In his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Houghton Mifflin, 1976), Princeton psychologist Julian Jaynes makes an argument that in the second millennium B.C., mankind began a gradual transition from a “bicameral” or unconscious mode of thought to a subjectively conscious mode of thought, with this process accelerating in the first millennium B.C. Prior to this “breakdown of the bicameral mind,” according to Jaynes’ argument, all human beings were more or less severely schizophrenic, unreflectingly obeying the directives issued by the “voices” that they “heard” in their own minds, which were perceived by ancient peoples to be the voices of the “gods,” but which Jaynes believes originated in the right hemisphere of the brain. What Jaynes calls subjective “consciousness” emerged over a number of centuries as those “voices” increasingly went silent (for most people anyway), as the left hemisphere of the brain became increasingly independent of the right hemisphere, and was no longer so dominated by it.
I don’t agree with Jaynes’ overall thesis in its entirety, or with all of the more specific arguments that he makes in the course of developing that thesis. However, I do think the themes and ideas with which he deals in the book are extremely important ones, especially including the basic proposition that people in ancient times were generally more “schizophrenic” than people in modern times—which would help to explain why, as I claim in my own writings, the sacred religious scriptures that have come down to us from ancient times appear to be essentially schizophrenic in nature. The relationship between schizophrenia or psychosis and ancient or traditional religion—which can also be described as “esoteric religion”—is an exceedingly important one, and deserves a great deal more attention than it currently receives. Because of the continuing importance of these ancient scriptures in modern culture due to the survival of “traditional religion” or “esoteric religion,” the predominantly “schizophrenic-like” thinking of ancient peoples is still exerting its impact on humanity even in our own time.
As I was re-reading parts of the book, one passage in particular jumped out at me, since I found it so eerily reminiscent of my own admittedly perplexing theory that there is an anti-esotericist and therefore self-neutralizing message unconsciously embedded in the esoteric writings of the Bible—a state of affairs that I sometimes refer to as the “Bible paradox.” Jaynes writes,