At the beginning of William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! we are told that the sparrows were coming and going in a random gust.
“…There was a wistaria vine blooming for the second time that summer on a wooden trellis before one window, into which sparrows came now and then in random gusts, making a dry vivid dusty sound before going away…”
I have found this an oddly mysterious and perplexing statement.
There are two competing ideas at work in the gesture of the sparrow’s movement. The first is that Faulkner is correct and that the birds, without plan in their movement, drift from one moment to the next in response to random stimuli. The second is that there is a reason and either Faulkner did not perceive it, or did but chose instead to describe the movement of the sparrows as a sign of aimless existence, reinforcing the drift of the burdensome heat and the weight of time both present and absent, and contained in memory and memory itself reflecting time and the idea that time, being both now and past is never what it appears to be, but rather is a river of interactive stimuli and response moving forwards and back in circles at random like small birds twice blooming wisteria or long digressive run-on sentences in great Modernist novels.
I have been unable to penetrate to the truth of this but come down on the side of Faulkner making a choice to ignore what he must have known; that birds respond to scent or movement and that wind, and scent and response, are not random but rather manifestations of a sublime order, often dimly perceived.
Or perhaps, he was wrong and made a mistake, or maybe he was drunk or hung-over or both and he knew he was wrong, but thought about it and decided it sounded too good to change.
For several years I found myself unable to reconcile Darwin and Freud. I had reached a point where I could find no reason biologically, in a Darwinian sense, for the existence of insanity (or what we designate as “insanity”) and its persistence in human action and its constancy in events.
The obvious answer would be, qua Darwin, that abnormal and or destructive behavior ultimately cancels out reproduction and such strands of DNA are in the process of being selected against or, the species will die out which amounts to the same thing.
But what troubled me, was the constancy over time of irrational and counter-productive action, that results in reproduction of strands of DNA that pose a clear threat to themselves and the survival of the species(*1). If neuroses is a common condition and one of enduring normalcy (As Pascal puts it: “Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.” ) then either Darwin is wrong, which I don’t believe, and for which there is as of yet no evidence, or Psychoanalysis (what we may call the psychological model of human behavior) is wrong and insanity, à la Foucault*, is a fabrication, an adjustment for the purposes of power to the vast tide of interconnected pulses—economic-class-genetics-biology-psychology, and so on, etcetera.
To approach this from another angle: Why would nature bother, in its evolutionary method, to create a one-off strand of DNA that not only has the capacity to eradicate itself, and the rest of life, but a continuing habit of attempting to do just that? In other words, what evolutionary purpose does “insanity” (defined either as an objective reality or as a subjective provisional assertion of power) serve if it has the habit of bringing its host to the brink of extinction, if as a potential spur to adaptation it is counterproductive because of the amount of damage it causes.
For example a zebra develops camouflage to give it an edge against lions. Lions adapt by developing through violent methods of reproduction, a higher yield of muscle and scent and reflex, in a strand of increasingly superior cats (or a continuity of cats) that are good enough to catch zebras and do not need to evolve differently, and produce cars with which they would then chase all zebras to extinction. In other words, there is an essential equilibrium at work in that the lions have yet to develop the habit of eradicating themselves in their pursuit of zebras, and the zebras have yet to adapt by developing guided missiles or flame-throwers. Thus we ask, why is there only one species that has produced the ability to commit, and maintains the habit of self-destruction and having done so, what purpose does it serve if we assume there is an evolutionary drive behind the process of adaptation?
In his book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes suggests that the great leap, the moment of individuation that has seemingly propelled humanity into its present state of self-awareness (the emergence of the “I”) was the result of the on-going development and evolutionary adaptation of the corpus callosum—the mass that connects the two cerebral hemispheres, and that prior to this, when one half of the brain “thought” the other perceived it as an external voice of command and authority—the voice of God, angels, spirits, demons, and thus, God’s “disappearance” from the later stages of the Old Testament correspond to the evolutionary leap forward in which god is brought within the conjoined hemispheres and becomes “I.” Having adapted, and evolved, the emergent individual no longer needed external command to prompt external action.(*2) As Jaynes puts it:
“If this brain model of the bicameral mind is correct …these functions necessary for the man-side would be in the left or dominant hemisphere, and those functions necessary to the gods would be more emphasized in the right hemisphere…The function of the gods was chiefly the guiding and planning of action in novel situations. The gods size up problems and organize action to an ongoing pattern or purpose, resulting in intricate bicameral civilizations, fitting all the disparate parts together, planting times, harvest times, the sorting out of commodities…”
Jaynes then offers an exegesis of one of the ur texts of the human story – an extended sample of his sifting through the work by the men we have come to call, Homer as an example of bicameral minds:
“The first writing in human history in a language of which we have enough certainty of translation to consider it in connection with my hypothesis is the Iliad.(*3)
Modern scholarship regards this revenge story of blood, sweat, and tears to have been developed by a tradition of bards or aoidoi between about 1230 B.C…
I propose here to regard the poem as a psychological document of immense importance. And the question we are to put to it is: What is mind in the Iliad?”
