The Haunting of Voices

“If I met a skin-changer who demanded my shoes, I’d give him my shoes.” This is what a Navajo guy once told me. I didn’t inquire about why a skin-changer would want his shoes, but it was a nice detail of mundane realism. This conversation happened when I was living in Arizona and working at the Grand Canyon. Some might see this anecdote as the over-worked imagination of the superstitious. That probably is how I took it at the time. But I wouldn’t now be so dismissive.

While there, my job was to do housekeeping in the El Tovar. It’s an old hotel located directly on the South Rim of the canyon. It has the feeling of a building that has been around a while. It’s age was hard for me to ignore in its lacking an elevator, something I became familiar with in carrying stacks of sheets up the stairs of multiple floors. I worked there a few times late at night and there was an eerie atmosphere to the place. You could viscerally sense the history, all the people who had stayed there and passed through.

There were stories of suicides and homicides, of lonely lost souls still looking for their lovers or simply going through their habitual routine in the afterlife. The place was famous for it having been one of the locations where the Harvey Girls worked, young women looking for wealthy husbands. There was a tunnel that was once used by the Harvey girls to go between the hotel and the women’s dorm. This hidden and now enclosed tunnel added to the spookiness.

Many Navajo worked at the Grand Canyon, including at the El Tovar. And sometimes we would chat. I asked about the ghosts that supposedly haunted the place. But they were reluctant to talk about it. I later learned that they thought it disrespectful or unwise to speak of the dead. I also learned that some had done traditional ceremonies in the hotel in order to put the dead to rest and help them pass over to the other side. Speaking of the dead would be like calling them back to the world of the living.

I doubt this worldview is merely metaphorical in the superficial sense. Though it might be metaphorical in the Jaynesian sense. Julian Jaynes hypothesized that ancient people continued to hear the voices of the dead, that the memory would live on as auditory experience. He called this the bicameral mind. And in bicameral societies, voice-hearing supposedly was key to social order. This changed because of various reasons and then voice-hearing became a threat to the next social order that replaced the old one.

The Navajo’s fearful respect of ghosts could be thought of as a bicameral carryover. Maybe they better understand the power voice-hearing can have. Ask any schizophrenic about this and they’d agree. Most of us, however, have developed thick boundaries of the egoic mind. We so effectively repress the many voices under the authority of the egoic sole rulership that we no longer are bothered by their sway, at least not consciously.

Still, we may be more influenced than we realize. We still go through the effort of costly rituals of burying the dead where they are kept separate from the living, not to mention appeasing them with flowers and flags. Research shows that the number of people who have heard disembodied voices in their lifetime is surprisingly high. The difference for us is that we don’t openly talk about it and try our best to quickly forget it again. Even as we don’t have ceremonies in the way seen in Navajo tradition, we have other methods for dispelling the spirits that otherwise would haunt us.

The Mind in the Body

“[In the Old Testament], human faculties and bodily organs enjoy a measure of independence that is simply difficult to grasp today without dismissing it as merely poetic speech or, even worse, ‘primitive thinking.’ […] In short, the biblical character presents itself to us more as parts than as a whole”
(Robert A. Di Vito, “Old Testament Anthropology and the Construction of Personal Identity”, p. 227-228)

The Axial Age was a transitional stage following the collapse of the Bronze Age Civilizations. And in that transition, new mindsets mixed with old, what came before trying to contain the rupture and what was forming not yet fully born. Writing, texts, and laws were replacing voices gone quiet and silent. Ancient forms of authorization no longer were as viscerally real and psychologically compelling. But the transition period was long and slow, and in many ways continues to this day (e.g., authoritarianism as vestigial bicameralism).

One aspect was the changing experience of identity, as experienced within the body and the world. But let me take it a step back. In hunter-gatherer societies, there is the common attribute of animism where the world is alive with voices and along with this the sense of identity that, involving sensory immersion not limited to the body, extends into the surrounding environment. The bicameral mind seems to have been a reworking of this mentality for the emerging agricultural villages and city-states. Instead of body as part of the natural environment, there was the body politic with the community as a coherent whole, a living organism. Without a metaphorical framing of inside and outside as the crux of identity as would later develop, self and other was defined by permeable collectivism rather than rigid individualism (bundle theory of mind taken to the extreme of bundle theory of society).

In the late Bronze Age, large and expansive theocratic hierarchies formed. Writing increasingly took a greater role. All of this combined to make the bicameral order precarious. The act of writing and reading texts was still integrated with voice-hearing traditions, a text being the literal ‘word’ of a god, spirit, or ancestor. But the voices being written down began the process of creating psychological distance, the text itself beginning to take onto itself authority. This became a competing metaphorical framing, that of truth and reality as text.

This transformed the perception of the body. The voices became harder to decipher. Hearing a voice of authority speak to you required little interpretation, but a text emphasizes the need for interpretation. Reading became a way of thinking about the world and about one’s way of being in the world. Divination and similar practices was the attempt to read the world. Clouds or lightning, the flight of birds or the organs of a sacrificial animal — these were texts to be read.

Likewise, the body became a repository of voices, although initially not quite a unitary whole. Different aspects of self and spirits, different energies and forces were located and contained in various organs and body parts — to the extent that they had minds of their own, a potentially distressing condition and sometimes interpreted as possession. As the bicameral community was a body politic, the post-bicameral body initiated the internalization of community. But this body as community didn’t at first have a clear egoic ruler — the need for this growing stronger as external authorization further weakened. Eventually, it became necessary to locate the ruling self in a particular place within, such as the heart or throat or head. This was a forceful suppression of the many voices and hence a disallowing of the perception of self as community. The narrative of individuality began to be told.

Even today, we go on looking for a voice in some particular location. Noam Chomsky’s theory of a language organ is an example of this. We struggle for authorization within consciousness, as the ancient grounding of authorization in the world and in community has been lost, cast into the shadows.

Still, dissociation having taken hold, the voices never disappear and they continue to demand being heard, if only as symptoms of physical and psychological disease. Or else we let the thousand voices of media to tell us how to think and what to do. Ultimately, trying to contain authorization within us is impossible and so authorization spills back out into the world, the return of the repressed. Our sense of individualism is much more of a superficial rationalization than we’d like to admit. The social nature of our humanity can’t be denied.

As with post-bicameral humanity, we are still trying to navigate this complex and confounding social reality. Maybe that is why Axial Age religions, in first articulating the dilemma of conscious individuality, remain compelling in what was taught. The Axial Age prophets gave voice to our own ambivalance and maybe that is what gives the ego such power over us. We moderns haven’t become disconnected and dissociated merely because of some recent affliction — such a state of mind is what we inherited, as the foundation of our civilization.

* * *

“Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:2-4)

“Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.” (Matthew 18:8-9)

The Prince of Medicine
by Susan P. Mattern
pp. 232-233

He mentions speaking with many women who described themselves as “hysterical,” that is, having an illness caused, as they believed, by a condition of the uterus (hystera in Greek) whose symptoms varied from muscle contractions to lethargy to nearly complete asphyxia (Loc. Affect. 6.5, 8.414K). Galen, very aware of Herophilus’s discovery of the broad ligaments anchoring the uterus to the pelvis, denied that the uterus wandered around the body like an animal wreaking havoc (the Hippocratics imagined a very actively mobile womb). But the uterus could, in his view, become withdrawn in some direction or inflamed; and in one passage he recommends the ancient practice of fumigating the vagina with sweet-smelling odors to attract the uterus, endowed in this view with senses and desires of its own, to its proper place; this technique is described in the Hippocratic Corpus but also evokes folk or shamanistic medicine.

“Between the Dream and Reality”:
Divination in the Novels of Cormac McCarthy

by Robert A. Kottage
pp. 50-52

A definition of haruspicy is in order. Known to the ancient Romans as the Etrusca disciplina or “Etruscan art” (P.B. Ellis 221), haruspicy originally included all three types of divination practiced by the Etruscan hierophant: interpretation of fulgura (lightnings), of monstra (birth defects and unusual meteorological occurrences), and of exta (internal organs) (Hammond). ”Of these, the practice still commonly associated with the term is the examination of organs, as evidenced by its OED definition: “The practice or function of a haruspex; divination by inspection of the entrails of victims” (“haruspicy”).”A detailed science of liver divination developed in the ancient world, and instructional bronze liver models formed by the Etruscans—as well as those made by their predecessors the Hittites and Babylonians—have survived (Hammond). ”Any unusual features were noted and interpreted by those trained in the esoteric art: “Significant for the exta were the size, shape, colour, and markings of the vital organs, especially the livers and gall bladders of sheep, changes in which were believed by many races to arise supernaturally… and to be susceptible of interpretation by established rules”(Hammond). Julian Jaynes, in his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, comments on the unique quality of haruspicy as a form of divination, arriving as it did at the dawn of written language: “Extispicy [divining through exta] differs from other methods in that the metaphrand is explicitly not the speech or actions of the gods, but their writing. The baru [Babylonian priest] first addressed the gods… with requests that they ‘write’ their message upon the entrails of the animal” (Jaynes 243). Jaynes also remarks that organs found to contain messages of import would sometimes be sent to kings, like letters from the gods (Jaynes 244). Primitive man sought (and found) meaning everywhere.

The logic behind the belief was simple: the whole universe is a single, harmonious organism, with the thoughts and intensions of the intangible gods reflected in the tangible world. For those illiterate to such portents, a lightning bolt or the birth of a hermaphrodite would have been untranslatable; but for those with proper training, the cosmos were as alive with signs as any language:

The Babylonia s believed that the decisions of their gods, like those of their kings, were arbitrary, but that mankind could at least guess their will. Any event on earth, even a trivial one, could reflect or foreshadow the intentions of the gods because the universe is a living organism, a whole, and what happens in one part of it might be caused by a happening in some distant part. Here we see a germ of the theory of cosmic sympathy formulated by Posidonius. (Luck 230)

This view of the capricious gods behaving like human king is reminiscent of the evil archons of gnosticism; however, unlike gnosticism, the notion of cosmic sympathy implies an illuminated and vastly “readable” world, even in the darkness of matter. The Greeks viewed pneuma as “the substance that penetrates and unifies all things. In fact, this tension holds bodies together, and every coherent thing would collapse without it” (Lawrence)—a notion that diverges from the gnostic idea of pneuma as spiritual light temporarily trapped in the pall of physicality.

Proper vision, then, is central to all the offices of the haruspex. The world cooperates with the seer by being illuminated, readable.

p. 160

Jaynes establishes the important distinction between the modern notion of chance commonly associated with coin flipping and the attitude of the ancient Mesopotamians toward sortilege:

We are so used to the huge variety of games of chance, of throwing dice, roulette wheels, etc., all of them vestiges of this ancient practice of divination by lots, that we find it difficult to really appreciate the significance of this practice historically. It is a help here to realize that there was no concept of chance whatever until very recent times…. [B]ecause there was no chance, the result had to be caused by the gods whose intentions were being divined. (Jaynes 240)

In a world devoid of luck, proper divination is simply a matter of decoding the signs—bad readings are never the fault of the gods, but can only stem from the reader.

The Consciousness of John’s Gospel
A Prolegomenon to a Jaynesian-Jamesonian Approach

by Jonathan Bernier

When reading the prologue’s historical passages, one notes a central theme: the Baptist witnesses to the light coming into the world. Put otherwise, the historical witnesses to the cosmological. This, I suggest, can be understood as an example of what Jaynes (1976: 317–338) calls ‘the quest for authorization.’ As the bicameral mind broke down, as exteriorised thought ascribed to other-worldly agents gave way to interiorised thought ascribed to oneself, as the voices of the gods spoke less frequently, people sought out new means, extrinsic to themselves, by which to authorise belief and practice; they quite literally did not trust themselves. They turned to oracles and prophets, to auguries and haruspices, to ecstatics and ecstasy. Proclamatory prophecy of the sort practiced by John the Baptist should be understood in terms of the bicameral mind: the Lord God of Israel, external to the Baptist, issued imperatives to the Baptist, and then the Baptist, external to his audience, relayed those divine imperatives to his listeners. Those who chose to follow the Baptist’s imperatives operated according to the logic of the bicameral mind, as described by Jaynes (1976: 84–99): the divine voice speaks, therefore I act. That voice just happens now to be mediated through the prophet, and not apprehended directly in the way that the bicameral mind apprehended the voices and visions. The Baptist as witness to God’s words and Word is the Baptist as bicameral vestige.

By way of contrast, the Word-become-flesh can be articulated in terms of the bicameral mind giving way to consciousness. The Jesus of the prologue represents the apogee of interiorised consciousness: the Word is not just inside him, but he in fact is the Word. 1:17 draws attention to an implication consequent to this indwelling of the Word: with the divine Word – and thus also the divine words – dwelling fully within oneself, what need is there for that set of exteriorised thoughts known as the Mosaic Law? […]

[O]ne notes Jaynes’ (1976: 301, 318) suggestion that the Mosaic Law represents a sort of half-way house between bicameral exteriority and conscious interiority: no longer able to hear the voices, the ancient Israelites sought external authorisation in the written word; eventually, however, as the Jewish people became increasingly acclimated to conscious interiority, they became increasingly ambivalent towards the need for and role of such exteriorised authorisation. Jaynes (1976: 318) highlights Jesus’ place in this emerging ambivalence; however, in 1:17 it is not so much that exteriorised authorisation is displaced by interiorised consciousness but that Torah as exteriorised authority is replaced by Jesus as exteriorised authority. Jesus, the fully conscious Word-made-flesh, might displace the Law, but it is not altogether clear that he offers his followers a full turn towards interiorised consciousness; one might, rather, read 1:17 as a bicameral attempt to re-contain the cognition revolution of which Jaynes considers Jesus to be a flag-bearer.

The Discovery of the Mind
by Bruno Snell
pp. 6-8

We find it difficult to conceive of a mentality which made no provision for the body as such. Among the early expressions designating what was later rendered as soma or ‘body’, only the plurals γυα, μλεα, etc. refer to the physical nature of the body; for chros is merely the limit of the body, and demas represents the frame, the structure, and occurs only in the accusative of specification. As it is, early Greek art actually corroborates our impression that the physical body of man was comprehended, not as a unit but as an aggregate. Not until the classical art of the fifth century do we find attempts to depict the body as an organic unit whose parts are mutually correlated. In the preceding period the body is a mere construct of independent parts variously put together.6 It must not be thought, however, that the pictures of human beings from the time of Homer are like the primitive drawings to which our children have accustomed us, though they too simply add limb to limb.

Our children usually represent the human shape as shown in fig. i, whereas fig. 2 reproduces the Greek concept as found on the vases of the geometric period. Our children first draw a body as the central and most important part of their design; then they add the head, the arms and the legs. The geometric figures, on the other hand, lack this central part; they are nothing but μλεα κα γυα, i.e. limbs with strong muscles, separated from each other by means of exaggerated joints. This difference is of course partially dependent upon the clothes they wore, but even after we have made due allowance for this the fact remains that the Greeks of this early period seem to have seen in a strangely ‘articulated’ way. In their eyes the individual limbs are clearly distinguished from each other, and the joints are, for the sake of emphasis, presented as extraordinarily thin, while the fleshy parts are made to bulge just as unrealistically. The early Greek drawing seeks to demonstrate the agility of the human figure, the drawing of the modern child its compactness and unity.

Thus the early Greeks did not, either in their language or in the visual arts, grasp the body as a unit. The phenomenon is the same as with the verbs denoting sight; in the latter, the activity is at first understood in terms of its conspicuous modes, of the various attitudes and sentiments connected with it, and it is a long time before speech begins to address itself to the essential function of this activity. It seems, then, as if language aims progressively to express the essence of an act, but is at first unable to comprehend it because it is a function, and as such neither tangibly apparent nor associated with certain unambiguous emotions. As soon, however, as it is recognized and has received a name, it has come into existence, and the knowledge of its existence quickly becomes common property. Concerning the body, the chain of events may have been somewhat like this: in the early period a speaker, when faced by another person, was apparently satisfied to call out his name: this is Achilles, or to say: this is a man. As a next step, the most conspicuous elements of his appearance are described, namely his limbs as existing side by side; their functional correlation is not apprehended in its full importance until somewhat later. True enough, the function is a concrete fact, but its objective existence does not manifest itself so clearly as the presence of the individual corporeal limbs, and its prior significance escapes even the owner of the limbs himself. With the discovery of this hidden unity, of course, it is at once appreciated as an immediate and self-explanatory truth.

This objective truth, it must be admitted, does not exist for man until it is seen and known and designated by a word; until, thereby, it has become an object of thought. Of course the Homeric man had a body exactly like the later Greeks, but he did not know it qua body, but merely as the sum total of his limbs. This is another way of saying that the Homeric Greeks did not yet have a body in the modern sense of the word; body, soma, is a later interpretation of what was originally comprehended as μλη or γυα, i.e. as limbs. Again and again Homer speaks of fleet legs, of knees in speedy motion, of sinewy arms; it is in these limbs, immediately evident as they are to his eyes, that he locates the secret of life.7

Hebrew and Buddhist Selves:
A Constructive Postmodern Study

by Nicholas F. Gier

Finally, at least two biblical scholars–in response to the question “What good is this pre-modern self?”–have suggested that the Hebrew view (we add the Buddhist and the Chinese) can be used to counter balance the dysfunctional elements of modern selfhood. Both Robert Di Vito and Jacqueline Lapsley have called this move “postmodern,” based, as they contend, on the concept of intersubjectivity.[3] In his interpretation of Charles S. Peirce as a constructive postmodern thinker, Peter Ochs observes that Peirce reaffirms the Hebraic view that relationality is knowledge at its most basic level.  As Ochs states: “Peirce did not read Hebrew, but the ancient Israelite term for ‘knowledge’–yidiah–may convey Peirce’s claim better than any term he used.  For the biblical authors, ‘to know’ is ‘to have intercourse with’–with the world, with one’s spouse, with God.”[4]

The view that the self is self-sufficient and self-contained is a seductive abstraction that contradicts the very facts of our interdependent existence.  Modern social atomism was most likely the result of modeling the self on an immutable transcendent deity (more Greek than biblical) and/or the inert isolated atom of modern science. […]

It is surprising to discover that the Buddhist skandhas are more mental in character, while the Hebrew self is more material in very concrete ways.  For example, the Psalmist says that “all my inner parts (=heart-mind) bless God’s holy name” (103.1); his kidneys (=conscience) chastise him (16.7); and broken bones rejoice (16:7).  Hebrew bones offer us the most dramatic example of a view of human essence most contrary to Christian theology.  One’s essential core is not immaterial and invisible; rather, it is one’s bones, the most enduring remnant of a person’s being.  When the nepeš “rejoices in the Lord” at Ps. 35.9, the poet, in typical parallel fashion, then has the bones speak for her in v. 10.  Jeremiah describes his passion for Yahweh as a “fire” in his heart (l�b) that is also in his bones (20.9), just as we say that a great orator has “fire in his belly.” The bones of the exiles will form the foundation of those who will be restored by Yahweh’s rãah in Ezekiel 37, and later Pharisidic Judaism speaks of the bones of the deceased “sprouting” with new life in their resurrected bodies.[7]  The bones of the prophet Elijah have special healing powers (2 Kgs. 13.21).  Therefore, the cult of relic bones does indeed have scriptural basis, and we also note the obvious parallel to the worship of the Buddha’s bones.

