The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

Julian Jaynes



University of Toronto Press1978




Introduction: The Problem of Consciousness

Consciousness as a Property of Matter

Consciousness as a Property of Protoplasm

Consciousness as Learning

Consciousness as Metaphysical Imposition

The Helpless Spectator Theory

Emergent Evolution


Consciousness as the Reticular Activating System

Chapter 6: The Auguries of Science

The Mind of Man

Chapter 1: The Consciousness of Consciousness

The Extensiveness of Consciousness

Consciousness Not a Copy of Experience

Consciousness Not Necessary for Concepts

Consciousness Not Necessary for Learning

Consciousness Not Necessary for Thinking

Consciousness Not Necessary for Reason

The Location of Consciousness

Is Consciousness Necessary?


Vestiges of the Bicameral Mind in the Modern World



The Problem of Consciousness

O’ WHAT A WORLD of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind!  What ineffable essences, these touchless rememberings and unshowable reveries!  And the privacy of it all!  A secret theater of speechless monologue and prevenient counsel, an invisible mansion of all moods, musings, and mysteries, an infinite resort of disappointments and discoveries.  A whole kingdom where each of us reigns reclusively alone, questioning what we will, commanding what we can.  A hidden hermitage where we may study out the troubled book of what we have done and yet may do.  An introcosm that is more myself than anything I can find in a mirror.  This consciousness that is myself of selves, that is everything, and yet nothing at all —what is it?

And where did it come from?

And why?

Few questions have endured longer or traversed a more perplexing history than this, the problem of consciousness and its place in nature.  Despite centuries of pondering and experiment, of trying to get together two supposed entities called mind and matter in one age, subject and object in another, or soul and body in still others, despite endless discoursing on the streams, states, or contents of consciousness, of distinguishing terms like intuitions, sense data, the given, raw feels, the sensa, presentations and representations, the sensations, images, and affections of structuralist introspections, the evidential data of the scientific positivist, phenomenological fields, the apparitions of Hobbes, the phenomena of Kant, the appearances of the idealist, the elements of Mach, the phanera of Peirce, or the category errors of Ryle, in


spite of all of these, the problem of consciousness is still with us.  Something about it keeps returning, not taking a solution.

It is the difference that will not go away, the difference between what others see of us and our sense of our inner selves and the deep feelings that sustain it.  The difference between the you-and-me of the shared behavioral world and the unlocatable location of things thought about.  Our reflections and dreams, and the imaginary conversations we have with others, in which never-to-be-known-by-anyone we excuse, defend, proclaim our hopes and regrets, our futures and our pasts, all this thick fabric of fancy is so absolutely different from handable, standable, kickable reality with its trees, grass, tables, oceans, hands, stars  - even brains!  How is this possible? How do these ephemeral existences of our lonely experience fit into the ordered array of nature that somehow surrounds and engulfs this core of knowing?

Men have been conscious of the problem of consciousness almost since consciousness began.  And each age has described consciousness in terms of its own theme and concerns.  In the golden age of Greece, when men traveled about in freedom while slaves did the work, consciousness was as free as that.  Heraclitus, in particular, called it an enormous space whose boundaries, even by traveling along every path,  could never be found out. [1]  A millennium later, Augustine among the caverned hills of Carthage was astonished at the “mountains and hills of my high imaginations,” “the plains and caves and caverns of my memory” with its recesses of “manifold and spacious chambers, wonderfully furnished with unnumberable stores.” [2]  Note how the metaphors of mind are the world it perceive.

The first half of the nineteenth century was the age of the great geological discoveries in which the record of the past was written in layers of the earth’s crust.  And this led to the popularization of the idea of consciousness as being in layers which

1. Diels, Fragments 45.

2. Confessions, 9:7, 10:26,65.


recorded the past of the individual, there being deeper and deeper layers until the record could no longer be read.  This emphasis on the unconscious grew until by 1875 most psychologists were insisting that consciousness was but a small part of mental life, and that unconscious sensations, unconscious ideas, and unconscious judgments made up the majority of mental processes. [3]

In the middle of the nineteenth century chemistry succeeded geology as the fashionable science, and consciousness from James Mill to Wundt and his students, such as Titchener, was the compound structure that could be analyzed in the laboratory into precise elements of sensations and feelings.

And as steam locomotives chugged their way into the pattern of everyday life toward the end of the nineteenth century, so they too worked their way into the consciousness of consciousness, the subconscious becoming a boiler of straining energy which demanded manifest outlets and when repressed pushed up and out into neurotic behavior and the spinning camouflaged fulfillments of going-nowhere dreams.

There is not much we can do about such metaphors except to state that that is precisely what they are.

Now originally, this search into the nature of consciousness was known as the mind-body problem, heavy with its ponderous philosophical solutions.  But since the theory of evolution, it has bared itself into a more scientific question.  It has become the problem of the origin of mind, or, more specifically, the origin of consciousness in evolution.  Where can this subjective experience which we introspect upon, this constant companion of hosts of associations, hopes, fears, affections, knowledges, colors, smells, toothaches, thrills, tickles, pleasures, distresses, and desires - where and how in evolution could all this wonderful tapestry of inner experience have evolved?  How can we derive this inwardness out of mere matter?  And if so, when?

3. For a statement of this effect, see. G.H. Lewes, The Physical Basis of Mind (London, Trubuner, 1877), p.365.


This problem has been at the very center of the thinking of the twentieth century.  And it will be worthwhile here to briefly look at some of the solutions that have been proposed.  I shall mention the eight that I think are most important.


Consciousness as a Property of Matter

The most extensive possible solution is attractive mostly to physicists.  It states that the succession of subjective states that we feel in introspection has a continuity that stretches all the way back through phylogenetic evolution and beyond into a fundamental property of interacting matter.  The relationship of consciousness to what we are conscious of is not fundamentally different from the relationship of a tree to the ground in which it is rooted, or even of the gravitational relationship between two celestial bodies.  This view was conspicuous in the first quarter of this century.  What Alexander called compresence or Whitehead called prehension provided the groundwork of a monism that moved on into a flourishing school called Neo-Realism.  If a piece of chalk is dropped on the lecture table, that interaction of chalk and table is different only in complexity from the perceptions and knowledges that fill our minds.  The chalk knows the table just as the table knows the chalk.  That is why the chalk stops at the table.

This is something of a caricature of a very subtly worked out position, but it nevertheless reveals that this difficult theory is answering quite the wrong question.  We are not trying to explain how we interact with our environment, but rather the particular experience that we have in introspecting.  The attractiveness of this kind of neo-realism was really a part of an historical epoch when the astonishing successes of particle physics were being talked of everywhere.  The solidity of matter was being dissolved into mere mathematical relationships in space, and this seemed like the same unphysical quality as the relationship of individuals conscious of each other.


Consciousness as a Property of Protoplasm

The next most extensive solution asserts that consciousness is not in matter per se; rather it is the fundamental property of all living things.  It is the very irritability of the smallest one-celled animals that has had a continuous and glorious evolution up through coelenterates, the protochordates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals to man.

A wide variety of nineteenth- and twentieth-century scientists, including Charles Darwin and E. B. Titchener, found this thesis unquestionable, initiating in the first part of this century a great deal of excellent observation of lower organisms.  The search for rudimentary consciousnesses was on.  Books with titles such as The Animal Mind or The Psychic Life of Micro-Organisms were eagerly written and eagerly read. [4]  And anyone who observes amoebas hunting food or responding to various stimuli, or paramecia avoiding obstacles or conjugating, will know the almost passionate temptation to apply human categories to such behavior.

And this brings us to a very important part of the problem - our sympathy and identification with other living things.  Whatever conclusions we may hold on the matter, it is certainly a part of our consciousness to ‘see’ into the consciousness of others, to identify with our friends and families so as to imagine what they are thinking and feeling.  And so if animals are behaving such as we would in similar situations, so well are we trained in our human sympathies that it requires a particular vigor of mind to suppress such identifications when they are not warranted.  The explanation for our imputing consciousness to protozoa is simply that we make this common and misleading identification.  Yet the explanation for their behavior resides entirely in physical chemistry, not in introspective psychology.

Even in animals with synaptic nervous systems, the tendency

4. By Margaret Floy Washburn, a Titchenerian, and by Alfred Binet respectively.  The real classic in the field of early evolved animals is H. S. Jennings, Behavior of the Lower Organisms (New York: Macmillan, 1906).


to read consciousness into their behavior comes more from ourselves than from our observations.  Most people will identify with a struggling worm.  But as every boy who has baited a fish hook knows, if a worm is cut in two, the front half with its primitive brain seems not to mind as much as the back half, which writhes in ‘agony’.[5]  But surely if the worm felt pain as we do, surely it would be the part with the brain that would do the agonizing.  The agony of the tail end is our agony, not the worm’s; its writhing is a mechanical release phenomenon, the motor nerves in the tail end firing in volleys at being disconnected from their normal inhibition by the cephalic ganglion.


Consciousness as Learning

To make consciousness coextensive with protoplasm leads, of course, to a discussion of the criterion by which consciousness can be inferred.  And hence a third solution, which states that consciousness began not with matter, nor at the beginning of animal life, but at some specific time after life had evolved.  It seemed obvious to almost all the active investigators of the subject that the criterion of when and where in evolution consciousness began was the appearance of associative memory or learning.  If an animal could modify its behavior on the basis of its experience, it must be having an experience; it must be conscious.  Thus, if one wished to study the evolution of consciousness, one simply studied the evolution of learning.

This was indeed how I began my search for the origin of consciousness.  My first experimental work was a youthful attempt to produce signal learning (or a conditional response) in an especially long suffering mimosa plant.  The signal was an intense light; the response was the drooping of a leaf to a care­

5. Since an earthworm ‘writhes’ from the tactile stimulation of simply being handled, the experiment is best performed with a razor blade as the worm is crawling over some hard ground or a board.  The unbelieving and squeamish may suppress their anguish with the consciousness that they are helping the worm population (and therefore the robin population) since both ends regenerate.


fully calibrated tactile stimulus where it joined the stem.  After over a thousand pairings of the light and the tactile stimulus, my patient plant was as green as ever.  It was not conscious.

That expected failure behind me, I moved on to protozoa, delicately running individual paramecia in a T-maze engraved in wax on black Bakelite, using direct current shock to punish the animal and spin it around if it went to the incorrect side.  If paramecia could learn, I felt they had to be conscious.  Moreover I was extremely interested in what would happen to the learning (and the consciousness) when the animal divided.  A first suggestion of positive results was not borne out in later replications.  After other failures to find learning in the lower phyla, I moved on to species with synaptic nervous systems, flatworms, earthworms, fish, and reptiles, which could indeed learn, all on the naive assumption that I was chronicling the grand evolution of consciousness. [6]

Ridiculous!  It was, I fear, several years before I realized that this assumption makes no sense at all.  When we introspect, it is not upon any bundle of learning processes, and particularly not the types of learning denoted by conditioning and T-mazes.  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?

The reason was the presence of a kind of huge historical neurosis.  Psychology has many of them.  And one of the reasons that the history of science is essential to the study of psychology is that it. is the only way to get out of and above such intellectual disorders.  The school of psychology known as Associationism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had been so attractively presented and so peopled with prestigious champions that its basic error had become imbedded in common thought and lan­

6. For the most recent discussion of this important but methodologically difficult problem of the evolution of learning, see M. E. Bitterman’s Thorndike Centenary Address, “The Comparative Analysis of Learning,” Science, 1975, 188 :699—709.  Other references may be found in R. A. Hinde’s Animal Behavior, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 5970), particularly pp. 658—663.


guage.  That error was, and still is, that consciousness is an actual space inhabited by elements called sensations and ideas, and the association of these elements because they are like each other, or because they have been made by the external world to occur together, is indeed what learning is and what the mind is all about.  So learning and consciousness are confused and muddled up with that vaguest of terms, experience.

