The Self – Review

Written By: Julia Tyack

 Notes on ‘The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind’. By Julian Jaynes 1976-82. Houghton and Mifflin Co. Boston.

Amazon description: “At the heart of this classic, seminal book is Julian Jaynes’s still-controversial thesis that human consciousness did not begin far back in animal evolution but instead is a learned process that came about only three thousand years ago and is still developing. The implications of this revolutionary scientific paradigm extend into virtually every aspect of our psychology, our history and culture, our religion — and indeed our future.”


Julian Jaynes speculates that until the second millennium B.C. the human race had no consciousness, but was obeying the voices of gods in the right hemisphere of their brains.  In his book ‘The Origin of Consciousness in the Break Down of the Bicameral Mind’, Jaynes leads the reader through the evidence that there was no religion in the world until the 5th or 4th century B.C. Before then the human race was bicameral or semi bicameral. The god part of the brain simply led or advised. The strongest emotion was wonder.

?The presence of these voices which had to be obeyed was the pre-requisite to the conscious stage of the mind in which the self is responsible and can debate within itself; it can order and direct.  The creation of such a self is the product of culture.

Consciousness has no location except in the imagination.   A civilization can exist without consciousness. Consciousness is not involved in skills such as speaking, writing, listening or reading and often hinders them. Consciousness is based on language and came after language.  Writing started around 3000 B.C. and writing is a ‘seen language’.
In Chapter 2, Jaynes proves that consciousness is based on language; that it is of much more recent origin than previously supposed.  Consciousness comes after language.

It is now known that early man was not conscious as he was learning language.  Animals are not conscious.  Into human history around 3000 B.C. comes a very remarkable practice; little marks on clay and papyrus, so that speech can be seen rather than just heard ( Page 68)

The Iliad is an advanced form of writing around 900-800B.C.. There is no consciousness in this work (in general).
There was no subjective consciousness in the minds, souls or will in the description of the Iliadic men of 1230 B.C. written in 900-800 B.C.

There was no true religion in Greece before the fourth century B.C.  The gods in those Homeric poems are merely an invention of the poets.  The characters do not sit down and think. They have no conscious minds such as we have and certainly no introspections.  The gods or voices in the right lobe of their brain took the place of consciousness and they pushed men about like robots (Just like Joan of Arc heard her voices.)  The ‘god ‘ is part of the man (what we call hallucinations).

The Bi-cameral Mind.  Iliadic men did not have subjectivity as we do, they had no awareness of the world, no internal mind space to introspect upon.  The absolute pre-requisite to the conscious stage of the mind in which the self is responsible and can debate within itself, was the presence of these voices or gods; the self is the product of culture.

Since we know that Greek culture very quickly became a literature of consciousness, we may regard the Iliad at the turning of the times and a window back into the subjective times when every kingdom was in essence a theocracy and every man a slave of voices heard whenever novel situations arose.

Chapter 4


We are conscious human beings. But at one time human nature was split in two ? an executive part called a god and a follower part called a man. Neither part was conscious. We call these people ?Bicameral Man?. The world would happen to these people but they had no consciousness of it. When a new situation arose they would not know what to do until their bicameral voice would tell them non-consciously what to do. In the bicameral men this was volition. Volition came to them as a voice of command. To hear was to obey. The command and the action could not be separated.  (The writer gives ample proof of this situation.)  The Bicameral people were a peaceful, tribal clan who obeyed their ‘king’ or ‘chief’ and who hallucinated his voice of command.

Chapter 5 – The double brain 

The speech area of the brain is in the left hemisphere (in most people), the voices of the bicameral people originated in the right side.  ‘What better code has ever appeared in the evolution of animal nervous systems than human language’?

Learning and culture brought about the change from bicameral to conscious man. There still exists vestiges of god like function in the right hemisphere and many examples follow.
It is possible to think of the two hemispheres as two individuals; one speaking and both listening and understanding.  Whatever the neurology of consciousness now, maybe, it is not set for all time.
The bicameral mind was a form of social control which allowed man-kind to move from small hunter-gatherer groups to large agricultural communities and finally resulted in the origin of civilization. (Page 127)

When did language evolve?  There is little evidence up to 40,000 B.C. of anything other than the crudest stone tools; it was an art passed on solely by imitation.

1st Stage – Calls, modifiers and command

Each new stage of words resulted in important cultural changes, resulting in an explosion of new types of tools from 40.000 to 25,000 B.C.  The age of Mourns – resulted in the beginning of drawings of animal on cave walls. The brain, especially the frontal lobe increased with astonishing rapidity. 10,000 to 8000 B.C. – names first occurred; then the advent of agriculture and domestication of animals etc.  9000 B.C.- Houses 23 feet in diameter made of stone and reeds; populations of 200 buried their dead; agriculture and advanced tools etc.  This is the bicameral age with god king at the head of each settlement.  By 6000 B.C. farming communities were spreading everywhere and cities of 10,000 inhabitants sprang up.

Book 2 – The Witness of History 

Civilization is the art of living in towns of such a large size that everyone does not know everyone else.

The social organization provided by the bicameral mind made this development possible.  Civilization began independently in various sites; the near East; Valleys of Tigris and Euphrates; Anastomoses and the Valley of the Nile (then Cyprus).

They had 3 Characteristics

1. God houses – idols of a god in a central house.
2. The idea of the living dead i.e. dead people as though still living.
3.  Idols that spoke – ‘figurines with prominent eyes’ with whom the semi bicameral conversed.  This was found in   all ancient kingdoms.

Literal Bicameral Theocracies 

At first half picture/half symbol; ‘Writing of the gods’.

