Some months ago I read Julian Jaynes: Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Jaynes maintains that until about 1000 BC most people were not conscious, except as an animal is, i.e. of current sensation with some reflexes hooked in. Instead we had hallucinations in our right brain which spoke via the anterior commissuary into the sound-processing parts of the left brain, giving us orders. Originally these hallucinations were of the primate troop leader, culturally evolving into the gods of the pre-classical religions. I have made a list of objections to this thesis, but Jaynes describes it so well that most of those you will think of on reading the above description hardly arise, and there is definitely something valuable in it.
The old gods broke down when continuing civilization became so complex that conscious thought was required, but “voices which had to be obeyed were the absolute prerequisite to the conscious state of mind in which it is the self that is responsible…we have become our own gods”(Bk 1 Ch-3 §4.14 s.3, 4). This at once rang a bell and, after fruitless searching in the (bethieved) libraries of the neighborhood, I hied me to a vihara to identify that bell. Sure enough: “It is only when the Tathagata attains and is abiding in the animitta Concentration of Mind… that the Tathagata’s body is at real ease and comfort. Therefore, Ananda, let yourselves be your own firm support, and let yourselves, and not anyone or anything else, be your refuge; let the Dharma be your firm support, and let the Dharma and not anything else, be your refuge”(Mahaparanirvanasutra §165(in Maha Vagga in Sutra Pitaka)).The mind is animitta (perhaps animitra in Sanskrit, I do not know) when it disregards signs of phenomena, i.e. when we are consciously thinking and so our own firm support, not using either the hallucinatory instructions from the right brain. This was spoken ca. 600 BC, when the old gods of India were becoming memories we still tried to make speak.
Somewhat earlier Abraham went through the same change (Gn 22:1-14). First the gods (“ha elohim”, v. 1) in his right brain, like that in the other people of that time and place, ordered him to sacrifice his son; we need not worry here just how such gods had evolved. Then Yahweh, God of the conscious, not merely reasoning but logical (logic is to reason as morality is to behavior) mind, located in the left brain, told him such action was neither necessary nor desirable.
In both these scriptural stories we can see the transition from a reactive, emotional, unthinking religion to one which thinks things out, covers the bases and knows why it must obey God or the Dharma. The place where Abraham saw what was right and what wrong he named Yireh Yahweh, i.e. “Yahweh sees”, or “Yahweh will see” (Semitic tenses are not ours). Sight is the least deceptive of the senses, and both Buddhism and the Tradition of Abraham are religions of the conscious mind, although nominal adherents of both may slip back into reactive declarations, nowadays rarely fully hallucinatory. We seek in religion a formula that will bring us final security and lasting happiness; what we find in the thinking religions is personal and limitless potential (George Leonard: Here and Now, quoted in Universe 1993.09.12 p. 23).
This is not to say that the older religions are totally illogical, nor that even newer ones will be more logical. Brahmoism, for instance, deliberately tries to give Hinduism the systematization and consciousness noticed in Christianity. On the other hand, a modern secular inhumanist, Ian Dunbar of Culcheth in Warrington, writes “When it is a matter of your most intimate nature and the values attaching to it, the bones, that is, an inner intuition, is the right source…it is rational to have faith in the values of secular ethics, and irrational to have faith in the supernatural beliefs of religions” (Guardian 1994.01.08 p.24). The religions he means are primarily those of the Tradition of Abraham, which attempt to be thought-out, even being logical about morality, something Dunbar refuses to be. Contrast Dunbar with Anthony Burgess when asked whether he was grateful for being a Catholic: “It has taught me to think logically” (Mundo, quoted in Guardian 1993.11.26 G2 p.7).
Dunbar does not explicitly worship any gods, or follow a logical (as opposed to merely rational, or at least so he claims) dharma. But many people do, or at least try to find “final security” in worship parallel to his morality. This is dangerous.
