WANT TO GO?
Julian Jaynes Society Conference on Consciousness and Bicameral Studies
WHEN: June 5 to 8
WHERE: Temple Israel, 2312 Kanawha Blvd E.
ADMISSION: Early registration (by Sunday), $125 adults, $65 students
INFO: Register at templeisraelwv.org.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- You constantly study yourself and your thoughts about the life you're leading, but were we as humans always so introspective about this experience of existence?
Temple Israel has announced an ambitious conference for June 5 to 8 that will attract a cadre of neuroscientists, clergy, linguists, psychologists, philosophers and historians to West Virginia's capital city to think about, well, thinking.
The conference, whose discounted early registration comes to a close Sunday, has a daunting title: "The Julian Jaynes Society Conference on Consciousness and Bicameral Studies." But for Temple Israel's Rabbi James Cohn -- who pulled it together as part of the Bertie Cohen Rabbi's Invitational Series -- there's a rather straightforward aim.
"Hopefully, every person's point of view will be enhanced by the conference in a way that allows them to see bridges of connection between themselves and the other people who are here and the history of the human drama," he said.
Julian Jaynes, who died in 1997, was an influential psychologist whose 1976 book, "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind," helped to reframe ideas about how human consciousness developed.
Jaynes' theorized that only relatively recently -- about 1000 BC -- did humans start to have, as the Wikipedia entry on his career puts it, "awareness of awareness, thoughts about thinking, desires about desires, beliefs about beliefs."
Before that, that voice in the head was heard as the delivered voice of prophecy or as a message from God, said Cohn, himself author of the recent e-book "The Minds of the Bible: Speculations on the Cultural Evolution of Human Consciousness."
"In the earliest writing across different cultures, when people had a decision to make they inquire of God or the gods or the voice of their ancestors. The voice tells them what to do and they act," Cohn said.
But because of some fundamental shifts in human society, including among other things the development of writing and huge human migrations that dislocated this experience of revelation, the modern mind developed.