Moralizing Gods as Effect, Not Cause

There is a new study on moralizing gods and social complexity, specifically as populations grow large. The authors are critical of the Axial Age theory: “Although our results do not support the view that moralizing gods were necessary for the rise of complex societies, they also do not support a leading alternative hypothesis that moralizing gods only emerged as a byproduct of a sudden increase in affluence during a first millennium ‘Axial Age’. Instead, in three of our regions (Egypt, Mesopotamia and Anatolia), moralizing gods appeared before 1500.”

I don’t take this criticism as too significant, since it is mostly an issue of dating. Objectively, there are no such things as distinct historical periods. Sure, you’ll find precursors of the Axial Age in the late Bronze Age. Then again, you’ll find precursors of the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation in the Axial Age. And you’ll find the precursors of the Enlightenment in the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation. It turns out all of history is continuous. No big shocker there. Changes build up slowly, until they hit a breaking point. It’s that breaking point, often when it becomes widespread, that gets designated as the new historical period. But the dividing line from one era to the next is always somewhat arbitrary.

This is important to keep in mind. And it does have more than slight relevance. This reframing of what has been called the Axial Age accords perfectly with Julian Jaynes’ theories on the ending of the bicameral mind and the rise of egoic consciousness, along with the rise of the egoic gods with their jealousies, vengeance, and so forth. A half century ago, Jaynes was noting that aspects of moralizing social orders were appearing in the late Bronze Age and he speculated that it had to do with increasing complexity that set those societies up for collapse.

Religion itself, as a formal distinct institution with standardized practices, didn’t exist until well into the Axial Age. Before that, rituals and spiritual/supernatural experience were apparently inseparable from everyday life, as the archaic self was inseparable from the communal sense of the world. Religion as we now know it is what replaced that prior way of being in relationship to ‘gods’, but it wasn’t only a different sense of the divine for the texts refer to early people hearing the voices of spirits, godmen, dead kings, and ancestors. Religion was only necessary, according to Jaynes, when the voices went silent (i.e., when they were no longer heard externally because a singular voice had become internalized). The pre-religious mentality is what Jaynes called the bicameral mind and it represents the earliest and largest portion of civilization, maybe lasting for millennia upon millennia going back to the first city-states.

The pressures on the bicameral mind began to stress the social order beyond what could be managed. Those late Bronze Age civilizations had barely begun to adapt to that complexity and weren’t successful. Only Egypt was left standing and, in its sudden isolation amidst a world of wreckage and refugees, it too was transformed. We speak of the Axial Age in the context of a later date because it took many centuries for empires to be rebuilt around moralizing religions (and other totalizing systems and often totalitarian institutions; e.g., large centralized governments with rigid hierarchies). The archaic civilizations had to be mostly razed to the ground before something else could more fully take their place.

There is something else to understand. To have moralizing big gods to maintain social order, what is required is introspectable subjectivity (i.e., an individual to be controlled by morality). That is to say you need a narratizing inner space where a conscience can operate in the voicing of morality tales and the imagining of narratized scenarios such as considering alternate possible future actions, paths, and consequences. This is what Jaynes was arguing and it wasn’t vague speculation, as he was working with the best evidence he could accrue. Building on Jaynes work with language, Brian J. McVeigh has analyzed early texts to determine how often mind-words were found. Going by language use during the late Bronze Age, there was an increased focus on psychological ways of speaking. Prior to that, morality as such wasn’t necessary, no more than were written laws, court systems, police forces, and standing armies — all of which appeared rather late in civilization.

What creates the introspectable subjectivity of the egoic self, i.e., Jaynesian ‘consciousness’? Jaynes suggests that writing was a prerequisite and it needed to be advanced beyond the stage of simple record-keeping. A literary canon likely developed first to prime the mind for a particular form of narratizing. The authors of the paper do note that written language generally came first:

“This megasociety threshold does not seem to correspond to the point at which societies develop writing, which might have suggested that moralizing gods were present earlier but were not preserved archaeologically. Although we cannot rule out this possibility, the fact that written records preceded the development of moralizing gods in 9 out of the 12 regions analysed (by an average period of 400 years; Supplementary Table 2)—combined with the fact that evidence for moralizing gods is lacking in the majority of non-literate societies — suggests that such beliefs were not widespread before the invention of writing. The few small-scale societies that did display precolonial evidence of moralizing gods came from regions that had previously been used to support the claim that moralizing gods contributed to the rise of social complexity (Austronesia and Iceland), which suggests that such regions are the exception rather than the rule.”

