Saturday, February 6, 2010

Language and Consciousness according to Julian Jaynes

Quotation from

Consciousness and the Voices of the Mind

Consciousness is not about everything we do:

That consciousness is in everything we do is an illusion. Suppose you asked a flashlight in a completely dark room to turn itself on and to look around and see if there was any light - the flashlight as it looked around would of course see light everywhere and come to the conclusion that the room was brilliantly lit when in fact it was mostly just the opposite. So with consciousness. We have an illusion that it is all mentality. If you look back into the struggles with this problem in the 19th century and early 20th century, this is indeed the error that trapped people into so much of the difficulty, and still does. (p. 3)

We often think or act from "struction" not always or necessarily from consciousness:

Structions are like instructions given to the nervous system, that, when presented with the materials to work on, result in the answer automatically without any
conscious thinking or reasoning. (p. 5)

Consciousness may precede "struction," but it is "struction" that solves a problem, according to some physicists.

Consciousness studies a problem and prepares it as a struction, a process which may result in a sudden appearance of the solution as if out of nowhere. During World War II, British physicists used to say that they no longer made their discoveries in the laboratory; they had their three B’s where their discoveries were made - the bath, the bed, and the bus. And, as I have mentioned earlier, this process on a smaller scale is going on in me at present as I am speaking: my words are as if chosen for me by my nervous system after giving it the struction of my intended meaning. (p. 6)

The space of consciousness ("mind-space") exists only where we assign a location to it:

The space of consciousness, which I shall hereafter call mind-space, is a functional space that has no location except as we assign one to it. To think of our consciousness as inside our heads, as reflected in and learned from our works like introspection or internalization, is a very natural but arbitrary thing to do. I certainly do not mean to say that consciousness is separate from the brain; by the assumptions of natural science, it is not. But we use our brains in riding bicycles, and yet no one considers that the location of bicycle riding is inside our heads. The phenomenal location of consciousness is arbitrary. (p. 6)

What is metephored ("metaphrand") is produced by what metaphors ("metaphier"). Metaphier usually has an association, the original (literal) use of the metaphorical expression, called "paraphier." "Paraphier" produces "paraphrand," an entity created newly, which will be united with metaphrand, making us believe that the metaphrand really exists physically:

As a more relevant example, suppose a person, back in the time at the formation of our mental vocabulary, has been trying to solve some problem or to learn how to perform some task. To express his success, he might suddenly exclaim (in his own language), aha! I ‘see’ the solution. ‘See’is the metaphier, drawn from the physical behavior from the physical world, that is applied to this otherwise inexpressible mental occurrence, the metaphrand. But metaphiers usually have associations called paraphiers that project back into the metaphrand as what are called paraphrands and, indeed, create new entities. The word ‘see’ has associations of seeing in the physical world and therefore of space, and this space then becomes a paraphrand as it is united with this inferred mental event called the metaphrand.


(p. 7)

Narrating 'I' started consciousness:

When did all this ‘inner’ world begin? Here we arrive at the most important watershed in our discussion. Saying that consciousness is developed out of language means that everybody from Darwin on, including myself in earlier years, was wrong in trying to trace out the origin of consciousness biologically or neurophysiologically. It means we have to look at human history after language has evolved and ask when in history did an analog ‘I’ narratizing in a mind-space begin. (p. 8)

There is no evidence of consciousness in Iliad:

But if you take the generally accepted oldest parts of the Iliad and ask, “Is there evidence of consciousness?” the answer, I think, is no. People are not sitting down and making decisions. No one is. No one is introspecting. No one is even reminiscing. It is a very different kind of world. (p. 9)

How did men decide without consciousness:

Then, who makes the decisions? Whenever a significant choice is to be made, a voice comes in telling people what to do. These voices are always and immediately obeyed. These voices are called gods. To me this is the origin of gods. I regard them as auditory hallucinations similar to, although not precisely the same as, the voices heard by Joan of Arc or William Blake. Or similar to the voices that modern schizophrenics hear. Similar perhaps to the voices that some of you may have heard. (pp. 9-10)

The "bicameral" mind without consciousness:

This mentality in early times, as in the Iliad, is what is called the bicameral mind on the metaphier of a bicameral legislature. It simply means that human mentality at this time was in two parts, a decision-making part and a follower part, and neither part was conscious in the sense in which I have described consciousness. And I would like to remind you here of the rather long critique of consciousness with which I began my talk, which demonstrated that human beings can speak and understand, learn, solve problems, and do much that we do but without being conscious. So could bicameral man. In his everyday life he was a creature of habit, but when some problem arose that needed a new decision or a more complicated solution than habit could provide, that decision stress was sufficient to instigate an auditory hallucination. Because such individuals had no mind-space in which to question or rebel, such voices had to be obeyed. (p. 10)

Writing weakened the bicameral mind:

Another cause is writing itself, because once something is written you can turn away from it and it has no more power over you, in contrast to an auditory hallucination, which you cannot shut out. Writing, particularly as used extensively in Hammurabi’s hegemony, weakened the power of the auditory directions. The spread of writing, the complexities of overpopulation, and the chaos of huge migrations as one population invaded others: these are the obvious causes. And in this breakdown, various things started to happen, including I think the beginning of consciousness. (p. 12)

The birth of men who self-reflect and invent 'I' and the mind-space:

Solon is the first person who seems like us, who talks about the mind in the same way we might. He is the person who said “Know thyself,” although sometimes that’s given to the Delphic Oracle. How can you know yourself unless you have an analog ‘I’ narratizing in a mind-space and reminiscing or having episodic memory about what you have been doing and who you are? In Greece, then, one can see in detail the invention and learning of consciousness on the basis of metaphor and analogy (as I have described above) by tracing out through these writings the change in words like phrenes, kardia, psyche (what I have called “preconscious hypostacies”) from objective referents to mental functions. (p. 12)

Summary: (1) Metaphors and analogies though the use of language created consciousness; (2) The bicameral mind existed before the creation of consciousness; (3) Consciousness follwed the bicameral mind:

I can sum up what I have said so far as three major ideas about the origin of consciousness. The first concerns the nature of consciousness itself and that it arises from the power of language to make metaphors and analogies. The second idea is the hypothesis of the bicameral mind, an early type of mentality. I think the evidence for its existence is unmistakable. Apart from this idea, there is a problem of explaining the origin of gods, the origin of religious practices in the back corridors of time that is so apparent with a psychological study of history. The bicameral mind offers a possibility to tie it all together and to provide a rationale for it. The third idea is that consciousness followed the bicameral mind. I have placed the date somewhere between 1400 B.C. and 600 B.C. This is a long period and that date may have to be adjusted. But I believe this to be a good approximation. (p. 14)

Conscious life is not all about human life:

The final thought I will close with is that all of this that is most human about us, this consciousness, this artificial space we imagine in other people and in ourselves, this living within our reminiscences, plans, and imaginings, all of this is indeed only 3,000 years old. (p. 16)

Welcome back to the life as we knew it:

It is easy for the average layman to understand. But paradoxically, for philosophers, psychologists, and neurophysiologists, who have been so used to a different kind of thinking, it is a difficult thing. What we have to explain is the contrast, so obvious to a child, between all the inner covert world of imaginings and memories and thoughts and the external public world around us. (p. 1)

This lecture was given at the Canadian Psychological Association Symposium on Consciousness in Halifax, Canada, in 1985 and first appeared in Canadian Psychology, April 1986, Vol. 27 (2). It is now available at:

To learn more about Julian Jaynes, please go to:

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