Tag Archives: object separateness

Julian Jaynes, Consciousness, and Meaning

Julian Jaynes published a very controversial book in 1976 entitled, “The Origin of Consciousness in the Break-down of the Bicameral Mind.” I bought the book back then, delved into a mite, and then let it catch dust until I eventually discarded it.  But for some time the book title has been coming around in discussions with friends and I finally found me a cheap cast-off version of the book in a locale resale shop.

Forty-one years later, I find the book very arresting.  He argued that “consciousness” as we know it began to evolve  during the time of The Iliad and involved a newfound capacity of “self” awareness, a subtle grasp of the phenomenon modern psychology describes as the “I” vs the “not I.” Jaynes noted that this “internal difference” made possible an internal dialogue which, I think he would agree was probably related to what Shakespeare called, “the pauser reason.”  For with an internal dialogue as part of consciousness, mankind could begin to develop a moral and ethical compass in his heart and not be driven merely by unmediated impulses.  It was the event in the evolution of our consciousness that “meaning” also appeared on the scene which is relevant to the “internal difference” mentioned above.

And the subject of meaning and difference brings to my mind one of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems:
There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –


Drawing Boundaries in Religious Experience

After another long hiatus, I’m resuming my blog with the intent of pursuing a theme for periods of time.  Beginning today I am introducing the notion of human beings as “distinction-drawers,” a notion that I broached casually months ago.  And this is a very personal issue as “distinction-drawing” is very close to the core of my ego identity though now I am apparently in “recovery” from this death trap.

We are born into a world that was “always already underway.”  Even before we started to venture toward consciousness, this pre-existent world was beckoning, a gentle beckoning which would become more demanding as our journey through infancy continued and we approached the threshold of consciousness.  Becoming human depended on acceding to the demands of this “exterior” world and formulating a template through which we would view the world, a template which must be shaped so that it is consistent with the world view of the tribe into which we were born.  This template is a narrow prism through which we view the world and we will never completely leave it behind…even when in the “recovery” mentioned earlier.

One primary feature of this “template” is thinking itself which is a carving up of the world into discrete categories, providing escape from that matrix into which we are born and in which we spend the earliest months of our life.  This matrix (i.e. mother) is a womb, the mythological Uroborus in which there is no distinction drawn between me and the outside world.  It is the Garden of Eden from which we must be banished.  And if we fail to escape that matrix (i.e. “mother”) we will not be able to “join” the human race.

I will admit that there is some sense in which I have never made this escape as I’m still deeply rooted in that primeval world where distinctions are not as clear as they are to most people. I have spent most of my life “pretending” to have escaped by imprisoning myself in a conceptual world which has allowed me to function well in the “real” world.  This “real” world is a world of reason, a highly structured world which we call culture.  Without this fabricated world we would still live in that Ouroborous which means we would not really have a world at all, living in an undifferentiated state of unity with all things.  Having an “object world” is necessary for the creation of culture and our own infantile development of an “object relationship” with the world is necessary if we are to participate in the world into which we are born.

Joining our “object world,” our tribe, always means subscribing to reason and the “rational world” of the tribe is a “necessary evil” that we will need to gain some freedom from when we mature.  And that certainly does not mean we will need to become “un” reasonable only that we learn to see that the distinctions that we have learned to draw in our early tribal life are not as pronounced as they were seen, and felt, to be.  Early cognitive development turns us into a “distinction-drawer” and that is a developmental imperative.

Problems come, however, when neurophysiology creates too great of a reliance on this “distinction-drawer” and we never learn to see the world in terms other than black and white, us vs. them, good and bad, Republicans and Democrats, right and wrong, etc., etc.  And another dimension of this infantile imprisonment is that sometimes the social “norms” are so rigid that the developing child is basically tyrannized into his/her “distinction drawer” which helps the tribe to perpetuate its collective “distinction drawer.”

In my next post, I intend to explain how my Christian faith contributed mightily to the development of my “distinction drawer.”  And this is not the fault of Jesus Christ but merely an illustration of how human nature tends to use everything at hand to formulate a “distinction-drawer” early in life.

Symptoms of Spiritual Awakening

I’m going to share a list of 12 symptoms of spiritual awakening that I found on Face Book, formulated by David Avocado Wolfe in “recoverytradepublications.com.” But I’d like to focus briefly on three of them which pertain to the subject of judgment: 9) A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others; 10)A loss of interest in judging others; 11)A loss of interest in judging self.

Philosophy posits the notion of “the faculty of judgment.” My take on this notion is the necessary function of interpretation of our environment and even of our own subjective world. With this “function” we carve our world up into “categories” which is much related to the task of assigning words or “names” to things. And in so doing, we are accomplishing what my background in clinical work describes as “object separateness.”

But this very important and necessary function of our psyche sometimes can run amok and we use it to isolate ourselves from life, hiding behind these “categories” even to the extent that we even know our “self” only in terms of “categories.” We have subscribed to the cultural demand to become “objectified” and in some sense lose our very soul. We become an “idea” and cease to be a fluid, dynamic, subjectively alive spirit.

My life has been a fine example of this problem. I will soon wrap up a 20 year career as a licensed mental health professional in which I utilized my “diagnostic knife” to help the “mentally ill.” And this role in our culture was, and is, a valuable and necessary role. But I realize now even more than then that this clinical detachment was present in my life from my earliest years and that I’ve used to “stand up there” and make detached observations about people, my world, and even my self. I sometimes call it my “god complex.”

W. H. Auden once noted, “We drive through life in the closed cab of occupation.” I still have that “closed cab” of detachment but, having gained this insight, it is much less “closed.” I have gained insight to what I’ve been doing and am much better at just turning it off, recognizing that whatever I am observing “just is” and does not always need my labels or interpretation.

Here are Mr. Wolfe’s list of “Symptoms…”

  1. Frequent attacks of smiling.
  2. An increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
  3. Feelings of being connected with others and nature.
  4. Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
  5. A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experience.
  6. An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
  7. A loss of ability to worry.
  8. A loss of interest in conflict.
  9. A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
  10. A loss of interest in judging others.
  11. A loss of interest in judging self.
  12. Gaining the ability to love without expecting anything.