As for the exceptions, it’s possible they were influenced by the moralizing religions of societies they came in contact with. Scandinavians, long before they developed complex societies with large concentrated populations, they were traveling and trading all over Eurasia, the Levant, and into North Africa. This was happening in the Bronze Age, during the period of rising big gods and moralizing religion: “The analysis showed that the blue beads buried with the [Nordic] women turned out to have originated from the same glass workshop in Amarna that adorned King Tutankhamun at his funeral in 1323 BCE. King Tut´s golden deathmask contains stripes of blue glass in the headdress, as well as in the inlay of his false beard.” (Philippe Bohstrom, Beads Found in 3,400-year-old Nordic Graves Were Made by King Tut’s Glassmaker). It would be best to not fall prey to notions of untouched primitives.

We can’t assume that these exceptions were actually exceptional, in supposedly being isolated examples contrary to the larger pattern. Even hunter-gatherers have been heavily shaped by the millennia of civilizations that surrounded them. Occasionally finding moralizing religions among simpler and smaller societies is no more remarkable than finding metal axes and t-shirts among tribal people today. All societies respond to changing conditions and adapt as necessary to survive. The appearance of moralizing religions and the empires that went with them transformed the world far beyond the borders of any given society, not that borders were all that defined back then anyway. The large-scale consequences spread across the earth these past three millennia, a tidal wave hitting some places sooner than others but in the end none remain untouched. We are all now under the watchful eye of big gods or else their secularized equivalent, big brother of the surveillance state.

* * *

Moralizing gods appear after, not before, the rise of social complexity, new research suggests
by Redazione Redazione

Professor Whitehouse said: ‘The original function of moralizing gods in world history may have been to hold together large but rather fragile, ethnically diverse societies. It raises the question as to how some of those functions could still be performed in today’s increasingly secular societies – and what the costs might be if they can’t. Even if world history cannot tell us how to live our lives, it could provide a more reliable way of estimating the probabilities of different futures.’

When Ancient Societies Hit a Million People, Vengeful Gods Appeared
by Charles Q. Choi

“For we know Him who said, ‘And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.'” Ezekiel 25:17.

The God depicted in the Old Testament may sometimes seem wrathful. And in that, he’s not alone; supernatural forces that punish evil play a central role in many modern religions.

But which came first: complex societies or the belief in a punishing god? […]

The researchers found that belief in moralizing gods usually followed increases in social complexity, generally appearing after the emergence of civilizations with populations of more than about 1 million people.

“It was particularly striking how consistent it was [that] this phenomenon emerged at the million-person level,” Savage said. “First, you get big societies, and these beliefs then come.”

All in all, “our research suggests that religion is playing a functional role throughout world history, helping stabilize societies and people cooperate overall,” Savage said. “In really small societies, like very small groups of hunter-gatherers, everyone knows everyone else, and everyone’s keeping an eye on everyone else to make sure they’re behaving well. Bigger societies are more anonymous, so you might not know who to trust.”

At those sizes, you see the rise of beliefs in an all-powerful, supernatural person watching and keeping things under control, Savage added.

Complex societies gave birth to big gods, not the other way around: study
from Complexity Science Hub Vienna

“It has been a debate for centuries why humans, unlike other animals, cooperate in large groups of genetically unrelated individuals,” says Seshat director and co-author Peter Turchin from the University of Connecticut and the Complexity Science Hub Vienna. Factors such as agriculture, warfare, or religion have been proposed as main driving forces.

One prominent theory, the big or moralizing gods hypothesis, assumes that religious beliefs were key. According to this theory, people are more likely to cooperate fairly if they believe in gods who will punish them if they don’t. “To our surprise, our data strongly contradict this hypothesis,” says lead author Harvey Whitehouse. “In almost every world region for which we have data, moralizing gods tended to follow, not precede, increases in social complexity.” Even more so, standardized rituals tended on average to appear hundreds of years before gods who cared about human morality.