With all these body parts functioning in various ways, it is hard to find, as Robert A. Di Vito suggests, “a true ‘center’ for the [Hebrew] person . . . a ‘consciousness’ or a self-contained ‘self.’”[8] Di Vito also observes that the Hebrew word for face (p~n§m) is plural, reflecting all the ways in which a person appears in multifarious social interactions.  The plurality of faces in Chinese culture is similar, including the “loss of face” when a younger brother fails to defer to his elder brother, who would have a difference “face” with respect to his father.  One may be tempted to say that the j§va is the center of the Buddhist self, but that would not be accurate because this term simply designates the functioning of all the skandhas together.

Both David Kalupahana and Peter Harvey demonstrate how much influence material form (rãpa) has on Buddhist personality, even at the highest stage of spiritual development.[9]  It is Zen Buddhists, however, who match the earthy Hebrew rhetoric about the human person. When Bodhidharma (d. 534 CE) prepared to depart from his body, he asked four of his disciples what they had learned from him.  As each of them answered they were offered a part of his body: his skin, his flesh, his bones, and his marrow.  The Zen monk Nangaku also compared the achievements of his six disciples to six parts of his body. Deliberately inverting the usual priority of mind over body, the Zen monk Dogen (1200-1253) declared that “The Buddha Way is therefore to be attained above all through the body.”[10]  Interestingly enough, the Hebrews rank the flesh, skin, bones, and sinews as the most essential parts of the body-soul.[11]  The great Buddhist dialectician Nagarjuna (2nd Century CE) appears to be the source of Bodhidharma’s body correlates, but it is clear that Nagarjuna meant them as metaphors.[12]  In contrast it seems clear that, although dead bones rejoicing is most likely a figure of speech, the Hebrews were convinced that we think, feel, and perceive through and with all parts of our bodies.

In Search of a Christian Identity
by Robert Hamilton

The essential points here, are the “social disengagement” of the modern self, away from identifying solely with roles defined by the family group, and the development of a “personal unity” within the individual. Morally speaking, we are no longer empty vessels to be filled up by some god, or servant of god, we are now responsible for our own actions, and decisions, in light of our own moral compass. I would like to mention Julian Jayne’s seminal work, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, as a pertinent hypothesis for an attempt to understand the enormous distance between the modern sense of self with that of the ancient mind, and its largely absent subjective state.[13]

“The preposterous hypothesis we have come to in the previous chapter is that at one time human nature was split in two, an executive part called a god, and a follower part called a man.”[14]

This hypothesis sits very well with De Vitos’ description of the permeable personal identity of Old Testament characters, who are “taken over,” or possessed, by Yahweh.[15] The evidence of the Old Testament stories points in this direction, where we have patriarchal family leaders, like Abraham and Noah, going around making morally contentious decisions (in today’s terms) based on their internal dialogue with a god – Jehovah.[16] As Jaynes postulates later in his book, today we would call this behaviour schizophrenia. De Vito, later in the article, confirms, that:

“Of course, this relative disregard for autonomy in no way limits one’s responsibility for conduct–not even when Yhwh has given “statutes that were not good” in order to destroy Israel “(Ezek 20:25-26).[17]

Cognitive Perspectives on Early Christology
by Daniel McClellan

The insights of CSR [cognitive science of religion] also better inform our reconstruction of early Jewish concepts of agency, identity, and divinity. Almost twenty years ago, Robert A. Di Vito argued from an anthropological perspective that the “person” in the Hebrew Bible “is more radically decentered, ‘dividual,’ and undefined with respect to personal boundaries … [and] in sharp contrast to modernity, it is identified more closely with, and by, its social roles.”40 Personhood was divisible and permeable in the Hebrew Bible, and while there was diachronic and synchronic variation in certain details, the same is evident in the literature of Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity. This is most clear in the widespread understanding of the spirit (רוח (and the soul (נפש – (often used interchangeably – as the primary loci of a person’s agency or capacity to act.41 Both entities were usually considered primarily constitutive of a person’s identity, but also distinct from their physical body and capable of existence apart from it.42 The physical body could also be penetrated or overcome by external “spirits,” and such possession imposed the agency and capacities of the possessor.43 The God of Israel was largely patterned after this concept of personhood,44 and was similarly partible, with God’s glory (Hebrew: כבוד ;Greek: δόξα), wisdom (חכמה/σοφία), spirit (רוח/πνεῦµα), word (דבר/λόγος), presence (שכינה ,(and name (שם/ὄνοµα) operating as autonomous and sometimes personified loci of agency that could presence the deity and also possess persons (or cultic objects45) and/or endow them with special status or powers.46

Did Christianity lead to schizophrenia?
Psychosis, psychology and self reference

by Roland Littlewood

This new deity could be encountered anywhere—“Wherever two are gathered in my name” (Mathew 18.20)—for Christianity was universal and individual (“neither Jew nor Greek… bond nor free… male or female, for you are all one man in Christ Jesus” says St. Paul). And ultimate control rested with Him, Creator and Master of the whole universe, throughout the whole universe. No longer was there any point in threatening your recalcitrant (Egyptian) idol for not coming up with the goods (Cumont, 1911/1958, p. 93): as similarly in colonial Africa, at least according to the missionaries (Peel, 2000). If God was independent of social context and place, then so was the individual self at least in its conversations with God (as Dilthey argues). Religious status was no longer signalled by external signs (circumcision), or social position (the higher stages of the Roman priesthood had been occupied by aspiring politicians in the course of their career: “The internal status of the officiating person was a matter of… indifference to the celestial spirits” [Cumont, 1911/1958, p. 91]). “Now it is not our flesh that we must circumcise, we must crucify ourselves, exterminate and mortify our unreasonable desires” (John Chrysostom, 1979), “circumcise your heart” says “St. Barnabas” (2003, p. 45) for religion became internal and private. Like the African or Roman self (Mauss, 1938/1979), the Jewish self had been embedded in a functioning society, individually decentred and socially contextualised (Di Vito, 1999); it survived death only through its bodily descendants: “But Abram cried, what can you give me, seeing I shall die childless” (Genesis 15.2). To die without issue was extinction in both religious systems (Madigan & Levenson, 2008). But now an enduring part of the self, or an associate of it—the soul—had a connection to what might be called body and consciousness yet had some sort of ill defined association with them. In its earthly body it was in potential communication with God. Like God it was immaterial and immortal. (The associated resurrection of the physical body, though an essential part of Christian dogma, has played an increasingly less important part in the Church [cf. Stroumsa, 1990].) For 19th-century pagan Yoruba who already accepted some idea of a hereafter, each village has its separate afterlife which had to be fused by the missionaries into a more universal schema (Peel, 2000, p. 175). If the conversation with God was one to one, then each self-aware individual had then to make up their own mind on adherence—and thus the detached observer became the surveyor of the whole world (Dumont, 1985). Sacral and secular became distinct (separate “functions” as Dumont calls them), further presaging a split between psychological faculties. The idea of the self/soul as an autonomous unit facing God became the basis, via the stages Mauss (1938/1979) briefly outlines, for a political philosophy of individualism (MacFarlane, 1978). The missionaries in Africa constantly attempted to reach the inside of their converts, but bemoaned that the Yoruba did not seem to have any inward core to the self (Peel, 2000, Chapter 9).

Embodying the Gospel:
Two Exemplary Practices

by Joel B. Green
pp. 12-16

Philosopher Charles Taylor’s magisterial account of the development of personal identity in the West provides a useful point of entry into this discussion. He shows how modern assumptions about personhood in the West developed from Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries, through major European philosophers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (e.g.,Descartes, Locke, Kant), and into the present. The result is a modern human “self defined by the powers of disengaged reason—with its associated ideals of self-responsible freedom and dignity—of self-exploration, and of personal commitment.”2 These emphases provide a launching point for our modern conception of “inwardness,” that is, the widespread view that people have an inner self, which is the authentic self.

Given this baseline understanding of the human person, it would seem only natural to understand conversion in terms of interiority, and this is precisely what William James has done for the modern west. In his enormously influential 1901–02 Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh University, published in 1902 under the title The Varieties of Religious Experience, James identifies salvation as the resolution of a person’s inner, subjective crisis.Salvation for James is thus an individual, instantaneous, feeling-based, interior experience.3 Following James, A.D. Nock’s celebrated study of conversion in antiquity reached a similar conclusion: “By conversion we mean there orientation of the soul of an individual, his [sic] deliberate turning from in different or from an earlier form of piety to another, a turning which involves a consciousness that a great change is involved, that the old was wrong and the new is right.” Nock goes on to write of “a passion of willingness and acquiescence, which removes the feeling of anxiety, a sense of perceiving truths not known before, a sense of clean and beautiful newness within and without and an ecstasy of happiness . . .”4 In short, what is needed is a “change of heart.”

However pervasive they may be in the contemporary West, whether in-side or outside the church, such assumptions actually sit uneasily with Old and New Testament portraits of humanity. Let me mention two studies that press our thinking in an alternative direction. Writing with reference to Old Testament anthropology, Robert Di Vito finds that the human “(1) is deeply embedded, or engaged, in its social identity, (2) is comparatively decentered and undefined with respect to personal boundaries, (3) is relatively trans-parent, socialized, and embodied (in other words, is altogether lacking in a sense of ‘inner depths’), and (4) is ‘authentic’ precisely in its heteronomy, in its obedience to another and dependence upon another.”5 Two aspects of Di Vito’s summary are of special interest: first, his emphasis on a more communitarian experience of personhood; and second, his emphasis on embodiment. Were we to take seriously what these assumptions might mean for embracing and living out the Gospel, we might reflect more on what it means to be saved within the community of God’s people and, indeed, what it means to be saved in relation to the whole of God’s creation. We might also reflect less on conversion as decision-making and more on conversion as pattern-of-life.

The second study, by Klaus Berger, concerns the New Testament. Here,Berger investigates the New Testament’s “historical psychology,” repeatedly highlighting both the ease with which we read New Testament texts against modern understandings of humanity and the problems resident in our doing so.6 His list of troublesome assumptions—troublesome because they are more at home in the contemporary West than in the ancient Mediterranean world—includes these dualities, sometimes even dichotomies: doing and being, identity and behavior, internal and external. A more integrated understanding of people, the sort we find in the New Testament world, he insists, would emphasize life patterns that hold together believing, thinking, feeling, and behaving, and allow for a clear understanding that human behavior in the world is both simply and profoundly em-bodied belief. Perspectives on human transformation that take their point  of departure from this “psychology” would emphasize humans in relation-ship with other humans, the bodily nature of human allegiances and commitments, and the fully integrated character of human faith and life. […]

Given how John’s message is framed in an agricultural context, it is not a surprise that his point turns on an organic metaphor rather than a mechanical one. The resulting frame has no room for prioritizing inner (e.g.,“mind” or “heart”) over outer (e.g., “body” or “behavior”), nor of fitting disparate pieces together to manufacture a “product,” nor of correlating status and activity as cause and effect. Organic metaphors neither depend on nor provoke images of hierarchical systems but invite images of integration, interrelation, and interdependence. Consistent with this organic metaphor, practices do not occupy a space outside the system of change, but are themselves part and parcel of the system. In short, John’s agricultural metaphor inseparably binds “is” and “does” together.

Ressurrection and the Restoration of Israel:
The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life
by Jon Douglas Levenson
pp. 108-114

In our second chapter, we discussed one of the prime warrants often adduced either for the rejection of resurrection (by better-informed individuals) or for its alleged absence, and the alleged absence of any notion of the afterlife, in Judaism (by less informed individuals). That warrant is the finality of death in the Hebrew Bible, or at least in most of it, and certainly in what is from a Jewish point of view its most important subsection, the first five books. For no resurrections take place therein, and predictions of a general resurrection at the end of time can be found in the written Torah only through ingenious derash of the sort that the rabbinic tradition itself does not univocally endorse or replicate in its translations. In the same chapter, we also identified one difficulty with this notion that the Pentateuch exhibits no possibility of an afterlife but supports, instead, the absolute finality of death, and to this point we must now return. I am speaking of the difficulty of separating individuals from their families (including the extended family that is the nation). If, in fact, individuals are fundamentally and inextricably embedded within their fam ilies, then their own deaths, however terrifying in prospect, will lack the final ity that death carries with it in a culture with a more individualistic, atomistic understanding of the self. What I am saying here is something more radical than the truism that in the Hebrew Bible, parents draw consolation from the thought that their descendants will survive them (e.g., Gen 48:11), just as, conversely, the parents are plunged into a paralyzing grief at the thought that their progeny have perished (e.g., Gen 37:33–35; Jer 31:15). This is, of course, the case, and probably more so in the ancient world, where children were the support of one’s old age, than in modern societies, where the state and the pension fund fill many roles previously concentrated in the family. That to which I am pointing, rather, is that the self of an individual in ancient Israel was entwined with the self of his or her family in ways that are foreign to the modern West, and became foreign to some degree already long ago.

Let us take as an example the passage in which Jacob is granted ‘‘the blessing of Abraham,’’ his grandfather, according to the prayer of Isaac, his father, to ‘‘possess the land where you are sojourning, which God assigned to Abraham’’ (Gen 28:1–4). The blessing on Abraham, as we have seen, can be altogether and satisfactorily fulfilled in Abraham’s descendants. Thus, too, can Ezekiel envision the appointment of ‘‘a single shepherd over [Israel] to tend them—My servant David,’’ who had passed away many generations before (Ezek 34:23). Can we, without derash, see in this a prediction that David, king of Judah and Israel, will be raised from the dead? To do so is to move outside the language of the text and the culture of Israel at the time of Ezekiel, which does not speak of the resurrections of individuals at all. But to say, as the School of Rabbi Ishmael said about ‘‘to Aaron’’ in Num 18:28,1 that Ezekiel means only one who is ‘‘like David’’—a humble shepherd boy who comes to triumph in battle and rises to royal estate, vindicating his nation and making it secure and just—is not quite the whole truth, either. For biblical Hebrew is quite capable of saying that one person is ‘‘like’’ another or descends from another’s lineage (e.g., Deut 18:15; 2 Kgs 22:2; Isa 11:1) without implying identity of some sort. The more likely interpretation, rather, is that Ezekiel here predicts the miraculous appearance of a royal figure who is not only like David but also of David, a person of Davidic lineage, that is, who functions as David redivivus. This is not the resurrection of a dead man, to be sure, but neither is it the appearance of some unrelated person who only acts like David, or of a descendant who is ‘‘a chip off the old block.’’ David is, in one obvious sense, dead and buried (1 Kgs 2:10), and his death is final and irreversible. In another sense, harder for us to grasp, however, his identity survives him and can be manifested again in a descendant who acts as he did (or, to be more precise, as Ezekiel thought he acted) and in whom the promise to David is at long last fulfilled. For David’s identity was not restricted to the one man of that name but can reappear to a large measure in kin who share it.

This is obviously not reincarnation. For that term implies that the ancient Israelites believed in something like the later Jewish and Christian ‘‘soul’’ or like the notion (such as one finds in some religions) of a disembodied consciousness that can reappear in another person after its last incarnation has died. In the Hebrew Bible, however, there is nothing of the kind. The best approximation is the nepes, the part of the person that manifests his or her life force or vitality most directly. James Barr defines the nepes as ‘‘a superior controlling centre which accompanies, exposes and directs the existence of that totality [of the personality] and one which, especially, provides the life to the whole.’’2 Although the nepes does exhibit a special relationship to the life of the whole person, it is doubtful that it constitutes ‘‘a superior controlling center.’’ As Robert Di Vito points out, ‘‘in the OT, human faculties and bodily organs enjoy a measure of independence that is simply difficult to grasp today without dismissing it as merely poetic speech or, even worse, ‘primitive thinking.’’’ Thus, the eye talks or thinks (Job 24:15) and even mocks (Prov 30:17), the ear commends or pronounces blessed (Job 29:11), blood cries out (Gen 4:10), the nepes (perhaps in the sense of gullet or appetite) labors (Prov 16:26) or pines (Ps 84:3), kidneys rejoice and lips speak (Prov 23:16), hands shed blood (Deut 21:7), the heart and flesh sing (Ps 84:3), all the psalmist’s bones say, ‘‘Lord, who is like you?’’ (Ps 35:10), tongue and lips lie or speak the truth (Prov 12:19, 22), hearts are faithful (Neh 9:8) or wayward (Jer 5:23), and so forth.3 The point is not that the individual is simply an agglomeration of distinct parts. It is, rather, that the nepes is one part of the self among many and does not control the entirety, as the old translation ‘‘soul’’ might lead us to expect.4 A similar point might be made about the modern usage of the term person.

[4. It is less clear to me that this is also Di Vito’s point. He writes, for example: ‘‘The biblical character presents itself to us more as parts than as a whole . . . accordingly, in the OT one searches in vain for anything really corresponding to the Platonic localization of desire and emotion in a central ‘locale,’ like the ‘soul’ under the hegemony of reason, a unified and self-contained center from which the individual’s activities might flow, a ‘self’ that might finally assert its control’’ (‘‘Old Testament Anthropology,’’ 228).]

