Julian Jaynes

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Julian Jaynes
BornFebruary 27, 1920
DiedNovember 21, 1997(1997-11-21) (aged 77)
Alma mater
OccupationPsychologist, professor, writer

Julian Jaynes (February 27, 1920 – November 21, 1997) was an American researcher in psychology at Yale and Princeton for nearly 25 years and best known for his 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.[1] His career was dedicated to the problem of consciousness, “…the difference between what others see of us and our sense of our inner selves and the deep feelings that sustain it. … Men have been conscious of the problem of consciousness almost since consciousness began.”[1]:2 Jaynes's solution touches on many disciplines, including neuroscience, linguistics, psychology, archeology, history, religion and analysis of ancient texts.[citation needed]


Jaynes was born in West Newton, Massachusetts, son of Julian Clifford Jaynes (1854–1922), a Unitarian minister, and Clara Bullard Jaynes (1884–1980). He attended Harvard University, was an undergraduate at McGill University and afterwards received master's and doctorate degrees from Yale University. He was mentored by Frank A. Beach and was a close friend of Edwin G. Boring. Jaynes also spent several years in prison for refusing to participate in the second World War.[2]

During this time period Jaynes made significant contributions in the fields of animal behavior and ethology. After Yale, Jaynes spent several years in England working as an actor and playwright. Jaynes later returned to the United States and lectured in psychology at Princeton University from 1966 to 1990, teaching a popular class on consciousness for much of that time. He was in high demand as a lecturer and was frequently invited to lecture at conferences and as a guest lecturer at other universities. In 1984, he was invited to give the plenary lecture at the Wittgenstein Symposium in Kirchberg, Austria. He gave six major lectures in 1985 and nine in 1986. He was awarded an honorary Ph.D. by Rhode Island College in 1979 and another from Elizabethtown College in 1985.[3] He died at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, on November 21, 1997.

Jaynes's theories[edit]

In his book, Jaynes reviews what one of his early critics acknowledged as the “spectacular history of failure”[4] to explain consciousness – “the human ability to introspect”.[5] Abandoning the assumption that consciousness is innate, Jaynes explains it instead as a learned behavior that “arises ... from language, and specifically from metaphor.”[4] With this understanding, Jaynes then demonstrated that ancient texts and archeology can reveal a history of human mentality alongside the histories of other cultural products. His analysis of the evidence led him not only to place the origin of consciousness during the 2nd millennium BCE but also to hypothesize the existence of an older non-conscious “mentality that he called the bicameral mind, referring to the brain’s two hemispheres”.[6]

Jaynes wrote an extensive afterword for the 1990 edition of his book, in which he addressed criticisms and clarified that his theory has four separate hypotheses: consciousness is based on and accessed by language; the non-conscious bicameral mind is based on verbal hallucinations; the breakdown of bicameral mind precedes consciousness, but the dating is variable; the 'double brain' of bicamerality is not today's functional lateralization of the cerebral hemispheres. He also expanded on the impact of consciousness on imagination and memory, notions of The Self, emotions, anxiety, guilt, and sexuality.

Reception and influence[edit]

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind[1] was a successful work of popular science, selling out the first print run before a second could replace it. The book was a nominee for the National Book Award in 1978, and received dozens of positive book reviews, including those by well-known critics such as John Updike in The New Yorker, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times, and Marshall McLuhan in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Articles on Jaynes and his ideas appeared in Time[7] magazine and Psychology Today[8] in 1977, and in Quest/78[9] in 1978. Jaynes later expanded on the ideas in his book in a series of commentaries in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, in lectures and discussions published in Canadian Psychology,[10] and in Art/World. More than 40 years later, the book is still in print. It is mentioned in Richard Dawkins's 2006 work The God Delusion as "one of those books that is either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius, nothing in between! Probably the former, but I'm hedging my bets."

Jaynes's work on consciousness has influenced philosophers Daniel Dennett,[11] Susan Blackmore, and Ken Wilber, and the bicameral model of the cerebral hemispheres has influenced schizophrenia researchers Henry Nasrallah[12] and Tim Crow.[13]

The theory of bicamerality has been cited in thousands of books and articles, both scientific and popular.[14] It inspired early investigations of auditory hallucination by psychologist Thomas Posey[15] and clinical psychologist John Hamilton.[16] With further research in the late 1990s using new brain imaging technology, Jaynes's ideas received renewed attention[17][18] and recognition for contributing to a rethinking of auditory hallucinations and mental illness.[19]

In the popular domain, the idea of bicamerality has influenced novelists Philip K. Dick,[20] William S. Burroughs,[21] Neal Stephenson[22] and Robert J. Sawyer.[23]. In 2009, American novelist Terence Hawkins published The Rage of Achilles, a re-telling of Homer's The Iliad that imagines the hero's transition from bicameral mentality to consciousness. In The Psychology of Westworld: When Machines Go Mad, Brian J. McVeigh analyzed how bicamerality was interpreted in the 2016 science fiction TV series Westworld.

