Authoritarian Grammar and Fundamentalist Arithmetic Part II by Ben G. Price

"There may be no gods, but there is a pattern: names by themselves may have no magic, but the act of naming, the physical utterance, obeys the pattern." -- Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow p 322

In Part I of this essay I introduced Julian Jaynes' startling theory of the evolution of consciousness. From the beginings of human language, he traces an unfolding psychology that invents itself again and again through various stages. And in each stage a variation on subjective experience, or knowledge of reality, is central to social interactions. And social interactions themselves change and evolve as the internal experiences of individuals change and evolve.

In what Jaynes refers to as the "bicameral period," the physiological aspects of language use had profound effects on subjective experience, and these effects were found to be recorded in the earliest known written narratives. Because the command is characteristic of the voices hallucinated by bicameral man in this era of evolution toward what we are now familiar with as ego consciousness, Jaynes' theory is central to our discussion of the authoritarian use of language. More to the point, the theory suggests an intrinsic authoritarianism in much of what passes for social communication. It is therefore germaine to any discussion of freedom and the tyranny of habitual and therefore unconscious oppression.

To become conscious of unconscious oppression is not to discover any new texts or histories. It is to see the old ones with new eyes. The early narratives in which Jaynes found evidence to support his theory of the bicameral mind include familiar texts such as the Illiad and certain biblical texts of equal antiquity. In them, Jaynes discovered modes of expression that could, if interpreted according to his theory, make sense of what otherwise seemed mere "magical talk" and illogic. By reading again the "unmodern" Homeric tales with the insight that these men, Agammemnon, Achilles, and the rest, did not think, did not have behind their peering eyes a mindspace in which an individuated ego resided: if we can conceive of so different and alien an experience of reality, then we can understand in a new way the logic of the syntax and the hidden consistencies in the myths.

Why this is important is that it helps us to understand our own vestigal tropisms toward unconsciousness and unthinking obedience to habits of being. To learn a new "geneology of morals," as Nietzsche called it, we have to learn how we have come to think as we do. In order to be free to chose what to think and believe, we have to analyze the thoughts and beliefs that come to us packaged by culture. We have to untie the strings on that package without getting tangled-up in knots of rhetoric or shreded by paper cuts of dogma-driven guilt.

Julian Jaynes has been virtually silenced by neglect in intellectual circles. And it is no wonder, given that the verification of his theory would retire so many working intellectuals from suddenly delegitimized pursuits, not the least of which would be the armies of literary and biblical scholars. It is not surprising to find that his work has been underexplored in the extreme, and almost deafeningly ignored by authors who have subsequently published books concerning the evolution of human consciousness. But even if his contemporaries avoid, or even scorn his ideas, there are some extraordinary scholars, some of an earlier generation, who seem to support his case, though they did so without the benefit of his overview or familiarity with his theory.

Erich Auerbach wrote his monumental work of literary criticism, Mimesis, between 1942 and 1945. In it he meant to trace the development of human understanding of reality as represented in narratives written from the begining of recorded history to the present. In discovering Auerbach's work I was surprised to also find that it is not used by Jaynes as a reference or in support of his theory in his own book. My surprise at this is because Auerbach seems to play John the Baptist to Jaynes' new revelation.

Jaynes describes the unconscious every-day mode of perceiving in bicameral man as akin to our own experience of driving a car for some length of time without awareness of the present surroundings. If you subtract away whatever reverie or conversation that engaged us during the drive, we can imagine the mode of experiencing that was common to bicameral man. Now imagine that a traffic emergency arises and magically the radio turns on and a voice announces "Watch out!" We swerve. We are saved by some mindfulness that did not seem present a moment ago. And, after all, it wasn't the radio, but our own thoughts that constructed the odd sensation and drew us back to attention.

