Jaynesian Linguistic Relativity

  • “All of these concrete metaphors increase enormously our powers of perception of the world about us and our understanding of it, and literally create new objects. Indeed, language is an organ of perception, not simply a means of communication.
  • The lexicon of language, then, is a finite set of terms that by metaphor is able to stretch out over an infinite set of circumstances, even to creating new circumstances thereby.
  • “The bicameral mind with its controlling gods was evolved as a final stage of the evolution of language. And in this development lies the origin of civilization.”
  • “For if consciousness is based on language, then it follows that it is of much more recent origin than has been heretofore supposed. Consciousness come after language! The implications of such a position are extremely serious.
  • But there’s no doubt about it, Whorfian hypothesis is true for some of the more abstract concepts we have. Certainly, in that sense, I would certainly be a Whorfian. But I don’t think Whorf went far enough.
    ~Julian Jaynes

Julian Jaynes, in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, makes statements that obviously express a view of linguistic relativity, also known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or Whorfian hypothesis, whether or not the related strong form of linguistic determinism, although the above quotes do indicate the strong form. Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, by the way, weren’t necessarily arguing for the determinism that was later ascribed to them or at least to Whorf (Straw Men in the Linguistic Imaginary). Yet none of Jaynes’ writings ever directly refer to this other field of study or the main thinkers involved, even though it is one of the closest fields to his own hypothesis on language and metaphor in relation to perception, cognition, and behavior. It’s also rare to see this connection come up in the writings of any Jaynesian scholars. There apparently isn’t even a single mention, even in passing, in the discussion forum at the official site of the Julian Jaynes Society (no search results were found for: Edward Sapir, Benjamin Lee Whorf, Sapir-Whorf, Whorfian, Whorfianism, linguistic relativity, linguistic relativism, or linguistic determinism), although I found a few writings elsewhere that touch upon this area of overlap (see end of post). Besides myself, someone finally linked to an article about linguistic relativity in the Facebook group dedicated to his book (also see below).

Limiting ourselves to published work, the one and only significant exception I’ve found is a passing mention from Brian J. McVeigh in his book The “Other” Psychology of Julian Jaynes: “Also, since no simple causal relation between language and interiorized mentation exists, an examination of how a lexicon shapes psychology is not necessarily a Sapir-Whorfian application of linguistic theory.” But since Sapir and Whorf didn’t claim a simple causal relation, this leads me to suspect that McVeigh isn’t overly familiar with their scholarship or widely read in the more recent research. But if I’m misunderstanding him and he has written more fully elsewhere about this, I’d love to read it (owning some of his books, I do enjoy and highly respect McVeigh’s work, as I might consider him the leading Jaynesian scholar). In my having brought this up in a Julian Jaynes Facebook group, Paul Otteson responded that, “my take on linguistic relativism and determinism is that they are obvious.” But obviously, it isn’t obvious to many others, including some Jaynesian scholars who are academic experts on linguistic analysis of texts and culture, as is the case with McVeigh. “For many of us,” Jeremy Lent wrote in The Patterning Instinct, “the idea that the language we speak affects how we think might seem self-evident, hardly requiring a great deal of scientific proof. However, for decades, the orthodoxy of academia has held categorically that the language a person speaks has no effect on the way they think. To suggest otherwise could land a linguist in such trouble that she risked her career. How did mainstream academic thinking get itself in such a straitjacket?” (quoted in Straw Men in the Linguistic Imaginary).

Jaynes focused heavily on how metaphors shape an experience of interiorized and narratized space, i.e., a specific way of perceiving space and time in relation to identity. More than relevant is the fact that, in linguistic relativity research, how language shapes spatial and temporal perception has also been a a key area of study. Linguistic relativity has gained compelling evidence in recent decades. And several great books have been written exploring and summarizing the evidence: Vyvyan Evans’s The Language Myth, Guy Deutscher’ Through the Looking Glass, Benjamin K. Bergen’s Louder Than Words, Aneta Pavlenko’s The Bilingual Mind, Jeremy Lent’s The Patterning Instinct, Caleb Everett’s Linguistic Relativity and Numbers and the Making of Us (maybe include Daniel L. Everett’s Dark Matter of the Mind, Language: The Cultural Tool, and How Language Began). This would be a fruitful area for Jaynesian thought, not to mention it would help it to break out into wider scholarly interest. The near silence is surprising because of the natural affinity between the two groups of thinkers. (Maybe I’m missing something. Does anyone know of a Jaynesian scholar exploring linguistic relativity, a linguistic relativity scholar studying Jaynesianism, or any similar crossover?)

What makes it odd to me is that Jaynes was clearly influenced by linguistic relativity, if not directly then indirectly. Franz Boas’ theories on language and culture shaped linguistic relativists along with the thinkers read by Jaynes, specifically Ruth Benedict. Jaynes was caught up in a web of influences that brought him into the sphere of linguistic relativity and related anthropological thought, along with philology, much of it going back to Boas: “Julian Jaynes had written about the comparison of shame and guilt cultures. He was influenced in by E. R. Dodds (and Bruno Snell). Dodds in turn based some of his own thinking about the Greeks on the work of Ruth Benedict, who originated the shame and guilt culture comparison in her writings on Japan and the United States. Benedict, like Margaret Mead, had been taught by Franz Boas. Boas developed some of the early anthropological thinking that saw societies as distinct cultures” (My Preoccupied Mind: Blogging and Research).

Among these thinkers, there is an interesting Jungian influence as well: “Boas founded a school of thought about the primacy of culture, the first major challenge to race realism and eugenics. He gave the anthropology field new direction and inspired a generation of anthropologists. This was the same era during which Jung was formulating his own views. As with Jung before him, Jaynes drew upon the work of anthropologists. Both also influenced anthropologists, but Jung’s influence of course came earlier. Even though some of these early anthropologists were wary of Jungian psychology, such as archetypes and collective unconscious, they saw personality typology as a revolutionary framework (those influenced also included the likes of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, both having been mentors of Boas who maybe was the source of introducing linguistic relativity into American thought). Through personality types, it was possible to begin understanding what fundamentally made one mind different from another, a necessary factor in distinguishing one culture from another” (The Psychology and Anthropology of Consciousness). The following is from Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology, Sonu Shamdasani (Kindle Locations 4706-4718):

“The impact of Jung’s typology on Ruth Benedict may be found in her concept of Apollonian and Dionysian culture patterns which she first put forward in 1928 in “Psychological Types in the cultures of the Southwest,” and subsequently elaborated in Patterns of Culture. Mead recalled that their conversations on this topic had in part been shaped by Sapir and Oldenweiser’s discussion of Jung’s typology in Toronto in 1924 as well as by Seligman’s article cited above (1959, 207). In Patterns of Culture, Benedict discussed Wilhelm Worringer’s typification of empathy and abstraction, Oswald Spengler’s of the Apollonian and the Faustian and Friedrich Nietzsche’s of the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Conspicuously, she failed to cite Jung explicitly, though while criticizing Spengler, she noted that “It is quite as convincing to characterize our cultural type as thoroughly extravert … as it is to characterize it as Faustian” (1934, 54-55). One gets the impression that Benedict was attempting to distance herself from Jung, despite drawing some inspiration from his Psychological Types.

“In her autobiography, Mead recalls that in the period that led up to her Sex and Temperament, she had a great deal of discussion with Gregory Bateson concerning the possibility that aside from sex difference, there were other types of innate differences which “cut across sex lines” (1973, 216). She stated that: “In my own thinking I drew on the work of Jung, especially his fourfold scheme for grouping human beings as psychological types, each related to the others in a complementary way” (217). Yet in her published work, Mead omitted to cite Jung’s work. A possible explanation for the absence of citation of Jung by Benedict and Mead, despite the influence of his typological model, was that they were developing diametrically opposed concepts of culture and its relation to the personality to Jung’s. Ironically, it is arguably through such indirect and half-acknowledged conduits that Jung’s work came to have its greatest impact upon modern anthropology and concepts of culture. This short account of some anthropological responses to Jung may serve to indicate that when Jung’s work was engaged with by the academic community, it was taken to quite different destinations, and underwent a sea change.”

As part of the intellectual world that shaped Jaynes’ thought, this Jungian line of influence feeds into the Boasian line of influence. But interestingly, in the Jaynesian sphere, the Jungian side of things is the least obvious component. Certainly, Jaynes didn’t see the connection, despite Jung’s Jaynesian-like comments about consciousness long before Jaynes wrote about it in 1976. Jung, writing in 1960 stated that, “There is in my opinion no tenable argument against the hypothesis that psychic functions which today seem conscious to us were once unconscious and yet worked as if they were conscious” (On the Nature of the Psyche; see post). And four years later wrote that, “Consciousness is a very recent acquisition of nature” (Man and His Symbols; see post). In distancing himself from Jung, Jaynes was somewhat critical, though not dismissive: “Jung had many insights indeed, but the idea of the collective unconscious and of the archetypes has always seemed to me to be based on the inheritance of acquired characteristics, a notion not accepted by biologists or psychologists today” (quoted by Philip Ardery in “Ramifications of Julian Jaynes’s theory of consciousness for traditional general semantics“). His criticism was inaccurate, though, since Jung’s actual position was that, “It is not, therefore, a question of inherited ideas but of inherited possibilities of ideas” (What is the Blank Slate of the Mind?). So, in actuality, Jaynes’ view on this point appears to be right in line with that of Jung. This further emphasizes the unacknowledged Jungian influence.

