Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Bicameral Mind

About fifteen years ago I was browsing through a used bookstore when I came across a weighty tome with an equally weighty title: “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”. This challenging and fascinating book by Julian Jaynes advances a theory which has continued to resonate for me: that our way of experiencing consciousness/self-awareness is a relatively recent development, perhaps from within the last few thousand years. Here’s what I say about his theory in my book:

Prior to that time, Mr. Jaynes contends, our conscious and subconscious minds were integrated, and we heard suggestions for future action from our subconscious mind as a voice or voices that we often interpreted as messages from the gods or departed loved ones.
We still often exist in that more integrated state of mind, where we live within the moment rather than create an inner monologue watching and describing to ourselves what it is we’re doing. Sometimes, interestingly enough, we must exist in that more integrated state of mind because otherwise there are tasks we would find ourselves incapable of doing. This is particularly true of any complicated physical action: if we are playing a musical instrument, or driving a car, or hitting a baseball, we do these things much better when repetition and the honing of our skills allow us to perform all the tiny actions that make up the activity without having to think about each of them. This has often been shown to be true of great mental achievements as well, where some of the finest minds of our time have reported that their important breakthroughs “just came to them”, or even just “appeared in a dream”. In other words, this theory suggests that splitting our mental processes into a conscious mind which is constantly viewing our actions as if from the outside is not always a useful way to exist, and is not the way that most living organisms exist.

Although Mr. Jaynes died in 1997, there is a Julian Jaynes Society which continues to discuss and promote his unique ideas. In my last blog I mentioned my belief that voices of conscience, intuition, memories of loved ones, storytelling from previous generations, and more metaphysical manifestations such as ghosts or angels could all be possible examples of how a system of beliefs and memes work “behind the scenes”, so to speak, to help define our consensual reality. The Bicameral Mind theory, I believe, can also be used to show us a way that our minds could be processing incoming data from the upcoming fifth dimensional paths that are soon to be available to us as we create our fourth dimensional line, and such manifestations as prescience, intuition, or deja vu could be part of the ways that our minds reveal that data to our conscious minds.

Modern society teaches us to be afraid or suspicious of those moments when we operate without apparent consciousness, even though there a great many things that we do better when we find a way to quiet our “narrator voice”, and exist in the more integrated mode that Julian Jaynes tells us was the way all humans lived in ancient times and back through our evolution from the primordial soup.

My song “Automatic” talks about all these ideas, I hope you enjoy it!

- words and music by Rob Bryanton (SOCAN)

Musta been runnin on automatic
I simply can’t recall
How did I get here, what was I doin?
No clue at all
Lost my place in the conversation
What were we talking about
Thought I was here, must have been dreamin
Without a doubt

Musta been runnin on automatic

What was for breakfast, just this mornin
I really couldn’t say
Out there circlin another planet
So far away
Where was my head at, was I drivin
Not even seein the road
Was I only goin through the motions
Don’t even know


Julian Jaynes showed me he had the answer
In the bicameral mind
Conciousness broken down into pieces
Oh what a find
We’ve all been runnin on automatic
Since we were back in the trees
But still we made it here on automatic
How can it be


Something beautiful and complicated
Does it ever seem strange
How we could do that on automatic
Hard to explain

Musta been runnin on automatic

Click here to hear the song on Amie Street.

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm a Jaynes fan too. I thought you might be interested in a new book that was just released called Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes's Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited - it's great!

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