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Old 08-12-2015, 05:30 PM
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Julian Jaynes' ideas on consciousness


I've read "The Origin of Consciousnes in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" and was blown away by the audacity of the argument and a lot of the evidence he marshals. However, I notice that "bicameralism" has failed to sweep all before it as a theory of mind. Are any of his ideas taken seriously, whether big or small? On the big end I would put the idea that consciousness came about as a result of a new working relationship between the two hemispheres; on the small, his conention that there is no such thing as hypnosis. And anything in between.
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Old 08-12-2015, 05:50 PM
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I've read "The Origin of Consciousnes in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" and was blown away by the audacity of the argument and a lot of the evidence he marshals. However, I notice that "bicameralism" has failed to sweep all before it as a theory of mind. Are any of his ideas taken seriously, whether big or small? On the big end I would put the idea that consciousness came about as a result of a new working relationship between the two hemispheres; on the small, his conention that there is no such thing as hypnosis. And anything in between.
As far as I know, his work is not highly regarded (I heard him speak back in the 1980s at my university - he was a good speaker), but I think it's an interesting idea even if not true - be a great basis for a science fiction novel (and may have been so used)
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Old 08-12-2015, 05:56 PM
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I don't believe anybody (except perhaps the few diehards/crazies that you'll find anywhere) takes it seriously today. Don't forget that the book is now 40 years old. Virtually everything we know about the brain, about neurology, about human evolution, about consciousness itself was learned in those 40 years, either totally new information or a total overturning of older thinking. It's hard to imagine how any theory of brain function could survive that. From my understanding, all his statements about the brain are now considered wrong.

I remember being struck by the book when it came out. I also remember wondering how he possibly could prove any of his arguments about the past since none of them were testable. Nobody has come up with an answer in 40 years.
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Old 08-12-2015, 06:27 PM
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As far as I know, his work is not highly regarded (I heard him speak back in the 1980s at my university - he was a good speaker), but I think it's an interesting idea even if not true - be a great basis for a science fiction novel (and may have been so used)
As I should have remembered, it's part of the background of Neal Stephenson's "Snowcrash"
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Old 08-13-2015, 08:38 AM
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As I should have remembered, it's part of the background of Neal Stephenson's "Snowcrash"
Not really, but it is central to Stephenson's (deservedly) obscure first book, The Big U.

As far as Jaynes, I think 'audacity' is exactly the right word to describe it. The fact that he could construct a however-hundred page book full of closely-argued evidence for a concept that's clearly ridiculous on any reflection, gets some kind of chutzpah award.

And yes, I did read the book, and yes the concept is ridiculous.

The problem with testing his, 'hypothesis' is a bit generous, let's say 'idea', isn't that we can't access the past -- remember he's arguing that modern consciousness only arose with writing and literacy, which means after anatomically modern humans. And there's not really a complete lack of illiterate people one could hire for experiments, even communities where illiteracy is the norm.

The problem is that the idea is so ridiculous that trying to put the idea into a form where it could be tested makes the ridiculousness so apparent that it falls apart. So anyone who tries to test it will either be too unlogical to be able to create a good test, or will realize how silly the whole thing is.
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Old 08-13-2015, 03:38 PM
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Some of the ideas in Bicameral Mind do appear in Snow Crash. Read the second paragraph of the article.

The first time I read Jayne's book, I enjoyed it immensely. He was a really fine writer at times. So I read it thru again right away. Uh-oh. Holes started to appear. The holes got bigger. Then it pretty much all fell away.

The big thing for me is that ancient people presumably just had a different view point. E.g., a gust of wind knocks down Ahmed's tent, so Ahmed must have ticked off a wind god. That was the world view of almost everyone until quite recently. (And it still persists among far too many people. E.g., every time a hurricane hits.) It wouldn't imply that Ahmed heard a god telling him that the god was ticked off.

Read the same passages from that point of view and you see something very different than Jaynes did.

Plus there was stuff he left out. He talks a lot about variants of consciousness, but barely mentions dreams. There should have been a long chapter about them. Dreams were an important aspect of ancient people's mental introspection. Studying those would tell you a lot about how their mental world view.

One thing that bugged me was how Jaynes took a passage about some Greek hero seeing a god emerge from the mist to mean that that person actually thought he saw a god. We don't have a first hand account of the incident. We have a bard's narrative, passed down thru the centuries and written down long after by a "fully conscious" Classical Greek. Why presume the hero thought he saw god at all, let alone that the tale reflects an older mental view?

