Jaynes & The Breakdown of Bicameral Brain
A short assessment of the work of Julian Jaynes: the Origin of the Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Brain,* relevant to our ongoing discussion concerning epic poetry, poets, Homer, evolution of language, logos, religion, the Muses and the greatest institution of mankind, that of learning and teaching (humanism, per se!).
Jaynes was probably the first person, to realize the significance of Gazzaniga's1 momentous discoveries, and the extent of the implications of the findings deduced from the experiments conducted by Gazzaniga, Sperry and Bogen,2 concerning an ecologically convincing functionality of the complex organ brain and that moreover seems to be in tune with the modern perception of the brain as a flexible plastic entity crammed with redundant structural accessories and Re-Representations (H. Jackson, 1958 3) with systems of concertedly working zones (Luria, Simernitskaya and Tubylevich, 1970 4) and where a reduplication of associative functions occurs in an environment, where an establishment of stable resonance a for any pattern of stimulation is more than probable (Lashley, 1942 5).
From this global redundancy and Re-Representation manifested for most of the functions in the two hemispheres of our brains, there are apparently some noticeable exceptions. Foremost the language! It seems there is no equivalent to Wernicke Centrum in the corresponding hemisphere, and any injury to an adult human being here may result in a permanent Aphasia. On the other hand an almost total removal of the right hemisphere (in right handed) individuals may not result in a permanent loss of all the great capabilities, that characterize language, speech and thought and the sense of the self! However paradoxically, this (right _ for most of us) hemisphere can understand language and speech, can hear but not speak!
Jaynes concludes, that it once spoke and in certain specific cases still can, and probably always does with the other speech centers (and thereby gaining access to our awareness) via Commissura anterior rostra cerebri. That is when we hear voices. According to Jaynes it must have been evolutionary constraints and selective pressures that squeezed the formation of newer superstructures associated with speech and language inside the left hemisphere, leaving the corresponding areas in the other hemisphere free, because the latter had an important function at that time. This was the place, where the gods, angels and spirits and voices (including our divinities) were localized! Today we might say, those are the code pre-compilation centers for language and for a verbal sense of awareness, which access the manifest Awareness, and are displayed in native language on the local platform. In pre-literate societies they however were experienced as dichotomized voices emanating from heaven. Fact is that this hemisphere is perfectly able to understand language and the semantic! It has been conclusively revealed by the work of Gazzaniga and colleagues.
I am of the opinion that here, a lot more of research needs to be done, to understand first the awareness itself and its evolution, before one can really build a full fledged hypothesis that concerns our fundamental beliefs concerning the species Homo sapiens. Apparently a pre-compiled code, that can utter commands can be a hidden entity, organically as well as metaphysically, but the question is why did our awareness localize itself elsewhere instead of building directly a superstructure on already existing structures here, which should have been more economical? Maybe it did just that with the our cousin species, who apparently lived next door to us at certain times! Religious people may have an answer here. Even psychologist like Jung and Grodeck hypothesized about archetypes and the Es of Freud, which the latter saw as an independently existing hidden entity, and which, I am inclined to think, some of them or their followers presumed in some mysterious way, to posses an awareness of its own existence (predominantly of a pre-logical irrational demonic kind!), in a manner denied to our own awareness. This is where we really enter the universe of the metaphysical, which is beyond the scope of this article.
Jaynes, in his long-titled book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, disregards all our historically inherited schools of thought, episteme and terminologies from the established psycho-sociological sciences, that have determined the direction that research and investigation in these fields would faithfully take and that have inevitably lead to either to a lot of dissonances or a sort of academic esoteric, inherited from European philosophy of the 19th Century in these realms, wherein you seem just to revolve round in circles without making a headway.
He has approached the age old problem of evolution of consciousness with an open and therefore truly novel perspective. His reads Homer not through the eyes of the Socratikers or Stoics, not through the transparent glasses of the Romans, and still less through the tinted binoculars of the philosophers of pre- and post-industrial Europe but with a stimulating fresh eye of a child, even if his conclusions may turn out to be biased.
However, I suspect, the implicit hypothesis that this work exhibits may not stand the test of time. But that, to be sure is the fate of almost all expositions conducted on more than one platform, in several disciplines and with explicit syncretic mission. Quite often they exhibit, sometimes to the chagrin of their propounders, an unintentional tendency toward universalism and to turn all encompassing for the fans and ardent followers, which may lead to a certain kind of disrepute and an implicit excommunication (tabooing) from the establishment, but which may nevertheless be thought-provoking and no more or less true than the constantly changing perspectives and paradigms of the more established schools of thought.
