Harry was at the lectern surveying his notes and talking to Glynn beside him as Jude closed the door behind himself. He waved to Harry and Glynn and sat down. Glynn went to take his seat. Harry began:
“During the last lecture I argued, some would claim paradoxically, that “Psychology”, as a subject changed its orientation when it declared itself to be a science. It performed a number of scientific reductions on the notion of “consciousness” in order to perform its experiments, and failed to arrive at results the scientific community could accept as scientific. The definition of Psychology was as a consequence changed to “the science of behavior” and, whilst that appeared to solve the terminological problem, it was quickly discovered that experiments with human self- conscious beings were not able to control all the variables necessary in order to reach results that could be reliably repeated. Experiments with animals were subsequently preferred because it appeared easier to control the necessary variables: but the conclusions often required inferential leaps if and when they were to be applied to human beings. Such leaps could not integrate with the philosophical knowledge of man acquired via “anthropology”. These conclusions often also conflicted with the broader experiential knowledge we have acquired about the social and political life of man. One of the obfuscating conditions most difficult to neutralize was the presence of what came to be referred to as “expectancy effects”. Participants in experiments were responding to the manipulation of variables with different expectations or, alternatively, responding to the experiment by assuming that what was demanded was a particular type of response. Psychologists called these “demand characteristics”. Furthermore the type of inquiry best suited to the experimental method was the type of inquiry relating to our expectations of what will happen in the light of our knowledge of the way in which causes produce effects, e.g. “people are unhappy when promises to them are broken”. This latter judgment is a causal empirical generalization that can be tested by making people promises, not keeping them, and then observing the results. There are, however, two immediate problems with this kind of experiment. Firstly it is unethical to make people promises and not keep them, even in circumstances where one might want to argue that the ensuing knowledge acquired from the experiment justified the unethical behavior of the experimenter. Secondly, how on earth would the experimenter operationally define the variable of happiness? The philosophical literature is densely packed with the problems of defining what happiness is. What makes one person happy is anathema to another, and what makes one and the same person happy, changes with time and circumstance. What this brings to our attention is the fact that where an attitude or our interests are concerned, these may not be quantitatively or experimentally measurable. Where what is at issue are ought-concepts such as “wrong”, “good”, “sacred” there may be a wish for universal agreement but such agreement may not be possible, which roughly means that any such variable cannot be operationally defined in an experiment searching for causal relations between variables. And the logical consequence of this is that, if we are interested in the causal relations between two variables, the possible values of these variables have to be logically determined before they can be manipulated. What has philosophy to say about such a state of affairs? The major problem in the philosophy of action is to connect the particular case of an action with the universal to which it belongs. This is a conceptual matter and not a causal problem, yet all psychologists have to face it because they are observing actions not just moving bodies.
I, therefore, suggested in my first lecture that we orientate our inquiry around the subject of “anthropology”.
More than 3000 years ago Agamemnon had a dream, whilst aware that he was still in his bed, that the time had come to begin the Trojan War and he set about the task. The Gods had told him what to do. This is what we read in Homer’s Iliad. Achilles also responds to the voices of various Gods in dealing with the difficult decision of how to behave in relation to his king, Agamemnon, who had stolen his mistress. This is not Myth. The Trojan War was an actual war and the characters of Agamemnon and Achilles were real. But how are our modern minds meant to interpret these words? Agamemnon and Achilles appear to us to be schizophrenic. How could a great king and a great warrior have suffered from what today we would have called a mental illness?
