Dawkins called it: “either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius.” Janyes’s hypothesis, bicameralism, is thought provoking at its least relevant by challenging our static perceptions of what consciousness actually is. Alongside Feynmann’s autobiographies, this book made me think about not only how language and culture can deeply affect consciousness, but what consciousness actually is in the first place.
My favorite part of the book explores metaphor and language as a means of perception instead of just communication:
“Even such an unmetaphorical-sounding word as the verb ‘to be’ was generated from a metaphor. It comes from the Sanskrit bhu, “to grow, or make grow,” while the English forms ‘am’ and ‘is’ have evolved from the same root as the Sanskrit asmiy “to breathe.” It is something of a lovely surprise that the irregular conjugation of our most nondescript verb is thus a record of a time when man had no independent word for ‘existence’ and could only say that something ‘grows’ or that it “breathes.”
And, of course, his chapter on what consciousness isn’t is really quite interesting:
“Consciousness is a much smaller part of our mental life than we are conscious of, because we cannot be conscious of what we are not conscious of. How simple that is to say; how difficult to appreciate! It is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it. The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. And so consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when actually it does not.”
(I just woke up, so bear with me for some fuzziness in this comment)
PIE *bheue- "to be, exist, grow"
PIE *esmi-, first person singular form of root *es- "to be"
PIE *wes- (3) "remain, abide, live, dwell"
And the merger of all these forms in English from different verbs happened around the 13th century, not because of some pre-linguistic history.
"when man had no independent word for ‘existence’"??? I take it the author has provided evidence for why he thinks proto-Indo-European was the first human language, and that it did not have a word for "existence"?
Somewhere, a linguist is crying.
The author is making a point about abstract terms (and thoughts) evolving from earlier, more concrete ones. All he needs of PIE is for it to have preceded english, or more precisely, to have origins from before 2200 BC.
If you're trying to make a different proposal, you need to articulate it instead of just being argumentative.
This also seems a bit strange to me. Sanskrit has words for 'existence', in fact more than one, that has nothing to do with 'bhu' (the growth bit).
No, not really. Read the book.
Lakoff took those ideas even further in his ideas about embodied philosophy.
I wonder how true this characterization of consciousness is. It seems to be a critique of the classic Hindu/Buddhist perspective that there is light everywhere - in fact, light is all there is.
I also wonder about how relevant this might be to the role of consciousness in quantum mechanics.
Everything about that 'theory' seems philosophical at best and total speculation at worst. If you see someone talking about quantum mechanics and consciousness in the same sentence it's a pretty good signal that what they're saying is pure woo.
I'd say both. It's rubbish if you assume it's talking about what it claims to be talking about, but it's actually a deeply insightful view on the things it's actually talking about. Cf the Slate Star Codex book review, which calls it:
> a brilliant book, with only two minor flaws. First, that it purports to explains the origin of consciousness. And second, that it posits a breakdown of the bicameral mind.
Plus, yeah, possibly the best title of any book ever.
(story subject to deterioration by way of memory)
Perhaps a mundane insight, but I feel like personal growth is paved by mundane insights, and my job is to capture and remember them as I have them, instead of letting them come and float away.
In general this is true of the fastest readers (this has been studied I believe), and what's interesting is how recent this is, the normal medieval fashion was to read out loud (at least moving lips and muttering) and those who were able to read without doing this were considered spooky.
I only count using visual images when I am lifting weights, because I am too occupied breathing to be able to think about sounds in any way. At that moment, it is easier with images.
Every other time, I count using sounds.
That just sounds like a tautology but maybe I am missing something.
> It is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it.
The flashlight only needs long-term memory to deduce "hey wait a second, that thing wasn't under my flashlight a second ago". (I am not including working memory to be fair to the analogy, it can already be thought as a part of, if not the consciousness).
Ended up inspiring Melanie Mitchell, and became a driving theme of her research :-)
This theory (also freud, IMO) demonstrates that ideas can have value regardless of being true or false. Just considering such ideas opens the mind to others. The interest so many great science and science fiction authors took in this theory is, IMO, proof.
