Authoritarian Grammar and Fundamentalist Arithmetic

by Ben G. Price

"Reeling and Writhing of course, to begin with," the Mock Turtle replied, "and the different branches of Arithmetic -- Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision." -- Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

What motivates us? What gets us up out of our seats and into the streets or into the factories or office cubicles? Do we have free will? Whose life are we living? Who makes our choices? Do we have what it takes to make choices? Are we permitted to have what it takes? Who decides? Is there a built-in schizophrenia to our desires and dreams? And if so, whose voice do we listen to when we believe our beliefs: our own? Or do we obey a conscience constructed of sermons and lectures and admonishments? The Nike salesman? Uncle Sam, a guardian angel, memories of great men? Are we still bicameral?

The weight of the evidence suggests that, at least in the past, most humans were behaviorally motivated by nature, by circumstances that dolled out survival to those whose "buttons," when they were pushed, yielded behavior that favored longevity of the individual and the gene pool. Only later, when language became a factor in human motivation, were people inspired to behave according to the dictates of forces within themselves. That those forces may have been perceived as "other than" the individual, as in the case of hearing voices expressing commands, has never diminished the simple truth that such voices resided within the individual, and that if they were at one time in the evolution of human consciousness the means of conveying motivation and choice to the newly aware and nascent ego, to say that such "primitive men" were manipulated or deceived begs the question: by whom? Other primitives?

Believers of so-called "inspired" religious faiths, who accept as true the unverified claims that an actual divinity spoke to now dead prophets, would argue that humans are motivated by outside forces identified as "good" and "evil." And they would argue that those of the faith are influenced and guided by an unseen but actual being that is the supreme force in the universe. Such claims can be neither proven nor disproved, and as artists through the ages have learned, they may be applied, even if only metaphorically, to describe aspects of the human condition. But to what degree are our cultural memories of gods, prophets, magicians, wise men and miracles reflective of some truth about ourselves?

The late Princeton professor of psychology, Julian Jaynes, deduced from historical artifacts and the evolution of language that our ancestors actually did at times hear voices which they attributed to dead ancestors, tribal chiefs, god-kings, sorcerers, gods and goddesses. And he argued that such voices were really heard, but that their cause was an organic artifact of bio-social evolution. The emergence of language, it seems, had set up a division of labor within the human brain, to such a degree that the two hemispheres processed information in discrete ways. That they continued to communicate was an evolutionary and a survival necessity. The mode for that communication proved portentous for the future development of the human species, and for the emergence of a communal primate capable of imbuing extra-ontological memory (memory beyond that of the individual) in cultural artifacts, including tools, myths, and social arrangements.

The creation of a divided volition within a single organism suggests that some unique organizational force was at work. That it appeared first in rare instances, and gradually arose from out of its minority to become the predominant wellspring of human behavior tells us that its utility was at first uncertain, but that gradually two minds ruled within a single brain, like a government run by an upper and a lower house. That it was an uncomfortable coalition is attested to in all the literature about those times. Titanic struggles between "heaven and earth" are said to have occurred throughout the human world, and from the memory of this unsettling time come the legends, scriptures and epics that form the souls of the few surviving cultures.

Many are the modern images that sustain our link to the era in which our two selves had their birth. The expulsion from Eden for having tasted of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge can be seen as a metaphor for this traumatic episode in recent human evolution. The "conscience" of morality that speaks in the ear, advising the right and good course of action is an instance where we see a direct correlation to the bicameral voice. Again, we see this depicted in cartoons as an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Which voice will persuade our actions?

Guardian angels have had a resurgence in the popular culture; they are depicted as invisible confidants and protectors. Their similarity with the personal gods to which bicameral era humans erected household shrines is unmistakable.

"Invisible companions" accompany some children in the early years after learning to speak and run a little freely from their parents' sides. Modern adults exhibit a sense of uneasiness with youngsters who insist they have a friend no one else can see, perhaps for reasons unknown even to themselves. Leprechauns and pixies, and other "pagan" invisible companions have been outgrown by sophisticated moderns. The need for such outlandish and demonstrably unreal sidekicks was left behind in the childhood of our culture. But when we say we have left them behind, we would be more correct to say we have simply buried them in the churchyard of our brains. Like H.P. Lovecraft's Ancient Ones, the old gods sometimes rise up and haunt our dreams. In rare instances they even invade the light of day, turning waking lives into nightmares. We call them phobias, obsessions, dementias, anything but ancient deities like the ones that lifted Achilles arm in battle and plunged his sword into Achaean breasts. Sometimes they disguise themselves as something friendly, like a familiar neurosis, which we stroke and nurture, like we do all our pet peeves, only to later have them turn on us and bite the mind that feeds them.

