In his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976), in which he argued that ancient peoples did not access consciousness (did not possess an introspective mind-space), but instead had their behavior directed by auditory hallucinations, which they interpreted as the voice of their chief, king, or the gods. Jaynes argued that the change from this mode of thinking (which he called the bicameral mind) to consciousness (construed as self-identification of interior mental states) occurred over a period of centuries about three thousand years ago and was based on the development of metaphorical language and the emergence of writing. (Source).
Jaynes’s theories and assertions are not universally accepted by the scientific community, but he has asked questions that need to be asked, according to one critic.
Jaynes never completed the second book he had intended to write, but he wrote lectures and essays which, together with commentary and essays by others since then, have culminated in a follow-up book which I have read: Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness, edited by Marcel Kuijsten.
Reading this book stimulated me to explore related areas which I will discuss under the following headings, before finally returning to the question in this article’s title regarding auditory hallucinations and God.
The tangential areas I covered in my literature search were:
- Carl G. Jung’s Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
- A brief look at the “self,” and if there is such a thing
- The subject of consciousness, and of the unconscious
Jung’s Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
Collective unconscious is a term of analytical psychology, coined by Carl Jung. It is a part of the unconscious mind, expressed in humanity and all life forms with nervous systems, and describes how the structure of the psyche autonomously organizes experience. Jung distinguished the collective unconscious from the personal unconscious, in that the personal unconscious is a personal reservoir of experience unique to each individual, while the Collective Unconscious collects and organizes those personal experiences in a similar way with each member of a particular species (emphasis added).
Jung stated in his book Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious:
…in addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents. (Source)
Major Archetypes Discussed by C. G. Jung and Many Others
§ The maiden
§ The wise old man
§ Various family members
|§ The child
§ The trickster
§ The hero
A Brief Look at the “Self:” Is There Such a Thing?
My main source of information in this realm is found in a scholarly book, Self: Ancient and Modern Insights about Individuality, Life and Death, by Richard Sorabji.
Plato started a tradition of doubt about whether self-knowledge is even possible. Doubts were further discussed by Aristotle, the sceptic Sextus and the neoplatonist Plotinus. Epictetus likened the self to prohairesis or, roughly, will, which provides the basis for choice and morals. Epictetus stated throughout his work that “We are our prohairesis.”
Persian physician and philosopher Avicenna (CE 980 – 1037) saw the “essence” or soul as independent of the body. Christian religionists, and philosophers raised in the Christian tradition, also saw the soul, not the body, as “I.” René Descartes stated, “I am distinct from my body and can exist without it.” It is Descartes who famously said: cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”).
A great many philosophers and religionists have addressed the question of the self, if any. Here are the main thinkers from antiquity through the 13th Century, listed in date order by Professor Sorabji in his book:
Professor Sorabji admits a bias toward the existence of a self but acknowledges difficulties in proof and cites those who disagree with him, at least in part. In any case I can find no scientific, experimental proof of a self or “The Self.”
Here is the simile that occurred to me as I read this book: each of us who refers to “I,” is like the fruiting body of a great mushroom, the mycelium of which lies deep and extensively in the earth and neighboring plants. When the mycelium reaches a certain stage of growth, it begins to produce spores on hyphae (stalks), which are arranged into intricate structures called fruiting bodies (“mushrooms” that carry and distribute spores—seeds). (Source).
Whether or not my simile is apt, there continues to be argument among philosophers on the subject of the self. In the ending page of chapter 1, the author indicates the chapters wherein he will offer disproof of what some major thinkers have opined about the existence of a self: Immanuel Kant, the Buddhist Śântideva, the Stoics, Plutarch, and Derek Parfit.
I cannot say there is, or is no “self,” especially as distinct from all other living things upon which the human race depends. What I perceive is that it is a word, an abstraction, that refers to something we consider real, at least for practical purposes and, possibly, for spiritual purposes (how can I connect with God if there is no “I”?).
I leave the topic here but will include in a final comment at the end of this essay.
The Subject of Consciousness, and of the Unconscious
In an article on consciousness in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Professor Robert Van Gulick concludes:
A comprehensive understanding of consciousness will likely require theories of many types. One might usefully and without contradiction accept a diversity of models that each in their own way aim respectively to explain the physical, neural, cognitive, functional, representational and higher-order aspects of consciousness. There is unlikely to be any single theoretical perspective that suffices for explaining all the features of consciousness that we wish to understand. Thus, a synthetic and pluralistic approach may provide the best road to future progress.
In the book Consciousness: Creeping up on the Hard Problem, the author Jeffrey Gray concludes the first half of the book, thus:
The Hard Problem of consciousness can be stripped down to one (still Hard) but double-edged question: how does the unconscious brain create and inspect the display medium (qualia) of conscious perception? I call this one question rather than two because I suspect (but cannot demonstrate) that any scientifically acceptable account of how the brain creates qualia will at the same time constitute an account of how it inspects them… What is certain is that the first half of the question, ‘how does the brain create qualia?’, is enough to keep science going for a long time to come…
If the reader has followed me this far, he or she may see where I am headed: there is no absolute knowledge of consciousness. What has been shown is that the unconscious takes precedence over the conscious in our lives. In Jeffrey Gray’s book he states:
Unconscious mechanisms are responsible for the construction of the model of the external world that enters consciousness… Unconscious mechanisms are responsible also for the comparator process that either kicks of a motor program as ‘going according to plan’ or detects novelty and error…(and it is an open question whether) the correction of error by modification of the activities of the unconscious servomechanisms… is achieved in conscious or unconscious processing….
Likewise, the Clinical and Personality Psychology homepage of Uppsala University states in an article Concepts of the Unconscious:
… the present boundary between conscious and unconscious… hinges on… any percept or process that one cannot report being aware of at the time of its influence on behavior (including cognition, emotion, perception, etc.) is unconscious. This includes perception that has been conscious in the past but is not when its effects are produced.
Such scholarly texts are almost impenetrable to the layperson, but one can easily see the issues under the headings “self,” “consciousness” and “the unconscious” are not settled, either within a philosophical context or a biological context; and, that our lives are conducted more from what we call the unconscious than from the conscious. (I have not included more references to this latter assertion and invite the interested reader to do his and her own research, including the book by Kuijsten that started my journey through this inquiry).
Finally, About Auditory Hallucinations and the “Voice of God”
Clinical studies discussed in detail in the Kuijsten book (Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness) show that in those persons, both “sane” and not, who have auditory hallucinations the voice comes from above and to the left of the person (indicating right hemisphere origin) and is always an authority figure, most often “God.” Current preliterate societies consider “hearing voices” a sacred (good, evil or benign) occurrence and take them seriously without labeling the hearer “crazy.”
Also, from “A Jungian Approach to Psychosis“:
Extensive research has been undertaken with respect to auditory hallucinations within psychiatric populations (e.g.: schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, dementia, etc.). In the same vein, there has been some research conducted with non-psychiatric populations, thereby indicating that auditory hallucinations are not necessarily pathological phenomena, but part of the human experience.
Julian Jaynes has opened up a new and fascinating realm of inquiry into the human condition. I find it not unbelievable that normal, rational humans still hear voices, but suppress them because they are now considered to be unacceptably deviant. I strongly believe that we should listen to those who hear voices and interact with them politely, not as if they need drugs to be more “normal.” Maybe we can learn something from them. Maybe they are in more contact, than the “normal” we, with the great substance or spirit that lies beneath the human condition, perhaps the whole mammalian condition… perhaps God, or some of the ancient gods and archetypes?
This article was published in an expanded form on April 14, 2010 in my weblog: Cultivating the Corpus Callosum.