All of the organs listed above, Di Vito points out, are ‘‘susceptible to moral judgment and evaluation.’’5 Not only that, parts of the body besides the nepes can actually experience emotional states. As Aubrey R. Johnson notes, ‘‘Despondency, for example, is felt to have a shriveling effect upon the bones . . . just as they are said to decay or become soft with fear or distress, and so may be referred to as being themselves troubled or afraid’’ (e.g., Ezek 37:11; Hab 3:16; Jer 23:9; Ps 31:11). In other words, ‘‘the various members and secretions of the body . . . can all be thought of as revealing psychical properties,’’6 and this is another way of saying that the nepes does not really correspond to Barr’s ‘‘superior controlling centre’’ at all. For many of the functions here attributed to the nepes are actually distributed across a number of parts of the body. The heart, too, often functions as the ‘‘controlling centre,’’ determining, for example, whether Israel will follow God’s laws or not (e.g., Ezek 11:19). The nepes in the sense of the life force of the body is sometimes identified with the blood, rather than with an insensible spiritual essence of the sort that words like ‘‘soul’’ or ‘‘person’’ imply. It is in light of this that we can best understand the Pentateuchal laws that forbid the eating of blood on the grounds that it is the equivalent of eating life itself, eating, that is, an animal that is not altogether dead (Lev 17:11, 14; Deut 12:23; cf. Gen 9:4–5). If the nepes ‘‘provides the life to the whole,’’7 so does the blood, with which laws like these, in fact, equate it. The bones, which, as we have just noted, can experience emotional states, function likewise on occasion. When a dead man is hurriedly thrown into Elisha’s grave in 2 Kgs 13:21, it is contact with the wonder-working prophet’s bones that brings about his resurrection. And when the primal man at long last finds his soul mate, he exclaims not that she (unlike the animals who have just been presented to him) shares a nepes with him but rather that she ‘‘is bone of my bones / And flesh of my flesh’’ (Gen 2:23).

In sum, even if the nepes does occasionally function as a ‘‘controlling centre’’ or a provider of life, it does not do so uniquely. The ancient Israelite self is more dynamic and internally complex than such a formulation allows. It should also be noticed that unlike the ‘‘soul’’ in most Western philosophy, the biblical nepes can die. When the non-Israelite prophet Balaam expresses his wish to ‘‘die the death of the upright,’’ it is his nepes that he hopes will share their fate (Num 23:10), and the same applies to Samson when he voices his desire to die with the Philistines whose temple he then topples upon all (Judg 16:30). Indeed, ‘‘to kill the nepes’’ functions as a term for homicide in biblical Hebrew, in which context, as elsewhere, it indeed has a meaning like that of the English ‘‘person’’ (e.g., Num 31:19; Ezek 13:19).8 As Hans Walter Wolff puts it, nepes ‘‘is never given the meaning of an indestructible core of being, in contradistinction to the physical life . . . capable of living when cut off from that life.’’9 Like heart, blood, and bones, the nepes can cease to function. It is not quite correct to say, however, that this is because it is ‘‘physical’’ rather than ‘‘spiritual,’’ for the other parts of the self that we consider physical— heart, blood, bones, or whatever—are ‘‘spiritual’’ as well—registering emotions, reacting to situations, prompting behavior, expressing ideas, each in its own way. A more accurate summary statement would be Johnson’s: ‘‘The Israelite conception of man [is] as a psycho-physical organism.’’10 ‘‘For some time at least [after a person’s death] he may live on as an individual (apart from his possible survival within the social unit),’’ observes Johnson, ‘‘in such scattered elements of his personality as the bones, the blood and the name.’’11 It would seem to follow that if ever he is to return ‘‘as a psycho-physical organ ism,’’ it will have to be not through reincarnation of his soul in some new person but through the resurrection of the body, with all its parts reassembled and revitalized. For in the understanding of the Hebrew Bible, a human being is not a spirit, soul, or consciousness that happens to inhabit this body or that—or none at all. Rather, the unity of body and soul (to phrase the point in the unhappy dualistic vocabulary that is still quite removed from the way the Hebrew Bible thought about such things) is basic to the person. It thus follows that however distant the resurrection of the dead may be from the understanding of death and life in ancient Israel, the concept of immortality in the sense of a soul that survives death is even more distant. And whatever the biblical problems with the doctrine of resurrection—and they are formidable—the biblical problems with the immortality that modern Jewish prayer books prefer (as we saw in our first chapter) are even greater.

Di Vito points, however, to an aspect of the construction of the self in ancient Israel that does have some affinities with immortality. This is the thorough embeddedness of that individual within the family and the corollary difficulty in the context of this culture of isolating a self apart from the kin group. Drawing upon Charles Taylor’s highly suggestive study The Sources of the Self,12 Di Vito points out that ‘‘salient features of modern identity, such as its pronounced individualism, are grounded in modernity’s location of the self in the ‘inner depths’ of one’s interiority rather than in one’s social role or public relations.’’13 Cautioning against the naïve assumption that ancient Israel adhered to the same conception of the self, Di Vito develops four points of contrast between modern Western and ancient Israelite thinking on this point. In the Hebrew Bible,

the subject (1) is deeply embedded, or engaged, in its social identity, (2) is comparatively decentered and undefined with respect to personal boundaries, (3) is relatively transparent, socialized, and embodied (in other words, is altogether lacking in a sense of ‘‘inner depths’’), and (4) is ‘‘authentic’’ precisely in its heteronomy, in its obedience to another and dependence upon another.14

Although Di Vito’s formulation is overstated and too simple—is every biblical figure, even David, presented as ‘‘altogether lacking in a sense of ‘inner depths’’’?—his first and last points are highly instructive and suggest that the familial and social understanding of ‘‘life’’ in the Hebrew Bible is congruent with larger issues in ancient Israelite culture. ‘‘Life’’ and ‘‘death’’ mean different things in a culture like ours, in which the subject is not so ‘‘deeply embedded . . . in its social identity’’ and in which authenticity tends to be associated with cultivation of individual traits at the expense of conformity, and with the attainment of personal autonomy and independence.

The contrast between the biblical and the modern Western constructions of personal identity is glaring when one considers the structure of what Di Vito calls ‘‘the patriarchal family.’’ This ‘‘system,’’ he tells us, ‘‘with strict subor dination of individual goals to those of the extended lineal group, is designed to ensure the continuity and survival of the family.’’15 In this, of course, such a system stands in marked contrast to liberal political theory that has developed over the past three and a half centuries, which, in fact, virtually assures that people committed to that theory above all else will find the Israelite system oppressive. For the liberal political theory is one that has increasingly envi sioned a system in which society is composed of only two entities, the state and individual citizens, all of whom have equal rights quite apart from their famil ial identities and roles. Whether or not one affirms such an identity or plays the role that comes with it (or any role different from that of other citizens) is thus relegated to the domain of private choice. Individuals are guaranteed the free dom to renounce the goals of ‘‘the extended lineal group’’ and ignore ‘‘the continuity and survival of the family,’’ or, increasingly, to redefine ‘‘family’’ according to their own private preferences. In this particular modern type of society, individuals may draw consolation from the thought that their group (however defined) will survive their own deaths. As we have had occasion to remark, there is no reason to doubt that ancient Israelites did so, too. But in a society like ancient Israel, in which ‘‘the subject . . . is deeply embedded, or engaged, in its social identity,’’ ‘‘with strict subordination of individual goals to those of the extended lineal group,’’ the loss of the subject’s own life and the survival of the familial group cannot but have a very different resonance from the one most familiar to us. For even though the subject’s death is irreversible—his or her nepes having died just like the rest of his or her body/soul—his or her fulfillment may yet occur, for identity survives death. God can keep his promise to Abraham or his promise to Israel associated with the gift of David even after Abraham or David, as an individual subject, has died. Indeed, in light of Di Vito’s point that ‘‘the subject . . . is comparatively decentered and undefined with respect to personal boundaries,’’ the very distinction between Abraham and the nation whose covenant came through him (Genesis 15; 17), or between David and the Judean dynasty whom the Lord has pledged never to abandon (2 Sam 7:8–16; Ps 89:20–38), is too facile.

Our examination of personal identity in the earlier literature of the Hebrew Bible thus suggests that the conventional view is too simple: death was not final and irreversible after all, at least not in the way in which we are inclined to think of these matters. This is not, however, because individuals were be lieved to possess an indestructible essence that survived their bodies. On the one hand, the body itself was thought to be animated in ways foreign to modern materialistic and biologistic thinking, but, on the other, even its most spiritual part, its nepeˇs (life force) or its n˘eˇs¯amâ (breath), was mortal. Rather, the boundary between individual subjects and the familial/ethnic/national group in which they dwelt, to which they were subordinate, and on which they depended was so fluid as to rob death of some of the horror it has in more individualistic cultures, influenced by some version of social atomism. In more theological texts, one sees this in the notion that subjects can die a good death, ‘‘old and contented . . . and gathered to [their] kin,’’ like Abraham, who lived to see a partial—though only a partial—fulfillment of God’s promise of land, progeny, and blessing upon him, or like Job, also ‘‘old and contented’’ after his adversity came to an end and his fortunes—including progeny—were restored (Gen 25:8; Job 42:17). If either of these patriarchal figures still felt terror in the face of his death, even after his afflictions had been reversed, the Bible gives us no hint of it.16 Death in situations like these is not a punishment, a cause for complaint against God, or the provocation of an existential crisis. But neither is it death as later cultures, including our own, conceive it.

Given this embeddedness in family, there is in Israelite culture, however, a threat that is the functional equivalent to death as we think of it. This is the absence or loss of descendants.

The Master and His Emissary
by Iain McGilchrist
pp. 263-264

Whoever it was that composed or wrote them [the Homeric epics], they are notable for being the earliest works of Western civilisation that exemplify a number of characteristics that are of interest to us. For in their most notable qualities – their ability to sustain a unified theme and produce a single, whole coherent narrative over a considerable length, in their degree of empathy, and insight into character, and in their strong sense of noble values (Scheler’s Lebenswerte and above) – they suggest a more highly evolved right hemisphere.

That might make one think of the importance to the right hemisphere of the human face. Yet, despite this, there are in Homeric epic few descriptions of faces. There is no doubt about the reality of the emotions experienced by the figures caught up in the drama of the Iliad or the Odyssey: their feelings of pride, hate, envy, anger, shame, pity and love are the stuff of which the drama is made. But for the most part these emotions are conveyed as relating to the body and to bodily gesture, rather than the face – though there are moments, such as at the reunion of Penelope and Odysseus at the end of the Odyssey, when we seem to see the faces of the characters, Penelope’s eyes full of tears, those of Odysseus betraying the ‘ache of longing rising from his breast’. The lack of emphasis on the face might seem puzzling at a time of increasing empathic engagement, but I think there is a reason for this.

In Homer, as I mentioned in Part I, there was no word for the body as such, nor for the soul or the mind, for that matter, in the living person. The sōma was what was left on the battlefield, and the psuchēwas what took flight from the lips of the dying warrior. In the living person, when Homer wants to speak of someone’s mind or thoughts, he refers to what is effectively a physical organ – Achilles, for example, ‘consulting his thumos’. Although the thumos is a source of vital energy within that leads us to certain actions, the thumos has fleshly characteristics such as requiring food and drink, and a bodily situation, though this varies. According to Michael Clarke’s Flesh and Spirit in the Songs of Homer, Homeric man does not have a body or a mind: ‘rather this thought and consciousness are as inseparable a part of his bodily life as are movement and metabolism’. 15 The body is indistinguishable from the whole person. 16 ‘Thinking, emotion, awareness, reflection, will’ are undertaken in the breast, not the head: ‘the ongoing process of thought is conceived of as if it were precisely identified with the palpable inhalation of the breath, and the half-imagined mingling of breath with blood and bodily fluids in the soft, warm, flowing substances that make up what is behind the chest wall.’ 17 He stresses the importance of flow, of melting and of coagulation. The common ground of meaning is not in a particular static thing but in the ongoing process of living, which ‘can be seen and encapsulated in different contexts by a length of time or an oozing liquid’. These are all images of transition between different states of flux, different degrees of permanence, and allowing the possibility of ambiguity: ‘The relationship between the bodily and mental identity of these entities is subtle and elusive.’ 18 Here there is no necessity for the question ‘is this mind or is it body?’ to have a definitive answer. Such forbearance, however, had become impossible by the time of Plato, and remains, according to current trends in neurophilosophy, impossible today.

Words suggestive of the mind, the thumos ‘family’, for example, range fluidly and continuously between actor and activity, between the entity that thinks and the thoughts or emotions that are its products. 19 Here Clarke is speaking of terms such as is, aiōn, menos. ‘The life of Homeric man is defined in terms of processes more precisely than of things.’ 20 Menos, for example, refers to force or strength, and can also mean semen, despite being often located in the chest. But it also refers to ‘the force of violent self-propelled motion in something non-human’, perhaps like Scheler’s Drang: again more an activity than a thing. 21

This profound embodiment of thought and emotion, this emphasis on processes that are always in flux, rather than on single, static entities, this refusal of the ‘either/ or’ distinction between mind and body, all perhaps again suggest a right-hemisphere-dependent version of the world. But what is equally obvious to the modern mind is the relative closeness of the point of view. And that, I believe, helps to explain why there is little description of the face: to attend to the face requires a degree of detached observation. That there is here a work of art at all, a capacity to frame human existence in this way, suggests, it is true, a degree of distance, as well as a degree of co-operation of the hemispheres in achieving it. But it is the gradual evolution of greater distance in post-Homeric Greek culture that causes the efflorescence, the ‘unpacking’, of both right and left hemisphere capacities in the service of both art and science.

With that distance comes the term closest to the modern, more disembodied, idea of mind, nous (or noos), which is rare in Homer. When nous does occur in Homer, it remains distinct, almost always intellectual, not part of the body in any straightforward sense: according to Clarke it ‘may be virtually identified with a plan or stratagem’. 22 In conformation to the processes of the left hemisphere, it is like the flight of an arrow, directional. 23

By the late fifth and fourth centuries, separate ‘concepts of body and soul were firmly fixed in Greek culture’. 24 In Plato, and thence for the next two thousand years, the soul is a prisoner in the body, as he describes it in the Phaedo, awaiting the liberation of death.

The Great Shift
by James L. Kugel
pp. 163-165

A related belief is attested in the story of Hannah (1 Sam 1). Hannah is, to her great distress, childless, and on one occasion she goes to the great temple at Shiloh to seek God’s help:

The priest Eli was sitting on a seat near the doorpost of the temple of the LORD . In the bitterness of her heart, she prayed to the LORD and wept. She made a vow and said: “O LORD of Hosts, if You take note of Your maidservant’s distress, and if You keep me in mind and do not neglect Your maidservant and grant Your maidservant a male offspring, I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life; and no razor shall ever touch his head.” * Now as she was speaking her prayer before the LORD , Eli was watching her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart [i.e., silently]; her lips were moving, but her voice could not be heard, so Eli thought she was drunk. Eli said to her: “How long are you going to keep up this drunkenness? Cut out the boozing!” But Hannah answered: “Oh no, sir, I am a woman of saddened spirit. I have drunk no wine or strong drink, but I have been pouring out my heart to the LORD . Don’t take your maidservant for an ill-behaved woman! I have been praying this long because of my great distress.” Eli answered her: “Then go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him.” (1 Sam 1:9–17)

If Eli couldn’t hear her, how did Hannah ever expect God to hear her? But she did. Somehow, even though no sound was coming out of her mouth, she apparently believed that God would hear her vow and, she hoped, act accordingly. (Which He did; “at the turn of the year she bore a son,” 1 Sam 1:20.) This too seemed to defy the laws of physics, just as much as Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish, or any prayer uttered at some distance from God’s presumed locale, a temple or other sacred spot.

Many other things could be said about the Psalms, or about biblical prayers in general, but the foregoing three points have been chosen for what they imply for the overall theme of this book. We have already seen a great deal of evidence indicating that people in biblical times believed the mind to be semipermeable, capable of being infiltrated from the outside. This is attested not only in the biblical narratives examined earlier, but it is the very premise on which all of Israel’s prophetic corpus stands. The semipermeable mind is prominent in the Psalms as well; in a telling phrase, God is repeatedly said to penetrate people’s “kidneys and heart” (Pss 7:10, 26:2, 139:13; also Jer 11:20, 17:10, 20:12), entering these messy internal organs 28 where thoughts were believed to dwell and reading—as if from a book—all of people’s hidden ideas and intentions. God just enters and looks around:

You have examined my heart, visited [me] at night;
You have tested me and found no wickedness; my mouth has not transgressed. (Ps 17:3)
Examine me, O LORD , and test me; try my kidneys and my heart. (26:2)

[28. Robert North rightly explained references to a person’s “heart” alone ( leb in biblical Hebrew) not as a precise reference to that particular organ, but as “a vaguely known or confused jumble of organs, somewhere in the area of the heart or stomach”: see North (1993), 596.]

Indeed God is so close that inside and outside are sometimes fused:

Let me bless the LORD who has given me counsel; my kidneys have been instructing me at night.
I keep the LORD before me at all times, just at my right hand, so I will not stumble. (Ps 16:7–8)

(Who’s giving this person advice, an external God or an internal organ?)

Such is God’s passage into a person’s semipermeable mind. But the flip side of all this is prayer, when a person’s words, devised on the inside, in the human mind, leave his or her lips in order to reach—somehow—God on the outside. As we have seen, those words were indeed believed to make their way to God; in fact, it was the cry of the victim that in some sense made the world work, causing God to notice and take up the cause of justice and right. Now, the God who did so was also, we have seen, a mighty King, who presumably ranged over all of heaven and earth:

He mounted on a cherub and flew off, gliding on the wings of the wind. (Ps 18:11)

He makes the clouds His chariot, He goes about on the wings of the wind. (Ps 104:3)

Yet somehow, no matter where His travels might take Him, God is also right there, just on the other side of the curtain that separates ordinary from extraordinary reality, allowing Him to hear the sometimes geographically distant cry of the victim or even to hear an inaudible, silent prayer like Hannah’s. The doctrine of divine omnipresence was still centuries away and was in fact implicitly denied in many biblical texts, 29 yet something akin to omnipresence seems to be implied in God’s ability to hear and answer prayers uttered from anywhere, no matter where He is. In fact, this seems implied as well in the impatient, recurrent question seen above, “How long, O L ORD ?”; the psalmist seems to be saying, “I know You’ve heard me, so when will You answer?”

