Julian Jaynes

Notes by Ralph Kenyon on The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, (1977) Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. 

July 3, 2003

One of the things you might note is that we humans have millennia of following the directives of our "gods" as they have been instantiated (differently) in various cultures. Most humans still do not possess the wherewithal to question the dictates of authority, and most cultures openly punish those who don't follow the masses. It is this historical and cultural momentum that ends up in the clash of cultures. "Received authority", and the interpretations of the few on how to act are swallowed "hook, line, and sinker" by the masses. Politics comes in as these few lead their respective masses - more often than not - into conflict, usually in the name of god (or country).

Korzybski would argue that if we could teach these people to use the principles of general semantics, and question the dogma of their religions, they would see the flaw in their ways. Unfortunately, that, in itself, is a fallacy (the naturalistic fallacy). Action is dictated by values, but general semantics does not advocate any values in itself, although may "general semanticists" tend to think that any actions that "promote time-binding" are "good". (See my paper The General Semantic 'Ethic' of Cooperation.)

We must differentiate various aspects or perspectives on general semantics.

  1. A classification scheme that separates "man" from "animals".
  2. A theory of (human) evaluating.
  3. A paradigm for viewing the world that includes relativity and the Popperian approach to science.
  4. etc.

General semantics has its biases, just like any other paradigm - including the religious ones.

Each major religion believes that it has achieved the ultimate Truth with a capital T. Wars are fought and cultures exist in conflict because each "truth" of the neighboring religion threatens contrasting neighboring beliefs. And the leaders cannot live comfortably with these questions to their own beliefs. But the millennia of "following gods" preclude easily examining and giving up one's beliefs, hence cultures come into violent conflict.

Fortunately, general semantics has not (yet) achieved such cultural momentum and dogmatic adherence to its principles to dominate a geographic area and fund crusades to enslave contrasting views to the will of its adherents. But we have, right in the general semantics community, the evidence that such animosity can occur. Note the historical split between Korzybski and Hayakawa, and more recently between certain individuals in Europe and America.

In an nutshell, conflicting world views have evolved with cultures, but it is the residual effect of the bicameral mind method of brain function that allows these conflicts to become violent.

To better appreciate this problem we should stop treating "consciousness" as if it were a single cohesive "thing" the "same" for everybody. Julian Janes was perhaps the first to question this assumption when he asked if consciousness evolved. Our current symbolic environment is full of references to "altered states of consciousness", but we have very few clear theories on this matter, Abraham Maslow and Lawrence Kohlberg not withstanding.

Summary of James's  Origin... by Lectori Benevolo

Annotated bibliography of general semantics papers
General Semantics and Related Topics

This page was updated by Ralph Kenyon on 2009/11/16 at 00:27 and has been accessed 12159 times at 51 hits per month.