Am I in Charge of me or is my Brain: Julian Jaynes Edition PART 2


When we left Julian Jaynes, he was talking about how if all that crazy stuff he said about your brain is true, then probably there could have existed a race of people (he said “men”) who sang songs and ate hamburgers and fell in love and worried about their hair and ran for government office, much as we do, but who were not conscious at all. This is a bold claim! What’s he going to say next?


Now he’s going to talk for awhile about metaphor. Don’t worry, he says, this is the weirdest chapter! It gets easier from here (presumably when he talks about the Iliad).

What’s the deal with metaphor? Language is full of metaphors. Really, language IS metaphor. The word “Tree” has nothing to do with an actual tree. When somebody says “picture a tree” (“picture” as a verb already being a metaphor!!!) we will picture all kinds of different trees. What is tree? What is the nature of tree? He says it better than I do, but you get the picture (“picture!”).

Language generates new language via making new metaphors. Jaynes argues that every time we come into contact with a new thing, feeling, whatever, the FIRST THING WE DO is to cast about for the best possible metaphor to describe it. “It was like a dog, but with the head of a baby.” “It was like when you jump into a pool and there’s that really cold part down by your feet and it makes you feel weird in your stomach.” “He scared me because his eyes were like a robot shark’s eyes.” “It was like the climactic scene of ‘Alien!'” (—comical exaggeration-based metaphor). Could consciousness itself be like this?

So, understanding a new thing means figuring out an already-known thing it is similar to, and then describing that familiar similar thing. But how can we describe consciousness itself?? can there be anything “like” our immediate experience (consciousness), IN our immediate experience (consciousness)? Even the idea of consciousness “doing” anything is already a metaphor.

Now he makes some crazy charts. Well, he doesn’t, but in my notes I turned what he says into charts. Which I can’t reproduce here because I don’t know how to use a computer. OH WHY?

An ANALOG is a type of metaphor. It’s something generated by the thing it’s an analog of. For example, a map. A map is an analog of an area of land or whatever. A map is a metaphor for actual land. That squiggly line, that patch of green ink, those aren’t really “cliffs” or “forest,” they are a visual metaphor of those things.

Consciousness is an analog of the real world. Its terms are all metaphors. For example, whenever we describe stuff our consciousness is “doing,” we use visual or spatial terms. We “see” solutions to problems; we say a person has a “bright” mind; we “approach” a problem and “grapple” with it; our minds are “quick” or “slow,” “strong” or “weak,” “broad” or “narrow.” We can also “get” something “off” our mind or let something “penetrate” into our mind; we “keep” and “hold” things “in” mind, sometimes in the “back” or “front” of our mind; somebody can be “out of” their mind; in arguments we try to “get through” to someone.
“All actions in real space taken over analogically into the space of the mind.”
So here come the charts. A METAPHOR is composed of a METAPHRAND (the thing to be described) and a METAPHIER (a familiar thing you can use to describe the metaphrand).

Furthermore, there is a PARAPHRAND attached to the metaphrand and a PARAPHIER attached to the metaphier.

Here is where the part of my brain that deals with math starts hyperventilating and screaming that I need to go to the nurse’s office because I have a fever and I want my mom to come get me and take me home and make me cottage cheese pancakes. But don’t fear! We aren’t reading this book for school, so it’s okay if it remains somewhat opaque.

Example: “The snow blankets the ground.”

The metaphrand–the thing that needs to be described–is not the snow itself but something about the completeness and smoothness of the snow. The metaphier–the familiar thing we grab to describe the metaphrand–is a blanket on a bed. Similarly, the paraphier of the metaphier (the underlying feelings about the blanket) is warmth, protection, slumber–the deeper associations of this crazy metaphor we’re constructing. So the paraphier gets mapped onto the metaphrand, and becomes the metaphrand’s paraphrand.

Jaynes points out that not all metaphors are so generative. There are metaphors like “the ship plowed through the waves” that are more literal and don’t have all the complex associations of a “blanket of snow.”

But the thing to realize is that in really generative metaphors (the snow-blanket, or a “singing brook,” or love being “like a rose”), it’s not the “tenuous correspondence” of metaphrand/metaphier that engages us, it’s the paraphrands that really impart what S. Colbert would call “truthiness.” It’s the “warmth, protection, slumber” that we FEEL in the metaphor of snow “blanketing” the ground. We don’t really think of just an actual blanket. It’s the feelings underneath the blanket! So to speak.

I like that.

“Of such poetry is consciousness made.” Damn, Julian Jaynes! You’re making me sob.

Also: a cardinal property of an analog is that it is not generated the same way it’s used. The map-maker and the map-user do two different things with the map, for example. IT IS THE SAME WITH CONSCIOUSNESS. We invent/create consciousness itself with metaphiers (verbal descriptions/explanations), but then consciousness BECOMES a metaphier (acting on our future decisions as well as on our partly-remembered pasts). HOLY COW. That part is kind of hard for me, but I will move on bravely. We generate our own consciousnesses by making metaphors, and then we USE that consciousness to understand our world by making more metaphors.


Okay, now he will tell us THE FEATURES OF CONSCIOUSNESS:

1. spatialization: this is the most basic feature. The paraphrand of almost every mental metaphor we make. We invent mind-space that does not exist in reality (“front” or “back” of mind, e.g.). For example, think of “the past 100 years.” We tend to think of this as a “chunk,” or as going from left to right, etc. You can not think of Time without spatializing it, and yet in reality Time has no spatial characteristics. Intense!