Such rituals create a collective identity and feelings of belonging that act as social glue, making people to behave more cooperatively. “Our results suggest that collective identities are more important to facilitate cooperation in societies than religious beliefs,” says Harvey Whitehouse.

Society Creates God, God Does Not Create Society
by  Razib Khan

What’s striking is how soon moralizing gods shows up after the spike in social complexity.

In the ancient world, early Christian writers explicitly asserted that it was not a coincidence that their savior arrived with the rise of the Roman Empire. They contended that a universal religion, Christianity, required a universal empire, Rome. There are two ways you can look at this. First, that the causal arrow is such that social complexity leads to moralizing gods, and that’s that. The former is a necessary condition for the latter. Second, one could suggest that moralizing gods are a cultural adaptation to large complex societies, one of many, that dampen instability and allow for the persistence of those societies. That is, social complexity leads to moralistic gods, who maintain and sustain social complexity. To be frank, I suspect the answer will be closer to the second. But we’ll see.

Another result that was not anticipated I suspect is that ritual religion emerged before moralizing gods. In other words, instead of “Big Gods,” it might be “Big Rules.” With hindsight, I don’t think this is coincidental since cohesive generalizable rules are probably essential for social complexity and winning in inter-group competition. It’s not a surprise that legal codes emerge first in Mesopotamia, where you had the world’s first anonymous urban societies. And rituals lend themselves to mass social movements in public to bind groups. I think it will turn out that moralizing gods were grafted on top of these general rulesets, which allow for coordination, cooperation, and cohesion, so as to increase their import and solidify their necessity due to the connection with supernatural agents, which personalize the sets of rules from on high.

Complex societies precede moralizing gods throughout world history
by Harvey Whitehouse, Pieter François, Patrick E. Savage, Thomas E. Currie, Kevin C. Feeney, Enrico Cioni, Rosalind Purcell, Robert M. Ross, Jennifer Larson, John Baines, Barend ter Haar, Alan Covey, and Peter Turchin

The origins of religion and of complex societies represent evolutionary puzzles1–8. The ‘moralizing gods’ hypothesis offers a solution to both puzzles by proposing that belief in morally concerned supernatural agents culturally evolved to facilitate cooperation among strangers in large-scale societies9–13. Although previous research has suggested an association between the presence of moralizing gods and social complexity3,6,7,9–18, the relationship between the two is disputed9–13,19–24, and attempts to establish causality have been hampered by limitations in the availability of detailed global longitudinal data. To overcome these limitations, here we systematically coded records from 414societies that span the past 10,000years from 30regions around the world, using 51measures of social complexity and 4measures of supernatural enforcement of morality. Our analyses not only confirm the association between moralizing gods and social complexity, but also reveal that moralizing gods follow—rather than precede—large increases in social complexity. Contrary to previous predictions9,12,16,18, powerful moralizing ‘big gods’ and prosocial supernatural punishment tend to appear only after the emergence of ‘megasocieties’ with populations of more than around one million people. Moralizing gods are not a prerequisite for the evolution of social complexity, but they may help to sustain and expand complex multi-ethnic empires after they have become established. By contrast, rituals that facilitate the standardization of religious traditions across large populations25,26 generally precede the appearance of moralizing gods. This suggests that ritual practices were more important than the particular content of religious belief to the initial rise of social complexity.



15 thoughts on “Moralizing Gods as Effect, Not Cause

  1. I saw an article about this last week and skimmed it and wasn’t overly impressed by the new spin. I think you’ve hit various nails on their heads especially in regards to the arbitrary definitions of “eras” as distinct qualia.

    I also note that the statements made about how the vengeful big gods appear post facto contains a problem – what should be said and would be more useful/accurate is: the record of the appearance of such concepts appears amid the problematic extent record, after the rise of larger complex living arrangements.

    That is supported by your point about arbitrary eras and it also highlights that no record of x in antiquity is not synonymous with x not existing.

    Antiquity as such is a series of airline disasters but with occasional black boxes many of which are partial records.

    Coincidentally I was rereading my revision of my earlier piece Faulkner’s Sparrows because I had done a rough draft of a new piece on some of the Brexit characters and was framing the narrative as being about historical repetition and corresponding ideas about the nature of consciousness.