At a busy intersection we take a chance, gun the engine, and bolt into the flow of traffic that seemed unlikely to admit us. We know some advocate like Fate was with us. At the craps table, we whisper to the dice and invoke Lady Luck to join us for a round. Some of us let our bumper stickers do the talking: "God is my co-pilot." I will not dwell on St. Christopher medals or the once ubiquitous plastic Jesus, and other specifically Catholic icons: it would be a study in itself.

At her execution in 1431, Joan of Arc is reported to have declared, "Yes, my voices were of God; my voices have not deceived me."

Whitley Strieber wrote in the introduction of his 1987 "non-fiction" book: "To all appearances I have had an elaborate personal encounter with intelligent nonhuman beings. But who could they be, and where have they come from? Are unidentified flying objects real? Are there goblins or demons....or visitors? At first, I thought I was losing my mind."

Terence McKenna, interviewed in 1990 for the Australian magazine Nature and Health said of his research into the effects of psychedelic mushrooms, "Under the influence of psilocybin there is an experience of contact with a speaking entity--an interior voice that I call the Logos. The Logos spoke the Truth--an incontrovertible Truth. Socrates had what he called his daemon--his informing 'Other.' And the ease with which psilocybin induces this phenomenon makes it, from the viewpoint of a materialist or reductionist rooted in the scientific tradition, almost miraculous."

Three hundred years ago, Emanuel Swedenborg turned from his successful pursuit of scholarly knowledge, abandoned the science that he had so adroitly mastered to study the world of dreams. There, he discovered what he claimed to be a true means to communicate with a fully real transcendent realm. In his Arcana Coelestia he wrote: "I am well aware that many will say that no one can possibly speak with spirits and angels so long as he lives in the body; and many will say that it is all a phantasy, others that I relate such things in order to gain credence, and others will make other objections. But by all this I am not deterred, for I have seen, I have heard, I have felt."

But what need do we have of extraterrestrial visitors, the rare multiple personality disorder, Marian visions, trance-inducing rhythmic chants, and other "extreme" forms of compartmentalization of consciousness, when we have the mundane electronic gods enshrined in our homes called television and radio? In fact, we should be asking ourselves just what need these devices fulfill in our modern humanness, and what needs the more "extreme" divisions of mentality fill. They did not arise frivolously as mere aberrations, or they would have quickly died- out. Yet from generation to generation we see shamans and psychotics and saints and abductees, all claiming to hear the voices of some "other." And now we see a whole globe listening and watching the electronic boxes of our own creation, expecting wisdom, guidance, truth, happiness, or at least a sense of belonging in the world to emanate from them. We should look closely at the similarities, and note one singular contrast: of all these modes for individual transcendence of the self, all are outlawed, treated as illness, or publicly scorned, except the oracles of commerce, the electronic idols we all keep and attend to and share our experiences of with fellowmen. Experiences of the other sorts are kept quiet, for fear of the expected reaction of society. There is a new orthodoxy, and it will tolerate no false gods before it.

With some remaining cultural differences, do we not teach the children of the world, and particularly adolescents, modes of attitude, attire, and aspiration via the voices they hear daily on radio and television? Are not these same attitudes and aspirations reinforced everyday for the mature members of society via the omnipresent commercialism that preach loyalty to the mercantile way of life?

The voices that worked so well in motivating our ancestors to act in ever-more social concert at the dawn of history can be understood best by their effects. Those effects were to spur a gregarious hominid to expand its social circle beyond the troop or tribe, and to invent a new thing, a new arrangement which placed one individual at the apex of an expanded group that evolved under many superficially different auspices, but in fact constituted the institutionalization of the monarchy as the dominant social structure for humankind from the dawn of human history until a couple of centuries ago. This is important to understand: the external social arrangement models the internal arrangement of consciousness. The placement of an executive dignitary on the throne of society does not occur among independent, free-thinking, self-reliant and confident people. It occurs among dependent, suggestible, naive and incompetent members of a society constructed both because they are that way, and to ensure that they are that way.

Are we still bicameral?

There are significant indications that large numbers of humans around the globe and throughout recorded history have tried and are still trying to transcend bicameral conditioning. Many political and religious struggles have this issue at their root (but just as many are rooted in simple turf battles between competing "gods" and mindsets). There is also reason to think that the crescendo of battle between bicameral mentality and its potential descendent has increased in recent years, and that the energy being expended to maintain the status quo (and expand its base of power through technological innovation) has successfully checked a sudden outbreak of independent thought.

