Behavior: The Lost Voices of the Gods

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 3)

Is it something big? Academics who have read the book are divided in their reactions. Berkeley Psychologist Frank Beach calls it "highly original, provocative and stimulating." Northwestern University Psychologist Carl Duncan is caustic: "Jaynes is extremely clever to think up this thing. I only wish he would put that cleverness to some more serviceable use." Jaynes, who realizes he has rewritten most of human history, expects "to be clobbered by all kinds of professors. If you're an archaeologist who has spent a lifetime working with a little brush at ancient sites, you won't want to hear from some psychologist that you have it all wrong."

But so far the most common academic reaction is an indignant question: Who is Julian Jaynes? Answer: an unorthodox and little-known psychologist, noticed mostly for an unconventional theory on the origins of language.

The son of a Unitarian minister, Jaynes grew up in West Newton, Mass., the site of his encounter with the forsythia. To pursue the problem of consciousness, he studied philosophy, then switched to psychology because philosophers did not seem to have the answer. As a graduate student in psychology at Yale, he plunged into neurology and biology, once testing to see whether plants and worms have consciousness.

Jaynes, who is single, spends his spare time hiking and taking trips to lecture on consciousness. He is hardly a major star on campus. In fact, after 19 years of teaching at Yale and Princeton, Jaynes holds the humble title of lecturer, largely, he says, because of his indifference to academic politics. He has refused to get a Ph.D. ("It's a ridiculous badge. My brains are my credentials"), and has irked many fellow psychologists with his opinion that nudging rats through mazes has little to do with psychology. To prepare the book—his first —Jaynes learned Greek, interviewed schizophrenics, argued etymology with rabbis, chewed and inhaled the smoke of laurel leaves (like the priestesses of Delphi), and once invaded a Princeton bar at midnight to apply a psychological test to startled drinkers. "I've been trying to solve the problem of consciousness all my life," he says. "Everything, including my reputation among specialists, is second to that."

Jaynes thinks the bicameral mind is a reality, and could be reawakened in special cases if anyone cared to. Says he: "If you took a young child with a family history of schizophrenia (in other words, the right chemical trigger) and if that child also had an imaginary playmate—a vestige of the old voices—you could train that child to bicamerality." The problem, he says, is that the child could not function in the modern world any more than a schizophrenic can. For mankind as a whole, "the voices are dead. We are stuck in a conscious world."

* There are exceptions. In some left-handed people, speech is either generated by the right side of the brain or shared by the two hemispheres.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. Next Page