A 2007 book titled Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes's Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited contains several of Jaynes's essays along with chapters by scholars from a variety of disciplines expanding on his ideas.[24] At the April 2008 "Toward a Science of Consciousness" Conference held in Tucson, Arizona, Marcel Kuijsten (Executive Director and Founder of the Julian Jaynes Society) and Brian J. McVeigh (University of Arizona) hosted a workshop devoted to Jaynesian psychology. At the same conference, a panel devoted to Jaynes was also held, with John Limber (University of New Hampshire), Marcel Kuijsten, John Hainly (Southern University), Scott Greer (University of Prince Edward Island), and Brian J. McVeigh presenting relevant research. At the same conference the philosopher Jan Sleutels (Leiden University) gave a paper on Jaynesian psychology. A 2012 book titled The Julian Jaynes Collection gathers together many of the lectures and articles by Jaynes relevant to his theory (including some that were previously unpublished), along with interviews and question and answer sessions where Jaynes addresses misconceptions about the theory and extends the theory into new areas.[25]

Controversy and criticism[edit]

In general, Jaynes is respected as a lecturer and a historian of psychology. Marcel Kuijsten, founder of the Julian Jaynes Society, asks why, in the decades after the book's publication, "there have been few in-depth discussions, either positive or negative", rejecting as too simplistic the criticism that "Jaynes was wrong."[6]

Jaynes described the range of responses to his book as “from people who feel [the ideas are] very important all the way to very strong hostility. ... When someone comes along and says consciousness is in history, it can’t be accepted. If [psychologists] did accept it, they wouldn’t have the motivation to go back into the laboratory ...”[9]

W. T. Jones, a sociologist who has been described as "one of Jaynes's most thoroughgoing critics", asked in 1979, "Why, despite its implausibility, is [Jaynes's] book taken seriously by thoughtful and intelligent people?"[4] Jones agreed with Jaynes that "the language in which talk about consciousness is conducted is metaphorical", but he contradicted the basis of Jaynes's argument – that metaphor creates consciousness – by asserting that "language (and specifically metaphor) does not create, it discovers, the similarities that language marks". Jones also argued that three "cosmological orientations" biased Jaynes’s thinking: 1) "hostility to Darwin" and natural selection; 2) a "longing for 'lost bicamerality'" (Jones accused Jaynes of holding that "we would all be better off if 'everyone' were once again schizophrenic"); 3) a "desire for a sweeping, all-inclusive formula that explains everything that has happened". Jones concluded that "... those who share these biases ... are likely to find the book convincing; those who do not will reject [Jaynes's] arguments ..."[4]

The neurological model in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind was a radical neuroscientific hypothesis that was based on research novel at the time. Today, his hypotheses are still controversial to many in the field.[citation needed] However, the more general idea of a "divided self" has found support from psychological and neurological studies, and many of the historical arguments made in the book remain intriguing, if not proven.[26]

An early criticism by philosopher Ned Block argued that Jaynes had confused the emergence of consciousness with the emergence of the concept of consciousness. In other words, according to Block, humans were conscious all along but did not have the concept of consciousness and thus did not discuss it in their texts. Daniel Dennett countered that for some things, such as money, baseball, or consciousness, one cannot have the thing without also having the concept of the thing.[27] Moreover, it is arguable that Block misinterpreted the nature of what Jaynes claimed to be a social construction.[28][29]