And his answer:
“The answer is disturbingly interesting. There is in general no consciousness in the Iliad.
I am saying ‘in general’ because I shall mention some exceptions later. And in general therefore, no words for consciousness or mental acts. The words in the Iliad that in a later age come to mean mental things have different meanings, all of them more concrete. The word “psyche, which later means soul or conscious mind, is in most instances life-substances, such as blood or breath: a dying warrior bleeds out his psyche onto the ground or breathes it out in his last gasp. The thutnos, which later comes to mean something like emotional soul, is simply motion or agitation. When a man stops moving, the thumos leaves his limbs.”
And this, key critique (emphasis added): “Another important word, which perhaps comes from the doubling of the word meros (part), is mermera, meaning in two parts. This was made into a verb by adding the ending -izo, the common suffix which can turn a noun into a verb, the resulting word being mermerizein, to be put into two parts about something.
Modern translators, for the sake of a supposed literary quality in their work, often use modern terms and subjective categories which are not true to the original. Mermerizein is thus wrongly translated as to ponder, to think, to be of divided mind, to be troubled about, to try to decide. But essentially it means to be in conflict about two actions, not two thoughts. It is always behavioristic.
It is said several times of Zeus (20:17, 16:647),as well as of others. The conflict is often said to go on in the thumos, or sometimes in the fhrenes, but never in the noos. The eye cannot doubt or be in conflict, as the soon-to be invented conscious mind will be able to.“
And so, action without inner doubt or inner awareness. And a language that a priori, reflects this echo chamber and hall of mirrors. And as an example of this hall of mirrors, consider the etymology of the word mentor, and the minor character in Homer, named, Mentor:
From the OED:
“Mentor: after ancient Greek Μέντωρ, the name of a character in the Odyssey, in whose likeness Athena appears to Telemachus and acts as his guide and adviser. The origin of mentor embedded the notion of multiple voices/personas.”
Thus, for the Homeric mind, “mentor” was a manifestation of a concept that defined the experience of bicameralism. The voices experienced were not only commands but identities that repeated, shifted, combined, and separated. A further examination of the etymology reveals the following (emphasis added):
“Mentor, noun. “wise adviser,” 1750, from Greek Mentor, friend of Odysseus and adviser of Telemachus (but often actually Athene in disguise) in the “Odyssey,” perhaps ultimately meaning “adviser,” because the name appears to be an agent noun of mentos “intent, purpose, spirit, passion” from PIE *mon-eyo- (source also of Sanskrit man-tar- “one who thinks,” Latin mon-i-tor “one who admonishes”), causative form of root *men- (1) “to think.” The general use of the word probably is via later popular romances, in which Mentor played a larger part than he does in Homer.”
Thus, to think, is to act, and the action of the one who thinks is the effect of the cause which is the experience of a bicameral reality. In this reality voices “intent, purpose, spirit, passion” are all perceived as external.
And so, back to Jaynes.
Jaynes discusses the advent of language in depth, and in the context of its emergence some time immediately after or close upon the end of the last Ice Age (with writing emerging approximately in 3000 BC). In passing, he mentions a particular quality of this phase; the point at which the earth’s orbit brought it again closer to the sun causing the ice to begin to melt. In this period, which occurred over several centuries, Jaynes suggests that it must have rained for an extraordinarily long time (as the ice receded and evaporated) and that it was after this that speech appears and humans begin to record themselves as being recorded self-reflexively through the agency of words, that are themselves mirrors of words reflecting the human minds reflecting in and upon its own existence. As T.S.Eliot put it in a different context – there emerges, a wilderness of mirrors.
Within this though there is another issue that has received less attention than it might deserve. It is well documented and there is a vast corpus concerning the emergence at this time—circa 9-13,000 BC, (the oldest known female figure being the Venus of Hohle Fels dated to 35,000 – 40,000 years ago) of totemic figures depicting female forms holding shafts of wheat and barley, and this is added to the growing archeological record that has revealed ossified remains of wheat and barley and other bread-stuff that were gathered and consumed, and entire cults dedicated to barley and wheat and the emergences of grand totemic figures associated with the cultus – for example, Persephone or Kore.