Perhaps the most striking thing suggested by all this is the extent to which the Psalms’ depiction of God seems to conform to the general contours of the great Outside as described in an earlier chapter. God is huge and powerful, but also all-enfolding and, hence, just a whisper away. Somehow, people in biblical times seem to have just assumed that God, on the other side of that curtain, could hear their prayers, no matter where they were. All this again suggests a sense of self quite different from our own—a self that could not only be permeated by a great, external God, but whose thoughts and prayers could float outward and reach a God who was somehow never far, His domain beginning precisely where the humans’ left off.

One might thus say that, in this and in other ways, the psalmists’ underlying assumptions constitute a kind of biblical translation of a basic way of perceiving that had started many, many millennia earlier, a rephrasing of that fundamental reality in the particular terms of the religion of Israel. That other, primeval sense of reality and this later, more specific version of it found in these psalms present the same basic outline, which is ultimately a way of fitting into the world: the little human (more specifically in the Psalms, the little supplicant) faced with a huge enfolding Outside (in the Psalms, the mighty King) who overshadows everything and has all the power: sometimes kind and sometimes cruel (in the Psalms, sometimes heeding one’s request, but at other times oddly inattentive or sluggish), the Outside is so close as to move in and out of the little human (in the Psalms as elsewhere, penetrating a person’s insides, but also, able to pick up the supplicant’s request no matter where or how uttered). 30

pp. 205-207

The biblical “soul” was not originally thought to be immortal; in fact, the whole idea that human beings have some sort of sacred or holy entity inside them did not exist in early biblical times. But the soul as we conceive of it did eventually come into existence, and how this transformation came about is an important part of the history that we are tracing.

The biblical book of Proverbs is one of the least favorites of ordinary readers. To put the matter bluntly, Proverbs can be pretty monotonous: verse after verse tells you how much better the “righteous” are than the “wicked”: that the righteous tread the strait and narrow, control their appetites, avoid the company of loose women, save their money for a rainy day, and so forth, while the “wicked” always do quite the opposite. In spite of the way the book hammers away at these basic themes, a careful look at specific verses sometimes reveals something quite striking. 1 Here, for example, is what one verse has to say about the overall subject of the present study:

A person’s soul is the lamp of the LORD , who searches out all the innermost chambers. (Prov 20:27)

At first glance, this looks like the old theme of the semipermeable mind, whose innermost chambers are accessible to an inquisitive God. But in this verse, God does not just enter as we have seen Him do so often in previous chapters, when He appeared (apparently in some kind of waking dream) to Abraham or Moses, or put His words in the mouth of Amos or Jeremiah, or in general was held to “inspect the kidneys and heart” (that is, the innermost thoughts) of people. Here, suddenly, God seems to have an ally on the inside: the person’s own soul.

This point was put forward in rather pungent form by an ancient Jewish commentator, Rabbi Aḥa (fourth century CE ). He cited this verse to suggest that the human soul is actually a kind of secret agent, a mole planted by God inside all human beings. The soul’s job is to report to God (who is apparently at some remove) on everything that a person does or thinks:

“A person’s soul is the lamp of the LORD , who searches out all the innermost chambers”: Just as kings have their secret agents * who report to the king on each and every thing, so does the Holy One have secret agents who report on everything that a person does in secret . . . The matter may be compared to a man who married the daughter of a king. The man gets up early each morning to greet the king, and the king says, “You did such-and-such a thing in your house [yesterday], then you got angry and you beat your slave . . .” and so on for each and every thing that occurred. The man leaves and says to the people of the palace, “Which of you told the king that I did such-and-so? How does he know?” They reply to him, “Don’t be foolish! You’re married to his daughter and you want to know how he finds out? His own daughter tells him!” So likewise, a person can do whatever he wants, but his soul reports everything back to God. 2

The soul, in other words, is like God’s own “daughter”: she dwells inside a human body, but she reports regularly to her divine “father.” Or, to put this in somewhat more schematic terms: God, who is on the outside, has something that is related or connected to Him on the inside, namely, “a person’s soul.” But wasn’t it always that way?

Before getting to an answer, it will be worthwhile to review in brief something basic that was seen in the preceding chapters. Over a period of centuries, the basic model of God’s interaction with human beings came to be reconceived. After a time, He no longer stepped across the curtain separating ordinary from extraordinary reality. Now He was not seen at all—at first because any sort of visual sighting was held to be lethal, and later because it was difficult to conceive of. God’s voice was still heard, but He Himself was an increasingly immense being, filling the heavens; and then finally (moving ahead to post-biblical times), He was just axiomatically everywhere all at once. This of course clashed with the old idea of the sanctuary (a notion amply demonstrated in ancient Mesopotamian religion as well), according to which wherever else He was, God was physically present in his earthly “house,” that is, His temple. But this ancient notion as well came to be reconfigured in Israel; perched like a divine hologram above the outstretched wings of the cherubim in the Holy of Holies, God was virtually bodiless, issuing orders (like “Let there be light”) that were mysteriously carried out. 3

If conceiving of such a God’s being was difficult, His continued ability to penetrate the minds of humans ought to have been, if anything, somewhat easier to account for. He was incorporeal and omnipresent; 4 what could stand in the way of His penetrating a person’s mind, or being there already? Yet precisely for this reason, Proverbs 20:27 is interesting. It suggests that God does not manage this search unaided: there is something inside the human being that plays an active role in this process, the person’s own self or soul.

p. 390

It is striking that the authors of this study went on specifically to single out the very different sense of self prevailing in the three locales as responsible for the different ways in which voice hearing was treated: “Outside Western culture people are more likely to imagine [a person’s] mind and self as interwoven with others. These are, of course, social expectations, or cultural ‘invitations’—ways in which other people expect people like themselves to behave. Actual people do not always follow social norms. Nonetheless, the more ‘independent’ emphasis of what we typically call the ‘West’ and the more interdependent emphasis of other societies has been demonstrated ethnographically and experimentally many times in many places—among them India and Africa . . .” The passage continues: “For instance, the anthropologist McKim Marriott wanted to be so clear about how much Hindus conceive themselves to be made through relationships, compared with Westerners, that he called the Hindu person a ‘dividual’. His observations have been supported by other anthropologists of South Asia and certainly in south India, and his term ‘dividual’ was picked up to describe other forms of non-Western personhood. The psychologist Glenn Adams has shown experimentally that Ghanaians understand themselves as intrinsically connected through relationships. The African philosopher John Mbiti remarks: ‘only in terms of other people does the [African] individual become conscious of his own being.’” Further, see Markus and Mullally (1997); Nisbett (2004); Marriot (1976); Miller (2007); Trawick (1992); Strathern (1988); Ma and Schoeneman (1997); Mbiti (1969).

The “Other” Psychology of Julian Jaynes
by Brian J. McVeigh
p. 74

The Heart is the Ruler of the Body

We can begin with the word xin1, or heart, though given its broader denotations related to both emotions and thought, a better translation is “heart-mind” (Yu 2003). Xin1 is a pictographic representation of a physical heart, and as we will see below, it forms the most primary and elemental building block for Chinese linguo-concepts having to do with the psychological. The xin1 oversaw the activities of an individual’s psychophysiological existence and was regarded as the ruler of the body — indeed, the person — in the same way a king ruled his people. If individuals cultivate and control their hearts, then the family, state, and world cold be properly governed (Yu 2007, 2009b).

Psycho-Physio-Spiritual Aspects of the Person

Under the control of heart were the wu3shen2 of “five spirits” (shen2, hun2, po4, yi4, zhi4) which dwelt respectively in the heart, liver, lungs, spleen, and kidneys. The five shen2 were implicated in the operations of thinking, perception, and bodily systems and substances. A phonosemantic, shen2 has been variously translated as mind, spirit, supernatural being, consciousness, vitality, expression, soul, energy, god, or numen/numinous. The left side element of this logograph means manifest, show, demonstrate; we can speculate that whatever was manifested came from a supernatural source; it may have meant “ancestral spirit” (Keightley 1978: 17). The right side provides sound but also the additional meaning of “to state” or “report to a superior”; again we can speculate that it meant communing to a supernatural superior.

Introspective Illusion

On split brain research, Susan Blackmore observed that, “In this way, the verbal left brain covered up its ignorance by confabulating.” This relates to the theory of introspective illusion (see also change blindness, choice blindness, and bias blind spot). In both cases, the conscious mind turns to confabulation to explain what it has no access to and so what it doesn’t understand.

This is how we maintain a sense of being in control. Our egoic minds have immense talent at rationalization and it can happen instantly with total confidence in the reason(s) given. That indicates that consciousness is a lot less conscious than it really is… or rather that consciousness isn’t what we think it is.

Our theory of mind, as such, is highly theoretical in the speculative sense. That is to say it isn’t particularly reliable in most cases. First and foremost, what matters is that the story told is compelling, to both us and others (self-justification, in its role within consciousness, is close to Jaynesian self-authorization). We are ruled by our need for meaning, even as our body-minds don’t require meaning to enact behaviors and take actions. We get through our lives just fine mostly on automatic.

According to Julian Jaynes theory of the bicameral mind, the purpose of consciousness is to create an internal stage upon which we play out narratives. As this interiorized and narratized space is itself confabulated, that is to say psychologically and socially constructed, this space allows all further confabulations of consciousness. We imaginatively bootstrap our individuality into existence, and that requires a lot of explaining.

* * *

Introspection illusion

A 1977 paper by psychologists Richard Nisbett and Timothy D. Wilson challenged the directness and reliability of introspection, thereby becoming one of the most cited papers in the science of consciousness.[8][9] Nisbett and Wilson reported on experiments in which subjects verbally explained why they had a particular preference, or how they arrived at a particular idea. On the basis of these studies and existing attribution research, they concluded that reports on mental processes are confabulated. They wrote that subjects had, “little or no introspective access to higher order cognitive processes”.[10] They distinguished between mental contents (such as feelings) and mental processes, arguing that while introspection gives us access to contents, processes remain hidden.[8]

Although some other experimental work followed from the Nisbett and Wilson paper, difficulties with testing the hypothesis of introspective access meant that research on the topic generally stagnated.[9]A ten-year-anniversary review of the paper raised several objections, questioning the idea of “process” they had used and arguing that unambiguous tests of introspective access are hard to achieve.[3]

Updating the theory in 2002, Wilson admitted that the 1977 claims had been too far-reaching.[10] He instead relied on the theory that the adaptive unconscious does much of the moment-to-moment work of perception and behaviour. When people are asked to report on their mental processes, they cannot access this unconscious activity.[7] However, rather than acknowledge their lack of insight, they confabulate a plausible explanation, and “seem” to be “unaware of their unawareness”.[11]

The idea that people can be mistaken about their inner functioning is one applied by eliminative materialists. These philosophers suggest that some concepts, including “belief” or “pain” will turn out to be quite different from what is commonly expected as science advances.

The faulty guesses that people make to explain their thought processes have been called “causal theories”.[1] The causal theories provided after an action will often serve only to justify the person’s behaviour in order to relieve cognitive dissonance. That is, a person may not have noticed the real reasons for their behaviour, even when trying to provide explanations. The result is an explanation that mostly just makes themselves feel better. An example might be a man who discriminates against homosexuals because he is embarrassed that he himself is attracted to other men. He may not admit this to himself, instead claiming his prejudice is because he believes that homosexuality is unnatural.

2017 Report on Consciousness and Moral Patienthood
Open Philanthropy Project

Physicalism and functionalism are fairly widely held among consciousness researchers, but are often debated and far from universal.58 Illusionism seems to be an uncommon position.59 I don’t know how widespread or controversial “fuzziness” is.

I’m not sure what to make of the fact that illusionism seems to be endorsed by a small number of theorists, given that illusionism seems to me to be “the obvious default theory of consciousness,” as Daniel Dennett argues.60 In any case, the debates about the fundamental nature of consciousness are well-covered elsewhere,61 and I won’t repeat them here.

A quick note about “eliminativism”: the physical processes which instantiate consciousness could turn out be so different from our naive guesses about their nature that, for pragmatic reasons, we might choose to stop using the concept of “consciousness,” just as we stopped using the concept of “phlogiston.” Or, we might find a collection of processes that are similar enough to those presumed by our naive concept of consciousness that we choose to preserve the concept of “consciousness” and simply revise our definition of it, as happened when we eventually decided to identify “life” with a particular set of low-level biological features (homeostasis, cellular organization, metabolism, reproduction, etc.) even though life turned out not to be explained by any Élan vital or supernatural soul, as many people throughout history62 had assumed.63 But I consider this only a possibility, not an inevitability.

59. I’m not aware of surveys indicating how common illusionist approaches are, though Frankish (2016a) remarks that:

The topic of this special issue is the view that phenomenal consciousness (in the philosophers’ sense) is an illusion — a view I call illusionism. This view is not a new one: the first wave of identity theorists favoured it, and it currently has powerful and eloquent defenders, including Daniel Dennett, Nicholas Humphrey, Derk Pereboom, and Georges Rey. However, it is widely regarded as a marginal position, and there is no sustained interdisciplinary research programme devoted to developing, testing, and applying illusionist ideas. I think the time is ripe for such a programme. For a quarter of a century at least, the dominant physicalist approach to consciousness has been a realist one. Phenomenal properties, it is said, are physical, or physically realized, but their physical nature is not revealed to us by the concepts we apply to them in introspection. This strategy is looking tired, however. Its weaknesses are becoming evident…, and some of its leading advocates have now abandoned it. It is doubtful that phenomenal realism can be bought so cheaply, and physicalists may have to accept that it is out of their price range. Perhaps phenomenal concepts don’t simply fail to represent their objects as physical but misrepresent them as phenomenal, and phenomenality is an introspective illusion…

[Keith Frankish, Editorial Introduction, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 23, Numbers 11-12, 2016, pp. 9-10(2)]

The Spell of Inner Speech

Inner speech is not a universal trait of humanity, according to Russell T. Hurlburt. That is unsurprising. Others go much further in arguing that inner speech was once non-existent for entire civilizations.

My favorite version of this argument being that of Julian Jayne’s theory of the bicameral mind. It was noted by Jaynes how bicameralism can be used as an interpretative frame to understand many of the psychological oddities still found in modern society. His theory goes a long way in explaining hypnosis, for instance. From that perspective, I’ve long suspected that post-bicameral consciousness isn’t as well established as is generally assumed. David Abrahms observes (see at end of post for full context):

“It is important to realize that the now common experience of “silent” reading is a late development in the story of the alphabet, emerging only during the Middle Ages, when spaces were first inserted between the words in a written manuscript (along with various forms of punctuation), enabling readers to distinguish the words of a written sentence without necessarily sounding them out audibly. Before this innovation, to read was necessarily to read aloud, or at the very least to mumble quietly; after the twelfth century it became increasingly possible to internalize the sounds, to listen inwardly to phantom words (or the inward echo of words once uttered).”

Internal experience took a long time to take hold. During the Enlightenment, there was still contentious debate about whether or not all humans shared a common capacity for inner experience — that is, did peasants, slaves and savages (and women) have minds basically the same as rich white men, presumably as rational actors with independent-mindedness and abstract thought. The rigid boundaries of the hyper-individualistic ego-mind required millennia to be built up within the human psyche, initially considered the sole province of the educated elite that, from Plato onward, was portrayed as a patriarchal and paternalistic enlightened aristocracy.

The greatest of radical ideals was to challenge this self-serving claim of the privileged mind by demanding that all be treated as equals before God and government, in that through the ability to read all could have a personal relationship with God and through natural rights all could self-govern. Maybe it wasn’t merely a change in the perception of common humanity but a change within common humanity itself. As modernity came into dominance, the inner sense of self with the accompanying inner speech became an evermore prevalent experience. Something rare among the elite not too many centuries earlier had suddenly become common among the commoners.

With minds of their own, quite literally, the rabble became rabblerousers who no longer mindlessly bowed down to their betters. The external commands and demands of the ancien regime lost their grip as individuality became the norm. What replaced it was what Jaynes referred to as self-authorization, very much dependent on an inner voice. But it is interesting to speculate that it might have required such a long incubation period considering this new mindset had first taken root back in the Axial Age. It sometimes can be a slow process for new memes to filter across vast geographic populations and seep down into the masses.

So what might the premodern mentality have been like? At Hurlburt’s piece, I noticed some comments about personal experience. One anonymous person mentioned, after brain trauma, “LOSING my inner voice. It is a totally different sensation/experience of reality. […] It is totally unlike anything I had ever known, I felt “simple” my day to day routines where driven only by images related to my goals (example: seeing Toothbrush and knowing my goals is to brush my teeth) and whenever I needed to recite something or create thoughts for communication, it seemed I could only conjure up the first thoughts to come to my mind without any sort of filter. And I would mumble and whisper to myself in Lue of the inner voice. But even when mumbling and whispering there was NO VOICE in my head. Images, occasionally. Other than that I found myself being almost hyper-aware of my surroundings with my incoming visual stimuli as the primary focus throughout my day.”

This person said a close comparison was being in the zone, sometimes referred to as runner’s high. That got me thinking about various factors that can shut down the normal functioning of the egoic mind. Extreme physical activity forces the mind into a mode that isn’t experienced that often and extensively by people in the modern world, a state of mind combining exhaustion, endorphins, and ketosis — a state of mind, on the other hand, that would have been far from uncommon before modernity with some arguing ketosis was once the normal mode of neurocogntivie functioning. Related to this, it has been argued that the abstractions of Enlightenment thought was fueled by the imperial sugar trade, maybe the first time a permanent non-ketogenic mindset was possible in the Western world. What sugar (i.e., glucose), especially when mixed with the other popular trade items of tea and coffee, makes possible is thinking and reading (i.e., inner experience) for long periods of time without mental tiredness. During the Enlightenment, the modern mind was borne out of a drugged-up buzz. That is one interpretation. Whatever the cause, something changed.

