This blog is named after the theory advanced by Julian Jaynes. In his seminal book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Jaynes presented a case that attempted to explain how mythology and the notion of gods and goddesses speaking to lowly mortals was introduced into our culture. In a nutshell, he hypothesized that humans – as recently as 3,000 years ago – operated under an entirely unique canopy of brain activity. They were in an entirely different mental state – a bicameral mentality. One of the chief distinct characteristics was that cognitive functions were divided into two distinct, individual sectors. Therefore, one half of the brain appeared to be speaking, while the other half listened and obeyed.
According to Jaynes, humans appeared to be in a suspended state of schizophrenia. The right hemisphere of the brain communicated to the left hemisphere through inducing auditory hallucinations. They appeared not to know this voice was internal – hence the misidentifying it as a god. This spell was broken through the introduction of metaphorical language. It was with language, that modern day thought – and consciousness – was born.
This theory has always captured my imagination. One of the major reasons why is that I feel true inspirational writing originates from this wellspring that Jaynes alluded to – the sector that appeared to be speaking with a voice people attributed to gods. Since language seemed to be the component Jaynes identified as necessary to rouse modern day conscious thought and abstract formulation, it seems not a far leap to attribute this same process to the place where the writer dips his pen.
I’ve always held a similar view of writing. I’ve described the state of being held captive in writing a story, as being a glorified court reporter. The characters, dialog and action appear out of that murky realm of unconsciousness and the wine dark sea. I simply transfer it to page by accurately recording what is said.
While the inception of my stories usually begin with an idea – a conscious idea, that’s where the logical thought train ends. The idea remains untouched, unwritten undesecrated until my own goddess – my wondrous writing muse – stirs from her hidden lair. Out of nowhere, dialog appears – and I hear my characters speak. In fact, I never begin a story until this occurs. Unlike the my ancestors, I can identify it as not being an outside voice as normal convention dictates, but an inner voice that Jaynes refers to.
When the muse is ready to speak is not clear. It most often happens during mundane activities – and I dare not think what would happen if I were not ready. In the case of my second book, The Horns of September, the entire first chapter was spoken to me when I was trying to shower. I ran to the computer and took it down – verbatim. Then came the ending and two paragraphs in the middle. While I liked what I heard, I was confounded as to what it all meant. There I sat at the computer reading over the beginning, middle and end of a story that I had no idea was a story. I remember scratching my head wondering how these disparate parts were ever going to come together. I suppose it would be like looking at a two pieces of bread and trying to conceptualize them as a French Toast … or a club sandwich … without knowing there were such recipes. I was as surprised as anyone when I began writing and found out what went in-between. I experienced all the highs and lows, twists and turns since it was all news to me. My muse had deigned to tell me a story – I anxiously listened.
For me it’s a struggle to explain. People look at me with a mixture of pity and superiority. They try to tell me the story came from me and I steadfastedly assure them that it comes from something within me. It makes a huge difference and is more than a point of contention – upon it hinges what drives the story.
I have my own theories on brain activity and how this all fits into the Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses. Of course, in the case of delving into such mysteries, having a fleeting bite of a passing answer only sends you further down the rabbit hole.
I run this idea by those of you who write – as well as those who read – I can identify with both. For even when I write, I’m told a story by the most marvelous of creatures – my muse.
I dare not stop her, for I have unwittingly stirred her from her sleep with my pleas of her dispensing her skill and wiles. And like the good muse she is, when wrested from her sleep, she did not punish, but acquiesced under the unspoken promise of adoration about the glorious process from her dutiful servant.
My hat remains tipped to this goddess within me. Until I meet her on a more solidified and formal basis I listen to her words. I sit – meekly and obediently – writing it all down.
Mr. Jaynes, I believe you were onto something.