Did the ancients think differently?

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posted on Aug, 17 2008 @ 07:31 PM
Julian Jaynes was a Princeton psychologist best known for his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind . He proposed a radical theory of consciousness that is receiving new attention as some of his predictions are being proven true by contemporary neurology.

Jaynes believed that up to as recently as 3,000 years ago, human consciousness was radically different than it is now -- so different that it can't even be properly called "consciousness." For example, instead of sitting down and puzzling things out, humans received "commands" in the form of aditory hallucinations from an area of the right brain hemisphere that corresponds to the left-brain speech centers but is currently dormant in most human brains. The state would be similar to that of schizophrenics and others who "hear voices" (and scans show that this part of the brain is indeed active during such episodes).

These voices were experienced as "commands from the gods," but gradually over time as society became more complex (the theory goes) people lost this type of consciousness and developed a more modern sense of self that allowed easier introspection, planning, etc. Jaynes supports his theories in a variety of ways, including using some of humanity's earliest texts (such as the Illiad, etc.) to make the claim that ancient people's egos and self-conceptions were radically different than our own.

Its an interesting theory and I don't know if I buy it or not, but I'm enjoying learning about it.

Good overview of theory:

Wikipedia article:

posted on Aug, 17 2008 @ 07:58 PM
reply to post by silent thunder

I'm neither a psychologist nor and anthropologist and I play neither on TV. It seems like a nutty and unlikely theory.

If instead of consciousness humans functioned on on a schizophrenic level how could there be any cooperation which could lead to agriculture and city building? Civilization was built on a mass hallucination based on cultural norms? Where did the norms come from in the first place?

posted on Aug, 17 2008 @ 08:09 PM
The theory is not that people were stumbling around like schizoids. It's much more nuanced than that. It's very hard to summarize quickly so please don't jump to any conclusions based on my short, hurried overview.

The first link in my original post provides a slightly more detailed rundown that should at least begin to help you to answert your questions.

posted on Aug, 17 2008 @ 08:15 PM
reply to post by silent thunder

In my opinion, there is the slightest bit of truth to this. I believe that when people had a more personal relationship with nature, that they could perceive levels of information from the world around them, that we are too numb to today. I believe as we became more "civilized" we had less requirement for this type of awareness, and eventually, generation after generation started to take it for granted, and after awhile, everyone was numb to the perception.

As far as "commands from the Gods" replacing entirely the "consciousness" I'd say it's a no. But most certainly, I think we could pick up messages that we haven't been trained to pick up on for many generations.

posted on Aug, 17 2008 @ 08:28 PM
reply to post by TheGreySwordsman

The theory doesn't seem to involve signals from nature, from the outside. That is entirely plausible.

The premise is that the "commands from the gods" originate within the mind of the recipient.

posted on Aug, 17 2008 @ 08:31 PM
reply to post by Phage

I just wanted to toss in the ONLY vague way I could see what he's talking about. Some people struggle so hard to wrap their understanding around the unfamiliar that they come up with outlandish ways to look at it.

posted on Aug, 17 2008 @ 11:21 PM
It's kind of unfortunate that Jaynes uses the term "consciousness" so centrally in his work because he defines consciousness (for his purposes) in a very narrow way which doesn't exactly correlate with the way cognative scientists or normal people use the word.

So many of the objections to his work are sematic wranglings over the definition of "consciousness" and it all ends up rather bogged down and missing the point.

I think that it would be more accurate to say that his work posits a DIFFERENT TYPE of consciousness for ancient civilizations rather than NO CONSCIOUSNESS AT ALL. If he had only used his terms a bit differently his work might have been more influential. As it is, he defines the word "consciousness" very carefully and stresses that he's using the term in a specific way, but of course most people aren't patient enough to put in the effort needed to grasp his definition on its own terms, and instead so much of the debate slides back into arguments over the defininiton of "consciousness," which is rather boring and totally misses the fresh and original points he's trying to get across.

As I noted earlier, I don't know to what extent I buy his theory, but there is increased attention to it because some recent neurological findings confirm predictions he made over 30 years ago.

posted on Aug, 18 2008 @ 12:30 AM
Except the commands didn't originate from 'the gods', but from the collective unconscious mind. And they probably weren't commands, but rather suggestions. It just so happens that it would be in our best interest to take those suggestions.

Like a bunch of minds hooked together to form a more powerful thinking processor.

posted on Aug, 18 2008 @ 01:35 AM
Short of buying a book (too impatient and too broke) it doesn't seem the theory involves the collective unconscious in the Jungian sense. More an intuitive individual unconscious without the awareness of its own individuality. (How's that? What did I just write?)