Reading Jaynes I thought about this, and Faulkner’s sparrows and Darwin contra Freud and the following occurred to me: After decades or longer of nearly continuous rain, barley was bountiful and, being highly susceptible to ergot, became thick with ergot to the point of being a platform for a supra-form of the toxin, and that when consumed, attached itself to the new host; the human brain and there, in what became Brocas and Wernickes’ Area, ergot became a mutation upon the DNA of the human form and created the illusion of “I” and came to be passed on both through the consumption of barley and through reproduction and as a result, the adaptation of speech and consciousness is an evolutionary mistake—not the great leap forward but, at best a giant step to one side, and at worst, a leap backwards; an evolutionary maladaptation leading inexorably to extinction.
And here let us remember that ergot was not discovered until the middle of the 19th century and that prior to that, there is no extant record of it as a threat or even as a nuisance (notwithstanding sanctification rituals with discernment based on a set of criteria radically different than any based on the world after the advent of Germ Theory) though there are records of the deliberate use of mold on barley and wheat in the service of cults dedicated to ritual experiences of transcendence – in other words, hallucinogenic rites in which the infected (sanctified) food is consumed so that the initiate might experience God or the Gods. Ergot was not understood or known to exist for centuries. There is no getting around the fact of its consumption and thus no getting around the effect. (ergot can cause death and barley, inevitably unavoidably infected with ergot, was consumed. ipso facto, ergot, with its hallucinatory qualities, was consumed and ritualized(*4) ). Across the extant record of every culture from this era we find the same pattern – visions, crisis, gods, demons, heroes, the emergence of rituals, rites, punishments for violating taboos, and the emergence of language as a reflection of the greatest creation – the individual.
Why women? Why female figures holding wheat and barley? But more still, the dark heart of the matter and the emergence of tropes of fearing and hating, and worshiping women – for surely worship of one, is also, the creation of its opposite. Or as Baudrillard said: The invention of the railroad is also the invention of the railroad crash – thus enshrinement and celebration of what is present is by definition condemnation of what is absent.
So, Hera, mother-goddess of the past has a name that means: to throttle…to choke, or strangle. Why? Her totemic animal par-excellence is the sphinx who of course, asks three questions and if the challenger can not answer them, is choked to death.
Why three questions? The answer is contained in the form of the riddle – what walks on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night…man…the child becomes the man who becomes the old man who dies…three corresponding to the sequence of the tripartite biology of gestation…nine months…divided into three periods of three—three becoming one of a series of magic totemic numbers used repeatedly in stories that reflected the experience of living in a world perceived to be ordered precisely, as a vast mechanism that can be mapped with numbers as if math were a proto-genome project.
But why choke? Why strangulation? Why so many snakes in and with women? Medusa, and Eve and cults of snakes and Apollo strangling the python? Because umbilical strangulation utterly confounded and traumatized the ancient mind. And the need for an explanation – any explanation – produced an answer in keeping with what was then believed to be true and make sense. Women, it was believed, contained snakes.Women were snakes. Failing to observe rituals could and often led to the turning into stone (still-born or stone cold dead on arrival) of newborns who died for the original sin that predated their birth, and was committed by the parents who had violated a taboo which, à priori-tautologically, must have been committed because the strangulation would not have occurred if the rituals had been properly observed to begin with. In other words, if she’s a witch she will float; a tautology in search of a tautological answer to a tautological question.
Thus, the very earth was itself a fulcrum of incestuous interwoven catechisms that could not be avoided but were often violated resulting in inescapable catastrophes.
To examine one of hundreds of examples let us consider the myth of Theseus and the labyrinth. And in particular one aspect of that myth: Ariadne, who has fallen in love with Theseus assists him by unspooling a string that she attaches to his belt, so that after he has descended to the heart of the labyrinth he will be able to follow the string back to the upper world and freedom. The ancient Greek word for string is, clue. But, consider the image – the strand, the clue, that connects Theseus to the woman who will save him by lowering him into the underworld and will bring him back to life.
Certainly this string was an umbilicus and the metaphor, the clue here is that the meta-content of the myth is about the proper observation of the ritual which will ensure life. Versus failure, which will result in death at the hands of the Minotaur who waits at the heart of the labyrinth and was conceived as a result of the original sin by King Minos – presented with The Great White Bull from the Sea (a gift and test from Neptune/Poseidon) he refuses to make the required sacrifice, setting in motion a series of interconnected catastrophes resulting in the Minotaur, the labyrinth, Theseus, Ariadne, and so on.
