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How Julian Jaynes’ consciousness theory is faring in the neuroscience age (2015) (nautil.us)
109 points by dnetesn on Nov 11, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 90 comments



Wacky and entertaining idea.

The theory rests on another idea that many people assume is obviously true without ever thinking twice.

It's the notion that verbal thought and verbal thinking is required and fundamental part of consciousness and self awareness.

When I started to read about the philosophy of consciousness, it became obvious that most people experience their own consciousness differently than I do. Their inner starting point is completely off from my personal epistemology and it may be hard for them to see the alternative viewpoint interesting.

For me, verbal thoughts have always been just one cognitive ability in par with spatial reasoning. I have always had trouble understanding why people link verbal thinking and consciousness and self awareness.

Temple Grandin's has really good insight into the differences of thinking: Thinking the Way Animals Do: Unique insights from a person with a singular understanding http://www.grandin.com/references/thinking.animals.html


> I have always had trouble understanding why people link verbal thinking and consciousness

I came across the same conundrum when I was studying psychology. It all came down to the medium becoming the message. Language is the prime means through which we convey experience. Of course there are other means visual, spacial but when you're "studying consciousness" you're typically reading books. Serious treatise in the area are delivered in the form of books. We come to think of thought as being predominantly verbal because that's the predominant means through which we acquire an "objective" appreciation for what consciousness "is". Even to use a word "consciousness" puts that set of concepts in a delineated box. I could go on ... but I risk becoming stream of consciousness ...


I had interesting discussion about logical thinking once. My fried claimed that it's impossible to think logically (btw. etymology of word logic is "word" or "what is spoken") without verbally running the the words and sentences in your head. Then I explained that I have always used logic visuospatially. "and" is choice between places or fork in the road, "or" is combining two objects in the same place and so on.

Content of our consciousness seems to be based on sensory input and sensor fusion. Thinking is running simulated sequences and scenarios in our head. Different people use different sensory content more than others. I wouldn't be surprised if some people use feelings or motor imaginary more than others.

We have visuospatial ability, audioverbal perception and motor imagery/proprioception. Interoceptive senses seem to relate feelings somehow. If you really drill and analyze what if feels to love, hate or fear. The feeling is related to our internal senses.


> My fried claimed that it's impossible to think logically (btw. etymology of word logic is "word" or "what is spoken") without verbally running the the words and sentences in your head.

In this case, would numbers represent “words” in the language of mathematics? When I was younger and sharper, I used to see products of numbers physically manifest in my mind. This is a form of logic, but it also required an “alphabet” of sorts.

As an aside, I once saw an interview with a mathematical genius of sorts who stated that he associated numbers with colors. He saw the product of two numbers as a third color. Again, logic without traditional language.


Mathematical proof did not originate with number, but geometry.


Different people have different brains.

Your friend was probably right about his/her brain, and you're right about yours.


When you see the mathematical phrase "1 + 1" (a trite example, but please substitute something more complex if you like), your reasoning to get the answer is symbolic, but not verbal. That said, I personally have to say the math to myself to "upload" it into my brain, but somebody with more expertise in maths would just have to "see" it.


Not just psychology, look up the linguistic turn in philosophy in the 20th century.

There is support for a weak version of Sapir-Whorf, but in general any time someone says "the limits of your language determine the limits of your thought" I just s/language/culture.


So, we use words to abstract our thought, but wouldn’t it seem there to be lower levels of abstraction as well? I believe this is the point Temple Grandin is working toward. I think I agree that words tend to puts thoughts or acknowledgements in a box, but maybe the box is mutable.


Yea but different boxes are mutable for different people in different ways. When communicating by way of the written word language is the common abstraction. To be synthesised as per the receivers own “internal boxes” but in the macro structure imposed by language


This is synthesizing well with me.


I'm right there with you. Always find it weird that people associate language so strongly with intelligence, and consciousness. First, I'm conscious when I'm aware of anything. I don't have to be thinking. Second, my thinking is 99% non-verbal except when I'm communicating to another person or imagining doing so, and even then it's only partly verbal. Almost all of my thinking is in moving or rotating 3D spaces and objects.