    One of the things that struck me way back after reading Jaynes is that the anti-city arguments of the Old Testament – all that Babylon is a harlot stuff – was a clash between the pastoralists who believed “god/gods” showed up when they pleased and as they pleased (a burning bush, whirlwind or as a golden shower, etc) and the city tribes who were establishing rituals in which not only was there a bureaucracy (priests, warrior kings, etc) but that they were now in charge of the ritual and the ritual dictated when and where and how god/the gods manifested.

    As a result instead of one movement we have a schism a kind of vast civil war between two competing (hemispheres;-)) but that requires reinterpreting the Old Testament as fundamentally a reactionary anti-technology, anti-urban polemic.

    Among various examples I find Jesus’ criticisms of the Pharisees to be fascinating. He is said to make the criticism while in a market in which a variety of goods are available and I suspect the meta text/subtext is a critique of the growth of logistical networks and a corresponding rise of narratives in support of the “benefits” of the city vs the rural.

    This of course positions “Christ” as a an anti-urban reactionary which of course is problematic for any number of people.

    This is just a survey as the topic is vast but I thought you were on point with your post.

    • “That is supported by your point about arbitrary eras and it also highlights that no record of x in antiquity is not synonymous with x not existing. Antiquity as such is a series of airline disasters but with occasional black boxes many of which are partial records.”

      From a Jaynesian and similar approaches, what is recorded is not separate from the fact that it is recorded and how it is recorded. We can’t know the records that were lost, even as the extant records can tell us a fair amount. The very act of recording things at all was a radical innovation. That alone seems to indicate something of significance.

      Also, there was a major change from the first texts mostly being perfunctorial bureaucratic record-keeping (assessing amount of grain, tallying goods to be traded, detailing transactions, etc) to later on when writing took on a greater role, especially with narratives of myths, histories, biographies, etc. There is much in common with Hellenistic romance novels and the Christian gospels (look at the Life of Aesop and you’ll realize how unoriginal were the Christian storytellers).

      There were no romance novels discovered in the Bronze Age or anything close to being an equivalent. People apparently didn’t write that way and, one may argue, neither did they think that way. It could be noted that the romance novels were morality tales.

      “As a result instead of one movement we have a schism a kind of vast civil war between two competing (hemispheres;-)) but that requires reinterpreting the Old Testament as fundamentally a reactionary anti-technology, anti-urban polemic.”

      That also changed over time. Have you read Rabbi James Cohn’s The Minds of the Bible? He follows Jaynes example in seeing the Old Testament as being the single most extensive record of that transitional period, considering the vast differences between the earlier and later texts.

      Following the Bronze Age collapse and ensuing dark ages, the Hebrews began as among the remnant populations living in the deserts at the borders of the reconstituted societies. Jaynes argues that is originally all the name mean, not referring to a specific ethnicity. They may have been more equivalent to the apocalyptic tribes that formed on the Great Plains in the aftermath of mass death and decimation where many tribes were annihilated and diverse refugees formed new tribes with highly moralistic religiosity, with either vengeful retribution or salvific return.

      The early Jews obviously had antagonism toward city-dwellers. But then they became the city-dwellers and the later texts were written by and on behalf of the rulers of their own centralized urban governance. All the rules being spelled out could be taken as evidence that most of the still rural population was not following rule-oriented monotheism and would not do so without violent force. The Old Testament indeed gives voice to schism, among the Jews themselves.

      That largely was about attempting to invent a singular ethnicity, since earlier local communities defined themselves according to unique traditions, demonstrated by the constant tribal warfare. I’ve written previously about how hard it was even to determine who was a Jew in the ancient world, as the full emergence of ethno-nationalism was still millennia into the future. Boundaries between cultures and populations, sometimes between religions themselves, were typically vague and shifting. Labels instead tended to be concrete and practical, rather than abstract and extensive. An ancient Israeli, for example, was simply anyone who lived in Israel, no matter their origins or beliefs.

