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Julian Jaynes (February 27, 1920 – November 21, 1997) was an American psychologist, best known for his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976), in which he argued that ancient peoples were not conscious.

Julian Jaynes
BornFebruary 27, 1920
DiedNovember 21, 1997(1997-11-21) (aged 77)
Alma mater
OccupationPsychologist, professor, writer
Parent(s)Julian Clifford Jaynes (a minister) and Clara (Bullard) Jaynes

Jaynes' definition of consciousness is synonymous with what philosophers call "meta-consciousness" or "meta-awareness", i.e., awareness of awareness, thoughts about thinking, desires about desires, beliefs about beliefs. This form of reflection is also distinct from the kinds of "deliberations" seen in other higher animals such as crows insofar as it is dependent on linguistic cognition.

Jaynes wrote that ancient humans before roughly 1000 BC were not reflectively meta-conscious and operated by means of automatic, nonconscious habit-schemas. Instead of having meta-consciousness, these humans were constituted by what Jaynes calls the "bicameral mind". For bicameral humans, when habit did not suffice to handle novel stimuli and stress rose at the moment of decision, neural activity in the "dominant" (left) hemisphere was modulated by auditory verbal hallucinations originating in the so-called "silent" (right) hemisphere (particularly the right temporal cortex), which were heard as the voice of a chieftain or god and immediately obeyed.

Jaynes wrote, "[For bicameral humans], volition came as a voice that was in the nature of a neurological command, in which the command and the action were not separated, in which to hear was to obey."[2] Jaynes argued that the change from bicamerality to consciousness (linguistic meta-cognition) occurred over a period of ten centuries beginning around 1800 BC. The selection pressure for Jaynesian consciousness as a means for cognitive control is due, in part, to chaotic social disorganizations and the development of new methods of behavioral control such as writing."[3]



Jaynes was born in West Newton, Massachusetts, son of Julian Clifford Jaynes (1854–1922), a Unitarian minister, and Clara Bullard Jaynes (1884-1980). He attended Harvard University, was an undergraduate at McGill University and afterwards received master's and doctorate degrees from Yale University. He was mentored by Frank A. Beach and was a close friend of Edwin G. Boring. Jaynes also spent several years in prison for refusing to participate in the second World War.[4]

During this time period Jaynes made significant contributions in the fields of animal behavior and ethology. After Yale, Jaynes spent several years in England working as an actor and playwright. Jaynes later returned to the United States, and lectured in psychology at Princeton University from 1966 to 1990, teaching a popular class on consciousness for much of that time. He was in high demand as a lecturer, and was frequently invited to lecture at conferences and as a guest lecturer at other universities, including Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Rutgers, Dalhousie, Wellesley, Florida State, the Universities of New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Prince Edward Island, and Massachusetts at Amherst and Boston Harbor. In 1984 he was invited to give the plenary lecture at the Wittgenstein Symposium in Kirchberg, Austria. He gave six major lectures in 1985 and nine in 1986. He was awarded an honorary Ph.D. by Rhode Island College in 1979 and another from Elizabethtown College in 1985.[5] He died at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island on November 21, 1997.

Reception and influenceEdit

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind was a successful work of popular science, selling out the first print run before a second could replace it. The book was a nominee for the National Book Award in 1978, and received dozens of positive book reviews, including those by well-known critics such as John Updike in The New Yorker, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times, and Marshall McLuhan in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Articles on Jaynes's theory appeared in Time[6] magazine and Psychology Today[7] in 1977. Jaynes later expanded on the ideas in his book in a series of commentaries in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, in lectures and discussions published in Canadian Psychology, and in Art/World. He wrote an extensive Afterword for the 1990 edition of his book, in which he expanded on his theory and addressed some of the criticisms. More than 30 years later, Jaynes's book is still in print.