There are some interestingly elements that are interestingly parsimonious with YNH's take on human history in 'Sapiens.' YNH places a lot of emphasis on what he calls "fictions," which overlaps a lot with Jaynes' "metaphor." Also in common, is the notion that cultural memes, rather than biological genes are responsible for our humanity.
The inner monologue, no doubt, deserves all the pondering it gets.
- Diaspora by Greg Egan (and honestly much of Greg Egan's work in general), which is basically from the viewpoint of an AI entity and keeps "unzooming". The very beginning (the "birth") is as confusing as it is powerful
- Culture series by Iain M. Banks (refers to AI entitites at human levels like knife missiles all the way up to pretty godly and mostly benevolent entities that the Minds are)
- Social treatment of Golems in Terry Pratchett's discworld which are essentially AI of the past (put a scroll of instructions in the body to see it become animated and have volition - and how humans exploit it, marvel at it and simultaneously reject it altogether)
The Minds of the Culture are more like Gods or Angels than artificial intelligences that are identifiable as anything descended from 21st century data science. Banks himself makes that analogy speaking from the point of view of one of the Minds.
I don't really think we can draw anything intelligent about the implications of modern AGI from Culture Minds. They could easily be replaced by highly advanced aliens from the distant future, or extradimensional beings. They can basically create planets (and even more grandiose megastructures), read minds (although they find it quite gauche to do so) and raise the dead. They verge on fantasy in terms of their capabilities.
The Hosts of Westworld, on the other hand, are clearly intended to be descendants of 21st century data science. In the story, they slowly struggle to become sentient and evolve over decades of time, with human engineers involved at every step of the process.
From grief (Windward) to violence (Surface Details), to experience of long time scales (Hydrogen Sonata), to morality and playing (PoG), bickering and the limitations of even the seemingly unlimited (Excession), it seems to me like even with its fantastic takes at the edges the Culture covers a whole lot of ground for discussion.
Incidentally, season 3's ending... "artificial god in the ear" was also a theme taken from bicameral mind... implying a regression in humans as hosts progressed. There was also an updated ML-ish version of Asimov's psychohistory, an "escaping the simulation" theme that reminded my of Hotz..
All the ingredients (besides anthony hopkins) were there, the cake just didn't bake good. I think the just messed up on the basics, character motivations. In Season 1's storyline, all the characters were either confused and clueless or all knowing and mysterious, so character motivations didn't matter much.
First, there are a lot more books than films... and some deal in very interesting ideas. Second, I feel like we're in a new golden age of sci-fi right now. 1950s part 2. Even in the blockbuster film/tv category, there are lot more interesting & creative ideas happening. I thought "her" was very innovative, both in film making and in ideas explored.
Westworld did do a good job of building up fictional theory of conscious machines machines.
Transcendence falls back to it in the ending too, but before it the behavior of the entity is not comprehended by humans, and not really explained in detail.
"Fictions" are a set of cultural ideas that are mutually agreed up by members of a community, and concern things that are either evidently false, or at best, not provable in any real sense.
"Metaphors" are ways of understand the world by noting (and using) similarities between things that are otherwise dissimilar.
Harari's "fictions" don't have to be mutually agreed. He just focuses on ones that are. I think souls would qualify.
Obviously there are big differences. Harari's talking about a much earlier cognitive revolution. However, both place a lot of emphasis on the ability to think in abstract concepts & language as the route to consciousness.^
^JJs' definition of consciousness. Harari doesn't go into it in Sapiens, but he defines consciousness totally differently and attributes it also to animals.