I have had some astonishing discussions where people actually refuse to accept that the verbal part of the thinking (talking in my head) is almost insignificant part of what thinking actually is. Or to be accurate, people claim that language is somehow crucial component of thinking.

To me that is really weird idea, and I think that it can even be "proved" to be wrong (obviously my opponents disagreed also there)

Namely, if language or verbal thinking was the defining part of thinking, following two things would necessarily be true:

1. There would need to be significant concepts that people talking different languages think differently. But of course, those are extremely rare and not so significant exceptions. Even if in some languages age is something a person owns and in another something a person is (I have 20 years vs I am 20 years), people in both languages both grasp the idea of age similarly, it is the time since you were born.

2. If the verbal thoughts were what thinking actually is, there would be no difficulties to convey my thought to you without errors. But obviously that is very difficult for anything but the most trivial thoughts. So it should be obvious that language is really only a very vague presentation of what thoughts really are.


>There would need to be significant concepts that people talking different languages think differently.

Not necessarily. If you study linguistics you will find that (human) languages are very similar. So it is possible, that lanugage is a central part of thinking, but the differences between languages are too minor to have significant effects.

I agree with point 2 though.


That is a valid point. But to give context, the discussion I refer to was about whether there are reasons to keep small languages alive. And my opponents argument was that losing a languagle loses also ways to think, whereas my argument was that language is to a very good approximation means to communicate, nothing more, nothing less. so there is no reason to keep small languages alive. (My native language is a relatively small language)


> ... there would be no difficulties to convey my thought to you without errors. But obviously that is very difficult for anything but the most trivial thoughts.

The sentence itself is evidence against.


I think that is pretty trivial thought. To go tto the other end, if thinking is verbal, why can't I pick a book where Einstein explains general relativity and immediately grasp it?


My understanding is that all of us do our logical reasoning spatially, but there are different interfaces to it (visual, verbal, tactile, audible, etc), and each person is likely to have preferences among those. I find words to be a powerful medium between my memory and reasoning; it’s a good indexing system for memories/associations, and by carefully verbalizing and interpreting, I can load up a new spatial reasoning context and perform whatever evaluation is necessary.


So how do you think about abstract concepts, like morality, which have no visual structure?


By analogy? They don't necessary have verbal structure either.

Use of spatial analogies for abstract concepts is common: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conceptual_metaphor


I'm convinced that different people have very different experiences thinking about the world.


Morality is actually purely visual to me. It's daydreams about scenarios, their outcomes, even the expression on people's faces. Just about everything is visual to me.


On this front, and to stray closer to a topic many of us spend too much time on, how do you conceptualise programs and their structure (control, data, etc, etc)?

It's clearly formalised in words (except for the occasional visual programming languages/programs), but that's mostly superficial. The actual structure, or thoughts of how to change it seem to me more abstract and often hard to explain other than by combinations of diagrams and code - but those weren't the source of the idea(s).

--> it's not clear to me that programming (which is quite clearly a conscious activity) is reducible to purely verbal or visual thoughts.

Similar comments apply to other intellectual endeavours.


I usually visualize data structures as pipe systems, and interfaces as 3D shapes around these pipe systems. One thing that took some getting used to was flipping between the interface and flow representations while navigating the abstraction graph, but learning more about nature/physics/math has helped enormously with building and practicing that intuition (and applying it in non-software scenarios by understanding natural phenomena as data structures).


I see programs as data (mostly atoms, tuples, and dicts) and a nested list of TODOs.

Each todo is a sequence of tasks, but I don't necessarily assign names to the task parts or think of them verbally. The "local variables" have names in the final code, but not necessarily in the blueprint for the sequence of tasks. The naming of things really comes in only for the dict key names when passing data around.


I generally think verbally. Then I started learning American Sign Language. For the 3 years I was actively using it, I thought differently, more with ideas than words. It was fascinating both in the change, and the fact that I've changed back.


This. Learning sign language really expands your horizons. I had always thought of language as linear strings of symbols, because that's what written and spoken language are. But sign language is spatial. It also uses facial expressions as modifiers.


I'm looking to learn ASL. Any recommended resources?


This is going to sound like I'm joking, but alcohol is the key to learning.