      That was true of most people at the time, far from being limited to Jews. Only with the expansive empires did broadly defined identities form, such as when Roman law determined that every free person in the Roman Empire would be a Roman citizen. Wide-scale social identities, by the power of rule-making, were socially constructed. That was what was so frustrating in relation to such things as Jewish identity because there were no clear rules to determine it. Even among those who shared characteristics of ‘Jewish’ culture, they didn’t necessarily identify as such. Then again, many who did identify as Jewish shared characteristics of other cultures. Ancient cultures had a way of blending into each other, that is until generations of lawmakers enforced order onto the social anarchy.

      Maybe that was part of the significance of moralizing religions. They were not only speaking to a specific people for they often were attempting to formulate who those people were. It was the commanding of an audience with authoritarian authorization, something not necessary to the bicameral mind during the early Bronze Age of small city-states that lacked any distant ruling elite and vast hierarchies. I’m always amazed that the Bronze Age Egyptians could build the pyramids while lacking almost all outward forms of social order, including even basic infrastructure such as maintained roads and bridges. Organic societies held together by custom and shared voice-hearing don’t need moralistic rules written out in official standardized texts.

      “This of course positions “Christ” as a an anti-urban reactionary which of course is problematic for any number of people.”

      There was much reactionary nostalgia mixed in with the Axial Age religions, as embodied in the narratized (and maybe invented) lives of the Axial Age prophets. The whole era was drenched in reactionary nostalgia because that was the moment it was born. It was in its most pure and potent form, slowly moderated over the centuries.

    • My comment to you was more about what has been on my mind lately. I’ve specifically been thinking about how the reactionary, including nostalgia, has its origins in the breakdown of the bicameral mind. Jaynes speaks of nostalgia in a number of places in his book. But I was more specifically thinking about nationalism, not only how strange it is but how abnormal in comparison to the past. For the first 10 thousand years or so, nationalism would have been unimaginable. City-states were really just small communities, larger than a village but pretty dinky compared to many cities these days. That is what existed for most of the Bronze Age.

      That began to change with the authoritarian regimes that seemed to appear out of nowhere in the late Bronze Age. They were trying to enforce order when societies became too sprawling and no longer could be maintained with a single community center (the carryover of why churches are the tallest buildings at the center of small towns even to this day). That is why each ancient Jewish tribe was its own distinct culture, originally with separate gods and traditions. That organic way of organizing a community didn’t die off easily. The Axial Age empires got better at creating inclusive sociopolitical identities. Officially declaring every subject of the Roman Empire a Roman citizen was radically amazing. Instantly, hundreds of millions of people had a new label. They were Romans and that meant they had all the rights and liberties of a Roman.

      Still, most of the human population remained outside of empires. And even within those empires, most people continued to primarily identify with local ties and loyalties. Even the later wave of empires couldn’t fully break those bonds of personal relationship, although in trying they created overwhelming nostalgia. The old was being destroyed before they new had been established. Yet the ancient way of thinking and being in the world, of identifying, that sense of belonging to those one immediately knew — that persisted in the West through the early modern revolutions and the 19th century wars, persisted until the world wars utterly demolished all that came before.

      That process has been even slower in much of the rest of the world. It’s quite possible that the majority of the world’s population has yet to think of themselves primarily in terms of national citizenship or ethno-nationalistic membership. That is largely because those are such artificial social constructions. That is obvious in a diverse country like the United States where the ruling elite attempted to promote the propaganda of it being a WASP nation, even though probably at no point were the majority of Americans WASP. But I bet you see the same thing in smaller nation-states as well, such as the Nordic countries where a sense of the past remains to some extent.

      I was reading about the creation of nation-states. A major impetus was the French Revolution. Nonetheless, the revolutionary declaration of a French nation was written in words incomprehensible to most of the French population who either didn’t speak French or who spoke so many varieties of accents that they might as well have been different languages. When a ruling elite decided to make Italy into a nation-state, most Italians didn’t even speak Italian. All the specifics of identity, from culture to language, had to be invented or reconstructed for this new purpose and then it had to be enforced, either with violence or threat of violence. Breaking language laws in not using the national language could get you imprisoned.

