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Michael, you present an interesting argument for Jaynes' thesis that the ancient mind was truly different from ours. It makes sense, and I see it as a real possibility.

Your comments got me thinking about childhood:

"a mindset that we would associate with young children today – a mindset characterized by an undeveloped (or underdeveloped) sense of self, very limited capacity for reflection and self-analysis, a reliance on authority figures for guidance, and minimal logical reasoning."

I'm glad that you balance these "minuses" of the childhood mind, with the following pluses (as I see them):

"And like many children even today, they may have experienced a close connection with the spirit world, relying on psychic impressions, mediumistic communications . . . "

I miss being a kid. Certainly there are key aspects of my youth I would never want to re-visit, but I miss being able to feel things as deeply as I did back then. I have a strong sense that life was more flavorful, more wondrous, when I was young. This impression is reinforced by my contacts with kids--ones I teach, as well as others I encounter.

To mention one key example in my own life: listening to music and playing the piano possessed a magic when I was younger that I usually experience these days at a much lower level.

Am I just being melancholy today, or do any of you have a similar feeling of loss? (I could also speak at length of what I've *gained* in the process of maturing, but that's for another day.)

Michael,

When perusing the Old Testament on my own, I have often been struck by the same primitiveness that you discuss here. It has more than once caused me to put my bible aside out of a sheer sense of estrangement from what I was reading. It's pretty clear to me that these people experienced life in a fundamentally different way than I do - not only in the content of their lives, but in their manner of perception.

Like any time we find ourselves in company that we cannot relate to, this experience has made it nearly impossible for me to read much of the bible without wanting to chuck it aside and go find my own spiritual equivalent of Cheers - where everybody knows my name.

It seems so bizarre, but I think this was the way of the ancient mind, and it does explain why reading the Old Testament just seems so weird sometimes. Maybe I'm wrong, but there does seem a huge shift with the New Testament, somehow it seems much more modern.

Bruce, I know exactly what you mean, when I was a kid, I experienced things on a much higher level as you describe. A walk through the woods was much more intense, or vivid. I think you have to work hard to get that back, but I do think you can.

It may not be merely a coincidence, or a feature of arrested literary development, that these early texts reflect this childish mindset. It is at least possible that people in this era generally did have a mindset that we would associate with young children today – a mindset characterized by an undeveloped (or underdeveloped) sense of self, very limited capacity for reflection and self-analysis, a reliance on authority figures for guidance, and minimal logical reasoning.

Possible. And perhaps the Old Testament shouldn't be interpreted as representing the psychology of all people in those times. Any assumptions made as to the psychology of ancient peoples would have to recognize the great differences between different cultures. During this period the Hebrews were presumably a more tribal society and rather primitive, violent and illiterate, at least as compared to the middle-class Egyptians for which we have direct contemporary written records as opposed to religious stories passed down over many generations. For instance the tomb-worker villagers of Deir el-Medina had a relatively high level of literacy, and fragments of a number of familiar Middle Kingdom texts have been found at the site, such as the Instructions of Ptahhotep, Satire on Trades, the Eloquent Peasant and the Tale of Sinuhe. These texts and other letters and records demonstrate a prominent sense of self, reflection, questioning of authority figures, and logical reasoning in Egypt during the period 1990-1800 BC.

"And perhaps the Old Testament shouldn't be interpreted as representing the psychology of all people in those times."

I'm not saying it does. I'm saying the Hebrews of this period were more primitive and thus represented an older mentality. The sophisticated middle-class Egyptians you mention may well have been evolving a more advanced mindset, though I can't say, since I haven't read those texts and am a bit wary of translations of hieroglyphics into English.

In any case, the Egyptians' more primitive ancestors of the 3rd millennium BC may have resembled the figures in Judges. The point is that consciousness was undergoing a transformation throughout the 2nd millennium, with different societies evolving at different speeds and in different ways, but all coming from a similar origin.

Jaynes' unfortunate emphasis on the Thera eruption creates the impression that all these changes happened at once. He himself seems to have realized his mistake; in an afterward to the 1990 edition of his book, he wrote, "I would not now make as much of the Thera explosion as I did ... But that it did cause the disruption of theocracy in the Near East and hence the conditions for the learning of a non-hallucinatory mentality is I think valid. But in the general case, I would rather emphasize that the success of a bureaucratic agricultural civilization brings with it overpopulation and thus the seeds of its own breakdown. This is suggested at least among the civilizations of Mesoamerica, where the relative rapidity of the rise and fall of civilizations with the consequent desertion of temple complexes contrasts with the millennia-long civilizations in the older parts of the world."

