Notes on ‘Reflections on the dawn of consciousness’

Title: Reflections on the dawn of consciousness: Julian Jaynes’s bicameral mind theory revisited
Author: Various, edited by Marcel Kuijsten
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kuijsten ed - relections

When this book came out in 2006, it was the first full-length book on Jaynes since his book, ‘The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind,’ was published 30 years earlier. It’s a little uneven in terms of insight. And for a fan like me, who’s rather versed in the main points of the theory, it gets tiring to be given a summary of Jaynes’ main points with each chapter (although the different phrasings used to expound it may be helpful in grasping each author’s unique interpretation).

Marcel Kuijsten, the book’s editor, contributes an article as well, where, among other things, he dismisses the notion that representational paintings from cavemen involved consciousness:
If a 3-year-old autistic child with no language ability and incapable of abstract thought can create drawings such as Nadia’s, citing the cave art of 30,000 years ago as evidence of the emergence of the modern mind becomes highly problematic.
– Location 1862-1863

Kuijsten points out how the emergence of consciousness may be yet ongoing.
Vestiges of the bicameral mind — our longing for absolute guidance and external control — make us susceptible to charismatic leaders, cults, trends, and persuasive rhetoric that relies on slogans to bypass logic.
– Location 2212-2213

Brian McVeigh, another well-known Jaynes scholar speaks in an intentionally crude manner when he says:
[S]ocial life is a matter of controlling or being controlled.
– Location 3465-3466
I myself believe that what we see as social control has been changing to a matter of social cooperation, as facilitated by conscious action.

Explaining further, McVeigh says:
[W]hen one is not being oneself — e.g., acting, lying, deceiving — the subject (“I”) and object (“me”) aspects of self are separated because the former is carefully monitoring and managing the latter.
– Location 3498-3499
The ‘I-me’ relationship is social in origin and social in operation: as between two people, the ‘I’ controls/commands/communicates with the ‘me.’
– Location 3503-3504

It is easy to take our consciousness for granted as present in beings that share common physical and mental traits. Jan Sleutels says:
[O]ur incorrigibly intuitive knowledge of consciousness is necessarily restricted to present consciousness without revealing anything about the earlier history of the mind.
– Location 5212-5213

For anyone whose understanding of the world has been shaken by Jaynes’ original book, there are some great articles in this collection that cite developments post-‘The origin of consciousness,’ specifically John Hamilton’s report on a select group of hallucinating modern-day quadriplegics, Michael Carr’s presentation of bicameral behavior in Ancient China, and Scott Greer’s enumeration of things Aristotle said that made an impact on the writing of Jaynes’ book.

For more notes on books I’ve read, visit
Buy ‘Reflections on the dawn of consciousness’ on Amazon, here.
This document is guided by the fair-use doctrine, and is for the purpose of critiquing and educating.

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