I never see this kind of thing come up in Jaynesian scholarship. It makes me wonder how many Jaynesian scholars recognize the intellectual debt they owe to Boas and his students, including Sapir and Whorf. More than a half century before Jaynes published his book, a new way of thinking was paving the way. Jaynes didn’t come out of nowhere. Then again, neither did Boas. There are earlier linguistic philosophers such as Wilhelm von Humboldt — from On Language (1836): “Via the latter, qua character of a speech-sound, a pervasive analogy necessarily prevails in the same language; and since a like subjectivity also affects language in the same notion, there resides in every language a characteristic world-view. As the individual sound stands between man and the object, so the entire language steps in between him and the nature that operates, both inwardly and outwardly, upon him. He surrounds himself with a world of sounds, so as to take up and process within himself the world of objects. These expressions in no way outstrip the measure of the simple truth. Man lives primarily with objects, indeed, since feeling and acting in him depend on his presentations, he actually does so exclusively, as language presents them to him. By the same act whereby he spins language out of himself, he spins himself into it, and every language draws about the people that possesses it a circle whence it is possible to exit only by stepping over at once into the circle of another one. To learn a foreign language should therefore be to acquire a new standpoint in the world-view hitherto possessed, and in fact to a certain extent is so, since every language contains the whole conceptual fabric and mode of presentation of a portion of mankind.” The development of thought over time is always fascinating. But schools of thought too easily become narrow and insular over time, forgetting their own roots and becoming isolated from related areas of study. The Boasian lineage and Jaynesian theory have ever since been developing separately but in parallel. Maybe it’s time for them to merge back together or, at the very least, cross-pollinate.

To be fair, linguistic relativity has come up ever so slightly elsewhere in Jaynesian scholarship. As a suggestion, Marcel Kuijsten pointed to “John Limber’s chapter “Language and Consciousness” in Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness”. I looked at that Limber piece. He does discuss this broad area of study involving language, thought, and consciousness. But as far as I can tell (based on doing an ebook search for relevant terms), he nowhere discusses Boas, Sapir, or Whorf. At best, he makes an indirect and brief mention of “pre-Whorfian advocates” without even bothering to mention, much less detail, Whorfian advocates or where they came from and how there is a line of influence from Boas to Jaynes. It’s an even more passing comment than that of McVeigh’s. It is found in note 82: “For reviews of non-Jaynesian ideas on inner speech and consciousness, see Sokolov (1972), Kucaj (1982), Dennett (1991), Nørretranders (1998), and Morin (2005). Vygotsky, of course, was somewhat of a Marxist and probably took something from Marx’s (1859) often cited “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” Vygotsky was also influenced by various pre-Whorfian advocates of linguistic relativity. I say “Vygotsky as inspiration” because I have not as yet found much of substance in any of his writings on consciousness beyond that of the Marx quote above. (Several of his papers are available online at http://www.marxists.org.)” So, apparently in the entire Jaynesian literature and commentary, there are only two miniscule acknowledgements that linguistic relativists exist at all (nor much reference to similar thinkers like Marxist Lev Vygotsky; or consider Marx’s theory of species-being; also note the omission of Alfred Korzybski’s General Semantics). Considering the fact that Jaynes was making an argument for linguistic relativity and possibly going so far as linguistic determinism, whether or not he knew it and thought about it that way, this oversight really gets me thinking.

That was where my thought ended, until serendipity brought forth a third example. It is in a passage from one of McVeigh’s more recent books, Discussions with Julian Jaynes (2016). In the June 5, 1991 session of their talks, almost a couple of decades after the publication of his book, Jaynes spoke to McVeigh about this:
McVeigh: “The first thing I want to ask you about is language. Because in our book, language plays an important role, specifically metaphors. And what would you say to those who would accuse you of being too Whorfian? Or how would you handle the charge that you’re saying it is language that determines thought in your book? Or would you agree with the statement, “As conscious developed, language changed to reflect this transformation?” So, in other words, how do you handle this [type of] old question in linguistics, “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?””
Jaynes: “Well, you see Whorf applies to some things and doesn’t apply to others, and it’s being carried to a caricature state when somebody, let’s say, shows [a people perceives colors] and they don’t have words for colors. That’s supposed to disprove Whorf. That’s absolutely ridiculous. Because after all, animals, fish have very good color vision. But there’s no doubt about it, Whorfian hypothesis is true for some of the more abstract concepts we have. Certainly, in that sense, I would certainly be a Whorfian. But I don’t think Whorf went far enough. That’s what I used to say. I’m trying to think of the way I would exactly say it. I don’t know. for example, his discussion of time I think it is very appropriate. Indeed, there wouldn’t be such a thing as time without consciousness. No concept of it.”
Jaynes bluntly stated, “I would certainly be a Whorfian.” He said this in response to a direct question McVeigh asked him about being accused of being a Whorfian. There was no dancing around it. Jaynes apparently thought it was obvious enough to not require further explanation. That makes it all the more odd that McVeigh, a Jaynesian scholar who has spent his career studying language, has never since pointed out this intriguing detail. After all, if Jaynes was a Whorfian by his own admission and McVeigh is a Jaynesian scholar, then doesn’t it automatically follow that McVeigh in studying Jaynesianism is studying Whorfianism?

That still leaves plenty of room for interpretation. It’s not clear what was Jayne’s full position on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Remarkably, he did not only identify as a Whorfian for he then suggested that he went beyond Whorf. I don’t know what that means, but it does get one wondering. Whorf wasn’t offering any coherent and overarching explanatory theory in the way that did Jaynes. Rather, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is more basic in simply suggesting language can influence and maybe sometimes determine thought, perception, and behavior. That is more of a general framework of research that potentially could apply to a wide variety of theories. I’d argue it not only partly but entirely applies to Jaynes’ theory as well — as neither Sapir nor Whorf, as far as I know, were making any assertions for or against the role of language in the formation of consciousness. Certainly, Jaynesian consciousness or the bicameral mind before it would not be precluded according to the Sapir-Whorf linguistic paradigm. Specifically in identifying as Whorfian, Jaynes agrees that, “Whorfian hypothesis is true for some of the more abstract concepts we have.” What does he mean by ‘abstract’ in this context? I don’t recall any of the scholarly and popular texts on linguistic relativity ever describing the power of language being limited to abstractions. Then again, neither did Jaynes directly state it is limited in this fashion, even as he does not elaborate on any other applications. However, McVeigh interpreted his words as implying such a limitation — from the introduction of the book, McVeigh wrote that, “he argues that the relation between words and concepts is not one of simple causation and that the Whorfian hypothesis only works for certain abstract notions. In other words, the relation between language and conscious interiority is subtle and complex.” Well, I’m not expert on the writings of Whorf, but my sense is that Whorf would not necessarily disagree with that assessment. One of the best sources of evidence for such subtlety and complexity might be found in linguistic relativity, a growing field of research. It is the area of overlap that remains terra incognito. I’m not sure anyone knows the details of how linguistic relativity might apply to Jaynesian consciousness as metaphorical mindspace nor how it might apply the other way around.

* * *

Though reworked a bit, I wrote much of the above about a year ago in the Facebook group Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. And I just now shared a variation of my thoughts in another post to the same group. This link between the Jaynesian and the Whorfian (along with the Boasian, Marxian, Jungian, etc) has been on my mind for a while, but it was hard to write about as few others have written about it. There is a fairly large literature of Jaynesian scholarship and an even more vast literature of linguistic relativity research. Yet to find even passing references to both together is a rare finding. Below are the few examples I could find on the entire world wide web.

Language and thought: A Jaynesian Perspective
by Rachel Williams, Minds and Brains

The Future of Philosophy of Mind
by Rachel Williams, Minds and Brains

Recursion, Linguistic Evolution, Consciousness, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, and I.Q.
by Gary Williams, New Amsterdam Paleoconservative

Rhapsody on Blue
by Chad Hill, the HipCrime Vocab
(a regular commenter on the Facebook group)

Why ancient civilizations couldn’t see the color blue
posted by J Nickolas FitzGerald, Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind Facebook group

* * *

Out of curiosity, I did some less extensive searches, in relation to Julian Jaynes, for some other thinkers, specifically Lev Vygotsky and Alfred Korzybski. The latter only showed up to a significant degree in a single scholarly article on Jaynes’ work (Philip Ardery, Ramifications of Julian Jaynes’s Theory of Consciousness for Traditional General Semantics), although Charles Eisenstein does mention the two thinkers in the same passage of his book The Ascent of Humanity but without making any direct connection or comparison. Greater relevance is found with Vygotsky and indeed he does come up more often, including several times on the official Julian Jaynes Society website and also in two of the collections of Jaynesian scholarship.

