Do "experiencers" have bicameral minds?
This site contains excerpts and some minor additions, update or deletions from my recent book which you can see more info about or order in e-reader or soft cover (480 pp.) by clicking this image of the cover
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I take concepts from psychologist Julian Jaynes and apply them to today’s space alien abductees, suggesting that they may be genetic throwbacks to the bicameral era of human evolution. Jaynes wrote a major book in 1976 called The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. He believed that self-consciousness as we know it only developed once the more primitive bi-cameral mind had broken down, over a period of about 3000 years and ending roughly around 1800 B.C.
Jaynes was a respected but controversial and still controversial psychologist who theorized that pre-modern man was constantly hearing voices which we today call auditory hallucinations, and acting on their orders, thinking the voices were the deities or God of that culture. Several major religions were founded by people who thought they were getting messages from God. But he goes on to say that just about every one of the followers also thought they were hearing their God or gods speak directly to them.
Jaynes also considered encounters with angels incidents of possession by the devil to have arisen from the later stages of the bicameral mind, which broke down about 4000 years ago. This could explain why throughout recorded history people have claimed to have been kidnapped by elves, leprechauns, etc.
Interestingly the long duration of these phenomena over eons of human history supports both Jaynes, the traditional ‘mental disorder’ explanation, and the ‘actual abduction by aliens’ theories. The fact that abduction reports pre-date the breakdown of the bicameral mind and continue after it may be evidence that such experiences have nothing to do with the bicameral mind; but I suggest that people who experience these experiences are genetically like our ancestors and have bicameral minds.
From my viewpoint, applying Jaynes to a new area, I am suggesting that the phenomenological experience of abduction by strange creatures may be a function of the human brain which has no external or objective reality even though to the experiencer it is a real as anything else. (Whitley Strieber’s Communion can be understood in this way.)
I wrote above that Jaynes also saw incidents of possession as a throwback to the vestiges of the bicameral mind. At pp. 348-350 of his book he discusses the similarities of this "negatory possession" to schizophrenia, and notes the important fact that the possessed person may talk and act like the devil, with spectacular contortions, writhing, thrashing, yelling, crying, speaking in a different voice (as if they were Satan, an alien, or whatever the culture expects, e.g. a fox in the Orient) and all the other dramatics that Mack's patients (other than Arthur) went through. One is reminded of Linda Blair in The Exorcist movie.
Like schizophrenia, negatory possession usually begins with some kind of an hallucination. It is often a castigating 'voice' of a 'demon' or other being which is 'heard' after a considerable stressful period. But then, unlike schizophrenia, probably because of the strong collective cognitive imperative of a particular group or religion, the voice develops into a secondary system of personality, the subject then losing control and periodically entering into trance states in which consciousness is lost, and the 'demon' side of the personality takes over. (Jaynes, 1976: 348)
So Jaynes was also aware of the importance of culture and social pressure. Older readers from North America may recall there was an epidemic of "devil possession" in the 1970's.
So I will now elaborate more on the work of Julian Jaynes, and attempt to show how Jaynes’ concept of the bicameral mind may describe that of modern day “abductees”. According to Jaynes (1976), all the great ancient civilizations were bicameral - Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia etc. The bicameral mind predominated from 9000 BC to almost 1000 BC. (Jaynes says it was still extant in Greece at the time of the Trojan War, which was 1250 BC.)
The classical Greeks thought they were in daily communication with the various gods and they often acted on their instructions, believing (like the abductee who is told to drive to a certain place to report for another encounter) that they had no choice. (Dr. Jaynes does not mention UFOs in his book; I am applying his theory to explain “abductions”.)
Prior to Hippocrates revolutionizing medicine, the ancient Greeks had “sleep temples” where they took physically sick people and told them to wait until the gods told them via dreams what was wrong and how to cure it! Moreover, just as some abductees think aliens are walking the earth disguised as humans, so the Greek gods often took over human bodies.
Further on this theme of a lack of self-consciousness, or being self-directed, to quote Jaynes (1976: 73), “The characters of the Iliad do not sit down and think out what to do. They have no conscious minds such as we say we have.” Dr. Jaynes then cites many instances from the Iliad where the characters obey auditory hallucinations, and have visual ones. Since they are aware of their own experiences of being controlled by gods, they also know that their fellow Greeks are also often under “remote control”. As Jaynes says, “The Trojan War was directed by hallucinations”.