The socializing process for humans is unique among animals, specifically because of the acquisition of language, and through language the subsequent acquisition of myths, paradigms, beliefs, ideologies, memberships, tutelages, certainties, and doubts. Because language must be taught, and because the contents of language are largely the product of the myths, paradigms, beliefs etc. already acquired by the primary source of a child's socialization, usually the parent(s), language and its contents, forming the well from which conscious thoughts will be drawn, is bestowed through a "revelatory" process.

The misguided habit of thinking which claims that individual mentation is "independent" and therefore responsible for its beliefs, perceptions, and the behavior that proceeds from them fails to be aware of the secondary nature of enculturated mental activity. If humans were born fully verbal and cognizant of an objective mode for perceiving, remembering, and responding to the world, we might be justified in arguing for the independence of thought. Even in some hypothetical "objective" mentation, the author of thought could be said not to be the thinker, but an abstract system of calculation or logic that functions with little or no input from the thinker. Certainly humans are not guided by any pure system of thought, and just as surely they individually contribute to the thought processes that they experience as subjective, even if only by supplying the sensory inputs and sheer "separateness" which allows for a different perspective than any other. But the hidden motivators that guide and even dictate thoughts, attitudes, and whole world views (paradigms), however much they may seem mysterious, are demonstrably real.

Dismissing the possibility that one's actions have been manipulated, even programmed, is an understandable defense against pessimism and even despair. But it is arguably a contributing factor in the continuing lack of control that individuals might otherwise bring to bear over their own thoughts and lives.

The question of whether or not modern humans are still mentally structured bicamerally becomes an absurdity in the minds of those who are certain they are not manipulated in their thoughts, opinions, or reactions to them. On the evidence of subjective opinion, mental life seems motivated from within, with perhaps a perfunctory nod toward a strict or a permissive "up- bringing." There is good reason for this sense of being in-control of one's own mental habitat. And it is, among modern humans, a "common sense."

The invention of the analog "I," a space within which identity can be juxtaposed with any experience, whether imaginary, sensory, emotive, reflective, empirical or metaphysical, marks the evolution of mentation beyond bicamerality. "Beyond" does not mean away from, and it does not suggest the end of bicamerality, but only its sublimation.

Two significant circumstances result from sublimation. Because the analog "I" overlays the bicameral subflooring of subjective mentation, it can be used as a platform from which the individuated mind can launch forays into the environment and retrieve information that is unique and unspecified by prior mental programming. Said differently, ego consciousness gives the individual the ability to frame a picture of the world in "personal" terms, which is to say in terms of individual sensory and emotive perceptions.

The second significant result of the sublimation of bicamerality is that the analog "I," because it is a nascent mental space that has the potential to be filled by subjective impressions, is also vulnerable to invasion. By this is meant precisely what has been said before regarding propagandistic promotions of biased and agenda-driven information which is introduced to the mind as if it should constitute subjective sensory and emotive perceptions.

The analog "I" is susceptible to being fooled into believing that impressions projected by others belong to its own panorama of perceptions. In this sense, ego consciousness can mimic the bicameral mode, mistaking injected perceptions for interiorly generated ones. But there remain differences between bicamerality and the deceived ego consciousness, so long as the analog "I" remains intact. In the case of schizophrenia, where ego consciousness may be sublimated and in extreme cases obliterated, true bicamerality can occur. But in the more common case the sublimated bicameral underpinnings of ego consciousness are used as a mental platform onto which "unconscious" suggested perceptions are loaded and from which they are injected into consciousness as pseudo-perceptions.

The mental space that is the analog "I" is a blank slate onto which much is written in the process of enculturation and socialization. What is written on that slate can also thereafter be erased or altered, within the parameters of conditioning and imprinting. The immensity of the potential mental space of ego consciousness allows for the activation of a whole spectrum of intellection, from the creation of a coherent bundle of reactive habits referred to as the personality, to the whole array of information that we call an education. There is room for artistry and genius to be created from an unlimited rearranging and rematching of perceptions into unique patterns and formulae. And there is also unlimited opportunity for opportunistic scoundrels to infiltrate, reshuffle and reorder our mental associations to mimic subjective perception, all the while engineering minds not their own to behave in ways advantageous to their goals. The manipulation of other minds has become the science of the unscrupulous.

Whereas bicameral man experienced his own "thoughts" as the voices of gods, ancestors, and kings, ego consciousness experiences its thoughts as intimately belonging to the self, even to the point of identifying those thoughts as the self. Bicameral voices can be said to have been the learned and remembered motivational auditory patterns that, in moments of crisis requiring a choice, were evoked and welled-up from the unconscious into present awareness. It would have been like replaying a tape loop, although auditory memories might have been mixed and matched, somewhat dependent on the crisis situation.

