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October 31, 2006


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I wondered if you were going to comment on the book reviewed by the NYTimes yesterday, "Moral Minds" -the link is here:
The author posits that right and wrong are biological functions, much like our bicameral mind (or more correctly a function of that mind).

The proposal is that parents and teachers do not instill moral behavior from scratch, nor is that behavior either learned or earned through religious aherence or study. Rather, Dr. Hauser thinks humans may give shape to innate behaviors, at best.

The implications seem fairly stark to me. For instance, I live with the body chemistry I was born with. My diet, exercise level and emotional/mental health all contribute to my physiology, but in the end I am saddled with the genes I was born with. According to scientists, cancer is not the result of bad behavior, diabetes is not the effects of hysteria and schizophrenia is not demon possession.

In the same way I need to consider that I may be saddled with the morality I was born with, and my judgements are the result of my bicameral mind as opposed to my soul or relative "enlightenment".

In short, we may be born with either inherently strong or weak impulses toward empathy and reciprocity.

Or, put another way, Charlie makes me do it.

Jaynes' is probably one of the few books I have read twice. But I always wonder what he is trying to explain: Broca's research, or historical documentation of religious culture?

The over-riding phenomenon in this psycho-pathology is that the schizophrenic cannot disobey the voice: it is not a matter of choice, because the voice is clearly the only moral/behavioral authority. So while I can sympathize with the experience, (having heard my name said clearly when I was alone,) I can not fully appreciate the bicameral condition.

This is what is fascinating about Jaynes' idea: We all heard god, (or the gods) saying the same thing. There was a societal function to the voices, not just the recitative sing-song you hear when you are trying to learn tap dancing, (step-ball-change-shuffle! step-ball-change-shuffle!)

Very like Hauser's estimation that the "wiring" of the brain gives us all similar abilities in language, craft, and sensate response, so our moral response may be hard wired?

What implication does this have for a scientific assessment of intent and action in criminal behavior? Both intent and action have to be present for a crime to be committed. Without choice, there is no real basis to prove intent. If there is a chemical basis to my morality, where are my choices?

And now the elves are telling me I may need a different kind of insurance coverage.


You have choices. Advice, regarding insurance coverage can come the Green Lady too.

Well, the tranlation is tentative, but it seems the elves are in favor of distributing the risk over similar demographics. I would be as likely to have the same moral response to a situation, let's say an opportunity to embezzle, as those in the same race, sex, age, creed, than would someone twenty years younger in Michigan, etc. So I could buy insurance against commiting such a crime, (in the way CIA agents are insured against prosecution for breaking their own set of occupational-hazard laws.)

The premium would be assessed the way auto or life insurance premiums are, and in the event I hit another car, or punch someone in the face, my legal fees and remuneration obligations are covered by my insurance.

Very few of us really mean to break a law unless we simply have to, and that is when we react with the directing voice in our head: "Don't fall off the roof..." "Don't let your family starve..." "Don't drive into that truck..." All pretty much the same set of quick reactions happening on a sub-conscious level.

The Green Lady thinks that we all assume the price of our own risk. If you walk on the roof, have the money for the hospital available. If you do the crime, do the time, or have the money to buy your way out. Don't swim in the deep end if you're a chicken-sissy-baby, blah-blah-blah.

She is very risk-attracted.


When the gods stopped speaking to us...

if a god is the result of our belief,
then does that mean we have really stopped speaking to ourselves?

Casey, it's a bit different than that, according to Jaynes. True, it was us speaking to ourselves all the way along.

Before the breakdown of the bicameral mind those voices seemed to be coming from outside of us. Now, we recognize them as our own.

So it seems more accurate to say that we've started speaking to ourselves, rather than stopped.

Jaynes' hypothesis is that the ancients (such as the characters in the Iliad) didn't have rich inner lives such as we have now. They didn't introspect and agonize, "Oh, me, what should I do?"

They just did, often based on what the voices of the gods told them. Now I stand in front of the refrigerator, paralyzed with doubt. "I feel like ice cream, but I really need to lose weight. Oh, go ahead Brian. No, be strong, don't give in to impulse."

It'd be nice to have a god tell me what to do in a flash. Especially if she said, "Eat. And enjoy."


voices voices voices

it all does merge together, god speaking thru us, us speaking as god..etc

Hey I wrote a online book about Taoism | http://www.personaltao.com and in the religion chapter |http://www.personaltao.com/tao/religion.pdf is a poem about gods I suspect you might like.

In the end we must listen to our own voice, if we are to accept ourselves.

I find it interesting how we assign that voice to others or even onto god.

I think your statement: We have started to speak to ourselves is the nicest view. And I think many people would wish to not to speak at all. And thats too bad since i suspect so many of them would have a beautiful voice if they only tried.


If we speak to ourselves, is that oral incest? (A question worthy of Roger, I think!)

Great book! I just read a good follow up on Jaynes's ideas called "Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes's Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited" that might interest you.

We were discussing this book IRL. I thought to ask you, Brian, if you'd come across this book, The Bicameral Mind, because I didn't recall seeing it discussed here. Then I ran a Google check on your site, and boom, here it is.

Awesome, your blog, Brian! 👍
And also, I used think I've read most everything here. Well, clearly I haven't; or else I've forgotten a great deal of what I've read.

Interesting read. I'm going to check up a bit more about this. Maybe read the book. ...If true, this offers a very clear explanation about Gods and religion and the rest of it.

Some questions and points for discussion/research:

(For me to seek out the answers myself, by digging around a bit, maybe reading the book. ...Although if anyone reading this has the answers, any assistance would be very welcome.)

1. Is this actually evidenced, is there scientific consensus around this idea? (I get the impression that the answer to both questions is No.)

2. My reading about consciousness would also, tentatively, reject this idea.

3. However, while the proposition that this was a universal thing, and a universal precursor of consciousness, is likely a stretch; but that this happens to (some) schizophrenics, and that this might have been more common in the past, seems likely enough.

4. That this is what led to religions, #3 above, seems a likely enough proposition.

5. Do we have this bicameral mind thingie these days, at all, even if in smaller numbers? As clinically established, not just conjecture? I mean in sane people, in people otherwise fully functional fully ...fully sane?

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