Julian Jaynes

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Julian Jaynes (27 February 192021 November 1997) was an American psychologist, best known for his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976), in which he argued that ancient peoples were not conscious.


  • "What is the meaning of life?" This question has no answer except in the history of how it came to be asked. There is no answer because words have meaning, not life or persons or the universe itself. Our search for certainty rests in our attempts at understanding the history of all individual selves and all civilizations. Beyond that, there is only awe.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976)

  • These esoteric poses of philosophy and even the paper theories of behaviorists are mere subterfuges to avoid the material we are talking about.
    • Introduction, p. 16
  • We can only know in the nervous system what we have known in behavior first.
    • Introduction, p. 18
  • Consciousness is a much smaller part of our mental life than we are conscious of, because we cannot be conscious of what we are not conscious of.
    • Book I, Chapter 1, p. 23
  • Memory is the medium of the must-have-been.
    • Book I, Chapter 1, p. 30
  • The very reason we need logic at all is because most reasoning is not conscious at all.
    • Book I, Chapter 1, p. 41
  • Indeed, it is sometimes almost as if the problem had to be forgotten to be solved.
    • Book I, Chapter 1, p. 44
  • It is by metaphor that language grows.
    • Book I, Chapter 2, p. 49
  • It is not always obvious that metaphor has played this all-important function. But this is because the concrete metaphiers become hidden in phonemic change, leaving the words to exist on their own. Even such an unmetaphorical-sounding word as the verb 'to be' was generated from a metaphor. It comes from the Sanskrit bhu, “to grow, or make grow,” while the English forms 'am' and 'is' have evolved from the same root as the Sanskrit asmi, “to breathe.” It is something of a lovely surprise that the irregular conjugation of our most nondescript verb is thus a record of a time when man had no independent word for 'existence' and could only say that something 'grows' or that it “breathes.”
    • Book I, Chapter 2, p. 51
  • Subjective conscious mind is an analog of what is called the real world. It is built up with a vocabulary or lexical field whose terms are all metaphors or analogs of behavior in the physical world. Its reality is of the same order as mathematics. It allows us to shortcut behavioral processes and arrive at more adequate decisions. Like mathematics, it is an operator rather than a thing or repository. And it is intimately bound up with volition and decision.
    • Book I, Chapter 2, p. 55
  • We have said that consciousness is an operation rather than a thing, a repository, or a function. It operates by way of analogy, by way of constructing an analog space with an analog ‘I’ that can observe that space, and move metaphorically in it. It operates on any reactivity, excerpts relevant aspects, narratizes and conciliates them together in a metaphorical space where such meanings can be manipulated like things in space.
    • Book I, Chapter 2, p. 65-66
  • Conscious mind is a spatial analog of the world and mental acts are analogs of bodily acts. Consciousness operates only on objectively observable things. Or, to say it another way with echoes of John Locke, there is nothing in consciousness that is not an analog of something that was in behavior first.
    • Book I, Chapter 2, p. 66
  • For if consciousness is based on language, then it follows that it is of much more recent origin than has been heretofore supposed. Consciousness come after language! The implications of such a position are extremely serious.
    • Book I, Chapter 2, p. 66
  • 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.
    • Book I, Chapter 3, p. 75
  • And when it is suggested that the inward feelings of power or inward monitions or losses of judgement are the germs out of which the divine machinery developed, I return that truth is just the reverse, that the presence of voices which had to be obeyed were the absolute prerequisite to the conscious stage of mind in which it is the self that is responsible and can debate within itself, can order and direct, and that the creation of such a self is the product of culture. In a sense, we have become our own gods.
    • Book I, Chapter 3, p. 79
  • The language of men was involved with only one hemisphere in order to leave the other free for the language of the gods.
    • Book I, Chapter 5, p. 103-104
  • The bicameral mind with its controlling gods was evolved as a final stage of the evolution of language. And in this development lies the origin of civilization.
    • Book I, Chapter 6, p. 126
  • The central assertion of this view, I repeat, is that each new stage of words literally created new perceptions and attentions, and such new perceptions and attentions resulted in important cultural changes which are reflected in the archaeological record.