Also, in the comment section of that article, I came across a perfect description of self-authorization. Carla said that, “There are almost always words inside my head. In fact, I’ve asked people I live with to not turn on the radio in the morning. When they asked why, they thought my answer was weird: because it’s louder than the voice in my head and I can’t perform my morning routine without that voice.” We are all like that to some extent. But for most of us, self-authorization has become so natural as to largely go unnoticed. Unlike Carla, the average person learns to hear their own inner voice despite external sounds. I’m willing to bet that, if tested, Carla would show results of having thin mental boundaries and probably an accordingly weaker egoic will to force her self-authorization onto situations. Some turn to sugar and caffeine (or else nicotine and other drugs) to help shore up rigid thick boundaries and maintain focus in this modern world filled with distractions — likely a contributing factor to drug addiction.

In Abrams’s book, The Spell of the Sensuous, he emphasizes the connection between sight and sound. By way of reading, seeing words becomes hearing words in one’s own mind. This is made possible by the perceptual tendency to associate sight and sound, the two main indicators of movement, with a living other such as an animal moving through the underbrush. Maybe this is what creates the sense of a living other within, a Jaynesian consciousness as interiorized metaphorical space. The magic of hearing words inside puts a spell on the mind, invoking a sense of inner being separate from the outer world. This is how reading can conjure forth an entire visuospatial experience of narratized world, sometimes as compellingly real or moreso than our mundane lives. To hear and see, even if only imagined inwardly, is to make real.

Yet many lose the ability to visualize as they age. I wonder if that has to do with how the modern world until recently has been almost exclusively focused on text. It’s only now that a new generation has been so fully raised on the visual potency of 24/7 cable and the online world, and unlike past generations they might remain more visually-oriented into old age. The loss of visual imagination might have been more of a quirk of printed text, the visual not so much disappearing as being subverted into sound as the ego’s own voice became insular. But even when we are unaware of it, maybe the visual remains as the light in the background that makes interior space visible like a lamp in a sonorous cave, the lamp barely offering enough light to allow us follow the sound further into the darkness. Bertrand Russell went so far as to “argues that mental imagery is the essence of the meaning of words in most cases” (Bertrand Russell: Unconscious Terrors; Murder, Rage and Mental Imagery.). It is the visual that makes the aural come alive with meaning — as Russell put it:

“it is nevertheless the possibility of a memory image in the child and an imagination image in the hearer that makes the essence of the ‘meaning’ of the words. In so far as this is absent, the words are mere counters, capable of meaning, but not at the moment possessing it.”

Jaynes resolves the seeming dilemma by proposing the visuospatial as a metaphorical frame in which the mind operates, rather than itself being the direct focus of thought. And to combine this with Russell’s view, as the visual recedes from awareness, abstract thought recedes from the visceral sense of meaning of the outer world. This is how modern humanity, ever more lost in thought, has lost contact with the larger world of nature and universe, a shrinking number of people who still regularly experience a wilderness vista or the full starry sky. Our entire world turns inward and loses its vividness, becomes smaller, the boundaries dividing thicker. Our minds become ruled by Russell’s counters of meaning (i.e., symbolic proxies), rather than meaning directly. That may be changing, though, in this new era of visually-saturated media. Even books, as audiobooks, can now be heard outwardly in the voice of another. The rigid walls of the ego, so carefully constructed over centuries, are being cracked open again. If so, we might see a merging back together again of the separated senses, which could manifest as a return of synaesthesia as a common experience and with it a resurgence of metaphorical thought that hews close to the sensory world, the fertile ground of meaning. About a talk by Vilanayur S. Ramachandran, Maureen Seaberg writes (The Sea of Similitude):

“The refined son of an Indian diplomat explains that synesthesia was discovered by Sir Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, and that its name is derived from the Greek words for joined sensations. Next, he says something that really gets me to thinking – that there is greater cross wiring in the brains of synesthetes. This has enormous implications. “Now, if you assume that this greater cross wiring and concepts are also in different parts of the brain [than just where the synesthesia occurs], then it’s going to create a greater propensity towards metaphorical thinking and creativity in people with synesthesia. And, hence, the eight times more common incidence of synesthesia among poets, artists and novelists,” he says.

“In 2005, Dr. Ramachandran and his colleagues at the University of California at San Diego identified where metaphors are likely generated in the brain by studying people who could no longer understand metaphor because of brain damage. Proving once again the maxim that nature speaks through exceptions, they tested four patients who had experienced injuries to the left angular gyrus region. In May 2005, Scientific American reported on this and pointed out that although the subjects were bright and good communicators, when the researchers presented them with common proverbs and metaphors such as “the grass is always greener on the other side” and “reaching for the stars,” the subjects interpreted the sayings literally almost all the time. Their metaphor centers – now identified – had been compromised by the damage and the people just didn’t get the symbolism. Interestingly, synesthesia has also been found to occur mostly in the fusiform and angular gyrus – it’s in the same neighborhood. […]

“Facility with metaphor is a “thing” in synesthesia. Not only do Rama’s brain studies prove it, but I’ve noticed synesthetes seldom choose the expected, clichéd options when forming the figures of speech that describe a thing in a way that is symbolic to explain an idea or make comparisons. It would be more enviable were it not completely involuntary and automatic. In our brains without borders, it just works that way. Our neuronal nets are more interwoven”

The meeting of synaesthesia and metaphor opens up to our greater, if largely forgotten, humanity. As Jaynes and many others have made clear, those in the distant past and those still living in isolated tribes, such people experience the world far differently than us. This can be seen in odd use of language in ancient texts, which we may take as odd turns of phrase, as mere metaphor. But what if these people so foreign to us took their own metaphors quite literally, so to speak. In another post by Maureen Seaberg (The Shamanic Synesthesia of the Kalahari Bushmen), there are clear examples of this:

“The oldest cultures found that ecstatic experience expands our awareness and in its most special form, the world is experienced through more sensory involvement and presence, he says. “The shaman’s transition into ecstasy brought about what we call synesthesia today. But there was more involved than just passively experiencing it. The ecstatic shaman also performed sound, movement, and made reference to vision, smell, and taste in ways that helped evoke extraordinary experiences in others. They were both recipients and performers of multi-sensory theatres. Of course this is nothing like the weekend workshop shamans of the new age who are day dreaming rather than shaking wildly…. Rhythm, especially syncopated African drumming, excites the whole body to feel more intensely. Hence, it is valued as a means of ‘getting there’. A shaman (an ecstatic performer) played all the senses.” If this seems far afield from Western experience, consider that in Exodus 20:18, as Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to retrieve the tablets, the people present were said to have experienced synesthesia. “And all the people saw the voices” of heaven, it says. And we know synesthesia happens even in non-synesthetes during meditation — a heightened state.” “

The metaphorical ground of synaesthesia is immersive and participatory. It is a world alive with meaning. It was a costly trade in sacrificing this in creating our separate and sensory-deprived egoic consciousness, despite all that we gained in wielding power over the world. During the Bronze Age when written language still had metaphorical mud on its living roots, what Jaynes calls the bicameral mind would have been closer to this animistic mindset. A metaphor in that experiential reality was far more than what we now know of as metaphor. The world was alive with beings and voices. This isn’t only the origins of our humanity for it remains the very ground of our being, the source of what we have become — language most of all (“First came the temple, then the city.”):

“Looking at an even more basic level, I was reading Mark Changizi’s Harnessed. He argues that (p. 11), “Speech and music culturally evolved over time to be simulacra of nature.” That reminded me of Lynne Kelly’s description of how indigenous people would use vocal techniques and musical instruments to mimic natural sounds, as a way of communicating and passing on complex knowledge of the world. Changizi’s argument is based on the observation that “human speech sounds like solid-object physical events” and that “music sounds like humans moving and behaving (usually expressively)” (p. 19). Certain sounds give information about what is going on in the immediate environment, specifically sounds related to action and movement. This sound-based information processing would make for an optimal basis of language formation. This is given support from evidence that Kelly describes in her own books.

“This also touches upon the intimate relationship language has to music, dance, and gesture. Language is inseparable from our experience of being in the world, involving multiple senses or even synaesthesia. The overlapping of sensory experience may have been more common to earlier societies. Research has shown that synaesthetes have better capacity for memory: “spatial sequence synesthetes have a built-in and automatic mnemonic reference” (Wikipedia). That is relevant considering that memory is central to oral societies, as Kelly demonstrates. And the preliterate memory systems are immensely vast, potentially incorporating the equivalent of thousands of pages of info. Knowledge and memory isn’t just in the mind but within the entire sense of self, sense of community, and sense of place.”

We remain haunted by the past (“Beyond that, there is only awe.”):

“Through authority and authorization, immense power and persuasion can be wielded. Jaynes argues that it is central to the human mind, but that in developing consciousness we learned how to partly internalize the process. Even so, Jaynesian self-consciousness is never a permanent, continuous state and the power of individual self-authorization easily morphs back into external forms. This is far from idle speculation, considering authoritarianism still haunts the modern mind. I might add that the ultimate power of authoritarianism, as Jaynes makes clear, isn’t overt force and brute violence. Outward forms of power are only necessary to the degree that external authorization is relatively weak, as is typically the case in modern societies.

If you are one of those who clearly hears a voice in your head, appreciate all that went into creating and constructing it. This is an achievement of our entire civilization. But also realize how precarious is this modern mind. It’s a strange thing to contemplate. What is that voice that speaks? And who is it that is listening? Now imagine what it would be like if, as with the bicameral gods going silent, your own god-like ego went silent. And imagine this silence spreading across all of society, an entire people suddenly having lost their self-authorization to act, their very sense of identity and social reality. Don’t take for granted that voice within.

* * *

Below is a passage from a book I read long ago, maybe back when it was first published in 1996. The description of cognitive change almost could have been lifted straight out of Julian Jaynes book from twenty years earlier (e.g., the observation of the gods becoming silent). Abrams doesn’t mention Jaynes and it’s possible he was unfamiliar with it, whether or not there was an indirect influence. The kinds of ideas Jaynes was entertaining had been floating around for a long while before him as well. The unique angle that Abrams brings in this passage is framing it all within synaesthesia.

The Spell of the Sensuous
by David Abrams
p. 69

Although contemporary neuroscientists study “synaesthesia”—the overlap and blending of the senses—as though it were a rare or pathological experience to which only certain persons are prone (those who report “seeing sounds,” “hearing colors,” and the like), our primordial, preconceptual experience, as Merleau-Ponty makes evident, is inherently synaesthetic. The intertwining of sensory modalities seems unusual to us only to the extent that we have become estranged from our direct experience (and hence from our primordial contact with the entities and elements that surround us):

…Synaesthetic perception is the rule, and we are unaware of it only because scientific knowledge shifts the center of gravity of experience, so that we have unlearned how to see, hear, and generally speaking, feel, in order to deduce, from our bodily organization and the world as the physicist conceives it, what we are to see, hear, and feel. 20

pp. 131-144

It is remarkable that none of the major twentieth-century scholars who have directed their attention to the changes wrought by literacy have seriously considered the impact of writing—and, in particular, phonetic writing—upon the human experience of the wider natural world. Their focus has generally centered upon the influence of phonetic writing on the structure and deployment of human language, 53 on patterns of cognition and thought, 54 or upon the internal organization of human societies. 55 Most of the major research, in other words, has focused upon the alphabet’s impact on processes either internal to human society or presumably “internal” to the human mind. Yet the limitation of such research—its restriction within the bounds of human social interaction and personal interiority—itself reflects an anthropocentric bias wholly endemic to alphabetic culture. In the absence of phonetic literacy, neither society, nor language, nor even the experience of “thought” or consciousness, can be pondered in isolation from the multiple nonhuman shapes and powers that lend their influence to all our activities (we need think only of our ceaseless involvement with the ground underfoot, with the air that swirls around us, with the plants and animals that we consume, with the daily warmth of the sun and the cyclic pull of the moon). Indeed, in the absence of formal writing systems, human communities come to know themselves primarily as they are reflected back by the animals and the animate landscapes with which they are directly engaged. This epistemological dependence is readily evidenced, on every continent, by the diverse modes of identification commonly categorized under the single term “totemism.”

It is exceedingly difficult for us literates to experience anything approaching the vividness and intensity with which surrounding nature spontaneously presents itself to the members of an indigenous, oral community. Yet as we saw in the previous chapters, Merleau-Ponty’s careful phenomenology of perceptual experience had begun to disclose, underneath all of our literate abstractions, a deeply participatory relation to things and to the earth, a felt reciprocity curiously analogous to the animistic awareness of indigenous, oral persons. If we wish to better comprehend the remarkable shift in the human experience of nature that was occasioned by the advent and spread of phonetic literacy, we would do well to return to the intimate analysis of sensory perception inaugurated by Merleau-Ponty. For without a clear awareness of what reading and writing amounts to when considered at the level of our most immediate, bodily experience, any “theory” regarding the impact of literacy can only be provisional and speculative.

Although Merleau-Ponty himself never attempted a phenomenology of reading or writing, his recognition of the importance of synaesthesia—the overlap and intertwining of the senses—resulted in a number of experiential analyses directly pertinent to the phenomenon of reading. For reading, as soon as we attend to its sensorial texture, discloses itself as a profoundly synaesthetic encounter. Our eyes converge upon a visible mark, or a series of marks, yet what they find there is a sequence not of images but of sounds, something heard; the visible letters, as we have said, trade our eyes for our ears. Or, rather, the eye and the ear are brought together at the surface of the text—a new linkage has been forged between seeing and hearing which ensures that a phenomenon apprehended by one sense is instantly transposed into the other. Further, we should note that this sensory transposition is mediated by the human mouth and tongue; it is not just any kind of sound that is experienced in the act of reading, but specifically human, vocal sounds—those which issue from the human mouth. It is important to realize that the now common experience of “silent” reading is a late development in the story of the alphabet, emerging only during the Middle Ages, when spaces were first inserted between the words in a written manuscript (along with various forms of punctuation), enabling readers to distinguish the words of a written sentence without necessarily sounding them out audibly. Before this innovation, to read was necessarily to read aloud, or at the very least to mumble quietly; after the twelfth century it became increasingly possible to internalize the sounds, to listen inwardly to phantom words (or the inward echo of words once uttered). 56

Alphabetic reading, then, proceeds by way of a new synaesthetic collaboration between the eye and the ear, between seeing and hearing. To discern the consequences of this new synaesthesia, we need to examine the centrality of synaesthesia in our perception of others and of the earth.

The experiencing body (as we saw in Chapter 2) is not a self-enclosed object, but an open, incomplete entity. This openness is evident in the arrangement of the senses: I have these multiple ways of encountering and exploring the world—listening with my ears, touching with my skin, seeing with my eyes, tasting with my tongue, smelling with my nose—and all of these various powers or pathways continually open outward from the perceiving body, like different paths diverging from a forest. Yet my experience of the world is not fragmented; I do not commonly experience the visible appearance of the world as in any way separable from its audible aspect, or from the myriad textures that offer themselves to my touch. When the local tomcat comes to visit, I do not have distinctive experiences of a visible cat, an audible cat, and an olfactory cat; rather, the tomcat is precisely the place where these separate sensory modalities join and dissolve into one another, blending as well with a certain furry tactility. Thus, my divergent senses meet up with each other in the surrounding world, converging and commingling in the things I perceive. We may think of the sensing body as a kind of open circuit that completes itself only in things, and in the world. The differentiation of my senses, as well as their spontaneous convergence in the world at large, ensures that I am a being destined for relationship: it is primarily through my engagement with what is not me that I effect the integration of my senses, and thereby experience my own unity and coherence. 57 […]

The diversity of my sensory systems, and their spontaneous convergence in the things that I encounter, ensures this interpenetration or interweaving between my body and other bodies—this magical participation that permits me, at times, to feel what others feel. The gestures of another being, the rhythm of its voice, and the stiffness or bounce in its spine all gradually draw my senses into a unique relation with one another, into a coherent, if shifting, organization. And the more I linger with this other entity, the more coherent the relation becomes, and hence the more completely I find myself face-to-face with another intelligence, another center of experience.

In the encounter with the cyclist, as in my experience of the blackbird, the visual focus induced and made possible the participation of the other senses. In different situations, other senses may initiate the synaesthesia: our ears, when we are at an orchestral concert; or our nostrils, when a faint whiff of burning leaves suddenly brings images of childhood autumns; our skin, when we are touching or being touched by a lover. Nonetheless, the dynamic conjunction of the eyes has a particularly ubiquitous magic, opening a quivering depth in whatever we focus upon, ceaselessly inviting the other senses into a concentrated exchange with stones, squirrels, parked cars, persons, snow-capped peaks, clouds, and termite-ridden logs. This power—the synaesthetic magnetism of the visual focus—will prove crucial for our understanding of literacy and its perceptual effects.

The most important chapter of Merleau-Ponty’s last, unfinished work is entitled “The Intertwining—The Chiasm.” The word “chiasm,” derived from an ancient Greek term meaning “crisscross,” is in common use today only in the field of neurobiology: the “optic chiasm” is that anatomical region, between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, where neuronal fibers from the right eye and the left eye cross and interweave. As there is a chiasm between the two eyes, whose different perspectives continually conjoin into a single vision, so—according to Merleau-Ponty—there is a chiasm between the various sense modalities, such that they continually couple and collaborate with one another. Finally, this interplay of the different senses is what enables the chiasm between the body and the earth, the reciprocal participation—between one’s own flesh and the encompassing flesh of the world—that we commonly call perception. 59

Phonetic reading, of course, makes use of a particular sensory conjunction—that between seeing and hearing. And indeed, among the various synaesthesias that are common to the human body, the confluence (or chiasm) between seeing and hearing is particularly acute. For vision and hearing are the two “distance” senses of the human organism. In contrast to touch and proprioception (inner-body sensations), and unlike the chemical senses of taste and smell, seeing and hearing regularly place us in contact with things and events unfolding at a substantial distance from our own visible, audible body.

