The Letter J (A-to-Z Challenge)

J is for The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.

J is also for Uncle Junior, who way back around Letter E supplied me not only with a suggestion for the Letter J but also a short description which he hoped would entice me into reading it:

Please PLEASE make the letter J be Julian Jaynes. (How can you go wrong with TWO J’s?). He wrote the BEST EVER serious book. “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”. It is way over the top my favorite book of all time. He was a Yale Psychology Professor who, in the 1970s, wrote a startling theory about how and when humans became ‘conscious’ and what that means. And, interestingly enough, it is very readable.

He even has a chapter on people like Ellen White with extraordinary consciousness.


When I received this email I thanked Uncle Junior (who is my youngest brother, fifteen years my senior) and explained that I was only using books that either I have read and internalized enough to have formed some sort of opinion on or at least have a personal story of some kind attached to them. Besides, although he claims that the book is very readable, one has to understand that Uncle Junior has about seventy-five IQ points on me.  No, better make that fifty points. I’m no slouch. But he is particularly brilliant.

But then right after Letter H two situations converged: I had a packed weekend and my brain got very, very tired.  As I said, I’m no slouch, but I have been constantly at the beck and call of up to four children for the past twenty-seven years and I am afraid that this has taken its toll on my mental stamina.  Please don’t get your back up, I’m not saying that raising children is a lowly occupation or that that it chips away at your intelligence.*  Many women can do it all: raise well-rounded, high-achieving kids, have a brilliant career, keep a gorgeous home, have personal hobbies.  I myself had to pick one and I picked the kids.  They seem to be turning out alright so at least there’s that.  But, and this is a big but, I am afraid that my brain may have atrophied a little in the process.**

Now the kids are mostly grown and I’m facing some unpleasant truths.  For instance, I used to be a champion multi-tasker and I thought at the time that this was because I was clever and capable.  Alas, it turns out it was only because I was constantly being interrupted and handed multiple tasks to do.  Left to myself now I will start a task and keep working on it slowly, waiting for someone to stop me and give me another one, and when this doesn’t happen I just keep plugging away, ever more slowly,  without really knowing how to stop or how to decide to go on to something else.***

I’ve been finding this a little disturbing.  So over the past few days I cheerfully accepted all the activities and tasks that were handed to me, but unfortunately no one said, “Oh, hadn’t you better also get to that A-to-Z Challenge project of yours?”

Which meant that I didn’t.

And so it’s Uncle Junior to the rescue!  I here append the disclaimer that not only have I never read The Origin of Whatever in the Bi-something-or-another Mind, I have never even heard of it.  I would go ahead and read it this evening**** but I’m afraid I have to work on Letter P for tomorrow (right?) and any spare thinking time has to go into filling in the place holders for Letters K, L, M, N and O.*****

I do hope you enjoy it.  Please someone let me know if you think I’d like it too.

See you tomorrow for Letter ?


*But in fact I’m pretty sure that it does chip away at your intelligence, but only in the nicest possible way.

**Again.  I’m not offending YOU!  This is about ME!

***Did you see Pleasantville?  I’m the soda jerk polishing a hole in the counter because the assistant never showed up.

****I have to warn you that Uncle Junior, who insists upon having a very optimistic opinion of my intellectual abilities, sometimes thinks things are much more understandable than they really are.  I confess that although I do enjoy nearly everything he recommends, sometimes I grasp only a tiny bit of what the writer is actually trying to say as I’m mostly enjoying the rhythm of the sentences and the interesting and unusual vocabulary and the illusion that I am a very smart person indeed to be reading this really smart book.

*****Hopefully they won’t stand for Kill me now, Let’s just get this over with, M is for obsolete Mommy who can’t write, Never again, and Oh that’s it I quit.


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2 Responses to “The Letter J (A-to-Z Challenge)”

  1. Martine Frampton Says:

    This sounds completely fascinating (been reading the wiki page), am surprised I have not come across it on Brainpickings because it is right up her street. I think it may get the penultimate slot on my 101 books list.

  2. Martine Frampton Says:

    Did I mention that I think your theme is brilliant, waiting with baited breath to see what other gems you have to offer.

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