It is this confusion that lingered unseen behind my first struggles with the problem, as well as the huge emphasis on animal learning in the first half of the twentieth century.  But it is now absolutely clear that in evolution the origin of learning and the origin of consciousness are two utterly separate problems.  We shall be demonstrating this assertion with more evidence in the next chapter.


Consciousness as a Metaphysical Imposition

All. the theories I have so far mentioned begin in the assumption that consciousness evolved biologically by simple natural selection.  But another position denies that such an assumption is even possible.

Is this consciousness, it asks, this enormous influence of ideas, principles, beliefs over our lives and actions, really derivable from animal behavior?  Alone of species, all alone! we try to understand ourselves and the world.  We become rebels or patriots or martyrs on. the basis of ideas.  We build Chartres and computers, write poems and tensor equations, play chess and quartets, sail ships to other planets and listen in to other galaxies - what have these to do with rats in mazes or the threat displays of baboons?  The continuity hypothesis of Darwin for the evolution of mind is a very suspicious totem of evolutionary mythology. [7]  The yearning for. certainty which grails the scientist, the aching beauty

7. To demonstrate such continuity was the purpose of Darwin’s second most important work, The Descant of Man.


which harasses the artist, the sweet thorn of justice which fierces the rebel from the eases of life, or the thrill of exultation with which we hear of true acts of that now difficult virtue of courage, of cheerful endurance of hopeless suffering - are these really derivable from matter?  Or even continuous with the idiot hierarchies of speechless apes?

The chasm is awesome.  The emotional lives of men and of other mammals are indeed marvelously similar.  But to focus upon the similarity unduly is to forget that such a chasm exists at all.  The intellectual life of man, his culture and history and religion and science, is different from anything else we know of in the universe.  That is fact.  It is as if all life evolved to a certain point, and then in ourselves turned at a right angle and simply exploded in a different direction.

The appreciation of this discontinuity between the apes and speaking civilized ethical intellectual men has led many scientists back to a metaphysical view.  The interiority of consciousness just could not in any sense be evolved by natural selection out of mere assemblages of molecules and cells.  There has to be more to human evolution than mere matter, chance, and survival.  Something must be added from outside of this closed system to account for something so different as consciousness.

Such thinking began with the beginning of modern evolutionary theory, particularly in the work of Alfred Russel Wallace, the codiscoverer of the theory of natural selection.  Following their twin announcements of the theory in 1858, both Darwin and Wallace struggled like Laocoöns with the serpentine problem of human evolution and its encoiling difficulty of consciousness.  But where Darwin clouded the problem with his own naiveté, seeing only continuity in evolution, Wallace could not do so.  The discontinuities were terrifying and absolute.  Man’s conscious faculties, particularly, “could not possibly have been developed by means of the same laws which have determined the progressive development of the organic world in general, and also of man’s


physical organism.” [8]  He felt the evidence showed that some metaphysical force had directed evolution at three different points: the beginning of life, the beginning of consciousness, and the beginning of civilized culture.  Indeed, it is partly because Wallace insisted on spending the latter part of his life searching in vain among the seances of spiritualists for evidence of such metaphysical imposition that his name is not as well known as is Darwin’s as the discoverer of evolution by natural selection.  Such endeavors were not acceptable to the scientific Establishment.  To explain consciousness by metaphysical imposition seemed to be stepping outside the rules of natural science.  And that indeed was the problem, how to explain consciousness in terms of natural science alone.


The Helpless Spectator Theory

In reaction to such metaphysical speculations, there grew up through this early period of evolutionary thinking an increasingly materialist view.  It was a position more consistent with straight natural selection.  It even had inherent in it that acrid pessimism that is sometimes curiously associated with really hard science.  This doctrine assures us consciousness does nothing at all, and in fact can do nothing.  Many tough-minded experimentalists still agree with Herbert Spencer that such a downgrading of consciousness is the only view that is consistent with straight evolutionary theory.  Animals are evolved; nervous systems and their mechanical reflexes increase in complexity; when some unspecifled degree of nervous complexity is reached, consciousness appears, and so begins its futile course as a helpless spectator of cosmic events.

What we do is completely controlled by the wiring diagram of the brain and its reflexes to external stimuli.  Consciousness is not

8 Darwinism, an Exposition of the Theory of Natural Selection (London: Macmillan, 1889), p. 475  see also Wallace’s Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection, Ch. 10.


more than the heat given off by the wires, a mere epiphenomenon.  Conscious feelings, as Hodgson put it, are mere colors laid on the surface of a mosaic which is held together by its stones, not by the colors. [9]  Or as Huxley insisted in a famous essay, “we are conscious automata.”  [10]  Consciousness can no more modify the working mechanism of the body or its behavior than can the whistle of a train modify its machinery or where it goes.  Moan as it will, the tracks have long ago decided where the train will go.  Consciousness is the melody that floats from the harp and cannot pluck its strings, the foam struck raging from the river that cannot change its course, the shadow that loyally walks step for step beside the pedestrian, but is quite unable to influence his journey.

It is William James who has given the best discussion of the conscious automaton theory. [11]  His argument here is a little like Samuel Johnson’s downing philosophical idealism by kicking a stone and crying, “I refute it thus!”  It is just plain inconceivable that consciousness should have nothing to do with a business which it so faithfully attends.  If consciousness is the mere impotent shadow of action, why is it more intense when action is most hesitant?  And why are we least conscious when doing something most habitual?  Certainly this seesawing relationship between consciousness and actions is something that any theory of consciousness must explain.


Emergent Evolution

The doctrine of emergent evolution was very specifically welcomed into court to rescure consciousness from this undignified

9. Shadworth, Hodgson, The Theory of Practice (London: Longmans Green, 1870), 1:456.

10. And volitions merely symbols of brain-states.   T.H. Huxley, Collected Essays (New York: Appleton, 1896), Vol. 1, p. 244.

11. William James, Principles of Psychology (New York: Holt, 1890), Vol. 1, Ch. 5), but also see William McDougall, Body and Mind (London: Methuen, 1911), Chs. 11, 12.


position as a mere helpless spectator.  It was also designed to explain scientifically the observed evolutionary discontinuities that had been the heart of the metaphysical imposition argument.  And when I first began to study it some time ago, I, too, felt with a shimmering flash how everything, the problem of consciousness and all, seemed to shiveringly fall into accurate and wonderful place.

Its main idea is a metaphor: Just as the property of wetness cannot be derived from the properties of hydrogen and oxygen alone, so consciousness emerged at some point in evolution in a way underivable from its constituent parts.

While this simple idea goes back to John Stuart Mill and G. H. Lewes, it was Lloyd Morgan’s version in his Emergent Evolution of 1923 that really captured the cheering.  This book is a thoroughgoing scheme of emergent evolution vigorously carried all the way back into the physical realm.  All the properties of matter have emerged from some unspecified forerunner.  Those of complex chemical compounds have emerged from the conjunction of simpler chemical components.  Properties distinctive of living things have emerged from the conjunctions of these complex molecules.  And consciousness emerged from living things.  New conjunctions bring about new kinds of relatedness which bring about new emergents.  So the new emergent properties are in each case effectively related to the systems from which they emerge.  In fact, the new relations emergent at each higher level guide and sustain the course of events distinctive of that level.  Consciousness, then, emerges as something genuinely new at a critical stage of evolutionary advance.  When it has emerged, it guides the course of events in the brain and has causal efficacy in bodily behavior.

The whoop with which this antireductionist doctrine was greeted by the majority of prominent biological and comparative psychologists, frustrated dualists all, was quite undignified.  Biologists called it a new Declaration of Independence from physics and chemistry.  “No longer can the biologist be bullied into sup-


pressing observed results because they are not discovered nor expected from work on the non-living.  Biology becomes a science in its own right.”  Prominent neurologists agreed that now we no longer had to think of consciousness as merely dancing an assiduous but futile attendance upon our brain processes. [12 The origin of consciousness seemed to have been pointed at in such a way as to restore consciousness to its usurped throne as the governor of behavior and even to promise new and unpredictable emergents in the future.

But had it?  If consciousness emerged in evolution, when?  In what species?  What kind of a nervous system is necessary?  And as the first flush of a theoretical breakthrough waned, it was seen that nothing about the problem had really changed.  It is these specifics that need to be answered.  What is wrong about emergent evolution is not the doctrine, but the release back into old comfortable ways of thinking about consciousness and behavior, the license that it gives to broad and vacuous generalities.

Historically, it is of interest here to note that all this dancing in the aisles of biology over emergent evolution was going on at the same time that a stronger, less-educated doctrine with a rigorous experimental campaign was beginning its robust conquest of psychology.  Certainly one way of solving the problem of consciousness and its place in nature is to deny that consciousness exists at all.



It is an interesting exercise to sit down and try to be conscious of what it means to say that consciousness does not exist.  History has not recorded whether or not this feat was attempted by the early behaviorists.  But it has recorded everywhere and in large

12. The quote here is from H. S. Jennings and the paraphrase from C. Judson Herrick. For these and other reactions to emergent evolution, see F. Mason, Creation by Evolution (London: Duckworth, 1928) and W. McDougall, Modern Materialism and Emergent Evolution (New York: Van Nostrand, 1929).


the enormous influence which the doctrine that consciousness does not exist has had on psychology in this century.

And this is behaviorism.  Its roots rummage far back into the musty history of thought, to the so-called Epicureans of the eighteenth century and before, to attempts to generalize tropisms from plants to animals to man, to movements called Objectivism, or more particularly, Actionism.  For it was Knight Dunlap’s attempt to teach the latter to an excellent but aweless animal psychologist, John B. Watson, that resulted in a new word, Behaviorism.13  At first, it was very similar to the helpless spectator theory we have already examined.  Consciousness just was not important in animals.  But after a World War and a little invigorating opposition, behaviorism charged out into the intellectual arena with the snorting assertion that consciousness is nothing at all.

What a startling doctrine!  But the really surprising thing is that, starting off almost as a flying whim, it grew into a movement that occupied center stage in psychology from about 1920 to 1960.  The external reasons for the sustained triumph of such a peculiar position are both fascinating and complex.  Psychology at the time was trying to wriggle out of philosophy into a separate academic discipline and used behaviorism to do so.  The immediate adversary of behaviorism, Titchenerian introspectionism, was a pale and effete opponent, based as it was on a false analogy between consciousness and chemistry.  The toppled idealism after World War I created a revolutionary age demanding new philosophies.  The intriguing successes of physics and general technology presented both a model and a means that seemed more compatible with behaviorism.  The world was weary and

13. For a less ad. hominern picture of the beginnings of behaviorism, see John C. Burnham, “On the origins of behaviorism.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 1968, 4: 143-151.  And for a good discussion, Richard Herrnstein’s “Introduction to John B. Watson’s Comparative Psychology” in Historical Conceptions of Psychology, M. Henle, J. Jaynes, and J. J. Sullivan, eds. (New York: Springer, 5974), 98—115.


wary of subjective thought and longed for objective fact.  And in America objective fact was pragmatic fact.  Behaviorism provided this in psychology.  It allowed a new generation to sweep aside with one impatient gesture all the worn-out complexities of the problem of consciousness and its origin.  We would turn over a new leaf.  We would make a fresh start.

