In the 1970s Julian Jaynes, a distinguished Princeton psychologist, wrote an influential book with a cumbersome title: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Jaynes defines the bicameral mind as a two-part mind, or brain, that functions as a single unit — as distinct from a brain with two hemispheres operating separately but joined by a bridge. Attributing the conscious mind to the left hemisphere and the unconscious to the right, he suggests that in a bicameral mind there is no division between conscious and unconscious. He argues that in the early days of settled civilizations, around the third millennium BCE, the human brain was still bicameral. This is why in the records from that era Sumerian and Babylonian documents and even Homer's telling of the Trojan War — we find kings and prophets hearing "the voices of the gods" in the form of auditory hallucinations. The gods thus intervened into human history, commenting on and dictating policy on whether to go to war, build fortifications, store up food, and so on. Something resembling modern consciousness was enabled, Jaynes says, only when this early, bicameral stage of the human mind "broke down" into two tenuously linked but separate spheres of mentality.

(The Fundamentalist Mind, Stephen Larsen)


Modern Science and Matter-Mind Dualism

Figuring in the epistemological dualism of subject vs. object was the parallel but ontological dualism of spirit vs. matter, or mental vs. material. This dualistic problem revolved around trying to decide of what basic "stuff" the universe was composed: was it all nothing but material atoms, arranged in such a way that consciousness was just an illusion, being in reality reducible to the interplay of physical particles so that "mind" is really just a conglomeration of matter? But what of the argument that all sensations of "matter" exist nowhere but in somebody's mind—doesn't that demonstrate that matter is really nothing but an idea? Ever since Plato separated ideas from experience, the argument as to which is "really" real has continued, with no side clearly winning.

Is consciousness really matter, or is matter really consciousness? The idealists, or mentalists, just could not stomach the thought that consciousness was not much more than a fancy lump of clay, differing not at heart from rocks, tables, and dirt; thus, they were always on hand with the question, "But where does the impression of matter have its existence?" The answer, of course, is that material impressions exist only in consciousness, and so the conclusion is obvious: all matter is but a mental idea. This, however, was too much for the materialists, who would reply, "Well, then, where does consciousness come from?” The answer here being, "From nothing but physical processes in the human brain," and so the opposite conclusion is equally obvious: all ideas are just material. Emotions were high, for both sides of the argument could be put with equal persuasion, and so the final decision usually rested upon individual inclination, as is shown in the following story told by Eddington:

When Dr. Johnson felt himself getting tied up in argument over “Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that everything in the universe is merely ideal," he answered, "striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, — 'I refute it thus.' " Just what that action assured him of is not very obvious; but apparently he found it comforting. And to-day the matter-of-fact scientist feels the same impulse to recoil from these flights of thought back to something kick-able, although he ought to be aware by this time that what Rutherford has left us of the large stone is scarcely worth kicking.

As this story hints, the old science had allied itself with the materialists, for lumps of matter could be "kicked," that is, measured and verified, whereas no scientist had come up with any sort of instrument capable of recording spirituality. The new quantum physicists didn't argue with this—they certainly couldn't find any spiritual stuff either—but, and here is the point, neither could they find any material stuff. As one physicist put it:

Our conception of substance is only vivid so long as we do not face it. It begins to fade when we analyze it... the solid substance of things is another illusion. We have chased the solid substance from the continuous liquid to the atom, from the atom to the electron, and there we have lost it.

And Bertrand Russell summed it up succinctly—"The world may be called physical or mental or both or neither as we please; in fact the words serve no purpose." In short, quantum physics had taken another dualism, that of mental vs. material, to the annihilating edge, and there it had vanished.

The Spectrum of Consciousness, Ken Wilber, Chapter 2

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