Find a class on it, one that's at night and one that has half the class go to the bar afterwards, ideally with Deaf people at the bar too.

The social situation, the lack of inhibitions/fears to try stuff, you really pick it up fast.


Hmm, I think the assumption that consciousness is wrapped-up in language is justified.

Language involves representation. "self-consciousness" as generally expressed, is one's representation of one's self.

Obviously one can have visual or spatial representation of one's body. But the unique quality of language is that it involves an easy shorthand for the manipulation of representations. "Who am I?" is the standard question of consciousness - as language, it has a thousand shades. I don't know if it can even be meaningfully expressed in other modalities but if it could, it doesn't seem like it could be easily manipulated in the fashion of language.


Much of how I think involves a pretend version of my body and a manipulation of virtual objects or better yet sets of those objects in some kind of physical space, to understand, manipulate, test hypotheses, and reach conclusions (I can feel my muscles twitch often as I do this). Also, there are shadowy visuals with edges, colors, and I move around those objects to get different viewpoints. This is most concrete when contemplating how to navigate or manipulate the physical world, but even quite concrete when contemplating how I build and understand software -- hypothetical data structures, functions, objects, etc., they take on some almost tangible form, and I might give them a verbal tag, but they're very much not verbal.

Even when dealing with people, social situations, my feelings for them, about them, situations I am in or might be in, or things I'm contemplating in the past -- so little of that is verbal. I flash to prior experience, prior situations, I posit new ones, I wonder how a person might sound, what their voice might show. I had a very hard time completing sentences and constructing verbal arguments before I was around 25. I was different, and my senior classmates in high school in Brazil, I don't think maliciously, voted me "most likely to go insane".

The stream-of-consciousness self-dialog in some literature is a necessarily limited mapping of this mode of thinking to words. It's a hint of how I feel most people really think. Words and phrases are but one element of inner thought, and become paramount only when laying out written or verbal communications with others ... and even then, in live or recorded conversation, can be overshadowed by vocal quality and intonation, and non-verbal body-language.

EDIT: added high-school superlative ... and also, I'm INFP, if there's anything to that.


You seem to be describing non-verbal subjective experience. Of course I wouldn't argue with someone's non-verbal experience.

The thing is that I don't think language being tied to self-consciousness in the sense of Jaynes is really a statement about what internal experience involves.

Further, the point is that language is a tag which allows to whatever extent internal experience to be represented and sent to other "consciousnesses" (other language-processors who attempt to reproduce those experiences either verbally or non-verbally).


Same here. I often mix names up or have problems learning them, especially when tired. I don't think verbally as much as I suspect others do.


Same here! I am really bad with names, but I remember faces, personalities and character very well.

I've actually asked people if they think in language and the answer has always either been "yes" or "what do you mean? Of course!"

However, for me "rubber duck debugging," or just talking things through with someone is exceedingly helpful to help sort my thoughts out--or 'bring them into consciousness,' as the author would say.


Completely.

I've been surprised by the hostility/resistance to the idea that we don't think in language, especially when I'm trying to convey to people how my own mind works.

In trying to convey my experience with language, I have to try to express a layer of...as best as I can get in programmer speak...multithreaded-notthreadsafe-consciousness-impressions. These I then have to translate into single-threaded verbal language in order to communicate with others.

Indeed, without my years of practice to try to become a better communicator, I find this results in my natural speech being a kind of stocatto-mid-sentence-pausing way of speaking, as I have to join each thread of threaded-conscious-impressions before coercing and outputting it in the best approximation of a serial structured verbal language. Over the years I've just become better at pre-buffering before the verbal component is output and consciously shutting down other threads.

When I'm thinking of logic and computer programs alternatively, I often find myself thinking visual-spatially.

Indeed, when I'm really thinking hard and trying to understand some algorithms, I can sometimes be seen closing my eyes and even engaging my arms/hands as though i'm moving, conducting or manipulating physical things. Because in my head that's exactly what I'm doing: the arrays/lists/things exist as spatial objects in my mind, and I'm running things through by manipulating them in space or seeing how they fit together spatially/in relation to each other.


