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On this episode we've got updates from Spirit Fest in Anderson, Indiana and we are diving deep into the book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.
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Also I have got patreon up and running. One tier, 5 bucks a month to support the show if you feel like you are in a position to do so. The money will help keep the website alive and help me bring new ideas to you. If you are interested in the topics I'm diving into on the show, you will like my book. It goes deeper into some of the topics and ties them together into a fresh outlook on how we move through the world. Some quick updates on the book. Another author of whom I am a fan agreed to take a look at the book and let me know what they think. Also, I've received some positive early feedback from the one author that already has my book. We'll see if they like it enough to write a blurb for me. In October Patience Uhlman will be editing the book which I am really looking forward to. And I am currently working with David Provolo, a designer and art director, on the cover of the book. I got in contact with him through Reedsy.com, so I'll make sure to drop a link to his Reedsy profile in the show notes. Recently he sent me his updated version of the cover and I really like. It's got this vintage science book vibe; David said it's kind of like a DaVinci's notebook kind of look. Lastly, pre-orders. I am working on setting up a campaign on Publishizer which would allow you to get pre-order copies as well as some other little benefits, so if that comes through I will let you know. The other option I am looking at is just offering pre-orders through Amazon. Once it's ready to go I will let you know. In the meantime, if you have any info or experience in self publishing and how to go about pre orders, please reach out. I'd really appreciate it.
Let's start with Spirit Fest in Anderson, Indiana.
This event was a couple of weeks ago now, but I felt like reviewing our trip there. My wife and I were expecting booths representing different spiritual practices or maybe religions. Something centered around actual spiritual practice and exploration. Sadly, a majority of what we saw were booths selling handmade shit like jewelry or scarves or incense burners. One booth was selling hand made wood things, which of course was over priced. But my favorite thing they were selling was a slab of some log they lightly sanded, stained, and clear coated. It had to be at least an inch thick. They had it labeled as a "mouse pad" and were charging $25.00. Who the hell uses mouse pads any more? This isn't the 90's with rubber ball mice. And who would want their hand perched an inch in the air scraping against the rough hewn edges of a slab of log? Anyway, this was most of what we saw; over priced, spiritually oriented nick nacks. However, one booth my wife stopped at was Avalon Trading where we met Digby. He was up from Florida selling his products. When my wife was talking with him I was just a little ways down the sidewalk and she came back with a kick ass rock that Digby helped her find. Then I introduced myself to him and mentioned the podcast and he hooked me up with a little stained glass dragonfly. That was really nice of him and he was nice to talk to. So, while it was another booth selling goods, they looked like good products so I'll link to his business in the show notes. Digby, if you're listening, it was nice meeting you, keep up the good work.
Aside from the booths selling trinkets, there were a few booths centered around healing practices or psychics. I will say however, the Native American Experience seemed like bullshit. As I walked past there were a handful of people sitting on hay bales while a hillbilly lady dressed in native american attire explained that she was a feeler so she can feel things. And then it ended. So yeah.
What was most interesting about the festival wasn't the festival itself, but the place where it was hosted. This park in Anderson seems to be dedicated to spiritualism. As we walked around the park we came across permanent structures representing spiritual leaders, a labyrinth, and even a bookstore that was full of books for just about every alternative religion you could think of. From chakra healing, to meditation, to cults and wiccan rituals, it was all there. The park was essentially surrounded by houses and some of them had advertisements for psychics or things like that. So this park is literally dedicated to spiritualism which I think is really impressive for basically central Indiana. I wouldn't recommend spirit fest, but I would recommend checking out the park itself. I got a few pictures while I was there so I'll post those shortly.
One of the many handouts I was given was from the Fetzer Institute, which I will link to in the show notes. On the handout it had a link to get a free book from the foundation, so I of course did just that. I’ll just give you a brief overview of the foundation since I think it’s pretty interesting and then if I get a chance to dive into the book I might do an episode on it specifically. If you look at the Fetzer institutes website you'll find a learn more button right on the first page. Here is a snippet of what seems to be their mission statement: "We, the people, have the power to shape our democracy. Working together, we can transcend the labels that polarize us and realize what unites us. We can cultivate sacred connections with our neighbors and build a shared vision for our communities and our country.
