The Relationship of the Bicameral Mind and the Paranormal

Julian Jaynes, Paul Kurtz, and D.C. Stove

Ian Waggett

Class of 1996


I. What is the relationship of Jaynes's theory of the Bicameral mind to Kurtz's theory of the paranormal?

The first aspect of this relationship is a similarity: both Jaynes and Kurtz have abandoned any physical proof of religion, judging the religious proclivity of man to be purely psychological.1 This point is best explained by comparing their views relating Moses to the mediums and psychics of the paranormal. According to Kurtz, Moses was a blood-thirsty charlatan who satiated his ego by collecting around him a wanton group of Egyptians, whom he deceived and enchanted using magic. In an identical fashion and under equally unscrupulous designs, Kurtz holds, mediums such as Eusapia Palladino and Daniel Home, and psychics such as Uri Geller, duped their followers (TT2; 337,390). However, Jaynes proposes a different theory in which it is difficult to make such a direct relation between Moses and twentieth-century mediums; Moses lives at the period of the "breakdown of the bicameral mind," and is acting under sincere hallucinations, and a genuine instinct to be a leader because of such an ability ­ Moses is still very close to our universal bicameral ancestor (BB3; 301-3).

Therefore, for Jaynes, contemporary mediums are, in fact, a distant and quite distinct counterpart to Moses. In overview, Jaynes sees a significant gap between Moses and mediums, while Kurtz believes them to be alike. What is important here, however, is that neither Kurtz nor Jaynes allows any physical explanation of god, concerning themselves solely with the psychology that demands either because of nostalgia or weakness, god. Next, let us examine a paraphrased model of the origins of religion according to Jaynes. The model has two parts: part one is the "religion of intimacy," in which man is bicameral and has no volition, acting purely under the authority of aural and visual hallucinations. The "breakdown" then ushers in part two, where man is introspective, has a mind space, can narrate his actions, but is prone to a "bicameral paradigm."

This is Jaynes's evolutionary scheme of religion, the process of which gave birth to consciousness. However, Jaynes has no pretensions of explaining logic, philosophy or any other "secular developments" that are "beyond the purview" of his investigation (BB; 319). They hang in the air rejectedly, jeopardizing Jaynes's theory. Enter: Paul Kurtz. Although Kurtz can seem, in contrast to Jaynes, dangerously negligent concerning the origins of religion, he nevertheless allows that there must have existed, at least, a period when man needed a "religious instinct" (TT; 350, 387, 433). Kurtz would go on to suggest that Jaynes's "bicameral paradigm," because it is harbored in a self conscious man, can be manipulated, dismantled, or unlearned.4 In other words, man may no longer be, in this time since the "breakdown," a puppet of evolution. He is rather a man of conviction and self-authority ­ a puppet, then, solely to his fellow man.

In essence, Kurtz outlines an alternative development since 1500 B.C. in which religion has been alone a malicious parody of the weak, undisciplined nature of humankind. Hence the differing terminology explaining, essentially, one phenomenon: the transcendental temptation and the bicameral paradigm. Out of this distinction, appears another for Kurtz and Jaynes. Which instinct claims greater squatter's rights in man's soul, logic and critical intelligence, or the bicameral paradigm? If the structures of the paranormal are true, Kurtz describes ironically, "it [is] clear that our most basic conceptual schemata would have to be altered" (TT; 377), implying that the indigenous instinct in the human soul is the materialistic and secular foundation, logic.

Furthermore, the religious component is not only "the outrageous violation of all principles of common sense," "flying in the face of our standard modes of perceiving the world" but is also responsible for "[breaking] down our critical defenses against folly" (TT; 352, 361, 330). Or, on the contrary, crucial to Jaynes, humans are already altering their most conceptual schemata, the bicameral paradigm, when they act logically.5 In which respect, Jaynes sets apart the religious inherent instinct from the transient instinct of logic. Nonetheless, both theorists give religion and logic a fair shake as the two dominant instincts in man, and would perhaps even agree on the violence of religiousness in the history of mankind. Ultimately though, whether or not our religiousness can be criticized at all, not to mention against ethical, moral, or even utilitarian standards, depends wholly on the meaning of instinct with relation to religion and logic in the post-breakdown man. If the previous discussion on the inherence of critical intelligence can be simplified as the difference between a beam of light that is simply darkened by a cloak, and a beam of light that is able to be fully turned off,6 perhaps this next idea can be introduced as the difference between a substitution and an abstraction. It is Jaynes's hypothesis about religions today that the "modern dissolution of ecclesiastical authorization reminds us a little of what happened long after the breakdown of the bicameral mind itself.