Extremely interesting.

A serious and ostensibly obvious criticism of Jaynes beyond anthropology would be the simple fact that hallucinating schizophrenics, who Jaynes compares to ancient people, are not suited for survival; not as individuals and not as a species.

To the contrary they are disorganized, often dangerous to self or others, unable to stay on task, and often so acutely and persistently disabled that they aren't even interested in reproducing (having sex). They usually exhibit poor hygiene and as a result are subject to a myriad of health issues. In short, the reason these people are hospitalized and medicated is because without the intervention they would simply die on the street; perhaps doing harm to others and society in the process.

There is no way a bunch of schizophrenics could be directed to build something like the pyramids. No way.

Too often I see depictions of schizophrenics as otherwise normal people who hear voices and/or see things or maybe have persistent delusions. This is simply not the reality in most cases. Typically the schizophrenic is distracted by the symptoms of the illness to the point of being totally non-functional and incapable of surviving.

Michael Don Juan refers to something called Silent Knowledge in the Castaneda books.

What he's talking about I suggest's the difference between knowing the theory of how to drive a car and the end of the learning process when you no longer have to think about where to put the feet or hands or whether to speed up or slow down or go up a gear or down a gear or where to position yourself on the road under various circumstances etc.

The same applies to martial arts if you're still having to analyse verbally in your head where to position your leading foot in relation to your rear foot when your opponent suddenly switches from moving to the left to the right and now start having to decide in addition whether you should now drop your left hand and raise your right you're already prone on your back before you've a chance to decide.

This's also I suggest one of the reasons why so much effort's been put into memorizing texts like the Bible or the Koran so it's become part of you and you don't have to be distracted by looking up and deciding upon the meaning of the relevant quote.

This's also I suggest why the age of the judges came to an end because people'd begun to full under the spell of the ponderous words of the likes of politicians instead of aligning themselves with what the Chinese refered to as the Tao and the British the Weird which was somewhat akin to fish being hypnotized into believing not only do they NOT live in and utterly depend upon water for their existence but in fact there's no such thing as water and the reason why their lives're constant burden to them's because they won't give up the fantasy once upon a time they could swim so their only hope's to accept they're thick and do as the smart politicians tell them.

The same thing in fact as what's going on now when we're told juries and democracies slow down the smart people so we should dispense with them and accept our role in life as eternal children or born senescents and allow the much cleverer more grown up type people decide everything for us.

"A serious and ostensibly obvious criticism of Jaynes beyond anthropology would be the simple fact that hallucinating schizophrenics, who Jaynes compares to ancient people, are not suited for survival; not as individuals and not as a species."

Jaynes deals extensively with schizophrenia. See Book 3, Chapter 5 at this link:

http://selfdefinition.org/psychology/Julian-Jaynes-Origin-of-Consciousness-in-the-Breakdown-of-the-Bicameral-Mind.pdf

FYI, we just passed 36,000 comments over the life of this blog. (This is comment 36,003.)

Recent research is indicating very strongly that language is a product of subjective consciousness. This is why researchers are now discovering evidence of language in primates and other higher mammals (whales, dolphins). While this language may be quite different to our own, very recent research is uncovering language traits in these animals nevertheless. It is not a coincidence that these animals show evidence of self awareness, subjective life, with apes able to recognise thmeselves in mirrors etc for example.

Yet another reason why Jayne's theories are tosh.

It seems that you have already had to back down from agreeing with his overall premise. You conceded earlier that he was going way too far with his automatons argument, but that he makes a valid point about alien mind-sets.

The only problem is that the concept of different mind-sets across cultural boundaries is not controversial. We find this even in today's world.

I have friends who lived in Japan for several years and they have said that of all the places they have lived in, Japan is the most 'foreign', in the sense that Japanese culture involves a completely different mindset.

However, none of this is even close to Jaynes's ideas of schizophrenic societies and unconscious automatons who unquestionally obey commands from disembodied gods without question.

There is no way around this Michael. This is EXCACTLY what Jaynes and his followers are suggesting. Water it down all you like, but in doing so you are conceding the point that Jaynes's theory doesnt stand up.

"Jaynes deals extensively with schizophrenia. See Book 3, Chapter 5 at this link"

Thanks for the link. I read it. Very interesting, but I am not barely intrigued, let alone convinced.