Auerbach describes the reality of Homeric men (corresponding to Jaynes' bicameral era) in this way:

"The original cause [for Homer's detailed descriptions and constant interjection of histories for even minor details, like where a scar came from] must have lain in the basic impulse of the Homeric style: to represent phenomena in a fully externalized form, visible and palpable in all their parts, and completely fixed in their spatial and temporal relations. Nor do psychological process receive any other treatment: here too nothing must remain hidden and unexpressed. With the utmost fullness, with an orderliness which even passion does not disturb, Homer's personages vent their inmost hearts in speech; what they do not say to others, they speak in their own minds, so that the reader is informed of it. Much that is terrible takes place in the Homeric poems, but it sledom takes place wordlessly: Polyphemus talks to Odysseus; Odysseus talks to the suitors when he begins to kill them; Hector and Achilles talk at length, before battle and after; and no speech is so filled with anger or scorn that the particles which express logical and grammatical connections are lacking or out of place. This last observation is true, of course, not only of speeches but of the presentation in general. The separate elements of a phenomenon are most clearly placed in relation to one another; a large number of conjunctions, adverbs, particles, and other syntactical tools, all clearly circumscribed and delicately differentiated in meaning, delimit persons, things, and portions of incidents in respect to one another, and at the same time bring them together in a continuous and ever flexible connection; like the separate phenomena themselves, their relationships -- their temporal, local, causal, final, consecutive, comparative, concessive, antithetical, and conditional limitations -- are brought to light in perfect fulness; so that a continuous rhytmic procession of phenomena passes by, and never is there a form left fragmentary or half-illuminated, never a lacuna, never a gap, never a glimpse of unplumbed depths. "And this procession of phenomenoa takes place in the foreground -- that is, in a local and temporal present which is absolute. One might think that many interpolations, the frequent moving back and forth, would create a kind of perspective in time and place; but the Homeric style never gives any such impression. The way in which any impression of perspective is avoided can be clearly observed in the procedure for introducing episodes, a syntactical construction with which every reader of Homer is familiar." --- Erich Auerbach, pp 4-5

This ever-present moment reveals not only a literary style, but a mode of thinking that became fossilized in the words and syntax of the epic, like a bug in amber. It may not be proper to say that the Homeric/bicameral mode of "thought" is extinct. At least not completely. I remember hearing the report of a friend's class viewing the film "Nanook of the North" in school. It was presented as a lesson in sociology. The eskimo subjects of the film amused the class with their seemingly awkward antics. Most hilarious to the boys in class was Nanook's reaction as he was captured viewing a film clip himself. His friend was the subject of the clip. Nanook watched his friend suddenly appear on the screen, walk across the frame, and disappear out of view, as if off the edge of the screen. Nanook jumped up, to the delight of the class, and ran to the screen, looked behind it and all around, and insisted that his friend be returned. Where had he gone? What had become of him? And Nanook would not be consoled until the reel was run backwards and his friend brought back safely to center screen.

In the same way that the world views of other cultures demonstrate a possibility of profound difference from our own "conscious" understanding, ancient cultures and the psychological artifacts burried in their preserved literature demonstrate a profunditiy of mental distance from us. And yet, I suppose it reasonable to think that here among us, now, in our midst, among our friends and neighbors, exists a rich core sample of human mental evolution, some minds scurrying through the primeaval underbrush inhabited by wraiths of dead kings and ancestors, some just emerging from the burrows of the mental subterrain into the light of multidimensional awareness, where past, present and future are extensions of the sense of being.

Erich Neumann, in The Origins and History of Consciousness, adapts archeologist Flinders Petrie's non-linear method of dating cultures to the psychological sphere. It is an adaptation that serves us in understanding the shifting mental strata of humankind: here a recent outcropping of mental strata, there, weathering in today's climate, an exposed sediment from a much earlier era, sharing the current era with the surface of more advanced forms.And in the individual too there is a recapitulation of the ascending layers of mentality, from the most base clay of animal instinct, up to the highest degree to which the individual is permitted by circumstance and the downward pressures of tyrannical expediency to rise. Neumann writes:

