Of Gods and Men: Neurosciences meet Mayan Literature

This study combines Literature and Neurosciences to elucidate the incidence of alternate states of mental awareness in a collection of traditional, oral Mayan stories. Proposed by Julian Jaynes (1976), the Bicameral Mind (BM) hypothesis suggests that consciousness in humans appeared probably at the end of the second millennium B.C.E. in Greece and Mesopotamia. Before that, humans functioned under a two-chambered (bicameral) mind, without access to internal dialogue. Individuals experienced auditory hallucinations that controlled their behavior. These hallucinatory voices, interpreted originally as the voice of the gods or the tribal chief, transformed over time into our modern endophasia, the silent word, sometimes in dialogue, that accompanies our thought process. This internal voice also shares roots in the Bicameral Mind with today’s schizophrenic patients. Jaynes’s indicated that the analysis of early texts, such as Homer’s Iliad and the Bible, show that their protagonists’ behaviors were controlled by the voices of external entities such as gods, ancestors, or leaders. Our report presents a pioneering test of Jaynes’s hypothesis in Mesoamerican oral literature to uncover the existence of a similar bicameral mentality in contemporary Mayan folktales in Lake Atitlan (Guatemala). The analysis unveils instances of external hallucinatory voices that determine the subjects’ behavior and their decision-making.

Chair: Jose Franco Rodriguez