Is the unconscious the door through which the divine speaks?

Fury_of_Achilles_1737_by_Charles-Antoine_Coypel

From an engaging discussion of Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind theory by writer and philosophy commentator Jules Evans, at his website Philosophy for Life:

I’m particularly interested in the link between voice-hearing, dissociation and creativity, and in the incidence of voice-hearing among creative individuals like novelists Marilynne Robinson (who occasionally hears a voice inspiring her novels), comedians Graham Linehan and Jonny Vegas (both of whom hear or have heard voices), and musicians like Lady Gaga and David Bowie (the former says she heard voices and started to act them out as personae, while the latter likewise embodied and acted out radically different personalities and has a history of schizophrenia in his family).

Not to mention the dissociative capacity of gifted actors to become other people (Le Carre called Alec Guinness’ ability to become someone else a ‘complete self-enchantment, a controlled schizophrenia’); or all the many poets and song-writers who say their poems came to them from a voice / presence / spirit / muse.

What Jaynes fails to address, I’d suggest, is the value of these ‘vestiges of the bicameral mind’. When we seem to feel or hear messages from the beyond, it’s not just a primitive throwback to Homeric times. These messages sometimes tell us something useful, beautiful and wise, something our ordinary consciousness does not know. They are often sources of moral inspiration or consolation. I’d suggest the right hemisphere is still not entirely accessible to our ordinary consciousness, and there is a value in learning how to access it through things like meditation, trance states or techniques of ecstasy (though of course there are risks as well, particularly if you end up with an inflated or Messianic sense of self).

To go a step further into the mystical, if we do receive inspiration through the right hemisphere, does that mean the origin is definitely purely material or neurochemical? Could we not consider William James’ hypothesis that the right hemisphere / unconscious is the door through which the divine speaks to us? Such has been the suggestion of various spiritual critics of Jaynes’ theory, from Owen Barfield to Philip K. Dick.

Still, the voice-hearing network is fascinating, from a theological perspective, because in some ways it suggests a very modern attitude to the gods. We hear their commands, and yet we don’t have to obey unquestioningly. We relate to them less as a child to their all-powerful father, and more like a friend to their equal, rather like Lyra’s friendship with her daemon, Pantalaimon, in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials. Happiness, then, is eudaimonia: having a friendly daemon to keep one company in life and through death.

Very well, says my daemon, looking over my shoulder as I write. But who made the daemons?

MORE: “Gods, Voice-Hearing, and the Bicameral Mind

Image: “The Fury of Achilles,” 1737, by Charles-Antoine Coypel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD, GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES, and HORROR LITERATURE THROUGH HISTORY.

Posted on March 24, 2014, in Psychology & Consciousness, Writing & Creativity and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. The Master’s Sun is an internationally critically acclaimed S.Korean television drama about a young woman of modest means who becomes the treasured asset of a truly alienated wealthy shopping mall owner. After various hauntings at the mall, he becomes concerned about his bottom line, and so he hires her for free hugs that she greedily tends to use up whenever she gets too scared.
    S.Korea holds a paradoxical position in the hyper-modern world for being predominantly shamanistic . Perhaps sorcery is a more apt term according to Chongho Kim, author of Korean Shamanism: The Cultural Paradox, due to Korean shamanism’s lack of trance for altered states. Instead, their ‘shamans’ commune through the daemonic-dread, the shudder elicited from intimations of the numinous theorized by Rudolf Otto in his Idea Of The Holy, and use it as a means of temporal distortion to sacrifice their souls to Hungry Ghosts . In this sense, like in Vietnam, their shamanism is closer to hermeticism and Victorian spiritualism than ‘shamanism’ .
    A new television show, called Bride of the Century, is precisely about this. S.Korean ministry of culture actively promotes scholarship and the culture of their Korean shamanism to the entire world.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0ua95HncDw

    this is the comment I made on their article . I think it’s important to recognize that these ideologies are not exclusive to a classical past but are the social policies of modern societies in the present era

  2. in S.Korea, really modern country, having a shrine and regular communion with ghosts is proper social etiquette .. Vietnam is a lot like S.Korea as well in this way. Unlike Japan where this culture has been put into the closet, in S.Korea its on their mainstream TV , it’s part of their zeitgeist and intricately connected to their sense of humanism

  3. I was recently reading about Julian Jaynes’ theory of the bicameral mind and also about the Axial Age. I’m fascinated with eras during which humanity seems to have been transformed. I’m interested in the Enlightenment Age for the same reason.

    Anyway, I was just looking at that article by Jules Evans. Then I found your quoting him here. I agree with him that there is something that remains relevant about all of this. It isn’t just about the past. The human mind develops and yet much of what came before remains.

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