Julian Jaynes and the Analog "I"

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Julian Jaynes and the Analog "I"

Postby Graeme M on December 9th, 2016, 1:32 am 

I read Julian Jaynes' book "The origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" many years ago, and didn't understand a word of it. Years later after I'd read a few more recent books and thought a little more about the subject of consciousness, I reread Jaynes and was struck by how much his ideas now made sense.

I see that his ideas have been mentioned here a few times, but I'm not sure there has ever been a complete thread dedicated to his ideas. I thought I'd start one, just to see what others think. Of course I am not widely read so perhaps I miss the point but I still feel that Jaynes has captured something essential about the human experience. And I think too often, his ideas are misunderstood.

So, to kick things off, here's what I get from his book. The trick to understanding his model is first understanding what he means by "consciousness". I don't think he means what most of us mean when we talk about say the "hard problem" of consciousness.

In modern considerations of consciousness, I think we largely refer to subjective experience - the "what it is like" to be aware of the world. Jaynes however dismisses this as mere sensory perception. He is more interested in what it is to have an internal "mindspace", an "analog I" that experiences the world. Jaynes argues for the emergence of this sense of self and an inner mindspace from language. He sees the infinite capacity for metaphor inherent in human language as a means by which we can build similarly infinite concepts and ideas about our relationship with the external world.

That is, when we introspect upon our experience as selves in the world, we construct an inner self, an "I" that exists within our mind's eye which is what it is that has these experiences, these relationships. This inner self is an analog for what our senses perceive and how we react and is what gives us a sense of the first person in how we view the world. I guess Jaynes' is thinking here of some kind of conscious interiority, a feeling of being "in here" rather than "out there" (or perhaps nowhere at all).

Jaynes observes (as have many others) that this kind of awareness rests upon language. Human language has two distinctive features - the capacities for metaphorical representation and infinite recursion. With these basic tools, human beings can build infinitely complex models of self and experience. We can also use language to communicate - share - these models. In fact, over time it is this sharing that helps to construct commonly held models of experience that shape the course of cultural progress.

Knowledge itself is represented in these shared models although my guess is that we absolutely must have written language in order for this to happen with any lasting substance. In symbolic representation of inner models we can share and build upon these models as part of a larger process over time.

Jaynes of course also argues that this kind of "consciousness" has been present in human beings for only a few thousand years. He suggests that in earlier times, the capacity for language was expressed in human minds as being like the voices of Gods.
That is, that when we speak voicelessly inside our heads today, we know that this voice is ours, even though it lacks any perceptible quality. Jaynes argues that before this inner voice became integrated with our sense of self, it did have qualities - it sounded entirely like others speaking. Naturally, people interpreted these voices as arising externally rather than internally. The ancients literally "heard" their own inner narratisation as coming from an externally derived source.

How true this might be is open to debate and seems to me to be one of the reasons for Jaynes' ideas being dismissed. Nonetheless, it is his idea of an inner self-aware analog of experience that most intrigues me. I suspect he has nailed something here.

In suggesting that language gives rise to introspective consciousness, Jaynes is saying that it is our internal narrative that we think of when we think about being ourselves. It is the sense of being "me", being some "thing" that entertains ideas, that plans actions, that can report upon my state.

Indeed, a moment's introspection certainly supports the idea. Whenever we think of things, it seems to me that we do not appear to have access to our own thoughts. We know we have them, and we can report upon them, but we do not have access to them directly. Rather, we experience only the perceptual imagery that accompanies this process - verbal imagery (words in our mind) or visual imagery (pictures, diagrams in our mind). And so often, this rests upon some kind of metaphorical description of things.

I've mentioned before that I don't believe qualia to have directly apprehensible inherent qualities but rather to gain qualitative substance through comparison, through metaphorical representation. "Green" has no meaning of itself, but takes its qualitative character from metaphor - "That liquid is as green as grass", or "Blue is the colour of the clear sky".

And so Jaynes argues for a form of conscious awareness that gains expression through the built world of inner narratisation and shared experience, all resting upon a foundation of metaphorical representation facilitated by language.

Another way to think of this is to imagine what would be in our heads without language. What would be left of you, had you no language with which to express your experience to yourself? I suggest no "you" at all, beyond the immediacy of existence. In this respect, it is instructive to recall Helen Keller's words in her essay "Before the Soul Dawn":

"Before my teacher came to me, I did not know that I am. I lived in a world that was a no-world. I cannot hope to describe adequately that unconscious, yet conscious time of nothingness.

