Consciousness Evolved?_Week_7

Thinking about Dr. Ramakrishnan’s lecture on consciousness, I started to research the web for different manifestations of his argument, counterarguments, and anything related. I did this because, though Dr. Ramakrishnan’s concepts were very interesting, they seemed, as is appropriate in a survey course like ours, broad. Plus I unfortunately had to leave at four to make it to another class, so I am sure I missed a good portion that went beyond our class time. Searching, I found a concept concerning consciousness that I had never encountered before, bicameralism. Similar to what Dr. Ramakrishnan presented with the case studies of octopi and elephants, I believed humans also innately had a sense of self-awareness that was a result of their more complex brain structures and systems. However there is a psychologist named Julian Jaynes who, in the late seventies, published work that proposed that humans only developed consciousness as we know it today as recently as three thousand years ago. According to Jaynes, there is evidence to support the theory that human awareness was not developed originally and only existed in a bicameral state where one portion of the brain (the one that ‘obeys’) facilitated communication functions such as speech and language and the other (the part that ‘commands’) would generate thoughts that provided instruction. Just to note, this is an idea that I find very ‘stretched’ to say the least, but nevertheless intriguing enough to look into and discuss.

Jaynes argues that literature and records for early human existence exemplify very simple forms of awareness that do not show self-awareness, but more clearly demonstrate a sense of intellectual dependency on an outside source. In his book, Jaynes states, “at one time, human nature was split in two, an executive part called a god, and a follower part called a man. Neither part was Consciously aware.” He believes that the Gods described in early mythologies were actual parts of the human consciousness that were uncontrolled by human nature. Another example he gives is the Greek ideal of the Muse. Jaynes argues that back then Muses were understood to directly dictate the poetry and art that the artists produced, not the modern ideal that they simply inspired its origins. Again, this is a stretch in my perceptions. However, one idea that he presents that I find interesting to research more closely is his analysis of introspection found in early works such as The Iliad and Homer’s Odyssey. Jaynes feels that earlier works like The Iliad show no sense of introspection or self-awareness like later works such as the Odyssey.

All this said, the most interesting and relevant part to his discussion is his concept for the evolution of modern day human consciousness. Jaynes suggests that the eventual development and subsequent increase in municipal complexity forced growth in human consciousness. Our communities grew more complex, therefore so did we. He cites several early civilizations, such as the Mayans, that experienced periods of growth and decay, explaining that these early communities outgrew their level of comprehension and consequently failed, only returning once the human capacity for self-awareness matured enough to support their existence.

I feel this last part of Jaynes argument could still be useful even if the rest seems a little farfetched or unsupported. It is relevant to Dr. Ramakrishnan’s lecture on animal consciousness because I feel that even though consciousness, as presented by Dr. Ramakrishnan, is a product of a brain’s complexity, it is still subject to evolution and growth. Jaynes’s hypotheses for our original development of self-awareness can be related to current developments in consciousness both in animals such as the elephant and humans like ourselves.

-Sohail Najafi

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