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(41) Viridis

Miscellaneous thought errors: there is a book called The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind that was popular in the 1970s and continues to have a residual influence. A typical argument derived from it: the Homeric heroes lived permanently in something like a “flow state” (e.g. the absorption found in piano playing); they had no sense there was an “I”, they lived in permanent continuity with reality—except for occasional communications from “gods” which were in fact what we call “thoughts”, since we have internalised this process as part of the creation of the “I”. Except, this being so, why did they record individual heroes at all? They would have had no sense there was “an Achilles” to celebrate.

As with Nietzsche’s transvaluation of values, “bicameralism” assumes that humans change our fundamental nature more than we really do—in this case that we had a radically different conception of self only 3,000 years ago. My view, derived my the slowness of linguistic change, is that we haven’t changed in fundamental orientation for a long time—hence the Homeric world isn’t alien to me, rather it’s completely familiar. Really, bicameralism is an attempt to get back to religion via a materialist quasi-Zen route. Yet Homer was like us—values have not transvalued, although the emphasis on certain values has changed.

Second miscellany: Hervey Cleckley, who popularised the term “psychopath”, argued against a hereditary explanation on the grounds that about 57% of the public, when canvassed, could identify at least one “psychologically unstable” relative. Cleckley just begged the question: alternatively, 57% of the public are hereditarily mad to some degree. Indeed, this was just the figure for the 1940s. Today, it could be more like 63% or even 78%. And why not? Don’t Darwinians say we have suffered severe dysgenic stresses for at least as long as since the Industrial Revolution? If at least 57% of people are psychologically unstable to some degree it would certainly explain a lot about our world.


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