It seems to me that this theory may be similar to Jane Auel's (no, I don't view her as an anthropologist) view of the neanderthal mind, more instinctive than innovative, stuck in a dead end rut. Though her view does include a sort of collective unconscious which though which acquired knowledge is passed, Auel did imbue neanderthals with self awareness.

There are a lot of questions. A big one for me is how does Jayne's theory account for progress? Since progress can be a loaded word, how does the theory account for change in the human worldview? Without self awareness and introspection how can a view of the future be conceived? Can relatively complex ideas ("I want my family to have something to eat next winter. Maybe if I put some food in the ground instead of eating it now, everything will be OK. If I plant a seed from this plant it will grow") spring forth without introspection? Jayne tells us it was, for all intents and purposes, something akin to Divine Inspiration.

Admittedly it is a very difficult concept, perhaps because our self awareness is central to my concept of what being human is. I haven't (and probably won't) put much effort into more study but it just doesn't ring true. Our self awareness is the basis of our humanness. It sounds like Jayne believes we became human (as we define it) only 3,000 years ago.

posted on Aug, 18 2008 @ 01:53 AM
One of the metaphors he uses for the feeling of the primative "bicameral state" is that it would be similar to the kind of mentality you have while driving a car and talking to somebody in the seat next to you. As you are driving you are watching the road, moving the wheel, doing all the necessary stuff, but you are paying more conscious attention to the conversation you are having than you are to the road. Now, Jaynes asks us, just remove the "conversation" part from this scene. What remains is a kind of dim, automatic perception and reaction to the road that does not have the same same "brightness" or feeling of vivid experience that modern "consciousness" would.

It's not a perfect metaphor -- he acknowledges it as such -- but it at least allows one to picture a kind of awareness where we are in the world and reacting to what is going on around us without really being totally "conscious" of what we are doing. Another example he uses is the act of reading: When you read a sentence, you aren't conscious of every letter or even every word, but some part of your brain is processing the letter-by-letter, word-by-word information very rigorously.

posted on Aug, 18 2008 @ 02:24 AM
I like how people talk with such certainty about what actually the truth was, without really any background on the matter, and, in at least one case, without reading the material. Isn't it an interesting bit of psychology, how people so readily jump to conclusions and actually believe that they're correct? Such powerful cognitive bias... Not to judge, or anything, but it is interesting.

As for this theory...if not correct, it's very entertaining. I'm still reading it, so I can't judge that either, but I'm very glad you posted this.

posted on Aug, 18 2008 @ 02:46 AM
I had a rather large reply about Jaynes' work composed, but some part of my mind made me delete it, on impulse.

Here's the interesting part: Jayne uses metaphore, describing the unification and change in interaction of divided components of the mind, as measured in generational change. The interesting thing about his work is that it can also describe the change, in modern man, of in-life self awareness. In other words, the 'breakdown' he describes, is metaphorically parallel, in species evolution, and in individual psychological development. Discuss.

posted on Aug, 18 2008 @ 03:25 AM
This is just common sense. Why? Because thousands of years ago human language wasn't complex enough for a person to fully "think things through". Could you imagine trying to think to yourself in basic Latin. Also, the education "system" didn't allow people to properly develop their communication skills.

posted on Aug, 18 2008 @ 09:57 AM
reply to post by Johnmike

I guess you're referring to me since I seem to be the only here to hasn't accepted the theory at some level.

I did read the material provided and I did find some other sources on the 'net. Some of the comments by those who find the theory reasonable seem to indicated that they have not read the material and have jumped to incorrect conclusions about the theory. No, I haven't read Jayne's book(s). Have you?

I have been careful in my comments not to indicate any certainty on my part or even that my interpretation is "correct". Mostly I've been asking questions. Have I asked the wrong questions? Can you be more specific about the incorrect conclusions I've jumped to so we might be able to discuss them?

posted on Aug, 18 2008 @ 10:17 AM
I have read (and have on my bookshelf) "The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" a couple times now and I always find it a fascinating read but there are a couple huge flaws in the theory... most notably is the question of how a split mind could have developed the complex cultures that proceeded full blown consciousness and the other being of what benefit would having a bicameral mind as opposed to a unified mind have that would have made it last so long.

As for the question, did the ancients thing differently than we do... Oswald Spengler tried to answer that in the first part of his opus "The Decline of the West... pub. 1918) In the first couple of chapters he discusses mathematics to highlight his later argument that you cannot draw parallels between cultures because of the differences in how they view things.... Instead you can only draw parallels between them on the arc of their development.