> as best as I can get in programmer speak...multithreaded-notthreadsafe-consciousness-impressions

The way I explain it, thoughts in my mind are organized in graphs, perhaps like a wiki. As I communicate, I'm constantly deciding which concepts to render inline into text, which to keep handy in case it comes up, and which to ignore. I find that I have decent memory, but it's hard to get to a story from a prompt (like: "tell me something funny from your childhood").


I agree language should not be considered so fundamental. It gives a structure which is more formal than fundamental. Noam Chomsky also promoted a version of the fundamental-language concept in his linguistic work. I think the notion will fade with time.

This Temple Grandin bit is great!



When I want to figure something out, I find it helps to express it in words, written or spoken. So I could say my way of thinking is verbal more than visual or anything else. But I have the sense that I have a "background task" running that finds the answer to a problem while my conscious mind is forming the verbal expression. I am not sure I do analysis with the aware part of my mind. I also have the odd sense that I cannot think clearly about a problem while looking over someone's shoulder, but when I sit down at my own computer, putting my hands on my own keyboard allows me to concentrate.



> When I started to read about the philosophy of consciousness, it became obvious that most people experience their own consciousness differently than I do.

Perhaps at some point you will travel into the past and do the nasty in the pasty with one of your ancestors, and that past nastification results in you being your own ancestor. That is known to be capable of causing one to have a mind that works differently from that of the rest of humanity.

Huh? Yes, yes I am watching the Futurama marathon on SyFy right now. How did you know?


> “There is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a depth of formless feeling untouched by thought.” - Rilke


But whatever that information space is could be called a language too, right?


I don't think so. 'Language' per se is inherently abstract-symbolic and serial. Other types of thought rely on non-symbolic types of metaphor, often quite concrete ones, and on more graph-like connections between ideas. Sometimes the relationships between nodes are very fuzzy and inexplicit.

The best you'll get with 'language' is poetry and puns and outline-style hierarchies, but these don't cover anywhere near all types of thought. As stark examples, I don't think you can classify e.g. sculptures or textile patterns or mechanical designs as 'language'.


A lot of people discount Jayne's theory for the inaccuracy regarding its assertions about the physical mechanisms, namely that specific modules in one half of the brain talk across the corpus callosum to specific modules in the other half. But IMO they're throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What I haven't seen yet are investigations into the nature of self-awareness and agency assuming that his theory holds water on the mental aspects. Studies have shown that we make decisions whole seconds before we are conscious of our coming to a conclusion. Could this not be some remnant of the potential fact that our internal decision processes are based around a similar mechanism as what he proposes? The only difference is that we think that "voice" telling us what to do is ourselves, and not some imposition from outside.


Crucially, Jayne's definition of "consciousness" is basically introspection. If you replace the word "consciousness" with "introspection", all the controversy evaporates and the story becomes (only mildly) interesting.

> Jaynes ... decides to read early texts, including The Iliad and The Odyssey, to look for signs of people who aren’t capable of introspection—people who are all sea, no rime. And he believes he sees that in The Iliad. He writes that the characters in The Iliad do not look inward, and they take no independent initiative.

Suitcase words like "consciousness" are tricky to work with.

https://alexvermeer.com/unpacking-suitcase-words/


> Crucially, Jayne's definition of "consciousness" is basically introspection.

With language as a key portion. See any discussion of deaf people who aren't taught language until late in life, such a Helen Keller. The stories consistently have them emotionally overwhelmed when the first learn language. They want to know the names of everything.

And also, they consistently talk about "before" and "after". Before language, they were a collection of emotions, fears, desires, etc. After language, they existed for the first time. They could name things, including themselves.

This looks a lot like the transition to self aware consciousness. Which means Jayne isn't entirely wrong.


A quick search yielded something from a book about Keller - do you have some other good sources for what you mention?


I'm still astounded by all the different things people mean when they say "consciousness." I think a better term for the discussion surrounding Jaynes and his theory is "awareness"--understanding and conceptualizing reality via a semantic framework, rather than merely processing inputs and directing outputs.

The ego (or the default mode network, in which I hypothesize the ego "resides") basically connects those disparate parts of the brain and makes the leap to turn the brain from a few interacting modules into an integrated whole, giving rise to the sense of the self as we understand it today. This must somehow activate our self-awareness by us understanding not only that we inhabit a body, but that the mind doing so can also be identified.


