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The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind—By Julian Jaynes

My notes

What’s so compelling about Jayne’s theory is that it is just crazy enough to work. Rather than writing off psychological phenomena as anomaly or religious fervor as naivety, we approach such realities head on, looking for a comprehensive explanation, with an appreciation for each in their chronology and geography. The explanation offered here is that consciousness, distinct from perception, stimulation and response, and host of other qualifications, is a recent development in human history. It has come about as a recent reorganization of our mental faculties, in response to new challenges, silencing the bicameral mind.

The physical body of the bicameral mind was directed primarily by auditory hallucinations. There was no deliberation on whether or not to obey the hallucinated voice. It spoke and we acted.

As humans began writing things down, ideas became more concrete. The hallucinated voices could now be in disagreement with previously established facts. Even the concept of “previous”, the placing of events in sequence of others, was a new adaptation of the brain. These trusted auditory hallucinations could now be challenged by facts. The brain responded with a narrativizing of these facts into a consistent story, and eventual questioning of these (literally) set in stone facts. The ability to distinguish between potential authorities came about because of the new need to distinguish between potential authorities.

In a far too succinct summary, the development of human consciousness is the result of a constant search for authorization. We search for justification of the actions we take. When a new fact is introduced, we form a more nuanced view or develop previously non-existent capabilities that incorporates the previous authority, reconciling it with the new facts. When they are found irreconcilable, the old facts may be thrown out for the new, but the overarching search for authorization remains the same. Whether it be the voices we hear, our feelings, our religious belief, our political organization, an air-tight scientific explanation… it’s all the search for an authority to authorize our existence, and the expressions within it.

Even the theory of the bicameral mind is itself a narrativizing trying to reconcile the wide range of experiences that Jaynes has encountered. Whether you find it compelling or nonsense, this work will challenge intellectually, and you’ll leave with a few nuanced ideas that will help in critiquing philosophy, history, poetry, literature, and your own day to day motivations.


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