Mind started when the gods stopped talking

How the famous 1970s theory of Julian Jaynes feels like an era of neuroscience

Julian Jaynes’s entire set of things fit in a pair of suitcases when he lived in a hostel at Princeton University in the early 1970s. He probably looked very strange among the students, some of whom knew him as a teacher of philosophy, who spoke in deep baritone. He was a little over 50, he drank quite heavily, did not have a full-time job, and she probably was not interested. His position was shaky. “I don’t think the university paid him a regular salary,” recalls Roy Baumeister, then a Princeton student, and today a professor of psychology at the University of Florida. But, being among the young inhabitants of the hostel, Jaynes worked on his masterpiece, on which he had worked for many years.

From the age of six, Janes has been struck by the uniqueness of consciousness. Looking at the yellow forsythia yellow flowers, he wondered if it was possible to be sure that others saw the same yellow color as he. In his youth, he spent three years in a pennsylvania prison for refusing to work in support of the war. One spring, watching the worm in the prison yard, he thought that he was distinguishing an unreasonable earth from a worm, and a worm - from himself. Similar questions occupied him until the end of his life, and the book he was working on would capture an entire generation that had begun to ask similar questions.

The book Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, published in 1976, did not look like a bestseller. But sold with a bang. She was covered in scientific journals and psychology journals, in such publications as Time, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. She was nominated for a national book award in 1978. New editions continued to appear, and Janes went on tour with lectures. He died of a heart attack in 1997; his book continues to live. In 2000, the next edition appeared on the shelves. It is sold today.

At the beginning of the book, Janes asks the question: “This is the consciousness, the very self of all the selves, representing everything, and at the same time, nothing — what is it? Where did it come from? And why? ”Janes responds to a question by revealing a version of a story in which people were not fully rational until about 3000 years ago, and before that they relied on a two-part bicameral consciousness in which one part spoke with another voice of the gods, guiding them in the event of any difficult situation. The bicameral consciousness eventually collapsed when human communities became more complex, and our ancestors woke up, manifesting modern self-awareness, with inner voices, whose roots, according to Jaynes, lie in the language.

A remarkable thesis, which does not particularly coincide with modern concepts of the work of consciousness. The idea that the ancient Greeks did not realize themselves made many doubt. By giving consciousness to a cultural source, says Christoph Koch, a senior researcher at the Allen Institute for Neuroscience, "Jaynes denies the biological nature of consciousness."

But Koch and other neuroscientists and philosophers acknowledge that James’s extravagant book is influential. “He was an old-fashioned self-taught person who had reached remarkable depths, had extraordinary ambitions, followed his curiosity,” says philosopher Daniel Dennett. And the search in which Jaynes participated — attempts to describe and explain the inner voice, the inner world in which we live — echo even today. The study of consciousness is gaining more and more turns in the neurobiological laboratories around the world, but science has not come close to isolating subjective sensations. That was a great accomplishment for Janes, who illuminated what it means to be alive and aware of it.

Jaynes was the son of a Unitarian priest who lived in West Newton, Massachusetts. Although his father died when Jane was two years old, his voice continued to live in the 48 volumes of his sermons, with which Jaynes seemed to have spent a lot of time maturing. In college, he experimented with philosophy and literature, but decided that the answers to his questions should be sought in psychology, which chases after real data about the physical world. He went to college in 1941, but soon after that the USA entered the Second World War. Jaynes, who deliberately opposed the war, was sent to a civil service camp. Soon he wrote a letter to the US Department of Justice, in which he announced that he was leaving the camp, because he believed that the goals of the camp did not coincide with his principles. “Can we work within the framework of the logic of a bad system to destroy it?” Jesus did not think so. I do not think so, either. ” He was sent to prison, where he had plenty of time to think about the problem of consciousness. “Janes was a man of principles, and some may say that even too impulsive or reckless,” recalls a former student and neighbor. "He was energized by attacking windmills."

Freed after three years, Janes was convinced that the emergence of consciousness as a result of evolution will help clarify experiments with animals, and spent the next three years at Yale University. For a time, he believed that if a being is able to learn by experience, he has some experience, and consequently, consciousness. He drove herds of paramecium through the mazes carved in wax on bakelite , striking them with a current if they turned the wrong way. “I switched to creatures with a synaptic nervous system, flatworms, earthworms, fish, reptiles that are able to learn, and I did it in the naive assumption that I am chronicling the evolution of consciousness,” he recalls in his book. - ridiculous! I am afraid that several years have passed when I finally realized that this assumption has no meaning. ” Many creatures are amenable to training, but they do not engage in introspection. That is what tormented Jaynes.

