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Sunday, November 9, 2014

NEIGHBORS: 1 Consciousness




9 11 2014

This new serial from the Alappakkam Neighbourhood is in response to suggestions from some of our friends in this mailing list. This is a companion to the ஆலப்பாக்கமும் அக்கம்பக்கமும் [Alappakkam Neighbourhood] serial in Tamil.

Though I started writing in Tamil only recently, I am more comfortable with it, that being my mothertongue. You may, therefore, find my English inputs to be a prey for critics. Welcome.  I do look forward to incremental knowledge; my humble request is to keep the subject of the day in focus. While this serial may take different turns, I intend keeping to certain quotations and commentaries thereon by us and others -not losing the focus. Here we go.

"O, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind!"

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976) by Julian Jaynes blossoms forth from this lyrical sentence. He noticed that in the Homeric epics, the gods took the place of the human mind. In the Iliad we do not see Achilles thinking. Achilles acts, and in moments of strong emotion, he acts as the gods instruct him. When Agamemnon steals his mistress and Achilles seethes with anger, Athena shows up, grabs him by the hair, and holds him back. Jaynes argued that Athena popped up in this way because humans in archaic Greece had no words for inner speech. So when they felt compelled by this strong internal force, they attributed that sensation to the gods. "The gods take the place of consciousness."

Citing Professor T.M. Luhrmann of Stanford, I wish to add that Jaynes queried

 "who then were these gods that pushed men about like robots and sang epics through their lips? They were voices whose speech and direction could be as distinctly heard by the Iliadic heroes as voices are heard by certain epileptic and schizophrenic patients, or just as Joan of Arc heard her voices."

Well, maybe yes and maybe no.

To T.M. Luhrmann  and me, the point was that the way we pay attention to inner sensation changes the nature of the sensation, sometimes profoundly. The way we recognize mental events and deem them significant, the way we reach for what we take to be real—those differences shape what we know of God and madness.  This is no attempt to bring God into speculation; conciousness is the key. Now, the quote
"O, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind!" seems to throb with reflections and ruminations.

The ball, dear friends, is in your court.


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