In 1976, Julian Jaynes published his most famous and monumental work, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. The Origin of Consciousness... is an enormous text, virtually encyclopedic in scope. It can be very technical at times and requires a preliminary superficial knowledge or at least familiarity with the subjects of Philosophy, psychology, Linguistics, Anthropology, and Religion, all of which Jaynes communicates with authority and lucidity. Jaynes presents what on the surface looks like a radical and eccentric theory regarding the origin of consciousness, yet if one follows the book to conclusion sufficiently assimilating the vast amount of evidence presented, one cannot help but feel that it makes logical sense.
The Oxford American Dictionary defines 'bicameral' as "having two legislative (or law making) chambers." Hence a bicameral mind refers to a split in the role of directing the organism. According to Julian Jaynes, about three thousand years ago all individuals possessed such a bicameral mind. "At one time," he writes, "human nature was split in two, an executive part called a god, and a follower part called a man. Neither part was conscious." When the Bicameral Man was faced with a stressor that involved the need for a decision, the God portion of the brain would instruct the individual in the necessary course of action. "Volition, planning, initiative, is organized with no consciousness whatever and then 'told' to the individual in his familiar language, sometimes with the visual aura of a familiar friend or authority figure or 'god', or sometimes as a voice alone. The individual obeyed these hallucinated voices because he could not 'see' what to do himself." Concerning the biological mechanism of these schizophrenic voices of the gods Jaynes writes that "the speech of the gods was directly organized in what corresponds to Wernicke's area on the right hemisphere and 'spoken' or 'heard' over the anterior commissures to or by the auditory areas of the left temporal lobe." Taking this concept as his thesis, he proceeds to build a system around this central idea which forces us to rethink our common historical conceptions of consciousness.
During the bicameral period people were supposedly non-conscious. "This is almost incomprehensible to us," he argues. To a person familiar with Analytical Psychology however, understanding is not lacking but instead is inevitable. Jaynes theory can easily be developed into a theory not only of the origin but also of the evolution of consciousness. Animals and humans, up until the bicameral period, functioned primarily from what the psychoanalysts refer to as the unconscious. This unconsciousness is congruent with the paradigm expressed by behaviorism. According to this paradigm people appear to posses some kind of consciousness but in reality it is simply a series of reactions to the environment. The Pre-Bicameral or unconscious person was without an ego, or a self-conscious relationship to its environment. The Bicameral period is correlative to the emerging of the ego into consciousness. Up until this time the ego was hidden in Subconsciousness and so it now appears as something foreign and separate. Throughout the years the ego made its way to a complete assimilation of consciousness.
The single aspect of Jaynes' theory that may be difficult for the reader to grasp or accept is his explanation of what consciousness actually involves. For Jaynes, consciousness is "an operation rather than a thing, a repository, or a function. It operates by way of analogy, by way of constructing an analog space with an analog 'I' that can observe that space and move metaphorically in it." According to this explanation consciousness merely consists of our faculty of imagination in which we are able to visualize ourselves almost instantaneously carrying out a fictional scenario, a process known as reasoning. Such a view of consciousness is radical to say the least but not unlikely. Jaynes went to great lengths to prepare the reader for this foundational theory of consciousness by systematically deconstructing and challenging eight of the most prominent theories of consciousness available to him at the time. His theory of consciousness gains precedence in relation to the rest of his book especially regarding his theory of language. Herein is the key to the development of consciousness. "Each new stage of words literally created new perceptions and attentions, and such new perceptions and attentions resulted in important cultural changes which are reflected in the archeological record." As language increased consciousness developed.
Julian Jaynes was very well informed during his time as I did not find any material which I recall to be outdated or updated in light of modern discoveries. His book still remains relatively modern in that respect. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind is a fascinating and informative text approachable by the layman as well as the specialist. It provides a unique alternative for anyone seeking a different theory of consciousness than that which is commonly promulgated.