First, Jaynes suggests that schizophrenia was unknown in his "bicameral" times because, he observes, there are no surviving cultural edifices to schizophrenics or schizophrenia. This is a highly dubious argument. Schizophrenics have always been culturally marginalized. We don't hire artists to craft and erect statues in the town square of Fred the Barking Mad Street Person because Fred has not contributed anything to society and, quite frankly, he is grotesque and more than a little scary and we don't want to be reminded of him.

Jaynes then basically proposes that back in the day schizophrenics - or people that today would be considered schizophrenic; which was just about everyone - were some how organized by hearing the right voices, projected in some way he doesn't elaborate on, from central command, in unison, such that they received and understood orders to follow royal edicts and such, which they then mindlessly carried out. In short it seems that Jaynes imagines great hordes of zombie workers building pyramids, fighting wars, tilling the fields.

Jaynes further hypothesizes that modern schizophrenics are merely throwbacks to bicameral times and that if they had a "god" to project organized and correct voices into their minds, they would be functional and useful as were their antecedents.

This smacks of the stuff of good Sci-Fi entertainment, but I think falls short of respectable scholarship.

Maybe there is some validity to aspects of Jaynes' ideas, maybe not. Certainly we have some modern correlate of the zombie mind control beamed from CentCom in the form of Main Stream Media. However, he says nothing that changes my perspective that it is a fallacy of his to compare early historic man to modern schizophrenics. There is not any substantial evidence to show that schizophrenics can enjoy lasting remission of symptoms as individuals, let alone as an organized goal oriented group, as a result of exposure to mass mind control.

Again, great stuff from a Sci_Fi angle, though.

"It seems that you have already had to back down from agreeing with his overall premise."

Well, I've been pretty critical of Jaynes for a long time. See this old post from 2005 (back when this blog was hosted by Blogger):

http://authormichaelprescott.blogspot.com/2005/03/julian-jaynes.html

I still think there's some validity to what he's saying, but he carries it too far. As i've said, I don't agree that early people were "unconscious" or that they were necessarily "hallucinating" voices and visions that originated in their brains. I do think it's likely that a) they were much less self-aware than moderns, with less capacity for introspection and self-analysis; and b) they found it much easier and more natural to commune with the spirit world and to receive psychic impressions than we do today. I'd add that the icons that surrounded them played an important role as cues to stimulate these psychic/spiritual experiences.

The alternative is to say that people of 5000 years ago were "just like us," which I find untenable. Why wouldn't consciousness evolve? Do we really see no qualitative difference between the level of self-awareness on display in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the self-awarenss in Augustine's "Confessions" or the letters of Cicero? Do we see no difference between human nature as depicted in the oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible and human nature in the New Testament? Was there no difference between the mentality of the Incas and the mentality of Pizarro and his fellow Conquistadors? (If not, then how are we to explain the Incas' complete capitulation to a force of 150 men?)

Or look at it another way: Human societies remained almost static for tens of thousands of years, throughout the Stone Age. Change was halting and glacially slow. Then in the span of one millennium we see the growth of cities, nations, and empires, the commencement of vast construction projects, the spread of literacy. Surely something was starting to stir in the human mentality that had been dormant or undeveloped before.

"Then in the span of one millennium we see the growth of cities, nations, and empires, the commencement of vast construction projects, the spread of literacy...."

I thought it was pretty well settled that the rapid advancement came about as the result of exchanges of DNA with space aliens*.

Any how, good points about people most assuredly being of a different mindset back then. On that I have to agree. Yes, Jaynes is interesting, but he does go too far.

* I joke!

Hi Michael,

I agree that many ancient cultures may have thought in different ways than today's, but, like my modern Japanese example, different does not have to mean 'less subjective' or 'lacking self awareness'.

We simply have no way of knowing how ordinary people felt or experienced, that's the problem with Jaynes' theory.

You are basing your suggestions on literary evidence from eras which were largely still oral based, just because they were oral based cultures doesn't give us any remit at all to assume that non literate cultures are less subjective or less self aware. In fact, recorded ethnographies of non literate hunter-gatherer societies, while I agree do show greater emphasis on the community, do not indicate that individuals lack a rich interior life, and to suggest they do is simply wrong.

With regard to ancient societies, you simply cannot know that they had a more limited subjective life, and to suggest this as being 'very likely' smacks of modern, literal western-centric bias of a huge degree, so great in fact that you are probably blind to it.

A piece of advice Michael, avoid anthropology seminars, you're likely to get lynched ;-)

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