Poets write weird stuff to make a story more interesting. It would be like assuming that everyone thought like William Burroughs in the 1950s.
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Old 08-13-2015, 03:45 PM
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The problem with testing his, 'hypothesis' is a bit generous, let's say 'idea', isn't that we can't access the past -- remember he's arguing that modern consciousness only arose with writing and literacy, which means after anatomically modern humans. And there's not really a complete lack of illiterate people one could hire for experiments, even communities where illiteracy is the norm.

The problem is that the idea is so ridiculous that trying to put the idea into a form where it could be tested makes the ridiculousness so apparent that it falls apart. So anyone who tries to test it will either be too unlogical to be able to create a good test, or will realize how silly the whole thing is.
What alternative theories for the evolutionary origin of human consciousness have been tested?
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Old 08-13-2015, 04:04 PM
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What alternative theories for the evolutionary origin of human consciousness have been tested?
None, because nobody has even been able to define "human consciousness" in any objective way.

I don't think it's a very good argument for an idea's truth to say "It's about something that nobody can even define, let alone prove to exist."

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One thing that bugged me was how Jaynes took a passage about some Greek hero seeing a god emerge from the mist to mean that that person actually thought he saw a god. We don't have a first hand account of the incident. We have a bard's narrative, passed down thru the centuries and written down long after by a "fully conscious" Classical Greek. Why presume the hero thought he saw god at all, let alone that the tale reflects an older mental view?
See, this is exactly Jaynes' twisted evil genius: he somehow manages to get people arguing about little details when the whole idea is just ludicrous on its face.

Sigh. Evidently I'm still pissed off at how much time I spent reading the whole damn book. He suckered me in, too, you see.
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Old 08-13-2015, 04:09 PM
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I've always been of two minds about his work.

Being serious, though, it's bunk. Not even believable when it was current, and our understanding of the brain and human evolution was just a fraction of what we know today.

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Old 08-13-2015, 04:12 PM
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The book fucking rocks though.

Right or wrong - OK, probably wrong about 98% of the time - it's still enormously fascinating and enormously entertaining. I loved reading it, and will probably end up re-reading it more than once. It also led me to check out Dodds' The Greeks and the Irrational, another fantastic book.

Has anyone read the anthology follow-up to Jaynes' book, Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes's Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited? Been on my reading list for ages.
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Old 08-13-2015, 04:19 PM
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The book fucking rocks though.

Right or wrong - OK, probably wrong about 98% of the time - it's still enormously fascinating and enormously entertaining. I loved reading it, and will probably end up re-reading it more than once. It also led me to check out Dodds' The Greeks and the Irrational, another fantastic book.
Yeah, I did enjoy reading it even though I was most of the time.
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Old 08-13-2015, 04:28 PM
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I think what lost if for me was when he was talking about how the king started to substitute for the gods, and there were all these idols around with big eyes because that was the god-king keeping an eye on them, and...handwave.

I haven't read the book in a while, just happened to be thinking about it, but there were some rather persuasive things about it. For example, his notion of consciousness as a map--I don't know if that's utter bunkum, but it made sense when I read it. I also enjoyed his treatment of hypnosis, where he argues that it is not a state of mind at all but an unstated social contract between subject and hypnotizer.
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Old 08-13-2015, 04:33 PM
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And again we see SDMB group-think in action. And when I've witnessed such discussions in the past I've learned that many commenters had skimmed Jaynes' book or misremembered it.

One can find much to praise in Jayes' book even if one doesn't accept his thesis in the exaggerated way he presents it. He suggests strong links among hypnotism, religious experiences, "demon possessions", hallucinations, and the bicameral brain. He does document interesting changes in religions at the late Bronze Age and Iron Age. His theory does provide testable predictions in some agreement with facts.

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None, because nobody has even been able to define "human consciousness" in any objective way.
And one thing Jaynes DOES do is give a detailed understanding of what he means by "subjective consciousness."
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Old 08-13-2015, 04:48 PM
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And one thing Jaynes DOES do is give a detailed understanding of what he means by "subjective consciousness."
Then he tested this detailed understanding to see how it holds up to reality? If not, why not?
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Old 08-13-2015, 05:01 PM
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The problem with testing his, 'hypothesis' is a bit generous, let's say 'idea', isn't that we can't access the past -- remember he's arguing that modern consciousness only arose with writing and literacy, which means after anatomically modern humans. And there's not really a complete lack of illiterate people one could hire for experiments, even communities where illiteracy is the norm.
Indeed. One wonders why there aren't large groups of people still operating at the bicameral stage today. I'm not taking about large numbers distributed through society, but entire ethnic groups that weren't subject to the breakdown process that he claims produced consciousness as we know it today. After all, this breakdown event supposedly happened in historical (or near historical) times. It couldn't possibly have happened everywhere on earth.