He also conducted more traditional studies of the maternal behavior of animals under the guidance of Frank Beach. At that time it was not easy to be interested in consciousness. One of the dominant psychological theories was behaviorism , which studied the external responses of people and animals to stimuli. The electric current training was in full swing, no one thought about the intangible world of thoughts, which is understandable - behaviorism became a reaction to earlier and less stringent trends in psychology. But for most of Janes' career, inner feelings were beyond the limits of what was permitted. For some members of the community, the study of consciousness was equated with an interest in occult practices.

In 1949, Jaynes left the institute without earning a degree, apparently, refusing to submit his dissertation. It is not known exactly why this happened - someone says that his committee demanded to make corrections in it that he did not like, some claim that he was tired of the academic hierarchy, others - that he was simply disgusted. He once said that he simply did not want to pay a fee of $ 25. In 1977, when the book was already being sold, Jaynes completed his doctoral degree at Yale. But it does not seem that he was disappointed by the lack of progress. He later wrote that psychology, based on rats in labyrinths, rather than on the human mind, is like "bad poetry, pretending to be science."

It was the beginning of an unusual journey. In the fall of 1949, he moved to England and became a playwright and actor, and for the next 15 years he strolled here and there across the ocean, alternating plays and teaching, and as a result, in 1964, he ended up at Princeton University. And all this time he read a lot and pondered the question of what consciousness is and how it could appear. By 1969, he was thinking about work that would describe the origin of consciousness as a fundamental cultural shift, and not as an evolutionary phenomenon that he was looking for. The work was to become a grand synthesis of science, archeology, anthropology and literature, and use the materials collected over the past two decades of his life. He believed that he finally heard something click into place.

Although Janes, who died in 1997, did not write any other book, "The Origin of Consciousness" will carry his name to eternity. John Updike wrote in The New Yorker that when Janes “assumes that before the end of the second millennium BC man had no consciousness, and he automatically obeyed the voices of the gods, we are amazed, but are forced to follow the development of this remarkable thesis through all the evidence confirming it, found by him in ancient literature, modern behaviorism and such deviant psychological phenomena as hypnotism, obsession , glossolalia , prophecies, poetry and schizophrenia ”.

The book sets a high goal from the first lines. “Oh, what a world of unprecedented visions and silence heard, this illusory land of reason!” Begins Janes. "The secret theater of silent monologue and previous advice, the invisible possession of all moods, reflections and mysteries, an endless shelter of disappointments and discoveries."

To explore the origins of his inner land, Janes first offers a masterful summary of what consciousness is not. This is not an intrinsic property. This is not a learning process. It is, oddly enough, not required in various complex processes. Conscious concentration is needed in order to learn how to solve puzzles, perform pitching in tennis, or even play the piano. But after learning the skill, he goes beyond the horizon, into the blurred world of the subconscious. It is harder to perform if you think about it. From the point of view of Janes, most of what is happening to you at the moment is not part of your consciousness unless you pay your attention to it. Did you feel the pressure of the chair on your back a second ago? Or did you feel it just now, when you asked yourself this question?

Consciousness, according to Janes readers, in a sentence that can be viewed as a challenge to future scientists in the fields of philosophy and cognitive sciences, "is a much smaller part of our mental life than we realize because we cannot be aware of the unconscious." He wonderfully illustrates this moment. “It's like asking a flashlight in a dark room to light something that is not lit. A flashlight, since its light is shed in any direction in which it turns, will have to conclude that there is light everywhere. It may also seem that consciousness fills the entire mind, although in reality this is not so. ”

Perhaps the most striking thing about Janes is that knowledge and even creative insights come to us without our participation. You can tell which of the two glasses of water is harder, without any conscious thoughts - you just know it right after you raised them. In the case of solving problems, creative or otherwise, we give our mind the information that needs to be processed, but not able to make it give an answer. He comes to us later, in the shower or for a walk. Janes told his neighbor that his theory finally took shape when he watched the ice drift on the St. Johns River. Something that we have no idea is working.

Jaynes paints a picture in which consciousness is only a thin hoarfrost on the sea of ​​habits, instincts or other processes, capable of carrying out much more than we think. “If our reasoning were correct,” he writes, “then it would be possible for there to be a race of people who can talk, judge, reason, solve problems, do most of what we can, and at the same time do not have consciousness” .

