My father’s Aristotelian faith, that’s enforced at the end of a strap or the back of a hand, flung me headlong into rebellion. I wanted to understand how people like him could see the world in only black or white, ignoring all the shades of gray in between, and totally overlooking all the colors of the rainbow. I refused to believe that the Old and New Testament is the sole depository of all knowledge and wisdom. I could not accept a worldview, where there’s only “One Truth,” where there’s only one God who rules, whose name is Jesus Christ. Therefore, I had long ago concluded that my dad’s selective, literalistic Biblical worldview was not acceptable to me.
Anyway, after checking out the latest adventures of Batman, I go on to my next pilgrimage site on Judah and Ninth, The Symposium Book Store. School is just a place for me to pass time; I long ago exceeded what they could teach me. My real education takes place here in this bookstore. Here I turn to, to use Robert Pirsig’s terminology, the Classical Quality of analysis, of rationality, of science and philosophy, seeking answers to the mystery that is called reality.
But, my quest has been such a lonely one. I’m different. I’ve made myself different. A need within me has always pushed me farther than my fellows. I travel paths in the world of books way beyond the grasp of my peers. Beyond my years. Which means I travel alone. To assuage my loneliness and the boredom of that solitary life, I journey into to the alternate reality of science fiction and fantasy at another bookstore on Judah and Eighth called Elsewhere Books.
I shrug away the clinging cobwebs of the past and focus on the here and now. I’ve worked out with the owner of the Symposium, Mr. Herb Wells, to have some shelf space in the back of the store for my own library, it helps that I work for him. I devised and maintained a book keeping system to keep track of his incoming and outgoing inventory. When I catch up on the work, I sometimes would buy a book and just sit back there, alone in the clutter of the storage area, lost in the world of letters, the gateway to the Universe. I can leave my limited container of a life and venture into the realms of the imagination, or into the mysteries of that which we call real. I would lose myself here for hours and have to be called back to this world by Mr. Wells reminding me that it was almost dinnertime at my house.
Those stores, Comics & Commix, Sheer Illusions, Elsewhere Books and the Symposium, my house, my school, the nearby branch of the public library and my parents’ church, marked the physical boundaries of my world for much of my childhood. But, now there is another.
When I walk into the Symposium, Mr. Wells calls out to me as if he can barely contain himself.
“There you are! Kid, you’ve been seeing ‘her’ I hear.”
“Huh?” Does he know about Basha?
“Don’t try to hide it,” Mr. Wells says as he leans over the counter and motions to me to come closer, “I know. I still can’t fathom it. A mind wasted on such drivel.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’ve been going to ‘her’ place in the Haight. Don’t try to pretend that you haven’t.”
“Who is ‘Her’?” I ask puzzled.
“Miriam. Miriam’s book store.”
“Oh. Yeah. I’ve been there. Hey! How do you know this?”
“The city isn’t so big that word doesn’t get around amongst independents like myself. I heard talk of a ravenous kid who devours books to feed his hunger. I knew who it was. There aren’t two of you.”
“Yeah. There aren’t two of me,” I sigh. “Yeah, I confess, I’ve been going to Miriam’s bookstore. But, only on occasions. She has stuff that you don’t carry and I needed to...”
“She has junk. Mumbo jumbo, pseudo-science, and stuff for the foolish rabble. Not for the likes of you, kid.”
“You’re young and any dark corner of mystery is too tempting even for a mind as sharp as yours. So, I forgive you, I was young once. That’s why you’ve got to read this book, before your head gets filled with her puffery and shiny illusions. It’s amazing! It’s true that all our lives we’ve been staring at the shadows on the wall of our caves.”
“This one,” Mr. Wells says as he excitedly pulls a book out from under the counter and hands it to me.
The white covered paperback book I am handed reverently is Julian Jaynes’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
“You do know what bicameral means?” Mr. Wells asks.
“Sure. Bicameral means: two chambers, like our Congress. It’s a two-chambered legislative system. So?”
“So! Jaynes’s conclusion is that the two halves of the brain talking to each other has shaped human civilizations from the get go.”
“Explain. I’ve read Ornstein, so I know about the dualistic patterns inherent in our mind/body, by our bicameral brain. But, you’re talking about something more, right?”
“Exactly. Jaynes says that all our ancestors, the ancient Greeks, Hebrews, Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, etc., all the ancient peoples the world over, were not conscious like we are now. The whole notion of a conscious mind, an inner mind space, is an invented concept, born out of the pages of philosophers.”
“Their brains were different than ours?”
“Not physically different, but functionally different. They experienced their mental process differently than we do now, that is until the change. In all the ancient texts, Homer, myths, legends, The Bible itself, is there ever a word for a true equivalent of a mind? Heart, stomach, lungs, breath, all these were attributes of what we call mental phenomenon.”