For my part I sincerely doubt, if at decisive moments, the epic heroes, be it Achilles, Rustum or Rama, were really commanded by the gods (Voices), or that their conceptualization, solely determined by their bicameral minds, made them experience the mental processes that way. We must not forget that the individual, or the concept of an individual at that time may not have made an allowance for individual decisions, and an individuals decision may not have carried the same authority in a archaic society with different forms of instutionalized authority (where powers were generally derived from divine descent or through age) than the ones, we know of through written history. Maybe the divinities were invoked to lend legitimacy and gain social consens for one's actions or decisions, which presupposes the existence of a metaphysical world (embellished with an appropriate vocabulary) and which, in my opinion would entail consciousness as a prerequisite. After all if we are willing to call an aware pre-meditated deception in chimpanzees as a primordial consciousness, why would our ancestors, so advanced in linguistic and semantic not posses one? As an awareness of the self , as the motor behind one's actions and as a constant linguistic monologue? These archaic societies after all did posses concepts of penalty and punishments for trespassing the social norms, which means an individual was made responsible for his actions! Jealousy, revenge, tit-for-tat, deception, ruse, disobey etc. etc.--- all these words apparently existed in archaic languages, probably long before they split into modern languages, throughout the globe.
But the shift in dominance from an auditory based linguistic perception of the self (comparable to a musician, who can't read notes but knows the score) and the world toward a more visually oriented linguistic construction of one's inner being and the universe (comparable to a musician who sees the notes and knows the score) seems to me, to be more plausible than certain far-fetched reductive theories, including the ones, that desperately try to fill the gaping holes with dynamic system- regulations, electro-magnetic oscillations, quantum jumps or chaotic attractors or mathematical variances, that highlight only a very specific aspect of the phenomena6 or in attempting to cross the boundaries seem unfortunately to be contrived!
The findings of Jaynes on the other hand shed light, in a less forced and less contrived manner on varied aspects of this phenomena, which is doubtlessly more complex than anything we know of, and they are exceptionally well correlated with facts of evolution, archaeology, anthropology, literature, linguistic, neurobiology and psychiatry. In Islam, it is very much emphasized that Mohammed is the last Prophet. Who knows? Maybe the mind intuitively knew beforehand that the aural beings were relegating their powers! For the simple reason, that this thing is not happening for the first time in the universe. However in Buddhism and Jainism, whose appearance and propagation maybe accorded a similar need for a paradigm change, there is however no indication of a voice-induced divine message. Had they been already far off from bicameralism? Buddha is hardworking dedicated but an ordinary you and me, seeking the essence of it all! Gandhi, spoke of an inner voice, but it sounds similar to Plato or Kant invoking ideas or a priori Erkenntnis or a writer, like me saying I was visited by the Muses. It is less to gain a social approval, consens or agreement but more to admit one's own humble role in the great drama of the universe, to admit one's real ignorance of the essence and intrinsic properties of the creative endeavor and last but not least to free one's self from the illusions and quite frequent delusions of the socialized ego!
Unfortunately however Jaynes is more popular or controversial and eliciting emotional reactions, because of his dating the appearance of the consciousness so late in evolution. But I believe this maybe more because of the rather vague meaning attached to consciousness by the public. We even now use the term, minds eye . Who knows? Maybe the bicameral being of Jaynes, similarly would say minds voice ! However in both cases it seems to be an object, outside one's unmediated awareness of the self (ego).
The implication of Jaynes approach to the phenomenon of consciousness are however much more sweeping than his dating of this phenomenon (which may not hold true in all cases) and possibly gain entry into the academic world only through the backdoor at first. The academic world is and always was conservative by its nature, think of the laugh it had on Strata Smith! At that time its time dimensions were measured in biblical thousand year spans.
