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Hi Michael, you may be interested in this blog entry on Jaynes's theory.

The author is hostile to Jaynes's theory and offers criticisms to it, however there is a nice back and forth in the comments section with a Jaynes's supporter, or at least he starts off a supporter, but then seems to admit that Jaynes' theory has its flaws.

The main argument of the author, that there has been zero evidence of bicameralism in the ethnographies of any recorded hunter-gatherer society, is valid and indeed is a major weakness of Jaynes's theory. These hunter gatherer societies should show some evidence, at least a trace, of this bicameral trait for the theory to hold up, yet we find not one piece of evidence in any extant ethnography - this should be worrying for Jaynes's supporters.

The only way you can get out of this is by saying that these hunter-gatherer societies, even although they are the direct descendents of ancient peoples, have somehow been influenced by outside cultures over the centuries and have lost their bicameral abilities.

Unfortunately, a common feature of extant ethnographies of hunter-gatherer societies is that they have NOT been influenced by outside cultures, that's why they are still hunter-gatherers!

I bring you back to my earlier point about Australian aborigines. We should expect them to be bicameral loons, yet we don't see evidence of this at all. Yes, they have a more developed spiritual aspect to their lives that we don't have (Aboriginal Dreamtime), but they certainly don't demonstrate 'bicamerality' as Jaynes defines it.

Douglas, This is a very good point re; aboriginals.

Maybe cuneiform was just a poorly developed medium of expression - that and/or our translation is not too good - and therefore the breadth of expression in the content is limited.

One more - somewhat cynical - thought comes to mind as I re-read these Jaynes posts; the style and mindset of the Hammurabi communications is pretty similar - to an unsettling extent - to the way communication is handled, to and from, Marine Corps recruits in boot camp.

I am guessing that there was a cultural component involved in the creation of the style. This would be a culture where kings are to be obeyed absolutely. Therefore, there is no reason to attach an explanation to an edict. There is no reason for a subject of the king to think of himself, or to be addressed, as an individual with unique thoughts and perceptions. The king does not have to explain himself in any way. In fact, going to the trouble of an explanation is a sign of weakness. It's suggests that at least sometimes one is owed and explanation. This is like a corroding of the command structure and would be avoided.

Interesting criticism of Jaynes, Douglas. Here's how I would respond.

Jaynes probably overstates his case considerably by claiming that so-called bicameral people were essentially unconscious automatons responding to the dictates of the right cerebral hemisphere. What I would say is that they were not unconscious, but that they had a more limited sense of personal identity than most people do today. Their inner life was not as rich in some respects as ours, though on the other hand, they enjoyed the compensation of a greater range and frequency of spiritual experiences, and probably experienced less anxiety, insecurity, and "existential dread."

When we look at modern hunter-gatherers who are relatively uncorrupted by contact with the developed world, I don't think we see evidence of the same kind of inner life that we in the West take for granted. Would any member of a hunter-gatherer society be capable of narrating the equivalent of Augustine's "Confessions"? I doubt it. I suspect that such a person's life would be much more socialized and exteriorized, and less individualized and internalized, than the life of a Westerner.

The blogger you cited was particularly exercised by this quote from a Jaynes website (not from Jaynes himself):

"They [preliterate tribal people] have limited inner mental life (and experience frequent auditory hallucinations) but they can be just as animated as non-human primates are. Bicameral people were non-conscious but intelligent, had basic language, and were probably more social than modern conscious people in the sense that they would have typically lived and worked surrounded by others. They would be able to express first tier (non-conscious) emotions such as fear, shame, and anger, but not second-tier (conscious) emotions such as anxiety, guilt, and hatred."

Here's how I would parse this.

"Limited mental life." I would say: limited sense of personal identity (but a much greater sense of social belonging) and relatively limited capacity for deep introspection and self-analysis (but greater participation in public rituals and communal activities).

"Frequent auditory hallucinations." I would say: frequent mystical, spiritual, and paranormal experiences (not always correctly interpreted even by the experiencers themselves).

"Just as animated as non-human primates." This is the one truly offensive thing in the passage. It's stupid to compare human beings with one mode of mentation to animals with an altogether different mentality.

"Non-conscious but intelligent." I would say: conscious but not fully self-conscious in the modern sense; not capable of introspecting in the way that Augustine (or Hamlet) did. (Actually I hesitate to write "fully self-conscious" because I think we are still evolving our self-awareness and have not arrived at an end point.)

"Had basic language." I would say: had language, but without the complex metaphorical richness of modern languages.

