Exegesis Volume 07 Issue #028

In This Issue:

From: "JG or DF"
Subject: [e] Re: exegesis Digest V7 #25

Exegesis Digest Wed, 20 Feb 2002

From: "JG or DF"
Subject: [e] Re: exegesis Digest V7 #25
Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2002 23:13:56 +1300

Lorenzo wrote:
 > >Jaynes dates the breakdown event of the bicameral mind between the Iliad
 > >and the Odyssey. he posits that supposed event somewhere in the
 > >period 3000 to 1200. But why not 750-600 BCE, a more likely date for
 > >the composion of the text of Homer?

My recollection is that he did end up localising the transition around then, but I may be wrong. Historians and other writers have often noted the curious temporal correlation of `avatar' figures appearing in the various civilisations at this time. Buddha, Confucius, Pythagoras, etc. Not really significant, it seems to me, since none of these are noted for promoting the cause of individuation.

 > >How that spread to other cultures is more of a mystery, biologically.

An unwarranted assumption. Why assume consciousness is biological? I would have thought it obvious that it is emergent from the social matrix.

 > >But before matching the master with Homer a small service offering with
 > >the timely reminder that homo "man" sapiens is a single, homogeneous
 > >species and that if there were an epoch when the great cerebral "rooms"
 > >of early hominids were not integrated to the functioning level we
 > >associate to ourselves today, then that epoch quite certainly concluded
 > >when homo sapiens made his biological evolutionary debut.

The certainty Lorenzo advocates here is a myth. Nobody actually knows, nor has any way of ever knowing. Various writers make various guesses, and some even cite evidence that might support their guesses. The assertion of certainty is as antiquated for academics as for christian fundamentalists, or astrologers, and in the modern world serves merely to deter serious discourse.

 > >Where's the evidence? < snip >
 > >first crossed the sapiens evolutionary frontier. But for the purposes of
 > >this exchange in re the bicameral mind and Jaynes, we do at least have a
 > >terminus ante quem that is definitive. Namely: < caves, snip >
 > >The software change seems to have occurred in Africa, among a
 > >fairly small tribe or group of proto-humans, about 130K years ago.

Beside the point. Cave art is not evidence of personal consciousness, merely social and/or environmental illustration. Expert opinion guesses shamanism for the purpose of hunting success. Social magic, with a social purpose. Pragmatists would tend to observe that artists paint the subjects they like, but the cave wall may have been communal property - thus limiting or negating freedom of choice for the artist.

 > >Since Jaynes did not engage Homer and the Bible in an informed way,
 > >he did not elicit response in Homeric and biblical scholarship (and I
 > >will not further lenghten this with his so-called biblical evidence);
 > >and since he was also eccentric within the much more polymorphous field
 > >of psychology he did not elicit response there either, his book remains,
 > >not so much a fossil as a glacial erratic.

Yeah, multidisciplinary endeavour is too hard for almost all academics. Best to dismiss them as a primitive type of human that we are in the process of evolving beyond. In a time of global convergence the world needs generalists, not specialists.

 > >What, seriously, would one say about
 > >his thesis that schizophrenia is a throwback to bicameral mentality?

Seems reasonable. They tend to hear voices in their head, just like in olden times. Of course, multiple personality cases demonstrate that Jaynes' theory was simplistic in respect of bicamerality.

 > >what is now the status of the left brain/right brain division?

Scientific fact, since Sperry got that Nobel prize for proving the different hemispherical functions 20 years ago. The uncertainty resides, as ever, in the mind/brain interface.

 > >The idea that the such religious experiences as epiphany and oracular
 > >trance are related to the division of the brain into hemispheres is,
 > >I believe, central to Jaynes' argument; this argument betrays a terrible
 > >misunderstanding of the nature of religious experience.
 > >It also is dependent upon a model of neurological function that's
 > >hopelessly out of date. Let me put it this way: a person who has
 > >sufferred injury to the corpus callosum should manifest behavior
 > >symptomatic of the kind of changes in consciousness that Jaynes has
 > >suggested. As far as I have heard, they do not. I imagine that Oliver
 > >Sacks might have something on the subject.

