Julian Jaynes

Peter G Mercer (Peter.Mercer@ahrweiler.netsurf.de)
Sun, 29 Sep 1996 16:18:27 -0700

One of the main reasons for my going on line (this is my very first
communication) was to find out if there is anyone out there who has read,
or even heard of, the only book ever written by Julian Jaynes.
I first read it when it came out (a BoMC selection of all things) and
found it to be the most undeservedly neglected book I had ever come
across. However, being a layman in this field I always hoped to find some
revues by his peers, either refuting or supporting his basic ideas. That
was twenty years ago, and my enthusiasm for his work has only increased
during this lonely vigil. I have recommended it to friends, lent my only
copy to neurologists, tried to discuss it with catholic teachers; all to
no avail. I think that for most people it is just too hot to handle.
For me it has many appealing features, some of which I will pass on.
It offers an explanation for the many miracles, God sightings and burning
bushes that seem to have been almost commonplace compared to today. Also
for the rise and then the decline of the Jewish prophets and later the
success of the Oracles.
I suspect that the mythological past that is found in many (perhaps all)
races is an unconscious memory of the age when all €thinking€ was done
for us: a time of no worries, when life simply flowed; The Golden Age,
the Dream Time of the Australian Aborigines, the Spirit World of the
American Indian, and perhaps many more.
There is one aspect of unconscious action that appears to have been
completely ignored by researchers. This is the unconscious state which
you enter when you become completely adept at any complex activity. A
concert pianist dare not think what his fingers are doing, nor a juggler
his hands, nor a dancer her body, nor a speed reader his eyes. These
actions are all unconscious, a state that we can now only reach by long
strenuous repetition. Perhaps autism is a throw back to the Golden Age.
Certainly schizophrenia seems to have been a very admirable condition for
seers and oracles before they were thought to be a danger to modern
I have read of experiments performed in US universities which indicate
that our unconscious brain has the ability to solve complex problems way
beyond our conscious abilities. If true, this also fits into the Jaynes
theory. Perhaps the remnants of our personal God, who was all-knowing,
and spoke to us regularly, is what we now call intuition.
It is a tragedy that there is such a chasm between the Theists and the
Atheists. The one rightly fears the other, and most Atheists despise
organized religion. But if only it should be shown that a belief in an
Almighty is a consequence of our (mental) evolution we might eliminate
the uncompromizing hatred that most non-believers display and build a
bridge between some of the great minds on both sides. It would make no
more sense to despise €Religion€ than it does to despise crawling across
the floor, and, as individuals and as a species, we have had to evolve
through both of them to be what we are now. A child who never crawls is
very likely to have problems with his fine coordination. Similarly, I
think a child that is not allowed to develope through a belief in
absolutes is less emotionally stable than one who is.
Ontogeny mirroring phylogeny again?
Enough for now.
I think Jaynes is on to something extremely important, but I would like
to hear from some experts in the field. Assuming no-one shoots them out
of the sky, I would be interested in promoting these ideas. I met Julian
Jaynes twice, and I have to say that he is not very good at promoting
them himself. Sorry Julian, if you are reading this, but it is true.