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Categorization is odious. There is tremendous overlap among genres. These pigeonholes are offered only as a convenience.

Julian Jaynes

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joecowley April 26th, 2007 03:53 PM PST

I didn't read "The Origin of Consciousness" until it was republished in 1990, but it has been seminal to me in solving a riddle I had long been aware of: Why did our cultural history only begin about 4,000 BCE? Interestingly enough, the Jewish books state that the world began no so long before that. Why, then, did history start about particular point in time? Jaynes says, and offers much convincing proof, that history began with the arrival of consciousness. By consciousness, of course, he means that kind of consciousness that makes self-awareness possible. His main these is that our minds were largely bicameral at that time (i.e. the right brain was pretty much dominant when it came to thinking, and in the thinking upon action). Two of our oldest documents neatly illustrate this transition from right brain to left brain dominance. Both are attributed to the same author, Homer. The first, of course, is The Iliad; the second is The Odyssey. Personally, I have never liked The Iliad because, in it, the characters are all guided by the gods (in their heads). In The Odyssey, which I think is one of the greatest books ever written and very, very enjoyable (it is the first adventure story), Odysseus embodies the first human being who begins to think for himself and is self-aware. The Jaynes book is fascinating (at least, it was to me), but also take a look at The Iliad, and definitely read The Odyssey. Joseph Cowley


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Julian Jaynes (February 27, 1920ľNovember 21, 1997) was an American psychologist, best known for his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976), in which he argued that ancient peoples were not conscious as we consider the term today, and that the change of human thinking occurred over a period of centuries about three thousand years ago.

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