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Old 08-13-2015, 05:09 PM
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Well, I don't remember the book well enough to repeat what argument he made, but if consciousness is essentially an adaptive cultural adaptation, it would have spread, and non-bicameral populations would have succumbed or been replaced. That's not to say he's correct about bicamerality, but you find some level of tool use among every human population, and tool use is a cultural phenomenon--it doesn't occur to us to wonder why there's no human group that doesn't use tools. So I'm not sure that's the best counter.

ETA, but that doesn't account for New World populations though, does it? I suppose it could have arisen separately, like agriculture.

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Old 08-13-2015, 05:43 PM
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I tried reading that book several times. I can't say I really grasped any major concepts from it, so I am not in a position to say it's wonderful or bullshit. But I was intrigued by his discussion, if I remember it correctly, that speculated on what early man made of the so-called voices in his head. We've all "heard" versions of the internal dialog. We either replay something someone said, or we imagine a conversation, or we hear ourselves saying something - in our minds. And he wondered what people made of that experience early on, and I believe he suggested that that was one of the bits of "evidence" that people had for the existence of gods. What we now understand as some version of our cognition rehearsing or replaying or reconstructing things we've thought or heard, they interpreted as someone, a god, speaking to them. That's really easy to believe. And I really liked that notion. What it had to do with the bicameral mind, or any current notions of mental activity or capacity, I don't know, but I thought it was a pretty intriguing proposal, and one that makes a good deal of sense.
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Old 08-13-2015, 06:16 PM
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None, because nobody has even been able to define "human consciousness" in any objective way.
So the untestability you were talking about is not significant; all theories on the subject are equally so.
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Old 08-13-2015, 06:26 PM
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Indeed. One wonders why there aren't large groups of people still operating at the bicameral stage today. I'm not taking about large numbers distributed through society, but entire ethnic groups that weren't subject to the breakdown process that he claims produced consciousness as we know it today. After all, this breakdown event supposedly happened in historical (or near historical) times. It couldn't possibly have happened everywhere on earth.
Not everywhere at once, he says. But contact between conscious and bicameral peoples gradually spread the learning of consciousness. Just as, oh, agriculture, writing, smelting, monotheism, whatever, were culturally transmitted, in patchwork fashion, to peoples that hadn't come up with those on their own.
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Old 08-13-2015, 06:30 PM
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And one thing Jaynes DOES do is give a detailed understanding of what he means by "subjective consciousness."
Then he tested this detailed understanding to see how it holds up to reality?
You can do the test yourself, for yourself, if not for anyone else.
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Old 08-13-2015, 06:39 PM
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If nothing else, you must admit that the title is itself really great; it just rolls off the tongue. I wonder if there were any alternate titles considered.
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Old 08-13-2015, 07:13 PM
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Well, I don't remember the book well enough to repeat what argument he made, but if consciousness is essentially an adaptive cultural adaptation, it would have spread, and non-bicameral populations would have succumbed or been replaced. That's not to say he's correct about bicamerality, but you find some level of tool use among every human population, and tool use is a cultural phenomenon--it doesn't occur to us to wonder why there's no human group that doesn't use tools. So I'm not sure that's the best counter.

ETA, but that doesn't account for New World populations though, does it? I suppose it could have arisen separately, like agriculture.
Tool use is not useful in this context; it appears nearly 3 million years ago, before the genus Homo.

That's the problem with Jaynes: anything you argue is human or culture is negated by his claim that humans could have functioned perfectly well while thinking that gods told them what to do. The difficult problem is determining why and how that changed. What in our brains can account for that? How can that be a cultural adaptation? What could make that universal? Shouldn't there be evidence in all cultures for this radical change? If so, what do we even look for? Are metaphors in ancient writings sufficient?

Jaynes himself couldn't go forward; his follow-up book was never written. If you argue that the book was literary criticism rather than science - and people do - you can analyze as the screed of a man who never fit into to any society or hierarchy, who at every moment in his life believed that other people thought wrongly, and who was obsessed with religion as something modern culture diminished. He dressed up a cult treatise with academic language and left a cult - the Julian Jaynes Society - as his legacy.

Why not? It's as sound as saying that he and he alone had the secret to the universe.

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You can do the test yourself, for yourself, if not for anyone else.
Are you defending him? If the test is not objective then it isn't a test. You're essentially proclaiming that his work is pseudoscience, or rather, exactly equivalent to a religious belief.
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Old 08-13-2015, 08:44 PM
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The difficult problem is determining why and how that changed. What in our brains can account for that? How can that be a cultural adaptation? What could make that universal? Shouldn't there be evidence in all cultures for this radical change?
Is there not evidence for the rise of consciousness in your own mind? Do you not personally experience the evidence every day?

