TITLE: An Example of the Difference Between Scientists and Humanists AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: January 27, 2014 3:29 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Earlier today, I tweeted a link to The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind, in which Erik Weijers discusses an unusual theory about the origin of consciousness developed by Julian Jaynes:
[U]ntil a few thousand years ago human beings did not 'view themselves'. They did not have the ability: they had no introspection and no concept of 'self' that they could reflect upon. In other words: they had no subjective consciousness. Jaynes calls their mental world the bicameral mind.
It sounds odd, I know, but I found Jaynes's hypothesis to be a fascinating extrapolation of human history. Read more of Weijers's review if you might be interested. A number of people who saw my tweet expressed interest in the article or a similar fascination with Jaynes's idea. Two people mentioned the book in which Jaynes presented his hypothesis. I responded that I would now have to dive into the book and learn more. How could I resist the opportunity? Two of the comments that followed illustrate nicely the differing perspectives of the scientist and the humanist. First, Chris said:
My uncle always loved that book; I should read it, since I suspect serious fundamental evidentiary problems with his thesis.
And then Liz said:
It's good! I come from a humanities angle, so I read it as a thought experiment & human narrative.
The scientist thinks almost immediately of evidence and how well supported the hypothesis might be. The humanist thinks of the hypothesis first as a human narrative, and perhaps only then as a narrow scientific claim. Both perspectives are valuable; they simply highlight different forms of the claim. From what I've seen on Twitter, I think that Chris and Liz are like me and most of the people I know: a little bit scientist, a little bit humanist -- interested in both the story and the argument. All that differs sometimes is the point from which we launch our investigations. -----