The Origin of a Sudden Thought in Kara’s Mind

A few weeks ago, while reading David Eagleman’s excellent “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain,” I had a very odd experience.

I was reading this passage:

“In 1976, the American psychologist Julian Jaynes proposed that until late in the second millennium B.C.E., humans had no introspective consciousness, and that instead their minds were essentially divided into two, with their left hemispheres following the commands from their right hemispheres. These commands, in the form of auditory hallucinations, were interpreted as voices from the gods. About three thousand years ago, Jaynes suggests, this division of labor between the right and left hemispheres began to break down.”

And suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, I had huge red blinking text in my head (I won’t make it red and blinking here, just bold):

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

My brain was shouting that phrase at me, over and over:

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

So I sat there for a minute wondering what on earth that phrase was doing in my head… and then it hit me. That’s a title I remember seeing among my dad’s books when I was very small (I was 6 for most of 1976). I remember that I didn’t understand all of the words in the title, but it was such an interesting-sounding phrase. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. So rhythmic, so thumpy, so chewy.

So I googled it and, boom, that’s the title of a book by Julian Jaynes about his controversial bicameralism theory:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicameralism_(psychology)

So, since the text I was reading didn’t actually contain that phrase and I hadn’t read Jaynes’s book and didn’t have any real idea what it was about, my unconscious mind took the author’s name (which I don’t consciously remember but must have seen on the book jacket) and the terms “break down” and “consciousness”, added them up, and gave me the correct answer to a question I didn’t even ask.

And the passage which started that chain of events was in a book about neuroscience and the astonishing complexity and dexterity of the unconscious mind.

“Almost the entirety of what happens in your mental life is not under your conscious control, and the truth is that it’s better this way.”

The human brain. Man. I am so often struck by the AMAZING things our brains will do, things that we take completely for granted.

Category: Blog 2 comments »

2 Responses to “The Origin of a Sudden Thought in Kara’s Mind”

  1. Brian

    Well said. Consciousness, it’s not rational and that’s a good thing. What is this life anyway? Dunno, mysterious as it is and as we are too. It’s good tho and so are we.

    Despite everything life is good. We can know this. It feels good fundamentally! When it doesn’t we say “Something’s wrong” indicating the basic state feels good, irrationally and truly.

  2. soozan

    OMG Kara, this is something I will think about forever. I always knew you were a genius, but this? Wow! And that it is the brain remembering something about the brain…. well, it’s enough to make my head spin. Here’s something I’ve always wondered. Whenever actual brain matter is scattered about, say, for instance, when Kennedy was shot, many if not most of us are much more disgusted by the brain matter than the blood. Why do our brains dislike themselves so much?

    hm…..


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