Jaynes believes that language should have appeared before what it defines as consciousness has become possible. So he decided to read the early texts, including the Iliad and the Odyssey , in order to look for signs of people who are not capable of self-analysis - only the sea, without frost. And he thinks he found it in the Iliad. He writes that the characters in the Iliad do not look inward and do not take on independent initiative. They only do what the gods advise them. When something is about to happen, a god appears and starts talking. Without these voices, the heroes would stand motionless on the beaches of Troy like dolls.

It is already known that speech is localized in the left hemisphere, and does not apply to both hemispheres. Jaynes suggests that the right hemisphere lacks language capabilities, since it was previously used for something else — it was a source of mentoring messages that flowed into speech centers on the left side of the brain. They manifested themselves in the form of hallucinations, helping people to deal with situations that require a complex response - for example, making decisions about government or a dangerous journey.

The combination of instincts and voices - bicameral consciousness - for a long time allowed people to survive, while their communities were subject to a clear hierarchy, writes Jaynes. But about 3000 years ago, the stress associated with resettlement, natural disasters and waves caused an overflow of limited voices. At that moment the collapse of the bicameral mind, pieces of consciousness began to come to the realization of themselves, and the voices stopped broadcasting. This led to a more flexible, albeit frightening way to deal with daily decisions — more appropriate to the chaos that began when the gods fell silent. By the time of the Odyssey, the characters are already capable of something like internal thinking, he says. A modern mind appears with its inner monologue and thirst for instruction from higher powers.

The rest of the book — 400 pages — describes what Janes considers evidence of bicamerality and its collapse around the world, derived from the Old Testament, carving on the Mayan stone, Sumerian records. He gives an example of carving, on which the Assyrian king stands on one knee before the empty throne of God, in about 1230 BC. Frequent and one-after-one migrations of the population, which took place at about the same time in a place now known as Greece, he considers the turmoil caused by the collapse. Janes talks about how this transition can affect today. “We, being at the end of the second millennium AD, in a sense, are still immersed in this transition to a new mentality. Everywhere around us lie the remains of our recent bicameral past, ”he writes, admiring the breadth of his idea, captured by the pathos of the situation. "Our kings, presidents, judges, officials begin their service with the oaths of the now-silent deities, giving them on the records of people who heard them last."

This book has a wide scope and strange content. But she had extreme appeal. Part of it was that some readers had never thought about what consciousness was before. Perhaps for the first time, many people decided to touch the certainty of themselves, and found it not to be what they expected. The book of Janes appeared in an era when such shocks were unusually powerful. In the 1970s, many people felt a growing interest in issues of consciousness. Baumeister, who respects Jaynes, who read the galley of the book before it was published, says that Jaynes had joined the “spiritual scene” of the emerging new age movement .

And the language - what is the language! Wealth is comparable to Nabokov. In his prose there is elegance, power and believability. It sounds prophetic. It seems true. And it greatly affects the perception. Truth and beauty are intertwined so that they are difficult to separate. Physicist Ben Lilly, the lead project Storycollider, recalls the time when he discovered the book of Jaynes. “I was in a group of people who hung out at the offices of newspapers and yearbooks, and talked about all sorts of intellectual things, dressing mostly in black,” says Lilly. - Someone read it. I do not remember who was the first, it was not me. And suddenly we decided that it sounded great, and everyone read it. You had to be a rebel because she was against common sense. ”

It is easy to find holes in logic. For example, there are fragments in the Iliad in which the characters look inside themselves, although Jaynes decided that they were added later or incorrectly translated. But these holes do not belittle the influence of the book. For readers such as Paul Haynes, the founder of Aeon's science and philosophy journal, Jaynes’s central thesis does not come first in the attractiveness of the book. “I was attracted by his approach, style, inspirational and nostalgic mood of the text; not specific details of the argument, albeit rather intriguing, writes Hines. “Janes was ready to study the front edge of consciousness on his own terms, without explaining his mysterious properties.”

Meanwhile, over the past four decades, the winds have changed direction, as is often the case in science, when researchers hunt for the best questions to ask. Huge projects like the Allen Institute of Neurobiology and the Institute of Brain and Mind at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology are trying to understand the structure and functioning of the brain in order to get answers to many questions, including what is consciousness in the brain and how it is created, down to the level of individual neurons. There was a whole new field, behavioral economics , describing and using those moments in which we do not realize what we are doing - the main theme of the book of Jaynes - the ideas of which brought its founders, Daniel Kahneman and Vernon Smith the Nobel Prize.