I did not know that I knew aught, or that I lived or acted or desired. I had neither will nor intellect. I was carried along to objects and acts by a certain blind natural impetus. I had a mind which caused me to feel anger, satisfaction, desire. These two facts led those about me to suppose that I willed and thought. I can remember all this, not because I knew that it was so, but because I have tactual memory. It enables me to remember that I never contracted my forehead in the act of thinking. I never viewed anything beforehand or chose it. I also recall tactually the fact that never in a start of the body or a heart-beat did I feel that I loved or cared for anything. My inner life, then, was a blank without past, present, or future, without hope or anticipation, without wonder or joy or faith."

And her awakening upon beginning to know language, when she first appreciated the relationship between a finger-movement against her palm and the idea of 'water':

"That word startled my soul, and it awoke, full of the spirit of the morning, full of joyous, exultant song. Until that day my mind had been like a darkened chamber, waiting for words to enter and light the lamp, which is thought".

(As an aside, notice here the striking contrast between the non-world of conscious unconsciousness first described and the bounding, fulsome world of metaphor that springs forth in that final paragraph).

Without language, there can be no "me". If we do not have language and hence an introspective "I" in our heads, what then might we have? The answer appears to be that we do not have anything at all. At least, not of that nature. Our brains construct perceptions, perhaps even models of attention as per Graziano's "Attention Schema" because without that we are not going to be able to adapt our behaviours, but beyond that we simply do what we do. And that in itself is pretty much what we do most of the time anyway - we don't accompany our every moment with a running commentary upon which our actions depend. Rather, we just do things.

Yet with language comes a more complex "me", a linguistic "I" that permits social communication and creates the basis for more adaptive flexible behaviours. It is an evolutionary adaptation which confers not some ineffable spirit but rather a metaphorical representation of representations. If you think about this kind of consciousness, it becomes apparent that it has a spectrum quality, that it must exist as a continuum across place, time and culture. Introspective consciousness depends upon cultural context, knowledge, local customs and frameworks of behaviour. This consciousness is a cultural construction derived from the necessary evolutionary pressures of social cohesion.

This kind of consciousness, this Jaynesian consciousness, is not some static intrinsic thing but rather a learned experience, a self that is constructed in each of us upon the scaffold of language. Whatever is inside a human brain is a potential, a capacity for expression that requires language and learning.

We use language to learn to be conscious. This is what I think Jaynes uncovered. Natural Thoery of Mind only goes so far. Language, expressed in "Jaynesian" consciousness, takes us the rest of the way...
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Re: Julian Jaynes and the Analog "I"

Postby BadgerJelly on December 9th, 2016, 2:35 am 

I am very fascinated by language. I have heard before the theory that the ancient gods were merely cases of a more common form of psychosis. Having had the privilege of psychosis myself and having had a three-way conversation with myself (in a period of lucidity I realised it was merely "me") I can fully understand this idea.

Language is anything but static. I do think that the written word changed our view of the world a great deal and that in ancient Greece philosophy, and reason itself, would have been nearly impossible without it. This is actually part of mt quest. To revert to a mindscape before the written word.

Language also helps us to delineate things more clearly. The endless possibility for divison has allowed for a fine tuning of how we look at our environment.

In philosophy we find people asking about "truth". And in science people look for better and more accurate ways of describing reality. In my view the "truth" and the complete description is simply a harking back to our prelingual eidectic view of ... well nothingness!

What is deeply intriguing is "emotion" and how it is often viewed as a hinderance to rational thought. It seems to me that rational thought exists because of emotion.

I would be cautious in saying that language is consciousness. I can say that "language" is, taking the term in an extremely broad sense in relation to kinaesthetics.

What was being talked about elsewhere is interesting too. It shows how children don't distinguish between present and past knowledge. Language may play a part in this role and help us develop. In Sicily a linguist did some research into their dialect. Sicilian people were viewed as being "childlike" and "care free". He noticed that in thier language they had very few terms that referred to future tense.

Language gives us "position". It grounds us. Consciousness can exist without language in our common sense of the word. In a broader sense I don't see how consciousness can exist without the seed of some "language". Meaning in a broad sense of being phsyically related and "about" the world.

Keller can talk of prior to language because she was conscious. It is certainly an alien kind of consciousness to us now, or rather a particular mode of consciousness we've buried.

It is also interesting to see how language can facilitate memory and how memory can facilitate language.

As a fun piece of information we say "skyscraper" and in Vietnamese they say "building that pokes the sky".

