A still small voice
Years ago, while with Mangyan tribesmen I concluded that these hill people could read an alphabet unknown to me. The foliage, sounds, the shift in airs, scents -- all of these -- spoke to them as directly as words in a book, though I scarcely imagined how. Later I discovered that psychologist Julian Jaynes had advanced the theory of the bicameral mind, which helped explain what I'd seen. His book, the Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind suggests that our ancestors were instructed by voices and visions. They understood through a process of unconscious thinking as perhaps the Mangyans still do. Nature spoke to them, and they heard.
Jaynes asserts that until roughly the times written about in Homer's Iliad, humans did not generally have the self-awareness characteristic of consciousness as most people experience it today. Rather, Jaynes argued that the bicameral individual was guided by mental commands believed to be issued by external "gods"—the commands which were so often recorded in ancient myths, legends and historical accounts; these commands were however emanating from individuals' own minds. This is exemplified not only in the commands given to characters in ancient epics but also the very muses of Greek mythology which "sang" the poems: Jaynes argues that while later interpretations see the muses as a simple personification of creative inspiration, the ancients literally heard muses as the direct source of their music and poetry.
Jaynes inferred that these "voices" came from the right brain counterparts of the left brain language centres—specifically, the counterparts to Wernicke's area and Broca's area. These regions are somewhat dormant in the right brains of most modern humans, but Jaynes noted that some studies show that auditory hallucinations cause increased activity in these areas of the brain. For example, he asserts that, in The Iliad and sections of the Old Testament in The Bible that no mention is made of any kind of cognitive processes such as introspection, and he argues that there is no apparent indication that the writers were self-aware.
However that may be, Jaynes' theory intriguingly suggests that hunches, guesses and intuition may hold some validity. They are the end result of a logical process inaccessible to the waking mind. My own hunch is that in the last two or three months there's been a change in the tone of the blogosphere. Nothing definite, simply a change in atmosphere in proportion to the degree of abstract tendencies of the blogger. Authors who trafficked in ideas and concepts have altered the most. Some have paused to take stock, pleading disgust or confusion; still others have returned to writing as seemingly different persons; others seem to be suffering a kind of nervous breakdown, obsessed with hatred for one or more public figures or inventing new words and finding conspiracies in everything they see.
The least affected are authors who are largely descriptive. For example Michael Totten's review of Arabs in Israel is one of those blogposts which describes what it sees even when it finds apparent contradictions. His latest post asserts that Arabs in Israel are the subject of discriminatory attitudes; yet despite this they would rather live there than anywhere else. The Lost in Space robot Model B9 had a phrase: "it does not compute". And yet of course it does. Anything computes which has an actual existence. There are other examples. Publius Pundit is opposed to Evo Morales' oil nationalization policies yet understands the history of Latin American class and racial warfare that politically drive it. The Big Pharaoh is able to cheer for Alaa and the Egyptian opponents of Mubarak while aware that the Muslim Brotherhood might be the ultimate beneficiary of an upheaval in Cairo. The ever-humorous Tim Blair points out there are things we want which we may actually dread: high fuel prices because it will wean us off imported oil and high prices because we must actually pay them.
My own theory is that all the old divisions so sharply erected between September 11, 2001 and April, 2003 have been slowly eroded by the uncertainties of the world. The Left and the Right have seen their champions turn out to be all too human, and are confounded. Issues which are a wedge on both sides of the spectrum -- like immigration or Darfur -- have scattered interest groups around like balls after a billiard break. New issues like the resurgence of a hostile Russia, the spread of Marxism in Latin America -- even the malicious buffoonery of the Iranian President -- are crowding at the fringes of the now comforting world of the War on Terror. The old play is ending and yet the new one has not yet begun. And this bothers abstract intellectuals far more than it does the men in the field. A soldier can write with perfect conviction that "the world was a slightly better place every time I pulled the trigger" because he lives in a world of specificity, but the agonized thinker can find no such comfort in cold abstractions; abstractions now in need of repair under the weight of experience.
The need to keep mental furniture in order is the curse of the abstract thinker. A recent visitor from the Philippines told me -- not in so many words, but clearly enough -- about how the famous old Communists of the 1970s and 80s had all gone essentially crazy. Not clinically. But they were all of them gnawing at the ends of old plots, editing unread journals, scheming from miserable academic departments; haunting the peripheries of political life. He described this in quiet tones as we sat at some seaside saloon, a grey mist and rain having fallen over the bay; the perfect time he said "for Godzilla to come popping out of the water". And of course there was a better chance of Godzilla actually materializing than that those dusty old Commies should ever succeed at what they were doing. They knew it and that was the madness. It was better, I thought, to keep watching and have another beer. The Mangyans would have understood what the Comrades would never: that truth comes tiptoeing in upon a whisper for those willing to listen.
Elijah came there to a cave, and lodged there; and behold, the word of Yahweh came to him, and he said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" ... "Go out, and stand on the mountain before Yahweh." Behold, Yahweh passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before Yahweh; but Yahweh was not in the wind. After the wind an earthquake; but Yahweh was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake a fire passed; but Yahweh was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. It was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. Behold, a voice came to him, and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"