“O, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind!

A secret theater of speechless monologue and prevenient counsel, an invisible mansion of all moods, musings, and mysteries, an infinite resort of disappointments and discoveries.”

If you’re intrigued reading the article, or have had the book on your ‘todo’ for years now I’d really encourage you to just go get a copy and take it on. It provides a wealth of food for thought - a lovely example of a theory that in all likelihood is in its details totally wrong, but enriches the reader regardless.


I think the trigger event for modern consciousness mode is a critical percent of population being literate. It could been happening a few millenia earlier than his book suggests, and shaped the brain around reading the "fixed language"(i.e. written words) allowing abstraction levels not possible with earlier purely verbal communication. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reading_(process)#History The history of reading dates back to the invention of writing during the 4th millennium BC. Although reading print text is now an important way for the general population to access information, this has not always been the case. With some exceptions, only a small percentage of the population in many countries was considered literate before the Industrial Revolution. Some of the pre-modern societies with generally high literacy rates included classical Athens and the Islamic Caliphate.[41]

Scholars assume that reading aloud (Latin clare legere) was the more common practice in antiquity, and that reading silently (legere tacite or legere sibi) was unusual.[42] In his Confessions, Saint Augustine remarks on Saint Ambrose's unusual habit of reading silently in the 4th century AD.[42][43]


Neal Stephenson's novel "Snow Crash" depended entirely on this theory. I'm not sure if I believe it, but it made for a good novel.


These ideas are mentioned by the character of Ford (played by Anthony Hopkins) in Westworld, in regards to creating consciousness in robots, and they made quite a bit of sense to me in that context.


For those interested in thoughts about consciousness, I highly recommend Bernardo Kastrup.

He comes from a comp sci background but has several books and very well structured arguments for Idealism. His manner of delivering his insights I think particularly appeal to those with analytical and critical thinking backgrounds.

He has several very good videos on YouTube as well.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4552692.Bernardo_Kastr...

https://www.youtube.com/user/bernardokastrup/


I’ve been familiar with this idea for a while, although whenever it comes up, I can’t help but think about Hitchens’s razor:

“What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”


Any useful theory of consciousness has to be able to explain animal consciousness too. Language is really the only differentiator between us and other primates, cognitively. (naturally it's a powerful difference) Primates far and away clear the bar for sentience, we know enough about dogs and cats to grudgingly accept them into the fold too. Plenty of birds are extremely intelligent and social as well.


I'm not sure how important "langauge" is for cognition. I think it is clear that the cognitive facilities that, in humans, we attribute to language, are a significant part of human cognition.

However, when we test for language in other animals, we do not test for these underlying cognitive abilities. Rather, rather, we test for the animals ability to express these facilities through some communication system with other animals (either in the same species, or with humans).

It is conceivable to have an animal that has all of the cognitive abilities we associate with language except the ability to serialize/deserialize [0] it. While this ability is significant at the species level, it does not seem like it would be particularly significant at an individual level.

Further if you take the view that language was evolved primarily as a tool for thinking (rather than a tool for communicating), this possibilities seems even more likely. Under this view, we would first develop the cognitive aspects, then develop the communicative aspects on top of them (in the same way that we evolved our "speech organs" on our digestive (tongue) and respiratory (lungs/airway) ones.

It also seems plausible that it was this adaptation that allowed humans to pass the singularity point necessary to reach modern society (which grew up very quickly on an evolutionary timeline). If this were the case, then I would expect to see that the rest of the cognitive abilities associated with speech are actually present and similar in related species.

[0] Our current model of human language is that of a tree. We do not see processes that act on a linear structure until we get into phonology.


> I'm not sure how important "langauge" is for cognition.

It's not. That's why I said that any good theory is going to have to account for all the sentience in the world that doesn't talk to each other.


First of all, the theory described in the article does not even believe that all humans are conscious, so it does not need to account for consciousness in other animals.

Secondly, my point is that other animals may still have "language", but just without the small components necessary for communication. If this were true, then language could still be the explanation for consciousness.