"Were probably more social." I would say: lived lives that were much more extensively dictated by the customs, taboos, traditions, castes, and rituals of their society.

"Fear, shame, and anger, but not anxiety, guilt, and hatred." I would say: a shame-based society rather than a guilt-based society. This is a standard anthropological distinction, and I don't know why a blogger who is also an anthropologist would be surprised or appalled by it.

Both the ancient Hebrews and the ancient Greeks of the Iliad period were clearly shame-based societies. Achilles' fit of pique over Agamemnon's acquisition of Briseis was not motivated by any romantic feelings that Achilles had for the girl; she was a trophy, part of his spoils of war, and Agamemnon shamed him by taking her for himself, especially by doing so in full view of the other warlords. In effect, Agamemnon was reinforcing his status as the alpha male, and relegating Achilles to beta male status. This was an affront to Achilles' social standing; he reacted with rage and frustration because his place in the pecking order had been publicly downgraded.

Interesting Michael, there may be some halfway truth between these two polarised views, but I do think the 'automaton' view promoted by Jaynes and his followers is almost certainly wrong and actually pretty insulting to both ancient peoples (whom I have a lot of respect for) and modern hunter-gatherers.

I think that NoOne may also have a point in that people may be making too much of may be a formulaic writing style more indicative of the authoritarian governance of the day than any insight into bicameral mind.

Earlier texts were certainly much more matter of fact and legalistic than later works, and indeed it seems that writing was first invented for inventory purposes before it went on to be used for what we would call 'literature', but I still feel that this is more indicative of an evolution of literature rather than an evolution of mind. Remember that many hunter-gatherers have a very rich oral culture that more than makes up for a limited, or in many cases, non existent written literature. In fact, oral transmission is the main way of transmitting ideas from one generation to the next.

I think we could be in danger here of seeing things through a European based literature-orientated bias, which looks down on oral traditions as somehow inferior and indicative of a less evolved mindset. This is why anthropologists get annoyed by Jaynes's theories.

Another interesting critique of Jaynes:

I think its one thing suggesting that some ancient peoples (and indeed some present day hunter-gatherer societies) think in a different way, but its quite another to suggest that these people were unconscious automatons, hallucinating commands from disembodied gods, which the unfortunate individual was compelled to obey.
I'm afraid this is exactly what Jaynes is arguing.

Michael some years ago I read a book about a psychologist who did IQ tests on Aborigines in the early part of the last century and to the delight of the Australian government proved they were basically imbeciles incapable of finer feelings etc giving the authorities thus carte blanche to claim they were unfit to have even the rights of children.

Decades later however another researcher reviewed the same material and was astonished by how differently the same data read to him.

To give an example and this's coming purely from memory the original psychologist'd burnt six matches then set three of them aside before asking how many matches there were now. When one of the Aborigines answered twelve this was claimed as definitive proof of imbecility.

The later researcher however claimed this was a willful misinterpretation of the Aborigine's meaning and the twelve he was referring to was the original six matches as a tribe unto themselves who continued existing in that form in the Dreamtime but who as a result of their division into two new tribes of three'd also become effectively transformed into six new people.

I read books like the Bible or the Koran or Greek or Aborigine myths and seem to see in the technical language of their day equation after equation on a par with E = mc^2 and people say ah that's just you putting a new spin on the words but if genetics teach us anything then it's the reason why Einstein was so smart was because his ancestors were so why shouldn't they've been capable of their own form of precisely the same knack of encoding big ideas in simple looking formulas?

It needn't be changes in the genome that brought about the evolution of consciousness. What if we think in terms of the morphic fields proposed by Rupert Sheldrake?

It is said that it is quite difficult to create new types of crystals in the lab, but if it is done once, then the ease of doing so "spreads" around the world.

Similarly, changes in consciousness could have spread around the world, even without contact between peoples, although surely such contact accelerated the changes.

Thus, it would be possible for hunter-gatherer populations now to have picked up much of the advances in consciousness that have occurred without having contacted other peoples. And those populations could advance even further once actual contact happens.

This possibility dovetails with the New Age belief (to which I subscribe) that humankind is now advancing from 3D thought to 5D thought (4D being Astral consciousness, which is not a midway goal but is experienced by psychics, etc.). Genetic changes are not needed to make the shift, although the shift may potentiate latent genetic potential that is then passed on.

"What if we think in terms of the morphic fields proposed by Rupert Sheldrake?"

I thought of that, too, but decided it would seem like special pleading to pile one highly speculative theory on top of another one. Still, it's a possibility.

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