And the fresh start was a success in one laboratory after another.  But the single inherent reason for its success was not its truth, but its program.  And what a truly vigorous and exciting program of research it was! with its gleaming stainless-steel promise of reducing all conduct to a handful of reflexes and conditional responses developed from them, of generalizing the spinal reflex terminology of stimulus and response and reinforcement to the puzzles of headed behavior and so seeming to solve them, of running rats through miles and miles of mazes into more fascinating mazes of objective theorems, and its pledge, its solemn pledge to reduce thought to muscle twitches and personality to the woes of Little Albert.14  In all this there was a heady excitement that is difficult to relate at this remove.  Complexity would be made simple, darkness would be made light, and philosophy would be a thing of the past.

From the outside, this revolt against consciousness seemed to storm the ancient citadels of human thought and set its arrogant banners up in one university after another.  But having once been a part of its major school, I confess it was not really what it seemed.  Off the printed page, behaviorism was only a refusal to talk about consciousness.  Nobody really believed he was not conscious.  And there was a very real hypocrisy abroad, as those interested in its problems were forcibly excluded from academic psychology, as text after text tried to smother the unwanted problem from student view.  In essence, behaviorism was a method, not the theory that it tried to be.  And as a method, it

14. The unfortunate subject of Watson’s experiments on conditioned fear.


exorcised old ghosts.  It gave psychology a thorough house cleaning.  And now the closets have been swept out and the cupboards washed and aired, and we are ready to examine the problem again.


Consciousness as the Reticular Activating System

But before doing so, one final approach, a wholly different approach, and one that has occupied me most recently, the nervous system.  How often in our frustrations with trying to solve the mysteries of mind do we comfort our questions with anatomy, real or fancied, and think of a thought as a particular neuron or a mood as a particular neurotransmitter!  It is a temptation born of exasperation with the untestableness and vagueness of all the above solutions.  Away with these verbal subtleties!  These esoteric poses of philosophy and even the paper theories of behaviorists are mere subterfuges to avoid the very material we are talking about!  Here we have an animal - make him a man if you will - here he is on the table of our analysis.  If he is conscious, it has to be here, right here in him, in the brain in front of us, not in the presumptuous inklings of philosophy back in the incapable past!  And today we at last have the techniques to explore the nervous system directly, brain to brain.  Somewhere here in a mere three-and-a-half pound lump of pinkish-gray matter, the answer has to be.

All we have to do is to find those parts of the brain that are responsible for consciousness, then trace out their anatomical evolution, and we will solve the problem of the origin of consciousness.  Moreover, if we study the behavior of present-day species corresponding to various stages in the development of these neurological structures, we will be able at last to reveal with experimental exactness just what consciousness basically is.

Now this sounds like an excellent scientific program.  Ever since Descartes chose the brain’s pineal body as the seat of consciousness and was roundly refuted by the physiologists of his


day, there has been a fervent if often superficial search for where in the brain consciousness exists. [15]  And the search is still on.

At the present, a plausible nominee for the neural substrate of consciousness is one of the most important neurological discoveries of our time.  This is that tangle of tiny internuncial neurons called the reticular formation, which has long lain hidden and unsuspected in the brainstem.  It extends from the top of the spinal cord through the brainstem on up into the thalamus and hypothalamus, attracting collaterals from sensory and motor nerves, almost like a system of wire-tabs on the communication lines that pass near it.  But this is not all.  It also has direct lines of command to half a dozen major areas of the cortex and probably all the nuclei of the brainstem, as well as sending fibers down the spinal cord where it influences the peripheral sensory and motor systems.  Its function is to sensitize or “awaken” selected nervous circuits and desensitize others, such that those who pioneered in this work christened it “the waking brain.”  [16]

The reticular formation is also often called by its functional name, the reticular activating system.  It is the place where general anesthesia produces its effect by deactivating its neurons.  Cutting it produces permanent sleep and coma.  Stimulating it through an implanted electrode in most of its regions wakes up a sleeping animal.  Moreover, it is capable of grading the activity of most other parts of the brain, doing this as a reflection of its own internal excitability and the titer of its neurochemistry.  There are exceptions, too complicated for discussion here.  But they are not such as to diminish the exciting idea that this disordered network of short neurons that connect up with the entire brain, this central transactional core between the strictly sensory and motor systems of classical neurology, is the long-sought answer to the whole problem.

15. I have discussed this at greater length in my paper, “The Problem of Animate Motion in the Seventeenth Century,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 1970, 31: 219-234.

16. See H. W. Magoun, The Waking Brain (Springfield, Illinois: Thomas, 1958).


If we now look at the evolution of the reticular formation, asking if it could be correlated with the evolution of consciousness, we find no encouragement whatever.  It turns out to be one of the oldest parts of the nervous system.  Indeed, a good case could be made that this is the very oldest part of the nervous system, around which the more orderly, more specific, and more highly evolved tracts and nuclei developed.  The little that we at present know about the evolution of the reticular formation does not seem to indicate that the problem of consciousness and its origin will be solved by such a study.

Moreover, there is a delusion in such reasoning.  It is one that is all too common and unspoken in our tendency to translate psychological phenomena into neuro-anatomy and chemistry.  We can only know in the nervous system what we have known in behavior first.  Even if we had a complete wiring diagram of the nervous system, we still would not be able to answer our basic question.  Though we knew the connections of every tickling thread of every single axon and dendrite in every species that ever existed, together with all its neurotransmitters and how they varied in its billions of synapses of every brain that ever existed, we could still never - not ever - from a knowledge of the brain alone know if that brain contained a consciousness like our own.  We first have to start from the top, from some conception of what consciousness is, from what our own introspection is.  We have to be sure of that, before we can enter the nervous system and talk about its neurology.

We must therefore try to make a new beginning by stating what consciousness is.  We have already seen that this is no easy matter, and that the history of the subject is an enormous confusion of metaphor with designation.  In any such situation, where something is so resistant to even the beginnings of clarity, it is wisdom to begin by determining what that something is not.  And that is the task of the next chapter.



The Mind of Man

Chapter 1: The Consciousness of Consciousness

WHEN ASKED the question, what is consciousness? we become conscious of consciousness.  And most of us take this consciousness of consciousness to be what consciousness is.  This is not true.

In being conscious of consciousness, we feel it is the most self-evident thing imaginable.  We feel it is the defining attribute of all our waking states, our moods and affections, our memories, our thoughts, attentions, and volitions.  We feel comfortably certain that consciousness is the basis of concepts, of learning and reasoning, of thought and judgment, and that it is so because it records and stores our experiences as they happen, allowing us to introspect on them and learn from them at will.  We are also quite conscious that all this wonderful set of operations and contents that we call consciousness is located somewhere in the head.

On critical examination, all of these statements are false.  They are the costume that consciousness has been masquerading in for centuries.  They are the misconceptions that have prevented a solution to the problem of the origin of consciousness.  To demonstrate these errors and show what consciousness is not, is the long but I hope adventurous task of this chapter.


The Extensiveness of Consciousness

To begin with, there are several uses of the word consciousness which we may immediately discard as incorrect.  We have for



example the phrase “to lose consciousness” after receiving a blow on the head.  But if this were correct, we would then have no word for those somnambulistic states known in the clinical literature where an individual is clearly not conscious and yet is responsive to things in a way in which a knocked-out person is not.  Therefore, in the first instance we should say that the person suffering a severe blow on the head loses both consciousness and what I am calling reactivity, and they are therefore different things.

This distinction is also important in normal everyday life.  We are constantly reacting to things without being conscious of them at the time.  Sitting against a tree, I am always reacting to the tree and to the ground and to my own posture, since if I wish to walk, I will quite unconsciously stand up from the ground to do so.

Immersed in the ideas of this first chapter, I am rarely conscious even of where I am.  In writing, I am reacting to a pencil in my hand since I hold on to it, and am reacting to my writing pad since I hold it on my knees, and to its lines since I write upon them, but I am only conscious of what I am trying to say and whether or not I am being clear to you.

If a bird bursts up from the copse nearby and flies crying to the horizon, I may turn and watch it and hear it, and then turn back to this page without being conscious that I have done so.

In other words, reactivity covers all stimuli my behavior takes account of in any way, while consciousness is something quite distinct and a far less ubiquitous phenomenon.  We are conscious of what we are reacting to only from time to time.  And whereas reactivity can be defined behaviorally and neurologically, consciousness at the present state of knowledge cannot.

But this distinction is much more far-reaching.  We are continually reacting to things in ways that have no phenomenal component in consciousness whatever.  Not at any time.  In seeing any object, our eyes and therefore our retinal images are reacting to the object by shifting twenty times a second, and yet


we see an unshifting stable object with no consciousness whatever of the succession of different inputs or of putting them together into the object.  An abnormally small retinal image of something in the proper context is automatically seen as something at a distance; we are not conscious of making the correction.  Color and light contrast effects, and other perceptual constancies all go on every minute of our waking and even dreaming experience without our being in the least conscious of them.  And these instances are barely touching the multitude of processes which by the older definitions of consciousness one might expect to be conscious of, but which we definitely are not.  I am here thinking of Titchener’s designation of consciousness as “the sum total of mental processes occurring now.”  We are now very far from such a position.

But let us go further.  Consciousness is a much smaller part of our mental life than we are conscious of, because we cannot be conscious of what we are not conscious of.  How simple that is to say; how difficult to appreciate!  It is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it.  The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere.  And so consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when actually it does not.

The timing of consciousness is also an interesting question.  When we are awake, are we conscious all the time?  We think so.  In fact, we are sure so!  I shut my eyes and even if I try not to think, consciousness still streams on, a great river of contents in a succession of different conditions which I have been taught to call thoughts, images, memories, interior dialogues, regrets, wishes, resolves, all interweaving with the constantly changing pageant of exterior sensations of which I am selectively aware.  Always the continuity.  Certainly this is the feeling. And whatever we’re doing, we feel that our very self, our deepest of deep



identity, is indeed this continuing flow that only ceases in sleep between remembered dreams.  This is our experience.  And many thinkers have taken this spirit of continuity to be the place to start from in philosophy, the very ground of certainty which no one can doubt.  Cogito, ergo sum.

But what could this continuity mean?  If we think of a minute as being sixty thousand milliseconds, are we conscious for every one of those milliseconds?  If you still think so, go on dividing the time units, remembering that the firing of neurons is of a finite order - although we have no idea what that has to do with our sense of the continuity of consciousness.  Few persons would wish to maintain that consciousness somehow floats like a mist above and about the nervous system completely ununited to any earthly necessities of neural refractory periods.

It is much more probable that the seeming continuity of consciousness is really an illusion, just as most of the other metaphors about consciousness are.  In our flashlight analogy, the flashlight would be conscious of being on only when it is on.  Though huge gaps of time occurred, providing things were generally the same, it would seem to the flashlight itself that the light had been continuously on.  We are thus conscious less of the time than we think, because we cannot be conscious of when we are not conscious.  And the feeling of a great uninterrupted stream of rich inner experiences, now slowly gliding through dreamy moods, now tumbling in excited torrents down gorges of precipitous insight, or surging evenly through our nobler days, is what it is on this page, a metaphor for how subjective consciousness seems to subjective consciousness.

