Behavior: The Lost Voices of the Gods

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Even so, newly conscious man tried desperately to reawaken the silent gods, turning to oracles, seers, augurs and religious sacrifice. "Historians haven't come to terms with those voices," says Jaynes. "Why did Greece, the most intellectual civilization the world had yet produced, make its most crucial political decisions for centuries by consulting the simple peasant girls who were Apollo's oracles at Delphi?"

As evidence of the switch from bicamerality to conscious life, Jaynes points to the ancient classics. "There simply is no consciousness in the Iliad, except for a few later accretions," he says. "The heroes do not wonder, ponder or decide. They are pulled around by the voices of the gods. The same is true in the early books of the Bible. Abraham isn't conscious, and Amos isn't either. Consciousness comes later, with Ecclesiastes."

In some of these later writings, Jaynes finds laments for the lost bicameral world. He notes that the Odyssey, probably coming at least 100 years after the Iliad, features "the wily Odysseus, the first modern hero, picking his way through a ruined and god-weakened world." In Hindu literature, the unconscious writings of the Veda give way to the subjective Upanishads, and in the Old Testament, the voices of Yahweh and prophets grow silent, replaced by subjective men wrestling with unanswered questions.

Though subdued, the voices of the right side of the brain still occasionally break through as, for example, the voices of Joan of Arc, some drug hallucinations and schizophrenia. Psychiatrists, says Jaynes, "seem to like my theory. They are literate men, and many of them say they sense something archaic in the hallucinatory voices of schizophrenics." Jaynes also folds poetry into his theory: it arose as unconscious divine speech, its mesmerizing rhythms produced by right-sided brain impulses.

Jaynes says that his biggest insight came one night in 1967, when he realized that if evolution had confined speech areas to the left side of the brain, corresponding parts of the right side must have been cleared for some other powerful function—perhaps the ancient voices. He remembered that Neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield had done some classic tests of the right side of the brain. "I have a key to the Princeton library, and I rushed down there at midnight," says Jaynes. "I got Penfield's article, and I almost fainted. There it was. When you stimulate certain parts of the right side, you get feelings of unreality, often music, and strange voices always ordering people to do something. Later the split-brain research came out, and I knew I had something big."

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