Jaynes work according to the views of some people, has issued forth, a response from the public almost unprecedented since Darwin published his epochal work. For congenial reasons I assume, as they both touch the core of our being and beliefs! Like Darwin's work, it may have implications for many branches of human-sciences, it may mean a new look at our concepts of ego, super-ego, morals, faith, beliefs, moral-responsibility. For more significant for the public, would be its moral implication. It was a student of Freud, Grodeck, who I believe, first propounded the idea of ego, being created to take over the responsibility for one's actions. Jesus may have known it intuitively as did the other prophets. After all they lived in an age where this relegation of powers equivalent to a paradigm change in science and Weltanschaung were taking place. But I must admit that original driving out of the paradise is an old relict of a collective memory and no less an indication of this separation (dichotomy between the sense of personal autonomy and the old perception of being embedded in creation) and the subsequent evolution of ego (and the concept of sin) as an entity taking over the command and the responsibility that goes with it, and the first awareness of feeling of loneliness, which still haunts us and will haunt us still more, with the disappearance of the family. Maybe it was a much longer process and culminated in the appearance of Jesus as the prophet, who sought a new synthesis for this dichotomy. It maybe an indication also of the warped nature of our brain. Originally created to fulfill the needs of the whole organism and the ecosphere, it increasingly enamored by its own powers actively attempted to cut off the old centers of command. Evolution of the ego may the biblical original sin. A somewhat similar scenario is depicted in Stanley Kubrick's film: Odyssey 2001
The involvement of some otherwise normal people, even scientist and scholars in sometimes bizarre cults and beliefs-systems may be actually as much a result of psychological need of redemption from this dichotomy as much as a Durkheim's totem, that reinforces our sense of social solidarity and therefore of attaining a semblance of Samadhi (Sanskrit: being a part of the whole). This dichotomy still resides in us and is not dead! Phylogenetically carved in the brain it is an evolutionary legacy. The future may offer us even more subtle earthly ways of absolution with the emergence of a new multimedia universe, where we don't sit before the monitor nor read books, but our cars, our doors and windows speak to us, inhibiting our limbs less and less, freeing our eyes for newer feasts and maybe becoming our new divinities and gods. This may be far nearer than you and I can at present imagine. See in this respect the extract of an article written by Alessi and reproduced at right. It deals with the work of Julius Jaynes and the emerging aural and visual scenarios concerning human beings in a multimedia world of tomorrow. Interestingly it was published before the widespread use of modern technologies like DSL, WAN, mobile phones with video capabilities and the PDA!
Or may be, we really are headed toward a new Singularity, as some optimists believe, which may make all these questions superfluous! Nevertheless, it does seem that the classical Homo sapiens, despite his/her recurrent regressive fanatical (be it religious, national or football oriented) succumbing to bouts of aggressive behavior, is nearing the end of his/her existence. In fact the behavior may be an partly instinctive defensive attitude induced by a vaguely felt lost cause. Most of the classical structures of human organizations are crumbling before the onslaught of modern technologies. And there is no place to run. Like our Neanderthal relative, we may have to watch a robot or some mutant form of ours, gradually taking over the reigns held so long by our species, living in a world apparently created for some future form of existence, since most of what we got around us and that we ourselves created certainly does not tally with our biological heritage!
Exit Rousseau & Lovejoy!
Enter Captain Kirk!
IT Forum Paper _ by M. Alessi, University of Iowa, (1996)
Here is an extract of a discussion at ITF (1996), relevant to our current topic and from an "age", when DVD, DSL, WLAN, PDA and mobile phones with video capabilities were almost unknown.
Michael Spector [24 Feb 96] asks what I think will be the long term effects of aural rather than written communication, much the same issue raised by Charles Padgett. Let me follow up on that a bit. Many psychologists associate reading and writing with thinking, at least a different level of thinking, more than they do speaking and listening. I believe that is largely because reading and writing were (until recently) based upon a permanent record. Because text is permanent visual information, we can carefully inspect it, reread it, process it, and modify it without time constraints. Aural information, historically, was ephemeral, occurring in time, and therefore harder to inspect, process, and modify. We do so in conversations, but we often do so poorly because of the limitations of attention, short term memory, sensory overload, etc. This century's invention of recording technology (records, tape recorders, CD's, and now computers) I believe has changed that. Auditory information is now a permanent record too, even if not visual. Recorded auditory information can be repeatedly inspected and processed without time constraints. Now, with computer technology, it is also becoming easier to modify recorded auditory information. So, the key distinction between visual and auditory information, its permanence, is being eliminated by information technology. We will move into a new era in which people can engage in the same activities with recorded auditory information as readers and writers used to do with the written word. Auditory information is coming up to par with visual information. Now, written information had this "permanence" advantage (historically) despite aural communication being much more natural to people. By natural, I mean that aural communication has been around so long that evolution has "wired" it into our brains. Children learn language naturally. Written communication is so new to humans that it has not become wired into our brains. We must be taught to read and write and it's much harder than learning to speak and listen. But the permanence of visual information outweighed the built-in wiring. Now, with the advantage of permanence disappearing, I think the natural human proclivity to aural communication will begin to dominate. Mike asks what research I think is important in this regard? Well, there is basic research and applied research. I suspect basic psychology researchers will be interested in the effects on cognition of humanity moving (or returning) to predominantly aural communication for the transmission of knowledge and culture. As an applied researcher, I am more interested in how to overcome the inherent differences between the written and the aural. How can we make recorded auditory information more easily inspectable and modifiable? How can we overcome any differential impact on our spatial versus linguistic versus quantitative abilities? I believe we can overcome such differences by designing the right editing and processing tools.
Author: M.Alessi, University of Iowa, (1996)