Julian Jaynes is the source of the above ideas which in turn are a consequence of his following a research path leading from the theory of evolution to tribal societies and the beginnings of language ca. 100,000 years ago. The path continues onto the establishment of theocratic hierarchically structured civilizations ca. 10,000 years ago where there is clearly a communication problem to be solved when groups of people move from ca. thirty to thousands and when the stress of this civilization produced the hallucination of voices in novel situations where it was not clear what ought to be done. Jaynes called this kind of mind the bicameral mind and it was “the norm” up to ca. 1000 BC when suddenly we find Homer writing about Odysseus living around this time who, when faced with stressful novel problems to solve, sits down like you and I would, and thinks about a plan or strategy which will subsequently be enacted, Homer’s writing is the first unequivocal evidence of this transition because although writing appeared around 3000 BC much of it is in languages(hieroglyphics or cuneiform) or signs we have great difficulty in interpreting. But what can have caused the development of the conscious mind of Odysseus who could plan to deceive his enemies? Part of the explanation can be attributed to the invention of writing that appeared to many, to be a better form of social control and communication. This innovation together with a catastrophic eruption of the island of Santorini, around 1470 BC that sent a 700- foot tsunami inundating and destroying many communities around the Aegean, placed great strain on the bicameral mind. Waves of refugees also inundated surviving communities and strained hierarchical structures that were best suited to a status quo that did not change very much. The refugees may have been the first to be forced to think consciously, needing perhaps to sit and plan strategies. The large communities that were disrupted probably resembled the Neolith site that was discovered in Turkey in which houses were designed so that 4-5 rooms clustered around a god’s room in which idols and statues of stone were found. The men of these communities, Jaynes argues, used these idols and images as stimuli to summon the voices that would tell them what to do. The Mesopotamian communities were typical of this form of bicameral community. Individuals heard a voice coming from further up in the hierarchy, perhaps from the king, which commanded or chided in a very similar way to the way schizophrenics voices operate today. If the king happened to die, a statue or symbol could be produced which could serve as a visual stimulus for the voice to appear. In this way dead kings became gods
The Bible, of course, is another source of this transition from the bicameral mind to consciousness. One of the earliest books of the Old Testament is about Amos who transmits the words of God like a medium, ”The Lord saith….”. Moving to one of the later books such as Ecclesiastes brings us into a world where self- conscious beings steer themselves and reflect on the purposes of life and time. Why the change? Jaynes hypothesizes that the voices produced by the right side of the brain were disappearing as a mechanism for coping with novel stressful situations. The voice of Yahweh was not being heard any longer: God had disappeared. Stone carvings have been found testifying to this: the throne that God sat upon is empty. The Psalms are further evidence of men crying out for guidance from a Deus absconditus. The book of Moses also testifies to the problem of finding one’s way to the Promised Land with only images and voices. There is only one possible human creation that could take the place of a hallucinated voice and that is the law that is written down in the name of some authority and we see the transition in action in the book of Moses. He comes down from the Mount with the law written on stone tablets.
Further evidence is that one can find no record in early writings of the kind of dream that conscious men experience. Agamemnon’s “dream” is a hallucinated voice that acts hypnotically upon him whilst he is still lying in his bed. Also, further evidence comes in the form of the examination of Plato’s texts. In the earlier dialogues, someone spiritually possessed by these voices is still a divine matter to be in awe of. By the time we get to the more mature Platonic writings, the “Laws” such people need to be taken care of. The behavior of the community in response to mental illness is anticipated here. Indeed Socrates is also portrayed as standing transfixed on a spot for long periods of time, having “visitations” from his so-called “daemon”
Sophia raised her hand:
“But, surely consciousness is necessary for learning something. It is difficult to imagine large relatively sophisticated communities being run “unconsciously”, if that is the right word. The people you are describing seem almost like robots”
“Yes, there is something difficult to understand here but fundamentally Jaynes’s idea is that we do not need consciousness to learn to form concepts, or to do any of the quite complex things we have learned to do such as driving a car or playing the piano. Indeed if in playing the piano a car backfiring distracts me from the task to the extent that I briefly become a conscious observer of what I am doing, it is difficult to get back into what Freud would have called the pre-conscious flow of the activity. I mention Freud here because Freud was not a fan of consciousness. For him, all knowledge emanates from the pre-conscious mind. Language is also a product of the pre-conscious mind. The reason we are under the “illusion” that we are continuously conscious is that when we are performing these pre-conscious activities we are by definition not conscious of what we are doing. Yet somehow consciousness jumps over these gaps in its operation and presupposes some kind of continuity. Some of the greatest discoveries of science have occurred through preconscious processing of a question where the answer suddenly announces itself to consciousness, perhaps whilst we are shaving or cooking. I think if we came across a purely bicameral man we would describe their behavior in the way you do, as robotic. Our present-day encounters with schizophrenics would not quite be the same thing because they alternate between consciousness and bicameral states.”