Everywhere in the contemporary world there are substitutes, other methods of authorization[...]: faiths in various pseudosciences, as in scientology, or in unidentified flying objects bringing authority from other parts of our universe; or the stubborn muddled fascination with extrasensory perception as a supposed demonstration of a spiritual surround of our lives whence some authorization might come" (BB; 440). As such, any religion today is a distant echo of our first prayer, and a relative to our first anxiety at immortality and decision making. Such a clean-cut definition for Kurtz, does not give man the benefit of the doubt; regardless of its origins, religion today is merely the weak side of man's psychology, colloquially called faith, but more precisely appraised as our "gullibility, ignobility, and our intransigent will-to-believe" (TT; 349-50). Thus, contemporary religion is no more than an abstraction from its origins ­ it exists, but alienated from its original environment, it is a dangerous and foolish practice.7

Again, from the previous topic we derive another distinction, this time looking at the dualistic view of human nature that Kurtz and Jaynes share. To paraphrase Jaynes, a main reason that bicamerality ever appeared was as a means of social control wherein there emerged a leader, who was charismatic, adept with magic, and possessed the skills necessary to convey his private hallucinations. Following him was a group of people that responded blindly to authority, as humans needed to learn to act as a group in order to survive (BB; 126-9). It follows logically that this dynamic carries over into all religions following the "breakdown."

Those hungry for a lost sense of volition and authority represent the followers, and those for whom talent has made them prophets and psychics, represent the leaders. At this point, it is easy to predict a possible response from Kurtz that such dualism in human nature is no longer innate, and is entirely in vain; religion is simply that weakness of character by which we are quickly duped because of "the persistence of 'magical thinking' in human psychology" (TT; 350). In other words, religion cloaks the revealing beam of logic, which would ordinarily guard us from fraud and illusion. So, for Kurtz also there are two groups of people in religion ­ the fraud and the fool ­ but these are very unlike the two proposed by Jaynes. In this final comparison, looking at quotes from Jaynes and Kurtz, we will try to learn what exactly each author predicts or hopes with regards to religion. First, from these few moments taken from Jaynes, what seems most pervasive is a psychological "divine kingdom" that Jaynes had mentioned beforehand. For some reason, however, it is beyond his theoretical grasp:

For, in spite of all that rationalist materialist science has implied since the Scientific Revolution, mankind as a whole has not, does not, and perhaps cannot relinquish his fascination with some human type of relationship to a greater and wholly other[.] Thus, as the slow withdrawing tide of divine voices and presences strands more and more of each population on the sands of subjective uncertainties, the variety of technique by which man attempts to make contact with his lost ocean of authority becomes extended (BB; 318, 320).

Seemingly, Jaynes says with resignation that man will always be the parody of evolution, in that he will continue precariously among conditions for which he was spiritually not designed, suffering, thereby, innumerable diseases of the soul. In this way, it is difficult to see room either for the power of the individual, or for the conviction of self consciousness. These things are perhaps what Kurtz offers:

There is still a great fascination with unknown monsters, whether dragons of the deep or other potentially ferocious animals. All of this is no doubt understandable, given the history of the human species stretching back to its primeval origins. Today man threatens the gods in their heavenly abode itself. He seeks to leap out, populate other planets beyond the earth, to unravel and conquer the mysteries of the cosmos. Will it be too much for man? Will his courage collapse? Will the transcendental temptation again overwhelm his audacity with new forms of space-age religious myths?(TT; 445,446)

Indeed, although Kurtz allows for ancient origins of religious behavior, he invests a greater deal in what it means for humans to be self-conscious, acting under personal volition, and the ability to extend logic and common sense beyond primitive cravings. More clearly, Kurtz sets an agenda so that man overcomes the will-to-believe using the force of will power gained after the "breakdown." The relationship between Kurtz's theory of the paranormal and Jaynes's theory of the bicameral mind has been demonstrated here as the theory of religion since the "breakdown," for it is that relationship that is most exciting. Perhaps it is also important to stress that, despite differing prognoses and evaluations of the self-conscious man concerning religion, neither author denies the inherence in man of spirituality, or its importance.

II. Are claims about the paranormal a survival from an ancient mentality?

The answer is yes, but with a few clarifications. Ancient mentality divides into before the breakdown, "religion of intimacy," and after the breakdown, "religion of worship (the bicameral paradigm)." The two sources on ancient mentality will be the Bible and Julian Jaynes. Also, this term "survival" we understand two ways: (1) the parapsychological, our psychological roots born of the breakdown that have traits from this original psyche, and (2) the paranormal, the direct images of our behavior before the breakdown. All of this assumes the paranormal as a unique response of man's religious nature to contemporary stimuli.