You say "in here", "out there" or "nowhere at all". This is most certainly a solidification of language imposed on experience. Dualism plays on this dichotomy. If there is an "inside" of you and "outside" of you, you are neither. You are merely the measureless surface extrapolating both time and space through subjective experience. Language hits its limits here and we can perhaps look to resolve this issue by ungrounding ourselves.
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Re: Julian Jaynes and the Analog "I"

Postby Graeme M on December 9th, 2016, 5:42 am 

I think Jaynes was getting at a specific idea of consciousness. I don't think it's what most people think of as "consciousness" though. He was more just getting at the fact that our sense of self is so much grounded in language. I play with spending time not thinking with words - stopping the endless internal self talk. It's an intriguing thing to wander around without that maddening internal conversation. of course, I can't escape the fact that I "know" stuff. That I have an idea of the world that was created by language.

I also try to imagine how animals must think of the world. Without language, they can't have a lot of the things we have. A sense of the future for example. Most animals probably know that there is a moment after the current moment, but they have no idea that next Friday might be a good time to clean their hooves. Qualia is one of those things - what quality would they assign to any feeling or sensory impression other than its distinctness as separate from another, or its association to something?

If the ancients really did hear voices as Jaynes thinks, would we call it psychosis? I wouldn't have thought so. Psychosis is a broad term for a range of aberrant psychological conditions in which the sufferer experiences distortion of, or disconnection from, reality isn't it? Whereas Jaynes argues that these people were quite typically functioning human beings. their psychological function was not in any way compromised, it's just that how their brains worked differed from how ours do.
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Re: Julian Jaynes and the Analog "I"

Postby BadgerJelly on December 9th, 2016, 6:07 am 

There are people who live with voices every day in their lives. To us "normals" it is a very strange thing to imagine (less so me perhaps!). Jaha
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Re: Julian Jaynes and the Analog "I"

Postby Graeme M on December 9th, 2016, 6:22 am 

Yes, but I am not sure they are having the same experience. In that case, wouldn't their experience be that of some dysfunction, rather than typical function? After all, if the ancients were actually all hearing strange, unpredictable or misdirecting voices, it would have been a helluva mess. Jaynes is just arguing for a world in which people functioned as we do except that when they self-talked, they thought that those words came from without, not within.

By the way, I can do the voices thing. At a certain point of relaxation, just before sleep itself, i can hear voices that are spontaneously formed in my mind. the thing is, they are different from self talk. Self talk has no quality to it, I know it's me, and it usually makes sense. These voices have an actual heard quality, they actually sound like a someone talking, and rarely do they make any sense in the current context. Mostly, they are fragmentary - say a woman's voice saying "Well, of course a boat is the thing to buy".
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Re: Julian Jaynes and the Analog "I"

Postby BadgerJelly on December 9th, 2016, 6:38 am 

Everyone has had a dream I guess. It is essentially the same thing. My concern is it is not actually "disfunctional".

Science has difficulty objectifying such things and so generally dismisses them or simply shrugs. It seems that cognitive neuroscience will help reveal a little so in the furture we can actually do something about them or at least understand them.more fully.

Humans are weird critters!
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Re: Julian Jaynes and the Analog "I"

Postby Graeme M on December 9th, 2016, 6:46 am 

Fair point... "Non typical function" versus "typical function", might be a better way to phrase it.
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Re: Julian Jaynes and the Analog "I"

Postby Braininvat on December 12th, 2016, 7:32 pm 

People often misunderstood Jaynes. Good OP. I have never quite accepted his ancient society model, but he still says so much that's illuminating about the nature of self and self-awareness. I read most of OCBBM in the 80's, but would like to go back and read again. IIRC, the writer Harry Turtledove wrote a novella based on OCBBM but I'm hanged if I recall where I saw it.

Googletime.
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Re: Julian Jaynes and the Analog "I"