At p. 73 he asks: Who then were these gods that pushed men about like robots and sang epics through their lips? They were voices whose speech and directions could be as distinctly heard by the Iliadic heroes as voices are heard by certain epileptic and schizophrenic patients, or just as Joan of Arc heard her voices. The gods were part of the central nervous system …
According to Jaynes, these schizophrenic societies, with their sudden murders (“God so-and-so made me do it, sorry.”) were not as chaotic as they might otherwise have been because of their rigid social order and their being theocracies and monarchies.
Over the eons man changed to the point where now people who hear voices are a minority. Was this natural evolution or were there other causes? According to Jaynes, this progress was due firstly to writing replacing the need to listen to the voices in one’s head to know what the gods wanted - you could simply go and look at the tablet, so the focus shifted to an external location. More specifically Jaynes thought that human consciousness arose partly from the power of language to make metaphors and analogies. Metaphors of “me” and analogous models of “I” allow consciousness to function through introspection and self-visualization. Homo sapiens, therefore, could not experience consciousness until it developed a language sophisticated enough to produce metaphors and analogical models.
The Second reason for the breakdown of the bicameral mind was various catastrophies and upheavals occurred to the civilizations of the day which were located around Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean, which the gods - being simply men’s minds - had no answers for. So reliance on inner voices gradually diminished. To appreciate the second reason we must acquaint ourselves with the horrible times people of the second millennium B.C. suffered through and often failed to survive. There was flooding, famine, disease, war, and spectacular volcanic eruptions. The volcano was on the isle of Thera (now called Santorini, but most of it went underwater after the volcano erupted and was called Atlantis by Plato). The eruption had the force of hundreds of atomic bombs, and created a tsunami 700 feet (over a thousand meters) high which raced along at 350 mph (over 500 kph). The gigantic wave destroyed everything for two miles inland on every shore it reached. Like what would occur in a Nuclear Winter but luckily for less time, the volcanic cloud blacked out the sky for days and ruined the climate for years, so food became scarce and probably some people starved. When it was over, many towns and many acres of farmland were forever covered under thick layers of lava, ash or water. Some scholars say the devastation reached Egypt and Israel, creating the legend of the parting of the Red Sea (due to ensuing tidal changes).
Desperate survivors roamed as destitute refugees. Half the world’s population were reduced to this status. Eventually some formed armies and invaded other places, seeking to re-establish themselves. The other half of the world fiercely resisted these invaders. Societies with different cultures met and clashed. There were slaughters and torture. Cities were wiped out. What use were the auditory hallucinations now? People lost faith in their religions and said that times were so bad that even the gods had fled. Desperate people lamented the loss of divine guidance. Some engraved tablets asked the gods to please, please return and help them. These pleas became written and thereby standardized, and thus praying was invented. People prayed to the gods to return and save them. But the gods did not. Instead the incredibly cruel and militaristic Assyrian nation arose, an early form of Nazism, but one which lasted centuries.
In the previous more mellow millennium it was thought that the gods lived in the king’s corpses and in the statues of the gods. Attendants at holy temples left food for the statues nightly and even stuffed food into their mouths. Previously people were used to hearing the skeletons and statues - the gods - speak so it did not seem absurd to them to “feed” and wash the statues and skeletons. But as writing developed and all the aforementioned natural and man-made disasters killed vast numbers of people, it was accepted that the gods had deserted mankind - no more inner voices and no more life inside the statues and skulls. But during the ensuing centuries of chaos and disasters, it came to be believed that the gods were watching from above. Not just from Mount Olympus - they had moved up to the sky to watch from a safe distance. The earth had turned into a godless place, so it was concluded that (rather than there being no gods in the first place - something no one could have conceived of back then) the gods had deserted the earth. The only other obvious place for them was the sky, the atmosphere. But since the Greek gods had human looking bodies, how could they stay aloft? Basically, they lost their bodies. They were replaced by symbols and concepts. Since the rise of Judaism and Christianity and Islam, only children see God as a person - an old, fatherly type. We tell children that if they pray to God he will listen, as if he is a man with ears. Adults are taught that “the father” is a concept, the life force or spirit of the universe and moral advisor, but God has no physical form.