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Are you defending him? If the test is not objective then it isn't a test. You're essentially proclaiming that his work is pseudoscience, or rather, exactly equivalent to a religious belief.
Any conscious person can verify the fact of their own (subjective) consciousness to themselves. Outside each of our own heads, we have to have a measure of trust that other people are also capable of it, if they say so.

I agree that Jaynes' larger theory is not objectively testable, so not science, but, as noted, neither is any alternative that I'm aware of.

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Old 08-13-2015, 08:58 PM
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Not everywhere at once, he says. But contact between conscious and bicameral peoples gradually spread the learning of consciousness. Just as, oh, agriculture, writing, smelting, monotheism, whatever, were culturally transmitted, in patchwork fashion, to peoples that hadn't come up with those on their own.
So, how did it get to Australia? Or did the first European explorers encounter bicameral peoples there a few hundred years ago? Because that would waaaay cool!!!

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Old 08-13-2015, 09:04 PM
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Maybe they did! Or maybe, as I suggested, it could have arisen independently in different places, as agriculture did.
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Old 08-13-2015, 09:11 PM
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So, how did it get to Australia? Or did the first European explorers encounter bicameral peoples there a few hundred years ago?
One of many misconceptions about Jaynes' theory is the assumption that all primitive people have bicameral minds. Instead, Jaynes specifically asserts that the development of bicamerality was the "final stage in the evolution of language," that it was needed for the move from hunter-gatherer bands of thirty individuals or so, to the larger groupings of the Neolithic -- groups too large for the chief to be in frequent contact with his entire band.

Thus the Australian aborigines never developed bicamerality -- they were still in bands small enough for direct communication.

Is Jaynes correct about this? I don't know. But at least let's debate Jaynes' theory instead of a half-cocked imitation of the theory from those who've never read, or have forgotten, Jaynes' book.

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Old 08-13-2015, 09:18 PM
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Thus the Australian aborigines never developed bicamerality -- they were still in bands small enough for direct communication.
Right, but presumably they still would have had to acquire modern subjective consciousness at some point.
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Old 08-13-2015, 09:22 PM
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One of many misconceptions about Jaynes' theory is the assumption that all primitive people have bicameral minds. Instead, Jaynes specifically asserts that the development of bicamerality was the "final stage in the evolution of language," that it was needed for the move from hunter-gatherer bands of thirty individuals or so, to the larger groupings of the Neolithic -- groups too large for the chief to be in frequent contact with his entire band.

Thus the Australian aborigines never developed bicamerality -- they were still in bands small enough for direct communication.

Is Jaynes correct about this? I don't know. But at least let's debate Jaynes' theory instead of a half-cocked imitation of the theory from those who've never read, or have forgotten, Jaynes' book.
All the questions I asked earlier apply here as well. Are the aboriginals still bicameral? If not, then why and how did they change? Most importantly, how does anyone know whether they have or not?

Surely some of his defenders have tackled these questions. What are their answers? How were they derived? I wish all of you who find truth in his book would give even one concrete answer.

But that would raise the question I also asked: why does virtually no one in the multiple worlds of science his book touches pay any attention to his ideas if they purport to answer so much?
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Old 08-13-2015, 09:43 PM
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But that would raise the question I also asked: why does virtually no one in the multiple worlds of science his book touches pay any attention to his ideas if they purport to answer so much?
I don't know, but if you do, I would like to know. That's partly why I started this thread. I'm not an expert on consciousness and I don't intend to become one. I'm happy to accept that his ideas are mostly discredited/disbelieved. I wondered if he had had any influence on current mainstream thought, and although I didn't specifically ask this question, I'd also like to know what the mainstream is and how that differs from what Jaynes said.

I mentioned this upthread, but the notion of consciousness as a map struck me as pretty evocative/interesting/convincing. If the people who study such things these days have better ideas, wonderful.
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Old 08-13-2015, 09:54 PM
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I don't know, but if you do, I would like to know. That's partly why I started this thread. I'm not an expert on consciousness and I don't intend to become one. I'm happy to accept that his ideas are mostly discredited/disbelieved. I wondered if he had had any influence on current mainstream thought, and although I didn't specifically ask this question, I'd also like to know what the mainstream is and how that differs from what Jaynes said.

I mentioned this upthread, but the notion of consciousness as a map struck me as pretty evocative/interesting/convincing. If the people who study such things these days have better ideas, wonderful.
Consciousness is the Big question. It's considered a Hard problem. I don't believe we have even the start of a clue about it.

That does not mean people can say anything they want and have others take them seriously.

If you want to explore the question, I'm sure there have been lots of threads in Great Debates and people will flock to another. We've given you the GQ answer.
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Old 08-13-2015, 10:02 PM
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Are the aboriginals still bicameral?
Was this a typo? I just explained that Jaynes did NOT claim hunter-gatherers were bicameral.