And note that the palimpsest of myths gives us a multitude of overlapping narratives that echo each other with Ariadne cast at various times as a snake goddess (umbilicus), as a goddess of the weave (umbilicus), as the goddess who dances in and through the labyrinth, and by dancing signifies the labyrinth itself (that is ritual and object are one and the same analogous to body and blood being separate yet divinely one and the same in some branches of Christianity – and again, woman as umbilicus and visa versa) and also, she is represented by the ancient tradition of the goddess hung from a tree. In one version of the myth, after being abandoned by Theseus she kills herself by hanging herself from a tree only to be rescued/resurrected by dionysius (and another bull in a story so chock full of them it’s a wonder unto itself) yet, the key element in that version of the myth is that in some of the cult centers dedicated to Ariadne, small figurines of women, cast to represent her, were hung from trees in veneration of her persona as mistress and goddess of the string – the umbilicus of life and her role as perpetual sacrifice who dies and is reborn.
This pattern, this story is repeated again and again with one central element – the string, the umbilicus, the snake and a woman or the woman as snake. For example, consider Eve, tempted by the snake (umbilicus metaphor and substitute symbol) which offers her, food and that food will give her self-awareness, leading to expulsion from a blissful state of no self-awareness or, bicameralism and entrance into knowing the self exists. (and thus let us consider that the story of the apple providing the curse of self-awareness is fundamentally recast as a reactionary counter-assault against the pagan cults that venerated barley/ergot and transcendence with the apple as a symbolic representation of the sanctified food).
So ergot in barley and women with snakes, and hallucinations and the voices of gods and demons, and the rise of cults and the generational shock-trauma of umbilical strangulation, and a miasma of word-consciousness and cults dedicated to barley because barley and women, and birth and death and sex, did not come and go in random gusts but came and went with design and precision, and the great flaw in the design is manifest in consciousness which is a sterling example of evolution and evolution produces that which works and that which fails and in failure dies out; choked off into evolutionary oblivion, unless it adapts, unless it transforms. Unless it is a bad design to begin with.
The collapse of the environment feels inevitable. The triumph of the utterly, catastrophically stupid, shallow, glib, violent mouth breathing knuckle dragging professional demagogues and amateur fascists, as well as the professionals, seems a brilliant neon sign of the end. Another mass extinction event, the experts say, is overdue.
What, if anything can be done?
What, if anything can you do?
Originally published in a slightly different form in: The LoveSong of J.Edgar Hoover. (2012, 8th House of Montreal Press)
*1.I am here referencing Richard Feynman and paraphrase him: “Physics is chemistry and chemistry is biology and biology is psychology and psychology is physics up and down this relative chain, and neither end is closer to God and we are just beginning to understand the connections…” We mean here, to suggest that while DNA by itself is not a personality it is, in effect a person – and while science insists on fixed lines of demarcation, the holistic, which is more accurate, take as a given that discussion of one – say for example, psychology – is in fact a discussion of everything else. Thus, a new language, in which when we say, per Wittgenstein, the object is simple, we in fact mean it is both simple and complex. When we say, for example, France, we mean a singular object with a nearly infinite set of components and, to complicate the matter further, at a certain point in our rendering of the singular object, France, we must also say that it is another – for the history of the one (France) is also the history of…Germany…and the history of Europe and this is true also at the level of the individual – always singular yet never only an individual. Baudrillard’s comment that, the invention of the train is also the invention of the train accident, is an example of this. We are conditioned to accept singular definitions of the components of the world when the truth is closer to a cubist painting than it is to a schematic for a hammer. Where Wittgenstein proposes demarcations both spatially and temporally we propose simultaneity – singular and multiplicity occurring simultaneously. All thought then is by association. (i.e., & e.g., see Hume and Bundle Theory)
*2 Consider the Trial of Socrates in which the specifics of the charge against him were corruption of Athenian youth and most importantly, blasphemy with the evidence being not that he denied the existence of the Gods but rather that he insisted on listening to God’s of his own invention or as he claimed the singular voice that spoke to him (his daemon) and commanded him to take one action versus another. The extant descriptions of these events paint a stark and specific picture of a Bicameral mind in action (sic) and offer a clue about the great moment of transition from bicameralism to the psychological enclosure movement when the external voices were brought into the mind. A process that most likely occurred over centuries with periodic episodes of relapse. Additionally, see Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization. In particular, his exegesis of the Narrenschiff, or Ship of Fools. The fable appears in the late 15th century as leprosy is in the decline across Europe. Foucault contextualizes the story as an example of the emergence of state power filtered through the prism of the invention of insanity (there was no word for insanity in Ancient Athens or Attic culture) as a tool of coercion, intimidation and the establishment of hierarchies and social strata. Without disagreeing it is is also worth considering that the Narrenschiff represents another moment in the clash between vestiges of the bicameral mind and the mind of the “I.” Additionally, consider that in quoting Erasmus on the morality of madness Foucault offers this: “…which the furries let slip from hell, each time they release their serpents…” And in addition, note that Foucault says in the same work that the Ancient Greeks had no word for “insanity” suggesting in its place only different social arrangements based on the dynamics of power.