Robert raised his hand:
“But what about ancient burial sites? What about the 30,000-year-old cave paintings? Are these cultural monuments not signs of consciousness?”
“We have to be careful not to over-interpret what is happening in these cases. Insofar as the burial sites are concerned, I can see no difficulty in a human grieving for someone who is no longer present using an object, like a gravestone to represent the lost object. A gravestone may have been a late substitute for a statue of the person from which it was easier to hallucinate a voice. Freud, upon discovering the death instinct thought he saw its presence in an infant standing in his cot and throwing a cotton reel attached to some cotton over the side of his cot whilst uttering “Gone!” and drawing it slowly back into the cot whilst saying “There”. According to Freud, this little piece of theatre represented past episodes when the infant’s beloved mother would leave him and return after an extended period of absence. According to some theories, the cave paintings point in the other direction of time, namely the future, perhaps to the future hunt, and perhaps the idea here is that the painting is a kind of plan. One imagines that the artist is consciously or even pre consciously narrating something relating to the hunt that he is trying to represent. Neither Jaynes nor I think that language had yet reached the stage of narration that would have required a kind of mind-space typical of consciousness. If anything the cave paintings are the expression of a kind of pre-conscious practical wish. They might be the precursors of narrative language.”
A female science major raised her hand:
“The evidence provided thus far seems to me to be neither scientifically nor philosophically adequate to the task of explaining what consciousness is or for that matter what it is not.”
“Yes, you are correct in that observation. Thanks for navigating us back onto our course. As I mentioned in the first lecture, Jaynes is a Psychologist who believes that the prevailing mood of the subject of Psychology should be biological. He would, I suppose, regard all the evidence as in some fashion pointing in the direction he describes, but his biological account would begin with the theory of evolution and end with the functions of the brain. He points out that brain size has definitely not changed in the last 100,000 years. In this context, he refers, however, to the two hemispheres of the brain and the anomaly that every major function of the brain is bi-laterally represented in both hemispheres, except for language which for him is intimately related to consciousness and appears to be only located in the left hemisphere. Appearances are however deceptive because a number of experiments have proven that the right hemisphere can, when the left is anesthetized, understand simple language. His account of why this state of affairs exists refers to the differing functions of the left and right hemispheres. The left is the more “analytical” part of the brain that deals with the parts of wholes. Classificatory frameworks are synthetic sets of propositions that have logical relations to each other and probably require some contribution from the holistically oriented right side of the brain when the individual uses the framework to make a left hemisphere-judgment such as “Some water dwellers are mammals.”. Perhaps involved in this activity of the left hemisphere is also the phenomenon of a self, encountering objects observationally in a psychically distanced space. The right hemisphere is more synthetic and synthesizes parts into wholes, notes into a melody, parts of a face into a whole face, an individual act into a narrative, a civil act into the holistic network of laws, or more theoretically a number of propositions into a valid sound argument. Perhaps Jaynes might even say, as others following him have, that the right hemisphere uses holistic judgments to organize facts into theories, or organizes separate activities into a holistic practical context. The cultural evolution of the functions of the brain resulted in the right side of the brain operating as some kind of holistic enveloping function which was coded into language, and, at appropriate times when the individual was confronted by some novel, stressful stimulus requiring action to be taken. In these situations hallucinatory voices from the right hemisphere would deliver “advice/commandments” to the left, relating to what ought to be done in the circumstances. The subject might have been hypnotically “enveloped” by the voice and in turn, hypnotically act in a state of what can be described as pre-conscious awareness. The physiological stressor might have been the build-up of waste products in the blood as a consequence of cortisol release over a period of time. The liver for some reason(probably to do with high-stress levels) was unable to process the amounts of cortisol present in the blood. The coded message from the right hemisphere was, according to this theory, transmitted over the anterior commissure connecting the two temporal lobes, and was experienced as “spoken” by the right hemisphere and “heard” by the left hemisphere: a left hemisphere which at this stage in time had not developed the level of consciousness which we experience today as a consequence of its very advanced linguistic functioning in a culture dominated by the written word. Apparently, research has suggested that when the right hemisphere is electrically stimulated auditory hallucinations are experienced. There is also evidence suggesting that when the corpus callosum connecting the two hemispheres is cut the hemispheres can function like two different individuals.