But there is a better way to point this out.  If you close your left eye and stare at the left margin of this page, you are not at all conscious of a large gap in your vision about four inches to the right.  But, still staring with your right eye only, take your finger and move it along a line of print from the left margin to the right, and you will see the top of it disappear into this gap and then


reappear on the other side.  This is due to a two-millimeter gap on the nasal side of the retina where the optic nerve fibers are gathered together and leave the eye for the brain. [1]  The interesting thing about this gap is that it is not so much a blind spot as it is usually called; it is a non-spot.  A blind man sees his darkness. [2]  But you cannot see any gap in your vision at all, let alone be conscious of it in any way.  Just as the space around the blind spots is joined without any gap at all, so consciousness knits itself over its time gaps and gives the illusion of continuity.

Examples of how little we are conscious of our everyday behavior can be multiplied almost anywhere we look.  Playing the piano is a really extraordinary example. [3]  Here a complex array of various tasks is accomplished all at once with scarcely any consciousness of them whatever: two different lines of near hieroglyphics to be read at once, the right hand guided to one and the left to the other; ten fingers assigned to various tasks, the fingering solving various motor problems without any awareness, and the mind interpreting sharps and flats and naturals into black and white keys, obeying the timing of whole or quarter or sixteenth notes and rests and trills, one hand perhaps in three beats to a measure while the other plays four, while the feet are softening or slurring or holding various other notes.  And all this

1. A better technique of noticing the blind spot is to take two pieces of paper about a half-inch square, and while holding them about a foot and a half in front of you, fixate on one with one eye, and move the other piece of paper out on the same side until it disappears.

2. Except when the cause of blindness is in the brain.  For example, soldiers wounded in one or the other occipital areas of the cortex, with large parts of the visual field destroyed, are not conscious of any alteration in their vision.  Looking straight ahead, they have the illusion of seeing a complete visual world, as you or I do.

3. This example with similar phrasing was used by W. B. Carpenter to illustrate his “unconscious cerebration,” probably the first important statement of the idea in the nineteenth century.  It was first described in the fourth edition of Carpenter’s Human Physiology in 1852, but more extensively in his later works, as in his influential Principles of Mental Physiology (London: Kegan Paul, 1874), Book 2, Ch. 13.


time the performer, the conscious performer, is in a seventh heaven of artistic rapture at the results of all this tremendous business, or perchance lost in contemplation of the individual who turns the leaves of the music book, justly persuaded he is showing her his very soul!  Of course consciousness usually has a role in the learning of such complex activities, but not necessarily in their performance, and that is the only point I am trying to make here.

Consciousness is often not only unnecessary; it can be quite undesirable.  Our pianist suddenly conscious of his fingers during a furious set of arpeggios would have to stop playing.  Nijinsky somewhere says that when he danced, it was as if he were in the orchestra pit looking back at himself; he was not conscious of every movement, but of how he was looking to others.  A sprinter may be conscious of where he is relative to the others in the race, but he is certainly not conscious of putting one leg in front of the other; such consciousness might indeed cause him to trip.  And anyone who plays tennis at my indifferent level knows the exasperation of having his service suddenly ‘go to pieces’ and of serving consecutive double faults!  The more doubles, the more conscious one becomes of one’s motions (and of one’s disposition!) and the worse things get. [4]

Such phenomena of exertion are not to be explained away on the basis of physical excitement, for the same phenomena in regard to consciousness occur in less strenuous occupations.  Right at this moment, you are not conscious of how you are sitting, of where your hands are placed, of how fast you are reading, though even as I mentioned these items, you were.  And as you read, you are not conscious of the letters or even of the words or even of the syntax or the sentences and punctuation,

4. The present writer improvises on the piano, and his best playing is when he is not conscious of the performance side as he invents new themes or developments, but only when he is somnambulistic about it and is conscious of his playing only as if he were another person.


but only of their meaning.  As you listen to an address, phonemes disappear into words and words into sentences and sentences disappear into what they are trying to say, into meaning.  To be conscious of the elements of speech is to destroy the intention of the speech.

And also on the production side.  Try speaking with a full consciousness of your articulation as you do it.  You will simply stop speaking.

And so in writing, it is as if the pencil or pen or typewriter itself spells the words, spaces them, punctuates properly, goes to the next line, does not begin consecutive sentences in the same way, determines that we place a question here, an exclamation there, even as we ourselves are engrossed in what we are trying to express and the person we are addressing.

For in speaking or writing we are not really conscious of what we are actually doing at the time.  Consciousness functions in the decision as to what to say, how we are to say it, and when we say it, but then the orderly and accomplished succession of phonemes or of written letters is somehow done for us.


Consciousness Not a Copy of Experience

Although the metaphor of the blank mind had been used in the writings ascribed to Aristotle, it is really only since John Locke thought of the mind as a tabula rasa in the seventeenth century that we have emphasized this recording aspect of consciousness, and thus see it crowded with memories that can be read over again in introspection.  If Locke had lived in our time, he would have used the metaphor of a camera rather than a slate.  But the idea is the same.  And most people would protest emphatically that the chief function of consciousness is to store up experience, to copy it as a camera does, so that it can be reflected upon at some future time.

So it seems.  But consider the following problems:  Does the



door of your room open from the right or the left?  Which is your second longest finger?  At a stoplight, is it the red or the green that is on top?  How many teeth do you see when brushing your teeth?  What letters are associated with what numbers on a telephone dial?  If you are in a familiar room, without turning around, write down all the items on the wall just behind you, and then look.

I think you will be surprised how little you can retrospect in consciousness on the supposed images you have stored from so much previous attentive experience.  If the familiar door suddenly opened the other way, if another finger suddenly grew longer, if the red light were differently placed, or you had an extra tooth, or the telephone were made differently, or a new window latch had been put on the window behind you, you would know it immediately, showing that you all along ‘knew’, but not consciously so.  Familiar to psychologists, this is the distinction between recognition and recall.  What you can consciously recall is a thimbleful to the huge oceans of your actual knowledge.

Experiments of this sort demonstrate that conscious memory is not a storing up of sensory images, as is sometimes thought.  Only if you have at some time consciously noticed your finger lengths or your door, have at some time counted your teeth, though you have observed these things countless times, can you remember.  Unless you have particularly noted what is on the wall or recently cleaned or painted it, you will be surprised at what you have left out.  And introspect upon the matter.  Did you not in each of these instances ask what must be there?  Starting with ideas and reasoning, rather than with any image?  Conscious retrospection is not the retrieval of images, but the retrieval of what you have been conscious of before, [5] and the reworking of these elements into rational or plausible patterns.

5. See in this connection the discussion of Robert S. Woodworth in his Psychological Issues (New York: Columbia University Press, 1939 Ch. 7


Let us demonstrate this in another way.  Think, if you will, of when you entered the room you are now in and when you picked up this book.  Introspect upon it and then ask the question: are the images of which you have copies the actual sensory fields as you came in and sat down and began reading?  Don’t you have an image of yourself coming through one of the doors, perhaps even a bird’s-eye view of one of the entrances, and then perhaps vaguely see yourself sitting down and picking up the book?  Things which you have never experienced except in this introspection!  And can you retrieve the sound fields around the event?  Or the cutaneous sensations as you sat, took the pressure off your feet, and opened this book?  Of course, if you go on with your thinking you can also rearrange your imaginal retrospection such that you do indeed ‘see’ entering the room just as it might have been; and ‘hear’ the sound of the chair and the book opening, and ‘feel’ the skin sensations.  But I suggest that this has a large element of created imagery - what we shall call narratizing a little later - of what the experience should be like, rather than what it actually was like.

Or introspect on when you last went swimming:  I suspect you have an image of a seashore, lake, or pool which is largely a retrospection, but when it comes to yourself swimming, lo! like Nijinsky in his dance, you are seeing yourself swim, something that you have never observed at all!  There is precious little of the actual sensations of swimming, the particular waterline across your face, the feel of the water against your skin, or to what extent your eyes were underwater as you turned your head to breathe. [6]  Similarly, if you think of the last time you slept out of doors, went skating, or - if all else fails - did something that you regretted in public, you tend not to see, hear, or feel things as you actually experienced them, but rather to re-create them in objective terms, seeing yourself in the setting as if you were

6. An example taken from Donald Hobb’s provocative discussion, “The mind’s eye”, Psychology Today, 1961, 2.


somebody else.  Looking back into memory, then, is a great deal invention, seeing yourself as others see you.  Memory is the medium of the must-have-been.  Though I have no doubt that in any of these instances you could by inference invent a subjective view of the experience, even with the conviction that it was the actual memory.


Consciousness Not Necessary for Concepts

A further major confusion about consciousness is the belief that it is specifically and uniquely the place where concepts are formed.  This is a very ancient idea: that we have various concrete conscious experiences and then put the similar ones together into a concept.  This idea has even been the paradigm of a slew of experiments by psychologists who thought they were thus studying concept formation.

Max Muller, in one of his fascinating discussions in the last century, brought the problem to a point by asking, whoever saw a tree?  “No one ever saw a tree, but only this or that fir tree, or oak tree, or apple tree . . . Tree, therefore, is a concept, and as such can never be seen or perceived by the senses.” [7]  Particular trees alone were outside in the environment, and only in consciousness did the general concept of tree exist.

Now the relation between concepts and consciousness could have an extensive discussion.  But let it suffice here simply to show that there is no necessary connection between them.  When Muller says no one has ever seen a tree, he is mistaking what he knows about an object for the object itself.  Every weary wayfarer after miles under the hot sun has seen a tree.  So has every cat, squirrel, and chipmunk when chased by a dog.  The bee has a concept of. a flower, the eagle a concept of a sheer-faced rocky

7. Max Muller, The Science of Though: (London: Longmans Green, 1887), 78-79.  Eugenio Rignano in his The Psychology of Reasoning (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1923), p. 108f., makes a similar criticism to mine.


ledge, as a nesting thrush has a concept of a crotch of upper branch awninged with green leaves.  Concepts are simply classes of behaviorally equivalent things.  Root concepts are prior to experience.  They are fundamental to the aptic structures that allow behavior to occur at all.8  Indeed what Muller should have said was, no one has ever been conscious of a tree.  For consciousness, indeed, not only is not the repository of concepts; it does not usually work with them at all!  When we consciously think of a tree, we are indeed conscious of a particular tree, of the fir or the oak or the elm that grew beside our house, and let it stand for the concept, just as we can let a concept word stand for it as well.  In fact, one of the great functions of language is to let the word stand for a concept, which is exactly what we do in writing or speaking about conceptual material.  And we must do this because concepts are usually not in consciousness at all.


Consciousness Not Necessary for Learning

A third important misconception of consciousness is that it is the basis for learning.  Particularly for the long and illustrious series of Associationist psychologists through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, learning was a matter of ideas in consciousness being grouped by similarity, contiguity, or occasionally some other relationship.  Nor did it matter whether we were speaking of a man or an animal; all learning was “profiting from experience” or ideas coming together in consciousness - as I said in the Introduction.  And so contemporary common knowledge, without realizing quite why, has culturally inherited the notion that consciousness is necessary for learning.

The matter is somewhat complex.  It is also unfortunately

8 .Aptic structures are the neurological basis of aptitudes that are composed of an innate evolved aptic paradigm plus the results of experience in development.  The term is the heart of an unpublished essay of mine and is meant to replace such problematic words as instincts.  They are organizations of the brain, always partially innate, that make the organism apt to behave in a certain way under certain conditions.



disfigured in psychology by a sometimes forbidding jargon, which is really an overgeneralization of the spinal-reflex terminology of the nineteenth century.  But, for our purposes, we may consider the laboratory study of learning to have been of three central kinds, the learning of signals, skills, and solutions.  Let us take up each in turn, asking the question, is consciousness necessary?