There are various reasons why progress is slow on "soft" sciences, especially with claims as elusive as Jaynes'. You'd know this if you were a scientist.

Jaynes may have thought bicameralism is still present, e.g. in schizophrenics. I think some studies would be of interest. For example, bicameral minds might be more eaily hypnotised. Are there statistics of ease of hypnosis by culture?
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Old 08-13-2015, 10:10 PM
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As far as I know, his work is not highly regarded (I heard him speak back in the 1980s at my university - he was a good speaker), but I think it's an interesting idea even if not true - be a great basis for a science fiction novel (and may have been so used)
It was explicitly the inspiration for the short story "Bluff" by Harry Turtledove.
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Old 08-13-2015, 10:21 PM
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Suppose Jaynes's theories were correct. If you had two people in front of you, one of them with a modern integrated consciousness, and the other with a neolithic bicameral consciousness, how could you tell the difference between them?

If you couldn't tell the difference between them, then how could you tell the difference between an ancient civilization that had a bicameral consciousness, and one that had a modern consciousness?

This is as incoherent as the notion of a philosophical zombie--that is, a person who acts exactly as if they were conscious, but actually is not conscious. What exactly do they think consciousness is, if it's not acting as if you were conscious? It's like someone acting as if they understood what was being said, they could carry on a conversation, read, write, take tests, follow instructions, give instructions and so on, but claiming that there's no way to prove that the person really understands human speech, they could be merely acting as if they understood it, and are just engaging in some elaborate instinctive behavior.

The theory is complete nonsense. It's not even wrong.
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Old 08-13-2015, 11:14 PM
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Consciousness is the Big question. It's considered a Hard problem. I don't believe we have even the start of a clue about it.

That does not mean people can say anything they want and have others take them seriously.

If you want to explore the question, I'm sure there have been lots of threads in Great Debates and people will flock to another. We've given you the GQ answer.
I don't think anyone has given me the GQ answer. You and others have said, and I'm paraphrasing, he's a crackpot. No one has said what better ideas have taken its place, or specifically whether anything he said is still considered useful, or whether his ideas have been comprehensively rejected from top to bottom.

"It's considered a Hard problem. I don't believe we have even the start of a clue about it" is an assertion, and at bottom it boils down to "Jaynes *could* be right!"

I'm not here to take up the cudgels for Jaynes. But I'd like more actual info about the state of research into and thought about consciousness and why is does not, or does, comport with his ideas.
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Old 08-13-2015, 11:14 PM
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Suppose Jaynes's theories were correct. If you had two people in front of you, one of them with a modern integrated consciousness, and the other with a neolithic bicameral consciousness, how could you tell the difference between them? . . .
Wouldn't one of them be hearing voices and taking them as real?

The guy who suddenly nods and says, "Say, yeah, thanks!" when no one has actually spoken to him is the one with the bicameral mind. The guy who looks at him and asks, "Who the heck are you talking to" is the guy with the integrated mind. Or maybe just a skeptic.
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Old 08-13-2015, 11:15 PM
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Suppose Jaynes's theories were correct. If you had two people in front of you, one of them with a modern integrated consciousness, and the other with a neolithic bicameral consciousness, how could you tell the difference between them?...

The theory is complete nonsense. It's not even wrong.
So you haven't read Jaynes' book either. He quotes several ancient writers who describe bicameralism; he is very clear about differences in mentality. His theory is probably too reductionist, and may be wrong. But it isn't "not even wrong" in the cocky way you think. Among modern-day bicameralist he mentions the Umbanda people of Brazil. Here's a recent Jaynes disciple commenting on the Umbanda that "possession" (a manifestation of bicameralism) is "a learned menatality."

Obviously Jaynes' theory hasn't "taken the world by storm." But there are Professors of Anthropology that continue to develop the theory. And, unlike many in this thread, these scholars have read Jaynes' book.
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Old 08-14-2015, 12:48 AM
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One of many misconceptions about Jaynes' theory is the assumption that all primitive people have bicameral minds. Instead, Jaynes specifically asserts that the development of bicamerality was the "final stage in the evolution of language," that it was needed for the move from hunter-gatherer bands of thirty individuals or so, to the larger groupings of the Neolithic -- groups too large for the chief to be in frequent contact with his entire band.

Thus the Australian aborigines never developed bicamerality -- they were still in bands small enough for direct communication.

Is Jaynes correct about this? I don't know. But at least let's debate Jaynes' theory instead of a half-cocked imitation of the theory from those who've never read, or have forgotten, Jaynes' book.
Which is even more absurd. It places peoples like the Australian aboriginal not only as pre-conscious, but at a pre-bicameral stage of human development. His progression of what he, incorrectly, calls the Late Pleistocene or Neanderthal mind (assuming modern humans evolved from Neanderthals) to the Bicameral era to the consciousness era leaves populations like the Australian Aboriginals completely unaccounted for, unless he is going to claim they exist in a pre-conscious state.