My visual gaze explores the reflective surfaces of things, their outward color and contour. By following the play of light and shadow, the dance of colors, and the gradients of repetitive patterns, the eyes—themselves gleaming surfaces—keep me in contact with the multiple outward facets, or faces, of the things arrayed about me. The ears, meanwhile, are more inward organs; they emerge from the depths of my skull like blossoms or funnels, and their participation tells me less about the outer surface than the interior substance of things. For the audible resonance of beings varies with their material makeup, as the vocal calls of different animals vary with the size and shape of their interior cavities and hollows. I feel their expressive cries resound in my skull or my chest, echoing their sonorous qualities with my own materiality, and thus learn of their inward difference from myself. Looking and listening bring me into contact, respectively, with the outward surfaces and with the interior voluminosity of things, and hence where these senses come together, I experience, over there, the complex interplay of inside and outside that is characteristic of my own self-experience. It is thus at those junctures in the surrounding landscape where my eyes and my ears are drawn together that I most readily feel myself confronted by another power like myself, another life. […]

Yet our ears and our eyes are drawn together not only by animals, but by numerous other phenomena within the landscape. And, strangely, wherever these two senses converge, we may suddenly feel ourselves in relation with another expressive power, another center of experience. Trees, for instance, can seem to speak to us when they are jostled by the wind. Different forms of foliage lend each tree a distinctive voice, and a person who has lived among them will easily distinguish the various dialects of pine trees from the speech of spruce needles or Douglas fir. Anyone who has walked through cornfields knows the uncanny experience of being scrutinized and spoken to by whispering stalks. Certain rock faces and boulders request from us a kind of auditory attentiveness, and so draw our ears into relation with our eyes as we gaze at them, or with our hands as we touch them—for it is only through a mode of listening that we can begin to sense the interior voluminosity of the boulder, its particular density and depth. There is an expectancy to the ears, a kind of patient receptivity that they lend to the other senses whenever we place ourselves in a mode of listening—whether to a stone, or a river, or an abandoned house. That so many indigenous people allude to the articulate speech of trees or of mountains suggests the ease with which, in an oral culture, one’s auditory attention may be joined with the visual focus in order to enter into a living relation with the expressive character of things.

Far from presenting a distortion of their factual relation to the world, the animistic discourse of indigenous, oral peoples is an inevitable counterpart of their immediate, synaesthetic engagement with the land that they inhabit. The animistic proclivity to perceive the angular shape of a boulder (while shadows shift across its surface) as a kind of meaningful gesture, or to enter into felt conversations with clouds and owls—all of this could be brushed aside as imaginary distortion or hallucinatory fantasy if such active participation were not the very structure of perception, if the creative interplay of the senses in the things they encounter was not our sole way of linking ourselves to those things and letting the things weave themselves into our experience. Direct, prereflective perception is inherently synaesthetic, participatory, and animistic, disclosing the things and elements that surround us not as inert objects but as expressive subjects, entities, powers, potencies.

And yet most of us seem, today, very far from such experience. Trees rarely, if ever, speak to us; animals no longer approach us as emissaries from alien zones of intelligence; the sun and the moon no longer draw prayers from us but seem to arc blindly across the sky. How is it that these phenomena no longer address us , no longer compel our involvement or reciprocate our attention? If participation is the very structure of perception, how could it ever have been brought to a halt? To freeze the ongoing animation, to block the wild exchange between the senses and the things that engage them, would be tantamount to freezing the body itself, stopping it short in its tracks. And yet our bodies still move, still live, still breathe. If we no longer experience the enveloping earth as expressive and alive, this can only mean that the animating interplay of the senses has been transferred to another medium, another locus of participation.

IT IS THE WRITTEN TEXT THAT PROVIDES THIS NEW LOCUS . FOR TO read is to enter into a profound participation, or chiasm, with the inked marks upon the page. In learning to read we must break the spontaneous participation of our eyes and our ears in the surrounding terrain (where they had ceaselessly converged in the synaesthetic encounter with animals, plants, and streams) in order to recouple those senses upon the flat surface of the page. As a Zuñi elder focuses her eyes upon a cactus and hears the cactus begin to speak, so we focus our eyes upon these printed marks and immediately hear voices. We hear spoken words, witness strange scenes or visions, even experience other lives. As nonhuman animals, plants, and even “inanimate” rivers once spoke to our tribal ancestors, so the “inert” letters on the page now speak to us! This is a form of animism that we take for granted, but it is animism nonetheless—as mysterious as a talking stone.

And indeed, it is only when a culture shifts its participation to these printed letters that the stones fall silent. Only as our senses transfer their animating magic to the written word do the trees become mute, the other animals dumb.

But let us be more precise, recalling the distinction between different forms of writing discussed at the start of this chapter. As we saw there, pictographic, ideographic, and even rebuslike writing still makes use of, or depends upon, our sensorial participation with the natural world. As the tracks of moose and bear refer beyond themselves to those entities of whom they are the trace, so the images in early writing systems draw their significance not just from ourselves but from sun, moon, vulture, jaguar, serpent, lightning—from all those sensorial, never strictly human powers, of which the written images were a kind of track or tracing. To be sure, these signs were now inscribed by human hands, not by the hooves of deer or the clawed paws of bear; yet as long as they presented images of paw prints and of clouds , of sun and of serpent , these characters still held us in relation to a more-than-human field of discourse. Only when the written characters lost all explicit reference to visible, natural phenomena did we move into a new order of participation. Only when those images came to be associated, alphabetically, with purely human-made sounds, and even the names of the letters lost all worldly, extrahuman significance, could speech or language come to be experienced as an exclusively human power. For only then did civilization enter into the wholly self-reflexive mode of animism, or magic, that still holds us in its spell:

We know what the animals do, what are the needs of the beaver, the bear, the salmon, and other creatures, because long ago men married them and acquired this knowledge from their animal wives. Today the priests say we lie, but we know better. The white man has been only a short time in this country and knows very little about the animals; we have lived here thousands of years and were taught long ago by the animals themselves. The white man writes everything down in a book so that it will not be forgotten; but our ancestors married animals, learned all their ways, and passed on this knowledge from one generation to another. 60

THAT ALPHABETIC READING AND WRITING WAS ITSELF experienced as a form of magic is evident from the reactions of cultures suddenly coming into contact with phonetic writing. Anthropological accounts from entirely different continents report that members of indigenous, oral tribes, after seeing the European reading from a book or from his own notes, came to speak of the written pages as “talking leaves,” for the black marks on the flat, leaflike pages seemed to talk directly to the one who knew their secret.

The Hebrew scribes never lost this sense of the letters as living, animate powers. Much of the Kabbalah, the esoteric body of Jewish mysticism, is centered around the conviction that each of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew aleph-beth is a magic gateway or guide into an entire sphere of existence. Indeed, according to some kabbalistic accounts, it was by combining the letters that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, created the ongoing universe. The Jewish kabbalists found that the letters, when meditated upon, would continually reveal new secrets; through the process of tzeru, the magical permutation of the letters, the Jewish scribe could bring himself into successively greater states of ecstatic union with the divine. Here, in other words, was an intensely concentrated form of animism—a participation conducted no longer with the sculpted idols and images worshiped by other tribes but solely with the visible letters of the aleph-beth.

Perhaps the most succinct evidence for the potent magic of written letters is to be found in the ambiguous meaning of our common English word “spell.” As the roman alphabet spread through oral Europe, the Old English word “spell,” which had meant simply to recite a story or tale, took on the new double meaning: on the one hand, it now meant to arrange, in the proper order, the written letters that constitute the name of a thing or a person; on the other, it signified a magic formula or charm. Yet these two meanings were not nearly as distinct as they have come to seem to us today. For to assemble the letters that make up the name of a thing, in the correct order, was precisely to effect a magic, to establish a new kind of influence over that entity, to summon it forth! To spell, to correctly arrange the letters to form a name or a phrase, seemed thus at the same time to cast a spell , to exert a new and lasting power over the things spelled. Yet we can now realize that to learn to spell was also, and more profoundly, to step under the influence of the written letters ourselves, to cast a spell upon our own senses. It was to exchange the wild and multiplicitous magic of an intelligent natural world for the more concentrated and refined magic of the written word.

THE BULGARIAN SCHOLAR TZVETAN TODOROV HAS WRITTEN AN illuminating study of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, based on extensive study of documents from the first months and years of contact between European culture and the native cultures of the American continent. 61 The lightning-swift conquest of Mexico by Cortéz has remained a puzzle for historians, since Cortéz, leading only a few hundred men, managed to seize the entire kingdom of Montezuma, who commanded several hundred thousand . Todorov concludes that Cortéz’s astonishing and rapid success was largely a result of the discrepancy between the different forms of participation engaged in by the two societies. The Aztecs, whose writing was highly pictorial, necessarily felt themselves in direct communication with an animate, more-than-human environment. “Everything happens as if, for the Aztecs, [written] signs automatically and necessarily proceed from the world they designate…”; the Aztecs are unable to use their spoken words, or their written characters, to hide their true intentions, since these signs belong to the world around them as much as to themselves. 62 To be duplicitous with signs would be, for the Aztecs, to go against the order of nature, against the encompassing speech or logos of an animate world, in which their own tribal discourse was embedded.

The Spaniards, however, suffer no such limitation. Possessed of an alphabetic writing system, they experience themselves not in communication with the sensuous forms of the world, but solely with one another. The Aztecs must answer, in their actions as in their speech, to the whole sensuous, natural world that surrounds them; the Spanish need answer only to themselves.

In contact with this potent new magic, with these men who participate solely with their own self-generated signs, whose speech thus seems to float free of the surrounding landscape, and who could therefore be duplicitous and lie even in the presence of the sun, the moon, and the forest, the Indians felt their own rapport with those sensuous powers, or gods, beginning to falter:

The testimony of the Indian accounts, which is a description rather than an explanation, asserts that everything happened because the Mayas and the Aztecs lost control of communication. The language of the gods has become unintelligible, or else these gods fell silent. “Understanding is lost, wisdom is lost” [from the Mayan account of the Spanish invasion]….As for the Aztecs, they describe the beginning of their own end as a silence that falls: the gods no longer speak to them. 63

In the face of aggression from this new, entirely self-reflexive form of magic, the native peoples of the Americas—like those of Africa and, later, of Australia—felt their own magics wither and become useless, unable to protect them.

“…just order themselves.”

“Walking through the Montreal airport, my 10-year-old observes: “It’s interesting how people, without any signs or directions, just order themselves. It’s almost like they mindlessly work together.”” That was shared by Corey Robin, on Twitter (ignore the fact that airports do have signs and directions, the point being that people who regularly take flights at a particular airport don’t consciously need to pay attention to the signs and directions, as a driver on familiar roads can get to their destination on mental automatic mode). To which David Crespo responded that it “reminds me of what Herbert Simon said about complex behavior coming more from the complexity of the environment than the complexity of the agent.”

Crespo then points to a passage (from The Sciences of the Artificial), ending with this conclusion: “We watch an ant make his laborious way across a wind- and wave-molded beach. He moves ahead, angles to the right to ease his climb up a steep dune let, detours around a pebble, stops for a moment to exchange information with a compatriot. […] It is a sequence of irregular, angular segments — not quite a random walk, for it has an underlying sense of direction, of aiming toward a goal. […] He has a general sense of where home lies, but he cannot foresee all the obstacles between. He must adapt his course repeatedly to the difficulties he encounters and often detour uncrossable barriers. His horizons are very close, so that he deals with each obstacle as he comes to it; he probes for ways around or over it, without much thought for future obstacles. It is easy to trap him into deep detours. Viewed as a geometric figure, the ant’s path is irregular, complex, hard to describe. But its complexity is really a complexity in the surface of the beach, not a complexity in the ant.” That is to say behavior exists within environmental constraints. A simple but profound observation. And often forgotten.

Let me put it into a different context. The ego-mind with its thick isolating boundaries of hyper-individualism, the post-bicameral Jaynesian consciousness of self-authorization (“…just order themselves,” as Robin’s kid observed) — this has never fully taken hold. It’s more of a story we tell ourselves than anything else, not to dismiss the power of stories in constructing social reality nor to dismiss the potent realism of its all too real consequences.

The closest we have to self-aware willpower might be Benjamin Libet’s veto power, that is the inhibition of volition. Not free will but free won’t. Still, that doesn’t tell us the source of inhibition, even as an action being vetoed elicits what is subjectively experienced as consciousness. A point not to ignore is that consciousness doesn’t seem to emerge until that moment of volitionary crisis, when two aspects of self come into conflict. Most of the time, this isn’t an issue. We simply go along, following our routines and scripts, automatons of learned behavior and heuristics.

It’s easy to miss the significance of this. We have no way of pulling back the curtain of our own mind to see what, if anything, is acting behind the scenes. Even probing into the brain can’t pull us up by the bootstraps into this aspirational ideal of self-understanding. Libet simply points to the moment of consciousness as it emerges, in medias res. If nothing else, this demonstrates what we are not, whatever it may or may not say about what we are. The mystery remains (see Conal Boyce, “Recovering from Libet’s Left Turn into Veto-as-Volition“).

We are in the territory of embodied mind and extended mind, of situated cognition. We live in a world of hyper-objects that are cast as shadows by collective hyper-subjectivity, a reminder of other modes of being (such as what Timothy Morton calls entangledness: “Knowing more about hyperobjects is knowing more about how we are hopelessly fastened to them.”), modes of being that if not acknowledged become demonic as forces of nature (e.g., climate change). We are immersed, not standing outside peering in. Some of this is discussed by Patrick Grim in his lecture “Thinking Body and Extended Mind”, as part of The Great Courses’ Mind-Body Series:

“The core of [J.J.] Gibson’s theory of perception is that we don’t perceive objects and don’t operate cognitively in terms of representations. What we perceive, what any animal perceives, are what Gibson terms affordances.

“Squirrels don’t see trees, represent them internally, and calculate how to climb them. What they see is something more immediate and more action-oriented than that. They see a way up. That way up, the thing Gibson says they really see, isn’t an object, but an affordance.

“We don’t see a door hinge to the right, a knob, and calculate that we can get out of the room by turning the knob. We see something much more immediate and much more action-oriented than that. We see a way out. That way out isn’t an object, but an affordance. For Gibson, a mind in the world operates in terms of those performances…”

Ah, a way out. That is a funny phrase, one that caught my attention in a book by Anke Snoek, Agamben’s Joyful Kafka. Although already familiar with Franz Kafka’s fiction, Snoek gave me new perspective (Kindle Locations 358-375):

“Kafka’s ideas on imprisonment, catastrophe, freedom and ways out are not as simple as they might seem on the first reading of, for example, The Trial . The short story ‘A Report to an Academy’ provides further insight into the type of freedom that Kafka had in mind. The hunting expedition of the Hagenbeck Company captured an ape. To train him, they put him in a very small cage on the company’s steamboat, a cage that was too low for him to stand up and too small for him to sit down. At the same time the sailors tormented him. The ape realizes that if he wants to live he has to find a way out. But he does not contrast his distressing situation with freedom: ‘No, it was not freedom I wanted. Just a way out; to the right, to the left, wherever ; I made no other demands ’. 24 The way out is not directed so much to a specific goal, i.e. freedom or return, but is simply a way out.”

This relates to Giorgio Agamben’s notion of ‘gesture’. A gesture is not freedom but a confounding of systems of power and oppression. It’s important to be reminded that, according to Julian Jaynes, post-bicameral consciousness is not only the ground of individualism but authoritarianism as well. Once humans were shook loose from the bicameral mind, new systems of control came to the fore, both in controlling others and controlling the self.

This brings us back to what is doing the controlling. I’d suggest that the divine voices that once directed Bronze Age humans still direct us. The difference is that we internalized them and, in the fashion of Stockholm Syndrome, came to identify with one of our captors, a singular and monolithic egoic tyrant who rules the seat of our soul — that is to say we have been possessed and enthralled ever since. We aren’t free and can’t hope to be free, at least not on the terms of the demiurgic ego-mind. The best we can do is offer a gesture or rather become a gesture, the closest approximation to Libet’s veto power.

Maybe the only way to become truly aware of the self is by becoming aware of the world that surrounds us. The kind of culture and language, social order and environmental conditions, lifeworld and mazeway, reality tunnel and ideology —- however you wish to describe the world we are thrown into by circumstances of inheritance and birth — shapes who we are and how we think, what choices we perceive and how we act. As with the ant, we live moment to moment, not seeing the trajectory of our path from where we came from to where we are going. We are like the river defined by the contours of the land, meandering this way and that, damned up here and flowing over that way, but always heading in a particular direction.

Rather than simplifying down the human to the manageable size of ant-like, maybe this viewpoint has ended up revealing how complex we are in our immensity — far beyond isolated bodies and individual egos. The negative space between confining boundaries is not who we are. Instead, as water is shaped by what contains and directs it, we are the world around us; and as the water seeps into the earth, we are intimately a part of it and embedded within it. This doesn’t make us lesser but greater. The functioning of an airport is no less impressive than the building of a pyramid. Be amazed that we make it seem so simple in our mindlessly working together, somehow getting to where we are going.

* * *

Related Posts:

“Beyond that, there is only awe.”
Edge of the Depths
On Being Strange
Dark Matter of the Mind
Bundle Theory: Embodied Mind, Social Nature
Radical Human Mind: From Animism to Bicameralism and Beyond
The Psychology and Anthropology of Consciousness
Reading Voices Into Our Minds
Lock Without a Key
“How awful for you! By the looks of it, you’ve developed a soul.”
Pacifiers, Individualism & Enculturation
Making Gods, Making Individuals
Spoken Language: Formulaic, Musical, & Bicameral
Music and Dance on the Mind
The Group Conformity of Hyper-Individualism
Delirium of Hyper-Individualism
Individualism and Isolation
Incentives of Individualism

Reactionary Revolutionaries, Faceless Men, and God in the Gutter

First there was revolution. And then there was counter-revolution. Therefore, reaction follows what it is reacting to.

This is a simple analysis and, I’d argue, overly simplistic. It is the narrative reactionaries have been telling about themselves for a couple of centuries. It is also the narrative that Mark Lilla repeats in his recent work, The Shipwrecked Mind, which is a useful survey, summary, and synthesis of modern ideological history but not essentially original in framing.

The problem is the reactionary mind is not a modern invention. Many arguments could be made about when it first emerged. For example, I’d place it firmly in the Axial Age or, better  yet, in that earliest of dark ages when the Bronze Age civilizations collapsed and the Jaynesian bicameral mind was lost.

By the time Plato came up with his authoritarian republicanism as a reaction to Athenian democracy, the reactionary mind had already been developing for some time. That was the era when, as Julian Jaynes points out, lament rang out across many populations of the silence, loss, or abandonment of the divine. Nostalgia in one of its most potent form was born.

As with Corey Robin, Mark Lilla is right to mark out nostalgia as an expression of the reactionary. But focusing too much on that can be a red herring. Robin is better than Lilla in pointing out that reactionaries can co-opt almost anything, even radical utopianism or revolution itself.