The first leg of this discussion approaches the parapsychological as an evolved form of that ancient mentality Jaynes calls the bicameral paradigm. Since the breakdown, man, in his attempts to bring back his intimate god has effectively "internalized," and made subjective reality, of what used to be an external, objective reality. Put more simply: before the "breakdown," men such as Amos conferred directly with God. At the moment of the breakdown, some men, like Moses, could still inquire of God directly to make decisions, thus serving as a prophet to the masses. Later, as the hallucinations ceded further, more and more religion became personalized and interpretive (i.e., the laws of Deuteronomy, the speculation of Job, and the melancholy of Ecclesiastes). The most sensitive example of this progression in the Bible is written in the first book of Samuel. Saul is king, and for the first time God stops appearing to him.

In desperate need of advice, Saul calls on a woman-medium to induce his hallucination not of God, but of Samuel to whom he begs, "I am in great trouble; the Philistines are pressing me and God has turned away; he no longer answers me through prophets or through dreams, and I have summoned you to tell me what I should do" (28:15­The New English Bible). Thus, god has been transformed from a physical manifestation to a spirit in a process one might call the "internalization" of god.8 Now, it seems that phenomena such as ESP, telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition are organic to this process; the power and character of god has become so fleeting and ambiguous, man is forced to internalize god deeper, so that finally, it is the actual mind of each man that houses god's powers. In the psyche of man, god has retained his principle characteristics authority and volition but has transferred his omnipotence from the external physical world of hallucinations to the vacant corners of consciousness.

It is to this new space that we now turn. Our mind space is an invaluable construct of our consciousness: "We [can] imagine 'ourselves' 'doing' this or that, and thus 'make' decisions on the basis of imagined 'outcomes' that would be impossible if we did not have an imagined 'self' behaving in an imagined 'world'"(BB; 63). However, man since the breakdown is increasingly weary of the truth and gnawing independence of this, his own consciousness, that runs parallel to the sheer impossibility to "resurrect" god. Hence, the desperate strategy of a cornered animal: deny the present truth and, in turn, the present consciousness for a greater, and yet unexplored one, in the paranormal. For this reason Kurtz gives the strange spatial description of paranormal phenomena as "existing besides, beyond, or alongside the normal," which meanwhile "do violence to our scientific view of the world" and "defy physical explanations, requir[ing] a psychological one" (TT; 359, 362, 363). Here then, ESP and the other phenomenon of "parapsychosis" are actually an expansion (survival, if you will) of the original mind space that was elemental to the consciousness endowed us at the breakdown of the bicameral mind. It now remains, in order to demonstrate the roots of an ancient mentality in the paranormal, to discuss examples of behavioral holdovers from the era of a "religion of intimacy."

Let us begin with the "will to believe" -- a Kurtzian euphemism for the predisposition to illogical belief. As concerns the paranormal, there seem only two scenarios that induce this state. The first deals with man's susceptibility to illusion, best summarized as the "Geller effect," so called for the legendary superpsychic Uri Geller. "If people believed that he possessed psychic powers, they tended to believe that what they saw [simply magic] was miraculous, a self-confirming prophecy" (TT; 393). The second scenario is more complex, what Jaynes calls "trance logic." Because of cultural influence or environmental provocation, phenomena are believed perhaps contrary to obvious evidence. These scenarios for a priori belief, are innumerable in the Bible (i.e., Moses' Tent of Presence and Jesus' Resurrection), and are for Jaynes, fundamental to early bicameral civilizations. In addition to the will-to-believe, man is mysteriously impressed by charismatic personalities.

This is clearly a direct vestige of a different mentality. According to Jaynes such personages existed even in ancient times (e.g., the Sibyls of the first century B.C., or even Jaynes's speculative "first god," the dead king of Eynan in the ninth century B.C.), who, because they were clever and deceptive, were able to rule other humans. Thereby, natural selection ensures the leader of a group is so chosen for his keenness rather than his brawn. In the turn-of-the-century world of the paranormal, Kurtz has given biographies of two such figures: Daniel Home and Eusapia Palladino.

These two mediums employed identical means of convincing their audience as once did Paleolithic kings. Both played on man's "passionate predisposition to invest existence with hidden meaning, based on a hope that there may be an afterlife" (TT; 349), not to mention Home's reputable "personal charm, frankness, and affection" or Eusapia's "erotic charms." Of course, the evidence showing the connection between the paranormal and an ancient mentality could be extended, but such a discourse is subjunctive and overshadows the first section. The goal for this section has been to give logic to the response of the third section. But the answer is still yes: from the time of a "religion of intimacy" man still displays exact behavioral tendencies. Following the "breakdown," man's psychology often reveals ancient footprints that have evolved and changed. Clearly, the paranormal is a remnant of man's evolution, but that sedimentary trait is receding in our time.