Language is really the only differentiator between us and other primates, cognitively

I don't agree. Many other types of animals have rudimentary languages, but I wouldn't dispute the sophistication of human language towers above all others, that in itself rests (along with other uniquely sophisticated behavioural endowments) upon what really differentiates us which is the capacity for imagination and abstract thought. The capability to imagine things that aren't actually real, but perhaps could be. It's thought that the seat of all this is the frontal cortex but I see now on wikipedia that is contentious these days [0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frontal_lobe#In_other_animals


The book Adam's Tongue: How Humans Made Language, How Language Made Humans makes a cogent argument for my position. It examines carefully the difference between Animal Communication Systems and our own, in all the variety primitive humanity could devise.

https://www.amazon.com/Adams-Tongue-Humans-Made-Language-ebo...


I think BF Skinner tried to take behaviourism here. All behaviour being mediated by conditioning, with thought being the sublimated stimulated response of the vocal chords. I think he made a good bit of headway with this but I think Noam Chomsky (language development being his substantive field) put the kaibosh on it. Can’t remember the nuances of the argument off hand.


I have pets and they try to entertain themselves when they are board. Seems like thet are thinking abstractly with limitations imposed by body and brain.


Can you elaborate? How do you know they're thinking abstractly?


I don’t think it’s the same. They can’t reason about what they’re doing abstractly. That’s why they’re acting it out.


This ape took a selfie all on his own just as good as any human. https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/monkey-selfie...


Ape is a corner case, they're the only species we know of that share to a limited extent the enlarged forebrain that humans have.

A single outlying data-point hardly disproves a theory, and even so, you can't possibly know that the monkey knew what he was doing. It could just be mimicry. Your thinking about what the monkey is thinking is distinctly the distinguishing trait of human psyche I'm talking about.

EDIT: Also relevant. Operant theory can explain seemingly "intelligent" behaviour as random or observed and mimicked actions that are then reinforced by the environment [0]

Your monkey's behaviour could be explained in a similar vein to that which explains "cargo cult" behaviour [1].

Now, you could say that this is indeed "intelligent" behaviour, but then again a dog can be trained to open a door, and pigeons can be trained to orient themselves based on a clicker [2]. But what I'm talking about here is what distinguishes human intelligence from other forms of life on this planet.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operant_conditioning#Origins_o...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult#First_occurrences

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtfQlkGwE2U


A related idea that I had while reading the article is this: it's easy to get computers and machines to talk to each other both unnaturally (with our own protocols) and naturally (using a randomly initialized and then learned/iterated upon version - see https://blog.openai.com/learning-to-communicate/ or Facebook's recent experiment. It's also easy to imagine such a scenario).

But computers are nowhere near being able to have conscious thought. So what's the difference? Clearly it's not just natural language that differentiates the conscious from the unconscious.


>Any useful theory of consciousness has to be able to explain animal consciousness too

Taking it further, i would argue that whatever physics theory that claims to state the truth about the Universe and its origins has to explain how consciousness works down to the elementary level. Similar how electronic circuits can be explained based on the atomic model and quantum theory. Like a "Quantum theory of consciousness" or some such.


Not really. A theory is useful if it makes accurate predictions and explains phenomena in the domain to which it applies.

Theories in physics has always been useful even though they are incomplete to this day.


If you find this sort of thing interesting, I highly recommend HBO's Westworld. It's really well done and thoroughly thought provoking.


That series brought me to read about the theory.

But almost all pschological educated people I talked to found it too muddy.


There seems to be an accepted idea that ancient people had a totally different way of thinking: that up to around 300 BC, humans navigated through the world with a dream-like, pre-scientific logic, and didn't view the world as comprehensible or subject to predictable laws and patterns.

I've always wondered, do we actually know this for sure? What's the evidence? Just by introspection, it is so hard for me to imagine being in a state of mind where I didn't believe that if I dropped a rock off a cliff twice, under similar conditions, it would do pretty much the same thing the second time. Or that if I did it over and over again, I would start to see patterns that I could rely on for later. This feels as hard-wired as just about anything in my mind.

To me, it makes more sense to think that humans have always thought the same way, and these days we just have better tools and have learned to refine the cognitive abilities that are wired into us. But I'm really interested to hear the case for the other side.