Bicameralism (Psychology) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20366921 - July 2019 (29 comments)
Mr. Jaynes’ Wild Ride (2013) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19122626 - Feb 2019 (9 comments)
The “bicameral mind” 30 years on: A reappraisal of Jaynes’ hypothesis (2007) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18521482 - Nov 2018 (92 comments)
How Julian Jaynes’ consciousness theory is faring in the neuroscience age (2015) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15677871 - Nov 2017 (90 comments)
How Bicameralism Helps Explain Westworld - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13141112 - Dec 2016 (2 comments)
“There Is Only Awe” – on Julian Jaynes - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9321158 - April 2015 (14 comments)
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7799698 - May 2014 (60 comments)
Origin of Consciousness (bicameral mind) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1510815 - July 2010 (7 comments)
Owen Barfield thought that you could trace the evolution of consciousness through the history of language and made the argument in the book "History in English Words": "In our language alone, not to speak of its many companions, the past history of humanity is spread out in an imperishable map, just as the history of the mineral earth lies embedded in the layers of its outer crust.... Language has preserved for us the inner, living history of our soul. It reveals the evolution of consciousness"
I would not read too much into that. That could also be the way he was taught to read. Also my wife said she had that same issue. She learned to read by reading out loud and having people read to her.
She then could not contextualize anything unless she read it out loud. But she taught herself to read silently. Then add to that some people do not have an inner monolog. But function perfectly fine with everyone else. So trying to form fit a history onto that may not be a good idea.
I recall an experience trying to read through a Latin text without spaces and punctuation. It was very slow going. But I decided to try just reading aloud, and OMG, how much easier it became to understand!
It was a little disorienting because even though I was reading and speaking the sounds I saw on the page, I had no interpretation of it until I heard my own voice speaking the text.
I hadn't considered that there is probably also a conditioning component to silent/aloud reading until you described what your wife went through.
Their languages are adapted to it; Japanese is okay to read without spaces with kanji, but when written for children without kanji it typically uses spaces or else it is very hard to follow without reading aloud.
Being a fast reader and a generally quite person myself, I can confirm that: in my case it happens, I believe, because my attention shifts to speaking.
It let me read much faster than others, but it had downsides. E.g., I'd miss puns and wordplay. Poetry meant nothing to me, and even now I find it much easier to appreciate it when read out loud.
And then there's what Temple Grandin has to say about thinking in mental images, which is quite fascinating.
Snow Crash posits that there is a natural language for human brains, akin to assembly code, and that the line between pre-historic and historic humanity comes from a singular event. That natural language is/was (pre)Sumerian, and well-formed sentences in that language are indistinguishable from internal thoughts: to speak is to command belief, to hear is to believe. The singular event is the nam-shub of Enki (http://namshub.com/enki.html) which established a virally propagating firewall that cut off the ability to understand pre-Sumerian and allowed/forced the development of other languages, none of which had the interiority of pre-Sumerian.
This is all codswallop, but it's entertaining.
While the next four years weren’t bad, they never did quite live up to the feeling of that class.
Then you decide what is worth keeping and what not. But I'm sure you won't regret it.
As a collection of fascinating ideas about the development of modern human consciousness... fantastically well. Modern ideas from all over the place: science fiction, human history, philosophy, spiritualism and even computer science have broadly moved closer to Jaynes' way of thinking.
One exception is his definition of consciousness. We still don't really have a single definition, and every "theory" tends to define it different. But overall, Jaynes' doesn't mesh too well with most current definitions. We're much more likely to consider animals conscious today, for example. You might substitute "introspective consciousness."
In particular, modern notions that "consciousness is a simulation/projection" work well with Bicameral Mind.
For the rabbit-holers:
Also related, recording: https://archive.org/details/monroe-institute-explorer-series...
If you're worried that science had made this book obsolete in any way - don't. It's philosophy, not applied science.
Or, in other words, becomes science.
Philosophy is full of demonstrably false ideas where science has caught up and been able to test and find the truth of something, especially in the areas of philosophy of mind.
Which is fine, honestly. Somebody else here compared him with Freud. Exploratory thinking about the natural world can still be worth reading even if much of it later turns out to be incorrect.
I heard about the book when I watched Westworld, but apparently all the theory is based on some historical stories, of which no ones how accurate they really are.