No doubt, and a valid point as far as the generalisation of theory is concerned.

 > >Two things strike me as problematic: if human thoughts in Homer are
 > >merely "voice" communications from one lobe (camera) to the other,
 > >perceived or
 > >at any rate represented as gods, then what are the thoughts of the gods?
 > >Surely the gods are capable of reflection (e.g., Zeus weighing in his
 > >mind the implications of complying with Thetis's request at the end of
 > >Iliad
 > >1), rather than automata following instructions from one camera
 > >(perceived or represented as ...?).

Seems to me you are confusing two things. They heard voices internally, which they identified with gods/goddesses. Culture then provided the matrix for discussion of the personal phenomena and internal messages. One can readily see, in a society with verbal literature only, that myths were woven from such story-telling. How else could common meanings be generated?

 > >Second, Jaynes has a naive sense of history.
 > >Homo sapiens sapiens has been around at least 100,000 years (this keeps
 > >being pushed back in reports carried in the NY Times every three months
 > >or so). On the scale, Homer is yesterday; are we to believe that the
 > >breakdown of the bicameral mind and the origin of "consciousness" in our
 > >sense of the word occurred only so very recently? Jaynes reports on
 > >some vivid inter-cameral voice experiences of his own, which made me
 > >curious about the quality of his own consciousness.

Why not? Seems to me that consciousness is emergent from social interaction. Self-consciousness especially. Without feedback from others, how can we experience ourselves as different from them? As for Jaynes' experience of inner voices, since I lack similar experience I can only observe that it would tend to incline the theorist to believe the theory.

 > >metaphor. One of my favorite books is G.E.R. Lloyd's _Demystifying
 > >Mentalities_, which strikes at the heart of the Levi-Bruhl school of
 > >anthropology that may lie behind what Jayne is writing: he argues that
 > >while there may be "primitive" modes of thought, there are no
 > >"primitive"
 > >peoples; rather, one's mode of thought varies with context, and a
 > >nuclear
 > >physicist could well read his horoscope to learn how to relate to his
 > >wife at the same time he is using his Feynman diagrams to interpret the
 > >events in his accelerator. In other words, if Homer had been frozen at
 > >the age of two or three and thawed out today, in a few months he'd have
 > >been a normal boy, living entirely in the context of our age and with
 > >behaviors determined by a consciousness indistinguishable from our own;
 > >because it is not that the consciousness changes, it is that the
 > >behaviour adapts to the context.

I agree with the latter point. Context defines reality. Likewise I agree about physicist and horoscope, since I have read testimony of live examples (plus providing commentary on one in Exegesis). However I know that there are "primitive peoples". The Middle East, most of Africa, Afghanistan & Northen Ireland all spring immediately to mind. Americans too, strictly speaking. Any society in which the carrying of weapons is legal and normal; because they have yet to evolve out of barbarism.

 > >But certainly Jaynes' argument breaks down where he claims the greatest
 > >strength for it, in the Iliad. Jaynes asserts that, "The Trojan War was
 > >directed by hallucinations. And the soldiers who were so directed were
 > >not at all like us. They were noble automatons who knew not what they
 > >did" (Jaynes, p.75). And this just doesn't square with Homer's text. Both
 > >Achilles' decision to step out of the war and his decision to step back
 > >into it are motivated, in Homer's text, not by the behest of any god,
 > >but by events that impinge on Achilles' consciousness: he is enraged by
 > >the insults of Agamemnon; he is grieved over the death of Patroclus.

Your point seems valid. Jaynes is overstating his case somewhat. But reality is not black and white. People are robotic in some instances, not others. Some are robotic en masse, such as Americans waving the Union Jack, but are capable of behaviour directed by conscience and freedom of individual choice at other occasions. Jaynes' thesis is not demolished by your point. The warriors were at times in the grip of passions, and the divine voices were more likely to direct behaviour when individual self-control was relatively absent.

