more formed the core of religion. Unlike today’s hallucinations, the voices of ancient times were structured by cultural norms to produce a seamlessly functioning society. In Ancient Greek culture there is often mention of the Logos, which is a very similar concept. It was a type of guiding voice that was heard as from a seemingly external source. The concept of Oracle!

Thus, the period 1800 BC to 1000 BC was the turning point of Human history in more ways than one.

That Bicameral mind thus asserts itself in our societal behaviour again and again. The rise to power of leaders like Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, even current ISIS is an indication of large part of the society to switch away responsibilities and give in to the left hemisphere and follow the leader.

Does Jaynes arguments stack up against the Sruti or revealed texts of Indian literature?

Post Author: Mahabharata World

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