  • (Contributor) W. S. Dillon, editor, Man and Beast: Comparative Social Behavior, Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC), 1970.
  • (Contributor) C. C. Gillespie and others, editors, Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Scribner (New York, NY), 1970.
  • Henle, Mary; Jaynes, Julian; Sullivan, John J. Historical conceptions of psychology. Oxford, England: Springer. 1973.
  • The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1977, republished with a new afterword by the author, 1990.
  • (Editor, with others) The Lateralization of the Nervous System, Academic Press, 1977.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Jaynes, Julian (2000) [1976]. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (PDF). Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-05707-2.
  2. ^ Gara, Larry (1999). A Few Small Candles: War Resisters of World War II Tell Their Stories. Kent State University Press. ISBN 978-0-87338-621-0.
  3. ^ Kuijsten, Marcel (2007). Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes's Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited. Julian Jaynes Society. 13–68. ISBN 978-0-9790744-0-0. Retrieved 2013-11-24.
  4. ^ a b c d Jones, William Thomas (1979) Mr. Jaynes and the bicameral mind: a case study in the sociology of belief. Humanities Working Paper, 23. California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA. https://resolver.caltech.edu/CaltechAUTHORS:20090714-105138181
  5. ^ Kuijsten, Marcel (2016). "Introduction". In Kuijsten, Marcel (ed.). Gods, Voices and the Bicameral Mind: The Theories of Julian Jaynes (First ed.). Henderson NV: Julian Jaynes Society. ISBN 978-0-9790744-3-1.
  6. ^ a b Kuijsten, Marcel (2006). "Introduction". In Kuijsten, Marcel (ed.). Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes's Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited (First ed.). Henderson NV: Julian Jaynes Society. ISBN 978-0-9790744-0-0.
  7. ^ Leo, John (1977). "The Lost Voices of the Gods". Time. 14.
  8. ^ Keen, Sam (November 1977). "Julian Jaynes: Portrait of the Psychologist as a Maverick Theorizer". Psychology Today. 11.
  9. ^ a b Rhodes, Richard (January–February 1978). "Alone in the Country of the Mind". Quest/78. Ambassador International Cultural Foundation. 2 (1).
  10. ^ Jaynes, Julian (April 1986). "Consciousness and the Voices of the Mind". Canadian Psychology. 27 (2).
  11. ^ Dennett, Daniel (1992). Consciousness Explained. Back Bay Books.
  12. ^ Nasrallah, Henry (1985). "The Unintegrated Right Cerebral Hemispheric Consciousness as Alien Intruder: A Possible Mechanism for Schneiderian Delusions in Schizophrenia". Comprehensive Psychiatry. 26 (3): 273–82. doi:10.1016/0010-440X(85)90072-0. PMID 3995938.
  13. ^ Crow, Tim (2005). "Right Hemisphere Language Functions and Schizophrenia: The Forgotten Hemisphere". Brain. 128 (5): 963–78. doi:10.1093/brain/awh466. PMID 15743870.
  14. ^ "Google Books". Retrieved November 18, 2017.
  15. ^ Posey, Thomas (1983). "Auditory Hallucinations of Hearing Voices in 375 Normal Subjects". Imagination, Cognition, and Personality. 3 (2): 99–113. doi:10.2190/74V5-HNXN-JEY5-DG7W.
  16. ^ Hamilton, John (1988). "Auditory Hallucinations in Nonverbal Quadriplegics". Psychiatry. 48 (4): 382–92. doi:10.1080/00332747.1985.11024299. PMID 4070517.
  17. ^ Olin, Robert (1999). "Auditory Hallucinations and the Bicameral Mind". Lancet. 354 (9173): 166. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)75304-6. PMID 10408523.
  18. ^ Sher, Leo (2000). "Neuroimaging, Auditory Hallucinations, and the Bicameral Mind". Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience. 25 (3): 239–40. PMC 1407719. PMID 10863883.
  19. ^ Smith, Daniel (2007). Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Rethinking the History, Science, and Meaning of Auditory Hallucination. Penguin Press.
  20. ^ Dick, Philip (1977). A Scanner Darkly. Doubleday.
  21. ^ Burroughs, William S. "Sects and Death." Three Fisted Tales of Bob. Ed. Rev. Ivan Stang. Fireside, 1990. ISBN 0-671-67190-1
  22. ^ Stephenson, Neal (1992). Snow Crash. Bantam Books.
  23. ^ Sawyer, Robert (2009). WWW: Wake. Ace.
  24. ^ Kuijsten, Marcel (2007). Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes's Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited. Julian Jaynes Society. ISBN 978-0-9790744-0-0.
  25. ^ Kuijsten, Marcel (2012). The Julian Jaynes Collection. Julian Jaynes Society. ISBN 978-0979074424.
  26. ^ Cavanna, AE; Trimble, M; Cinti, F; Monaco, F (2007). "The "bicameral mind" 30 years on: a critical reappraisal of Julian Jaynes' hypothesis". Functional Neurology. 22 (1): 11–5. PMID 17509238.
  27. ^ Daniel Dennett, op. cit., at pp. 127–128 in Brainstorms
  28. ^ Sleutels, Jan (2006). "Greek Zombies". Philosophical Psychology. 19 (2): 177–197. doi:10.1080/09515080500462412.
  29. ^ Williams, Gary (2010). "What is it like to be nonconscious? A defense of Julian Jaynes". Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. 10 (2): 217–239. doi:10.1007/s11097-010-9181-z.

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