He relies on outdated archeological evidence that an expansion of tool development after 50k years ago points to an "earliest date" for language at that date. A bold statement for which there is not only no proof, but no ability to prove or disprove it. He claims, without evidence, that there was improvements in the areas of the brain controlling language in that timeframe. I'd love to see what physical evidence he relies on for that conclusion.

Now, we can forgive him the label "Neanderthal", since it's just a label and could easily be changed to something more accurate. But it's a clear symptom of a hypothesis (I will not call it a theory) based on outdated archeology. There is an active debate about when language, as we know it, evolved, but it would be absurd to make the claim that language could not have evolved prior to 50k years ago, as he does. Which brings us back to Australia. The first reliable dates for the remains of "Mungo Man" (mid 1970s) coincide with the publishing to the book in question. Again, pointing to his lack of access to current archeological data. Suffice it to say that with what we now know about the expansion of humans out of Africa, his hypothesis just doesn't make any sense.

He remarks that, in what he calls a weak hypothesis, that there could have been conscious humans existing alongside these bicameral peoples, but he rejects that in favor of the strong hypothesis that no such peoples existed.

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Old 08-14-2015, 09:27 AM
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Was this a typo? I just explained that Jaynes did NOT claim hunter-gatherers were bicameral.
Yes, sorry. That should have been not bicameral. Now, do you have a concrete answer to my questions?
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I don't think anyone has given me the GQ answer. You and others have said, and I'm paraphrasing, he's a crackpot. No one has said what better ideas have taken its place, or specifically whether anything he said is still considered useful, or whether his ideas have been comprehensively rejected from top to bottom.

"It's considered a Hard problem. I don't believe we have even the start of a clue about it" is an assertion, and at bottom it boils down to "Jaynes *could* be right!"

I'm not here to take up the cudgels for Jaynes. But I'd like more actual info about the state of research into and thought about consciousness and why is does not, or does, comport with his ideas.
Science is a certain type of thinking. It is recognizable even if one doesn't know the facts. If someone posits a hypothesis and deflects all questioning by saying "it's in the book" then it is not science, it is religion. You don't need to know more.

Science requires testability. It requires that independent researchers be able to replicate findings. It requires that newly discovered facts be accounted for. It requires consensus; each new piece of learning either must add to the consensus to answer larger and larger questions or it must accrete to a new consensus that will overthrow the old. There are no individual theories that cover everything, complete and whole in and of themselves. Jaynes' book was damned with the word "pseudoscience" as soon as it appeared because of this. That was inevitable. Maybe someday somebody will find the mechanism in the brain he writes around and vindicate him. If so he will be like Alfred Wegener who proposed continental drift at a time when no mechanism for the phenomenon could be imagines and was very rightly ignored.

If you want to ask about consciousness, you're in good company. Great Debates is full of such threads. But I bet they don't talk about Jaynes. Why should they?
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Old 08-14-2015, 11:00 AM
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Expanding on that, I seem to remember reading in The God Delusion (I think) that Dawkins thought Jaynes was either a unique genius or a complete crackpot, but leaning towards crackpot. And to be fair, there is all sorts of speculation in the realm of evolutionary psychology and almost none of it is testable. Jaynes' book was, as some of us noted, absolutely fascinating to read and definitely thought provoking. But his ideas just don't stand up to close scrutiny within the context of what we know. Maybe we're just a 50 years behind him, and will catch up someday. Bookmark this thread, and let's see what happens between now and then!

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Old 08-14-2015, 11:52 AM
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[QUOTE=Peremensoe;18600605]I agree that Jaynes' larger theory is not objectively testable, so not science[QUOTE]OK, we agree on that. I'm not sure what other point you're trying to make.
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Old 08-14-2015, 11:56 AM
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His theory is probably too reductionist, and may be wrong.
So wow could it be proven wrong, or, less absolutely, what would be (not necessarily absolute) evidence that it is wrong?

Unless someone can answer that, then it's not science and it's fair to call it "not even wrong".
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Old 08-14-2015, 01:49 PM
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Best is to start with his notion of "bicameral mind." There is now science which, I think, confirms that auditory hallucinations are opposite-hemisphered from normal speech and hearing. (Yes, that's unclear -- I certainly do not claim to be an expert ... and even to get this far depends on recent advances in brain research.)

The unique nature of human language, and its specificity to a single hemisphere does, IMO, render plausible the notion that a "hallucinatory" mode might arise in the opposite hemisphere.

