Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bicameralism for Kids

Bicameralism (the philosophy of "two-chamberedness") is the idea that the human brain is made out of two separate parts that have their own thoughts, experiences, and senses to perceive the world. 

Julian Jaynes, who must have gotten a good score on the SAT because he went to Harvard, McGill University AND Yale, wrote a book about this concept in 1975 and called it The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (I think he might have also won an award for the dumbest title given to a smart idea)

In this book, he explained how early humans were pretty much just going with the flow, doing things without really giving them much thought....

That is, until an emergency or new experience came their way. Then, the quiet them (the left-side of their brain) that went along with things - making fire, hunting, eating, going to the bathroom - heard a voice, a voice they didn't recognize. 

Now, some people thought this voice was coming from outside their heads. "Is that you, God?" 

But others weren't so sure. According to Bicameralism, the voice they heard was the right-side of their brain! The smarty pants of their brain, what Jaynes called their "silent" side. In the face of danger or something new and totally cool - look, fire! - the other side of their brain all of a sudden spoke up and said, "Fire's hot, dummy...don't touch it!" 

So, there you have it, kids! Bicameralism is basically the idea that the voices in our heads are perfectly natural, normal even. 

Somehow when we're being formed in our mother's wombs, the universe takes some pretty dull material (earth and some left over particles and chemicals) and shapes it into this Zombie-like brain... which I like to call our biological mechanism. This biological mechanism is like our Inner Zombie.

And we all know what Zombies want: healthy brains - so much so they might mistake one for a sandwich and try to eat it! Yuck!

Since the Zombie part of our brains don't think, and because our Zombie brain has a big appetite, it goes around mindlessly looking for food, mindlessly reading this post, mindlessly driving down the road - all the while thinking about other things. Essentially, our Zombie brain is on automatic pilot until something important comes up...

That's when the conscious side of our brain send a message through the corpus callosum, the part of the brian that connects both sides or cerebral hemispheres, and says, "Hey, you're lost in the woods, pay attention, dummy!" 

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