From educators and philanthropists to religious and spiritual visionaries, we are partnering with leaders all over our country who are working toward this more loving world. Together, we are listening to and learning from students who are finding common values; citizens developing skills to communicate beyond political divides; and communities striving to heal after violent events."
This caught my attention because while it sounds like they aim to operate within the framework of politics, it also sounds like they are trying to re-invent or reshape the WAY we operate in that framework. Further down the page there were links to projects they are currently involved in. As far as the where they put their time and money, it's pretty interesting. I read somewhere on their site that the institute is not open to unsolicited submittals, rather they pick projects and initiatives on their own. Which is interesting because I'd image they would get bombarded with requests for money or backing, so I can see why they have to be insulated from that. However, the flip side to that is they will only be supporting causes that align with their outlook so I feel like that outlook should be examined carefully.
One project that caught my attention was the Practicing Democracy Project. I'll link to this specifically in the show notes. The project is a joint effort between the Fetzer Institute and the Center for Spirituality and Practice. In the description of the project it says "The Project assumes that American democracy can flourish only when citizens are united, at a deep level that transcends ideology, race, and class, to a shared spiritual and moral vision of what America should be." I like this idea because in my own view, a spiritual transformation on an individual, personal level is what I think may be the only hope for us going forward. I don't mean that we all need to become part of the same religion; I think religion and politics have run their course and are not sustainable methods moving forward. However, it sounds like they are saying something to the effect of we all need to be on team "us" or something like that. I would argue that if we all truly were on that team, the societal need for religion and politics would naturally dissolve but, that's tangential to what they are putting forward here.
Here's what I mean about examining the outlook they are promoting carefully. The page for the project states "On the Project’s website, you’ll find quotes on the language of democracy, recommended books and book excerpts, ways to honor democracy mentors and teachers, practices to observe flashpoints in American history, art reflections, music playlists..." and it goes on to list some other resources. What catches my attention is where it says "ways to honor democracy". Granted, I would need to investigate the project more thoroughly to give it a fair assessment, but that phrase just sounds very odd even though they are promoting equality among the human race. I'm assuming they are devoted to some kind of pure democracy ideal, but I'm not sure. To be fair, looking through the different resources they provide to align ourselves with their outlook are pretty good. For example, on the website for the Center for Spirituality and Practice, they have 3 ted talks that discuss what to do with anger and how to use it for good. I can get behind that. What I don't yet understand is how they see the institution of pure democracy working out. For example, in pure democracy, majority rules. So for that to be a positive feature of the arrangement, we have to know that the majority is operating with a moral compass that is aimed at the benefit for all involved. Otherwise, pure democracy does not directly correlate with ultimate freedom or even the flourishing of humans. Now, assuming that majority are all on the same page, let's say morally, we have to ask who's rules are they playing by? And are those rules so fundamental that they can be applied to every culture, in every place, at every time? As near as I can tell, humans have been debating, fighting, killing, and dying over what those rules should be. I think it may be rather presumptuous of this foundation to assume they have landed a one size fits all "human religion" for us all to follow. Like I said, I'll dive into this further and read the book and then possibly do a full episode on them in the future. Who knows, maybe I could even land an interview with a representative. That would be fantastic.
Let's get into The Origin of Consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind by Julian Jaynes. I want to start by giving you kind of an overview of where this book goes. Essentially because it is incredibly long. I have been reading it for months now and I am almost half way done. I might be a slow reader but it is two books and each chapter is super dense. What we will get into today is Julian explaining kind of the history of the study of consciousness. We'll also kind of touch on what he argues consciousness is not, but I think I'll get more into that on another episode. From there Julian goes way back into the past and explains the evidence he feels supports one main idea in the book. That idea is that early humans were not conscious in the same way we are. I know it sounds crazy but stick with me on this multi-parter because he presents some really interesting ideas later on. Let's crack the shell of this argument here and start with how we've considered consciousness in the past.