Two of the mentions of Vygotsky on the website are Books Related to Jaynes’s Bicameral Mind Theory and Supplementary Material (for Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness), with the third offering some slight commentary — Marcel Kuijsten’s Critique 13, from Critiques and Responses: Part 2, where he writes: “For the vast differences between consciousness as described by Jaynes, Dennett, Carruthers, Vygotsky, and others – which is linguistically based and uniquely human – vs. non-linguistic animal cognition, see Peter Carruthers, Language, Thought and Consciousness, Jose Luis Bermudez, Ch. 9, “The Limits of Thinking Without Words,” in Thinking without Words, Lev Vygotsky, Thought and Language, Daniel Dennett, Kinds of Minds, etc.” In the introduction to The Julian Jaynes Collection, Marcel Kuijsten discusses Jayne’s first hypothesis that consciousness is based on language. Vygotsky is mentioned in passing while explaining the views of another scholar:

“The debate over the importance of language for consciousness has a long history and has seen renewed interest in recent years. While many theorists continue to assume that infants are born conscious (confusing consciousness with sense perception), the work of child psychologist Philip Zelazo strongly supports Jaynes’s argument that consciousness develops in children over time through the acquisition of language. Building on the work of the early twentieth century Russian psychologists Lev Vygotsky and Alexander Luria and the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, Zelazo and his colleagues propose a model for the development of consciousness in children that highlights the importance of the interaction between thought and language. 11 Zelazo describes “four major age-related increases” in consciousness in children and corresponding increases in children’s ability to spatialize time. Zelazo’s fourth stage, reflective consciousness , corresponds roughly to Jaynes’s definition of consciousness, whereas Zelazo’s first stage, minimal consciousness, describes what Jaynes would term reactivity or basic sense perception.”

A slightly fuller, if brief, comment on Vygotsky is found in The “Other” Psychology of Julian Jaynes. The author, Brian J. McVeigh, writes that, “An important intellectual descendant of Volkerpsychologie took root in the Soviet Union with the work of the cultural-historical approach of Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) (1998), Alexander Luria (1902-77) (1976), and Aleksei Leontiev (1903-79) (1978, 2005 [1940]). Vygotsky and Luria (1993 [1930]) emphasized the inherently social nature of mind, language, and thought. Higher mental processes are complex and self-regulating, social in origin, mediated, and “conscious and voluntary in their mode of functioning” (cited in Meshcheriakov 2000; 43; see Wertsch 1985, 1991).”

Interestingly, Rachel Williams, in the above linked post The Future of Philosophy of Mind, also brings up Vygotsky. “Julian Jaynes has already cleared the underbrush to prepare the way for social-linguistic constructivism,” she explains. “And not your Grandpa’s neutered Sapir-Whorf hypothesis either. I’m talking about the linguistic construction of consciousness and higher-order thought itself. In other words, Vygotsky, not Whorf.” So, she obviously thinks Vygotsky is of utmost importance. I must admit that I’m actually not all that familiar with Vygotsky, but I am familiar with how influential he has been on the thought of others. I have greater interest in Korzybski by way of my appreciation for William S. Burrough’s views of “word virus” and “Control”.

* * *

It should be mentioned that Jaynesian scholarship, in general, is immense in scope. Look at any of the books put out on the topic and you’ll be impressed. Those like Kuijsten and McVeigh are familiar and conversant with a wide variety of scholars and texts. But for whatever reason, certain thinkers haven’t shown up much on their intellectual radars. About the likes of Vygotsky and Korzybski, I feel less surprised that they don’t appear as often in Jaynesian scholarship. Though influential, knowledge of them is limited and I don’t generally see them come up in consciousness studies more broadly. Sapir and Whorf, on the other hand, have had a much larger impact and, over time, their influence has continuously grown. Linguistic relativity has gained a respectability that Jaynesian scholarship still lacks.

I sometimes suspect that Jaynesian scholars are still too worried about respectability, as black sheep in the academic world. Few serious intellectuals took Jaynes seriously and that still is the case. That used to be also true of Sapir and Whorf, but that has changed. Linguistic relativity, with improved research, has recovered the higher status it had earlier last century. That is the difference for Jaynesian scholarship, as it never was respectable. I think that is why linguistic relativity got so easily ignored or dismissed. Jaynesian scholars might’ve been worried about aligning their own theories to another field of study that was, for a generation of scholars, heavily criticized and considered taboo. The lingering stigma of ‘strong’ Whorfianism as linguistic determinism, that we aren’t entirely isolated autonomous self-determined free agents, is still not acceptable in mainstream thought in this hyper-individualistic society. But one would think Jaynesian scholars would be sympathetic as the same charge of heresy is lodged against them.

Whatever motivated Jaynesian scholars in the past, it is definitely long past the time to change tack. Linguistic relativity is an area of real world research that could falsifiably test and potentially demonstrate the verity of Jaynes’ theory. Simply for practical reasons, those wishing to promote Jaynes’ work might be wise to piggyback on these obvious connections into more mainstream thought, such as mining the work of the popular Daniel Everett and his son Caleb Everett. That would draw Jaynesian scholarship into one of the main battles in all of linguistics, that of the debate between Daniel Everett and Noam Chomsky about recursion. There is a great opening for bringing attention to Jaynes — discuss why recursion is relevant to consciousness studies in general and Jaynesian consciousness in particular. Or better yet, show the commonalities between Jaynes and Jung, considering Jung is one of the most popular thinkers in the Western world. And as I’ve argued in great detail, such larger context has everything to do with the cultural and cognitive differences demonstrated by linguistic relativity.

In general, Jaynesian studies has been trapped in an intellectual backwater. There has yet to be a writer to popularize Jaynes’ views as they apply to the larger world and present society, from politics to culture, from the economy to environmentalism, from media to entertainment. Even among intellectuals and academics, it remains largely unknown and even less understood. This is beginning to change, though. HBO’s Westworld did more than anything to bring Jaynes’ ideas to a larger audience that otherwise would never come across such strange insights into human nature. Placing this radical theory within a science fiction narrative makes it less daunting and threatening to status quo thought. There is nothing like a story to slip a meme past the psychological defenses. Now that a seed has been planted, may it grow in the public mind.

Let me add that my pointed jabs at the Jaynesian world come from a place of love. Jaynes is one of the main inspirations to my thought. And I enjoy reading Jaynesian scholarship more than about any other field. I just want to see it expand, to become even more impressive. Besides, I’ve never been one for respectability, whether in politics or intellectual pursuits. Still, I couldn’t help but feel kind of bad about writing this post. It could be perceived as if all I was doing was complaining. And I realize that my sense of respect for Jaynesian scholars might be less than obvious to someone casually reading it (I tried to remedy that in clarifying my position in the main text above). I didn’t intend it as an attack on those scholars I have learned so much from. But I felt a need to communicate something, even if all I accomplished for the moment was making an observation.

It’s true that, instead of complaining about the omission of linguistic relativity, I could make a positive contribution by simply writing about how linguistic relativity applies to Jaynesian scholarship. If others haven’t shown the connections, the evidence and the examples, well then maybe I should. And I probably will, eventually. But it might take a while before I get around to that project. When I do, it could be a partial continuation of or tangent from my ongoing theorizing about symbolic conflation and such — that is tough nut I’ve been trying to crack for years. Still, the omission of linguistic relativity itself somehow seemed significant in my mind. I’m not sure why. This post is basically a way of setting forth a problem to be solved. The significance is that linguistic relativity would offer the real world examples of how Jaynesian views of consciousness, authorization, narratization, etc might apply to our everyday experience. It would help explain why such complex analysis, intellectually brilliant as it is, is relevant at all to our actual lives.

26 thoughts on “Jaynesian Linguistic Relativity

  1. I here present an idea still in development (by and in me). There are too many words. I say I am a writer (at least since 2002 when I retired at age 65) and I know to a certainty that words cannot capture reality–they are abstractions. Of course good stories present their own reality, and I enjoy a good story. Those which capture readers across cultures I think are those of the ancient playwrights and those that Joseph Campbell researched and presented to us (e.g., heroic “preparation, journey, and return”) and the “archetypes” found, cross-culturally, as presented by Carl Jung. The actuality of seeing of a large stone sitting on the ground is less likely to be interpreted in widely different ways by people of different cultures and ways than any words to represent this. As I wrote above, I am still developing this notion and just want to present, again, the assertion that there are too many words. In corollary manner, I refer you to the notion of “lumpers and splitters.” They will always be crosswise of each other. Possibly this ramble is relevant here.