      We are seeing this process happening right now. The Uyghurs are being culturally genocided, not any differently than what happened to Native Americans. German-Americans had a similar experience that did include internment camps in WWII, but overall not nearly as traumatic. The end result is the same, though. People are assimilated into national identities. This process never happens naturally. It isn’t only or primarily violent in a physical sense. Most of the trauma is social and psychological, an entire sense of identity being ripped out of a people’s collective soul. Repeat this over and over again. Those German-Americans experienced that here, just as there ancestors had experienced the same back in Germany when the local communities of feudalism were systematically destroyed, and feudalism itself had come from the violent oppression of tribalism before it. Centuries, sometimes millennia, of repeated collective trauma.

      This is why we now live in a reactionary world. And this is why nostalgia has become so powerful.

      • That was my guess;-)

        As to my comments: My point was not that the extant record is inherently suspect but that there is a vast amount that’s missing which makes things problematic in terms of definitive conclusions.

        But even with that in mind there is a lot we do know and can conclude.

        Certainly the beginning of recording things was extraordinary.

        Your point about the similarity between pre Christian and Gospel tales is on point and often remarked upon by people familiar with more than just the Bible – Plato’s “Socrates” for example is a template for the later Passion stories as is Dionysius and a host of other related myths/stories.

        Of course that makes sense as the men who wrote the Gospels were on the government payroll and were monks hired precisely because they knew the material and could, in contemporary patois, punch up the story;-)

        As to nostalgia – while currently an issue I’m not certain it’s ever been too far from the center or engine room of events.

        I’m sloooowly revising my Faulkner’s Sparrow piece and one of the things i’m chipping away at is a modification to Einstein’s work on Space-Time being a gestalt instead of distinct elements.

        My current view is that it would be more useful to say: Space-Time-Consciousness – that is, Space-Time is also human consciousness and visa versa and from that rises issues of “memory” and as a result there is never a moment (sic) where all of these factors (i.e., nostalgia) aren’t a factor.

        Nostalgia may be hardwired into consciousness.

        Obviously reactionaries aim to wield it as a cudgel and as a means to gin up the mob.

        But I’m just not sure there has ever been a time when that wasn’t going on.

        Doesn’t mean the current moment isn’t fraught and full of reactionaries and of course I could be wrong.

        Food for thought.

        Needless to say – to be continued:-)

        • It’s hard to know. It seems there weren’t overhelmingly obvious signs of nostalgia prior to the conflict, turmoil, and breakdown of the Bronze Age civilizations. Or that is what we notice in the texts that survive from the period when society of the region was emerging from the dark ages. But as you say, it’s hard to know about earlier times as people simply didn’t write much about such things, even in surviving texts.

          This still stands out to me. The first written texts are rather boring since they simply recorded official data, no hint of nostalgia. Later texts were so drowning in nostalgia at times it seems people couldn’t shut up about it. That is the point Jaynes make in the growing lament about the silence of the gods. It was as if something had changed, as if something that should be no longer was.

          I tend to take that as indicative of something significant when put in context of the anthropological literature. To return to my favorite example, the Piraha seem to entirely lack nostalgia, maybe proving that it isn’t an absolute universal human experience. Then again, maybe the Piraha are simply freaks of nature or are talented at hiding their experience from prying strangers, even those living among them for years.

          I’m willing to hear a full argument to the contrary, though.

          • To emphasize: my view is not disagreement but more a combination of a minor question and devil’s advocate.

            “Nostalgia” is a complicated idea in that we would need a working definition that fits a consciousness we can barely comprehend as it is so far in the past it’s a kind of other language for which we have either no cypher or half of several.

            Of course there is a lot of evidence so we’re not completely in the dark.

            The earliest extant piece of the puzzle as I can see is Gilgamesh which brings us to around 2,000 BC but is based on earlier material so one could guess anything from 2500 BC to x.

            But regardless I’d say G’s relationship with the “wildman” is probably the first example of something we might attach to “nostalgia.”

            But of course we’d be guessing in terms of defining what it meant to the “average” consciousness of Sumeria.

            Beyond that as you know I think Jaynes is spot on.

            My only growing question is about the “disappearance of god” in that it seems to me the “external” voice didn’t vanish per se but was incorporated into what for lack of a more precise word/construct I’d call the “unconscious.”

            I’d have to reread Jaynes to see what if anything he says about this but, if we start with his premise which I think is valid then the “external” voice was of course never truly external.

