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The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind Paperback – Aug 15 2000

4.4 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (Aug. 1 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618057072
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618057078
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 590 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #40,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


When Julian Jaynes . . . speculates that until late in the twentieth millennium b.c. men had no consciousness but were automatically obeying the voices of the gods, we are astounded but compelled to follow this remarkable thesis." - John Updike The New Yorker "

About the Author

Julian Jaynes (1923-1997) achieved an almost cult-like reputation for this controversial book, which was his only published work.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I read this book about 20 years ago and consider it the most influential book I have ever read.
I found it very challenging to get through. For example, I remember spending an entire commute (about an hour) considering the thoughts presented on one page. I initially rejected Jaynes' contention on that page. It took me an of consideration to conclude that he was entirely correct.
Considering the amount of thought required though, this book is really a page turner of a sort.
Jaynes' main thesis, that consciousness evolved due to changes that evolved in the brain around 2 thousand years ago, is fascinating, and, in my opinion, well supported by the evidence he presents. However, I have not concluded that it is entirely true.
Nevertheless, this book is a must read for intelligent, curious people regardless of whether his theory is eventually proven true.
Specifically, I have received the following benefits from reading this book:
I understand why some activities are much easier to learn by visual observation and why oral instruction is often detrimental in learning to perform physical activities. This helped me teach my children how to ride their bicycles.
I understand the significance of Christ in western culture, and why our calendar is divided into pre and post christ eras.
I understand my feelings concerning the loss of my parents.
Less specifically, I understand many things about people.
I owe Jaynes credit for teaching me these things through the reading of his book.
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Format: Paperback
I have just recently re-read Jaynes' book after reading it when it was first published. Though one's reading interests tend to change wildly over so long a period, I was surprised to find that the thesis of the book is still as compelling to me now as it was decades ago. This is an astonishingly creative, cross-disciplinary tour-de-force and the best book of its type that I have ever read.
The book is basically an elegant and meticulously detailed theory about the historical appearance in humans of what we call consciousness. The tough sledding referred to by many of the other reviewers, I think, is in his explication of what precisely consciousness IS, and how that differs from our common misconceptions about it. This part, admittedly, is no page- turner: I had to stop and think frequently just to make sense of what he was saying and trying to relate that to my own experience.
But the definitional foundation pays off as Jaynes places the origin of human consciousness into the historical timeline, and starts applying it to the ancient literature of the Old Testament and the Iliad, and to several curiosities in idols observed throughout the prehistoric world. This is the portion of the book that I found breathtaking. In particular, reading the Old Testament has a resonance for me that it never had before. As a modern skeptic, many of these stories were difficult for me to think about: there seemed to be no middle ground between thinking of the stories as cultural fabrications or else having to confront the odd hypothesis that they are records of a completely implausible reality. Now the stories are revealing in ways that I never would have imagined.
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Format: Paperback
First of all the book was copyrighted in 1976 and apparently first published in 1982. That is eons ago in the science of cognition and brain imaging. So I would like to know how the past 2 and a half decades have affected the theories in this book.
I also note that the author taught at Princeton University (he died in 1997), so his theories ought to have received a hearing. But apparently the follow-up book he intended was never published, and he was considered somewhat of a maverick, if not quite a crackpot. This website offers some perspective: [...]
His theory, in simplest terms, is that until about 3000 years ago, all of humankind basically heard voices. The voices were actually coming from the other side of the brain, but because the two hemispheres were not in communication the way they are now for most of us, the voices seemed to be coming from outside. The seemed, in fact, to be coming from God or the gods.
So far, so good. That is certainly imaginable to most of us, because we know that schizophrenics and some others still hear voices in apparently this manner today.
But he also posits that many sophisticated civilizations were created by men and women who were all directed by these godlike voices. What is not very clearly explained (a serious gap in his theory) is how all the voices in these "bicameral civilizations," as he calls them, worked in harmony. But his theory is that ancient Greece, Babylon, Assyria, Egpyt, and less ancient but similar Mayan and Incan kingdoms were all built by people who were not "conscious" in our modern sense.
When one hears voices, whether then or now, the voices tend to be commanding and directive, and the need to obey them compelling. Free will is not possible.
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