Jaynes's theory has been influential to philosophers such as Daniel Dennett,[8] psychologists such as Tim Crow[9] and psychiatrists such as Henry Nasrallah.[10] Jaynes's ideas have also influenced writers such as William S. Burroughs,[11] Neal Stephenson,[12] Robert J. Sawyer,[13] Philip K. Dick,[14] and Ken Wilber. Brian J. McVeigh analyzed how the HBO series Westworld incorporated Jaynes's ideas of bicamerality in The Psychology of Westworld: When Machines Go Mad. In 2009, American novelist Terence Hawkins published The Rage of Achilles, an account of the Iliad depicting the transition from bicameral to modern consciousness. Jaynes's theory inspired the investigation of auditory hallucinations by researchers such as psychologist Thomas Posey[15] and clinical psychologist John Hamilton,[16] which ultimately has led to a rethinking of the association of auditory hallucinations and mental illness.[17] Jaynes's theory has been cited in thousands of both scientific and popular books and articles.[18]

In the late 1990s, Jaynes's ideas received renewed attention as brain imaging technology confirmed many of his early predictions.[19][20] A 2007 book titled Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes's Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited contains several of Jaynes's essays along with chapters by scholars from a variety of disciplines expanding on his ideas.[21] At the April 2008 "Toward a Science of Consciousness" Conference held in Tucson, Arizona, Marcel Kuijsten (Executive Director and Founder of the Julian Jaynes Society) and Brian J. McVeigh (University of Arizona) hosted a workshop devoted to Jaynesian psychology. At the same conference, a panel devoted to Jaynes was also held, with John Limber (University of New Hampshire), Marcel Kuijsten, John Hainly (Southern University), Scott Greer (University of Prince Edward Island), and Brian J. McVeigh presenting relevant research. At the same conference the philosopher Jan Sleutels (Leiden University) gave a paper on Jaynesian psychology. A 2012 book titled The Julian Jaynes Collection gathers together many of the lectures and articles by Jaynes relevant to his theory (including some that were previously unpublished), along with interviews and question and answer sessions where Jaynes addresses misconceptions about the theory and extends the theory into new areas.[22] Jaynes' book is mentioned in Richard Dawkins' 2006 work The God Delusion: "It is one of those books that is either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius, nothing in between! Probably the former, but I'm hedging my bets."


In general, Jaynes is respected as a psychologist and a historian of psychology. The views expressed in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind employ a radical neuroscientific hypothesis that was based on research novel at the time, and which is not now considered to be biologically probable.[citation needed] However, the more general idea of a "divided self" has found support from psychological and neurological studies, and many of the historical arguments made in the book remain intriguing, if not proven.[23]

An early criticism by philosopher Ned Block argued that Jaynes had confused the emergence of consciousness with the emergence of the concept of consciousness. In other words, according to Block, humans were conscious all along but did not have the concept of consciousness and thus did not discuss it in their texts. Daniel Dennett countered that for some things, such as money, baseball, or consciousness, one cannot have the thing without also having the concept of the thing.[24] Moreover, it is arguable that Block misinterpreted the nature of what Jaynes claimed to be a social construction.[25][26]


  • (Contributor) W. S. Dillon, editor, Man and Beast: Comparative Social Behavior, Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC), 1970.
  • (Contributor) C. C. Gillespie and others, editors, Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Scribner (New York, NY), 1970.
  • Henle, Mary; Jaynes, Julian; Sullivan, John J. Historical conceptions of psychology. Oxford, England: Springer. 1973.
  • The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1977, republished with a new afterword by the author, 1990.
  • (Editor, with others) The Lateralization of the Nervous System, Academic Press, 1977.
  • Contributor of over forty articles to psychology journals, including