Perhaps I should end by pointing out that bi-cameral individuals were not very complex. They could not put together a narrative over large segments of reality or even a narrative of their own life stretching from childhood to the end of life. Time-consciousness was very rudimentary. The emotions of shame and fear, for example, were very transitory affairs for the bicameral mind: they would disappear as quickly as they appeared. The conscious mind, on the other hand, because it has a narrative tendency will stretch these experiences over time and experience the same event many times, perhaps even over a lifetime. Shame in such minds gets transformed into guilt. If this is correct we can see exactly the attraction of a religion that will try to envelop or encapsulate these experiences into a grand narrative where these effects can be neutralized by appealing to ideas like forgiveness and salvation. The really interesting anthropological question here is whether psychoanalysis is a symptom of the dawn of a more advanced form of consciousness that refuses to be deceived by grand narratives and is concerned with only one narrative, that of my life: or is psychoanalysis the herald of a more advanced type of thinking which will eventually systematically understand the world?
A history major raised their hand:
“Are you saying that consciousness is basically historical?”
“Yes, in the sense in which history is a narrative, consciousness is a means of organizing a myriad of events into a meaningful structure. There is another perhaps more important sense of history in which we see events causing the creation of new historical structures such as a church and these in turn create unique historical events, such as its reformation. Consciousness has been “caused” in the Aristotelian sense by physical factors in the brain, cultural factors such as certain complex uses of language, and social activities. This in turn creates the capacity of thinking about reality under the aspect of what is true: powers of language building upon physiological powers and powers of thought building upon powers of language: powers building upon powers, capacities building upon capacities,”
Sophia raised her hand:
“A conclusion that can be drawn from the lectures we have attended thus far is that, in terms of History, we are children. This theory seems to fit in with Kant’s idea that we begin to be aware,in a different kind of way when we use the first person pronoun “I”. Can this be empirically tested in any way?”
“Good observation. Jaynes believes that consciousness is learned and that language plays a large role in this learning process. He also believes interestingly that the process begins at about two and a half years and concludes at approximately five to six years. The Freudians amongst us will recognize this to be the phallic phase in which the Oedipus complex works itself out and results in the construction of the superego, which is our moral guide. The Freudian superego is the consequence of internalizing the values of someone we have identified with: of someone we strive to be like. But, to return to your question, we live in a verbal environment with mental words and physical behavior. The child is learning concepts partly by learning the rules of words in language games. The accumulation of the rules creates a language that is more and more complex. The child also uses some kind of projective imagination to creatively use words in new unique contexts. The mother encourages the use of words before the rules are internalized but actually helps in the installation of rules by asking, for example “What should we do today?”, “Do you remember what we did last year for your birthday?” The mother is tagging or conceptualizing events in the time domain that includes clocks and calendars. She is sewing the seeds of consciousness with all these joint activities. Language becomes a retention device, for example, “the funny man next door” can act as a formula and help to form what the psychologists refer to as “episodic memory”, a type of memory the bicameral man did not possess. Kant talks about self-consciousness, a very different concept. Self -consciousness or consciousness of self is a complex cultural object that is the most important part of a person. We become aware of it in answer to the question “Who am I? an extremely abstract, reflective question. The self in technical philosophical language is the object of consciousness, it has a personal history which we infer from two sources, what other people say about us and the conclusion we draw when we reflect upon our own behaviour”
Robert raised his hand
“Consciousness seems to be a complex power, something similar to a function or mathematical operation. Was that not what you were suggesting earlier?”