Signal learning (or classical or Pavlovian conditioning) is the simplest example.  If a light signal immediately followed by a puff of air through a rubber tube is directed at a person’s eye about ten times, the eyelid, which previously blinked only to the puff of air, will begin to blink to the light signal alone, and this becomes more and more frequent as trials proceed.9  Subjects who have undergone this well-known procedure of signal learning report that it has no conscious component whatever.  Indeed, consciousness, in this example the intrusion of voluntary eye blinks to try to assist the signal learning, blocks it from occurring.

In more everyday situations, the same simple associative learning can be shown to go on without any consciousness that it has occurred.  If a distinct kind of music is played while you are eating a particularly delicious lunch, the next time you hear the music you will like its sounds slightly more and even have a little more saliva in your mouth.  The music has become a signal for pleasure which mixes with your judgment.  And the same is true for paintings.10  Subjects who have gone through this kind of test in the laboratory, when asked why they liked the music or paintings better after lunch, could not say.  They were not conscious they had learned anything.  But the really interesting thing here is that if you know about the phenomenon beforehand and

9. G. A. Kimble, “Conditioning as a function of the time between conditioned and unconditioned stimuli,” Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1947, 37: 1-15.

10. These studies are those of Gregory Razran and are discussed on page 232 of his Mind in Evolution (Boston: Houghton Muffin, 1971). They are discussed critically in relation to the whole problem of unintentional learning by T. A. Ryan, Intentional Behavior (New York: Ronald Press, 1970), pp. 235-236.


are conscious of the contingency between food and the music or painting, the learning does not occur.  Again, consciousness actually reduces our earning abilities of this type, let alone not being necessary for them.

As we saw earlier in the performance of skills, so in the learning of skills, consciousness is indeed like a helpless spectator, having little to do.  A simple experiment will demonstrate this fact.  Take a coin in each hand and toss them both, crossing them in the air in such a way that each coin is caught by the opposite hand.  This you can learn in a dozen trials.  As you do, ask, are you conscious of everything you do?  Is consciousness necessary at all?  I think you will find that learning is much better described as being ‘organic’ rather than conscious.  Consciousness takes you into the task, giving you the goal to be reached.  But from then on, apart perhaps from fleeting neurotic concerns about your abilities at such tasks, it is as if the learning is done for you.  Yet the nineteenth century, taking consciousness to be the whole architect of behavior, would have tried to explain such a task as consciously recognizing the good and bad motions, and by free choice repeating the former and dropping out the latter!

The learning of complex skills is no different in this respect.  Typewriting has been extensively studied, it generally being agreed in the words of one experimenter “that all adaptations and short cuts in methods were unconsciously made, that is, fallen into by the learners quite unintentionally.  The learners suddenly noticed that they were doing certain parts of the work in a new and better way.”  [11]

In the coin-tossing experiment, you may have even discovered that consciousness if present impeded your learning.  This is a very common finding in the learning of skills, just as we saw it was in their performance.  Let the learning go on without your being too conscious of it, and it is all done more smoothly and

11. W.F. Book, The Psychology of Skill, (New York: Gregg, 1925).


efficiently.  Sometimes too much so, for, in complex skills like typing, one may learn to consistently type ‘hte’ for ‘the’.  The remedy is to reverse the process by consciously practicing the mistake ‘hte’, whereupon contrary to the usual idea of ‘practice makes perfect’, the mistake drops away - a phenomenon called negative practice.

In the common motor skills studied in the laboratory as well, such as complex pursuit-rotor systems or mirror-tracing, the subjects who are asked to be very conscious of their movements do worse. [12]  And athletic trainers whom I have interviewed are unwittingly following such laboratory-proven principles when they urge their trainees not to think so much about what they are doing.  The Zen exercise of learning archery is extremely explicit on this, advising the archer not to think of himself as drawing the bow and releasing the arrow, but releasing himself from the consciousness of what he is doing by letting the bow stretch itself and the arrow release itself from the fingers at the proper time.

Solution learning (or instrumental learning or operant conditioning) is a more complex case.  Usually when one is acquiring some solution to a problem or some path to a goal, consciousness plays a very considerable role in setting up the problem in a certain way.  But consciousness is not necessary.  Instances can be shown in which a person has no consciousness whatever of either the goal he is seeking or the solution he is finding to achieve that goal.

Another simple experiment can demonstrate this.  Ask someone to sit opposite you and to say words, as many words as he can think of, pausing two or three seconds after each of them for you to write them down.  If after every plural noun (or adjective, or abstract word, or whatever you choose) you say “good” or “right” as you write it down, or simply “mmm-hmm” or smile, or repeat the plural word pleasantly, the frequency of plural nouns (or

12. H.L. Waskom, “An experimental analysis of incentive and forced application and their effect upon learning,” Journal of Psychology, 1936, 2: 393-408.


whatever) will increase significantly as he goes on saying words.  The important thing here is that the subject is not aware that he is learning anything at all. [13]  He is not conscious that he is trying to find a way to make you increase your encouraging remarks, or even of his solution to that problem.  Every day, in all our conversations, we are constantly training and being trained by each other in this manner, and yet we are never conscious of it.

Such unconscious learning is not confined to verbal behavior.  Members of a psychology class were asked to compliment any girl at the college wearing red.  Within a week the cafeteria was a blaze of red (and friendliness), and none of the girls was aware of being influenced.  Another class, a week after being told about unconscious learning and training, tried it on the professor.  Every time he moved toward the right side of the lecture hall, they paid rapt attention and roared at his jokes.  It is reported that they were almost able to train him right out the door, he remaining unaware of anything unusual. [14]

The critical problem with most of these studies is that if the subject decided beforehand to look for such contingencies, he would of course be conscious of what he was learning to do.  One way to get around this is to use a behavioral response which is imperceptible to the subject.  And this has been done, using a very small muscle in the thumb whose movements are imperceptible to us and can only be detected by an electrical recording apparatus.  The subjects were told that the experiments were concerned with the effect of intermittent unpleasant noise com-

13. J. Greenspoon, “The reinforcing effect of two spoken sounds on the frequency of two responses,” American Journal of Psychology, 1955, 68: 409-416.  But there is considerable controversy here, particularly in the order and wording of postexperimental questions.  There may even be a kind of tacit contract between subject and experimenter.  See Robert Rosenthal, Experimenter Effects in Behavioral Research (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1966).  In this controversy, I presently agree with Postman that the learning occurs before the subject becomes conscious of the reinforcement contingency, and indeed that consciousness would not occur unless this had been so.  L. Postman and L. Sassenrath, “The automatic action of verbal rewards and punishment,” Journal of General Psychology, 1961, 65: 109-136.

14. W. Lamnbert Gardiner, Psychology: A Story of a Search (Belmont, California:

Brooks/Cole, 5970), p. 76.



bined with music upon muscle tension.  Four electrodes were placed on their bodies, the only real one being the one over the small thumb muscle, the other three being dummy electrodes.  The apparatus was so arranged that whenever the imperceptible thumb-muscle twitch was electrically detected, the unpleasant noise was stopped for 15 seconds if it was already sounding, or delayed for 15 seconds if was not turned on at the time of the twitch.  In all subjects, the imperceptible thumb twitch that turned off the distressing noise increased in rate without the subjects’ being the slightest bit conscious that they were learning to turn off the unpleasant noise. 15

Thus, consciousness is not a necessary part of the learning process, and this is true whether it be the learning of signals, skills, or solutions.  There is, of course, much more to say on this fascinating subject, for the whole thrust of contemporary research in behavior modification is along these lines.  But, for the present, we have simply established that the older doctrine that conscious experience is the substrate of all learning is clearly and absolutely false.  At this point, we can at least conclude that it is possible - possible I say - to conceive of human beings who are not conscious and yet can learn and solve problems.


Consciousness Not Necessary for Thinking

As we go from simple to more complicated aspects of mentality, we enter vaguer and vaguer territory, where the terms we use become more difficult to travel with.  Thinking is certainly one of these.  And to say that consciousness is not necessary for thinking makes us immediately bristle with protest.  Surely thinking is the very heart and bone of consciousness!  But let us go slowly

15. R. F. Hefferline, B. Keenan, R. A. Harford, “Escape and avoidance conditioning in human subjects without their observation of the response,” Science, 1959, 130: 1338-5339.  Another study which shows unconscious solution learning very clearly is that of J. D. Keehn: “Experimental Studies of the Unconscious: operant conditioning of unconscious eye blinking,” Behavior Research and Therapy, 1967, 5: 95-I02.


here.  What we would be referring to would be that type of free associating which might be called thinking-about or thinking-of, which, indeed, always seems to be fully surrounded and immersed in the image-peopled province of consciousness.  But the matter is really not that clear at all.

Let us begin with the type of thinking that ends in a result to which may be predicated the terms right or wrong.  That is what is commonly referred to as making judgments, and is very similar to one extreme of solution learning that we have discussed.

A simple experiment, so simple as to seem trivial, will bring us directly to the heart of the matter. Take any two unequal objects, such as a pen and pencil or two unequally filled glasses of water, and place them on the desk in front of you.  Then partially closing your eyes to increase your attention to the task, pick up each one with the thumb and forefinger and judge which is heavier.  Now introspect on everything you are doing.  You will find your self conscious of the feel  of the objects against the skin of your fingers, conscious of the slight downward pressure as you feel the weight of each, conscious of any protrubances on the sides of the objects, and so forth.  And now the actual judging of which is heavier.  Where is that?  Lo! the very act of judgment that one object is heavier than the other is not conscious.  It is somehow just given to you by your nervous system.  If we call that process of judgment thinking, we are finding that such thinking is not conscious at all.  A simple experiment, yes, but extremely important.  It demolishes at once the entire tradition that such thought processes are. the structure of the conscious mind.

This type of experiment came to be studied extensively back at the beginning of this century in what came to be known as the Wurzburg School.  It all began with a study by Karl Marbe in 1901, which was .very similar to the above, except that small weights were used. [16]  The subject was asked to lift two weights

16. K. Marbe, Experimentell-Psychologische Untersuchungen uber das Urteil, eine Einleitung in die Logik (Leipzig: Emgelmann, 1901).


in front of him, and place the one that was heavier in front of the experimenter, who was facing him.  And it came as a startling discovery both to the experimenter himself and to his highly trained subjects, all of them introspective psychologists, that the process of judgment itself was never conscious.  Physics and psychology always show interesting contrasts, and it is one of the ironies of science that the Marbe experiment, so simple as to seem silly, was to psychology what the so-difficult-to-set-up Michaelson-Morley experiment was to physics.  Just as the latter proved that the ether, that substance supposed to exist throughout space, did not exist, so the weight-judgment experiment showed that judging, that supposed hallmark of consciousness, did not exist in consciousness at all.

But a complaint can be lodged here.  Maybe in lifting the objects the judging was all happening so fast that we forgot it.  After all, in introspecting we always have hundreds of words to describe what happens in a few seconds.  (What an astonishing fact that is!)  And our memory fades as to what just happened even as we are trying to express it.  Perhaps this was what was occurring in Marbe’s experiment, and that type of thinking called judging could be found in consciousness, after all, if we could only remember.