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Julian Jaynes". Contemporary Authors Online (fee, via Fairfax County Public Library)|format= requires |url= (help). Detroit: Gale. 2005. Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000050073. Retrieved 2013-11-23. Biography in Context. (subscription required)
  2. ^ Jaynes, Julian (2000) [1976]. The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind (PDF). Houghton Mifflin. p. 99. ISBN 978-0-618-05707-8.
  3. ^ Jaynes, Julian (2000) [1976]. The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind (PDF). Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-618-05707-8. Chapter 3.
  4. ^ Gara, Larry (1999). A Few Small Candles: War Resisters of World War II Tell Their Stories. Kent State University Press. ISBN 978-0-87338-621-0.
  5. ^ Kuijsten, Marcel (2007). Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes's Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited. Julian Jaynes Society. 13–68. ISBN 978-0-9790744-0-0. Retrieved 2013-11-24.
  6. ^ Leo, John (1977). "The Lost Voices of the Gods". Time. 14.
  7. ^ Keen, Sam (November 1977). "Julian Jaynes: Portrait of the Psychologist as a Maverick Theorizer". Psychology Today. 11.
  8. ^ Dennett, Daniel (1992). Consciousness Explained. Back Bay Books.
  9. ^ Crow, Tim (2005). "Right Hemisphere Language Functions and Schizophrenia: The Forgotten Hemisphere". Brain. 128 (5): 963–78. doi:10.1093/brain/awh466. PMID 15743870.
  10. ^ Nasrallah, Henry (1985). "The Unintegrated Right Cerebral Hemispheric Consciousness as Alien Intruder: A Possible Mechanism for Schneiderian Delusions in Schizophrenia". Comprehensive Psychiatry. 26 (3): 273–82. doi:10.1016/0010-440X(85)90072-0. PMID 3995938.
  11. ^ Burroughs, William S. "Sects and Death." Three Fisted Tales of Bob. Ed. Rev. Ivan Stang. Fireside, 1990. ISBN 0-671-67190-1
  12. ^ Stephenson, Neal (1992). Snow Crash. Bantam Books.
  13. ^ Sawyer, Robert (2009). WWW: Wake. Ace.
  14. ^ Dick, Philip (1977). A Scanner Darkly. Doubleday.
  15. ^ Posey, Thomas (1983). "Auditory Hallucinations of Hearing Voices in 375 Normal Subjects". Imagination, Cognition, and Personality. 3.
  16. ^ Hamilton, John (1988). "Auditory Hallucinations in Nonverbal Quadriplegics". Psychiatry. 48 (4): 382–92. PMID 4070517.
  17. ^ Smith, Daniel (2007). Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Rethinking the History, Science, and Meaning of Auditory Hallucination. Penguin Press.
  18. ^ "Google Books". Retrieved November 18, 2017.
  19. ^ Olin, Robert (1999). "Auditory Hallucinations and the Bicameral Mind". Lancet. 354 (9173): 166. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)75304-6. PMID 10408523.
  20. ^ Sher, Leo (2000). "Neuroimaging, Auditory Hallucinations, and the Bicameral Mind". Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience. 25 (3).
  21. ^ Kuijsten, Marcel (2007). Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes's Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited. Julian Jaynes Society. ISBN 978-0-9790744-0-0.
  22. ^ Kuijsten, Marcel (2012). The Julian Jaynes Collection. Julian Jaynes Society. ISBN 978-0979074424.
  23. ^ Cavanna, AE; Trimble, M; Cinti, F; Monaco, F (2007). "The "bicameral mind" 30 years on: a critical reappraisal of Julian Jaynes' hypothesis". Functional Neurology. 22 (1): 11–5. PMID 17509238.
  24. ^ Daniel Dennett, op. cit., at pp. 127-128 in Brainstorms
  25. ^ Sleutels, Jan (2006). "Greek Zombies". Philosophical Psychology. 19 (2): 177–197. doi:10.1080/09515080500462412.
  26. ^ Williams, Gary (2010). "What is it like to be nonconscious? A defense of Julian Jaynes". Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. 10 (2): 217–239. doi:10.1007/s11097-010-9181-z.

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