A small Ode to Julian Jaynes

“The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”, is a book title ambitious enough to be suspect just on the face of its book cover. But what is philosophy if not over-ambitious science? The tragedy of Julian Jaynes maybe is that science has become nothing more than under-ambitious philosophy. His conjecture was one of Darwinian proportions: we are all schizophrenics who have learned to trust the voice()s in our heads to be our own. He then traveled the seven seas of ancient history to demonstrate how our forefathers, up to 1000 BC, literally heard the voices of Gods instructing them to write the books on which our society is still largely built. As a scientist he was looking for corroborating facts and he found them everywhere: in ancient texts and neurological neologisms like “bicameral”. By the time the book had made instant fame it was already infamous. Everybody debunked it, starting with the left/right brain hemisphere specialization underlying “bicameral” which as a scientific theory was as short lived as it is enduring in popular psychology books. Then historians picked the references of this psychologist self-taught as historian of all ancient cultures apart. D. Dennett and R. Dawkins quietly left the room of vocal supporters of the Jaynesian thesis and that was that. My plea is simple: don’t judge a book by its cover. Read beyond mere skepticism of the facts to discover the ambition of a true work of philosophy. You’ll discover inspiring beauty of thought. Enough said.

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2 responses to “A small Ode to Julian Jaynes

  1. Fascinating book isn’t it!! Have you read any books which extend upon his ideas convincingly from a psychoanalytic point of view?? I’d love to read more but there seems like much more pointless debunking than actual real interrogation of his ideas

  2. It is truly fascinating, Dec.

    To be honest, no, it seems there is only debunking and debunking of all that debunking (which is maybe even more tiring than the mere debunking).

    I can recommend the work of Guattari and Deleuze (try the short books first if this is new to you). They criticize psychoanalysis (but are nevertheless in that tradition) and see in schizophrenia a positive escape from the fascism that all of us carry around in our heads. I don’t have time but it would be interesting if somebody studied the possible links. I’m pretty sure that D&G would find that Jaynes had a truly fascinating & liberating schizophrenic idea.

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