Varki’s MOR vs. Jaynes’ Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

I am reading Julian Jaynes‘ “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” and am trying to understand how it relates to Varki’s Mind Over Reality (aka Denial of Reality) theory.


  1. Is Varki a prerequisite for Jaynes, or does Jaynes stand on its own?
  2. Does Jaynes answer questions not answered by Varki?
  3. Does Jaynes conflict with Varki?
  4. Do the two theories offer different explanations for:
    1. the singular emergence of a brain with an extended theory of mind;
    2. the singular emergence of a brain capable of advanced physics;
    3. the singular emergence and universality of religion in the cultures of behaviorally modern humans;
    4. the reason that belief in life after death is the only common denominator between thousands of human religions;
    5. the reason that otherwise intelligent humans deny all aspects of their overshoot and the severe damage they are doing to the ecology that sustains them.

If there are any readers that have pondered these questions I would love to hear your thoughts.

I intend to write a summary and offer answers to the above questions after I finish the book.

Jaynes is quite a dense and unintuitive book so it may require several readings before I have the confidence to tackle a summary.

5 thoughts on “Varki’s MOR vs. Jaynes’ Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”

  1. Never heard of Jaynes or his theory. Seems to be from the 1970’s. No one has taken it up like the TMT guys did with Ernest Becker’s denial of death?

    Ever hear of Paul Bloom?

    ” …that show children have a predisposition to believe in God. What follows is a short literature review of scholarship that arrives at the same conclusion: young children seem wired to be “intuitive theists.”

    A 2007 paper in Developmental Science by Paul Bloom, “Religion is natural,”1 reports:

    [I]n the last few years, there has been an emerging body of research exploring children’s grasp of certain universal religious ideas. Some recent findings suggest that two foundational aspects of religious belief — belief in divine agents, and belief in mind-body dualism — come naturally to young children.
    He explains that these beliefs are directly related to our tendency to infer design:
    We have a similar bias to attribute an agent when we see nonrandom structure. This is the impetus for the argument for design — the intuition that the design that is apparent in the natural and biological world is evidence for a designer. In one recent poll in the United States (July 2005), 42% of the respondents said that they believed that humans and other animals existed in their present form since the beginning of time, and most of the rest said that evolution occurred, but was guided by God.
    He finds that these tendencies are especially strong in children: “One of the most interesting discoveries in the developmental psychology of religion is that this bias toward creationism appears to be cognitively natural.”

    “Evolution, theism, and the psychology of religion” Paul Bloom explains his view that religious belief is an accidental byproduct of two different cognitive systems, one of which evolved to enable us to understand the physical world, and the other of which evolved to enable us to understand other people’s intentions, desires, beliefs, and other psychological features.” – 7 MIN

    Here is an entire course worth of lectures free from Paul Bloom and Yale U.

    Introduction to Psychology with Paul Bloom

    Note of interest – Bloom is Canadian.


  2. Thanks for the info on Paul Bloom. It seems he understands the what but not the why. That’s the main reason I much prefer explanations grounded in genetics and neuroscience than psychology. He understands that religion is a byproduct of an extended theory of mind but unlike Varki does not understand why.

    There is no doubt that our brains are wired for religiosity. Religion is a strong reproductive fitness advantage for an intelligent social species because religions serve to define, unite, govern, and entertain groups, and (especially in times of scarcity) define outside groups as enemies. I wrote more about this here:

    I remember my 5 year old son asking me about God and when I explained to him that God was a chemical reaction in our brain I saw something in his eyes that indicated he did not like the explanation.


    1. Varki, is working like a generalist on Denial and putting together the work of many others to do it (so is Dave Cohen). I would not expect, Bloom or any PhD specialist to be casting such a wide net. Research just doesn’t work like that. If the system could go on long enough I think it would get there as we are seeing more interdisciplinary efforts, like CARTA, but I don’t think the wealthy industrial civilisation that supports it will last. Too bad, it was just getting interesting. Further, universal denial is a hard sell. Harder than evolution – it’s been over 150 years and not everyone is on board with that yet. Acceptance and change is slow among the humans and intellectual regression is an ever present threat. We are living through it right now and the anti intellectuals are legion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not sure I agree that Varki’s net is unusually wide. He is simply trying to answer the question “why did a powerful brain evolve only once despite the clear reproductive fitness advantage for an intelligent social species?” It seems to me that everyone in that space should be asking the same question but they don’t.

        I agree denial is a hard sell. Denial is a very strong behavioral force but I have observed that denial of denial is an even stronger force.

        It does seem our culture is going in the wrong direction. It’s cool to be ignorant. And religions are making a comeback (as Kunstler predicted).


  3. I finished Jaynes’ book a few months ago, and because it was so obfuscated, I decided to let some time elapse before I decided what to say about it.

    In a nutshell, Jaynes tries to answer some of the same questions that Varki tries to answer:

    1) Why did the behaviorally modern human mind emerge with a bang about 100,000 years ago?

    2) Why did it happen only once?

    3) Why did religions emerge simultaneous with the behaviorally modern mind?

    While Jaynes makes some insightful observations about human behavior his theory for what caused these behaviors is nowhere near as simple, well grounded in natural selection, and consistent with the evidence as the theory proposed by Varki.


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