Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The “sense of self” in Biblical times.

Sigal Samuel does an article on the ideas of James Kugel in his final book “The Great Shift - Encountering Good in the Biblical Era” Here are a few clips from the piece, which inexplicably does not mention similar and antecedent work and ideas of Julian Jaynes:
Kugel uses biblical research to show that ancient people had a “sense of self” that was fundamentally different from the one modern Westerners have—and that this enabled them to experience and interpret prophecy differently than we do… If anything, our modern Western notion of the bounded, individual self is the anomaly; most human beings throughout history conceived of the self as a porous entity open to intrusions. In fact, much of the rest of the world today still does.
Kugel cites several studies showing that even now, many healthy people hear voices—as much as 15 percent of the general population. He also cites a recent cross-cultural study in which researchers interviewed voice hearers in the United States, Ghana, and India. The researchers recorded “striking differences” in how the different groups of people felt about the voices they hear: In Ghana and India, many participants “insisted that their predominant or even only experience of the voice was positive. … Not one American did so.”…cultural conditioning impacts whether a phenomenon like prophecy will be celebrated or pathologized. 
Even today, people hear voices. Some of them are homicidal maniacs, but others lead perfectly normal lives, they just hear people who aren’t there. They even have an organization, the Hearing Voices Movement, with an annual convention of hundreds of voice hearers. 
Samuel’s interview of Kugel is worth a read.


  1. You too know the work of Julian Jaynes! Incredibly, he is so often ignored.

  2. I hear voices myself, occasionally, although it's less like 'hearing' and more like there's an alternate 'track' of thoughts running in my mind. These thoughts usually make no sense at all and usually consist of grammatically correct but entirely information-free sentences. Just gibberish mostly. Only if I find myself sleep deprived do these thoughts take on meaning, usually in the form of commentary regarding my emotional state. It's not intrusive nor are they bothering me or impacting my life in any negative way so I never really bothered having it diagnosed.

  3. Kugel does mention Jaynes in two notes (note 7 in ch 11, note in ch 18). But it is obvious he is only familiar with Jaynes' writing through secondhand sources.

    He seems unaware that Jaynes and Jaynesian scholars have discussed non-Western cultures. And even more inexcusable, Kugel assumes Jaynes was positing a single brief historical change when the bicameral mind ended. But Jaynes dedicated a large part of his book to a long transition with continuing vestiges to this day.

    That indicates he didn't read Jaynes book at all. Even if he had briefly perused it, he would have had a better sense of Jaynes argument.