    • I might understand what you’re getting at. I’ve long had a cautious attitude about language, sometimes outright mistrustful. I respect language for its power to influence. It’s not a matter of language being able to capture reality or not. As I see it, it’s simply that words are part of our human reality. Language has been so deeply embedded in the human psyche for so long that, at this point, as a species we no longer know how to operate without it. William S. Burroughs went so far as to call language a “word virus”, which is a powerful argument to be made by a man who made his career as a writer. That brings us into all kinds of territory involving memetics and bundle theory of mind, as explored by the likes of Susan Blackmore, a scholar who is familiar with Jaynes’ work. This is very much about linguistic relativity, but also touching upon the work of others such as Alfred Korzybski, Lev Vygotsky, etc.

      Like most other humans, I too enjoy stories. And storytelling appears inseparable from language, though language can exist without stories. Jaynes argues that it is the narrative functioning that underlies consciousness as introspective mindspace. But he also argues humans didn’t always have such consciousness, a relative recent invention within civilization. It’s interesting to note that the Piraha have a very different kind of language (lacking recursion, words for colors and numbers, etc) and lack a storytelling tradition, the two are probably being related in causal fashion. The Piraha also are disinterested in the past and future, such as death and an afterlife, and hence lacking religion, theology, and ritual. They prioritize experience that is direct, immediate, and personal. That resonates with how certain practices like meditation seek to bypass narratizing consciousness in focusing on such experience.

      This goes to my general thoughts about how civilization has developed. There is the shift from the animistic tribalism to Jaynesian consciousness, passing through the phase of the bicameral mind. There is the shift from orality to literary, maybe with mnemonic systems as being a intermediary stage. And maybe there also was a shift from non-narrative culture to narrative culture as seen with the emergence of the epics, which was a shift to how language generally and writing specifically was used (writing at first was limited to record-keeping). A major component I see is the rise and development of agriculture. This increased the carbohydrates in the human diet which transformed the human mind. The advances of agriculture in the Axial Age further promoted addictive drugs and foods, from sugar cane to opium. These addictive substances increasingly replaced psychedelics and further promoted individualism, as the addict according to Johann Hari is the ultimate individual. Burroughs explains how addiction is central to mentalities and systems of Control.

    • Let me respond to one specific thing. You wrote that, “I know to a certainty that words cannot capture reality–they are abstractions.” Were you referring to Jaynes’ comment that, “Whorfian hypothesis is true for some of the more abstract concepts we have”? I’d point out that not all words are abstractions or at least not to the same degree, depending on what one means by ‘abstraction’. The Piraha language, for example, avoids the obvious abstractions found in many other languages from agricultural civilization, whether Asian or European.

      Even within modern Western languages, abstraction was far less common prior to industrialization. Abstract thought, closely related to fluid intelligence, is the main factor in the increase of IQ over the past century. Lev Vygotsky and Alexander Luria studied modernization in early 20th century Russia. One thing that Luria found, in studying populations essentially still living as peasants, was their concrete thinking and language. But as society becomes more complex, as seen with urban life and work, language becomes more complex as well and this alters the human mind.

      This is one explanation some have given for why the Piraha lack recursion. Complex sentence structure is unneccessary and maybe even undesirable in a simpler oral culture. The Piraha’s way of speaking is very direct and precise. In making truth claims, their language forces them to speak in concrete terms and specifically identify the source. This is why Daniel Everett failed to convert them to Christianity. As Everett had never met Jesus, any claims Everett made of Jesus were less than meaningless. All that Everett achieved was irritating them, until they finally gave him an ultimatum to shut up about Jesus or go away.

      Let me also ask you about one other thing. How do you see the issue of “lumpers and splitters” to fit in with language, narrative, abstraction, and there being too many words? I get some sense of what connections you might have in mind, but I’m not entirely sure. I’ll assume that your thoughts here are relevant to the post. Anyway, it makes for interesting discussion. I hope you articulate further the idea that is “still in development (by and in me).” Maybe you’d take it in entirely other directions that are separate from my own thoughts, speculations, and concerns. I’m curious to see what you come up with. Are you planning to write about it in your blog? And is your comment here related to your recent post “Knowledge“?

      • I am not sure, either. These are inchoate thoughts within areas you present in your articles. I am following the thought of Alan Watts who said something like: “A finger pointing at the Moon is not the Moon itself-” Any word is pointing to something, it isn’t the thing itself. This is one reason why I like to read and write haiku. If done according to tradition, the subjects/settings and words are always concrete, and the reader becomes a participant in the interpretation or the mind-picture that may arise from the reading. As for “Knowledge,” thanks for reading it. This imagined ‘oration’ is my cry (Howl) for the anticipated loss of all those things we humans have created as agents of the (Universal Energy? the unmoved mover?), but which we will have destroyed or corrupted through Hubris. A more pointed exposition on this is here: https://pavellas.com/2009/03/04/scientism-secular-humanism-hubris/

        • It’s all “Abstraction”.

          With regards to the Mind, the Physical Reality we Experience is also an Abstraction!

          What we Engage with and Experience is a Representation Constructed from Sensory Data.

          What this means is that the (Arbitrary) Lines we draw up sow the seeds of Confusion. We Perceive the Abstract Representation of Physical Reality, as being Physical Reality itself. But these are 2 Separate things! And mistaking one for the other leads to a cascade of errors.

          But the real problem is tracking the “Relationships” between things Inside and Outside of the Mind. Mostly because we have no way of Verifying what is Outside of the Mind. And everything else we Experience is consequently wholly contained within the Mind. We are essentially “Locked In”, and that which is Outside of our Mind may not necessarily Exist.

          Which is to say we are Constructing Abstractions out of Abstractions!

          But what these Topics never seem to get to is “Meaning”.

          What I mean is that Words are “Labels”, but these Labels correspond to “Concepts”. So when we use words, what we are trying to Communicate is the Associated “Concept”.

          The “Concept” Exists Independently of the “Label” and only Exists in the Mind.

          Each Individual has to Construct the “Concept” for themself, within their own Mind!

          What this means is that “Meaning” is in itself an Individual Phenomena and an Individual Experience!

          While there is an Environmental Component to that Construction, that too is again Individually Moderated. Because it is Individually Moderated, our Conceptions of Culture are also often flawed – which is to say that “Culture” is an Abstraction of Group Behaviours that is wholly undermined by “Signalling”!

          So what this means is that our Communications are often Unknowingly Collisions of different “Meanings”. I have my “Meaning”, you have your “Meaning”.

          So you say something as it relates to your Individual Construction of a “Concept”, I hear the Noise representative of the “Shared” “Label” and connect it to my own Individual Construction of the “Concept”.

          But within this we have limited capacity for the Comparison of each of our Individualised Constructions of the Concept!
          We assume we will both have the Same “Meaning”. That our Construction of the Concept will be the Same, but it inherently cannot be! We rarely ever clarify the Construction of each of our Individual Concepts, we rarely dig into what each of us “Means”. We often fail to recognise that “Language” is shared “Labels”, rather than Shared “Concepts”, or Shared Experiences of “Meaning!”

          Words are Sounds, we Construct and Apply “Meaning” to them. Words have no function without “Meaning”, but that “Meaning” in itself varies from Individual to Individual. So each Individual Conception associated to a “Label” is Unique.

          The differences in Conceptualisation don’t stem from Language per se, but rather from each Individuals Unique Construction of the underlying “Concept[s]” and “Meaning[s]!”

          So each Individual member of the Population should be thought of as having their own Unique Individual Version of the Language! And as such, each Individual member of the Population should be thought of as having their own Unique Conceptualisation of Reality.

          All of this isn’t a problem because we operate within tolerances, which is to say we don’t need to be Accurate, but merely Perceivably Functional/Effective. But conversely this is also a huge source of many of our Problems!

          We have to view “Meaning” as a Unique Individual Experience!

          “Language” is just the Signal or “Label” pointing to said [intended] “Meaning”.

          So separating “Language”/”Labels” from the “Concepts”/”Meanings” they point to is where the real meat is at! 😂

          • “The “Concept” Exists Independently of the “Label” and only Exists in the Mind.”
            That sounds like some variation on Platonic forms. And your view of the individual makes the self-mind into a Platonic cave.

            “What this means is that “Meaning” is in itself an Individual Phenomena and an Individual Experience!”
            But I’d argue that individuality is not a given. From a Jaynesian view, it’s constructed:

          • We probably should get in the habit of using other language, something I’ve been thinking about. Words like ‘individual’ add a lot of confusion because, in their vagueness, they can mean so much to so many. I’m not sure how to clarify this matter. I’ve seen other terms such as ‘individua’ or ‘individuaa’, but I’m not clear on what they refer to. I should write a post about this sometime, just to wrap my mind around the issue.

            In the Jaynesian context, there is the distinction between ‘I’ vs ‘me’ (apparently originating with George Herbert Mead), related to the distinction between persons and selves. I need to clarify my own thinking on this. Jaynes’ points out that the ancient Greeks were well aware of the body, but even then they didn’t tend to look at the body as a whole. Instead, they would focus on body parts and aspects (thumos, nous, pneuma, psyche). In the ancient world, sometimes separate voices would be heard in a body part as if it had its own mind.

  2. Fascinating stuff.

    First, well done and informative writing.
    Secondly, there’s a lot of material to review – looking forward to it.