Ego consciousness also relies on learned and remembered patterns, some of them motivational (as is the case more regularly with "personality traits" than with unbundled and unaligned "information."). Because information can be manipulated as the content of motivational formulae, control of the perception or non-perception of information potentiates control of behavior. In practical terms this means that if an underlying motivational formula (personality trait) can be identified as, for instance, expressible in the formula, "My beliefs are identical with my self/soul," then any proffered information which contradicts or ignores my beliefs is likely (if it is entertained at all) to be perceived as an outside aggression against the well-being and even existence of the self/soul. And the behavioral reaction will predictably be defensive or reactively aggressive.

The great mathematician, Pythagoras, whose geometric theorems are familiar to most people with a formal education, founded a secretive brotherhood of scholars who sought out mathematical formulae that could show a hidden order in nature. According to Pythagorean doctrine, using only rational numbers, the whole of creation could be shown to be an intricate weaving of mathematical relationships. The limits of his tolerance for learning outside the boundaries of his own belief system were tested, with dire consequences, by his student Hippasus. According to the story, Hippasus was intrigued by the puzzle of solving the square root of 2, since it did not result in a "rational" number ( a whole number or a fraction). Instead, it yielded an irregularly repeating decimal with no limit. Pythagoras was so incensed that he ordered his student executed by drowning. Evidently, the possibility of the existence of "irrational numbers" was too much for Pythagoras' belief system to bear, and he reacted violently in an attempt to preserve it and his own identity with it.

Common to bicamerality and a coopted ego mentality is the notion of authority. The word "authority" clearly has its root in the word "author," which is a term designating the source and originator of thoughts, whether expressed by speaking, writing, or creating some meaning kinetically (as in dance, sculpture, painting, spontaneous performance and improvisation), musically, or by any other symbolic means (for instance, mathematically or via computer). Just as clearly, the term "authority" suggests that the enforceable source and originator of thoughts is (and morally and legally should be) someone or thing other than the ostensible "thinker."

While there are as many rationales and justifications for "authority" as there are authorities, all have one thing in common: the argument that one bundle of motivational perceptions (a synthetic "personality," whether a dogma, a set of rules, a declared supremacy of an individual, an office, or a group) has more legitimacy than any one other, and in fact has more legitimacy than all others considered separately or together. Actual broad-spectrum democracy, where all contribute individual perceptions and preferences in every facet of human interaction, would be the only known possible exception to the tyranny of authority over the mind of humans, and as we can each individually verify, such a democracy exists nowhere.

Self-ownership remains a controversial concept everywhere, in every society, at some fundamental crossroads between the individual and society. The details of this controversy are the contents of political debate and the principals over which social struggles fester. Here in the pages of Groundswell, we have hashed-over some of the details, whether it be ownership of one's own labor, thoughts, body, creations, or volition. But underlying all of these struggles is a fundamental structural causation in the make-up of human mentation. The authoritarian bent of mind insists that "you've got to serve somebody." And each authority proceeds from this central premise to argue and persuade and deceive you into serving this particular authority. Authority is revered and feared as an abstract entity, a moral force, thereby inviting just and harsh ridicule, and hearty blasphemy into the bargain.

Because people continue to erect thrones in their own brains, and invite tyrants and convincing charlatans to sit upon them, we can fairly criticize our fellow humans for acting all too Neanderthal. But we shouldn't be too smug. The compulsion to revert to a bicameral mode of "thought" survives in each of us. History, literature, art, architecture, in fact all the artifacts of culture resurrect dead ancestors as advisors to the living. The voices of re-polished icons echo within our museums and schools, our libraries and churches, our banks and factories. We may have vanquished our god kings and muses, our still-quiet voices, the angels of our better and worse natures, from the residence they once kept in our heads. But we have simply moved them into the "projects" of our growing cultural heritage: to our books and statuary. And to our leaders' voice of authority. And too, our movies and commercials, our rock music and sit coms. The high stress level of modern humans is often remarked upon, and so the connection is easy to make between bicameral voices that spoke in stress situations, and the modern habit of turning to every electronic font for advice and solace, entertainment, escape, "brain candy."

And so the question "are we still bicameral?" must be answered individually, by those still clinging to a part of themselves that can be honest and, unlike Pythagoras, let their internal gods be criticized, tested, and if proven false, evicted. Let those individuals find each other. Let them speak in the open, offering advice that will liberate and broaden the mind in its capacity to learn, discern, and not be deceived.