Julian Jaynes : biography
Julian Jaynes (February 27, 1920 – November 21, 1997) was an American psychologist, best known for his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976), in which he argued that ancient peoples were not conscious.
Jaynes’ definition of consciousness is synonymous with what philosophers call "meta-consciousness" or "meta-awareness" i.e. awareness of awareness, thoughts about thinking, desires about desires, beliefs about beliefs. This form of reflection is also distinct from the kinds of "deliberations" seen in other higher animals such as crows insofar as it is dependent on linguistic cognition.
Jaynes wrote that ancient humans before roughly 1000BC were not reflectively meta-conscious and operated by means of automatic, nonconscious habit-schemas. Instead of having meta-consciousness, these humans were constituted by what Jaynes calls the "bicameral mind". For bicameral humans, when habit did not suffice to handle novel stimuli and stress rose at the moment of decision, neural activity in the "dominant" (left) hemisphere was modulated by auditory verbal hallucinations originating in the so-called "silent" (right) hemisphere (particularly the right temporal cortex), which were heard as the voice of a chieftain or god and immediately obeyed.
Jaynes wrote, "[For bicameral humans], volition came as a voice that was in the nature of a neurological command, in which the command and the action were not separated, in which to hear was to obey." Jaynes argued that the change from bicamerality to consciousness (linguistic meta-cognition) occurred over a period of ten centuries beginning around 1000 BC. The selection pressure for Jaynesian consciousness as a means for cognitive control is due, in part, to chaotic social disorganizations and the development of new methods of behavioral control such as writing.
Jaynes was born in West Newton, Massachusetts, son of Julian Clifford Jaynes (1854–1922), a Unitarian minister, and Clara Bullard Jaynes (1884-1980). He attended Harvard University, was an undergraduate at McGill University and afterwards received master’s and doctorate degrees from Yale University. He was mentored by Frank A. Beach and was a close friend of Edwin G. Boring. During this time period Jaynes made significant contributions in the fields of animal behavior and ethology. After Yale, Jaynes spent several years in England working as an actor and playwright. Jaynes later returned to the United States, and lectured in psychology at Princeton University from 1966 to 1990, teaching a popular class on consciousness for much of that time. He was in high demand as a lecturer, and was frequently invited to lecture at conferences and as a guest lecturer at other universities, including Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Rutgers, Dalhousie, Wellesley, Florida State, the Universities of New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Prince Edward Island, and Massachusetts at Amherst and Boston Harbor. In 1984 he was invited to give the plenary lecture at the Wittgenstein Symposium in Kirchberg, Austria. He gave six major lectures in 1985 and nine in 1986. He was awarded an honorary Ph.D. by Rhode Island College in 1979 and another from Elizabethtown College in 1985. He died at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island on November 21, 1997.
Reception and influence
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind was a successful work of popular science, selling out the first print run before a second could replace it. The book was a nominee for the National Book Award in 1978, and received dozens of positive book reviews, including those by well-known critics such as John Updike in The New Yorker, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times, and Marshall McLuhan in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Articles on Jaynes’s theory appeared in Time magazine and Psychology Today in 1977. Jaynes later expanded on the ideas in his book in a series of commentaries in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, in lectures and discussions published in Canadian Psychology, and in Art/World. He wrote an extensive Afterword for the 1990 edition of his book, in which he expanded on his theory and addressed some of the criticisms. More than 30 years later, Jaynes’s book is still in print.