Postby Braininvat on December 12th, 2016, 7:38 pm 

"Bluff” (in Turtledove's 1990 collection, Kaleidoscope) — A story based – with acknowledgements – on the ideas of neurologist Julian Jaynes’ The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of Bicameral Mind. Jaynes postulated (so I gather from Turtledove’s summation and the intro that says Jaynes liked the story) that primitive man was not truly conscious (defined by psychologist Helga Stein in this story, as being aware, of manipulating mentally metaphorical representations of objects and ideas) and operated on pattern recognition and habit. (Not as silly as it sounds. As Turtledove points out, complex activities like typing and playing a musical instrument are best done unconsciously.) When a novel situation presents itself, the right side of the brain generates auditory and visual hallucinations – often interpreted as gods and dead ancestors speaking. An earth survey mission finds an entire alien civilization at the Bronze Age level built by unconsciousness aliens. But just as Jaynes’ theory has consciousness developing when things get to complicated, so it is starting in this culture with alien soldier Tushratta. Consciousness first begins in merchants and soldiers who deal with strangers who hear other gods’ voices; gradually, they realize that these strangers have inner selves and begin to think of their inner self. A casual poker game with Tushratta and the humans ends in the corruption of the alien culture, the emergence of tyranny, and the beginnings of Tushratta’s consciousness. He is introduced to the idea of bluffing and, its close relation, lying. Turtledove makes a valid point that lying – consciously holding an image of reality and then constructing a distortion of it for social presentation – is a
quintessentially conscious act.  (I was reminded of Harry Harrison’s West of Eden where an intelligent dinosaur character is amazed by, and cunningly uses, the human idea of lying.)  Tushratta, at story’s end, is plotting his rise to power via the idea of “bluff”.  An intriguing story that puts to good use an interesting scientific theory.

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Re: Julian Jaynes and the Analog "I"

Postby Graeme M on December 13th, 2016, 7:30 am 

Interesting. I hadn't heard of that story before.

I rather like Jaynes' ideas, and like you I must reread the book. Mind you, I have read it two or three times in the past year or two, but each time I get more from it as my own ideas are stretched and developed by other people's ideas and insights.

While initially I wasn't that enamoured of his idea of consciousness only being a recent development, I confess to being less opposed as time passes. I think people might misunderstand what he means. As I said above, he isn't really suggesting that people once were suffering psychosis or schizophrenia, or that they were some kind of zombies hearing voices.

In Jaynes' model, people behaved largely as they do now except that whereas we tend to "hear" an inner voice that we recognise as us, the ancients thought of these voices as externally derived. They thought they heard the gods speaking to them. From the outside, one wouldn't really see much difference between an ancient and a modern man.

I gather Jaynes sees modern people as knowing that their inner mindspace is derived from within whereas the ancients saw it as a mysterious insight awarded by gods. We talk to ourselves, ancient man to his personal gods. The point is, it wouldn't really be that apparent in terms of historical records whether this was the case or not.

After all, the ancients would simply have gone about their business much as we do. Perhaps their behaviour might have been more rigid - that is, more rules, traditions and ritualised behaviours - but how evident might that be from historical evidence? Much of that might simply appear to us as no more than cultural development. The only evidence would in fact be what Jaynes points to - much greater prevalence of reference to gods and their close relationship to Man.

I don't think Jaynes is arguing for some actual physiological change, some evolutionary adaptation. Given that attribution of behaviours to the directions of gods, or the access to the gods' will through dream or revelation is evident in many modern but less technological societies, Jaynes seems to be suggesting that modern "consciousness", including assignation of inner voices to oneself, is more simply a learned behaviour, a cultural phenomenon in its own right.

Jaynes suggests that it is through language and the cultural influences it facilitates that human beings have built the entire modern mindspace. This is culturally heritable through teaching and written language. Language itself evolves and generates more adept metaphorical devices (eg symbolic languages such as mathematics).

Personally I am of the view that this means that what we might call Jaynesian consciousness is dependent very much on cultural context - place, time and culture all combine to generate greater or smaller J-consciousness. Some people are more conscious than others, it seems.

Whatever that means...
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Re: Julian Jaynes and the Analog "I"

Postby hyksos on January 10th, 2017, 8:28 pm 

I have a hard copy of Jaynes's book here on my shelf.

I think a good follow up to this topic would be the numerous anecdotes to what happens to people who have recently had a death of a loved one -- of whom they also lived with. People have told stories that they came into a room and sat down with their grandfather and had an actual little conversation with them. A grandfather who died years before. Sound crazy? The anecdote is quite common.

Another follow-up topic would be the emergence of burials of the dead among early humans and the commonality (or not) of the practice of burials by various ancient civilizations.

The reaction to a dead family member or loved one is powerful to the human brain, and likely produces effects on the brain not fully fleshed out by science, but could likely fit under the purview of "schizophrenia" (and related psychoses ).

The piont is that the ancient people described in Jaynes's book could not possibly be us -- because well they were "crazy" and we are clearly "not crazy". Right?

We moderns are not as "sane" as you might think. The power of death over the mind can be seen in the wild popularity of television shows hosted by psychic mediums.




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