*3. It is worthwhile to actually expand on Jaynes’ contention by examining the earlier text of Gilgamesh. In book X (tablet ten) Gilgamesh arrives at Utnapishtim – an island inhabited by, among others, living stone giants. For no reason, he suddenly kills all of them. No explanation is given. None is assumed to be needed. We suggest this: Gilgamesh – bicameral mind – received what it believes to be an external command to act and, he/it acts. Further consideration should also be given to Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis (The Representation of Reality in Western Literature) and in particular his opening chapter on Homer, Odysseus’ Scar and the story of Abraham and Isaac. Too lengthy to quote in full we offer these important comments by Auerbach first in regards to Homer: “And this procession of phenomena takes place in the foreground— that is, in a local and temporal present which is absolute.” And: “But any such subjectivistic-perspectivistic procedure, creating a foreground and background, resulting in the present lying open to the depths of the past, is entirely foreign to the Homeric style; the Homeric style knows only a foreground, only a uniformly illuminated, uniformly objective present. And so the excursus does not begin until two lines later, when Euryclea has discovered the scar—the possibility for a perspectivistic connection no longer exists, and the story of the wound becomes an independent and exclusive present.”
As to the Elohist and Abraham, Auerbach highlights the sudden appearance of the voice – arriving from nowhere to a place that is all encompassing – that is, it exists nowhere and everywhere and commands. Thus, it is a perfect illustration of the bicameral mind.
Thus, the procession Auerbach refers to is the enumeration of objects, events, and characters. All action, all memory, is in a perpetual now. They exist in a temporal absolute because the internal world of confused and contradictory timelines, of doubt, the rorschach or palimpsest of the “I” does not exist.
And, a word here about memory: Memory in the ancient sense, or Homeric usage, qua Jaynes does not mean, the recounting of the past, or knowledge of what came before but a psychological state completely alien to the contemporary mind. It is the past but the past has no agency upon the perpetual present. In the Homeric sense, memory is the vessel that contains information that can be retrieved but that has no agency except as it is utilized in the present – Auerbach’s temporal absolute. There is, for Homeric mind, no unconscious mind – distant yet present, filtered yet potentially impacting or directing the actions of the conscious mind. For a contemporary or Modernist version of this, consider Eugene O’Neill who wrote in The Moon for the Misbegotten: “There is no future or present. There is only the past happening over and over again, right now.”
Homeric mind believed in the perpetual now. O’Neill, one step further along, saw the same temporal absolute but took one step back along the plane of time’s arrow and arrived at the same target. While more psychologically advanced than the Homeric mind, O’Neill is advancing the same thesis – the mind is both prison and prisoner. Law and rebellion. Bicameral and post-bicameral.
It could be argued, in opposition, that for example, Ulysses in the Odyssey is driven by memory. However that fact – the past – is only presented in a moment of paradox. The perpetual now is paradoxically also instantaneously the past. But Homeric mind only know the past in the moment. It would take centuries for that paradox to receive analysis in the works of Henri Bergson and the Modernists*
Lastly, it is essential to note that this in no way is meant to suggest that Auerbach would have been in agreement with Jaynes. Rather, it is meant to suggest that at the very least Auerbach’s excavations match Jaynes’ conclusions even if Auerbach thought differently in that he gave more emotional intelligence to Homeric mind than did Jaynes. And while Auerbach’s Elohist is more emotionally involved and his characters appear to have internal conflicts (Auerbach cites David, Saul and Absalom as examples) it is essential to remember that the results are the same whether in Homer or the Elohist – God(s) command, man responds.
*4.The insistence in some Feminist Critical theories that ergot could not have been the cause, proximate or indirectly, for the Salem Witch Trials is demonstrably false. Again, ergot was not discovered until the middle of the 19th century. Wheat and barley were consumed in the colonies and ergot was a fact of that habit. While it is entirely possible that consumption of infected food did not cause the trials, it is not possible that individuals involved were not eating infected food and suffering from the consequences. Correlation does not imply causation but correlation does often require examination.