This was the problem as Watt faced it a few years after Marbe. 17  To solve it, he used a different method, word associations.  Nouns printed on cards were shown to the subject, who was to reply by uttering an associate word as quickly as he could.  It was not free association, but what is technically called partially constrained: in different series the subject was required to associate to the visual word a superordinate (e.g., oak-tree), co-ordinate (oak-elm), or subordinate (oak-beam); or a whole (oak-forest), a part (oak-acorn), or another part of a common whole

17. H.J. Wattt, “Experimentelle Beitrage zur einer Theorie des Denkens,” Archiv fur geschite der Psychologie, 1905, 4: 289-436.



 (oak-path).  The nature of this task of constrained associations made it possible to divide the consciousness of it into four periods: the instructions as to which of the constraints it was to be (e.g., superordinate), the presentation of the stimulus noun (e.g., oak), the search for an appropriate association, and the spoken reply (e.g., tree).  The introspecting observers were asked to confine themselves first to one period and then to another, and thus get a more accurate account of consciousness in each.

It was expected that the precision of this fractionation method would prove Marbe’s conclusions wrong, and that the consciousness of thinking would be found in Watt’s third period, the period of the search for the word that would suit the particular constrained association.  But nothing of the sort happened.  It was the third period that was introspectively blank.  What seemed to be happening was that thinking was automatic and not really conscious once a stimulus word had been given, and, previous to that, the particular type of association demanded had been adequately understood by the observer.  This was a remarkable result.  Another way of saying it is that one does one’s thinking before one knows what one is to think about.  The important part of the matter is the instruction, which allows the whole business to go off automatically.  This I shall shorten to the term struction, by which I mean it to have the connotation of both instruction and construction. [18]

Thinking, then, is not conscious.  Rather, it is an automatic process following a struction and the materials on which the struction is to operate.

But we do not have to stay with verbal associations; any type of problem will do, even those closer to voluntary actions.  If I say to

18. The terms set, determining tendency, and struction need to be distinguished.  A set is the more inclusive term, being an engaged aptic structure which in mammals can be ordered from a general limbic component of readiness to a specific cortical component of a determining tendency, the final part of which in humans is often a struction.



myself, I shall think about an oak in summer, that is a struction, and what I call thinking about is really a file of associated images cast up on the shores of my consciousness out of an unknown sea, just like the constrained associations in Watt’s experiment.

If we have the figures 6 and 2, divided by a vertical line, 6/2, the ideas produced by such a stimulus will be eight, four, or three, according to whether the struction prescribed is addition, subtraction, or division.  The important thing is that the struction itself, the process of addition, subtraction, or division, disappears into the nervous system once it is given.  But it is obviously there ‘in the mind’ since the same stimulus can result in any of three different responses.  And that is something we are not in the least aware of, once it is put in motion.

Suppose we have a series of figures such as the following:

What is the next figure in this series?  How did you arrive at your answer?  Once I have given you the struction, you automatically ‘see’ that it is to be another triangle.  I submit that if you try to introspect on the process by which you came up with the answer you are not truly retrieving the processes involved, but inventing what you think they must have been by giving yourself another struction to that effect.  In the task itself, all you were really conscious of was the struction, the figures before you on the page, and then the solution.

Nor is this different from the case of speech which I mentioned earlier.  When we speak, we are not really conscious either of the search for words, or of putting the words together into phrases, or of putting the phrases into sentences.  We are only conscious of the ongoing series of structions that we give ourselves, which then, automatically, without any consciousness whatever, result in speech.  The speech itself we can be conscious of as it is


produced if we wish, thus giving some feedback to result in further structions.

So we arrive at the position that the actual process of thinking, so usually thought to be the very life of consciousness, is not conscious at all and that only its preparation, its materials, and its end result are consciously perceived.


Consciousness Not Necessary for Reason

The long tradition of man as the rational animal, the tradition that enthroned him as Homo sapiens, rests in all its pontifical generality on the gracile assumption that consciousness is the seat of reason.  Any discussion of such an assumption is embarrassed by the vagueness of the term reason itself.  This vagueness is the legacy we have from an older ‘faculty’ psychology that spoke of a ‘faculty’ of reason, which was of course situated ‘in’ consciousness.  And this forced deposition of reason and consciousness was further confused with ideas of truth, of how we ought to reason, or logic - all quite different things.  And hence logic was supposed to be the structure of conscious reason confounding generations of poor scholars who knew perfectly well that syllogisms were not what was on their side of introspection.

Reasoning and logic are to each other as health is to medicine, or - better - as conduct is to morality.  Reasoning refers to a gamut of natural thought processes in the everyday world.  Logic is how we ought to think if objective truth is our goal - and the everyday world is very little concerned with objective truth.  Logic is the science of the justification of conclusions we have reached by natural reasoning.  My point here is that, for such natural reasoning to occur, consciousness is not necessary.  The very reason we need logic at all is because most reasoning is not conscious at all.

Consider to begin with the many phenomena we have already established as going on without consciousness which can be



called elementary kinds of reasoning.  Choosing paths, words, notes, motions, the perceptual corrections in size and color constancies - all are primitive kinds of reasoning that go on without any prod, nudge, or even glance of consciousness.

Even the more standard types of reasoning can occur without consciousness.  A boy, having observed on one or more past occasions that a particular piece of wood floats on a particular pond, will conclude directly in a new instance that another piece of wood will float on another pond.  There is no collecting together of past instances in consciousness, and no necessary conscious process whatever when the new piece of wood is seen directly as floating on the new pond.  This is sometimes called reasoning from particulars, and is simply expectation based on generalization.  Nothing particularly extraordinary.  It is an ability common to all the higher vertebrates.  Such reasoning is the structure of the nervous system, not the structure of consciousness.

But more complex reasoning without consciousness is continually going on.  Our minds work much faster than consciousness can keep up with.  We commonly make genera assertions based on past experience in an automatic way, and only as an afterthought are we sometimes able to retrieve any of the past experiences on which an assertion is based.  How often we reach sound conclusions and are quite unable to justify them!  Because reasoning is not conscious.  And consider the kind of reasoning that we do about others’ feelings and character, or in reasoning out the motives of others from their actions.  These are clearly the result of automatic inferences by our nervous systems in which consciousness is not only unnecessary, but, as we have seen in the performance of motor skills, would probably hinder the process. [19]

Surely, we exclaim, this cannot be true of the highest processes of intellectual, thought!  Surely there at last we will come to

19. Such instances were early recognized as not conscious and were called “automatic inference” or “common sense.”  Discussions can be found in Sully, Mill, and other nineteenth-century psychologists.


the very empire of consciousness, where all is spread out in a golden clarity and all the orderly processes of reason go on in a full publicity of awareness.  But the truth has no such grandeur.  The picture of a scientist sitting down with his problems and using conscious induction and deduction is as mythical as a unicorn.  The greatest insights of mankind have come more mysteriously.  Helmholtz had his happy thoughts which “often enough crept quietly into my thinking without my suspecting their importance . . . in other cases they arrived suddenly, without any effort on my part . . . they liked especially to make their appearance while I was taking an easy walk over wooded hills in sunny weather!” 20

And Gauss, referring to an arithmetical theorem which he had unsuccessfully tried to prove for years, wrote how “like a sudden flash of lightning, the riddle happened to be solved.  I myself cannot say what was the conducting thread which connected what I previously knew with what made my success possible.” 21

And the brilliant mathematician Poincaré was particularly interested in the manner in which he came upon his own discoveries.  In a celebrated lecture at the Société de Psychologie in Paris, he described how he set out on a geologic excursion:  “The incidents of the journey made me forget my mathematical work.  Having reached Coutances, we entered an omnibus to go some place or other.  At the moment when I put my foot on the step, the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it, the transformation I had used to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of non-Euclidian geometry!” 22

It does seem that it is in the more abstract sciences, where the materials of scrutiny are less and less interfered with by everyday

20. As quoted by Robert S. Woodworth, Experimental Psychology (New York: Holt, 1938), p. 818.

21. As quoted by Jacques Hadamard, The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1945), p. 15.

22. Henri Poincaré, “Mathematical creation,” in his The Foundations of Science, G. Bruce Halsted, trans. (New York: The Science Press, 1913), p. 387.


experience, that this business of sudden flooding insights is most obvious.  A close friend of Einstein’s has told me that many of the physicist’s greatest ideas came to him so suddenly while he was shaving that he had to move the blade of the straight razor very carefully each morning, lest he cut himself with surprise.  And a well-known physicist in Britain once told Wolfgang Köhler, “We often talk about the three B’s, the Bus, the Bath, and the Bed.  That is where the great discoveries are made in our science.”

The essential point here is that there are several stages of creative thought: first, a stage of preparation in which the problem is consciously worked over; then a period of incubation without any conscious concentration upon the problem; and then the illumination which is later justified by logic.  The parallel between these important and complex problems and the simple problems of judging weights or the circle-triangle series is obvious.  The period of preparation is essentially the setting up of a complex struction together with conscious attention to the materials on which the struction is to work.  But then the actual process of reasoning, the dark leap into huge discovery, just as in the simple trivial judgment of weights, has no representation in consciousness.  Indeed, it is sometimes almost as if the problem had to be forgotten to be solved.


The Location of Consciousness

The final fallacy which I wish to discuss is both important and interesting, and I have left it for the last because I think it deals the coup de grace to the everyman theory of consciousness.  Where does consciousness take place?

Everyone, or almost everyone, immediately replies, in my head.  This is because when we introspect, we seem to look inward on an inner space somewhere behind our eyes.  But what on earth do we mean by ‘look’?  We even close our eyes sometimes to introspect even more clearly.  Upon what?  Its spatial



character seems unquestionable.  Moreover we seem to move or at least ‘look’ in different directions.  And if we press ourselves too strongly to further characterize this space (apart from its imagined contents), we feel a vague irritation, as if there were something that did not want to be known, some quality which to question was somehow ungrateful, like rudeness in a friendly place.

We not only locate this space of consciousness inside our own heads.  We also assume it is there in others’.  In talking with a friend, maintaining periodic eye-to-eye contact (that remnant of our primate past when eye-to-eye contact was concerned in establishing tribal hierarchies), we are always assuming a space behind our companion’s eyes into which we are talking, similar to the space we imagine inside our own heads where we are talking from.

And this is the very heartbeat of the matter.  For we know perfectly well that there is no such space in anyone’s head at all!  There is nothing inside my head or yours except physiological tissue of one sort or another.  And the fact that it is predominantly neurological tissue is irrelevant.

Now this thought takes a little thinking to get used to.  It means that we are continually inventing these spaces in our own and other people’s heads, knowing perfectly well that they don’t exist anatomically; and the location of these ‘spaces’ is indeed quite arbitrary.  The Aristotelian writings, 23 for example, located consciousness or the abode of thought in and just above the heart, believing the brain to be a mere cooling organ since it was insensitive to touch or injury.  And some readers will not have found this discussion valid since they locate their thinking selves somewhere in the upper chest.  For most of us, however, the habit of locating consciousness in the head is so ingrained that it

23. It is so obvious that the writing ascribed to Aristotle were not written by the same hand that I prefer this designation.


is difficult to think otherwise.  But, actually, you could, as you remain where you are, just as well locate your consciousness around the corner in the next room against the wall near the floor, and do your thinking there as well as in your head. Not really just as well.  For there are very good reasons why it is better to imagine your mind-space inside of you, reasons to do with volition and internal sensations, with the relationship of your body and your ‘I’ which will become apparent as we go on.