"These stages, with their fluctuating degrees of ego consciousness, can be shown to be archetypical; that is, they work as an 'eternal presence' in the psyche of modern man and form elements of his psychic structure. The constitutive character of these stages unfolds in the historical sequence of individual development, but it is very probable that the individual's psychic structure is itself built up on the historical sequence of human development as a whole.The concept of the stages can be taken as much in the 'Platonic' as in the 'Aristotelian' sense; as archetypal stages of the psyche's structure they are constituents of psychic development, but they are also the result and deposit of this development all through human history. This paradox, nevertheless, has a rational foundation, for although the archetype is the condition and constituent of psychic experience, man's experience can only become self-experience in the course of human history. He experiences the world through the archetypes, but the archetypes are themselves impressions of his unconscious experience of the world. The modifications of consciousness whose deposits are found in the mythological stages reflect an inner historical process which can be correlated with prehistoric and historical epochs. The correlation, however, is not absolute, only relative.

Flinders Petrie established a system of what he called 'sequence dating' (abbreviated 'S.D.') for the early history of Egypt, that is, sequences within which one can lay down a 'before' and an 'after' without knowing the temporal correlation. For instance, S.D. 30 comes before S.D. 77, though this does not tell us to what dated period we must assign S.D. 30 or 77, or how great an interval lies between them. Similarly, we have to make do with psychological sequence-dating in dealing with the archetypal stages. The uroboros comes 'before' the stage of the Great Mother, and the Great Mother 'before' the dragon Greek mythology is largely the dragon-fight mythology of a consciousness struggling for independence, and this struggle was decisive for the spiritual importance of Greece. But whereas in Greece this development falls roughly between 1500 and 500 B.C., the corresponding process in Egypt took place probably long before 3300." -- Erich Neumann, pp 264-265

It is here that Neumann addresses the issue at hand: "consciousness struggling for independence." In terms of ontological (individual) psychological development, this is the very point at which tyrannical conservatism arrests development by propagandizing the efficacy of a more primitive mental status quo. Its primitive nature is revealed systemically by the mode of its imposture: the command. Disguised as moral erectness, or patriotism, or loyalty to a sovereign, such reactionary projects have their effect of creating mental pathologies and retroversions away from conscious independence and "toward" a return to the Great Mother archetype. There, obedience to the voiced will of others is embraced, and disobedience is ringed and fenced out with legendary terrors until a conditioned aversion to the very thought of disobedience becomes internalized, hence unthinkable and "unreal."

Authoritarianism in the guise of God's will is no new thing. History is full of stories about victorious gods overcoming disobedient and rengade people. In the context of Jaynes' theory of the evolution of consciousness, such struggles can be seen as not unpredictable reactions to nostalgia and longing for lost certainty as individuals and cultures lost the clarity, and then the presence altogether, of voices in their heads. With the silencing of the bicameral voice, literary voices were invented, some time shortly after the era of oracles. By literary voices I mean the written word: symbols that, when understood and interpreted internally (mentally) had the effect of "speaking" directly to the mind of the reader. And this is the clear and complete explanation for the otherwise inexplicable ancient belief in the power of spells and the possibility of "mere words" written on parchment having real magical effects. Today we interpret this art of reading quite differently. We take it to be one of the hallmarks of intelligence that we are able to create "ideas" about the world using the symbols in books. And we would in general deny the reality of any magical power in words, except in the figurative sense that, "indirectly" they can influence behavior through logical and emotioal persuation. But is this true? Are we truly consiously independent of our bicameral heritage?