Given this, Jaynes draws connections between related mental modes: auditory hallucinations, schizophrenia, hypnosis, glossolalia, some modes of ancient prophecy, and modes of religion. Does all this seem plausible? Interesting?

Now obviously some people do speak in tongues, do have auditory hallucinations, are easily hypnotisable(*); and scientists are studying these phenomena for correlation with hemisphere. So far, proven and testable science. Wikipedia writes "In the late 1990s, Jaynes's ideas received renewed attention as brain imaging technology confirmed many of his early predictions." (* -- some skeptics don't believe in hypnosis -- is that true of the skeptics in this thread?) When one sees these mental modes, one witnesses the "bicameral mind." "Not even wrong" indeed!

But of course Jaynes goes much further. Let's start by weakening his thesis somewhat and assert just that bicameralism was more common 3000+ years ago than it is now. (It might be interesting to discuss why Jaynes made the stronger claim, but because of the extreme skepticism shown in this thread I think it better to start by asking about the weaker claim. Is it still nonsense? "Not even wrong"?)

Jaynes provides much evidence of bicameral mentality from ancient history. I won't give examples: those eager to quibble will find much to quibble about when drawing inferences from ancient writings; and you can review these examples by (gasp!) rereading Jaynes' book! The relationships he shows among superego, religion and hallucination struck me as insightful. Certainly it is easy to read ancient works like the Iliad and conclude that "those people didn't think like we do." "Demon possession" seems to have been quite common in Jesus' Judaea compared with today. If Jaynes is wrong, then why is that?

I believe the dismissive answers given OP's question are wrong, and did my duty by saying so in this thread. However I am neither expert nor eloquent. Here is a Wikipedia article if OP wants a less dismissive viewpoint.

Last edited by septimus; 08-14-2015 at 01:52 PM.
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Old 08-14-2015, 05:20 PM
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But of course Jaynes goes much further. Let's start by weakening his thesis somewhat and assert just that bicameralism was more common 3000+ years ago than it is now. (It might be interesting to discuss why Jaynes made the stronger claim, but because of the extreme skepticism shown in this thread I think it better to start by asking about the weaker claim. Is it still nonsense? "Not even wrong"?)
How much more common? In order to be a useful hypothesis, wouldn't it have to be much, much more common? That is, the vast majority of people operating at the bicameral level. Otherwise, it wouldn't make that much difference and wouldn't be a dominant feature of a culture.

Then we ask: How could this hypothesis be proven? Maybe we can search for records of early contact with primitive populations, like Australian Aboriginals, to see if that mind state was predominantly present. If it wasn't, that would seem to pretty much blow the hypothesis away, wouldn't it? Otherwise, you'd have to postulate some considerable contact with post-bicameral peoples, and that does not seem to have been the case.
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Old 08-14-2015, 07:39 PM
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How much more common? In order to be a useful hypothesis, wouldn't it have to be much, much more common? That is, the vast majority of people operating at the bicameral level. Otherwise, it wouldn't make that much difference and wouldn't be a dominant feature of a culture.

Then we ask: How could this hypothesis be proven? Maybe we can search for records of early contact with primitive populations, like Australian Aboriginals, to see if that mind state was predominantly present. If it wasn't, that would seem to pretty much blow the hypothesis away, wouldn't it? Otherwise, you'd have to postulate some considerable contact with post-bicameral peoples, and that does not seem to have been the case.
You probably missed the exchange upthread: Jaynes associated bicameralism with "a final stage in the evolution of language" and early civilization, but not with pre-Neolithic cultures like Australia. Thus Jaynes would give a 3rd mode of mentality to early humans, distinct from both bicameralism and subjective consciousness. Jaynes was likely partly wrong about this relationship, but still it might be better to look to, say, Aztecs or Incas for comparison.

According to Jaynes, there were cycles in Egypt and the New World: a civilization arose with associated bicameralism, the civilization and its associated mentality broke down, then another bicameral civilization arose. BTW, although I don't think Jaynes claims the connection, I've thought the peculiar way both Aztecs and Incas succumbed to the Conquistadores might be evidence of bicameral minds.

The stories, if true, of demon possession in the Gospels, and the relative ease with which such demons were dismissed, give very strong support to Jaynes. The nature of early religions is key evidence, as Jaynes develops at length. Jaynes also shows evidence by comparing bicameral and conscious prose -- the Iliad and the Odyssey are well-known examples but Jaynes has others. We might expect language structural differences, e.g. verb markers but AFAIK no linguist has published anything like that in support of Jaynes.

But thanks. At least you seem to have gone beyond "Not even wrong."