Julian was an American psychologist, born in 1920 and passed away in 1997. This book is his most famous work in which he analyzes the nature of consciousness and provides his definition for what it is. I had to look up what bicameral meant and it turns out Julian actually coined the term in this very book! Bicameral means , according to Wikipedia, (the condition of being divided into "two-chambers") is a hypothesis in psychology that argues that the human mind once operated in a state in which cognitive functions were divided between one part of the brain which appears to be "speaking", and a second part which listens and obeys. The title of the book kind of sums up where the author is aiming to go: he is asserting a theory about what the early form of human mind was like, and that the early makeup of the mind has changed with what he considers the advent of consciousness.
This will be a multi-parter because firstly, this is an enormous book. Second, the material is dense. Lastly, because I barely made it through chapter 1 and already had over 100 notes. I like the ideas in this book so much because they directly relate to my own arguments in my book. Like I said if you like this show I think you will like my book. Consider signing up on patreon to help me get the book completed! I will also be incorporating my thoughts on this very book into my assertions about consciousness. Anyway in this episode we are going to look at what is essentially chapter 1. To give you an overview of where we are going, this episode will be a look at the history of the study of consciousness and how we got to here.
One of the fundamental questions that this book aims to address is what is the consciousness that is me, you, all of us. And, where did it come from and why? Which is why the book is so effing long. Julian points out in the beginning this interesting trend of our metaphors for what consciousness is being closely tied to the most recent boom in science. For example, Augustine living among the amazing landscape of Carthage describes consciousness as vast, spacious physical landscapes such as hills, valleys, and caves. Later in the middle of the 19th century, apparently chemistry became the popular science, and thus, the way scientists thought about and studied the problem of consciousness was the way a chemist would analyze a molecule; as a conglomerate made up of smaller, definable parts. This trend carried on into the advent of the steam engine, describing consciousness and personality as built up steam that must have appropriate outlets. It's so interesting how the trend of what we perceive informs, through metaphor, that which we cannot perceive.
It's also interesting how eager we as humans are to ascribe our own brand of consciousness to other living things. One theory on consciousness that Charles Darwin thought to be simply unquestionable, was that consciousness was simply a basic building block of all living things. An idea like this mirrors the concept of panpsychism, the belief that everything material, however small, has an element of individual consciousness (dictionary.com). It's also very similar to my own thoughts on consciousness, but we will get into that later on.
The first problem Julian tackles is whether or not learning is the hallmark of consciousness. Or, to borrow the section title from the book, Consciousness as learning. Julian talks about how he tried a test with his plant to see if he could get it to start to associate a tactile input stimulus with a frequency of light with a drooping of one of its leaves. Julians conclusion was that the plant was not conscious as it could not learn to droop the leaf at the signal of the light. After related experiments with ever more complex organisms yielding the same results, Julian finally came to the conclusion that using the ability to learn in this way was by no means a measurement of consciousness. He says "Why then did so many worthies in the lists of science equate consciousness and learning? And why had I been so lame of mind as to follow them?" (Jaynes 2000). He argues that when we introspect, acting within consciousness, it is not dependent on some conditioned learning such as mazes or bells. This fundamental error in conflation of consciousness and learning, known as experience, has become embedded in the discussion. At this point Julian drops one of my favorite quotes, I even posted the quote on twitter and Instagram: "...it is now absolutely clear that in evolution the origin of learning and the origin of consciousness are two utterly separate problems" (Jaynes 2000).
So, we've established that consciousness is not simply being able to learn. In future episodes I'll get into Julians reasons for this theory, but for now lets assume this principal.