In the third millennium B.C. writing lets us stare at these developing cultures.  A steward King is a deputy of the gods, or sometimes a god-king is his own manager.  In Egypt the king was the god.


Over a huge span of time early civilizations had a different mentality from our own.  They were not conscious as we are, were not responsible for their actions, and cannot be given blame or credit.  Instead each person had a part of his nervous system which was divine, by which he was ordered about.  These voices or gods occupied a part of the nervous system in the right hemisphere and with the help of idols helped people to articulate speech and develop into civilizations of many varieties.  The voices were man’s volition at this time.   The Old Testament was largely bicameral mentality.

The causes of consciousness

In the bicameral area, the bicameral mind was the social control (not law). There were no private ambitions, or grudges; no private anything.  All initiative was the voices of the gods.  In each state the people were peaceful and friendly but would not necessarily understand the people in other states.  Other states may have a different language and different gods.  They operated like colonies of ants; busy and amicable.  Finally, exchange and trade began between different people and weakened the bicameral structure that made civilization possible.

Bicameral nations were susceptible to collapse because of their inherent fragility. Volcanic eruptions and major upheavals caused mass migrations; the rise of Assyria, warring its way towards Egypt and Mesopotamia, forming a very different kind of empire from any the world had seen before. (Page 209)

By this time the great transilience in mentality had occurred.  Man had become conscious of himself and his world.  Once consciousness was established, there are quite different reasons why it was so successful and why it spreads to other bicameral peoples.

In Mesopotamia the mighty themes of religion are sounded for the first times (about 1230 B.C.) The gods had left; they were offended; nature punished by misfortunes, creating the need to repent in order for the gods to return.
The disappearance of the voices from human mentality was profound and widespread.  Rulers without voices to guide them are fitful and unsure.  Even the king’s authority in the absence of the god, is questionable.

Induced possession commenced with Oracles

The origin of angels ( page 230)
Demons and protection against ( page 232)
A new heaven ( page 233)
Tower of Babel built in six or seventh century B.C.
Confusion of languages.

Divination Omens and omen texts. 

There was no concept of chance before this time.  Psychology of sacrilege: throwing of dice; casting of lots etc.

Prayers only become prominent after the disappearance of the bicameral mind.  During the period between the weakening of the bicameral control and the rise of religion in the 4th and 5th century B.C., we find the rise of the oracle and all sorts of divination such as Induced Possession.   Induced Possession occurs when the oracles take complete control of the person.  It even occurs today in the Christian Church.  It’s not a loss of consciousness but a replacement of a new and different consciousness.  This first occurred in Greece by 400 B.C. and was common. The bicameral mind has vanished and possession took its place.  Socrates said, ‘god-possessed men speak much truth, but know nothing of what they say, for prophecy is madness.’ (Page 340).

Supposed possession is the obliteration of ordinary consciousness.  The right side of the brain is more active than in a normal state.  It is a learned state, a believed state, just as we in a latter age have no ‘free will’ unless we believe we have.   Evil spirits were invented to explain incorrect messages at first.

As the phenomenon is still around, the writer goes into the negative effect of induced possession today.   It is an illness related to stress which induces this condition.  In the New Testament, it is called demonization.  Like schizophrenia it often begins with a ‘voice’ or a ‘demon’ or other being which is ‘heard’ after a considerable stressful period.   After a period, consciousness is lost and the demon side of the personality takes over.   The possessed people believe heartily in spirits or demons or similar beings and live in a society that also believes in them.  (Page 248)   The attacks last from several minutes to an hour or two, and the stricken person does not run off and act like a demon; just talks like one.  These episodes are often accompanied by twisting and writhing, while the voice is distorted and horrible.


Justice is a phenomenon only of consciousness.
The soul or ghost that goes to Hades
Doctrine of transmigration after death
Introspection of Socrates to Aristotle and from here to Hebrew, Alexandrian thought
History will never be the same again.

Finally, there was an attempted reformation of Judaism by Jesus, which can be construed as a necessary new religion for conscious rather than bicameral men.  Even then, the history of Christianity cannot remain true to its originator.

The remaining 150 pages deals with oracles, divine statue cults, mediums, astrologers, saints, demon possession, tarot cards, ouija boards, popes and pryate, stances, induced possession, spirit demons etc.   All are mankind’s yearning for divine certainties.


The following brief summary is from an author on a quest to know God in the depth of his being. This brilliant research on the primitive beings of the human race is really a history of man seeking to find the Author of his being.

Every generation has been on a search to find the ‘absent God’; aware that in their secret depth of being, they were separated from the source of life.  Generation after generation posed, man’s brain was evolving, the voices of past generations fading.   Self consciousness was breaking up the darkness of the past.  On every continent religions arose to seek and understand God.  In the first century Jesus came on the scene, excitedly aware of the insight that no one being, however holy, could express the unique image of the infinite being of God.  ‘God is with us and in us was his message’, but who could grasp it?  God is reflected in everyone’s search for Him/Her; the longing to know is God’s own longing to be known.  Therefore Jesus said, ‘Mentonia’, change your imagination. God is not up in the distant heavens, but right here among the human race.  Not one incarnation of one ‘holy’ man, but God in all of humankind, men and women (women are the representatives of the female Sophia, an attribute of God.)  No one, not even the whole of creation can express the infinite reality of this mystery.  Jesus said, God’s blessings full on us all.  Look around you and see God’s kingdom spread out before us.  See it in the Samaritan rescuing the stricken man; in the lost coin; the pearl of great price; the master of the vineyard paying his workers; the lily of the field; see it in every human face.

Humanity is the temples for the presence of God, giving unique expression to some aspect of this reality.  Millions of people expressing the infinite Mystery of Being!   Not one incarnation but the incarnation of God in the whole human race.