    Third and I think in response to your main question about the methodology of the literature:
    “The near silence is surprising because of the natural affinity between the two groups of thinkers.”
    This is widespread across all disciplines.
    The rise of specialization within the rise of mass industrial society is the culprit.
    The amount or scale of industrial production from the 19th century to the era of the world wars and then the post-industrial or technology culture has created a need for specialists.
    The specialists, operating within the paradigms of capitalism demand ever greater and thus more narrow “stay in your lane” specialists.

    Advertising, grants (with both reflecting each others paradigm dominance) tenure and tenure committees, etc, create ever increasing and narrow requirements for specialization.

    Case in point: years ago a humanities person i knew made the sarcastic point about how you can find dissertation titled: Jamestown Pottery, 1668-69. Dramatic Shifts in Cultural Self-Identification.
    Since there are no jobs, the near violent response is an ever shrinking field of specialization which allows participants to become “experts” in minutia.

    A corresponding rise is found then in methodologies across fields of specialization.

    Thus, a psychologist who knows nothing about history, and historians who know nothing about literature and lit profs who know nothing about anthropology, etc.

    C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures is probably, however flawed, the most important work by a public intellectual (and here, note, it’s no accident that The lobster King of Toronto gets anointed by the NYT as the mos timportant public intellectual precisely because he knows so little about so much but the Times ignores that) in which he discusses how the lit profs at Cambridge (perhaps it was Oxford) knew nothing about physics – not even what he defined as basics).
    Of course as a famous lit prof said in response, yes but it’s not as if you and your pals can say anything intelligent about Conrad or Thomas Hardy or Yeats.

    There was a lengthy public feud but it’s vanished from public consideration.

    Part of the dilemma is the amount of data.It’s so vast that no one can stay on top of it.

    But what’s really going on is that diversity of knowledge is a threat to the dominant paradigm of specialization.
    The first time I ran into was as an undergrad. I was taking a class on “Shakespeare” and was trying to explain to someone that the culture of “Elizabethan England” contradicted the interpretations of the plays.

    The other person demanded to know how I could be certain and i pointed to the vast body of scholarship on the era round up the usual suspects – biographies, documents, archeology, anthropology, letters, diaries, literature, etc.

    Well, they said I’m a sociology major so I don’t know about the history.

    (Smacks head against palm or head against wall)

    This is common.

    In a history class about America between the wars I mentioned Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises as crucial historical documents for the era and was met with shock and disbelief by the class.

    It was funny to suggest it and the humor edged towards accusations of being a heretic.

    More recently while in a “graduate” class at JHU, I said by way of context, that details from The Trial, were a commentary on xyz of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

    At the next class a student asked me how i knew that.

    I answered and was asked if i had a degree in history.

    i said no and was asked again how I knew.

    I said, well, there are biographies, letters, diaries, works of scholarship, etc.

    This was rejected.

    And to beat a dead horse – this happened again at the graduate level where someone insisted that a comment I made about a famous writer’s intention couldn’t be assumed and when I said, well, he said it in letters to people, etc that was rejected as well.

    Obviously the psychological dissonance is a factor but that in turn I think thrives because of the dominant socio-economic paradigm.

    The Jaynes gang is as you say a backwater but in addition to the above it’s also down to the fact that Jaynes died before the internet and also because it’s a complex subject and then crucially because if he’s right (and obviously we think he’s more right than not) an entire and vast industry would be out of work.

    With no safety nets they are in a life and death struggle and represent a downward spiral for the nation (ironically similar to the fin de siecle era across Europe from the late 19th until 1945).

    A perfect illustration of all of this is the cleaning of the Sistine Chapel.

    Decades of scholarship insisted Michelangelo’s palette was sombre, dark, and heavy on earth tones reflecting the cultural mindset of his era.

    Then they cleaned off 700 years of soot and grime and all of a sudden the colors were borderline neon in intensity and hundreds of “experts” were the proud owners of fat books suitable for work as boat anchors and door stops;-)

    Specialization has produced extraordinary things like rockets to the moon and the cure for polio and the machines we’re using to communicate.

    But they have also been part of a vast catastrophe impacting everything.

    Sherlock Holmes is a case study – invented during the peak era of industrial specialization Holmes stands out as a polymath.

    But he is alienated. Doyle’s story reflects social anxiety.

    The experts need the polymath but the polymath is a freak because he’s not an expert in one area.

    This in turn shows up in our era – House MD and a dozen other shows reflect the anxiety behind the dominance of specialization.

    The system is cannibalizing itself and knows it.

    It knows it needs the help of a polymath but seeks to maintain control through a culture that exalts the specialist.

    The cheezy Towering Inferno film is a great example.

    Newman and McQueen refer to each other by job description – “architect” and “fireman.”

    On the one hand this is just macho posing but obviously it speaks to a social tension.

    The identity is synonymous with the work and visa versa.

    But that’s a reflection of the growth of specialization culture and the anxiety of specialization.

    It is the erection of a totem and a totemic zeitgeist – the psychology of anxiety within a paradigm that demands we stay in our lanes.

    To be able to converse intelligently across boundaries is subversive and a threat.

    Can’t have that, now can we;-)

    • Well, it seems fascinating, in my humble opinion. But I doubt many others would share our opinion on the matter. Even among Jaynesian enthusiasts, this might not inspire much enthusiasm. I sometimes think I lack a talent for communicating my sense of curiosity. I can’t count the number of times I’ve mentioned something that is on my mind only to get a response of, “Why are you thinking about that?” or “Why is it important?” or some other similar question. And I find myself perplexed. It’s interesting because the whole fucking world is interesting. As such, this omission is interesting. Why? Just because it is. Seeing connections is what excites me, as silly as that might seem to others. And when an obvious connection apparently isn’t obvious to others, it makes me even more interested.

      If I accomplish nothing else, I hope my writings are informative, to bring up odd bits of info and maybe an occasional observation or insight. This one of those pieces that came together over a long period of time, actually quite a few years. I threw in some other stuff that fascinated me, such as about the relationship of the Boasians to Jung that came from a post I wrote quite a while back. I just love that kind of thing, to see how this person influenced that person who influenced another person. Or how a milieu of thought was in the air, popping up in multiple thinkers simultaneously. Our modern Western obsession with individual great men often misses the point. The world is messy. But that is territory we’ve covered before.

      You write, “The specialists, operating within the paradigms of capitalism demand ever greater and thus more narrow “stay in your lane” specialists.” I totally get that. Even so, it seems strange to my way of thinking. From a view of basic human curiosity, how can any person simply stay in their lane. It particularly seems odd for Jaynesian scholars, since Jaynes himself refused to stay in his lane. He not only covered a lot of material far beyond his expertise but he also developed a mentality that isn’t common in academia. Maybe that is because he left academia for a number of years and worked in theater. On top of that, he refused tenure because he thought it was bullshit. He was a man of principle, as demonstrated for his choosing imprisonment for his pacifism during WWII. Maybe it makes sense, according to his own theory, that he was distrustful of claims of authority.

      I’m vaguely familiar with The Two Cultures debate. You are right that it “vanished from public consideration.” That makes it all the more interesting. And it’s true that, “Part of the dilemma is the amount of data.” But it’s not a matter of staying “on top of it.” That isn’t how curiosity works. One has to embrace the drowning in it or at least that is how it works for me. I become curious, then I become overwhelmed by it all, and finally I slowly tie a few interesting bits together. Trying to stay on top of it reminds me of the related anxiety about respectability. That is what specialists do, they find some tiny molehill upon which to build their claims of narrow expertise. What captures my attention is the psychological dissonance as part of the dominant socio-economic paradigm or whatever it is (Do you plan on writing about those personal examples you shared?). I like your comments about the alienation and social anxiety of the polymath. That is what Jaynes experience. Yet many of his students, followers, and defenders then sought to contain him and make his thought safe again for respectable academia.

      • Had no idea about Jaynes. where did you read that?

        As to people saying why would you etc

        I knew someone who used to say: Well, who would say I’m voting Republican!?! Perverts, that’s who!;-)

        In other words there is an attempt, cooercive if not violent, to force an acceptance of a narrative frame.

        i’m sure you know that and I’m dismissing your point (email is hardly the best platform for conveying empathy as it’s in a sense disembodied and…bicameral)

        As to the personal experiences – here’s one: Somone i knew was out of work and agonizing about it.

        They had a series of “lucky events” or as I prefer to see it a series of “fated encounters” leading to a good paying job doing something creative and outside of the dead end 9-5 office mcjob routine.

        They were excitedly telling a friend about this when the friend (a woman they had known for some time and with whom they’d had an intimate relationship) took a step forward and pantomimed punching him in the crotch.

        It was a stunning example of bicameral consciousness.

        It was a textbook vacant -eyed automaton action devoid of self-awareness and pure impulse exactly as if a voice of command had said do x.

        Contemporary psychology would talk about impulse control and unconscious acting out.

        Yes but that doesn’t preclude bicameralism.

