Truly Bad Films

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Book Review

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

Julian was a professor at Yale when he published this book back in the 70’s. In it, he claims that ancient humans did not have consciousness like you and me. Instead, Jaynes says, the people who lived before 1000 B.C. were blindly obedient to hallucinated voices which originated in their right brains. These were called the Voices of the Gods or the elohim. Julian translates “elohim” as “them.”

Julian’s broad based theory fascinated me. He says the Biblical story of the expulsion from the Garden is an allegory about mankind’s loss of the bicameral, unconscious, God-hallucinating mind and the fall into consciousness. He suggests that sexual fantasies were impossible to people who thought in an unconscious, bicameral manner, but when men became conscious they were saddled by every sexual dilemma that ride humans today. Segregation of the sexes and the social dominance of men, Julian suggests, were the long-lived solutions that newly conscious men created to restore social order.

I can’t even begin to touch on the many convincing arguments Julian uses to support his theory. Of course, it is still only a theory, but it lights up many aspects of ancient history in a new way. Why did pornographic imagery suddenly explode in Rome about 600 B.C.? Why was this about the same time that the first coliseums were built? Why do texts that date from before 1000 B.C. land on our modern ears like oversized cinderblocks? Julian’s theory encompasses all of these and more. For example, Julian says that the hypnotic state invokes a vestige of the bicameral mind. He believes that schizophrenics are the only people alive today who still exist in a bicameral mental framework.

I’m sure Julian thought he was writing in a breezy, casual style, but his prose reek of 19th century overstatement and forced drama. What I’m trying to say is that this book is a shade harder to read than Night Thunder’s Bride. It’s one of the most difficult books I’ve read in years and I finished it with a notebook page full of words to look up. I’ll probably post them tomorrow to see if anyone can match the words to the meanings better then me. I love it when writers throw words I don’t know. I eat that up with a serving spoon! If you want to read a meaty book that will change the way you read ancient sacred texts, this is your daisy.


At 11:48 AM, Blogger Banshee said...

Um, neurologists, linguists, religious scholars, etc. generally seem to think that The Bicameral Mind book is a load of dingo's kidneys. Personally, I figure that when I run across three things I know for a fact are wrong in my first skim through a book, I don't need to worry about whether I'm missing anything important by not reading it.


Which doesn't mean it's not an intriguing theory. Some parts of it may be right. (Certainly the relationship of dreams to religious experience is important.)

But mostly it's dingo's kidneys, and elitist dingo's kidneys at that. Technology and cultural development is ascribed to evolution, instead of "somebody got a good idea and it spread"; and religious and artistic people of all cultures are told they're nuts or unevolved.

It would make more sense to say that humans suddenly began evolving the mutant power to communicate by computer around the world in the 1970's.


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