The new religions were aware of the relics of the old ones. The children of Israel destroyed the idols which might wake the old hallucinatory gods. They killed the dangerous people to whom the old gods still spoke, as being possessed of unclean spirits. Anyone who has been troubled with engrams or other recognizable badness erupting into the conscious mind will share the wish to kill such unclean spirits, and a few, alas, do even kill themselves. In a very few cases, this may even be the right thing to do, though I very much doubt it. We often hypothesize such spirits to be devils or Anti-Gods, which hypothesis can be logically extended to the theory that apparitions of the heathen gods are works of Anti-God, explaining neatly why the possessed speak as the old gods did, and see their unclean spirits in the form of the old gods. Sometimes the same danger arises even when the old gods are largely forgotten, except as fairy tales, and then, if we happen to use images of holy people and objects, those same images may arise to hinder our progress in thought-out religion. That is why contemplative prayer should always be preceded by discursive prayer and meditation – an important caveat for some modern meditation teachers. When the Zen Buddhist says “Kill the Buddha!” he is warning against the danger of an image occupying our minds as a hallucination.
The cult of the right brain is dangerous in another way, too. I once knew an EdD with the conversation of a moron. I estimate his effective IQ at about 90. Even the sloppiest universities do not award doctorates to such people, so he must have become stupid after his orals. One characteristic of his moronicity was his tremendous difficulty in making comparisons between parallel situations and activities – for instance, I once heard him floundering uselessly in a conversation about parallelisms of two kinds of racialism, with one of which he was supposed to be well acquainted. Also, he could not see the value and necessity of systematic coverage of possibilities in planning – only the results he was interested in should be thought about. Both these phenomena are typical of the right-brain-dominated mind, and it is fairly obvious that he had allowed his intuition to dominate his thought.
It so happens that this man is quite evil. After seeing him engage in sustained and quite pointless evil I concluded that he was a Satanist. So I had better tell you what I mean by Satanist. I do not mean some fool with a half-baked religion including a deity arbitrarily named “Satan”. A Satanist is someone who believes that there exists a God roughly like Abraham’s Yahweh; that this God is good and a criterion and source of goodness, again much as Abraham’s Yahweh; that there exists a person evil in being opposed to this good God, not merely in seeking a subordinate good, which is the usual human reason for evil: who chooses to serve this Anti-God. It took me a long time to figure out that this man was in this sense a Satanist, and I have never before or since recognized such a thing. Is it not likely that his Anti-God resides in his right brain as a hallucination, giving him instructions which he follows, just as the gods of ancient times resided in our brains ready to talk at moments of crisis(as in the Iliad)? I can explain this exemplar of stupidity and evil by supposing that in his thirties he started worship of an Anti-God which, in return for the security of an ever-ready answer without much effort, demanded the suspension of conscious reasoning. If the real Satan, supposing there to be one, ever appears before this worshipper, of course, he will not be able to give him complicated instructions because of the servility to the hallucinatory one and the consequent inability to grasp complex situations or sets of instructions. But I suspect that some mediaeval people convicted of Satanism may well have been in similar situations (although, of course, the Cautio makes it plain that judicial incompetence explains a very much higher proportion of convictions).
This man worshipped a right-brain hallucination, but many people exhort us to obey impulses only slightly less verbal. The New Age people often tell us to “get in touch with” our right brain, whereas we should be trying to train it. That way it will give us the right, i.e. the true, answers. A man named, I think, Jeffries, at, CUNY, teaches of a distinction between “sun people”, superior on account of their emotional temperaments and intuitive thinking, and “ice people”, inferior because of their repressed feelings and addiction to bloodless rationality. I submit that there are in fact far too many “sun people” in the world, relying on emotional temperaments and intuitive thinking, which gives them contradictory instructions, so that they kill each other – think of opposing nationalists, who might in principle reach agreement on such a question as “how should humanity be politically subdivided?” if they approached it that way, but will always disagree because they have different intuitive answers which they refuse to examine.