 > >I am quite annoyed by his treatment of evidence from the Iliad.
 > >According to Jaynes, Achilles does not display volition, but does what
 > >various gods tell him to < snip > This utterly
 > >misrepresents the plot of the Iliad, where Achilles calls the shots at
 > >crucial points, even influencing actions of the gods (his mother, and,
 > >through her, Zeus and Hephaistos). Jaynes' argument could only be
 > >accepted if he could demonstrate that the evidence he likes from the
 > >Iliad
 > >represents an older layer of culture than the evidence which runs
 > >counter to his thesis. Instead, he simply does not represent evidence
 > >unfavorable to his argument-- which, given the vast amount of it,
 > >strikes me as disingenuous.

Yes, but you have done that too. All theorists tend to only cite evidence in support of their theory. Sceptics, likewise, cite only the evidence that contradicts the theory. I agree your criticism has merit in instances such as the one you cite. When I read the book, I was sceptical. I didn't find it all persuasive. But the valid points kept escalating. Eventually, I judged it on the overall picture.

Achilles clearly was exercising freedom of choice and will, but his choices and actions appear to be influenced by the social morality of his cultural matrix, and the pantheon functioned as invisible advocates of aspects of that morality. Social archetypes, in the Jungian sense, and some presumably projections of the planetary archetypes.

 > >A smaller example: Agamemnon's reaction to the lying dream sent by Zeus
 > >in Book 2 is not that of an automaton; neither is that of the chieftains
 > >to whom he reports it; neither is that of the ordinary troops to whom a
 > >falsified version is given. These people debate alternative courses;
 > >they discuss; they bully and brag; they carp; they make mistakes for
 > >reasons
 > >that seemed good at the time. They are fully conscious, in a way that
 > >Jaynes' never once acknowledges in his book.

OK. But what if Jaynes really meant self-consciousness, which is how I interpreted him? I realise we may have differing views on the meaning of consciousness, but some people are clearly limited in this respect. Individuation and conformity seem to be opposite poles of a profound personal/social dimension. Particularly in respect of those who conform without being conscious of other options of self-determination, and I speak from past personal experience.

 > >From the astrologer's perspective, the issue has always been whether one acts in accordance with the influence of the planets within, or exercises one's will to behave differently. Mars may incline one to be assertive or even aggressive, but there is always a range of options from which one can choose how to respond to the inner urge. In ancient social matrices raping the woman or killing the man seem to have been frequent choices, often enhancing survival and reproduction of one's genes. Conforming to such norms was probably often experienced as actions directed by the inner Mars, particularly where that inner recognition was learnt from tribal culture.

 > >Jaynes posits that before consciousness developed human beings
 > >acted in response to godlike utterances passing from one zone of the
 > >brain to another. < snip >
 > >So what is Jaynes talking about?

He also provided ample literary evidence that people of those times did experience gods/goddesses internally, via voices in their heads. Who knows how many interpreted conscience as divine direction? If the culture presented it as normal, they would grow up comfortable with it. The withdrawal of the gods/goddesses from direct experience in later times was extensively lamented, and Jaynes again provided ample documentation of this phase. Social evolution had presumably created a sufficiently complex society that more suitable modes of interaction emerged, people became less reactive and robotic, and more individual autonomy led to the recognition of personal identity. Reflecting upon this identity produced consciousness of self, I presume.

 > >The notion that the peoples of Chauvet, Altamira, Lascaux, Le Portel et
 > >alia, were anything other than fully formed homo sapiens sapiens no
 > >different in any way from ourselves in terms of intelligence, artistic
 > >creativity and capacity for consciousness has been long since dispelled.
 > >As Stephen Jay Gould so concisely put it (_Natural History_ July 1996):
 > >"We have recognized the cave artists, and they are us."