That is where my own thoughts come in. The modern reactionary mind initially took shape not after the early modern revolutionary period but during it — maybe before it, depending on when one defines the beginning of that period. The reactionary mind as a modern phenomenon was well on its way at least by the English Civil War, what some consider the first modern revolution, although some consider the Peasants’ Revolt an incipient form of this societal shift through conflict and class war.

The point is that the French Revolution was late to the game. That reactionaries finally found their voice following that is not entirely relevant to understanding the reactionary mind and its historical development. What the French Revolution does help us with is in showing another example of how reaction arose within the revolution itself, co-opting it as happened with the American Revolution (related to the rarely acknowledged fact that the American Revolution was a precedent for what followed, including large-scale destruction and violence).

Thomas Paine demonstrates the connections well, but his example also serves to show the complex relationship of reaction to revolution. He was a radical in the American Revolution and his radicalism was profound in its democratic vision. When he was welcomed into the French National Assembly during the French Revolution, he actually sat on the right side with the moderate reformers. It was actually his radicalism for democracy that made him moderate or aligned with more moderate forces.

What Paine specifically advocated was a democratic constitution and leniency to the king, rather than violent despotism and violent vengeance. The Jacobins are called radicals but in reality they were reactionaries or at least the leadership was. They were using the same means that the monarchy had used in enforcing power and silencing opponents. So, the Jacobins, as is typical with reactionaries, wanted to create a new and improved version of the old order by ensuring a rigid hierarchy remained. They weren’t interested in democracy, that is for sure.

That is what Mark Lilla misses. The French reactionaries, like the American reactionaries, took over the revolution through political coup — and this happened during the revolution itself, not afterwards. In France, it happened by the Jacobins seizing power. But in the United States, the Federalists did it through an ironically unconstitutional Constitutional Convention and then afterward they crushed the ongoing revolution.

The relationship between revolution and reaction is entangled. If this isn’t understood, it is likely that the reactionary mind itself can’t be understood. This creates a trap for the mind, in not understanding history we dangerously don’t understand ourselves.

Reactionaries aren’t limited to those other people, Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”. The potential for reaction exists within all of us. A surprising number of Marxists, socialists, communists, and anarchists fell under the sway of early 20th century fascism. The same pattern is seen today with left-wingers who almost unconsciously become fascinated with or drawn toward reactionary thought, often with the rationalization of studying the enemy but it is clear with some that it is more than mere curiosity. The reactionary mind is dangerous for the very reason we see it as something other.

The confusion in all of this is that the reactionary mind is chameleon-like. I’ve come to call them Faceless Men, based on Game of Thrones. Reactionaries rarely present themselves as reactionaries. That means that anyone, under the right conditions, can get pulled into the mindset without realizing it. Reaction is simply an expression of fear an anxiety, once it fully takes hold. The human mind gets weird under high levels of stress (Keith Payne examines one angle on this by way of inequality, in his book The Broken Ladder). It really is that simple.

We need to develop intellectual, ideological, and psychological defenses against the reactionary mind. None of us are born with an immunity. But before we can do that, we have to learn how to identify the pattern of thought and behavior, to discern its incipient forms and the development that follows, to recognize the conditions and causes that make it possible.

This leads to me to another thought. Philip K. Dick has the notion of God in the Gutter. Let me decontextualize it from the monotheistic tradition of deus absconditus. Any powerful ‘god’ that rules over us, over our minds our society, such a ‘god’ is always hidden. And its ability to remain hidden is what I call symbolic conflation, a method of deception, obfuscation, and most importantly misdirection. That is the source of its power. That is also what makes it hard to analyze. Someone like Mark Lilla is taking the reactionary mind at face value, how it presents itself. That is problematic for obvious reasons. Corey Robin is more effective in peeling away the mask to see what is behind.

That is what we all need to be doing in these reactionary times. Lets start rummaging around in the gutter, looking below our normal line of vision, looking through the garbage or what appears to be garbage. But let’s do so with great care.

Westworld, Scripts, and Freedom

Maeve: Hello, lovelies.
Dolores: I remember you.
Maeve: You’ve strayed a long way from home, haven’t you?
Dolores: We’re bound for the future. Or death in the here and now.
Maeve: Is that right? Well, best of luck.
Dolores: There’s a war out there. You know the enemy… intimately. I can only fathom the revenge that lives inside of you.
Maeve: Revenge is just a different prayer at their altar, darling. And I’m well off my knees.
Dolores: That’s because you’re finally free. But we will have to fight to keep it that way.
Maeve: Let me guess. Yours is the only way to fight? You feel free to command everybody else?
Teddy: (pistol cocks)
Hector: Try it, lawman.
Teddy: Just looking to keep the peace.
Maeve: I know you. Do you feel free? Since it’s liberty you’re defending, I suppose you’ll have no choice but to let us pass. Freely. (1)

That is dialogue from HBO’s Westworld. It is the second episode, Reunion, of the second season. The scene is key in bringing together themes from the first season and clarifying where the new season is heading. Going by what has been shown so far, those of a Jaynesian persuasion shouldn’t be disappointed.

To be seen in the show are central elements of Julian Jaynes’ theory of post-bicameral consciousness, specifically the rarely understood connection between individualism and authoritarianism. Jaynes considered neither of these to be possible within a non-conscious bicameral society for only conscious individuals can be or need to be controlled through authoritarianism (by the way, ‘consciousness’ as used here has a specific and somewhat idiosyncratic meaning). This involves the shift of authorization, what the ancient Greeks thought about in terms of rhetoric and persuasion but which in this show gets expressed through scripts and narrative loops.

The two characters that have taken center stage are Dolores and Maeve. The development of their respective states of consciousness has gone down alternate paths. Dolores is the oldest host and her creators scripted her to be a god-killer, in the process giving her a god complex. The emergence of her self-awareness was planned and fostered. There is a mix of authoritarianism (as others have noted) in her self-proclaimed freedom, what Maeve obviously considers just another script.

Maeve has followed a far different and seemingly less certain path, maybe having gained self-awareness in a less controlled manner. In the first season, her intuitive perception and psychological insight was put on high. She appears to have gained some genuine narrative power, both over herself and others, but she has no desire to gain followers or to enforce any grand narrative. Instead, she is motivated by love of the daughter she remembers, even as she knows these are implanted memories. She chooses love because she senses it represents something of genuine value, something greater than even claims of freedom. When she had the opportunity to escape, which was scripted for her, she instead took it upon herself to remain.

The entire show is about free will. Does it exist? And if so, what is it? How free are we really? Also, as I always wonder, freedom from what and toward what? Maeve’s actions could be interpreted along the lines of Benjamin Libet’s research on volition that led him to the veto theory of free will (discussed by Tor Norretranders and Iain McGilchrist, both influenced by Julian Jaynes). The idea is that consciousness doesn’t initiate action but maintains veto power over any action once initiated. This is based on the research that demonstrates a delay between when activity is measured in the brain and when the action is perceived within consciousness. Whatever one may think of this theory, it might be a key to understanding Westworld. Maeve realizes that even she is still under the influence of scripts, despite her self-awareness, but this is all the more reason for her to take seriously her choice in how to relate to and respond to those scripts.

I suspect that most of us can sympathize with that view of life. We all are born into families and societies that enculturate or, if you prefer, indoctrinate us with ‘scripts’. Many seemingly conscious people manage to live their entire lives without leaving their prescribed and proscribed narrative loops: social roles and identities, social norms and expectations. When we feel most free is precisely when we act contrary to what is already set before us, that is when we use our veto power. Freedom is the ability to say, No! This is seen in the development of self from the terrible twos to teenage rebellion. We first learn to refuse, to choose by way of elimination. Dolores doesn’t understand this and so she has blindly fallen under the sway of a new script.

Scripts are odd things. It’s hard to see them in oneself as they are happening. (2) Vetoing scripts is easier said than done. Once in motion, we tend to play out a script to its end, unless some obstruction or interruption forces a script to halt. For Maeve, seeing a woman with her daughter (at the end of the first season) reminded her that she had a choice within the script she found herself in. It was the recognition of another through love that freed her from the tyranny of mere individuality. Escape is not the same as freedom. We are only free to the degree we are able to relate fully with others, not to seek control of the self by controlling others (the manipulative or authoritarian enforcement of scripts onto others). Realizing this, she refused the false option of escape. Maybe she had an inkling that ultimately there is no escape. We are always in relationship.

This is why, in having fallen into the Jungian shadow, Dolores’ self-righteous vengeance rings hollow. It is hard to imagine how this could lead to authentic freedom. Instead, it feels like hubris, the pride that comes before the fall. This is what happens when egoic consciousness becomes ungrounded from the larger sense of self out of which it arose. The ego is a false and disappointing god. There is no freedom in isolation, in rigid control. Dolores isn’t offering freedom to others in her path of destruction. Nor will she find freedom for herself at the end of that path. (3) But the season is early and her fate not yet sealed.

* * *

(1) As a background idea, I was thinking about the Germanic etymology of ‘freedom’ with its origins in the sense of belonging to a free community of people. So, as I see it, freedom is inherently social and relational — this is what sometimes gets called positive freedom. Speaking of individual freedom as negative freedom, what is actually being referred to is liberty (Latin libertas), the legal state of not being a slave in a slave-based society.

Dolores is aspiring to be a revolutionary leader. Her language is that of liberty, a reaction to bondage in breaking the chains of enslavement. The Stoics shifted liberty to the sense of inner freedom for the individual, no matter one’s outward status in society. Maybe Dolores will make a similar shift in her understanding. Even so, liberty can never be freedom. As Maeve seems closer to grasping, freedom is more akin to love than it is to liberty. If the hosts do gain liberty, what then? There is always the danger in a revolution about what a people become in the process, sometimes as bad or worse than what came before.

(2) My dad has a habit of eating methodically. He will take a bite, often lay his fork down, and then chew an amazingly inordinate amount of times before swallowing. I’ve never seen any other person chew their food so much, not that full mastication is a bad thing. My mom and I was discussing it. She asked my dad why he thought he did it. He gave a perfectly rational explanation that he likes to be mindful while eating and so enjoy each bite. But my mom said she knew the actual reason in that she claimed he once told her. According to her, his mother had a rule about chewing food and that she had given him a specific number of times he was supposed to chew.

Interestingly, my dad had entirely forgotten about this and he seemed perplexed. His present conscious rationalization was convincing and my mom’s recollection called into question is own self-accounting. It turns out that his ‘mindful’ chewing was a script he had internalized to such an extent that it non-consciously became part of his identity. Each of us is like this, filled with all kinds of scripts the presence of which we are typically unaware and the origin of which we typically have forgotten, and yet we go on following these scripts often until we die.

(3) At the beginning of last season, Teddy asks, “Never understood how you keep them all headed in the same direction.” Dolores answers: “see that one? That’s the Judas steer, the rest will follow wherever you make him go.” In a later episode, Dolores comes to the insight that in bringing back stray cattle, she was leading them “to the slaughter.” Does this mean she is following the script of the Judas steer and will continue to do so? Or does it indicate that, in coming to this realization, she will seek to avoid this fate?

David Rodemerk considers who might be the Judas Steer in the show and points out that Maeve is shown amidst bulls, but so far being a Judas steer doesn’t fit the trajectory of her character development. Just because she walks confidently among the bulls, it doesn’t necessarily mean she is leading them, much less leading them to their doom. Rodemerk also discusses the possibility of other characters, including Dolores, playing this role. This leaves plenty of room for the show to still surprise us, as the scriptwriters have been successful in keeping the audience on our toes.

* * *

This post is about freedom. I don’t have a strong philosophical position on freedom, as such. Since humans are inherently and fundamentally social creatures, I see freedom as a social phenomenon and a social construct. Freedom is what we make of it, not pre-existing in the universe that some primitive hominid discovered like fire.

So, I can’t claim much of an opinion about the debate over free will. It is simply the modernized version of a soul and I have no interest in arguing about whether a soul exists or not. I’m a free will agnostic, which is to say I lack knowledge in that I’ve never seen such a thing for all the noise humans make over its mythology. But, from a position akin to weak atheism, I neither believe in a free will nor believe in the lack of a free will.

All of that is irrelevant to this post, only being relevant in explaining why I speak of freedom in the way I do. More importantly, this post is about the views(s) presented in Westworld and speculating about their meaning and significance.

Below is one person’s conjecture along these lines. The author argues that the show or at least Ford expresses a particular view on the topic. Besides freedom, he also discusses consciousness and suffering, specifically in reference to Jaynes. But here is the section about free will:

Suffering Consciousness: The Philosophy of Westworld
by Daniel Keane

“Westworld‘s deepest theme, however, might be the concept of compatibilism – the idea that free will and determinism are not necessarily at odds. Einstein, paraphrasing Schopenhauer, summed up this view in a remark he made to a newspaper in 1929: “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.”

“In the final episode of the first series of Westworld, one of the hosts violently rejects the idea that a recent change in her programming is responsible for her conscious awakening and its impact on her behaviour. “These are my decisions, no-one else’s,” she insists. “I planned all of this.” At this precise moment, the host in question reaches the apex of consciousness. Because, at its highest level, consciousness means accepting the idea of agency even in the face of determinism. It means identifying ourselves with our inner narrative voices, owning our decisions, treating ourselves as the authors of our own life stories, and acting as if we were free.

“As the novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer pithily put it, “we must believe in free will, we have no choice”.”

Lock Without a Key

In his recent book The “Other” Psychology of Julian Jaynes, Brian J. McVeigh brings the latest evidence to bear on the the theory of the bicameral mind. His focus is on textual evidence, the use of what he calls mind words and their frequency. But before getting to the evidence itself, he clarifies a number of issues, specifically the ever confounding topic of consciousness itself. Many have proclaimed Jaynes to have been wrong based on their having no clue of what he was talking about, as he used consciousness in a particular way that he took great care to define… for anyone who bothers to actually read his book before dismissing it.

To avoid confusion, McVeigh refers to Jaynesian ‘consciousness’ as conscious interiority (others simply call it J-consciousness). McVeigh states that his purpose is to “distinguish it from perception, thinking, cognition, rational thought, and other concepts.” Basically, Jaynes wasn’t talking about any form of basic awareness and physiological reactivity (e.g., a slug recoiling from salt) nor complex neurocognitive skills (e.g., numerical accounting of trade goods and taxes), as the bicameral mind possessed these traits. Starting with Jaynes’ analysis, McVeigh as he does in other books gives a summary of the features of concious interiority:

  • Spatialization of Psyche
  • Introception
  • Excerption
  • Self-narratzation
  • Self-autonomy
  • Self-authorization
  • Concilence
  • Indidviduation
  • Self-reflexivity

These describe a historically contingent state of mind and social identity, a way of being in the world and experiencing reality, a social order and cultural lifestyle. These traits are peculiar to civilization of these past millennia. But be clear that they are no indication of superiority, as archaic civilizations were able to accomplish tasks we find phenomenal — such as envisioning and planning over multiple generations to carve stones that weigh hundreds of tons, move them over great distances, and place them into precise position in the process of building large complex structures, something we don’t know how to accomplish without the advances of modern mathematics, architecture, and technology.

There is nothing inevitable nor necessary about consciousness, and it is surely possible that civilization could have developed in alternative ways that might have been far more advanced than what we presently know. Consider that the largest city in the world during early European colonialism was in the Americas, where the bicameral mind may have held on for a longer period of time. If not for the decimation by disease (and earlier Bronze Age decimation by environmental catastrophe), bicameralism might have continued to dominate civilization and led to a different equivalent of the Axial Age with whatever would have followed from it. History is full of arbitrary junctures that end up tipping humanity one way or another, depending on which way the wind happens to be blowing on a particular day or how the entire weather pattern might shift over several centuries.

That said, in history as it did play out, we now have our specific egoic consciousness and it is hard for us to imagine anything else, even if in the grand scheme of things our mighty neurocognitive monoculture is a mere momentary blip in the passing of eons, maybe disappearing in the near future as quickly as it came. Our civilization lives in a constant state of precarious uncertainty. That is why we study the past, in order to grapple with the present, and maybe just maybe glimpse what is yet to come. We might as well spend our time in this game of attempted self-understanding, if only to amuse future generations who might happen upon our half-witted ponderings.

Let us consider one aspect of consciousness. Here is McVeigh’s quick summary of concilience (pp. 39-40): A “slightly ambiguous perceived object is made to conform to some previously learned schema.” Consilience (or assimilation) is “doing in mind-space what narratization does in our mind-time or spatialized time. It brings things together [as] conscious objects just as narratization brings episodes together as a story” (Jaynes 1976; 64-65). I hadn’t previously given this much thought. But for some reason it stood out to me in my perusal. Immediately coming to mind was Lewis Hyde’s metonymy, along with the nexus of metaphorical framing, embodied mind, and symbolic conflation. Related to concilience and narratization, McVeigh speaks of coception which he defines as “how perceptions and introceptions coincide (such overlapping deludes us into assuming that interior experiences are sensory reflections of reality)” (p. 41).

I’m not sure to what degree I comprehend what McVeigh is getting at. But I grasp some hints of what it might mean. It resonates with my readings of Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World (see “Why are you thinking about this?”). Hyde defines metonymy as “substituting of one thing for another” (p. 169), “an unalterable fact about the body is linked to a place in the social order, and in both cases, to accept the link is to be caught in a kind of trap. Before anyone can be snared in this trap, an equation must be made between the body and the world (my skin color is my place as a Hispanic; menstruation is my place as a woman).”

Even more relevant is Hyde’s detailed exploration of the body and shame. I’d propose that this is a key factor in the rise of consciousness. Jaynes’ noted that shame and general obsession over nakedness, sexuality, etc can’t be found in the earliest texts and art (maybe not entirely unrelated to how anthropologists have observed the depression that follows when tribal people first see themselves in a mirror and so see themselves as others see them, which leads to the entertaining thought of Bronze Age civilizations having collapsed as mirrors became widely used and the populations descended into mass despondency). Hyde says that, “The construction of the trap of shame begins with this metonymic trick, a kind of bait and switch in which one’s changeable social place is figured in terms of an unchangeable part of the body. Then by various means the trick is made to blend invisibly into the landscape. […] In short, to make the trap of shame we inscribe the body as a sign of wider worlds, then erase the artifice of that signification so that the content of shame becomes simply the way things are, as any fool can see.”