Eric Schwitzgebel, a professor of philosophy at the University of California at Riverside, conducted experiments to find out how much we are aware of those things that we don’t concentrate on, which reflects Jaynes’s view that consciousness, in fact, is awareness. “You can’t call an illogical view, according to which you are aware of only what you are paying attention to at the moment,” says Schwitzgebel. - But it is also reasonable to say that a lot of things are happening in the background and on the periphery. Outside of concentration, we all have these feelings. ” Schwitzgebel says that the questions that fascinated Jaynes are really hot topics in psychology and neuroscience. But at the same time, the book of Jaynes remains on the verge of science. “The statement that the ancient Greeks did not have consciousness is still far from the generally accepted views,” he says.

Dennett, who called the book "amazing and crazy," likes to use the presumption of innocence against Jaynes. “There are a lot of great ideas hiding in the midst of completely wild nonsense,” he says. In particular, he considers the idea that Jayns insists is very exciting, according to which there is a difference between what happens in the head of animals, and in the head of people, and that this difference is rooted in the language.

“I was on the verge of such an idea, and Julian just kind of pushed me over the edge,” Dennett says. “There is such a difference between the mind of a chimpanzee and the mind of a man that it requires a special explanation, an explanation based on human recognition of the natural language,” although this, of course, is far from everything. “This is an eccentric position,” he admits with a wry grin. “I did not manage to push the generally accepted opinion in this direction.”

Plus, in the piggy bank of ideas of Jaynes, which are periodically mentioned by neuroscientists studying consciousness. In the 2010 self-consciousness book [Self Comes to Mind], Antonio Damasio, a professor of neurobiology, director of the Institute of Brain and Art at the University of Southern California, sympathizes with the idea of ​​Jaynes that something has happened to the human mind in the relatively recent past. “With the accumulation of knowledge about people and the universe, constant reflections could easily change the structure of their autobiographical" I "and lead to a closer convergence of relatively few comparable aspects of data processing in the mind; coordination of the brain, first working on the principles of value, and then shifting to the principles of sanity, worked in our favor, ”he writes. But such approvals are quite rare. Such reactions are more commonwhat a neurophilosophist Patricia Churchland, an honorary professor at the University of California at San Diego, gives. “She's fashionable,” she says of the book of Jaynes. “I don’t think that it has brought something tangible to our understanding of nature, consciousness, and how consciousness emerges as a result of the work of the brain.”

Janes himself considered his theory a scientific contribution and was disappointed with the reaction of the research community. Although he enjoyed the public interest in his work, fighting specifically with these windmills could upset even an experienced “white crow”. Janes began to drink more. The second book, which was supposed to develop the ideas of the first, was never finished.

That's how his, albeit strange, legacy continues to live. Over the years, Dennett sometimes mentioned in his conversations that he was convinced that Janes had stumbled upon something worthwhile. After all the hype, when the crowd dispersed, and the public discussion ended, every time there is someone who can say: “now I can get out of the shadows. I also think that Janes wrote a great book. ”

Marcel Kuijsten [Marcel Kuijsten] - IT Specialist, Manager "Julian Janes’s community , which he estimated was 500-600 enthusiasts from around the world. The group has an online forum where they discuss Jane's theory, and in 2013 they held a conference for the first time, meeting in Virginia for a couple of days for performances. “It was an incredible experience,” he says.

Quijsten believes that many critics of Jaynes simply did not bother to try to understand his argument, which, according to his confession, is rather difficult to assimilate. “They have ingrained preconceived notions about what consciousness means to them,” he says. “Maybe they just read the book review.” But he shows patience. “I’m not going to change someone’s point of view - it’s just a waste of time. I want to provide information of the best quality and good resources for those people who have read the book and want to discuss it. ”

To this end, Quiesten and the “community” have published books containing Jaynes’s works and new essays on him and his works. Quiysten notes every new discovery associated with the problems raised by Jaynes. In 2009, he noted studies that with the help of neuroimagingfound that auditory hallucinations begin with activity on the right side of the brain, followed by activation of the left side — it sounds like the mechanism of Jaynes and his bicameral consciousness. He hopes that over time people will return to some ideas of Jaynes in the light of new scientific data.

As a result, the general questions raised by the book of Jaynes remain the same that continue to worry neurobiologists and ordinary people. When and why did we have this inner voice? What part of our everyday experience happens unconsciously? Where is the line between conscious and unconscious processes? These questions are still open. Perhaps the strange hypothesis of Jaynes will never play a role in the search for answers to them. But many people — readers, scientists, philosophers — are grateful for his attempt.

Source: https://habr.com/ru/post/409517/

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