“Okay. I’ll buy that,” I agree, “There is no ancient word for mind. So what?”
“Then how did they think? Ask yourself that? How did they plan or deal with the unexpected?”
“Are you trying to tell me that just because they didn’t have a word for mind that they didn’t think?”
“The fact that they didn’t have a single word for mind is significant because it demonstrates that they perceived the concept of the mind in a manner which is different from ours.”
“That’s an example of the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis you keep harping on about, right?” I ask.
“Correct, a variation of that.”
“So, what did they have instead of our concept of the mind and how it works?”
“The gods. The gods told them what to do. All ancient peoples speak of seeing and hearing the gods.”
“Yeah. So, what’s the big deal? That isn’t anything new.”
“You don’t get it. That talk is literally true. Jaynes says that the gods did actually speak to them. The gods are signals that come from the right brain. The gods are what our ancestors had in place of a conscious mind, and for that matter, any sense of a mind at all. You see the ancients lived in a sort of Zen space of ‘all is present’. They had no self-reflection. Jaynes believes that consciousness is a learned process of thinking. We now live with our own inner voice chatting in our heads all the time, right?”
“Yeah. I’m always talking to myself.”
“Well,” Mr. Wells continues, “so were they. But they had no idea of an inner space of their own mental activity. Lacking this concept of an inner space, if a voice talked to them, they presumed it must have been coming from outside them. An invisible being. A…” he lets the word linger in the air, waiting for me to take up the thread of thought.
“God,” I reply, “Hmm?” (A voice talking to them…I thought I heard someone talking to me when no one was around. Could it be…? Yeah, that voice was really only in my head. It wasn’t like it really was some God or something talking to me. It was just me talking to myself, that’s all.)
“Right,” Mr. Wells says emphatically, “The gods talked to them. They had God-told-to-them-certainty. Just like schizophrenics and other psycho’s like Son of Sam, etc. The Devil made me do it! God told me to do it. They were all telling the literal truth. God, the Devil, their right brain, was speaking to them. They lived with hallucinatory internal truth all the time. They had the constant comfort of absolute authority telling them what to do. Now, the real heart of Jaynes ‘thesis is what happens when the concept of inner mind space, the notion of consciousness comes along?”
“You mean they start thinking like we do now, with only our own voice coming from within us. Hmmm? They would be cut off from their God’s voice. The intimate certainty of inner truth as a guide would cease. For the first time they would be faced with uncertainty.”
“Exactly! We all know how easily people handle uncertainty, now don’t we?”
“People hate it! They can’t take it. They would happily be a follower of any fast-talking, so-called leader, than think for themselves. They’re deathly afraid of the unknown and uncertainty,” I excitedly respond, “Give them the old time religion. Good old simplistic black-and-white thinking.”
“Exactly,” Mr. Wells proclaims, “With the breakdown of the bicameral right brain god voice, our ancestors were alone for the first time in their lives.”
“Oh my God. That would be devastating to them.”
“That’s what Jaynes is saying. People have been trying to deal with the loss of God’s voice for a long time. That’s the breakdown. The true Fall. The getting kicked out of the Garden. Now, there had to be a reason for losing God’s voice.”
“Good joke, kid. Nope. It was the very idea of an inner life. A place called the mind. Jaynes’ book explains what a Pre-Bicameral world is like. Our strict hierarchical system of civil order is a part of that Pre-Bicameral system. You can’t follow every God’s voice. So, there had to be a strict chain of command.”
“A multitude of God’s. A heavenly hierarchy of God’s and angels to deal with a multitude of daily problems.”
“You got it kid. So, before you go getting lost in Miriam’s world of paganism and pantheism, read Jaynes.”
“Good. Okay. Now, kid just run along. Stop bothering me. I’m not running this store just for you. I got other customers who need me.”
“Yeah?” I blurt back, “Show me, where are all these hordes of customers? I don’t see them. Besides, who was pestering whom? I innocently walked into your shop and you accosted me!”
“Ha! Read Jaynes, kid!”
“Yeah, Yeah, old man.”
My bantering with Mr. Wells leaves me with such a buzz. The ideas that we’ve been kicking around fill me with so much excitement I can hardly contain myself. I head to the back, use my key to get in back of the shop, sit down, and read. I fall into the words and become oblivious. For some reason, my eyes glance at my watch. Oh my God! I didn’t mean to spend so much time here. I need to get moving. Despite what Mr. Jaynes and Mr. Wells said, I still have to get to Miriam’s today. I leave the Symposium with Jaynes safely stored in my pack and off I go.
KEYWORDS: H P LOVECRAFT, LOVECRAFT, DREAMLAND, DARK FANTASY, FANTASY NOVEL