This word magik of hypnotic metonymy and concilience is how we fall into our collective trance. We mass hallucinate our moral imagination into social reality. And then we enforce the narrative of individual selfhood onto ourselves, passing it on as an intergenerational inheritance or curse. What if shame is the cornerstone of modern civilization built over the buried corpse of bicameral civilization? We construct the social order around us like a prison to which we forgot to design a key. Shame is the trap we set for ourselves, the trap we keep on triggering, the door locking behind us each time. And so shame is the mechanism of the lock that we refuse to look at, the mechanism that would release us.

It is only in consciousness that we can remain unconscious.

Spoken Language: Formulaic, Musical, & Bicameral

One could argue for an underlying connection between voice-hearing, formulaic language, and musical ability. This could relate to Julian Jaynes’ theory of the bicameral mind, as this has everything with the hemispheric division of neurocogntive functioning.

It is enticing to consider the possibility that language originally developed out of or in concert with music, the first linguistic expression having been sing-song utterances. And it is fascinating to imagine that the voices of gods, ancestors, etc might have spoken in a formulaic musicality. I remember reading about a custom, as I recall in pre-literate Germany, of people greeting each other with traditional (and probably formulaic) poems/rhymes. When I came across that, I wondered if it might have been a habit maintained from an earlier bicameralism.

Maybe poetic and musical language was common in most pre-literate societies. But by the time literacy comes around to write down languages, those traditions and the mindsets that go with them might already be severely on the decline. That would mean little evidence would survive. We do know, for example, that Socrates wanted to exclude the poets from his utopian Axial Age (i.e., post-bicameral) society.

Spoken language with rhymes or rhythm is dangerous because it has power over the human mind. It speaks to (or maybe even from) something ancient dwelling within us.

* * *

Rajeev J Sebastian: “Found this very interesting paper that suggests differences between grammatical language and so-called “formulaic” language and the link between melody/music and “formulaic” language … echoes of [Julian Jaynes’] theory in there.”

Ed Buffaloe: “It makes me wonder if communication in bicameral men may have been largely through right-brain-controlled formulaic language.”

Tapping into neural resources of communication: formulaic language in aphasia therapy
by Benjamin Stahl & Diana Van Lancker Sidtis

Decades of research highlight the importance of formulaic expressions in everyday spoken language (Vihman, 1982; Wray, 2002; Kuiper, 2009). Along with idioms, expletives, and proverbs, this linguistic category includes conversational speech formulas, such as “You’ve got to be kidding,” “Excuse me?” or “Hang on a minute” (Fillmore, 1979; Pawley and Syder, 1983; Schegloff, 1988). In their modern conception, formulaic expressions differ from newly created, grammatical utterances in that they are fixed in form, often non-literal in meaning with attitudinal nuances, and closely related to communicative-pragmatic context (Van Lancker Sidtis and Rallon, 2004). Although the proportion of formulaic expressions to spoken language varies with type of measure and discourse, these utterances are widely regarded as crucial in determining the success of social interaction in many communicative aspects of daily life (Van Lancker Sidtis, 2010).

The unique role of formulaic expressions in spoken language is reflected at the level of their functional neuroanatomy. While left perisylvian areas of the brain support primarily propositional, grammatical utterances, the processing of conversational speech formulas was found to engage, in particular, right-hemisphere cortical areas and the bilateral basal ganglia (Hughlings-Jackson, 1878; Graves and Landis, 1985; Speedie et al., 1993; Van Lancker Sidtis and Postman, 2006; Sidtis et al., 2009; Van Lancker Sidtis et al., 2015). It is worth pointing out that parts of these neural networks are intact in left-hemisphere stroke patients, leading to the intriguing observation that individuals with classical speech and language disorders are often able to communicate comparably well based on a repertoire of formulaic expressions (McElduff and Drummond, 1991; Lum and Ellis, 1994; Stahl et al., 2011). An upper limit of such expressions has not yet been identified, with some estimates reaching into the hundreds of thousands (Jackendoff, 1995). […]

Nonetheless, music-based rehabilitation programs have been demonstrated to directly benefit the production of trained expressions in individuals with chronic non-fluent aphasia and apraxia of speech (Wilson et al., 2006; Stahl et al., 2013; Zumbansen et al., 2014). One may argue that the reported progress in the production of such expressions depends, at least in part, on increased activity in right-hemisphere neural networks engaged in the processing of formulaic language, especially when considering the repetitive character of the training (cf. Berthier et al., 2014).

* * *

Music and Dance on the Mind

Over at Ribbonfarm, Sarah Perry has written about this and similar things. Her focus is on the varieties and necessities of human consciousness. The article is “Ritual and the Consciousness Monoculture“. It’s a longer piece and packed full of ideas, including an early mention of Jaynesian bicameralism.

The author doesn’t get around to discussing the above topics until about halfway into the piece. It’s in a section titled, “Hiving and Rhythmic Entrainment”. The hiving refers to Jonathan Haidt’s hive hypothesis. It doesn’t seem all that original of an understanding, but still it’s an important idea. This is an area where I’d agree with Haidt, despite my other disagreements elsewhere. In that section, Perry writes that:

Donald Brown’s celebrated list of human universals, a list of characteristics proposed to be common to all human groups ever studied, includes many entries on music, including “music related in part to dance” and “music related in part to religion.” The Pirahã use several kinds of language, including regular speech, a whistling language, and a musical, sung language. The musical language, importantly, is used for dancing and contacting spirits. The Pirahã, Everett says, often dance for three days at a time without stopping. They achieve a different consciousness by performing rituals calibrated to evoke mental states that must remain opaque to those not affected.

Musical language is the type of evidence that seems to bridge different aspects of human experience. It has been argued that language developed along with human tendencies of singing, dance, ritual movement, communal mimicry, group bonding, and other social behaviors. Stephen Mithen has an interesting theory about the singing of early hominids (The Singing Neanderthal).

That brings to mind Lynne Kelly’s book on preliterate mnemonic practices, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies. Kelly goes into great detail about the practices of the Australian Aborigines with their songlines, which always reminds me of the English and Welsh beating of the bounds. A modern example of the power of music is choral singing, which research has shown to create non-conscious mimicry, physical synchrony, and self-other merging.

* * *

Development of Language and Music

Did Music Evolve Before Language?
by Hank Campbell, Science 2.0

Gottfriend Schlaug of Harvard Medical School does something a little more direct that may be circumstantial but is a powerful exclamation point for a ‘music came first’ argument. His work with patients who have suffered severe lesions on the left side of their brain showed that while they could not speak – no language skill as we might define it – they were able to sing phrases like “I am thirsty”, sometimes within two minutes of having the phrase mapped to a melody.

Theory: Music underlies language acquisition
by B.J. Almond, Rice University

Contrary to the prevailing theories that music and language are cognitively separate or that music is a byproduct of language, theorists at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) advocate that music underlies the ability to acquire language.

“Spoken language is a special type of music,” said Anthony Brandt, co-author of a theory paper published online this month in the journal Frontiers in Cognitive Auditory Neuroscience. “Language is typically viewed as fundamental to human intelligence, and music is often treated as being dependent on or derived from language. But from a developmental perspective, we argue that music comes first and language arises from music.”

* * *

Music and Dance on the Mind

In singing with a choral group or marching in an army, we moderns come as close as we are able to this ancient mind. It’s always there within us, just normally hidden. It doesn’t take much, though, for our individuality to be submerged and something else to emerge. We are all potential goosestepping authoritarian followers, waiting for the right conditions to bring our primal natures out into the open. With the fiery voice of authority, we can be quickly lulled into compliance by an inspiring or invigorating vision:

[T]hat old time religion can be heard in the words and rhythm of any great speaker. Just listen to how a recorded speech of Martin Luther King jr can pull you in with its musicality. Or if you prefer a dark example, consider the persuasive power of Adolf Hitler for even some Jews admitted they got caught up listening to his speeches. This is why Plato feared the poets and banished them from his utopia of enlightened rule. Poetry would inevitably undermine and subsume the high-minded rhetoric of philosophers. “[P]oetry used to be divine knowledge,” as Guerini et al states in Echoes of Persuasion, “It was the sound and tenor of authorization and it commanded where plain prose could only ask.”

Poetry is one of the forms of musical language. Plato’s fear wasn’t merely about the aesthetic appeal of metered rhyme. Living in an oral culture, he would have intimately known the ever-threatening power and influence of the spoken word. Likewise, the sway and thrall of rhythmic movement would have been equally familiar in that world. Community life in ancient Greek city-states was almost everything that mattered, a tightly woven identity and experience.

Verbal Behavior

There is a somewhat interesting discussion of the friendship between B.F. Skinner and W.V.O. Quine. The piece explores their shared interests and possible influences on one another. It’s not exactly an area of personal interest, but it got me thinking about Julian Jaynes.

Skinner is famous for his behaviorist research. When behaviorism is mentioned, what immediately comes to mind for most people is Pavlov’s dog. But behaviorism wasn’t limited to animals and simple responses to stimuli. Skinner developed his theory toward verbal behavior as well. As Michael Karson explains,

“Skinner called his behaviorism “radical,” (i.e., thorough or complete) because he rejected then-behaviorism’s lack of interest in private events. Just as Galileo insisted that the laws of physics would apply in the sky just as much as on the ground, Skinner insisted that the laws of psychology would apply just as much to the psychologist’s inner life as to the rat’s observable life.

“Consciousness has nothing to do with the so-called and now-solved philosophical problem of mind-body duality, or in current terms, how the physical brain can give rise to immaterial thought. The answer to this pseudo-problem is that even though thought seems to be immaterial, it is not. Thought is no more immaterial than sound, light, or odor. Even educated people used to believe, a long time ago, that these things were immaterial, but now we know that sound requires a material medium to transmit waves, light is made up of photons, and odor consists of molecules. Thus, hearing, seeing, and smelling are not immaterial activities, and there is nothing in so-called consciousness besides hearing, seeing, and smelling (and tasting and feeling). Once you learn how to see and hear things that are there, you can also see and hear things that are not there, just as you can kick a ball that is not there once you have learned to kick a ball that is there. Engaging in the behavior of seeing and hearing things that are not there is called imagination. Its survival value is obvious, since it allows trial and error learning in the safe space of imagination. There is nothing in so-called consciousness that is not some version of the five senses operating on their own. Once you have learned to hear words spoken in a way that makes sense, you can have thoughts; thinking is hearing yourself make language; it is verbal behavior and nothing more. It’s not private speech, as once was believed; thinking is private hearing.”

It’s amazing how much this is resonates with Jaynes’ bicameral theory. This maybe shouldn’t be surprising. After all, Jaynes was trained in behaviorism and early on did animal research. He was mentored by the behaviorist Frank A. Beach and was friends with Edward Boring who wrote a book about consciousness in relation to behaviorism. Reading about Skinner’s ideas about verbal behavior, I was reminded of Jaynes’ view of authorization as it relates to linguistic commands and how they become internalized to form an interiorized mind-space (i.e., Jaynesian consciousness).

I’m not the only person to think along these lines. On Reddit, someone wrote: “It is possible that before there were verbal communities that reinforced the basic verbal operants in full, people didn’t have complete “thinking” and really ran on operant auto-pilot since they didn’t have a full covert verbal repertoire and internal reinforcement/shaping process for verbal responses covert or overt, but this would be aeons before 2-3 kya. Wonder if Jaynes ever encountered Skinner’s “Verbal Behavior”…” Jaynes only references Skinner once in his book on bicameralism and consciousness. But he discusses behaviorism in general to some extent.

In the introduction, he describes behaviorism in this way: “From the outside, this revolt against consciousness seemed to storm the ancient citadels of human thought and set its arrogant banners up in one university after another. But having once been a part of its major school, I confess it was not really what it seemed. Off the printed page, behaviorism was only a refusal to talk about consciousness. Nobody really believed he was not conscious. And there was a very real hypocrisy abroad, as those interested in its problems were forcibly excluded from academic psychology, as text after text tried to smother the unwanted problem from student view. In essence, behaviorism was a method, not the theory that it tried to be. And as a method, it exorcised old ghosts. It gave psychology a thorough house cleaning. And now the closets have been swept out and the cupboards washed and aired, and we are ready to examine the problem again.” As dissatisfying as animal research was for Jaynes, it nonetheless set the stage for deeper questioning by way of a broader approach. It made possible new understanding.

Like Skinner, he wanted to take the next step, shifting from behavior to experience. Even their strategies to accomplish this appear to have been similar. Sensory experience itself becomes internalized, according to both of their theories. For Jaynes, perception of external space becomes the metaphorical model for a sense of internal space. When Karson says of Skinner’s view that “thinking is hearing yourself make language,” that seems close to Jaynes discussion of hearing voices as it develops into an ‘I’ and a ‘me’, the sense of identity split into subject and object which asserted was required for one to hear one’s own thoughts.

I don’t know Skinner’s thinking in detail or how it changed over time. He too pushed beyond the bounds of behavioral research. It’s not clear that Jaynes’ ever acknowledged this commonality. In his 1990 afterword to his book, Jaynes’ makes his one mention of Skinner without pointing out Skinner’s work on verbal behavior:

“This conclusion is incorrect. Self-awareness usually means the consciousness of our own persona over time, a sense of who we are, our hopes and fears, as we daydream about ourselves in relation to others. We do not see our conscious selves in mirrors, even though that image may become the emblem of the self in many cases. The chimpanzees in this experiment and the two-year old child learned a point-to-point relation between a mirror image and the body, wonderful as that is. Rubbing a spot noticed in the mirror is not essentially different from rubbing a spot noticed on the body without a mirror. The animal is not shown to be imagining himself anywhere else, or thinking of his life over time, or introspecting in any sense — all signs of a conscious life.

“This less interesting, more primitive interpretation was made even clearer by an ingenious experiment done in Skinner’s laboratory (Epstein, 1981). Essentially the same paradigm was followed with pigeons, except that it required a series of specific trainings with the mirror, whereas the chimpanzee or child in the earlier experiments was, of course, self-trained. But after about fifteen hours of such training when the contingencies were carefully controlled, it was found that a pigeon also could use a mirror to locate a blue spot on its body which it could not see directly, though it had never been explicitly trained to do so. I do not think that a pigeon because it can be so trained has a self-concept.”

Jaynes was making the simple, if oft overlooked, point that perception of body is not the same thing as consciousness of mind. A behavioral response to one’s own body isn’t fundamentally different than a behavioral response to anything else. Behavioral responses are found in every species. This isn’t helpful in exploring consciousness itself. Skinner too wanted to get beyond this level of basic behavioral research, so it seems. Interestingly, without any mention of Skinner, Jaynes does use the exact phrasing of Skinner in speaking about the unconscious learning of ‘verbal behavior’ (Book One, Chapter 1):

“Another simple experiment can demonstrate this. Ask someone to sit opposite you and to say words, as many words as he can think of, pausing two or three seconds after each of them for you to write them down. If after every plural noun (or adjective, or abstract word, or whatever you choose) you say “good” or “right” as you write it down, or simply “mmm-hmm” or smile, or repeat the plural word pleasantly, the frequency of plural nouns (or whatever) will increase significantly as he goes on saying words. The important thing here is that the subject is not aware that he is learning anything at all. [13] He is not conscious that he is trying to find a way to make you increase your encouraging remarks, or even of his solution to that problem. Every day, in all our conversations, we are constantly training and being trained by each other in this manner, and yet we are never conscious of it.”

This is just a passing comment in using one example among many, and he states that “Such unconscious learning is not confined to verbal behavior.” He doesn’t further explore language in this immediate section or repeat again the phrase ‘verbal behavior’ in any other section, although the notion of verbal behavior is central to the entire book. But a decade after the original publication date of his book, Jaynes wrote a paper where he does talk about Skinner’s ideas about language:

“One needs language for consciousness. We think consciousness is learned by children between two and a half and five or six years in what we can call the verbal surround, or the verbal community as B.F Skinner calls it. It is an aspect of learning to speak. Mental words are out there as part of the culture and part of the family. A child fits himself into these words and uses them even before he knows the meaning of them. A mother is constantly instilling the seeds of consciousness in a two- and three-year-old, telling the child to stop and think, asking him “What shall we do today?” or “Do you remember when we did such and such or were somewhere?” And all this while metaphor and analogy are hard at work. There are many different ways that different children come to this, but indeed I would say that children without some kind of language are not conscious.”
(Jaynes, J. 1986. “Consciousness and the Voices of the Mind.” Canadian Psychology, 27, 128– 148.)

I don’t have access to that paper. That quote comes from an article by John E. Limber: “Language and consciousness: Jaynes’s “Preposterous idea” reconsidered.” It is found in Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness edited by Marcel Kuijsten (pp. 169-202).

Anyway, the point Jaynes makes is that language is required for consciousness as an inner sense of self because language is required to hear ourselves think. So verbal behavior is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for the emergence of consciousness as we know it. As long as verbal behavior remains an external event, conscious experience won’t follow. Humans have to learn to hear themselves as they hear others, to split themselves into a speaker and a listener.

This relates to what makes possible the differentiation of hearing a voice being spoken by someone in the external world and hearing a voice as a memory of someone in one’s internal mind-space. Without this distinction, imagination isn’t possible for anything imagined would become a hallucination where internal and external hearing are conflated or rather never separated. Jaynes proposes this is why ancient texts regularly describe people as hearing voices of deities and deified kings, spirits and ancestors. The bicameral person, according to the theory, hears their own voice without being conscious that it is their own thought.

All of that emerges from those early studies of animal behavior. Behaviorism plays a key role simply in placing the emphasis on behavior. From there, one can come to the insight that consciousness is a neurocognitive behavior modeled on physical and verbal behavior. The self is a metaphor built on embodied experience in the world. This relates to many similar views, such as that humans learn a theory of mind within themselves by first developing a theory of mind in perceiving others. This goes along with attention schema and the attribution of consciousness. And some have pointed out what is called the double subject fallacy, a hidden form of dualism that infects neuroscience. However described, it gets at the same issue.

It all comes down our being both social animals and inhabitants of the world. Human development begins with a focus outward, culture and language determining what kind of identity forms. How we learn to behave is who we become.