But this evolution from the Greek gods to the Jewish and Christian and Islamic God took eons to come about. Since God had no body he could not talk directly to us (in this post bicameral era) so he sent messengers in the form of Jesus and Mohammed, to tell us how to act. (The earlier Moses, being closer to the bicameral era, was able to have an auditory hallucination of God telling him the Ten Commandments, which Moses duly inscribed.) During the many years in which the Greek gods with their human bodies and soap opera antics evolved into the current conception of one invisible force in the sky, a sort of intermediate concept arose: Humanoid messengers to the gods. (There was interaction between ancient Greeks and Egyptians at least as far back as 1600 BC, so the Greeks may have gotten this concept from the Egyptians. Rome took over Greece about 150 years before Christ, and adopted a huge amount of Greek religion/mythology.)
So angels were couriers who could go to Heaven and convey prayer messages. They were like junior gods or minor deities. Having bodies, they needed wings to get to Heaven. (Even in ancient Egypt they were depicted with wings.) These quaint inventions, winged mini-gods, lasted over an eon so were imported into Christianity, I believe.
The idea of gods descending from the sky to give commands to man is still seen in the UFO abduction belief system. Abductees never say they saw the flying saucer arise from the sea or the soil - it always descends from on high, or is found on mountain tops. The top Greek god Zeus (Roman name Jupiter) was imagined to have lived on a mountain top. Interestingly, the aliens supposedly can make themselves and sometimes the abductees invisible. The Greek god Hermes (known to the Romans as Mercury) had a special “invisibility” helmet that he sometimes used and sometimes lent to others.
So it is that in recent centuries the minority of people who can still hear the inner voices are no longer considered normal but abnormal and in need of medical help. This group includes UFO contactees/abductees who are still obeying the commands from their right brain hemisphere, processed in their left, and thinking that the sounds emanate from outside, from the aliens, the modern, technological version of angels and gods descending from the Heavens to guide, inspire, lambaste and - incidentally or on purpose - scare us. Thirteen hundred years before Christ, today’s contactees would have heard the Greek Gods - Zeus, Apollo, Ares, Artemus, Athene, Demeter, Dionysus, Hermes, Poseidon etc.- rather than aliens, and been considered perfectly normal. They are, like all bicameral men and women, functional and for the most part not incapacitated by their visions. I do not want to sound unkind but these abductees are like “throwbacks” to bicameral man. Like the classical Greeks they do not need to be put in hospitals or cared for. They are functional and can hold jobs and generally cope and be responsible. (However I disapprove of the families who teach their children about “the aliens" and thus encourage their children to experience hallucinations and/or delusions.) We have nothing to fear from abductees, other than misinformation.
Jaynes (1976) tells us about auditory hallucinations in his chapter four. He appreciates that some people wonder how others can hear voices when there is no larynx in the brain to create the sound and no ear inside the brain to hear it. He even asks how is that there are deaf schizophrenics who hear voices. However neurophysiological psychologists and neurosurgeons have succeeded in discovering the actual part of the brain that creates these, and by stimulating that part can create auditory hallucinations. The patients (who were being treated for epilepsy, not schizophrenia) report hearing various voices, sometimes strangers, sometimes people they know, sometimes many voices shouting or babbling at once, and sometimes dead relatives. Sometimes they hear one voice giving them specific instructions. Talking about the voices commonly heard by schizophrenics, Jaynes (1976: 89) says, “As in bicameral civilizations, they are recognized as gods, angels, enemies or a particular person or relative. … [nowadays I would say aliens - R.M.] Sometimes the voices bring patients to despair, commanding them to do something and then viciously reproaching them after the command is carried out. Sometimes they are a dialogue, as of two people discussing the patient." [e.g. two aliens discussing the abductee, which is sometimes reported - R.M.].
Jaynes also tells us that audial hallucinations can sometimes appear to the person as coming from trees, walls, ventilators etc., rather than inside the head, which accords with some “abductees” who report hearing voices from within the flying saucer or coming through the walls of their bedrooms commanding them to arise and follow. The voices and the music, whether garbled or recognized, were experienced as actually heard, and the visual hallucinations were experienced as actually seen, just as Achilles experienced Thetis, or Moses heard Yahweh out of the burning bush. (Jaynes, 1976: 110) So why not add “and just as abductees see flying saucers land in a blaze of colored light, and hear aliens command them, and find themselves inside the spaceships.”?