            After the evolution of the corpus callosum to the point where the average person no longer “heard” the “external” voice where did it go?

            They may have experienced it as a vanishing which gives rise to “nostalgia” or a kind of existential dread.

            Obviously the “Trial of Socrates” is key to this as it represents the best evidence we have of the transformation from bicameral individuals to official systems – Socrates was found guilty of among other things hearing the voices of unauthorized deities – a fact misunderstood by 99% of the scholars who of course ignore Jaynes.

            But what if while the “external” was slowly transforming into the internal and simultaneously the powers that be were asserting their authority to set the schedule for when god shows up and how there were still plenty of people “hearing external voices” but post Socrates the record was erased or transformed so that charges of “blasphemy” or some such became a catch-all?

            To return to the dreaded postmod-neo marxist Foucault he makes the point that the ancient Greeks had no word for “insanity.”

            This is very cursory but I’m aiming at the idea that as with later official narratives for any number of things perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to take the Attorney General’s word for who did or did not collude;-)

            First the record is sketchy and full of gaps.

            Second the records we do have tend to be those that were designed to survive precisely because they were official.

            Third the official record reflects official definitions which per “Socrates” are a priori intended to be tautological – if she floats she’s a witch, etc.

            Fourth words like nostalgia and insanity/sanity are highly problematic because of all of the above.

            But again, I haven’t any certain notions just some questions and am not married to these ideas but I’m just sort of sketching – these are doodles and who knows if they go anywhere.

          • You offered some food for thought. I’ll have to ponder Gilgamesh. That would force a more serious appraisal of what ‘nostalgia’ is and means. I can see why you bring that up. Even if there isn’t exactly a subjective quality to the narrative, one could at least posit a proto-nostalgia, an inkling of what was lost as portrayed in the wildman… maybe, but I’m not sure. The fear of mortality does appear to be something new, as the Piraha lack such anxieties. This might be a good topic of discussion to bring up in the Jaynes FB group.

            About internal and external, I’ve suspected there were many transitional states in between. Lynne Kelly’s key example of the Australian Aborigines made me realize this. Their songlines are simultaneously external and internal. I got the sense that, as a society in early stages of agricultural development, maybe they were beginning to take on some of the Jaynesian consciousness. Once the songlines were learned, the individual could trace them in imagination without having to physically follow them. Even so, each songline was still a separate god/mindset and the individual would shift personality when singing a specific song. The bundle mind remained dominant in an overt way.

            Now for Socrates, there was a lot going on there. His friends, associates, and students had attempted an authoritarian coup. And authoritarianism, as Jaynes argues, is very much a post-bicameral attempt to enforce order when archaic authorization disappeared along with the voices going silent. In early era of the post-bicameral age, there would have been plenty of people hearing voices in semi-bicameral fashion, but what changed is that they no longer were shared voices as part of communal traditions. The voices were splintering into separate personal voices. The voice Socrates heard may have been external and yet it was his own personal daimon not playing the bicameral role of speaking for the social order itself. Instead, such voices were becoming a threat to the social order. Others feared voices like that of Socrates for the same reason Plato feared the poets and interestingly the label ‘sophist’ originally referred to the poets.

            There is much to chew on.

  2. Wiki says Pirahã can be whistled, hummed, or encoded in music. In fact, Keren Everett believes that current research on the language misses much of its meaning by paying little attention to the language’s prosody. Consonants and vowels may be omitted altogether and the meaning conveyed solely through variations in pitch, stress, and rhythm. She says that mothers teach their children the language through constantly singing the same musical patterns.[13]
    Everett claims that the absence of recursion, if real, falsifies the basic assumption of modern Chomskyan linguistics. This claim is contested by many linguists, who claim that recursion has been observed in Pirahã by Everett himself, while Everett argues that those utterances that superficially seemed recursive to him at first were misinterpretations caused by his earlier lack of familiarity with the language. Furthermore, some linguists, including Chomsky himself, argue that even if Pirahã lacked recursion, that would have no implications for Chomskyan linguistics.[1][11][14]

    • If you do a search on the blog, you can find some previous posts about the Piraha and linguistics, specifically about the disagreement between Daniel Everett and Noam Chomsky. I side with Everett on this issue.

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