Addendum: From the May, 2017 Smithsonian, an article on the Bog People. Of note is the following from P.V. Glob author of The Bog People: (emphasis added)
“In Glob’s view, Tollund Man and most of the others were sacrificed to Nerthus, the Earth Mother, to ensure a good crop. We can see the goddess paraded around, surrounded by fabulous animals, on the great silver Gundestrup cauldron, buried as a sacrifice in a Danish bog not far from where several Iron Age bodies were also found. Glob notes pointedly that the cauldron’s goddesses all wear neck rings and twisted bands on their foreheads—“like the ropes round the necks of sacrificed bog men.”
“They were strung up at winter’s end or early spring. We know Tollund Man was hanged, from the mark of the leather high up on his throat; “if he was strangled, it would have been lower down,” Ole Nielsen explains. And we know roughly the time of year when this occurred from the seasonal contents found in his stomach and that of other victims: barley, linseed and knotweed, among others, but no strawberries, blackberries, apples or hips from summer and autumn.”
It is worth considering that hanging versus strangulation could represent a different rite or different versions of the same rite or not a religious rite at all but in the case of the Bog People could represent the outcome of a trial. The article address this point:
“All things considered, Lindow Man has gotten roped into a tidy, satisfyingly creepy meta-narrative of ritual killing. “For me, we’ve got to disentangle Lindow Man from that story,” says Farley. “There’s clearly something a bit weird happening in Cheshire in the early Roman period. But we can’t say whether these people are being executed, whether they’ve been murdered, whether they’ve been brought there and disposed of, or ritually killed for religious reasons. However it turns out, they’re not part of the same picture as the Danish bog bodies. We need to approach Lindow Man and the other bodies from Lindow Moss as individuals—as people.”
However, this devil’s advocate attempt strains the limits of the circumstantial evidence which points towards the different ways in which ancient societies absorbed umbilical strangulation and signified it through rituals. The narrative correspondence between the extant records of the Bog People with mytho-narrative structures like Ariadne and the Sphinx suggest a common experience and common response.
The belief – faith – in the sanctity of taboos and their corresponding rituals make perfect sense if one posits external voices that proved the connection between taboo/ritual and the maintenance of life-sustaining environmental conditions. Add the inability to comprehend umbilical strangulation and the mythic structures coalesce. Failure to appease the god or goddess, failure to maintain social structure in support of the gods would undoubtedly bring catastrophe. Thus, ritualized stories that served the purpose of litany and catechism.
See the article here:
*Bergson’s cousin was Marcel Proust who wrote at length about the nature of memory and its relationship to and with consciousness.
Postscript: Cain and Abel. A Brief Case Study in Bicameral Transition.
It is possible that the ancient myth of Cain and Abel offers a screen upon which we may project a moment of transitional anxiety as human evolution moved from Bicameralism to Post-bicameralism.
The details and contours of the myth are well known. Cain and Abel are the children of Adam and Eve (Eve we have already met and recontextualized. Following on from that possible reimagining as an agent of the impact of ergot it is not a long walk to recasting her first children in the same way) with Cain being associated with agriculture and Abel with livestock.
So the story goes, Cain is unhappy with God’s preference for Abel and kills him. God searches for Abel and asks Cain where he is generating the now famous aphoristic line – am I my brother’s keeper. As punishment for his crime Cain is given an indelible mark on his forehead by God and cast into exile but, interestingly, he is then known as the creator of the first city.
In a Jaynesian context the myth offers several intriguing avenues of explorations.
First, let’s consider the connection between Cain and agriculture and thus his connection between consciousness and ergot. Returning to the Ur text of Gilgamesh we find a possible origin story in which a Sumerian fragment details a contest between a farmer and a shepherd to win a woman and, how they compete by enumerating their possessions: From: Transliteration of original language version: Dumuzid and Enkimduat Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature(ETCSL) founded by Jeremy Allen Black, Oxford University.
