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No. 43: Jan-Feb 1986

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The Voice Of God

Back in 1976, Julian Jaynes promulgated a novel hypothesis about ancient man in his book, The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

"According to Jaynes, consciousness, as we know it today, is a relatively new faculty, one that did not exist until as recently as 2000 B.C. He holds that a basic difference between contemporary and ancient man is the process of decision-making. When faced with a novel situation today, man considers alternatives, thinks about future consequences, makes a decision, ruminates over it, and finally acts. He then reconsiders his action, evaluates it, worries about it, feels good or bad about it, makes resolves about future decisions, and so forth. The cerebral activity that precedes and follows an action response is consciousness. Jaynes believes that man of antiquity had no consciousness -- that when faced with a novel situation, he simply reacted. He reacted without hesitation by following the directions of a personal voice that told him exactly what to do. Ancient man called this voice God; today it is called an auditory hallucination. To ancient man, God was not a mental image or a deified thought but an actual voice heard when one was presented with a situation requiring decisive action."

You must really read Jaynes' book to appreciate the evidence he has collected in support of his hypothesis. In the present article, J. Hamilton has found additional support for Jaynes' theory. His abstract follows:

"When a system for communicating with nonverbal, quadriplegic, institutionalized residents was developed, it was discovered that many were experiencing auditory hallucinations. Nine cases are presented in this study. The 'voices' described have many similar characteristics, the primary one being that they give authoritarian commands that tell the residents how to behave and to which the residents feel compelled to respond. Both the relationship of this phenomenon to the theoretical work of Julian Jaynes and its effect on the lives of the residents are discussed."

(Hamilton, John; "Auditory Hallucinations in Nonverbal Quadriplegics," Psychiatry, 48:382, 1985.)

From Science Frontiers #43, JAN-FEB 1986. 1986-2000 William R. Corliss