I'm curious about how people who think that way react when you tell them about Babylonian mathematics;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_mathematics

For instance, there is a Babylonian clay tablet from ~1700 BC that gives an approximation of sqrt(2) as 1.414213 (correct to 6 decimal digits).


I don't think that's a generally accepted idea at all. It's an idea that, in various forms, some modern philosophers have floated. Because it's so radical it's something you'll hear (and remember) people chatter about, but that doesn't mean many people take it literally, especially people familiar with ancient works.

At best I think such ideas help challenge beliefs about ourselves in the modern era. At worst I think they perpetuate a tendency for people to dehumanize those whom we can't personally identify with.


I'm glad to hear that. I've definitely seen it mentioned by a bunch of experts/academics as if it were accepted fact (Jordan Peterson is the only one that comes right to mind).

I think the idea might partly come from the dream-like quality of ancient myths, but I feel like that underestimates the ability of people to partition those myths from daily life. It's not like our current religious stories are exactly logical.




I had a couple of episodes of sleep paralysis where I experienced auditory hallucinations. Often times, the voices I heard were clear as day, which was strange since I wore ear plugs during a lot of these experiences.

Also, I saw an article on the news about a treatment involving VR for people who hears voices in their head. In the video, the person described the voices as distinct and she could even interact with them.

So I would say there's something to explore there.


For me this is one of the most interesting concepts which has only been briefly touched on -

Jaynes proposes that in the Iliad the Greeks "heard the voices of the gods" and used those to make decisions. In our modern society I'm sure a lot of religious people would find God(s) speaking directly to them a fabrication of the mind, but auditory hallucinations are common and well documented. I often find on the edge of sleep I can lucidly think of a tune or song and hear at as clearly as if it was actually being played in the room.

I think Jaynes made a really interesting observation about older theistic societies that took for granted the ability for people to receive instructions in their heads from the gods. It seems commonplace in religious literature at the least that people can interact with gods and hear what they have to say, something which we tend to interpret more as a metaphor nowadays.

If we reject his theory on consciousness as being a modern substitute for heavenly direction, I don't think that necessarily rules out a cognitive function that we've lost over the past few thousand years - one which could have developed from a young age by not writing off auditory hallucinations as mental noise...


I haven't read the book so this may just be an easy to refute idea, but it seems to me if introspection is a cultural construct that grew out of necessity then there should be mechanisms to disprove this theory in the modern day. For example, by looking for evidence of introspection in cultures that are isolated from modern civilization or in individuals who were raised in isolation.


I read that book about 15 years ago, it's a fantastic read. I picked it up because either Dennett or Dawkins called it something like "the most insightful and thought provoking idea that is probably not true" (I think it was the latter).


As a Computer Engineer by training I am curious about the field of research regarding conciousness.

Is there any contemporary book or resource that summarizes the current academic views and discoveries on the subject?


So other people are rewatching Westworld too? :)


From 2015.


And it's really hard to verify what people heard in the past. “Our kings, presidents, judges, and officers begin their tenures with oaths to the now-silent deities, taken upon the writings of those who have last heard them.” How do we know that they weren't just doing poetry or fiction, or creating religion to control the masses?


Nietzsche wrote at length about the "death of god," which was his way of symbolizing the unseating of god from society's abstract throne, and the dangerous power vacuum that blood would be shed to re-fill. You can't walk three feet through the past couple centuries before finding some text discussing, cheering on or mourning the transition from a society where god is generally assumed to be behind things to one where he isn't.

If a similar phase change had occured 3000 years ago, I'm pretty sure it would have been well-documented. I have a hard time believing that this event is for the first time being seen clearly from a vantage point three thousand years distant!


> If a similar phase change had occured 3000 years ago, I'm pretty sure it would have been well-documented

Documented where?

The Sapiens book makes a similar assertion, that something changed in the brain about 10000 years ago, when agriculture was invented.

Before that people hunted and gathered for 200k years with little progress and suddenly there was an explosion.


I think that acceptance is less an acquiescence and more a charity for convenience.


Sum ergo cogito always made much more sense to me




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