The following is a lecture given by Julian Jaynes at the Canadian Psychological Association Symposium on Consciousness in Halifax, Canada, in 1985, and first appeared in Canadian Psychology, April 1986, Vol. 27 (2). Copyright 1986 Canadian Psychological Association.






Four Ideas

            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 dors 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.

            I would add here that there is a weak form of the theory. It says that consciousness could have begun shortly after the beginning of language or perhaps at certain times and places. After all, people could create metaphors at the beginning of oral language—that is how language grew. Consciousness could have originated in exactly the same way as I have described, and existed for a time in parallel with the bicameral mind. Then the bicameral mind is sloughed off at approximately 1000 B.C. for the reasons I have suggested, leaving consciousness to come into its own. This would provide easy ad hoc explanations for highly developed cultures such as Sumer which otherwise are a challenge to bicameral theory. But I do not choose to hold this weak theory because it is almost unfalsifiable. I think we should have a hypothesis that can be disproved by evidence if we are going to call it a scientific hypothesis. Also, the strong theory has a vigorous explanatory power in understanding many historical phenomena of

the transition period. Further, I do not see why there would be a need for consciousness alongside of the bicameral mind if the latter made the decisions.

            A fourth idea that I shall end with is a neurological model for the bicameral mind. I want to stress, however, that it is not at all a necessary part of the theory I have presented. Since the bicameral mind was so important in history, responsible for civilization, what could have been going on in the brain? The proper strategy in trying to answer such a question is to take the simplest idea and set about to disprove it. If it is disproved, you then go on to something more complicated. The simplest idea, obvious I think to anyone, would involve the two cerebral hemispheres. Perhaps in ancient peoples—to put it in a popular fashion—the right hemisphere was “talking” to the left, and this was the bicameral mind. Could it be that the reason that speech and language function are usually just in the areas of the left hemisphere in today’s people was because the corresponding areas of the right hemisphere once had another function? That is a somewhat questionable way to say it, because there are other reasons for the lateralization of function. But on the other hand, it raises issues that I like. What is an auditory hallucination? Why is it ubiquitous? Why present in civilizations all over the world?

            ....In summary, I would like to again repeat these four ideas or modules of the theory I have presented. First is the nature of consciousness and its origin in language, which can be empirically studied in the learning of consciousness in children, as well as in the study of changes of consciousness in recent history. The second idea is the bicameral mind, which can be studied directly in ancient texts and indirectly in modern schizophrenia. Third is the idea that consciousness followed bicamerality, which can be studied in the artifacts and texts of history. And the fourth is that the neurological model for the bicameralmind is related to the two hemispheres. And this can be studied in laterality differences today.