We come to the imputed magical power of scripture, and historical claims that "holy writ" speaks the words of a god to those who believe. If there is any doubt concerning the bicameral nature of the minds that wrote the oldest pages in the Old Testament, let the doubt be persuaded by Erich Auerbach's discussion of the story of Abraham:

The genius of the Homeric style becomes even more apparent when it is compared with an equally ancient and equally epic style from a different world of forms. I shall attempt this comparison with the account of the sacrifice of Isaac, a homogenous narrative produced by the so-called Elohist. The King James version translates the opening as follows (Genesis 22:1): 'And it came to pass after these things , that God did tempt Abraham, and said to him, Abraham! And he said, Behold, here I am.' Even this opening startles us when we come to it from Homer. Where are the two speakers? We are not told. The reader, however, knows that they are not normally to be found together in one place on earth, that one of them, God, in order to speak to Abraham, must come from somewhere, must enter the earthly realm from some unknown heights or depths. Whence does he come, whence does he call to Abraham? We are not told. He does not come, like Zeus or Poseidon, from the Aethiopians, where he has been enjoying a sacrificial feast. Nor are we told anything of his reason for tempting Abraham so terribly. He has not, like Zeus, discussed them in set speeches with other gods gathered in the council; nor have the deliberations in his own heart been presented to us; unexpected and mysterious, he enters the scene from some unknown height or depth and calls: Abraham! It will at once be said that this is to be explained by the particular concept of God which the Jews held and which was wholly different from that of the Greeks. True enough -- but this constitutes no objection. For how is the Jewish concept of God to be explained? Even their earlier God of the desert was not fixed in form and content, and was alone; his lack of form, his lack of local habitation, his singleness, was in the end not only maintained but developed even further in competition with the comparatively far more manifest gods of the surrounding Near Eastern world. The concept of God held by the Jews is less a cause than a symptom of their manner of comprehending and representing things." -- Erich Auerbach, pp 5-6

As Auerbach continues, we begin to see the image of bicameral man crystalize. It is a description as detailed as any later devised by Jaynes to illustrate his theory:

"This becomes still clearer if we now turn to the other person in the dialogue, to Abraham. Where is he? We do not know. He says, indeed: Here I am -- but the Hebrew word means only something like 'behold me,' and in any case is not meant to indicate the actual place where Abraham is, but a moral position in respect to God, who has called to him -- Here am I awaiting thy command. Where he is actually, whether in Beersheba or elsewhere, whether indoors or in the open air, is not stated; it does not interest the narrator, the reader is not informed; and what Abraham was doing when God called to him is left in the same obscurity. To realize the difference, consider Hermes' visit to Calypso, for example, where command, journey, arrival and reception of the visitor, situation and occupation of the person visited, are set forth in many verses; and even on occasions when gods appear suddenly and briefly, whether to help one of their favorites or to deceive or destroy some mortal whom they hate, their bodily forms, and usually the manner of their coming and going, are given in detail. Here, however, God appears without bodily form (yet he 'appears'), coming from some unspecified place -- we only hear his voice, and that utters nothing but a name, a name without an adjective, without a descriptive epithet for the person spoken to, such as is the rule in every Homeric address; and of Abraham too nothing is made perceptible except the words in which he answers God: Hinne-ni, Behold me here -- with which, to be sure, a most touching gesture expressive of obedience and readiness is suggested, but it is left to the reader to visualize it. Moreover the two speakers are not on the same level: if we conceive of Abraham in the foreground, where it might be possible to picture him as prostrate or kneeling or bowing with outspread arms or gazing upward, God is not there too: Abraham's words and gestures are directed toward the depths of the picture or upward, but in any case the undetermined, dark place from which the voice comes to him is not in the foreground. After this opening, God gives his command, and the story itself begins." -- Erich Auerbach, pp 6-7

The Command! Until it is given, the volitionless mind of bicameral man can not act. "Whatever is not forbidden is mandatory; whatever is not mandatory is forbidden," as George Orwell wrote in his Animal Farm. But even if all of this is true, and even if there was a time in the evolution of modern consciousness in which voices generated in one hemisphere of the brain were heard by the other as other-than identical with the individual, what bearing has this on us? What remnants of bicamerality exist even today, other than the pathological examples of schizophrenics who are commanded against their ego consciousness to think and act and believe on bizzarre things?