        Your comment about Jaynes followers trying to contain him reminds me of Life of Brian;-)

        Re: Data. I don’t disagree only that an aspect of the situation is the amount of information. Case in point, i was just watching a video about someone who briefly studied with Wittgenstein and it turns out the guy (Paul Feyderman sp?) also studied with Karl Popper so the next thing I was diving again into popper which led to, which led to;-)

        But to emphasize i agree – curiosity is a thing unto itself in the sense that there is a pleasure to it – to diving into the ocean of it.

        The entire stay in your lane thing is toxic except in certain areas. I don’t want a plumber operating on me.

        But otherwise it’s a disaster.

        • You asked, “Had no idea about Jaynes. where did you read that?” I’m not sure which part you’re referring to. This is info I’ve picked up from biographical sketches over the years. Most of it probably comes from one or another book about Jaynes, such as the collections Kuijsten has edited. I recall one specific collection of Jaynesian scholarship that had an introductory biography. I could try to figure out which book it came out of, if you’d like. I might be able to find it.

          Interesting anecdote about the reaction of one friend to the other. “It was a stunning example of bicameral consciousness. It was a textbook vacant -eyed automaton action devoid of self-awareness and pure impulse exactly as if a voice of command had said do x.” We have all these voices in our heads, but we typically don’t pay attention to them or rather we aren’t conscious to even be able to choose to pay attention to them. They have power over us for that reason.

          We act without knowing why, but we are good at rationalizing after the fact. There is the narratizng voice that commands action in the bicameral state and there is the narrative told by egoic consciousness to explain what happened. There are many ongoing narratives, various tape loops out of which comes the impulse for action and with which forms identity. There are many selves within us and it’s the job of the egoic consciousness to attempt to make it seem coherent and singular.

          “Your comment about Jaynes followers trying to contain him reminds me of Life of Brian.” It’s completely normal behavior. All of us are doing that kind of thing all the time, in one way or another. If we didn’t, society would judge us insane and we ourselves would be contained, maybe quite literally. We must contain others or, in failing, be contained ourselves. But in a sense, containing others is containing ourselves. It’s how we manage the complexities of life. And that isn’t exactly wrong. I’m more arguing that we might be wise to be intentional about the containers we create.

          In Jaynesian studies, a narrative has now formed around Jaynes, a mild cult of personality. I’m likewise narratizing in another direction. I’m challenging one narrative with another and so it’s a competition of narratives. And within Jaynesian consciousness, there must be one narrative to rule them all or at least to rule some particular area. That is why I was going on about who and how Jaynesian scholarship gets defined, how it gets controlled and contained, confined and constrained. Otherwise, we would lose the narrative that gives meaning. Jaynes’ book is a holy text of sorts, from which we draw authorization for this field of study. But it’s more than that since this is a narrative being told about all of humanity.

          I don’t disagree with you that, “The entire stay in your lane thing is toxic except in certain areas. I don’t want a plumber operating on me.” Still, I’d prefer even plumbers got a good liberal arts education where they had a basic grasp of history, politics, economics, social science, environmental science, critical thinking, etc. They maybe should “stay in their lane” as far as their official capacity goes, but a functioning democracy or something equivalent to it would require nearly all citizens to be widely and well informed far beyond some area of expertise.

    • Another paragraph about Jung was added into this post. I recalled that Jaynes had made a comment about Jung, a comment that expressed an incorrect criticism and so indicated a misunderstanding. Explaining about that was maybe needed to put into context the Jungian influence that neither Jaynes nor Jaynesian scholars have, as far as I know, ever acknowledged.

      If Jaynes in some basic ways is both Whorfian and Jungian, that makes Jaynesian scholarship all the more interesting and relevant, pulling it far out of its present backwater. Further put it in the context of the recursion debate between Everett and Chomsky. Then you have a field of study that could become a powerhouse. Jaynesian thought is in the middle of all this, acknowledged or not. So, it might as well be acknowledged.

      It’s already well on its way. Jaynes influenced a number of fiction writers and artists as well. That shows up directly in HBO’s Westworld, although he also supposedly influenced Philip Pullman whose work has likewise been made into an HBO show, His Dark Materials. Even the Star Wars movie out in the theaters right now seems surprisingly bicameral in portrayal of the authorization of voice-hearing and voice commands.

      I’m ready for a Jaynesian revival. Let’s dive right in. Fuck respectability!

      • I’m not up on the linguistics debates.

        i’ll add it to my ever expanding reading list though when I see whorfian i think Star Trek;-)

        Funny about revival of Jaynes – years ago i email Marcel Kujinsten (sp?). I outlined my Faulkner’s Sparrow’s paper and he wrote back enthusiastically saying he didn’t think anyone was saying anything similar and that when I was done i should send it to him and cc a colleague of his.

        I did not (which I regret) but ended up using it (PKD style) in a work of fiction.

        Several years after that I emailed him to explain just that but he did not respond.

        And yes, fuck respectability:-)

        • That is too bad Kuijsten didn’t respond back. I suspect he is a busy person and your message just got lost in the pile. He is fairly responsive. In my original post about the linguistic relativity omission, he did comment and made the suggestion I quoted above. Then, in a second comment, he wrote that, “Yes, I’ve long hoped for a more extensive analysis on just about every topic Jaynes delves into, but unfortunately the number of people that are both qualified and able to write on the theory is very limited” (“qualified and able” = respectable?). I give Kuijsten immense credit, as he is the force behind creating a space for Jaynesian scholarship.

          Kuijsten shared my sentiments. But my sense is that, like McVeigh, he is coming from more of a perspective of respectable scholarship. And that does serve a purpose. He has made Julian Jaynes respectable. Now someone needs to knock it back down into the disreputable so that it can spread through pop culture like a mind virus. I forgot to mention Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Either it has already been made or is soon to be made into an Amazon show. That is the first major impact Jaynes’ had on the non-academic world of popular entertainment, but the list of influence on writers and artists is growing:


          I don’t know if Kuijsten would ever be interested in the kinds of things I write. Probably not. I go off in too many tangents. I’m not sure that I’m “qualified and able” in terms of what he is looking for. I suppose I could reign in my curiosity for a brief moment in order to write a more standard essay. But I wonder if he ever plans on putting out a collection of less scholarly and hence less respectable essays about Jaynes, maybe about the influence on popular fiction, art, and entertainment. There are some essays of literary analysis in his collections about more respectable literature, of course. I’m just thinking it’s time to expand out of that niche.

          • You may be right but at the same time I’m not following the stay in your lane approach. My style in FS is more “French” or “Continental” and the Anglosphere does not approve.

            Again it could be as you say but I think were caught in a kind of Catch 22.

            No one is going to accept a “scholarly” paper that begins by quoting Pete Townshend – unless you’re already famous.

            And since the recent post
            on the cave brings in issues of politics it runs right up against one of the barriers – the philosophy people don’t talk politics and the political people don’t talk philosophy. (sure Richard Rorty and other blah blah about politics but the language is so “academic” and ultimately tepid it’s as if they might as well be mute)

            As you say too many tangents even though tangentially speaking is no more or less on point than a singular pov.

            What’s wrong with tangents? Nothing but of course stay in your lane because if you don’t people could lose their jobs.

            That was part of my post about “Metamodernism” declaring “Postmodernism is Dead” (How many metamods can dance on Foucault’s head).

            The whole system is driven by anxiety – jobs, tenure, money, status – and each of those is a synonym for the other.

            At the same time the media which is both a colony of and colonizer within the machine “reports” on issues as if it’s not a symbiote.

            Just read a Guardian “review” of a memoir about a woman in Silicon Valley – and she says the media just accepted the tech companies on their terms – but neither she (the author) or the “journalist” stopped to say: well what does that say about a “review” of a book that discusses the media’s connection to tech pirates – in a “review” by one of the media platforms that stands accused of collaborating?

            And of course we all are supposed to pretend that the “review” is honest “journalism” when of course it’s a paid piece of PR and clickbait which exists because of how the tech mafia has colonized journalism.

            And then any attempt to point out that the “review” is essentially a template and identical to a thousand other such “reviews” and you’ll be accused of Trumpian Fake News accusations.

            And of course speaking of templates – the memoir is by a young (millennial) woman writing about sexual harassment and it’s been optioned for a screenplay yada yada – disposable culture with a cultural hegemony that insists it’s honest and so on.

            And so every facet of the system is tainted if not outright corrupt.

            I don’t think the Jaynes Society bosses are gangsters far from it but short of a authentic revolution we’re spinning in circles (all of which is rather tangential;-))

        • Having looked back Kuijsten’s other comment, it does make me wonder who he would consider “qualified and able” as in being worth of inclusion in any book he edits. Even as an area of study, I’m not sure what is Jaynesian scholarship. I mentioned Tanya Luhrman. Her inspiration for her entire career in anthropology came from reading Jaynes. And her career has been dedicated to the Jaynesian topic of voice-hearing. Yet she has never, as far as I know, ever mentioned Jaynes in any of her scholarly work. He only gets a brief mention in what I think was an interview. So, is she or is she not a Jaynesian scholar?