That there is no phenomenal necessity in locating consciousness in the brain is further reinforced by various abnormal instances in which consciousness seems to be outside the body.  A friend who received a left frontal brain injury in the war regained consciousness in the corner of the ceiling of a hospital ward looking down euphorically at himself on the cot swathed in bandages.  Those who have taken lysergic acid diethylamide commonly report similar out-of-the-body or exosomatic experiences, as they are called.  Such occurrences do not demonstrate anything metaphysical whatever; simply that locating consciousness can be an arbitrary matter.

Let us not make a mistake.  When I am conscious, I am always and definitely using certain parts of my brain inside my head.  But so am I when riding a bicycle, and the bicycle riding does not go on inside my head.  The cases are different of course, since bicycle riding has a definite geographical location, while consciousness does not.  In reality, consciousness has no location whatever except as we imagine it has.


Is Consciousness Necessary?

Let us review where we are, for we have just found our way through an enormous amount of ramous material which may have seemed more perplexing than clarifying.  We have been brought to the conclusion that consciousness is not what we generally think it is.  It is not to be confused with reactivity.  It is


not involved in hosts of perceptual phenomena.  It is not involved in the performance of skills and often hinders their execution.  It need not be involved in speaking, writing, listening, or reading.  It does not copy down experience, as most people think.  Consciousness is not at all involved in signal learning, and need not be involved in the learning of skills or solutions, which can go on without any consciousness whatever.  It is not necessary for making judgments or in simple thinking.  It is not the seat of reason, and indeed some of the most difficult instances of creative reasoning go on without any attending consciousness.  And it has no location except an imaginary one!  The immediate question therefore is, does consciousness exist at all?  But that is the problem of the next chapter.  Here it is only necessary to conclude that consciousness does not make all that much difference to a lot of our activities.  If our reasoning have been correct, it is perfectly possible that there could have existed a race of men who spoke, judged, reasoned, solved problems, indeed did most of the things that we do, but who were not conscious at all.  This is the important and in some ways upsetting notion that we are forced to conclude at this point.  Indeed I have begun in this fashion, and place great importance on this opening chapter, for unless you are here convinced that a civilization without consciousness is possible, you will find the discussion that follows unconvincing and paradoxical.



Vestiges of the Bicameral Mind in the Modern World

Chapter 6: The Auguries of Science

I HAVE TRIED in these few heterogeneous chapters of Book III to explain as well as I could how certain features of our recent world, namely, the social institutions of oracles and religions, and the psychological phenomena of possession, hypnosis, and schizophrenia, as well as artistic practices such as poetry and music, how all these can be interpreted in part as vestiges of an earlier organization of human nature.  These are not in any sense a complete catalogue of the present possible projections from our earlier mentality.  They are simply some of the most obvious.  And the study of their interaction with the developing consciousness continually laying siege to them allows us an understanding that we would not otherwise have.

In this final chapter, I wish to turn to science itself and point out that it too, and even my entire essay, can be read as a response to the breakdown of the bicameral mind.  For what is the nature of this blessing of certainty that science so devoutly demands in its very Jacob-like wrestling with nature?  Why should we demand that the universe make itself clear to us?  Why do we care?

To be sure, a part of the impulse to science is simple curiosity, to hold the unheld and watch the unwatched.  We are all children in the unknown.  It is no reaction to the loss of an earlier mentality to delight in the revelations of the electron microscope or in quarks or in negative gravity in black holes among the stars.


Technology is a second and even more sustaining source of the scientific ritual, carrying its scientific basis forward on its own increasing and uncontrollable momentum through history.  And perhaps a deep aptic structure for hunting, for bringing a problem to bay, adds its motivational effluence to the pursuit of truth.

But over and behind these and other causes of science has been something more universal, something in this age of specialization often unspoken.  It is something about understanding the totality of existence, the essential defining reality of things, the entire universe and man’s place in it.  It is a groping among stars for final answers, a wandering the infinitesimal for the infinitely general, a deeper and deeper pilgrimage into the unknown.  It is a direction whose far beginning in the mists of history can be distantly seen in the search for lost directives in the breakdown of the bicameral mind.

It is a search that is obvious in the omen literature of Assyria where, as we saw in II.4, science begins.  It is also obvious a mere half millennium later when Pythagoras in Greece is seeking the lost invariants of life in a theology of divine numbers and their relationships, thus beginning the science of mathematics.  And so through two millennia, until, with a motivation not different, Galileo calls mathematics the speech of God, or Pascal and Leibnitz echo him, saying they hear God in the awesome rectitudes of mathematics.

We sometimes think, and even like to think, that the two greatest exertions that have influenced mankind, religion and science, have always been historical enemies, intriguing us in opposite directions.  But this effort at special identity is loudly false.  It is not religion but the church and science that were hostile to each other.  And it was rivalry, not contravention.  Both were religious.  They were two giants fuming at each other over the same ground.  Both proclaimed to be the only way to divine revelation.


It was a competition that first came into absolute focus with the late Renaissance, particularly in the imprisonment of Galileo in 1633.  The stated and superficial reason was that his publications had not been first stamped with papal approval.  But the true argument, I am sure, was no such trivial surface event.  For the writings in question were simply the Copernican heliocentric theory of the solar system which had been published a century earlier by a churchman without any fuss whatever.  The real division was more profound and can, I think, only be understood as a part of the urgency behind mankind’s yearning for divine certainties.  The real chasm was between the political authority of the church and the individual authority of experience.  And the real question was whether we are to find our lost authorization through an apostolic succession from ancient prophets who heard divine voices, or through searching the heavens of our own experience right now in the objective world without any priestly intercession.  As we all know, the latter became Protestantism and, in its rationalist aspect, what we have come to call the Scientific Revolution.

If we would understand the Scientific Revolution correctly, we should always remember that its most powerful impetus was the unremitting search for hidden divinity.  As such, it is a direct descendant of the breakdown of the bicameral mind.  In the late seventeenth century, to choose an obvious example, it is three English Protestants, all amateur theologians and fervently devout, who build the foundations for physics, psychology, and biology: the paranoiac Isaac Newton writing down God’s speech in the great universal laws of celestial gravitation; the gaunt and literal John Locke knowing his Most Knowing Being in the riches of knowing experience; and the peripatetic John Ray, an unkempt ecclesiastic out of a pulpit, joyfully limning the Word of his Creator in the perfection of the design of animal and plant life.  Without this religious motivation, science would have been mere technology, limping along on economic necessity.

The next century is complicated by the rationalism of the


Enlightenment, whose main force I shall come to in a moment.  But in the great shadow of the Enlightenment, science continued to be bound up in this spell of the search for divine authorship.  Its most explicit statement came in what was called Deism, or in Germany, Vernumftreligion.  It threw away the church’s “Word,” despised its priests, mocked altar and sacrament, and earnestly preached the reaching of God through reason and science.  The whole universe is an epiphany!  God is right out here in Nature under the stars to be talked with and heard brilliantly in all the grandeur of reason, rather than behind the rood screens of ignorance in the murky mutterings of costumed priests.

Not that such scientific deists were in universal agreement.  For some, like the apostle-hating Reimarus, the modern founder of the science of animal behavior, animal triebe or drives were actually the thoughts of God and their perfect variety his very mind.  Whereas for others, like the physicist Maupertuis, God cared little about any such meaningless variety of phenomena; he lived only in pure abstractions, in the great general laws of Nature which human reason, with the fine devotions of mathematics, could discern behind such variety. [1]   Indeed, the tough-minded materialist scientist today will feel uncomfortable with the fact that science in such divergent and various directions only two centuries ago was a religious endeavor, sharing the same striving as the ancient psalms, the effort to once again see the elohim “face to face.”

This drama, this immense scenario in which humanity has been performing on this planet over the last 4000 years, is clear when we take the large view of the central intellectual tendency of world history.  In the second millennium B.C., we stopped hearing the voices of gods.  In the first millennium B.C., those of us who still heard the voices, our oracles and prophets, they too

1. I discuss this more fully in my paper with William Woodward, “In the Shadow of the Enlightenment,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 1974, 10: 3-15, 144-159.


died away.  In the first millennium A.D., it is their sayings and hearings preserved in sacred texts through which we obeyed our lost divinities.  And in the second millennium A.D., these writings lose their authority.  The Scientific Revolution turns us away from the older sayings to discover the lost authorization in Nature.  What we have been through in these last four millennia is the slow inexorable profaning of our species.  And in the last part of the second millennium A.D., that process is apparently becoming complete.  It is the Great Human Irony of our noblest and greatest endeavor on this planet that in the quest for authorization, in our reading of the language of God in Nature, we should read there so clearly that we have been so mistaken.

This secularization of science, which is now a plain fact, is certainly rooted in the French Enlightenment which I have just alluded to.  But it became rough and earnest in 1842 in Germany in a famous manifesto by four brilliant young physiologists.  They signed it like pirates, actually in their own blood.  Fed up with Hegelian idealism and its pseudoreligious interpretations of material matters, they angrily resolved that no forces other than common physicochemical ones would be considered in their scientific activity.  No spiritual entities.  No divine substances.  No vital forces.  This was the most coherent and shrill statement of scientific materialism up to that time.  And enormously influential.

Five years later, one of their group, the famous physicist and psychologist Hermann von Helmholtz, proclaimed his Principle of the Conservation of Energy.  Joule had said it more kindly, that “the Great Agents of Nature are indestructible,” that sea and sun and coal and thunder and heat and wind are one energy and eternal.  But Helmholtz abhorred the mush of the Romantic.  His mathematical treatment of. the principle coldly placed the emphasis where it has been ever since: there are no outside forces in our closed world of energy transformations. There is no corner


in the stars for any god, no crack in this closed universe of matter for any divine influence to seep through, none whatever.

All this might have respectfully stayed back simply as a mere working tenet for Science, had it not been for an even more stunning profaning of the idea of the holy in human affairs that followed immediately.  It was particularly stunning because it came from within the very ranks of religiously motivated science.  In Britain since the seventeenth century, the study of what was called “natural history” was commonly the consoling joy of finding the perfections of a benevolent Creator in nature.  What more devastation could be heaped upon these tender motivations and consolations than the twin announcement by two of their own midst, Darwin and Wallace, both amateur naturalists in the grand manner, that it was evolution, not a divine intelligence, that has created all nature.  This too had been put earlier in a kindlier way by others, such as Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, or Lamarck, or Robert Chambers, or even in the exaltations of an Emerson or a Goethe.  But the new emphasis was dazzling strong and unrelieving.  Cold Uncalculating Chance, by making some able to survive better in this wrestle for life, and so to reproduce more, generation after generation, has blindly, even cruelly, carved this human species out of matter, mere matter.  When combined with German materialism, as it was in the wantonly abrasive Huxley, as we saw in the Introduction to this essay, the theory of evolution by natural selection was the hollowing knell of all that ennobling tradition of man as the purposed creation of Majestic Greatnesses, the elohim, that goes straight back into the unconscious depths of the Bicameral Age.  It said in a word that there is no authorization from outside.  Behold! there is nothing there.  What we must do must come from ourselves.  The king at Eynan can stop staring at Mount Hermon; the dead king can die at last.  We, we fragile human species at the end of the second millennium A.D., we must become our own authorization.  And here at the end of the second millennium and about to enter the third, we are surrounded with this problem.  It is one


that the new millennium will be working out, perhaps slowly, perhaps swiftly, perhaps even with some further changes in our mentality.

