“I” as the side-effect of a personal narrative

According to Mike Holderness

The Origin of Consciousness in the Bicameral Mind is in its own way one of the more bitingly rationalist books I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Its central proposition – that consciousness arose only some time after the Iliad stories were first told – caused outrage among classicists when it was first published in 1977. The underlying thesis is that before then everyone was a florid schizophrenic, instructed in their every move by insistent ‘voices’, which were named as gods. Can consciousness have arisen simply as a metaphor ‘I’, as a side-effect of a personal narrative? Is all religion a nostalgia for the divided (bicameral) mind?

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Update: According to this

Nearly 1 in 10 seven- to eight-year-olds hears voices that aren’t really there, according to a new study.
But most children who hear voices don’t find them troubling or disruptive to their thinking, the study team found. “These voices in general have a limited impact in daily life,” Agna A. Bartels-Velthuis of University Medical Center Groningen in The Netherlands wrote in an email to Reuters Health.

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6 Comments

  1. ‘Leigh Fermor used to say that the loss of his first three diaries “aches, like an old wound in cold weather,” and yet it allowed him to recreate the early stages of his walk from a mixture of memory and imagination. The re-discovery of the final diary was not the boon he might have hoped: “It brings him slap up against two things—what actually happened, and the young, callow, Anglo-centric, slightly Woosterish, touchingly vulnerable young man that he was.’

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  2. According to John Smythies

    Jaynes’s theory of consciousness fails to give an adquate account of phenomenal consciousness and over-emphasizes the role of language. His theory of the cerebral basis of language is obsolete. His account of schizophrenia has been bypassed by recent discoveries in the field of the neuro- anatomical abnormalities found in that condition. The optimism expressed by most of the contributors to this book is doomed to disappointment. However, the book is well worth reading for Stone’s chapter, and if the rest of the book is read in the context of the history of enchanting but failed ideas.

    and

    David Stone contributed the most interesting essay in this volume, written with biting wit. He admits that most of what Jaynes wrote is “incredible” but says that at least Jayne’s treatment of religion is a treasure (Kuijsten, 2006, pp. 277-289). Jaynes tackles the real problem. which is, according to Stone, “Why should almost all human history be a tale, (in Jayne’s words), of ‘the slow withdrawing tide of divine voices and presences’, and of ever-renewed attempts, through prophets or poetry or peyote or whatever, to establish contact with ‘a lost ocean of authority”‘ (Jaynes, 1976, p. 320).

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  3. According to skim172

    People have always been idiots. The internet just allows us to be more self-entitled and satisfy our immediate whims, which subsequently shapes our behavior. Wonder why the “hipster” culture of not taking anything seriously and viewing all things through an ironic, dispassionate lens became popular? Because it’s the culmination of a steady increase in self-alienation – we don’t take things seriously because those things don’t exist – relatively speaking. Since we can access whatever we want, we can also ignore anything we don’t want – in other words, we increasingly have the power to manipulate our sensory input to avoid emotionally investing in things that don’t immediately satisfy our pleasure centers.

    Which means, emotionally, they’re not as real to us. An insane person attacking another is not as emotionally real as “zombie apocalypse.” We’re increasingly allowing our most immediate emotions to decide what matters and what doesn’t.

    Not that that’s completely new, but giving ourselves individual control makes it more and more central to our value judgments. After all, for our ancestors, the fact that you hate your neighbor doesn’t change the fact that you’ll have to deal with them and they’ll assert themselves as part of your reality whether or not you like it. The community and people you encountered mattered whether or not you wanted it to.

    But now, that’s less true, because we’ve got access to an entire reality outside of our physical location. If you don’t like your neighbor, just ignore them. You’ve got internet, smartphones, cheap long-distance transportation, massed centralized populations – you can more or less ignore almost anybody and anything and they simply won’t matter to you. (David Wong has a great article on this phenomenon).

    In contrast to this: about a hundred years back, an anthropologist studying a small nomadic group living in a desolate part of the Arctic Circle found that they had a similar concept to what we’d call a “sociopath” – someone who lacks empathy and cares only about himself and not for anyone else in the community. This was a small community always struggling for food and resources – survival depended on every member of the tribe selflessly doing their part, which meant a sociopath would be major threat. The anthropologist asked what they would do with such a person. They replied that that person would quietly be pushed off the ice into the ocean on a hunting trip and the community would never speak of them again. That sort of self-centered existence was impossible in their context.

    But not for ours. While we’re not all sociopaths, our advanced, commercialized information culture does enable us to construct our daily lives and experience around ourselves and our desires and whims. In fact, a self-centered existence not only thrives, but is arguably more beneficial in this environment.

    It’s not surprising that “zombies” have become such a popular trend. “Zombie” is an entirely emotional thing, associated with the most primal sensations of rage, fear, and violence exercised against other humans. In a zombie apocalypse, it becomes socially and emotionally acceptable to kill as many people as you desire and the only time a zombie becomes humanized is if it holds immediate emotional value (a friend, family member). It’s the same thing we do with information on the internet – unless it activates the right immediate sensations, it doesn’t matter.

    And since most of the people on the internet are faceless names and avatars, we don’t give a s**t about them. In essence, the internet is our “zombie apocalypse” – we can’t exercise physical violence, but we can do whatever the hell we want to anyone else online because the only things that matter are the value judgments based on our most superficial emotions.

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  4. According to Adam Gopnik

    And it is exactly in that excitement that the real relation of stories and science might be found. Good stories are strange. What strong scientific theories, even those crafted in pop form, have in common with good stories is not some specious universality. It’s that they make claims so astonishing that they seem instantly very different from all the other stories we’ve ever heard. Good stories are startling.

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  5. According to David M. Eagleman

    Because different types of sensory information (hearing, seeing, touch, and so on) are processed at different speeds by different neural architectures, your brain faces an enormous challenge: what is the best story that can be constructed about the outside world?

    Likewise, what is the best story that can be constructed about the inside world?

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  6. According to Left in the Dark

    These and many more pieces of a jigsaw have been pieced together in a new hypothesis that challenges the orthodox paradigm yet fits perfectly with ancient tradition and the latest scientific observations. Effectively part of our brain is damaged; our normal perception is severely limited and our basic physiology is inefficiently run, leading to disease and premature degeneration. Psychologically, fear and a desperate need for familiarity dominate us and we have created a world that reflects this condition.

    Although at first sight this may appear a bleak scenario, it actually holds much hope. No-one can deny our world is facing a number of interrelated crises – and at the heart of all of them is the human mind. Correctly identifying the core problem is the first stage in finding a solution. As this neurological glitch within us is at least partially reversible, there is a real possibility of correcting the fault and allowing a return to our sense of earthly paradise.

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