Professor Julian Jaynes's lecture "Consciousness and the Voices of the Mind," presented at Tufts University. For more information on Jaynes's groundbreaking theory, or to purchase the entire lecture, please visit the Julian Jaynes Society at julianjaynes.org.
“Few problems have had a more interesting trajectory through intellectual history as that of the problem of consciousness or mind and its place in nature. Now, before the theory of evolution this was known of course as the mind-body problem — those of you who've taken philosophy know of its various kinds of rather ponderous solutions.
But since the theory of evolution, this has become bared into a scientific problem of the origin of consciousness in evolution. Where could all this interior world that we have and walk around the world with and make decisions with and so on — where could that have come from in evolution?
The first important thing I want to get across tonight is this problem, because it's a problem that has been shelved all through this curious period of behaviorism that psychologists have been going through, up to the last ten years, when things began to change.
And the problem is that evolution says that just with molecules, and chance, and various mechanisms of evolution you get all the species that there are in the world. How out of that, how out of mere matter, can you get all this different quality of thing that goes on when we introspect?
That is the problem.
Now after the theory of evolution there were various kinds of solutions to that. There was something called Neo-Realism at one time, in which they felt that indeed one could take the interrelationships of matter and somehow that would turn into consciousness — something that’s had a bit of a revival when people have tried to understand the paradoxes of quantum physics nowadays. I think a very muddled kind of solution.
But then people like Charles Darwin felt that conscious began with the first one-celled animals and then had this marvelous evolution just as species did. And this didn’t satisfy people.
And so we had a whole group of people who said that the criterion for consciousness in evolution had to be learning. That was based on a fallacy too. It was the fallacy of the association of ideas. They felt learning was the association of ideas, so that when an animal could learn it had to have ideas, and that was consciousness — all very superficial kinds of thinking.
And then we had something called emergent evolution, which is having another revival today. Which really says nothing, but it says something interesting in a metaphor. That just as you put together hydrogen and oxygen and you can get water with wetness to it, but you can’t deduce that wetness from either of these two things alone. So somehow you put together the nervous system until you get a critical mass or something of that sort, and low and behold you get consciousness. That too is having a revival in the present day, but I think it really says nothing in the sense of setting up a hypothesis that you can go and test.
But of course finally it came down to where the problem seemed insoluble, back around 1910, and then you had Behaviorism which simply said consciousness doesn’t exist, and therefore the whole problem is a little bit ridiculous.
Well, the problem is back with us, and I’m going to present to you a different solution this evening. One that I hope will interest you as much as it has interested me, and it develops into quite a fascinating story."