Jaynesian Consciousness

In Short:

Jaynesian consciousness is the ability to carry an elaborate metaphorical representation of the world (including yourself) around with you inside your head.

In more detail:

For Julian Jaynes, consciousness is not simply the quality of having a brain, senses, reactivity, or being awake. It is not a fundamental property of our human brains. It is not written into our genetic code or built into our biology.

Put simply, Jaynesian consciousness is the ability to carry an elaborate metaphorical representation of the world (including yourself) around with you inside your head. It is the ability to have a sort of puppet-show inside your head when planning an action. You can take a mental representation of yourself, put it into a room with a mental representation of another person and use what you know about them both to predict how an interaction might go.

Our ability to hold this puppet-show is dependent on a certain complexity of language. Specifically, this ability depends on language’s ability to generate metaphors that can be used to create a mind-space in which the puppets can be moved around.

Because this ability depends on language, Jaynes’s definition would hold that animals are not conscious, nor are human babies or children that have not yet reached a certain level of linguistic understanding. He even believes that consciousness as he defined it developed more recently than human writing and believes that he can roughly pinpoint the arrival of consciousness by sifting through ancient texts looking for signs.

Further Reading:

For an even more in-depth look at this concept, see our (as yet unwritten) review of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, or — better yet — read the book itself.
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