2. excerption: in consciousness, we only “see” stuff partially, because such “seeing” is an analog of real-world seeing (in which we can only see/pay attention to a part of a thing at a time). “We are never conscious of things in their true nature, only of the excerpts we make of them.” Is this like Kant’s “thing in itself” which can never be seen? Don’t ask me to go back and read Kant, please let me stick with my 1960’s psychology!!! Please let me stick with “The Secret Life of Plants!” But anyway yes, I think it is similar. And so, our excerpts depend also on affect–do we like the person we are thinking of? Our excerpts of that person will be the more positive things. Like how when you are dating a horrible d-bag loser and all your friends are like, “he’s gross and sexist and he steals your money,” but you’re shocked, because to you, he’s this wonderfully funny guy who always folds the laundry and brings you your favorite M&Ms every time you go on a date. Both sets of things are true, or at least truthy. You can not see him for who he wholly, truly is, because it is impossible: no one can, not even him. “All reminiscence is excerpts.” (also dovetails nicely with the self-help “fix your marriage” book I was looking at on somebody’s coffee table recently, in which a marriage counselor found that people who hate their spouse (but don’t realize it, obviously, because they are in couples counseling thinking they can save their marriage) always describe their wedding in a negative light, like how horrible the wedding was and how his brother threw up on your grandmother and ruined the whole day, etc. People who like their spouse always cast a positive light on such past reminiscences, EVEN IF actual terrible things happened at the wedding, e.g. Like “oh, your brother threw up on my grandmother, ha ha ha, I shouldn’t laugh but it IS kind of funny looking back! And anyway nothing could ruin the joy of that day, blah blah God’s sweet and everlasting light etc.”)

3. the Analog “I”: This is my favorite. Take me there, Doctor Jaynes! The “I” can move around in our mind, doing things we aren’t actually doing. Imagine you are flying! Imaging you are making out with Stephen Merchant! IT IS VERY EASY TO DO THIS (believe me). If someone asks you what you did last summer, your physical self–your actual self, your body–does not try to remember last summer. YOUR ANALOG I DOES. This is the problem Karl Pilkington hit on inadvertently when he said the title of these blog posts, which Ricky Gervais then dubbed “the stupidest thing you have ever said.” But really, it IS like there’s “someone else in there” who is reminding you to get onions at the store.

4. The metaphor “me”: Also a good one. The analog I is also a metaphor me. We can both look out from within the imagined self, OR we can look AT the imagined self. When you “picture” yourself doing something–when it is like you are looking at yourself from outside–you are looking at your metaphor me. With your analog I. Your actual self–the self the analog I is an analog of–is just sitting there digesting a bagel or whatever.
That is so completely awesome. I am freaking out.

I mean, this is why people think there must be a soul or something! This is like the crux of all human religious/moral/ethical issues! This mind/body problem is such a deep problem! Am I me, or am I this weird walking body that needs food all the time and that takes gnarly shits and why won’t it go to sleep and why is it getting adult acne???? Which one am I? “I” don’t feel like I’m my body, so maybe “I” am somehow totally apart from my body. And when my body dies “I” rise up into the air invisibly and go to live in a magical world in the clouds and eat chocolate all day and make out with Stephen Merchant. DREAMS OF THE ANALOG I (dibs on that album title).

5. Narratization: our life is a story with us at the center. Experiences are fit into our great narrative, or are forgotten. “Why” I did certain things: this is the story I make about my life. Who knows why you do anything? But in retrospect you can fit it into your picture of “who you are.” I dated that guy because I’m the type of person who is very forgiving and also doesn’t have a lot of self-confidence. Is that really true? You can probably think of lots of other times where you weren’t at all forgiving and/or you had a great deal of self-confidence. But you’ve decided what “kind of person” you are, and so you fit everything into that narrative. FURTHERMORE, THOUGH: we also narratize everything our consciousness perceives. We see a man walking by with a dog who has socks on its feet and we think about how the dog must have burned its paws because it’s so hot out today, or maybe it had a surgery and the socks are to keep it from chewing its stitches out, or the man is crazy and likes to dress up his dog in weird Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles socks, or whatever.
(I just thought, somewhat irrelevantly, of an amazing Simpsons bit, where Bart throws a rock through Mr. Burns’s window, and Mr. Burns picks it up and says in this voice of wonder, “Look, Smithers! A bird has become petrified and lost its sense of direction!”)

6. Conciliation: I didn’t really read this part. Something about making all your narratizations compatible with one another. Changing and editing the stories you have made up about yourself and everything else, as you get new information.

(Here in my notes I have written: Is consciousness different from ‘knowledge’ or ‘feelings?’ must be. Is a dolphin conscious?)

OKAY, so, consciousness is an invention of an analog world on the basis of language, it parallels the real world just as the world of math parallels the world of actual quantities of things. I LOVE THAT. THAT IS SO RAD.

But so, where did consciousness come from? It thus must come AFTER language! HOLY CROWS!
“The implications of such a position are extremely serious.”


Next up is Chapter 3: “The Mind of the Iliad.” This should be good. Julian Jaynes says, “this has been a difficult chapter,” comforting and soothing us for all that trouble we took to draw a chart of metaphrands and paraphiers and whatever other bullshit he made up. He assures us the next chapter will be fun (he doesn’t use the word “fun”). We’ll see!!! The next chapter is all about written language as “seen speech.” This stuff resonates with me as a music historian–it’s like notated music, which people take for granted but which is a MONUMENTAL TECHNOLOGY THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING FOREVER!!!!!!!! I just glanced ahead and here is a tantalizing quote from the next chapter:



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