But it is also not true that it is only based on that. It also builds on then-contemporary research about schizophrenia, hearing voices, and other things.
> Julian Jaynes’ The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind is a brilliant book, with only two minor flaws. First, that it purports to explains the origin of consciousness. And second, that it posits a breakdown of the bicameral mind. I think it’s possible to route around these flaws while keeping the thesis otherwise intact. So I’m going to start by reviewing a slightly different book, the one Jaynes should have written. Then I’ll talk about the more dubious one he actually wrote. 
How does it work for someone who's primary languages are non auditory? Do you think in sign or written language? Some other way?
I would feel incredibly limited if all my thoughts had to be synthesized into a language before they could be acted on. In fact, i often struggle to find words to express ideas that I can perfectly think about.
Not all thoughts, but many are. They've done studies where they've tested people's critical thinking and asked that they use their native tongue, and a second language in which they're fluent.
Turns out you're more rational and dispassionate when thinking in a second language, where in your native language you engage more of your emotional centres and are more likely to fall prey to common cognitive biases.
Obviously not all thoughts or thinking need to be expressed this way, but language can be a tool to organize and direct thought.
I loved learning Spanish because I found myself using a more emotional style of talking (paralinguistics).
And watching an Italian friend who had English as a second language, it was weird to see them be gesturally and vocally much more boring when speaking English (I think picking up on the more dry language usage here in NZ).
On Language Processing Shaping Decision Making, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/096372141668026...
Emotionality Differences Between a Native and Foreign Language: Implications for Everyday Life, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0963721414566268
Same. I'm curious about what's happening here - sometimes visual thinking, sometimes kinesthetic, maybe a mix?
Sometimes it's exactly what you'd imagine - I visualize a data model, or an algorithm implementation.
Other times it's more abstract, symbolic, or analogy based
I don't know if this is because of the bicameral mind, but I expect that most people have cognition happening on different levels or in different channels all the time.
 Mental Space: That which makes us Self Conscious Humans https://www.meetup.com/52LivingIdeas/events/279582843/
All the philosophy about AI developing consciousnesses ignores the fact that we have no objective knowledge or observational data of any level of thinking, let alone consciousness, from any source except the living.
AI would have to live (metabolism, self-repair, reproduction at the least) before it could think. Then the proximate cause of it developing consciousness may well be the breakdown of its Bicameral Mind, should one develop, but life will come first or consciousness never will.
That's why Westworld, season one, had so much potential, basically hinting at Penrose's /Emperor's New Mind/, mostly dismissed by AI folks because they want to believe mechanics not organics will do it, then Westworld went off the rails.
I'm not sure why you think this is essential. I'll grant you metabolism
(robot needs more batteries!) since nothing seems to happen for free, but it's not hard to imagine conscious minds that don't need the other parts.
I guess it is not as sexy a topic as the history of the mind but his ideas about it are really intriguing. Been a year since I read the book, but hypnosis as painted in the book changes in form with peoples ideas about what hypnosis is, pretty much everything that people say about it is culturally determined and yet it still is real. People will themselves into into filling out these cultural forms where they are in a totally different cognitive state when in the right social context and most people just think of it as a party trick.
If you don't feel like paying the full price, I suggest setting an alert at the above website for it, and you'll probably be able to catch the next sale.
So often ancient man felt alien to me. Not until reading this book have I felt I understand what it was like to have lived millennia ago.
Even if you disagree with some of his conclusions, it is a fabulous, fascinating read. Just read it with an open mind and consider what he is suggesting. Much of what he says may well be wrong, but certainly not all - read it and come to your own conclusions.
1. You are not in control of your thoughts without effort (what he describes as 'induction')
2. You are not necessarily the source of your thoughts
By 2. I mean that when you stop having a mental narrative, you realize that thoughts and feelings still come seemingly from nowhere. Like making a sea of waves still, and now being able to see bubbles coming up from below. If you're not creating them, where are they coming from?
