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Julian Jaynes

Julian Jaynes (1920 - 1997), American psychologist, best known for his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976), in which he argues that ancient peoples were not conscious as we consider the term today, and that the change of humans mode of thinking occurred within recorded historical times.

The first part of his theory is unexceptionable, since at some point humans must have become conscious; but his contention that this happened long after we became the modern human species, and actually within the last few thousand years, is regarded as far more contentious.

If the first part of the theory is unexceptionable, then the implication is that non-human ancestors (relatives?) did not have primitive consciousness. If that were so, then the point at which humans without consciousness became humans with consciousness could be any time.

Jaynes' evidence for the time period and events which triggered the breakdown of the "bicameral" mind (the type of mind we now characterize as "schizophrenic") is convincing. Changing environments and interacting with new and different cultures changed the way humans categorized things and other humans. Where before, for example, there was 'a' tree (a fir, perhaps), now there were "trees". The ability to formulate a category called "tree" for the fir and some other species of tree represented, in Jaynes' view, the first attempts at human consciousness.

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