          Is Jaynesian scholarship only research and analysis that directly and overtly references, quotes, and extends upon Jaynes’ writings? Or should it be allowed for a Jaynesian scholar to break entirely new ground, in the way Jaynes himself had done? Basically, are we to turn Jaynesian ideas into archaeological artifacts to be stored in an ideological museum for safe protection and only to be elaborated upon by the faithful devoted to the tradition he founded? If we are to limit ourselves to only what Jaynes himself accepted as part of his own intellectual project, then I just now made a case for the inclusion of Whorfian linguistic relativity and even linguistic determinism.

          But according to this standard, we’d have to exclude the Jungian lines of influence because Jaynes never acknowledged them. And in that case, our thoughts about diet, addiction, psychedelics, wheat-barley-ergot nexus, etc would definitely be off limits to Jaynesian scholarship proper. Literary analysis, though, as seen in your Faulkner’s Sparrows could be allowed into the hallowed halls of the respectable since Jaynes also did literary analysis, especially if you emphasized the ancient Greek references. Only then, maybe as comments in the notes, you could mention ergot.

          Are we to follow Jaynes example or limit ourselves to following the exact topics of his own inquiry? That is to say: Are we to follow the spirit or the law of Jaynesian scholarship? At present, Kuijsten is the sole authority who determines what is and what is not Jaynesian scholarship, as he is the only individual to edit books on the field and to organize a conference on it. Whatever is now considered as Jaynesian scholarship has almost entirely been shaped by him. After all, he is the one who runs the Julian Jaynes Society and personally deals with all correspondence and inquiries related to the official website. As far as I can tell, he is also the only person maintaining the Facebook groups dedicated to Jaynes and his work.

          That doesn’t stop anyone else from writing about Jaynes or getting their own books published. But it is ultimately Kuijsten who decides who does or does not get the official stamp of approval. I get the sense that he does all the writing on the official website, determining what is included and how Jaynes is interpreted, such as seen on the pages dedicated to responding to criticisms. There aren’t too many academic fields like that where a single person has this much influence. But it’s understandable to a degree. Without Kuijsten, Jaynes would not now be as well known, even if awareness remains limited.

          • This overlaps of course with the other emails.

            In order to gain university and publishing (and “reviews” and “discussion” in the mainstream) they have to not allow in “oddballs” and “weirdos”

            The scholarship as such has to adhere to templates.

            A few years ago David Cronenberg made a film from a book called: A Most Dangerous Method – about Sabine Spielrein – a patient of Jungs and later a psychoanalyst.

            The book revealed the inner politics of Freud’s circle.

            It was written by a well regarded Boston based Freudian who said we have as a community a lot of skeletons in the closet that need to be brought out.

            And a Freudian analysts I knew had never heard of the book, denounced it, and yada yada yada.

            Mind you there’s maybe 200 Freudian analysts in the whole country so it’s not as if you meet one you haven’t essentially met them all.

            point being again, this is the thing that everything has in common – our politics, the sham discussions about them the clickbait paradigm, the universities, the small tribalist gangs feminists and psychologists and philosophers and so on.

            If I were to draw a historical parallel I’d say end phase Austria from the late 19th to at least 1918 if not 1945.

            We are in an era where the idea that, for example, art is evidence of anything beyond its own alpha and omega doesn’t even warrant ridicule because it’s dead.

            It’s a non issue.

            Try contextualizing our politics via literature or cinema (except at the most perfunctory level where talking heads on Fox or MSNBC make throw away references to The Godfather or some such) and see what happens.

            It’s not just an anti-intellectual atmosphere it borders on the fascism of “when I hear the word culture I reach for my gun.”

            To discuss Jaynes we should be able to “tangentially” bring in anything as long as we can find evidence that stands up to examination.

            In a sense we’re again in an era of guilds.

            I knew a fairly crazy would be film maker in Baltimore who kept emailing a teacher at JHU asking for help and the prof was polite and said no and then said go away and stay away.

            On the one hand I get it – the guy’s working FT, has 60+ students, faculty meetings, and some sort of life and, students are paying a lot of money for his expertise and time.

            And yet, that’s of course a reflection of a systemic class warfare that not only forces people out, it forces people in – creating a specialized language designed to help maintain the power of the guild – to maintain who is in and who is out.

            And that’s true for the J Society – I get it but at the same time the entire creaking contraption is a hollowed out shell.

          • You say that, “In order to gain university and publishing (and “reviews” and “discussion” in the mainstream) they have to not allow in “oddballs” and “weirdos”” That is to say they can’t let in the non-intellectuals or the questionable intellectuals, those who lack the proper qualifications, resume, or title. Everything becomes a fiefdom that must defend its territory. So, each area makes its own rules, maintains its own standards and norms, no one being allowed to transgress. “We are in an era where the idea that, for example, art is evidence of anything beyond its own alpha and omega doesn’t even warrant ridicule because it’s dead.” Art for art’s sake is one a particular example of a broader pattern of disconnection. Academic specialization is another.

            Yes, “It’s not just an anti-intellectual atmosphere it borders on the fascism…” But even the intellectual arena is treated the same way. Academic specialization is intellectual toward its own while anti-intellectual toward anything else. So, it doesn’t matter that nutrition studies, for example, is an established scientific field. It’s looked down upon to talk about diet in relationship to literary analysis or consciousness studies. That would be low-brow, a concern for diet, even if one cited scientific research. I can see that it’s “a reflection of a systemic class warfare that not only forces people out, it forces people in…” Class is one group identity, although an important one as inequality and other schisms grow while society fractures. “And that’s true for the J Society…” Yeah, I guess. It’s not even consciously intentional, not even among those studying consciousness. It’s simply built into how society operates. One doesn’t have to do anything. It’s easy to fall in line without any thought.

            It’s interesting to think about, especially in a Jaynesian context. Jaynesian scholars potentially have more tools than most to understand the trap we are born into, PKD’s Black Iron Prison and WSB’s Control. Not that a Jaynesian scholar would likely catch such references and maybe, as you have argued, that is the problem. The insights from outside of academia are, by definition, not respectable and allowable. That is other than in very contained ways, such as literary analysis of WSB’s texts that are read by no one else but other literary intellectuals or else college students assigned to read it in a literature class. So, a disreputable person like WSB can be neutered for academic purposes, as long as the resultant ‘WSB’ is made to fit within the academic regimen of one particular narrow field. What won’t be discussed is the lit crit academic as a purveyor of Control.

            Similarly, a Jaynesian scholar might look at politics, as long as it is safely ensconced within the distant enough past, such as a study of authoritarianism in Nazi Germany or the Jim Crow South. But what about the living, breathing authoritarianism of the reactionary paradigm that seeps into every crevice, including within our own minds? Where is the Jaynesian scholar to do a Jaynesian analysis of the presidential campaign as related to the dominant authorization of corporate media and tech giants, such as involving the propaganda model of media or the deplatforming/demonetizing of social media? Even widely read Chomsky who studies both linguistics and media/politics never lets the twain meet, a division he openly and oddly prides himself on. Yet it’s precisely where the twain meet that there might be cross-fertilization that can give birth to new insight.

            This paralyzed condition of thought is the direct result of Jaynesian consciousness as the dominant paradigm, another way of talking about the reactionary mind, the shadow of Axial Age idealism and of post-Enlightenment liberalism. Being an expert even in consciousness studies doesn’t necessarily make it any more likely that one will turn one’s focus back on one’s own consciousness, maybe even less likely in most cases. Familiarity with consciousness will simply teach one to be all the more effective in avoiding what one must pretend one does not see.

    • I almost forgot to make an important point. We are all fully within the ideological paradigm, worldview, and reality tunnel of Jaynesian consciousness (basically the same thing as the reactionary mind). And so we all see everything through this lens. Even Jaynesian scholars are trapped within the very Jaynesian consciousness that they are attempting to study. The same applies to me, of course. It applies to us all.

      Modern capitalism, one might argue, is the ultimate expression of Jaynesian consciousness. And academia is very much a part of this capitalist system that encompasses everything within capitalist realism. It’s hard to see how Jaynesian consciousness can be pushed to a much further extreme without breakdown. That puts us anxiety-drenched conscious moderns in an interesting position, but it probably also explains why it was so late in history before this area of thought could be more fully explored. Being trapped in it gives us a fuller experience of what we’re dealing with, but it also makes it hard to realize one is trapped or how that trap operates on the personal level. It’s much easier to study other people and other societies.

      We do have an advantage in this late stage of Jaynesian consciousness. Consider that one of the attributes of Jaynesian consciousness is the complexification of cognition (abstract thought and fluid intelligence), as seen with the complexification of sentence structure (made possible with punctuation and the literary tradition) and, more basically, as related to recursion. And one of the highest expressions of this is all things meta- (meta-cognition, meta-analysis, meta-talk, etc), consciousness turned back onto itself. So, coming from a Jaynesian perspective, why don’t we apply Jaynesian analysis to Jaynesian scholars and the Jaynesian community, in how it operates. What is the point of studying self-consciousness without turning the focus back onto ourselves and onto the groups we belong to or identify with?