“Inanna Prefers the Farmer,” is another example of the Cain-Abel motif. The characters of our poem are four in number: the seemingly ubiquitous Inanna; her brother, the sun-god Utu; the shepherd-god Dumuzi; the farmer-god Enkimdu. The plot is as follows. Inanna is about to choose a spouse. Her brother Utu urges her to marry the shepherd-god Dumuzi, but she prefers the farmer-god Enkimdu. Thereupon Dumuzi steps up and demands to know why she prefers the farmer; he, Dumuzi, the shepherd, has everything that the farmer has and more. Inanna does not answer, but Enkimdu, the farmer, who seems to be a peaceful, cautious type, tries to appease the belligerent Dumuzi. The latter refuses to be appeased, however, until the farmer promises to bring him all kinds of gifts and–here it must be stressed the meaning of the text is not quite certain–even Inanna herself…”
Here is a translation of a fragment: (emphasis added)
“The much-possessing shepherd I shall not marry,
In his new . . . I shall not walk,
In his new . . . I shall utter no praise,
I, the maid, the farmer I shall marry,
The farmer who makes plants grow abundantly,
The farmer who makes the grain grow abundantly.”
The fragment continues and it is seemingly the shepherd who wins. This is a reversal of the Cain and Abel motif and yet represents the same friction – a choice must be made between the beginning of organized and ultimately city-based society and itinerant based societies that follow or are symbiotically joined with livestock.
What we propose is the idea that the advent of ergot in wheat and principally barely caused a schism in tribal cultures. The Burning bush and the Voice in the Whirlwind represent the Bicameral reality in which God(s) arrived externally but commanded internally and arrived and spoke seemingly at their discretion. The result, qua Jaynes, was action without reflection (Auerbach’s temporal now) so that Cain acts, kills Abel and then is confronted by the voice (of God) which simply, arrives.
Cain is cast out but because he is representative of humanity’s connection to ergot/barely he extends the reach of cultivation and is therefore a male version of Persephone/Kore. He is sedentary and regulated. Abel, in contrast, is symbolic of the wandering shepherds who rejected the new cults of ergot/barley.
The myth then can be seen as a reflection of a civil war; a schismatic anxiety between Bicameral and Post or emergent Post-bicameral societies.
We may then also consider that the Old Testament can be read, or recontextualized as an inherently reactionary document written in opposition to ergot/barley cults that thrived in and with the creation of cult centers that eventually became cities. This might go some distance to explaining the antipathy towards cities found in the Old Testament – Jerusalem is always a harlot and always evil, etc.
We are reluctant to use the word, definitive, but a new book, Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, by James C. Scott, would seem to inadvertently establish the case for the ergot to consciousness theory.
Let’s consider some points raised in a recent review of the book, in The London Review of Books, by Steven Mithen.
Scott’s point is that the traditional narrative of hunter/gatherers becoming domesticated farmers needs serious reworking because, among other factors, farming is in fact far more labor intensive than hunting, and that the archeological record shows a series of toxic side effects that range from explosions in the parasitical population, inbreeding, waste management crisis and other early urban planning dilemmas that all would have proven far more difficult than the life afforded by hunting and gathering. And yet, farming and domestication took hold.
As Mithen puts it in summing up the argument:
“But their case was strong enough to deal a severe blow to the idea that farming was salvation for hunter-gatherers: however you cut it, farming involves much higher workloads and incurs more physical ailments than relying on the wild. And the more we discover, as Scott points out, the better a hunter-gatherer diet, health and work-life balance look.”
And so the question is, why did they start farming?
As Mithin points out by reporting on the archeological record, wild game was available in extraordinary abundance. In certain areas where we have proof of early communities there are records of multiple food channels being available – if not wild game then crustaceans, and if not that then any number of other food sources.
“Scott’s book focuses on Mesopotamia – the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates where the first city-states also appeared – though it takes many diversions into ancient China, Mesoamerica, and the Roman and Greek ancient worlds. Until about ten thousand years ago, Mesopotamia had been a world of hunter-gatherers with access to a huge range of resources: reeds and sedges for building and food, a great variety of edible plants (clubrush, cat’s-tails, water lily, bulrush), tortoises, fish, molluscs, crustaceans, birds, waterfowl, small mammals and migrating gazelles, which were the chief source of protein. The wild larder was routinely replenished by the annual cycle of the ripening of fruits and wild vegetables, and the seasonal changes that brought the arrival of migratory species.”
Mithen then asks the key question but utterly, one might even say spectacularly fails to describe the ergot fueled elephant in the room (emphasis added):
“The mystery is why cereal-farming came to be so dominant. Why hunter-gatherers passed up their affluent lifestyle in favour of far more onerous and risky existences growing a narrow range of crops and managing livestock is a fundamental question to which we have no good answer. Was it by choice, or was that first sowing of seed a trap, locking people into a seasonal cycle of planting and harvesting from which we have been unable to escape?”
Well, obviously because they were addicted to the wheat and barley which was infected with ergot.