    • Book I, Chapter 6, p. 132 (Italics as per text...)
  • We are greatly in need of specific research in this area of schizophrenic experience to help us understand Mesolithic man.
    • Book I, Chapter 6, p. 137
  • Civilization is the art of living in towns of such size that everyone does not know everyone else.
    • Book II, Chapter 1, p. 149
  • Reading in the third millennium B.C. may therefore have been a matter of hearing the cuneiform, that is, hallucinating the speech from looking at its picture symbols, rather than visual reading of syllables in our sense.
    • Book II, Chapter 2, p. 182
  • This breakdown in the bicameral mind in what is called the Intermediate Period is reminiscent at least of those periodic breakdowns of Mayan civilizations when all authority suddenly collapsed, and the population melted back into tribal living in the jungles.
    • Book II, Chapter 2, p. 197
  • Such trade was not, however, a true market. There were no prices under the pressures of supply and demand, no buying and selling, and no money. It was trade in the sense of equivalences established by divine decree. There is a complete lack of reference to business profits or loss in any of the cuneiform tablets that have been so far translated.
  • The legend of the parting of the Red Sea probably refers to tidal changes in the Sea of Reeds related to the Thera eruption.
  • Poetry, from describing external events objectively, is becoming subjectified into a poetry of personal conscious expression.
    • Book II, Chapter 5, p. 274
  • Our sense of justice depends on our sense of time. Justice is a phenomenon only of consciousness, because time spread out in a spatial succession is its very essence.
    • Book II, Chapter 5, p. 280
  • There is no such thing as a complete consciousness.
    • Book II, Chapter 5, p. 281
  • Paradise Lost, A further observation could be made upon the story of the Fall and how it is possible to look upon it as a myth of the breakdown of the bicameral mind.
  • The importance of writing in the breakdown of the bicameral voices is tremendously important. What had to be spoken is now silent and carved upon a stone to be taken in visually.
    • Book II, Chapter 6, p. 302
  • The mind is still haunted with its old unconscious ways; it broods on lost authorities; and the yearning, the deep and hollowing yearning for divine volition and service is with us still.
    • Book II, Chapter 6, p. 313
  • Behavior now must be changed from within the new consciousness rather than from Mosaic laws carving behavior from without. Sin and desire are now within conscious desire and conscious contrition, rather than in the external behaviors of the decalogue and the penances of temple sacrifice and community punishment. The divine kingdom to be regained is psychological not physical. It is metaphorical not literal. It is "within" not in extenso.
    • Book III, Chapter 1, p. 318
  • Every god is a jealous god after the breakdown of the bicameral mind.
    • Book III, Chapter 1, p. 336
  • Idolatry is still a socially cohesive force - its original function.
    • Book III, Chapter 1, p. 337
  • The vestiges of the bicameral mind do not exist in any empty psychological space.
    • Book III, Chapter 2, p. 355
  • I shall state my thesis plain. The first poets were gods. Poetry began with the bicameral mind.
    • Book III, Chapter 3, p. 361
  • Poetry begins as the divine speech of the bicameral mind. Then, as the bicameral mind breaks down, there remain prophets.
    • Book III, Chapter 3, p. 374
  • We know too much to command ourselves very far.
    • Book III, Chapter 4, p. 402
  • I am emphasizing individuals set apartfrom others as ill, because, according to our theory, we could say that before the second millennium B.C., everyone was schizophrenic.
    • Book III, Chapter 5, p. 405
  • If we would understand the Scientific Revolution correctly, we should always remember that its most powerful impetus was the unremitting search for hidden divinity. As such, it is a direct descendant of the breakdown of the bicameral mind.
    • Book III, Chapter 6, p. 435
  • The changes in the Catholic Church since Vatican II can certainly be scanned in terms of this long retreat from the sacred which has followed the inception of consciousness into the human species.
    • Book III, Chapter 6, p. 439
  • I therefore believe that these and many other movements of our time are in the great long picture of our civilizations related to the loss of an earlier organization of human natures. They are attempts to return to what is no longer there, like poets to their inexistent Muses, and as such they are characteristic of these transitional millennia in which we are imbedded.
    • Book III, Chapter 6, p. 445

Quotes about Jaynes

  • Darwin was convinced that language was the prerequisite for "long trains of thought," and this claim has been differently supported by several recent theorists, especially Julian Jaynes (1976) and Howard Margolis (1987).

See also

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