[percy-l] consciousness, Julian Jaynes, and Percy

Karey Perkins karey at kareyperkins.com
Sat Jul 8 13:54:36 EDT 2006

Thanks so much to all of you - Marcus and Nikki, my reaction to Jaynes was
much the same as Percy's.  The reason I asked the question of the list was
because I was under the impression that Jaynes was an important thinker in
the field, along the lines of Terence Deacon, and so worthy of reading for
background info.   But as I read him, I thought, "Surely not.  Surely I must
be mistaken."  His thoughts are really "out there" - all the while one is
admiring Jaynes for the elegance of his logic and tying together of many
loose ends, one thinks that he is really coming from another planet.  I
haven't read the whole book, but basically, the primary thesis is that early
man had a "bicameral mind" which he describes as something like a
schizophrenic hearing voices.  "...at one time human nature was split in
two, an executive part called god, and a follower part called man.  Neither
part was conscious" (Jaynes 84).  Bicameral man had no consciousness
whatsoever -- these voices in his head would give him orders and he would
follow them mindlessly.  As part of his evidence, Jaynes uses the Iliad, the
history and story of which existed around 3000 BC, 2000 to 2500 years before
"Homer" (or the anonymous poet(s)) wrote about it.  All the gods (Athena,
Apollo, etc.) that talk to Achilles, Hector, etc. are actually voices in the
characters' heads, and the humans are helpless to do anything but obey these
voices without thinking because they are not even conscious of them.

I just taught the Iliad in my World Lit class, and I must say, that
interpretation never occurred to me.

I haven't read the whole book yet, perhaps it gets better?   Although it is
worth reading for entertainment value.

Anyway, yes, I can well imagine that Percy (as well as the entire book
group) chuckled at it.   Rhonda, thanks for the SSL reference - the part you
quote was Percy's reference to a later portion of the book, page 129 and
perhaps later places I haven't gotten to yet, that discuss the evolution of
language, and I imagine that's more accurate and valuable information so
Percy may have used part of Jaynes.

I however, agree with Nikki, that the important sources in a study of
Percy's language theory are Percy's later writings on it and his Ketner
correspondence about Peirce and language in general.  CSP is mentioned only
very briefly on the first page of Jaynes:

"Despite centuries of pondering and experiment, of trying to get together
two supposed entities called mind and matter in one age, subject and object
in another, or soul and body in still others, despite endless discoursing on
the streams, state or contents of consciousness, of distinguishing terms
like intuitions, sense data, the given, raw feels, the sensa, presentation
and representations, the sensations, images, and affections of structuralist
introspections, the evidential data of the scientific positivist,
phenomenological fields, the apparitions of Hobbes, the phenomena of Kant,
the appearances of the idealist, the elements of Mach, the phanera of
Peirce, or the category errors of Ryle, in spite of all these, the problem
of consciousness is still with us."

So yes, maybe that was the little clue that led Percy down the rabbit trail
to Peirce?

-----Original Message-----
From: percy-l-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:percy-l-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of RHONDA MCDONNELL
Sent: Thursday, July 06, 2006 2:20 PM
To: percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [percy-l] consciousness, Julian Jaynes, and Percy

He may have chuckled at Jaynes's theory, but he didn't rule him out 
entirely. He references him in this passage:

A few years ago, [language development] was thought to have begun to happen 
with Homo erectus perhaps a million years ago. Now, as Julian Jaynes at 
Princeton, among others, believes, it appears to have occurred in 
Neanderthal man as recently as the fourth glaciation, which lasted from 
about 75,000 to 35,000 years ago. During this same period, especially around

40,000 years ago, there occurred an explosive increase in the use and 
variety of new tools. The human brain increased in weight about fifty-four 
percent, much of this increase occurring in the cortex, especially in those 
areas around the Sylvan fissure implicated in the perception and production 
of speech. These are new structures, not present or else extremely 
rudimentary in even the highest apes. Moreover, recent experiments have 
shown that if one destroys this cortical region in other primates, it has no

effect on vocalization, which is mediated not by a cortical but rather by 
the limbic system. (SIASL 118-119)

So, while Jaynes's theories about the changes to the human brain between the

writing of THE ILLIAD and THE ODDESSY might have been too extravagent (do I 
remember Jaynes correctly--I read it in the haze of dissertation research), 
Percy did think Jaynes was onto something.

. . . what people really fear is not that the bomb will fall but that the 
bomb will not fall . . .
                               --Walker Percy

>From: "Karey Perkins" <karey at kareyperkins.com>
>Reply-To: "Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion" 
><percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org>
>To: "'Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion'" 
><percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org>
>Subject: [percy-l] consciousness, Julian Jaynes, and Percy
>Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2006 23:55:40 -0400
>I am reading Julian Jaynes's  The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown
>of the Bicameral Mind, C 1976, 1990.  He discusses the evolution of
>1)  Did Percy read Jaynes?  If so, his opinion?
>2)  How might he have responded, in your opinion, if he had read him?
>3)  Did Jaynes know of Percy?  He does cite Peirce, ever so briefly, but 
>Percy, Langer, or Cassirer.
>4)  What is the general consensus of the mind-body and/or semiotic 
>on Jaynes?
>5)  Has anyone on the list read Jaynes?
>6)  How does Jaynes' thoughts stand up today? (16 years after last 
>7)  What do you think of Jaynes?  What is the value of his book/thoughts?
>8)  Any other thoughts?
>I do remember Mike Frentz differentiating between the more scientific
>approaches to semiotics/consciousness and the more humanistic approaches,
>with Jaynes in the former camp and Percy in the latter.. I've heard this
>book is an important one -

>An archive of all list discussion is available at 
>Visit the Walker Percy Project at http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy

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