III. Are the phenomena of religion and the paranormal sufficiently similar to be understood through one theory?

It follows only logically, that if Kurtz can be shown to recognize primitive origins of religion as seen in sections I and II, then the response in section III is certainly that one theory contains both the phenomena of religion, and of the paranormal. The theory is a composite of Jaynes's ideas on the evolution of religion, and the idea developed here concerning the "internalization" of religion. In the end, it will be clear how the paranormal can be considered another religion, and yet a much lesser cousin to our original religious pangs. An example of this composite theory one might see in the scientist J.B. Rhine. In Kurtz's description, Rhine was also compelled to abandon any physical explanation of religion, under the assumption that the problem was purely psychological.

For Kurtz, and Jaynes as well, any physical manifestation of religion is only symptomatic of a greater psychological condition. Moreover, Rhine also proposed a correlation between the parapsychological and religion because he felt it might "offer a way to reconcile the claims of religion with the principles of science" (TT; 364). This is a goal that involves both Kurtz and Jaynes; religion is a vestige of a different time, but not one that precludes man's belief in his own individuality. Finally, although Rhine may have been too eager in his belief in parapsychology, what we take away as the first tenet of this composite theory, is his principle that the universe may be "a personal universe, with a type of intelligent purposive agency within it to which man can with rational confidence turn for helpful communication" (TT; 364). Next, why can we assume the paranormal is an extension of a religious tendency? From the discussion of question II, religion and the paranormal in their similarities share common ancestors: one in certain behavioral patterns from the "religion of intimacy," and the other in that psychological scheme that Kurtz calls the "transcendental temptation" and Jaynes, the "bicameral paradigm."

What helps to bind them together however is what Stove calls the delusive immediate sensory origin of religion. This term Stove coined in order to show that, despite the impotency of Jaynes's theory because it relied too heavily on hallucinated voices, the motive has merit. "Religion is something which, first, is delusive, and second, has an immediate sensory quality, available and familiar to all."10 And, in this way, our composite theory does work, using Kurtz to show what is erroneous about religion, and Jaynes to describe its inherence in man. The first section of this essay developed one aspect of the relationship between Kurtz's paranormal and Jaynes's theory of the bicameral mind as the difference between abstraction and substitution.

This too needs to be reconciled into the new theory, and is easily explained using the idea of the "internalization" of religion. In other words, because man continues to internalize god in response to god's cessation, by finding new substitutes for authority and volition, he can only hope to gain an abstracted sense of god. This holds because the collective cognitive imperative is infinitely changing and growing. In conclusion, our theory states that the gods are disappearing and our coping mechanisms of internalizing god, in response to changing stimuli, produce consistently unique "belief systems" that are, nonetheless, religions. This theory also gives needed foundation both to Kurtz, whose critique of religion lacked roots, and to Jaynes who fails to allot man the conviction endemic of man's consciousness. The binding off on the theory is that ultimately it will be the systems of logic and common sense that will prevail at the demise of religion. We should not forget, however, that this does not forsake our spirituality but merely redirects it.


1Until dealt with in more detail in section II, it must be assumed that Kurtz recognizes the paranormal as a form of religion. 2Paul Kurtz, The Transcendental Temptation: A Critique of Religion and the Paranormal (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1986). 3Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin, 1990). 4This is Kurtz's hypothetical response to Jaynes's notions of hypnosis that "[...] if we fully realize that consciousness is a culturally learned event, balanced over the suppressed vestiges of an earlier mentality, then we see that consciousness, in part, can be culturally unlearned or arrested" (BB; 398). 5See Jaynes's discussion of the paralogical compliance to verbally mediated reality: "[...]the rules of logic[...]are an external standard of truth, not the way the mind works"(BB; 390). 6D.C. Stove, "The Oracles & Their Cessation: A Tribute to Julian Jaynes." Encounter 73(April 1989):31. 7This is much like our problematic sexuality or our dangerous cravings for salt, sugar and fat. 8Class notes: 5 December 1995. 9This phrase actually comes from William James. 10D.C. Stove, "The Oracles & Their Cessation: A Tribute to Julian Jaynes." Encounter 73 (April 1989):35.


Kurtz, Paul. The Transcendental Temptation: A Critique of Religion and the Paranormal Buffulo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1986.

Jaynes, Julian. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.

Stove, D.C. "The Oracles & Their Cessation: A Tribute to Julian Jaynes," Encounter 73 (April 1989): 30-8.

The New English Bible New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.