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I greatly admire the psychologist Julian Jaynes, as portrayed in his book “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind,” first published in 1976. This semi-textbook, primary inspiration for my own interest in the self, was at one time rumored to be the Book of the Month Club’s all-time non-fiction best-seller.
Here are some of the directions Jaynes took in the course of studying the historical and psychological origins of consciousness, in the order he mentions them. Remember, he had to have undertaken all this prior to publication of his book in 1976. These subjects were not all so trendy or obvious then as they have since become.
• A survey of philosophical theories about consciousness.
• Some youthful experimental work on whether mimosa plants learn when exposed repeatedly to intense light.
• Experiments on behaviorism involving running individual paramecia (microscopic animals) in a small maze, followed up with similar work on flatworms, earthworms, fish, and reptiles.
• Research on early concepts of the location of consciousness in the brain, published in 1970 as “The Problems of Animate Motion in the Seventeenth Century” in the Journal of the History of Ideas.
• Study of the words used in the Iliad to express emotions and aspects of the self, continued on into the Odyssey and later Greek documents. He tracked the changing frequencies of these words, and showed how they converged to become a vocabulary for consciousness.
• Study of the functions of gods in ancient psychology.
• Study of hallucinations, both in the ancient world and in modern psychotics.
• Brain anatomy associated with the two-hemispheres hypothesis.
• Primate social behavior.
• Study of the origins of language, published as “The Evolution of language in the Late Pleistocene” in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1976.
• Study of early tombs for what aspect of self they show awareness of.
• Survey of ancient statuary for illustrations of sites for ancient cities being chosen as a result of auditory hallucinations.
• Measurement of eye-to-head size in Mesoamerican and ancient Eurasian statues.
• Mustering of evidence for auditory hallucination being the organizing principle of early civilizations.
• Study of ancient statues for evidence of gods being face-to-face sources of auditory hallucinations, then taking leave and becoming elusive angels.
• Survey of varieties of divination in the ancient world: omens, sortilege, augury, spontaneous divination. Oracles, sibyls, idols.
• Study of ancient Assyrian documents for earliest signs of consciousness.
• The rise of consciousness in the old testament.
• Stages of consciousness manifested in prophecy, possession, glossolalia, poetry, music etc.
• History and practice of hypnosis.
• History of treatment of, and theories about, schizophrenia.
• History of science presented as attempt to substitute for lost of authority of ancient gods.
• Study of what dreams tell us about consciousness (omitted from the book but mentioned in the afterward).
• In the afterward, written in 1990, he digs down to a little known Victorian concept, consilience, to characterize his goal in studying consciousness, the same term Edward O. Wilson selected for his book published in 1998 on the need to find an overarching theory for the social sciences.
What’s distinctive about Jaynes’ studies is that they’re driven by his concern for a particular subject, in this case consciousness. More usually, academic research is driven by the availability of grants to study successive problems at the frontier of a particular specialty. That’s the shape most academic research takes because that’s how it’s financed. I suspect Jaynes’ studies were not financed through grants!
I propose Jaynes’s work as a model for how to choose likely sources of self-technology information, and for the kind of obsessive pursuit required to take advantage of them.
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