Thursday, February 25, 2010

The “bicameral mind” 30 years on: a critical reappraisal of Julian Jaynes’ hypothesis

A personal memo on

The “bicameral mind” 30 years on: a critical reappraisal of Julian Jaynes’ hypothesis


Andrea Eugenio Cavanna
Michael Trimble
Federico Cinti
Francesco Monaco

Functional Neurology 2007; 22(1): 11-15

Three neurologist and one philologist reviewed Julian Jaynes The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston, MA; Houghton Mifflin 1976) after 30 years of its publication.

This review article had three parts: (1) neurophysiological / neuropsychological examination; (2) philological / anthropological and psychological / philosophical examination; (3) overall assessment.

The neurophysiological / neuropsychological examination reported that "neurophysiological data provide weak support for a bicameral structure of the preconscious mind." (p. 12). It also concluded that Jaynes' attribution of hallucination to stress was "far too simplistic to be a valid model for common aetiological processes" given "the variety of hallucinatory phenomena observed in normal subjects and different neuropsychatric disorders, ranging from schizopherenia to epilepsy" (p. 12). However, no negative conclusion was presented; no neurophysiological / neuropsychological data falsified Jaynes' theory.

The philological / anthropological and psychological / philosophical examination repeated the inconsistency of Iliad, a point Jaynes made clear in his book. However, it raised an interesting issue of "qualia", a relatively recent philosophical term, was not included in the theory of consciousness by Jaynes.

The overall assessment was positive: The reviewers stated that the Jaynes' non-unitary concept of Self -- one valid interpretation of his theory of bicameral mind -- "happens to converge with some of the findings that have emerged from cognitive neuroscience studies during the past few decades." (p. 14) and quoted the following literature.

Minsky M. The Society of Mind. New York; Simon and
Schuster 1986
Fodor J. The Modularity of Mind. Cambridge, MA; MIT
Press 1987
Dennett DC. Consciousness Explained. Boston, MA; Little,
Brown 1991
Baars BJ. A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness. Cambridge;
Cambridge University Press 1988

The reviewers concluded as follows.

Therefore, the debate raised by Jaynes' hypothesis seems to support some contemporary attempts to deconstruct the concept of a unitary Self - a coherent centre of consciousness and engine of human actions. Converging evidence suggests that our common sense-based intuition of the unitary Self could be considered an illusion created by Western cultural and social paradigms, developed after the Homeric ages and philosophically enhanced by Plato's thought in terms of mind-body dualism. (p. 14)

This review article confirms the importance of Jaynes' work.


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