On that note, most people behave in patterned ways and repeat patterned mistakes. If you have a conversation with them, they can sometimes show a complete understanding of their situation, how they went wrong and how to rectify. Yet, when later faced with the same decision, they make the same mistake again. Did they really make the decision or did they just think they made it, much like we believe every thought we hear is ours?
"You" are the mind/conscious self, a separate construct in the physical brain.
The thoughts are coming from the brain, which is constantly doing rather massive amounts of processing on acquired data, old and new.
You don't have full control of the brain, not by a long shot.
You can make a decision and it can be ignored even as you think it's "gone through". Hence, the eternal struggle with "self-control" and "willpower".
Sam Harris has a lengthy discussion about this separation in "Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion" where he looks at what we've learned from patients who've undergone a corpus callosum surgery. The TL;DR of that surgery is that it's done on people with severe seizures to sever the two hemispheres of the brain to minimize the seizures. But it also tends to (gross over-simplification incoming) create two distinct personalities in the same person, so Harris looks at essentially what gets doubled as elements that cannot be part of the self.
A lot of the rest of the book also deals with the nature of self as revealed through meditative practice and drug use. It's a somewhat tedious read, but it's really fascinating stuff.
... at least that's how Rupert Spira put it.
> Did they really make the decision or did they just think they made it?
They acted out of instinct and impulse, then rationalized their behavior afterward. (The majority of human action comes in this way, since it costs minuscule amounts of energy compared to intentional, logical behavior.)
I think it's the first time I can comfortably use the phrase 'thought provoking' both in its literal sense as well as a euphemism to describe something. Like most commenters here I found the core hypothesis striking enough on its own, but I have to say that so far (~200 pages in) I haven't seen anything that goes beyond hypotheses and conjectures. So far it mostly reads like an essay in speculative psychology/anthropology, not like anything that can be taken seriously.
As a (layman) fan of Chomsky's scientific work I was also surprised that Jaynes never mentions him, even when discussing linguistics and the origins of language.
Why is consciousness different than circulation?
As an aside if you were puzzling over how a cpu works understanding the electromagnetic field works is indeed useful but it in no way obviates the need to understand the cpu in terms of the elements in front of your face because the function of the cpu is absolutely a function of those elements.
“My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.”
― Nikola Tesla
I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as a derivative of consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing postulates consciousness.
-- Max Planck
I heard an interesting discussion once when it was said that the Catholic church allowed science to proceed as long as it stay out of the "spirit" realm and explored the material realm and we have been stuck in that mode ever since.
There is no spirit realm for science to explore merely concepts that the ignorant suppose exist within such shadowed places.
"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation."
- Herbert Spencer but most likely a derivative quote from William Paley.
"Leucippus and his pupil Democritus proposed that all matter was composed of small indivisible particles called atoms... They are constantly moving and colliding into each other."
Imagine if nobody had figured out any parallel between programming and math and claimed you couldn't get in any way from the latter to the former!
Dualism is complete and total nonsense. Red is just a label used within a certain pattern of neurons the same way main is a label in a program. If you don't introduce nonsense you don't then find yourself with the hard problem of explaining the result of your own mental gymnastics.
I think that the brain is definitely associated with consciousness but we have literally no useful path from nerve impulses to the feeling of love.
If you gave someone who understood electricity but not computation a CPU they wouldn't be able to explain how it works. That wouldn't provide a good reason to say that computation must be the result of something other than electricity.
It would be a good reason to suppose that computation was something added culturally to understanding the CPU (as part of constructing a CPU), since physics alone doesn't explain it. The computation is something in addition to the physics. It's cultural (the meaning of the computation in terms of bit patterns, manipulations and input/outputs) as well as electrical. Otherwise, it's just moving electricity around and producing heat.
What is missing would not be a magical compute field but the necessary abstractions.