“Yes, good point. Consciousness is complex. Jaynes calls it “the analogue I”. It is as Robert claims very much like a function. Here is an example. Imagine you are taking an examination and the girl across the aisle interrupts the activity by becoming the object of a short romantic fantasy. The invigilator comes up behind the student, coughs politely, and the student becomes conscious that he has been daydreaming and he must resume answering examination questions if he is to pass. Here the operator is operating twice—firstly, in fantasizing and in becoming conscious of fantasizing. Secondly, the operator is functioning to prevent my mind being taken over by what Freud would call wish fulfillment activity, or primary process activity, where images play freely in a truth-free zone. Returning to the examination is re-engaging with pre-conscious secondary process activity if we are to use Freudian language to describe these phenomena. Having said that, this seems to be a very technical definition of consciousness. A more common sense definition could be given by asking 12 people to tell you what they had been thinking of during the previous minute at the strike of a clock. These people would be introspecting according to Jaynes and their reports will be the typical material of consciousness. The notion of an “analogue I” is also meant to point to the importance of metaphor and analogy in language which according to Jaynes played such an important role in the beginnings of science in attempting to conceptualize matter and motion. Consciousness is not located in any real space but we do imagine it, or “feel” it to be located just behind our eyes. It is the analogue of the real world built up with metaphors or analogues of our behavior and activity in the physical world. This analogue world, however, is more like a world of operators bound up with our wills and decisions. Consider some of the metaphors we use to describe the processes of consciousness: we “see” the answers to questions, approach problems from different “perspectives”: we use spatial metaphors something is “on” my mind, or “burdening” my mind, or at the “back” of my mind. A metaphor for Jaynes is more than x merely being like y: it is a function in which important characteristics of y can then be projected upon x, and by doing so change its nature or function. The consequence of this reflection on consciousness being an analogue is that consciousness must have developed historically later than language and perhaps as a consequence of language. The only evidence we have which could settle this matter is writing which was invented in 3000 BC. This is what Jaynes uses to prove his cultural evolution thesis. His references to brain research are always complementary and never constitutive of what he is striving to demonstrate. His evidence stretches to the examination of thousands of cuneiform tablets where it becomes obvious that everything: cities, buildings, monuments, even people belonged to the Gods who often existed only in idol form. All early civilizations were theocracies without exception. It is important to point out in this context that a primitive tribe living in the jungle does not meet the criteria for a civilization or a theocracy. The bi-cameral age as Jaynes calls it began around 9000 BC, its breakdown occurred during the last centuries of the second millennium BC. In Greece at the time of Solon ca. 600 BC, consciousness emerges. In the Middle East, the prophet, Amos, around 800 BC, is clearly bicameral and Ecclesiastes a few hundred years later, with his conscious reflection upon the purposes of man and time, is clearly not.
Let me conclude with some observations about how important the cultural evolution of language is for this whole theory. Language learning begins with naming, which, as we have learned from Wittgenstein, requires some pre-linguistic stage setting. Responding differently to different objects in the environment results in these objects in their turn becoming discriminable foundations for perhaps more complex behavioural responses. Perceiving an object and naming it trains our attention and concentration. Speechless children like Helen Keller, prior to becoming language users, have great difficulty in focusing attention upon things and concentrating upon what is being said. Not only did Helen Keller’s behavioural repertoire increase in complexity but her memory began also to function, once her language capacities were sufficiently stimulated. Furthermore, comparison of the meanings of words become possible, an important skill needed in writing. Surely no one can deny that the quality of Helen Keller’s life dramatically improved once language learning was underway. The scope and depth of Jaynes’ account is far-reaching, ladies and gentlemen, and extends even to speculation upon how “incidental” early hominid signaling was transformed into intentional signaling, which in its turn then produced a system of differentiated signifiers.
I will not explore Jaynes’ ideas any further but strongly recommend reading the stencils related to his work in the course material.