Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Revisiting the Bicameral Mind



Julian Jaynes’s book,  The  Origins of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind was popular in some circles in the 1980’s.  I recall some folks in the Prometheus and Triple-Nine societies speaking highly of it.  One in particular quoted sections in the newsletter, and summarized some of the key ideas.  I would hardly have been interested at the time except that Jaynes was attributing schizophrenia to this change in all human brains over time, and I felt obliged to squelch that sort of thinking pretty quickly.

I feel obliged to squelch many sorts of thinking pretty quickly, actually.  It’s what I do.

The Jaynes enthusiasts pushed back, trying to convince us that this fascinating overview of history, linguistics, consciousness, and psychology was in fact worth considering. I was unmoved. Every few years it comes up again, most recently in a comment thread at West Hunter, of all places.  A young psychiatrist brought it up today.  The book seems to have remarkable persistence.  I dismissed it before the assembled throng on the basis of what I knew 25-30 years ago, yet had to admit when challenged that I had not, in fact, read the book.  So he lent it to me.

I read a dozen pages over lunch and am pleasantly surprised.  He writes engagingly and his reading has been far-ranging.  More importantly, he seems to be defining some issues of the discussion very well, and pointing out biases and philosophical errors in the history of science in the 18th-20th C.  I remain highly suspicious of what I already know are some of his conclusions about linguistics, schizophrenia, and religion.  However, there may be things worth knowing along the way before we get there.

And it is just a good exercise to rethink things and take them under consideration again. I will be away on vacation, and will bring it with me.

6 comments:

hugh lygon said...

I would hardly have been interested at the time except that Jaynes was attributing schizophrenia to this change in all human brains over time, and I felt obliged to squelch that sort of thinking pretty quickly.

you might be interested in this: http://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/schizophrenia-prevalence-correlated-gluten-grain-consumption-0

in general, the problem with behavioral genetics (as "practiced") is that it is oblivious to reaction norms. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norms_of_reaction#Misunderstanding_genetic.2Fenvironmental_interactions

the very big assumption of the hbd crowd is that though the mean for the population may be shifted up or down, everyone responds in the same direction and with the same magnitude to any environmental change.

but, obviously, this is exactly the response of a population of clones (MZTs) and not that of a genetically heterogeneous population.

so the hbders have been hoist by their own petard. they are self-contradictory.

hugh lygon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hugh lygon said...

psychiatry and behavioral genetics more generally are oblivious to reaction norms.

they confuse the heritability/concordance or stability of psychological traits within a particular society with intrinsic characteristics of the individual.

Retriever said...

I have been a huge enthusiast of the book since it came out. In particular, I found his ideas fruitful in reflecting upon and trying to minister to patients and families in a neuro intensive care unit. His ideas on mental illness per se aren't so hot, but the notion of physiology, accident, disease having spiritual dimensions, and of the possibility that people's experience of the Divine evolved as consciousness did was electrifying. Of course, I also liked Oliver Sacks.

In my defense, I was Not enchanted by my distant relative R. D. Laing whom I curse daily for his contributions to homelessness and the lack of residential care nowadays for chronically mentally ill patients, desperately in need of it (and the family caregivers being destroyed under the burden)

Jonathan said...

"I feel obliged to squelch many sorts of thinking pretty quickly, actually. It’s what I do."

AVI: Standing athwart history, yelling "Get off my lawn!"

ymarsakar said...

Why would anyone seek a source for a conclusion. If you follow the road they traveled, you should inevitably end up at a similar place. In many cases, an author's conclusion doesn't matter. It's the journey, not the destination.

It's how 2+2=4 and it's how 1+1=10 in binary, that matters, not what the answer is because the answer doesn't really say much.