The History of Consciousness: Our Amazing Bicameral Past
A person could make an excellent bet by wagering a hundred ounces of gold bullion that Julian Jaynes’ book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind will someday rank among the five most important books written during the second millennium. The discovery of the bicameral mind solves the missing-link problem that has defied all previous theories of human evolution.
Dr. Jaynes discovered that until 3000 years ago essentially all human beings were void of consciousness. Consciousness versus unconsciousness is not defined here as awake versus asleep, or aware versus knocked out. Consciousness is defined as modern man’s awareness of himself, his subjective thoughts and feelings, his subjective choices and self-determined interaction with the world around him versus mere automatic reactions to external stimuli as with all other animals, including man until about 3000 years ago.
Until the first millennium BC, man along with all other primates functioned by mimicked or learned reactions. But, because of his much larger, more complex brain, man was able to develop a coherent language beginning about 8000 B.C. In effect, human beings were super-intelligent but automatically reacting animals who could communicate by talking. That communication enabled human beings to cooperate closely to build societies, even thriving civilizations.
Still, like all other animals, man functioned almost entirely by an automatic guidance system that was void of consciousness. Ten thousand years ago, man’s neurological guidance system incorporated his superior phenomenon of speech: man’s neurological instructions amazingly took the form of automatic, audio commands in his own mind known today as audio hallucinations. Those audio hallucinations came from neurological instructions triggered in the right hemisphere of the brain and transmitted as “heard” voices of “the gods” in the left hemisphere of the brain (the bicameral or two-chamber mind). Whereas the cat would automatically run from danger, bicameral man would hear a voice in his head from his god saying, “Run, run away!”
Ironically, this advanced guidance system based on speech carried its own death sentence as it allowed civilizations to thrive to such new heights that the complexities went beyond the capacity of an automatic, neurological guidance system designed by nature. About 1000 BC, whole civilizations began collapsing as the “voices” became confused, contradictory, or just plain vanished. Man was forced to invent consciousness or a self- determining (versus automatically reacting) way of using his mind to become his own guide and god to survive in the collapsing bicameral civilizations.
Jaynes eliminated the missing link in the evolution of man by discovering that consciousness or the self-determining way of using the mind was never intended by nature — consciousness was invented by man.
The major components of Jaynes’s discovery are:
- All civilizations before 1000 B.C. — such as Assyria, Babylonia, Mesopotamia, pharaonic Egypt — were built, inhabited, and ruled by automatically reacting, unconscious people.
- Ancient writings such as the Iliad and the early books of the Old Testament were composed by unconscious minds that automatically recorded and objectively reported both real and imagined events. The transition to subjective and introspective writings of the conscious mind occurred in later works such as the Odyssey and the newer books of the Old Testament.
- Ancient people learned to speak, read, write, as well as carry out daily life, work, and the professions all while remaining unconscious throughout their lives. Being unconscious, they never experienced guilt, never practiced deceit, and were not responsible for their actions. They had no way to determine their actions; they were automatically reacting animals. They, like any other animal, had no concept of guilt, deception, evil, justice, philosophy, history, or the future. They could not introspect and had no internal idea of themselves. They had no subjective sense of time or space and had no memories as we know them. They were unconscious and innocent. They were guided by “voices” or strong impressions in their bicameral minds — unconscious minds structured for nature’s automatic survival.
- The development of human consciousness began about 3000 years ago when the automatic bicameral mind began breaking down under the mounting stresses of its inadequacy to find workable solutions in increasingly complex societies. The hallucinated voices became more and more confused, contradictory, and destructive.
- Man was forced to invent and develop consciousness in order to survive as his hallucinating voices no longer provided adequate guidance for survival.
- Today, after 3000 years, most people retain remnants of the bicameral guidance system in the form of mysticism and the desire for external authority.
- Except for schizophrenics, people today no longer hallucinate the voices that guided bicameral man. Yet, most people are at least partly influenced and are sometimes driven by the remnants of the bicameral man as they seek, to varying degrees, automatic guidance from “voices” of others or external “authorities”.
- All religions are rooted in the unconscious bicameral mind that is obedient to the “voices” of external “authorities” — obedient to the “voice” of God, gods, rulers, and leaders.
- The discovery that consciousness was never a part of nature’s evolutionary scheme (but was invented by man) eliminates the missing-link puzzle in human evolution.
- Essentially all religious and most political ideas survive through those vestiges of the obsolete bicameral mind. The bicameral mind seeks omniscient truth and automatic guidance from external “authorities” such as political or spiritual leaders — or other “authoritarian” sources such as manifested in idols, astrologists, gurus — as well as most lawyers, most psychiatrists and psychologists, certain professors, some doctors, most journalists and TV anchormen.
The idea of civilizations consisting entirely of unconscious, automatic-reacting people and the idea of man bypassing nature to invent his own consciousness initially seems incredible. But as Jaynes documents his evidence in a reasoned and detached manner, the existence of two minds in all human beings becomes increasingly evident: (1) the obsolete, unconscious (bicameral) mind that seeks guidance from external “authorities” for important thoughts and decisions, especially under stressed or difficult conditions; and (2) the newly invented conscious mind that bypasses external “authorities” and provides thoughts and guidance generated from one’s own mind. …Understanding Jaynes’ discoveries unlocks the 10,000 year-old secret of controlling the actions of people through their bicameral minds.