One simple way to understand how underappreciated Jaynes is to consider the nature of "consciousness." In SDMB threads on this topic Dopers talk past each other. Yet Jaynes gives very clear and useful descriptions of what he means by subjective consciousness. That much alone should be read and appreciated.
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Old 08-14-2015, 08:09 PM
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No, I understand. He outlines 3 phases:

Late Pleistocene/Neanderthal mind --> bicameral mind --> conscious mind.

But the bicameral mind came out of early civilizations as they rose, contracted and rose again. So we look for peoples who never went thru that process and who had no contact with peoples how did. If his hypothesis is correct, those people should still being the pre-bicameral mode, or Late Pleistocene mode. That's why the Australian Aboriginals make good candidates.

Now, if we suppose that those people were conscious, then we have a situation where we go from conscious -> bicameral -> conscious and Occam isn't going to be very happy with that.

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Old 08-15-2015, 08:20 AM
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I've read the book a few times over the years, the last tome several years ago. It's continuously impressed me as one of those 'meta'-type books that draws on a huge variety of evidence from wide-ranging areas and pulls them together under the umbrella of one big idea. By so doing it provides an example of how seemingly disparate things can be drawn together by a heretofore unseen common thread. Which makes it All the more disappointing of course when you consider the unavoidable notion that the common thread is very very flimsy.

Nevertheless, even though the big idea is thoroughly dubious, some of the side ideas are compelling. One that has always really stood out for me is Jayne's analysis of metaphor and the idea that consciousness is essentially created by metaphor. He says something like the 'self in 'mind-space' is a metaphor of the body in physical space. That is an idea that really meshes with other concepts in the philosophy of consciousness and in cognitive science, and even in neuroscience. I've read a number of other books about these things and the idea of consciousness as metaphor- either explicitly described as such or strongly implied-pops up over and over. To be sure Jayne's was not the first person to invoke that (e.g. the homunculus) but he did descibe what was for me at least a very accessible and convincing way of thinking about it.
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Old 08-15-2015, 08:50 AM
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'self in 'mind-space' is a metaphor of the body in physical space
Which begets the question: so what is it that groks the metaphor? Or is it turtles all the way down?

A lot of these ideas seems to enjoy the idea of recursive definitions, but unless there is a base case, it remains pretty useless. It is the base where the really hard bit lives.
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Old 08-15-2015, 09:43 AM
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Which begets the question: so what is it that groks the metaphor? Or is it turtles all the way down?
From another anthropologist's work (can't remember his name at the moment), it's the interconnectedness of the various parts of the brain. He postulated that a Neanderthal mind was similar to a Homo sapiens' mind in certain ways. The Neanderthal could think:

My daughter is beautiful
-or-
That flower is beautiful.

but not:

My daughter is as beautiful as a flower.

And that is simply because the brain is processing "flower", and "daughter" in different regions, and those regions are not interconnected.

Nothing too revolutionary about that... most scientists will tell you that the power of the human brain comes not only from it's size, but the amount of interconnectedness.

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Old 08-15-2015, 12:07 PM
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BTW, I was NOT endorsing that idea, just reporting it. I found it interesting, even if impossible to prove at this point.

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Old 08-15-2015, 12:44 PM
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The problem with the theory as consciousness is something that results from going beyond hunter-gather stage and then the literacy stage is that it happens all over the world at different times... Some groups only recently encountered larger groups, literacy, etc.

One interesting question I wonder about is civilization, or at least agriculture, as a stage in human development. We have the native Americans, who split from Asia over 14,000 years ago (depending on whose theory you believe) yet managed to densely populate two continents and develop multiple instances of agriculture and several higher level civilizations in that time. Yet the same people, inhabiting much of Africa, Asia, and Europe for 70,000 years beforehand, took almost 60,000 years to reach the same point of development.

(I say 70,000 because there was some item I read once about a serious DNA bottleneck in human development about then - possibly the sudden evolution of a much more intelligent or adaptive group that rapidly overtook all others?)

Is this path to agriculture and civilization an indication that the brain was still evolving? Or the language or conceptual thinking that drove developments like agriculture was still evolving? Jared Diamond in "Guns, Germs and Steel" suggests that luck was the driving factor, but even with climate variation it's hard to believe there was not some adaptable environment where humans and their pet plants could coexist for a few thousand years to produce agriculture, as happened in middle America within 10,000 years.

As for illusions, hallucinations etc. - I wonder if schizophrenia and similar conditions could also account for some early civilizations' descriptions of seeing Gods and hearing voices. (Wikipedia suggests the incidence can be around 1/2%) We have similar situations in recorded history, where various people have "heard voices" (Joan of Arc comes to mind) and attribute them to the god(s) or demons of their culture. We don't need a special configuration of everyone's brain, just a reason why some people have hallucinations.
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