from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme #15


     Contrast two types of people.  Person A is highly independent, self reliant, dispassionate, skeptical, analytical—one who demands to think for himself or herself and makes decisions only after much deliberation.  Person B is impulsive, highly suggestible, and is directed by  "The Collective Cognitive Imperative."  People like person B often allow their beliefs and behavior to be influenced and directed by the suggestions of others, instead of thinking for themselves.  Such people are much more likely to "go along with the crowd," succumb to peer pressure, be manipulated, hypnotized, recruited as followers / disciples, or brainwashed than less suggestible individuals.  Forceful, charismatic individuals and those in positions of authority—including cult or gang leaders, politicians, salespeople, etc.—will prey on people like person B.  Among such people we find the mentally unbalanced: schizophrenics and those who hallucinate and hear voices. Occasionally these people will be featured in news stories explaining that they did something because they heard the voice of God telling them to do it.  (Recall Andrea Yates' account of killing her children.)

     The above contrast suggests some fundamental difference in the brains of these people and leads to a hypothesis: person A is more left brain dominant, person B more right brain dominant. Consider a related theory (see Figures #15a and 15b) advanced by Princeton psychology professor Julian Jaynes in his 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.  Modern humans, to some degree, still possess remnants of an ancient (right brain dominated) mentality called the bicameral mind.  His book describes the mentality that supposedly existed long ago before modern human consciousness fully emerged.  Not just lacking in analytical thinking skills, ancient people were unable to introspect.  Instead they heard voices, just as some still do today.

     The voices told them what to do when new circumstances were encountered or in times of stress.  These inner voices, heard as actual real voices and believed to be voices of gods, had their origin in the once heard voices of parents, dead relatives, leaders, kings, or other authority figures.  Simply put, one side of their brains produced voices, which commanded. The other side heard them and obeyed.  Supposedly, in response to the development of language and writing, the bicameral mind slowly died out and was replaced by modern consciousness—the transition being nearly complete by the first millennium BCE.  Jaynes used passages from ancient literature—the Old Testament of the Bible, Homer's epic poems Illiad and Odyssey—to document this change. 

     Jaynes' book has been controversial and thought-provoking.

As one commentator put it, "If Jaynes' theories are right, he could become the Darwin of the mind."  Three decades after its


publication, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins gave his opinion: "It is one of those books that is either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius, nothing in between!"  While not necessarily accepting Jaynes' basic thesis, many would dispute the "complete rubbish" characterization. 

     Particularly relevant in explaining specific examples of the contemporary behavior of highly suggestible people is what Jaynes calls "The General Bicameral Paradigm."  He describes this as "a hypothesized structure behind a large class of phenomena of diminished consciousness which are interpreted as partial holdovers from an earlier mentality."  It consists of 1) the collective cognitive imperativewhich demands the suggestible person accept the belief system and culturally agreed on expectancy before joining the group, and defines the roles that must be acted out, 2) the induction processthe ritualized procedure that narrows consciousness by requiring that one's focus be directed to something,  3) the trancethe susceptible person's response to the first two in which voluntary action is greatly suppressed or lacking altogether as our person replaces his or her former identity with another more acceptable to the group, and 4) the archaic authorization to whom the trance is directed—a god, God, a leader or authority figure accepted by the group, and who, by the collective cognitive imperative, is perceived as being responsible for the trance. 

     This paradigm can be used to understand how and why certain people—those who long for absolute guidance and external control—join cults, follow fundamentalist preachers or demagogues, are manipulated by advertisers and authoritative media voices (see Figure #15c), or generally engage in related non-thinking, stimulus-response type behavior.

      Figure #15a    (Adapted from

Julian Jaynes' theory can be broken down into four main hypotheses:
#1: Consciousness, as he carefully defines it, is a learned process based on metaphorical language.
#2: That preceding the development of conscious-ness there was a different mentality based on verbal hallucinations called the bicameral ('two-chambered') mind.
#3: Dating the development of consciousness to around the end of the 2nd millennium BCE in Greece and Mesopotamia.  The transition occurred at different times in other parts of the world.
#4: That the bicameral mind is based on a double-brain neurological model.

Figure #15b: Evidence for Jaynes' Theory  

Hallucinations in primitive societies

Burial practices in ancient civilizations: living hallucinated  voices, commands of those now dead

Widespread use of oracles and divination after most people no longer heard voices

Ancients' idols and figurines believed to be actual gods and served to elicit hallucinations

from Linguistics: evolution of the words psyche, thumos, noos in ancient Greek.  Consciousness-related language not found in the older sections of Iliad and Old Testament of the Bible

from Linguistics: evolution of shi  (to mean impersonator of dead ancestor)  in ancient Chinese

Split-brain patients  hemispheres can function  like two independent persons.


Despite left brain language links,  research shows the right brain also has language ability

Neuroimages show right temporal-parietal lobe activity in auditory hallucinations

Right temporal lobe epilepsy & excitation linked w/ increased religiosity ==>"God" experience

Right brain dominant for putting rhythm in language bolsters Jaynes' description. The right hemisphere--negative emotion link supports voices hallucinated often being critical

Modern schizophrenics' auditory hallucinations often of a critical nature

Large % of schizophrenics experience "command hallucinations"

Auditory  hallucinations are more common in the population than once was believed   

Dreams in ancient times and in primitive tribes much different from modern ones

Hypnosis: modification of consciousness / behavioral control.

Dissociation and hallucinations in religious figures—seen as vestiges of bicameral mind.  Language required for consciousness as Jaynes narrowly defines this term

adapted from      

Marcel Kuijsten

Figure #15c

Confession of a Couch Potato

I come home from a hard day at work and crash in front of the television.  Every so often "that man comes on to tell me." So often that I now carry voices around in my head: advertising messages, jingles, slogans, PR, etc.  When I'm shop-ping I sometimes involuntarily re trieve one of them. If I didn't know where it came from,  I might think I was hearing the voice of God offering guidance.  That may be an exaggeration--but it often seems there is an authoritative voice in my head telling me what to buy.  A pusher wanting me to stay addicted to a consumerist lifestyle.





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