In part three of this essay I will attempt to answer this question with some startling examples of our every-day indentureship to a bicamerality that has not been eradicated, only masked and overlaid with more recent mental developments. In the meantime, I ask the reader to indulge one more excerpt from Auerbach, in which he discusses the nature of the scriptural epic, and how it differs from its bicameral contemporary, the Illiad. It is important to remember that both epics were recorded at the end of the bicameral period and at the dawning of something akin to modern ego consciousness. The evidence for this is to be found in each text, side-by-side the evidence for bicamerality. But the "fossil" evidence that most strongly conveys the fact of dawning modern consciousness is that the naratives were recorded at all, in written form. They were committed to symbolic memory, after having been passed-on from one generation to the next as oral tradition. And with their preservation as written memory, their nature and their effect on the mind of the reader (or the ones being read to from scripture, as it were) was changed, at first subtly. But as we see thousands of years later, the effect of scripture on the mind may now manifest along a spectrum of reactions, from intellectual curiosity to reverent ecstasy.

If there is any doubt as to the bicameral aspirations of those who promote scripture and "evangelize" a particular and different mode of thinking, as compared to "secular" consciousness, let the doubt be persuaded by observing the methods and what can only be described as "antics" of the believers and leaders of believers. The attemps at trance-induction, frenzied participation in ritual, meditative blanking of the mind from all "outside" (conscious) distractions, focused and exclusive attention to some sacred object or symbol, or the voice of the priest, preacher, or spiritual conduit of the divine Word. Ego consciousness, it seems, is a fragile new arrival to the world. Found exclusively, that we know of, in humankind, yet it can readily be snuffed-out like a tiny ember, by the submerging waters of baptism in the sign of the gods of old.


"Homer can be analyzed...but he can not be interpreted. Later allegorizing trends have tried their arts of interpretation upon him, but to no avail. He resists any such treatment; the interpretations are forced and foreign, they do not crystallize into a unified doctrine. It is all very different in the Biblical stories. Their aim is not to bewitch the senses, and if nevertheless they produce lively sensory effects, it is only because the moral, religious, and psychological phenomena which are their sole concern are made concrete in the sensible matter of life. But their religious intent involves an absolute claim to historical truth. The story of Abraham and Isaac is not better established than the story of Odysseus, Penelope, and Euryclea: both are legendary. But the Biblical narrator, the Elohist, had to believe in the objective truth in the story of Abraham's sacrifice-- the existence of the sacred ordinances of life rested upon the truth of this and similar stories. He had to believe in it passionately; or else (as many rationalistic interpreters believed and perhaps still believe) he had to be a conscious liar--no harmless liar like Homer, who lied to give pleasure, but a political liar with a definite end in view, lying in the interest of a claim to absolute authority...The Scripture stories do not, like Homer's, court our favor, they do not flatter us that they may please us and enchant us--they seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels." -- Erich Auerbach, pp 11-12

From what we know of the roots of human language, it seems evident that it has always been a social tool, for we are social animals. In the nature of this sociability is an inherent or evloved hierarchical structure that is reflected at every stage in the development of the language facility. The bark of the sentry that gives warning to a troop of primates that there is danger lurking must, if it is to work as a warning, elicit belief in the authority of the signal, that it is true and genuine. Later, the internalized voices of such authorities as tribe leaders and kings were given particular regard, and were reverenced. The first rudiments of religion, of ancestor worship, developed and were integrated into social rituals. As ego consciousness evolved, the epics and stories of the ancestors were put to writing, and the legitimacy and authority of some of those writings were preserved by a regime of religious instruction, which incorporated many of the special conditions that once ellicited bicameral auditory hallucinations: physical and sensory deprivations, ritualized ordeals that inflicted pain and imminent danger, and all manner of stress-inducing circumstances. The Old Testament opens with: "In the Begining was The Word." It is the one absolute truth recorded in the book, if truth can be represented at all in words.The "truth" that is thereafter suggested is one that demands the subsuming of personal experience under the "more legitimate" authority of the book, the written oracle of divine origin. This is not a suggestion, but a command. Next Month: Part III, including a discussion of modern examples of surviving bicameral behavior and thought, and some remarks regarding future prospects.

Part 3 will appear in next month's Spectacle.