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.