This post started as a comment, but when I found I was making some new points, I decided to convert it into a post of its own.
I began by replying to this comment from Douglas in the thread on "The I of Childhood":
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 ;-)
Now, it's true that nearly the whole Jaynesian argument is based "on literary evidence from eras which were largely still oral based." But what other kind of evidence could there be? The stories people tell, and the way they communicate with each other, are the best - and probably the only - way of assessing their mindset.
I'm not sure, however, why an oral tradition necessarily leads to conventions such as a god or gods telling people what to do, or necessarily results in an almost total absence of introspection on the part of the main characters in those stories.
And remember, when the captured goddesses were sent down the river on a barge, they were to be provided with sheep so they could eat well on their trip. This is, at the very least, a rather unusual mentality in display.
In fact, it was common to feed the gods by placing trays of food in front of them (i.e., in front of their statues). We can safely assume the statues did not actually eat anything, yet their priestly servants apparently believed that actual consumption was going on. (The alternative is to believe that the priests were engaged in a massive charade that persisted for thousands of years. Not only is this unlikely, but it fails to explain how the charade got started in the first place.)
If the priests did indeed believe that the god-statues were actually dining on the delicacies served to them, isn't that suggestive of an extremely alien mindset with an almost trancelike ability to not perceive things (like untouched food, day after day) that would contradict their belief system?
As Jaynes notes, hypnotized subjects show the same ability to simply ignore facts that contradict the hypnotist's instructions. For instance, if a hypnotized person is told there is no chair in front of him and is then ordered to cross the room, he will deftly walk around the chair - even while he remains in complete agreement that there is no chair. Clearly he does see the chair and does recognize its existence on some level, but his mind does not allow that fact to become quite real to him.
The priests who saw uneaten food but remained convinced that the food had been eaten were perhaps entranced in a similar way, though in their case the hypnotic instructions were originating not from a hypnotist but from another, more authoritative part of their own brains.
Then there's this: "A piece of advice, Michael, avoid anthropology seminars ..."
Okay, but when exactly did anthropologists become experts on ancient civilizations? I'd bet that life in ancient Sumeria or Babylon is well outside their purview. If they were to reject the bicameral hypothesis out of hand, they'd presumably be basing their views on the study of societies in the contemporary world. This is comparing apples and oranges. Even if these contemporary tribal societies have been totally isolated from all foreign influences throughout their entire history with no exceptions (unlikely), they have still had thousands of years in which to evolve new lifeways on their own. They are no more representative of Ur than they are of the Stone Age. Even the Mesoamerican civilizations, which seem to have been cut off from other societies, had evolved unique customs and traditions by the time the Europeans found them.
One might even argue that any anthropologists who took such a position would be guilty of (unintentional) racism, inasmuch as they're assuming that only "developed" societies can evolve over time, while the "undeveloped" ones remain frozen like flies in amber, waiting passively for the enlightened emissaries of Western civ come along and study them.
This certainly wasn't Jaynes's view. He did not think bicameral societies were static, though he did think they had a slower pace of progress than modern societies. Remember, when Jaynes says these people were "unconscious," he is using the word in a rather special way. He means they had not developed a sense of self comparable to that seen in later peoples, and that they were running on autopilot to a greater extent than we typically do today. He does not mean that they were incapable of problem-solving, innovation, or change. He also notes that the bicameral mind can become unstable as societies become more complex or as new problems arise, and this instability can precipitate further (sometimes violent) social change. None of this is consistent with the idea that tribal societies today would be identical to their forebears of 5,000 years ago. In fact, that is the last thing we should expect.
By the way, Jaynes also takes pains to point out that even today we run on autopilot a good deal of the time. Anyone who has practiced mindfulness meditation knows the truth of this. Much of our daily life is spent running habitualized subroutines that require little, if any, conscious awareness, and much of our thought consists of tedious, repetitive internal chatter of limited utility.
Let's say that 60% of our waking life fits this description. Is it so unlikely that 5,000 years ago, the percentage was higher? Could it have been 70% ... 80% ... 90%?
And if not, wherefore the sheep on the goddesses' barge?