Next, let's look at whether or not consciousness is a metaphysical aspect of living things. The theory has been largely credited to Alfred Russel Wallace, who was the co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection. In a nutshell, the argument is that natural selection does not explain our desire for justice in the face of wrongdoing, the desire for certainty with which the scientist runs their studies, or any other uniquely human urge. Julian points out that it seems humans evolved along similar lines as all other creatures up until a certain point and then diverged to create a unique form of existence that has not been repeated anywhere else in nature. Wallace argued there were three distinct points at which some outside force directed evolution: at the beginning of life, the beginning of consciousness, and the beginning of civilized culture. This makes me think of all the theories around humans learning to plant seeds and grow crops. But that's for a different discussion. In response to these metaphysical explanations of consciousness, a materialist wave emerged.
In the materialist view, consciousness does nothing and cannot do anything. The argument is that there is simple continuity through natural selection and at some unknown number of synaptic nerve cells, consciousness emerges. That consciousness cannot influence anything though. The analogy Julian uses is consciousness is like a whistle on a train: it cannot influence the speed or direction of the train. The rails of natural selection decided that route long ago. The issue here, in what is sometimes called the conscious automaton theory, is how could consciousness be so disconnected from something it is so entwined with? And, as Julian argues, why is consciousness more present when physical action ceases? And vice versa? The two are obviously linked and assuming consciousness is a helpless observer of outside circumstances ignores this reality.
Coming to the rescue of the helpless observer theory is the Emergent Evolution theory. A simple analogy is the way the quality of wetness cannot be derived from hydrogen and oxygen alone, but emerges out of the sum of parts, so consciousness has emerged from the sum of the organisms parts or inner workings. Apparently this explanation was greeted with incredible fan-fare. Some biologists even called it a new declaration of independence from physics and chemistry (Jaynes 2000). The problem is the emergent evolution theory failed to answer critical questions. If consciousness emerged, when? Also, in what species did it emerge in? What kind of nervous system would be required? Also, when did it emerge? Answers to these questions would give light to the conditions that created consciousness.
Around the same time, another means to explain consciousness was emerging. Behaviorism. Apparently the operating principal in behaviorism was to deny that consciousness existed at all, rather all behavior can be explained as reactions to input or conditions. While this theory started out as a weak argument, it actually took off, influencing psychology up until the 60's. With World War I still in the rear view mirror, society was longing for objective, hard facts. Success in chemistry and physics were luring and any subjective interpretation of consciousness was largely squashed or ignored. What behaviorism amounted to was no more than a method of analyzing response, not a theory of consciousness.
The last point that Julian brings up was a look at the reticular activating system in the brain. It apparently extends from the top of the spinal cord, through the brain stem, into the thalamus and hypothalamus. It its directly connected to a whole bunch of critical neuron networks, and it is also the place where anesthesia takes effect in the brain. Julian points out that if is cut, it induces permanent sleep and coma. If it is stimulated by an electrode in an animal, the animal wakes up. However, this still does not solve the problem of what consciousness is for two reasons. One, we still have the issue of conscious experience even outside the waking state. This is well documented. Second, and this is a point that Julian points out, is that we would be making an error in reasoning if we draw direct lines between psychological occurrences and neuro-anatomy. Juilian states that even if we had a complete map of every single detail of the brain and nervous system, we still could not infer whether or not that brain had consciousness.
So we have thus far set the ground work for how we should think about consciousness within the argument of Julian Jaynes. We've got a long way to go; all that was just the effing introduction. Chapter one gives some excellent illustrations explaining what aspects of our lives consciousness isn't even required for. We will get into that in the next part of this consciousness series. That's a wrap for this episode.
Special thanks to Karn Beats for producing the music on this show. As always you can reach me on godofhoneybees.com and let me know what you think of the show. Sign up for the email version of the show and I will send you a free sticker or coaster, whichever I have available. You get a free item with the podcast logo as well as links to all the sources I reference to go deeper into the topic, and a fancy PDF version of the show. You can also find me on Instagram at godofbeespodcast, twitter at GOHPodcast, Facebook at God of Honeybees Podcast, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This has been God of Honeybees Podcast. I'm Justin Herb. Thanks for listening.