It seems more promising to assume that the abductees are suffering from some internally crossed signals or defective brain “wiring” than to believe that earth is being invaded by aliens. The right brain lobe or hemisphere is the subjective or imaginative side (visual fantasies); the left the more objective (e.g. arithmetic, logic). The right nostril is connected to the right brain and the left to the left brain as one would expect, but beyond that things get interesting. For most (right handed) people, the right brain controls the left eye and left hand, and vice versa. The area that controls speech and language is in the left. Of course the two halves are connected by the corpus callosum, but Jaynes thinks that the part that connects the two lobes and made early man bicameral (unable to have his own consciousness and at the mercy of hallucinations) was a smaller one only 1/8” thick. In a diagram he notes that in ancient times what corresponds to Wernicke’s area on the right side may have organized admonitory experience and coded it into “voices” which were then heard over the anterior commissure by the left brain which handles speech. (Both halves of the brain handle language but only the left handles speaking.) This tiny connecting tract has other functions but is the key to the ancient civilizations which basically founded ours, when gods spoke to men and they obeyed.
Hopefully we are not going full circle (lead by the authors of abduction stories and the mass media) back to such an era, substituting advanced aliens from another planet for gods. Certainly they deliver quasi-religious messages (modern day Commandments) to the abductees. (e.g. “stop polluting, eliminate nuclear weapons”.) The contactees/abductees usually say they were made to watch moving images (equivalent to movies, videos or DVD) of natural disasters ruining the earth. The “lesson” is that this is our fate if we don’t stop polluting.
Further in regard to the messianic zeal that occurs when people think God is telling them to convey an important message, I note that virtually all of John Mack’s thirteen (including Arthur, who is very rich and successful and came from a happy family) feel they are like prophets who must spread the aliens’ messages of ecology, peace etc. Many of the thirteen exhibit psychic abilities, and many believe they have had past lives and can describe them. This is very important because Randle, Cone and Estes argue that “past lives” syndrome is very similar to “UFO abduction” and both can be due to the mis-use of hypnosis. But let’s focus on my attempt to apply Julian Jaynes ideas.
The psychiatric literature is full of descriptions of schizophrenics, but we need not venture further than Dr. Jaynes to learn more about them. “Occasionally, in what are called acute twilight states, whole scenes, often of a religious nature, may be hallucinated even in broad daylight, the heavens standing open with a god speaking to the patient. … More usually, when visual hallucinations occur with voices, they are merely shining light or cloudy fog, as Thetis came to Achilles or Yahweh to Moses.” (Jaynes, 1976: 92 - 93) I would add that in ancient Egypt the neterw (angels) were often called “shining light”.
All of this sounds remarkably like scenes of a flying saucer landing in a "light show" and aliens speaking to the abductee.
It turns out from my reading of Jaynes in 2002 that my 1979 hypothesis of stress as cause of the abduction experience is indeed relevant. (I thought I may have been making too much of it.) Jaynes wrote:
If we are correct in assuming that schizophrenic hallucinations are similar to the guidance of gods in antiquity, then there should be some common physiological instigation in both instances. This, I suggest, is simply stress. In normal people, as we have mentioned, the stress threshold for release of hallucinations is extremely high, most of us need to be over our heads in trouble before we hear voices. But in psychosis-prone persons, the threshold is somewhat lower; as in the girl I described, only anxious waiting in a parked car was necessary. [recall Whitley Strieber worried about all sorts of things, and Barney Hill was always in a state of anxiety, and so many abductions occur when people are returning from vacation and stressed about having to return to work.- R.M.] This is caused, I think, by the buildup in the blood of breakdown products of stress-related adrenalin which the individual is, for genetical reasons, unable to pass through the kidneys as fast as a normal person. During the eras of the bicameral minds, we may suppose that the stress threshold for hallucinations was much, much lower than in either normal people or schizophrenics today. The only stress necessary was that which occurs when a change in behavior is necessary because of some novelty in a situation. Anything that could not be dealt with on the basis of habit, any conflict between work and fatigue, [emphasis mine - R.M.] any choice between who to obey or what to do, anything that required any decision at all was sufficient to cause an auditory hallucination. (Jaynes, 1976: 93)
For critiques of Jaynes see: http://www.functionalneurology.com/materiale_cic/224_XXII_1/2108_the%20bicamiral/index.html
One may also look at the Wikipedia page on Bicameralism https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicameralism_(psychology)