Re: Julian Jaynes

Gregory Grant (
18 Jan 1995 17:53:02 GMT

In article <3e1qbi$>,

> Hello,
> I've recently read Julian Jaynes' "The Origin of Consciousness in the
> Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" for the 3rd time and am more intrigued
> than ever. I think he may really be onto something. That being said,
> I'd like to learn what other information affirming/falsifying others may
> have regarding Bicameral Hypothesis.
> Prof. Jaynes' hypothesis includes the following:
> 1) Consciousness as we think of it today is a relatively recent
> phenomenon, approximately 2-3 thousand years.
> 2) The people who built most of the ancient cultures we have evidence
> of were unconscious and more akin to modern schitzophrenics, i.e.
> they frequently, if not continually, heard and obeyed auditory
> and visual hallucinations in one side of their brain that had
> originated in the other. Dr. Jaynes calls this mentality Bicameral.
> 3) A necessary condition for the emergence of consciousness is language
> that the emergence of consciousness is not due to new biological
> underpinnings.
> etc etc

I read this book too some years ago, and found it very thought provoking,
but I was bothered by a few things.
All those are irrelevant now, though, because in the book, somewhere, he
writes explicitly that for his theory to be correct it must be the case
that human language was aquired very recently, on the order of only
thousands of years, less than ten thousand, if I remember correctly. But
it is now widely believed, in fact scientifically proven (after the work
of Chomsky and others) that our language capacity is hard wired in to our
brains. We have, in fact, a language organ in our brains which switches
on early and absorbs language in a profound way. In other words it is
something which evolved biologically under natural selection, and
therefore has been around for a very long time. Thus, by Jaynes's own
admission, his theory cannot be correct.

Greg Grant