Jaynes suggested that the cause was the revolution in human life that involved writing, urbanization, huge population jumps, and enormous migrations. A small group, a tribe for example, can get along pretty well with instructions from a "voice" from the outside. But a larger group, a civilization or an empire for example, can't tolerate the simultaneous presence of individual, conflicting revelations.
Something had to give. Jaynes suggested that what gave was the individual human's sense of "hearing" a voice that was believed to come from an outside, authoritative, divine being. In fact, these were inner voices that people projected outward. They gave way (and here's the immodest proposal) to the rise of an interior, subjective mental life called consciousness.
We acquire consciousness within culture, Jaynes said, just as (and just around the time that) we acquire language. We teach consciousness to our children as we encourage them to imagine.
A mind requires a brain, but it is more than a brain. The brain is hardware; the mind is software. And that software can be programmed by a culture that says, "Hear the voice and obey," or by a different culture that says, "Weigh the options and decide."
Jaynes made a lot of predictions, and one was that brain imaging would one day show that the two chambers of the brain model two chambers of the mind: One is "I;" the other is "me." And the constant internal dialogue I have with my "self" is the product of a modern mind, utterly different from the ancient mind that understood life as a constant dialogue between "God" and "me." Functional MRIs bear out this prediction.
Sounds crazy at first. But then, so did relativity, plate tectonics, and medicine.
One of the things I love about Charleston is that so many of you are so much like me -- restlessly inquiring, ceaselessly curious. What a great town in which to host a great conference!
On June 5 to 8, the Bertie Cohen "Rabbi's Invitational Series" of Temple Israel will join the Julian Jaynes Society to host a multidisciplinary conference that will draw together neuroscientists, clergy, linguists, psychologists, historians, philosophers, and anyone who is intrigued by questions about how and why we humans began to think about thinking. Three days of presentations and discussions will feature scholars from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The public is invited. Do you think that you might be interested? Do yourself a favor. Sit down and give yourself a good talking to about the way that the words "you" and "yourself" are used in this paragraph. And then take a look at the conference program at julianjaynes.org.
Cohn is the Rabbi of Temple Israel, templeisraelwv.org.