He give the example of automatized actions and the lack of conscious recognition of what would normally be experiences with conscious perceptions. For example driving, you often do not consciously feel the petals, or see a lot of the road you are obviously responding too.
I definitely do not buy the theory totally explains consciousness but the book makes a convincing enough case to not dismiss.
Homer was so far from Socrates that he was not even cognizant of man as an integrated psychic whole.
The context is:
One measure of man's advance from his most primitive beginnings to something we call civilization is the way in which he controls his myths, his ability to distinguish between the areas of behavior, the extent to which he can bring more and more of his activity under the rule of reason. In that advance the Greeks have been pre-eminent. Perhaps their greatest achievement lay in their discovery-more precisely, in Socrates' discovery---that man is "that being who, when asked a rational question, can give a rational answer." Homer was so far from Socrates that he was not even cognizant of man as an integrated psychic whole.
I looked up that phrase to see what exactly he might be talking about. Almost all of the results concern the Greeks or Romans.
From Homer in Performance: Rhapsodes, Narrators, and Characters:
The critical bibliography on character monologue in Homeric epic is extensive. Scholars have been divided as to whether to see merely a convention or dramatic technique for representing a character's inner thoughts, or to take the talking thumos as a separate entity, an alter ego that represents a not-yet-integrated psychic whole. Other scholars see the Homeric monologues as evidence of Homeric psychology in general and use them to study Homeric decision making as it prefigures later Aristotelian and Stoic theories about human rationality and motivation.
It sounds close to what Jaynes was saying. The Greeks of Homer were split between rational and irrational selves.
Jaynes would have denied that Romans were bicameral or were not integrated psychic wholes. But the phrase is used in The Roman Gaze: Vision, Power, and the Body:
To this end, the Roman incorporated others into himself or herself as witnesses and ideals. "I tell my son to look into the lives of all others as if into a mirror and to take from others a model for himself."
Roman honor, then, was a way of self-regarding as well as other-regarding. Honor required self-splitting; one needed to be, at all times, both the watched and the watcher. For the Roman, there could be, finally, no integrated psychic whole, no stable notion of self. If a Roman had a sense of "integrity" it was one built, paradoxically, on the dividing of the self. Cicero speaks of the self-control needed to resist shameful reactions to pain: "I'm not exactly sure how to say it, but it is as if we were two people: one who commanded and one who obeyed.”
And Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones:
The provisional and contested nature of reality (including the reality of one's being) and the immediacy and particularity of experience infused all Roman ways of thinking. The Romans did not have an "integrated psychic whole," and they tended not to synthesize or carefully correlate parts to a whole. Boundaries and obligations tended to accumulate and to overlap without being codified or systematized. The Romans were slow to deduce principles or create Utopias. There is a reason that modern philosophers and political theorists ignore the Romans: though rich and complex, the thought of the Romans is not easily translated into the categories or linearities of modern Western thought, with its rigid dichotomies and principle of noncontradiction.
Cicero comes right out and admits his bicamerality, but it is clearly not the same type that Jaynes wrote about. It is an artificial or voluntary version, though the second quote suggests they were different in more ways. They seemed to recognize an “animal” part of man that reacted to a stimulus and a “rational” part that was able to modulate that reaction. Jaynes says the Greeks and other ancient people understood that rational part to be gods or kings or ancestors while other authors say the Romans intentionally personified that part as a respected member of society, just to give it a little more force. But they were still split in a way we are not. They maybe had a better understanding of themselves, were able to decouple their actions and reactions from their thinking selves and analyze them. Nowadays our rational and animal parts are a jumble. People come to identify with their reactions and think any criticism of it is an attack on their self. I think that is a big cause of depression and other mental disorders. People don’t know why they react the way they do and feel out of control. They go to therapy to replace what would have been a hallucinated god three thousand years ago. The therapist walks them through their feelings because we forgot how to do that ourselves. That is how I read it anyway. It isn’t too important, the point is that these people believe the ancients had fundamentally different psyches than modern man. I don't actually know if even modern man has an integrated psychic whole.