The erosion of the religious view of man in these last years of the second millennium is still a part of the breakdown of the bicameral mind.  It is slowly working serious changes in every fold and field of life.  In the competition for membership among religious bodies today, it is the older orthodox positions, ritually closer to the long apostolic succession into the bicameral past, that are most diminished by conscious logic.  The changes in the Catholic Church since Vatican II can certainly be scanned in terms of this long retreat from the sacred which has followed the inception of consciousness into the human species.  The decay of religious collective cognitive imperatives under the pressures of rationalist science, provoking, as it does, revision after revision of traditional theological concepts, cannot sustain the metaphoric meaning behind ritual.  Rituals are behavioral metaphors, belief acted, divination foretold, exopsychic thinking.  Rituals are mnemonic devices for the great narratizations at the heart of church life.  And when they are emptied out into cults of spontaneity and drained of their high seriousness, when they are acted unfelt and reasoned at with irresponsible objectivity, the center is gone and the widening gyres begin.  The result in this age of communications has been worldwide: liturgy loosened into the casual, awe softening in relevance, and the washing out of that identity-giving historical definition that told man what he was and what he should be.  These sad temporizings, often begun by a bewildered clergy, [2] do but encourage the great historical tide they are designed to deflect.  Our paralogical compliance to verb-

2. Theologians are well aware èf these problems.  To enter into their discussions, one might start with Harvey Cox’s The Secular City and then Mary Douglas’ Natural Symbols, and then Charles Davis’ “Ghetto or Desert: Liturgy in a Cultural Dilemma,” in Worship and Secularization, ed. Wiebe (Vos, Holland: Bussum, 1970), pp. 10-27, and follow that with James Hitchcock’s The Recovery of the Sacred (New York: Seabury Press, 1974).


ally mediated reality is diminished: we crash into chairs in our way, not go around them; we will be mute rather than say we do not understand our speech; we will insist on simple location.  It is the divine tragedy or the profane comedy depending on whether we would be purged of the past or quickened into the future.

What happens in this modern dissolution of ecclesiastical authorization reminds us a little of what happened long ago after the breakdown of the bicameral mind itself.  Everywhere in the contemporary world there are substitutes, other methods of authorization.  Some are revivals of ancient ones: the popularity of possession religions in South America, where the church had once been so strong; extreme religious absolutism ego-based on “the Spirit,” which is really the ascension of Paul over Jesus; an alarming rise in the serious acceptance of astrology, that direct heritage from the period of the breakdown of the bicameral mind in the Near East; or the more minor divination of the I Ching, also a direct heritage from the period just after the breakdown in China.  There are also the huge commercial and sometimes psychological successes of various meditation procedures, sensitivity training groups, mind control, and group encounter practices.  Other persuasions often seem like escapes from a new boredom of unbelief, but are also characterized by this search for authorization: faiths in various pseudosciences, as in scientology, or in unidentified flying objects bringing authority from other parts of our universe, or that gods were at one time actually such visitors; or the stubborn muddled fascination with extrasensory perception as a supposed demonstration of a spiritual surround of our lives whence some authorization might come; or the use of psychotropic drugs as ways of contacting profounder realities, as they were for most of the American native Indian civilizations in the breakdown of their bicameral mind.  Just as we saw in III.2 that the collapse of the institutionalized oracles resulted in smaller cults of induced possession, so the waning of institutional religions is resulting in these


smaller, more private religions of every description.  And this historical process can be expected to increase the rest of this century.

Nor can we say that modern science itself is exempt from a similar patterning.  For the modern intellectual landscape is informed with the same needs, and often in its larger contours goes through the same quasi-religious gestures, though in a slightly disguised form.  These scientisms, as I shall call them, are clusters of scientific ideas which come together and almost surprise themselves into creeds of belief, scientific mythologies which fill the very felt void left by the divorce of science and religion in our time. [3]  They differ from classical science and its common debates in the way they evoke the same response as did the religions which they seek to supplant.  And they share with religions many of their most obvious characteristics: a rational splendor that explains everything, a charismatic leader or succession of leaders who are highly visible and beyond criticism, a series of canonical texts which are somehow outside the usual arena of scientific criticism, certain gestures of idea and rituals of interpretation, and a requirement of total commitment.  In return the adherent receives what the religions had once given him more universally: a world view, a hierarchy of importances, and an auguring place where he may find out what to do and think, in short, a total explanation of man.  And this totality is obtained not by actually explaining everything, but by an encasement of its activity, a severe and absolute restriction of attention, such that everything that is not explained is not in view.

The materialism I have just mentioned was one of the first such scientisms.  Scientists in the middle of the nineteenth century were almost numbed with excitement by dramatic discoveries of how nutrition could change the bodies and minds of

3. George Steiner in his articulate Massey Lectures of 1974 called these “mythologies” and discussed the point at greater length.


men.  And so it became a movement called Medical Materialism, identified with relieving poverty and pain, taking to itself some of the forms and all of the fervor of the religions eroding around it.  It captured the most exciting minds of its generation, and its program sounds distantly familiar: education, not prayers; nutrition, not communion; medicine, not love; and politics, not preaching.

Distantly familiar because Medical Materialism, still haunted with Hegel, matured in Marx and Engels into dialectical materialism, gathering to itself even more of the ecclesiastical forms of the outworn faiths around it.  Its central superstition then, as now, is that of the class struggle, a kind of divination which gives a total explanation of the past and predecides what to do in every office and alarm of life.  And even though ethnicism, nationalism, and unionism, those collective identity markers of modern man, have long ago showed the mythical character of the class struggle, still Marxism today is joining armies of millions into battle to erect the most authoritarian states the world has ever seen.

In the medical sciences, the most prominent scientism, I think, has been psychoanalysis.  Its central superstition is repressed childhood sexuality.  The handful of early cases of hysteria which could be so interpreted become the metaphiers by which to understand all personality and art, all civilization and its discontents.  And it too, like Marxism, demands total commitment, initiation procedures, a worshipful relation to its canonical texts,, and gives in return that same assistance in decision and direction in life which a few centuries ago was the province of religion.

And, to take an example. closer to my own tradition, I will add behaviorism.  For it too has its central auguring place in a handful of rat and pigeon experiments, making them the metaphiers of all behavior and history.  It too gives to the individual adherent the talisman of control by reinforcement contingencies by which he is to meet his world and understand its vagaries.  And even though the radical environmentalism behind it, of belief in a tabula rasa organism that can be built up into anything by rein-


forcement has long been known to be questionable, given the biologically evolved aptic structuring of each organism, these principles still draw adherents into the hope of a new society based upon such control.

Of course these scientisms about man begin with something that is true.  That nutrition can improve health both of mind and body is true.  The class struggle as Marx studied it in the France of Louis Napoleon was a fact.  The relief of hysterical symptoms in a few patients by analysis of sexual memories probably happened.  And hungry animals or anxious men certainly will learn instrumental responses for food or approbation.  These are true facts.  But so is the shape of a liver of a sacrificed animal a true fact.  And so the Ascendants and Midheavens of astrologers, or the shape of oil on water.  Applied to the world as representative of all the world, facts become superstitions.  A superstition is after all only a metaphier grown wild to serve a need to know.  Like the entrails of animals or the flights of birds, such scientistic superstitions become the preserved ritualized places where we may read out the past and future of man, and hear the answers that can authorize our actions.

Science then, for all its pomp of factness, is not unlike some of the more easily disparaged outbreaks of pseudoreligions.  In this period of transition from its religious basis, science often shares with the celestial maps of astrology, or a hundred other irrationalisms, the same nostalgia for the Final Answer, the One Truth, the Single Cause.  In the frustrations and sweat of laboratories, it feels the same temptations to swarm into sects, even as did the Khabiru refugees, and set out here and there through the dry Sinais of parched fact for some rich and brave significance flowing with truth and exaltation.  And all of this, my metaphor and all, is a part of this transitional period after the breakdown of the bicameral mind.

And this essay is no exception.


Curiously, none of these contemporary movements tells us anything about what we are supposed to be like after the wrinkles in our nutrition have been ironed smooth, or “the withering away of the state” has occurred, or our libidos have been properly cathected, or the chaos of reinforcements has been made straight.  Instead their allusion is mostly backward, telling us what has gone wrong, hinting of some cosmic disgrace, some earlier stunting of our potential.  It is, I think, yet another characteristic of the religious form which such movements have taken over in the emptiness caused by the retreat of ecclesiastical certainty - that of a supposed fall of man.

This strange and, I think, spurious idea of a lost innocence takes its mark precisely in the breakdown of the bicameral mind as the first great conscious narratization of mankind.  It is the song of the Assyrian psalms, the wail of the Hebrew hymns, the myth of Eden, the fundamental fall from divine favor that is the source and first premise of the world’s great religions.  I interpret this hypothetical fall of man to be the groping of newly conscious men to narratize what has happened to them, the loss of divine voices and assurances in a chaos of human directive and selfish privacies.

We see this theme of lost certainty and splendor not only stated by all the religions of man throughout history, but also again and again even in nonreligious intellectual history.  It is there from the reminiscence theory of the Platonic Dialogues, that everything new is really a recalling of a lost better world, all the way to Rousseau’s complaint of the corruption of natural man by the artificialities of civilization.  And we see it also in the modern scientisms I have mentioned: in Marx’s assumption of a lost “social childhood of mankind where mankind unfolds in complete beauty,” so clearly stated in his earlier writings, an innocence corrupted by money, a paradise to be regained.  Or in the Freudian emphasis on the deep-seatedness of neurosis in civilization and of dreadful primordial acts and wishes in both


our racial and individual pasts; and by inference a previous innocence, quite unspecified, to which we return through psychoanalysis.  Or in behaviorism, if less distinctly, in the undocumented faith that it is the chaotic reinforcements of development and the social process that must be controlled and ordered to return man to a quite unspecified ideal before these reinforcements had twisted his true nature awry.

I therefore believe that these and many other movements of our time are in the great long picture of our civilizations related to the loss of an earlier organization of human natures.  They are attempts to return to what is no longer there, like poets to their inexistent Muses, and as such they are characteristic of these transitional millennia in which we are imbedded.

I do not mean that the individual thinker, the reader of this page or its writer, or Galileo or Marx, is so abject a creature as to have any conscious articulate willing to reach either the absolutes of gods or to return to a preconscious innocence.  Such terms are meaningless applied to individual lives and removed from the larger context of history.  It is only if we make generations our persons and centuries hours that the pattern is clear.

As individuals we are at the mercies of our own collective imperatives.  We see over our everyday attentions, our gardens and politics, and children, into the forms of our culture darkly.  And our culture is our history.  In our attempts to communicate or to persuade or simply interest others, we are using and moving about through cultural models among whose differences we may select, but from whose totality we cannot escape.  And it is in this sense of the forms of appeal, of begetting hope or interest or appreciation or praise for ourselves or for our ideas, that our communications are shaped into these historical patterns, these grooves of persuasion which are even in the act of communication an inherent part of what is communicated.  And this essay is no exception.


No exception at all.  It began in what seemed in my personal narratizations as an individual choice of a problem with which I have had an intense involvement for most of my life: the problem of the nature and origin of all this invisible country of touchless rememberings and unshowable reveries, this introcosm that is more myself than anything I can find in any mirror.  But was this impulse to discover the source of consciousness what it appeared to me?  The very notion of truth is a culturally given direction, a part of the pervasive nostalgia for an earlier certainty.  The very idea of a universal stability, an eternal firmness of principle out there that can be sought for through the world as might an Arthurian knight for the Grail, is, in the morphology of history, a direct outgrowth of the search for lost gods in the first two millennia after the decline of the bicameral mind.  What was then an augury for direction of action among the ruins of an archaic mentality is now the search for an innocence of certainty among the mythologies of facts.