Whoever believes such projections are naive, it seems to me. I doubt that Gould really believes he is that inadequate; he just finds it convenient to embrace the politically-correct fashion of our times. Chimps can't paint animals, but the inference that the artists had the intelligence and consciousness of modern humans lacks any basis of evidence.

< snip reference to various historical cultures >
 > >But the suggestion that the literal human capacity for consciousness
 > >varied among these various peoples and that such capacity was inherently
 > >superior in some as compared to others is unsupported by the evidence.

Obviously, since I disagree, it hinges upon whether one chooses to recognise the evidence or not. The capacity for consciousness is limited by the cultural matrix, in my opinion. This is real life. In principle, I suppose we could agree that an inherent capacity for consciousness may be endowed by evolution. In practice, this is defeated by circumstance.

 > >Jaynes' idea, therefore, may be comfortably abandoned.
 > >Application of the abandoned to astrology may do more damage to the
 > >subject than the Vienese quacks have done.

A moot point indeed!

Lorenzo's critique certainly helps put the thesis into perspective, and I appreciate the time he put into the detail of his reasoning, even if I can't agree. One need not view such a thesis as either right or wrong. The best view these days, consensually adopted in the arena of scientific philosophy, is that such theories advocate models of the world. These are typically relatively representative of the world. The extent of the accuracy of a model lies in the eye of the beholder, thus one need not get emotionally attached to whether it is right or wrong. Jaynes' thesis perhaps assumes too much of a direct correlation between brain hemispheres and bicamerality of the mind.

I suspect it may be partially correct. Cultural ambience seems to be the main determinant of experience. If people grow up connected to nature in a loose cultural context, the planets within (that function as psychological drives) may achieve inner recognition on an intuitive basis quite readily. Good timing is likely to come instinctively to such people, enhancing their survival within that context. When that society accumulates a tradition of projecting personal characteristics onto visible planets, the resulting cosmic culture serves to educate the young. The question then is how well the planets within match the cultural projections without. True resonance with the archetype will incline commentators toward embellishing the stories with personally-felt motivations, and myths will accumulate around each planetary `god' and evolve as time passes. One can readily see how this would have happened, but there is always the negative effect of ideology to consider.

Much passage of time seems to promote religion, and the resulting hierarchy encrusts ideology of belief that indoctrinates the young with dogma. This distorted picture of the cosmos bears little relation to personal intuition of the planets within. Elements of literary artifice and fantasy inflate the social image of the planetary god, differently in each tribal context and later historical culture. Detection of the planetary archetype is often defeated entirely by such cultural disinformation.

So what we are dealing with in astrology is a signal to noise ratio. Via inner attunement to the tides of time, or via refinement of various traditional descriptions, we can recognise a planetary archetype. We can see it operating in our psyche, our personal circumstances, as well as in social situations and public events. However such qualitative dimensions to existence tend to be subtle features, and we are not educated to identify and discuss them.

Imagine growing up in a social context where everyone did tend to recognise and discuss them. Jaynes' thesis is that the Meditteranean and middle eastern cultures were such, in the period in which civilisation emerged. Attunement to the various planetary gods and goddesses became sufficiently general that the messages from these entities were experienced as inner voices. Documentation of the result is extensively provided by Jaynes. The inner astrodrama became communal culture, and discussion of what the deities told people was culturally endorsed. Acting according to the inner voices achieved a measure of tolerance by the community, depending, no doubt, on the consequences for others. The interesting question is then the amount of social cohesion and coordination generated by the inner voices operating in unison, presuming this did happen. The Iliad may have suitable illustrations of Greek military actions resulting from agreement about divine direction - such is Jaynes' reasoning, which he endeavours to validate.

I think the effect of culture tends to overwhelm nature's inner cues. Usually, I mean, the signal is buried by the noise. The merit of Jaynes' book is to demonstrate that it has not always been so. The moral of the story, I would suggest, is that it need not ever be so.

Dennis Frank


End of exegesis Digest V7 #28

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