He tried to point out the fundamental difference between Greek mathematics and modern western mathematics as an example. He asserted that for the Greeks, mathematics was a spatial tool used in design and building and that they never considered the possiblities of using mathematics abstractly so the parallel between their mathematics and ours because their conception of it was totally different.

Now while I admire "The Decline of the West" I am not sure I buy that argument... many of the later Greek thinkers were carrying mathematics into the abstract but the gist of the argument is sound.

For a further elaboration of the differences in cognition between cultures I highley recommend Claude Levi-Strauss' book "The Savage Mind"

posted on Aug, 18 2008 @ 10:20 AM
I think a very large boom in not *consciousness* per say but *expanded* consciousness came from the first peoples and civilizations using hallucinogens...probably mistaken for food sources..id guess psychobilin mushrooms first but just an extra little bitty special!
I know it expands my *conscious* i dont think the ancients would have been much different...

[edit on 18-8-2008 by Lethil]

posted on Aug, 18 2008 @ 10:24 AM
Human thinking hasn't changed. Each generation thinks the last generation was stupid, slow, and didn't know how to "think".

Look at the Book of Job, considered the oldest book in the bible. What were Job's kids doing when they were killed? Having a party. Wow. I wonder if any young adults today would think to have a big party in the middle of the day?

I forget where I saw it, but there was a letter from a student to his father. This letter was close to 1,000 years old. The letter tells of what the student is learning, etc. At the end of the letter, he asks his father if he will send him some money. Sound familiar to anyone who has a kid in college?

A scientist did a study of the paintings and drawings did in caves around the world. He especially measured the "hand prints" that were in these caves, he discovered they exhibited a length/width ratio that only one subset of humans have. Know who? TEENAGERS. Wow. Teenagers scrawling graffiti in caves. Teenagers from 5,000 years ago did it, teenagers today do it. Nothing new under the sun. (BTW, that study confirmed what I had been saying for years. That those "cave drawings", ESPECIALLY the sexual ones, were done by teenagers.)

Pornography is new, right? A product of the "enlightened mind" of the new science age, right? Tell that to the Romans, Greeks, and the Chinese and Indians before them!

To hear these "scientists" tell it, the only thing ancient humans had time for was screwing and worshiping (sometimes at the same time!).

They might have had a different CULTURAL thinking pattern, but the human brain is the human brain. Base traits do not change. We laugh and smile when we are happy, we cry when we are sad, we scowl, scream or yell when we are mad. Even if you do not know a language, or anything about a culture, you will still know the basic human emotions of the people in that culture by listening to their tone of voice, or viewing their faces.

The only difference between then and now is that we have access to technology that the people then didn't have. You could take any cave man from 5,000 years ago, and have him surfing the web in a couple of hours (assuming he knew english, of course!

posted on Aug, 18 2008 @ 10:34 AM
reply to post by sir_chancealot

You are right only to a point. Much of our consciousness depends on how we view the world. Jaynes describes consciousness as a self referential metaphor that we use to describe for the visible world to ourselves... if we view the world as full of ghosts and demons out to get us then our response to that metaphor will be one of fear and dread. If we have different metaphors we see something else.

posted on Aug, 18 2008 @ 10:41 AM
certainly an interesting theory... that God or Gods would use hallucinations to communicate. I had read this book "'___': The Spirit Molecule" which talks about the brain producing small amounts of '___' that stimulates thte pineal gland to create these profound hallucinations in a group of patients. Some of these experiences were religious, some where alien...

Just my opinion that God could have built something into our brains that allows for communication. Perhaps thru hallucination or dream state. I have always felt that there is some meaning to dreams, etc.

posted on Aug, 18 2008 @ 10:57 AM

Originally posted by mapsurfer_
certainly an interesting theory... that God or Gods would use hallucinations to communicate. I had read this book "'___': The Spirit Molecule" which talks about the brain producing small amounts of '___' that stimulates thte pineal gland to create these profound hallucinations in a group of patients. Some of these experiences were religious, some where alien...

Just my opinion that God could have built something into our brains that allows for communication. Perhaps thru hallucination or dream state. I have always felt that there is some meaning to dreams, etc.

Yes im a skeptic...hardcore atheist...and all that...but ayahuasca(dmt) except last longer and makes you sick and poop alot...is something else...im not dismissing it could all be in my brain...but really...everytime i use some,its the exact same location with the exact same *people* or *entities* whatever...and the same sort of knowledge...i wish i could give a scientific reason,but its been studied so little its hard too...but i can say its one of the best experiences of my life,if not a little frightening at first.

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