Similarly, we know that the New Age people too often act like machines: if they don’t see anything, they simply assume nothing is there – they don’t poke and pry into dark corners, because they might find such enemies as decision structures in which their sure answers are alternatives and the less likely alternatives at that (cf. Gordon R. Dickson: Necromancer ch. 12 §3.16 s. 5.6). I understand that their would-be-scientific Biosphere II project failed to some extent because of failure in their plans, which did not cover possibilities systematically. Similarly, they ignore Gauquelin’s empirical astrology because it would force them to relearn what they believe they already know, even though something is here which one might expect to interest them intensely.
David Alton a few months ago told the story of a London school-boy who, assigned to investigate astrology, became a Satanist. Now, why should the correlation of astronomical and psychological phenomena lead anyone to worship an Anti-God? I suspect that Alton may be talking of Satanism in a more woolly sense than that I define above, but the connection is presumably the aura of intuitionism in both activities as commonly practised. It is only the accident of differing starting images that makes Ian Dunbar a secular inhumanist rather than something like a New Ager quasi-Satanist.
The way forward for humanity is the way chosen by Gautama and Abraham, the way that gives us science rather than accidentally developed technology, limping along on economic necessity; the way that gives us a moral God (or Dharma) at least in principle derivable by reason and so consistent in government. This is the choice to emphasize the conscious mind rather than exalt subconscious and visceral functions. Obi-wan Kenobi told Luke Skywalker to trust the Force in himself, but such instruction is dangerous until that Force is trained by conscious discipline. I am frightened when I see Christians identifying the Star Wars Force with the Narnia Aslan: they are most definitely not the same. Some Fundamentalist Christians – and, perhaps, some of those Muslims unhistorically called “Fundamentalist” – are relapsing into the pre Abrahamic mindset, like the New Agers they oppose, and the Secular Inhumanists both fear.
There does obviously exist the danger of paying too little attention to the urgings of the intuitions from the right brain: I myself have lost from repression of urges at certain points, but that was because I was unsure of how well I had trained my verbal reflexes – I had had several bad results of speaking too soon. If I am to trust the force in myself I must train that force, inform my conscience – as the popes like to put it -, using reason to design the training. Then the intuition will serve the conscious mind by presenting wholes when the logic of the conscious mind would take a long time to get there. We guard against error in such reasoning by being ready to analyse the argument later and correct it where necessary, a psychedelic process (psychedelic drugs, of course, are not in practice psychedelic) familiar to us primarily from mathematical reasoning. It is a horrible coincidence, or perhaps it is not wholly a coincidence, that there is at present a rejection of proof among a minority of mathematicians, although perhaps not to the extent of the intuitive concept portrayed by the late 1993 Doonesbury scenes from Walden.
To upgrade our cultures we need more, not less, logic. We need to train ourselves in self-respect, banishing self-esteem, for otherwise, we know, we will bring bad luck on our society by the laws of probability. Virtue, liberty and logic are linked:
Since thy original lapse true liberty
Is lost, which always with right reason dwells
Twinned, and from her hath no dividual being;
Reason in man obscured, or not obeyed,
Immediately inordinate desires
And upstart passions catch the government
From reason, and to servitude reduce
Man till then free.
Thus Milton in Paradise Lost (12:83-90), condemning not only every sin but even more that tendency to sin which Dunbar and his like embrace. Where the spirit of Yahweh is, there is liberty, for there is right reason and virtue. And Yahweh is the God we discover with our conscious mind. When we throw, as we sometimes do, Yahweh out with the gods of the bicameral era, we saw away a bough we need. As Orwell says: “But there had been a little mistake. The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all. It was a cesspool full of barbed wire”(Notes on the Way §3 in Time & Tide 1940.04.06). And right into that cesspool is where a lot of present-day trendies are trying to drop us. Yireh Satan.
Copyright 1994, John A. Wills