And yet, Mithen comes close:
“Scott overlooks another possible factor: religious belief. The discovery of the Neolithic hill-top sanctuary of Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey in 1994 went against the grain of conventional archaeological understanding of the Neolithic. Here, around 11,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers had constructed a vast complex of massive decorated stone pillars in exactly the same place that domesticated strains of wheat had evolved.”
Against the grain, indeed. Well, religious belief certainly makes sense, especially when we change the definition to include being addicted to a hallucinogenic toxin that transformed reality by generating an adaptive mutation that in turn changed what it means to be human.
And consider the following (emphasis, again added):
“The quantities of food needed to feed the workforce and those who gathered for rituals at Göbekli must have been huge: if the Neolithic gods could persuade people to invest so much effort in construction, and to suffer the physical injuries, ailments and deaths that came along with it, then perhaps expending those extra calories in the fields would have seemed quite trivial.”
“if the neolithic gods could persuade people…”!
This is right out of Julian Jaynes and yet Jaynes of course is not mentioned which would be laughable were it not such a stunning and intellectually catastrophic mistake.
Of course the gods persuaded them. Because ergot was the engine of the breakdown of the bicameral mind in the origin of human consciousness.
That’s why domestication triumphed over hunting and gathering.
Quod erat demonstratum.
But then Smith continues to dance around the edge of the answer to the puzzle:
“Personally I find it difficult to resist the theory of unintended self-entrapment into the farming lifestyle, which was then legitimated by Neolithic ideology. We find evidence of burial rituals and skull cults throughout the Fertile Crescent.”
Again, of course ideology was the pretext but ideology had to have a trigger and the only suspect that answers all aspects of the mystery is ergot in wheat and barley.
And then to the following where Smith, inadvertently sticks the landing (emphasis again added):
“I see the consequence in Wadi Faynan. A little less than 10,500 years ago the hunter-gatherer settlement of WF16 was abandoned and replaced by the Neolithic farming village of Ghuwayr 1. This had rectangular stone houses and storerooms. Piles of excavated grindstones testify to the back and knee-breaking work of grinding barley grain…”
Let’s recall that ergot was not discovered until the middle of the 19th century. The counter-argument that ancient cultures could have been aware of ergot and taken measures to separate it from their food, requires us to imagine a solution not in evidence by positing ergot removal under either a different name and/or by means that were never recorded or if recorded are lost and not extant. And secondly it requires us to ignore the extant record of cults dedicated to the consumption of barley which we are told by participants, were based on hallucinations and visions which had to have been produced by ergot or a derivative which in turn demonstrates not only awareness of ergot and its effects by a dedicated science of cultivation.
Smith also spends some effort in asking legitimate questions about the toxic environment produced by early domestication – the aforementioned pests, disease and so on – produced by the rise of early and unhealthy settlements. He mentioned the impact on livestock (e.g., sheep having neurological deficits resulting from inbreeding and domestication) and then asks what effect it had on humans:
“The rodents in the settlements underwent similar changes, indicating that some of these were a consequence of village life rather than human selection. The implication is that we should assume the same process in people: how did the brains, personalities and patterns of thought of Neolithic farmers differ from those of their hunter-gatherer ancestors? Was this a critical step towards the complete domestication of Homo?”
Well, yes. The brains were transformed by ergot, personalities were reshaped, entire conceptual frameworks were created, transformed and implemented usually by extreme force. In other words, Gilgamesh and the Iliad.
But then there is the following:
“As Scott explains, the city-states were dependent on grain: wheat and barley in Mesopotamia, millet in China, maize in Mesoamerica. The reason is that cereals are easy to tax: they ripen at predictable times, the size of the harvest can easily be assessed, and the grain can be divided, transported and distributed in precisely measured rations by weight and volume.”
Well yes, there was an ease to assessment based on the regularity of the crops. But, given that the principal crops were constantly infected by ergot and that every society we know of had as a chief component hallucinatory rituals and rites we are at this point walking in a circle.
Surely the following is no accident:
“In China the earliest writing is found on oracle bones from 1600-1050 BCE…”
Oracle bones? Of course, as in the ritual and the tools of the ritual and the ritual being the consumption of barley/wheat infected with ergot.
We could go on but the case has been made, and we believe at this point the case is closed.
Human consciousness is a maladaptation to the environment and it was caused by ergot.
See the review here:
Archaeologists find earliest sample of bread.(emphasis added)
“Among the remains, the team unearthed small, round tubers of a wetland plant known as club-rush, traces of legumes and plants belonging to the cabbage family, wild cereals including some ground wheat and barley – and 642 small charred lumps.”
See the details here: