Questioning the human soul

To the editor:

To propose that humans have a soul is an extraordinary claim. The late psychologist Julian Jaynes speculated on consciousness. By his concept, humans have consciousness and dogs do not. What? Surely my dog Spot is conscious when he is awake, looking at me and wagging his tail. Consciousness to Jaynes is not just being awake and reactive, but involves language and introspection.

Early humans had primitive language but little introspection. They are called bicameral because when in a stressful situation, they were receiving auditory and/or visual signals from the right hemisphere to the left. As they developed more language, they interpreted these voices as coming from God, or the gods. Consider Yahweh in the Garden of Eden or Achilles in the Trojan war. Later, introspection of an interior mind space “I,” along with the mystery of dreams, lead to the invention of the soul.

These voices may have evolved because of the survival benefits they incurred. In an archaic primitive brain, signals crossed from one side to the other when danger was perceived, and eventually over time our two-hemisphere brain formed. The voices can be traced in various ancient sources such as “The Iliad,” “The Odyssey” and the Hebrew Scriptures. However, most of this has been lost as consciousness evolved, but vestiges remain today in hallucinations, third man factors, schizophrenia and glossolalia.

The bicameral Greeks in “The Iliad” obeyed explicitly the commands of the gods, but less so in “The Odyssey” as introspection started to grow. Odysseus could argue with the gods, outwit the Cyclops on his journey back to Ithaca, and trick the suitors of his wife, Penelope. The voice of God was disappearing in the Hebrew Scriptures as you go from the early writings to the later ones. In Genesis, God was conversing with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:8-13 and 4:9), but later the Psalmist was struggling out of his bicameralism to a modern mentality when pleading, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?” (Psalms 22:1). Consequently, the Hebrews started to use sortilege to divine the will of God. Humans were no longer bicameral, but modern, with the ability to introspect, lie, deceive and invent fantastic concepts of reality known as religions. Today, in our angst over our mortality, we still seek the lost voices whether we realize it or not. Even science is no exception.

David Keranen

Bakersfield, Calif.