I hadn't thought of looking in on the comments thread at the Julian Jaynes Society in a while, but tonight I clicked over there and found that the moderator had posted a lengthy reply to me, regarding "The Story of Sinuhe," an ancient Egyptian document brought to my attention by Doubter.
Apparently the moderator did a little Googling and discovered that - gasp! - I think actual spirit communication is possible. To him, this is mysticism unsupported by any empirical evidence. It seems to have irked him considerably, though I'm not sure why, since the Sinuhe text presents an obvious problem for Jaynes' theory regardless of anyone's motives in bringing it up. In any event, he seems to feel that this evidence of "mysticism" is a sufficient reason to end the discussion.
He does, however, make a few points in defense of Jaynes, mainly in response to comments that he read on this blog. One is that Jaynes didn't really think that his bicameral men were automatons or robots, even though Jaynes did use the term "automatons" to describe them. (Evidently Jaynes came to regret this terminology later in life.) Another is that bicameral men could engage in complex problem-solving and logical, linear thinking (as I've noted myself). Still another is that translations of ancient texts are problematic.
He also takes issue with the claim that primitive peoples studied by anthropologists show no vestiges of bicamerality. Though the moderator does not cite any sources, Jaynes himself, in The Julian Jaynes Collection, cites the anthropologist Lucien Levy-Bruhl, saying that
he set out to show that primitive peoples were very different mentally from ourselves, were governed by "representations" (something like what I call collective cognitive imperatives), and were "pre-logical."... Levy-Bruhl's books are excellent reading for the data they present. These are collections of descriptions of the first meetings of many different primitive peoples with Western observers. [p. 327]
Jaynes implies that a kind of political correctness imposed by Margaret Mead and like-minded anthropologists has led to an under-appreciation, or even a suppression, of Levy-Bruhl's findings.
What struck me about the moderator's long but interesting reply was mainly its tone, which is rather combative. For instance, he labels any viewpoint that he disagrees with as a "false premise." He concludes, "Past experience has shown me that where major false premises exist that have no basis in empirical evidence (i.e. mysticism), people tend to dig in their heels, and the debate continues endlessly." Even though most of the subject matter of this blog involves empirical evidence for psi and life after death, the moderator apparently is quite set in his conviction that no such evidence exists and that people come to such beliefs only because of childhood conditioning. A tad condescendingly he informs us:
We adopt many of our premises and beliefs at a young age, based not on evidence but on the authority of parents and teachers. This mixed bag of accurate and false beliefs becomes part of our worldview and we often fail to reevaluate these beliefs as adults. The only way to root out false beliefs is to methodically re-examine the evidence for all of our existing premises and beliefs. Beliefs not based on objective evidence must then be rejected.
That's all fine, but apparently it hasn't occurred to him that someone could come from a skeptical background, then "methodically re-examine the evidence" and become convinced that some paranormal phenomena are real. This was my experience, and it has been the experience of many other people.
That said, I agree with him that there is not much value in debating issues pertaining to one's basic worldview. That's why I deliberately didn't get into the subject of evidence for the spirit world in my posts on that forum. Besides, it was irrelevant to the subject, which was "The Story of Sinuhe." I figured that if I said anything, even in passing, about the possibility of life after death, it would preempt any discussion of the Sinuhe text. This assumption turns out to have been correct.
Overall, I'm a bit disappointed in the response to my forum postings. Nobody except the moderator bothered to chime in, and even the moderator's remarks seem largely aimed at explaining away a difficult text with boilerplate arguments (unreliable translations, the subtle nuances of Jaynesianism, the need to put aside childish things) rather than tackling the textual problems.
I might have said some of this in a final reply on the forum, but I can't. It appears that immediately after posting his last response, the moderator locked the thread. He explained: "I'm going to take a tip from Michael's blog and take the final word on this subject, at least for now." This may be intended to suggest that my policy is to prevent people from responding to me, but anyone who followed my numerous posts on Jaynes (or any of the debates on this blog) knows this isn't true. Though eventually all old comment threads are locked to prevent an endless infusion of comment spam, I always wait until the conversation has petered out in its own, and I certainly don't "take the final word" by posting something and then peremptorily closing the discussion.
Though a little frustrating, this experience has helped me to see why Jaynes' theory has not gained much traction in the decades since the publication of his magnum opus. Even his most ardent and well-informed supporters don't seem to be too interested in addressing specific, concrete items of evidence that contradict their beliefs. As a result, they fall back on generalized disquisitions on critical thinking, unwarranted assumptions about the motives or knowledge of critics, and stale, boilerplate arguments which they repeat mechanically and by rote ... almost like, er, automatons. It's unlikely that these methods will win wide support for the Jaynesians' controversial and counterintuitive position. Probably this is just as well, though I continue to think that Jaynes' reflections on consciousness as such (as explored in the first part of his book) deserve to be more influential than they are.