      Like other intellectuals and academics, Jaynesian scholars are part of the same system of order, control, and authorization. Jaynesian studies, over the decades, has been drawn into the gravity of academic specialization. That is because those like McVeigh have built their academic careers on it. Their expertise is tightly focused and that has its advantages, such as McVeigh’s study of Japanese culture. But in getting lost in the exposition of theory and the accumulation of facts, we can easily forget the very consciousness that makes this possible and that constrains how we go about it. Specialization is very much a phenomena of Jaynesian consciousness.

      I wonder if anyone in Jaynesian studies has ever noticed this and fought against it, as did Jaynes himself. Why don’t more Jaynesian scholars follow Jaynes example by avoiding specialization and refusing tenure, maybe also going to prison for defying authority or at the very least going to work in theater? I ask that half-humorously. To do as Jaynes did would mean blazing one’s own trail across multiple territories of academic expertise while pushing into terra incognito. That would probably mean becoming dissatisfied like Jaynes was late in life, maybe related to the polymath’s anxiety. For all his accomplishments, Jaynes ended up wondering if he had failed in his endeavor. It would have been easier and more comfortable for him to have embraced obvious forms of outward success by having followed specialization in a conventional academic career path.

      Having given it some thought, an example comes to mind that is closer to blazing one’s own trail. Tanya Luhrmann is a respectable scholar and scientist who was not only influenced but inspired by Jaynes to go into her field of anthropology. She has specialized to some extent, but she hasn’t merely remained within an intellectual comfort zone. Although having done some more typical studies, she also has turned toward innovative field work (similar to the contrast of Daniel Everett learning about the lack of recursion by living among the Piraha and Noam Chomsky speculating about recursion while never having studied any other languages, much less immersing himself in another culture). What Luhrmann did was join a church that taught hearing God. She didn’t go off to some far away country even, but simply found a nearby church and joined her ‘neighbors’ there.

      That is the kind of thing that I’d like to see more of. It’s not merely studying Jaynesian consciousness as something separate from oneself. Rather, it is to delve into the lived reality of it through personal experience. And it’s to not worry about respectability nor to distance oneself from the phenomena under study, not to worry about being labeled as crazy or unprofessional.

    • As you know, I don’t have much in the way of higher education. I’m far from being an academic. And so my interest is not academic. What motivates me maybe originates more from my religious upbringing, the extreme Protestantism of my youth that teaches a direct and personal relationship to God, more along the lines of the Quakers. That prepared my mind for an interest in subjectivity and the personal writ large. Also, that background made me familiar with alternative spiritual practices from a young age. I’ve known about meditation pretty much my entire life. I remember trying to do a guided meditation when I was a little kid, but unsurprisingly I had no patience for it.

      Then there is my psychedelic use that really showed me how different could be experience. Technically, those altered states of mind were not conscious at all in the Jaynesian sense. There was no introspective mindspace, no metaphorical inner vs outer. That demonstrated to me that egoic consciousness is merely one possibility among many. This realization was emphasized, in particular, by the one experience on shrooms where I felt all of the world breathing in unison. That was pure animism. Not many modern people get the chance to experience animism. In a sense, I’m still chasing after that ‘high’. I grew up with the New Agey A Course In Miracles, interestingly written by two professors of medical psychology, which began with a simple thought: “there must be another way.” For me, that simple thought is an article of faith. In the tradition of Robert Anton Wilson, someone I read in my early 20s, I’m a guerrilla ontologist.

      This all built up into my present interests and understanding. It’s the background experiences and underlying thoughts to why I put a particular spin on my own Jaynesian-inspired speculations. The dietary stuff is another layer added to this. I know what both mindsets, psychedelic and addictive, feel like and they are extremely different. I can’t help imagining what this means on a collective level. But this is the kind of thing I’m not seeing in Jaynesian scholarship. Most of the research is mostly abstract theorizing and analysis of info or about distant cultures (distant in time or geography). I want to understand Jaynesian consciousness in order to be able to change it. That is why I experiment with spiritual practices, drugs, diet, and language.

      One of my recent experiments has involved speaking in different persons (e.g., third person) or different tenses (e.g., past tense) just to see if and how it affects cognition, awareness, or identity (similar to the motivations of William S. Burroughs in his own experiments). That was one interesting thing about neurolinguistic programming, is in how people would use it to experiment on themselves. NLP, by the way, was partly inspired by Ericksonian hypnosis and was largely operating through Jaynesian authorization in exploring how it works in the human mind and human relationships (e.g., rapport), including but not limited to language. That is another area with which fruitful collaboration could be had. Jaynesian scholarship and NLP practice could lead in interesting directions. Or what about Arnold Mindell’s use of social roles and group dynamics.

      • your comment here makes me think of Walter Benjamin first with his experiments with hash and mescaline but also because he didn’t feel at ease in the tight world of the academics even though those were many of his associates.

        Talking in the past tense etc is remarkable. The sort of thing Burroughs might have done.

        There is no doubt the system stretching back centuries is all about control. and that is directly at odds if not violently against the flow of consciousness resulting in often crippling anxiety as the g force tolerance of the soul is reached and the mind and soul snap.

        So of course more people know Elon Musk than Henry David Thoreau.

        As to official education – I have news for you…you are better and more widely read than anyone i knew in grad school and that includes most of the teachers:-)


        • “Talking in the past tense etc is remarkable. The sort of thing Burroughs might have done.”

          This post quotes Jaynes about Whorfianism in the book of talks with McVeigh. There is a section following that where the two of them briefly went into the topic of tenses. It turns out to be complicated. The most ancient languages have no tenses. But there are what is called aspects signifiying whether an action is perfected or not, but this does not necessarily indicate temporality. In languages that lack tenses, they maybe later on came to use aspects to refer to tenses. The problem, as Jaynes and McVeigh discuss, is at least the time (1990s) linguists didn’t appear interested in studying tenses and their cultural/historical origins.

          I was experimenting with various combinations of persons and tenses. But third person, past tense did create an interesting mentality. It feels very narrative as if telling a story: “They had walked to their parents.” It’s kind of amusing to narrate one’s activities, although according to Jaynes this is what we are doing all the time without realizing it. It’s hard to maintain a non-standard way of speaking, though. The English language is not designed for it and so there is no way to distinguish between different forms of plural identities. Some languages have diverse ways of referring to plural (clusivity) — not limited to we and they but also: “only you and I” or “a bunch of us including you” or “some of us excluding you”; “two of us” or “three plus”; and other variations. Besides referring to ‘we’, many languages have multiple ways of saying ‘you’, including a plural ‘you’ (equivalent of English y’all), upwards of 7 in one language.

          As an interesting side note, there are evidentials as well. That gets into Piraha. An evidential gives you ways of including information about the source of claims: who, where, and when. In Piraha, evidentials are the only way of speaking and so generalized abstractions are literally impossible to state. That relates to why they couldn’t be converted to Christianity, as long as they maintained their traditional linguistic practices. There was no way to make a meaningful statement about someone or something that hadn’t been personally experienced by the individual or by someone the individual personally knew. It is required to state the specific context of knowledge and how it relates to the speaker.

      • I was thinking more about my religious upbringing. It is in the broad category of Protestantism and a variety therein pushed to the extreme endpoint of the Protestant Reformation. Specifically, the Unity Church emerged out of the late 19th century evangelical movement. It is what is called New Thought Christianity, but even more specifically it is referred to as Practical Christianity.

        That is what I wanted to bring up. The idea of practical Christianity is that we can alter our experience and identity, our way of being and relating, not only to God but to others as well. Part of where this comes from is that the Unity founders were influenced by the Mesmerist tradition that led to hypnotism. This is relevant here, as Mesmerism and hypnotism were an important part of Jaynes’ book on consciousness (one of my favorite parts in his book).

        That connection jumped into my mind while my thoughts were rambling along during a shower. I immediately forgot it again before it eventually came back to mind. Anyway, that shows why I’m predisposed to a Jaynesian perspective. But it also shows why I take a different approach than the academics and maybe why Jaynes himself took a different approach, as his also having been influenced by an alternative strain of Christianity.

        Jaynes’ father was Unitarian-Universalist minister. His father died when he was young, but Jaynes grew up reading his father’s collected sermons. This turned his mind toward greater concerns. On a related note, I think it was Tanya Luhrmann who also grew up in that same UU tradition. Maybe that is why it felt natural to her to study voice-hearing by immersing herself in a religious tradition that taught it, in that she felt comfortable around religion, rather than taking it as a threat to her academic respectability.

        By the way, there is much crossover between the theological politics and the congregations of the UU Church and the Unity Church. Some years back, I attended the local UU church for a while. Many people at that church at previously attended Unity churches. Both emphasize a personal and individual sense of spirituality, religiosity, faith, or whatever else without much in the way of dogma. It’s a variety of religion that has more fully embraced Jaynesian consciousness, rather than appeal to archaic authorization.

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