Authority as decision-making and control

You are a social animal and you find some food as you are foraging. As you are about to put the well-deserved food in your mouth, a powerful conspecific comes up to you and lets it be known that the food you found is actually HIS food, not yours, and if you don’t hand it over, then you are in for a pummeling. What do you do? This situation can be called a critical junction for your brain’s decision making. Do you face the bully or submit? Your brain is now in the process of making an important decision. How can we understand in the abstract how your brain comes to its decision? I propose that we can understand the concept of clutch decision making in terms of authority. In the case of the bully, a decision must be authorized by the brain on what to do. Suppose that the conspecific is of a much higher social rank. It is likely that the lower animal’s brain will authorize the decision to submit. On what information is your brain making this authorization? On the information streaming from both current perception of size and power and past memory that this conspecific is powerful and that you are unable to physically best him based on previous experience. The best decision to make is to submit and hand over the food. The decision is authorized on the basis of survival instincts, but the essential information that regulated the authorization comes from the social environment, namely, the presence of the conspecific in your sensory field.

I propose that authority in social hierarchies can be understood in terms of the authorizations for control of individual brain systems. The dominant male acted as a “control” or “regulator” for the lower animal’s behavior. If not in the dominant’s presence, eating behavior is authorized; if in the dominant’s presence, then submission behavior is authorized. Now take something a little more complex: human society. Imagine you are a early Neolithic human and you and your family have just harvested some food for the season. Now you have a decision to make about what to do with the food. How is the final decision of distribution authorized? Neolithic humans were incredibly religious. They thought it was necessary to offer some of their food to the gods in order to appease them and thank them for the bounty. On the basis of this social information, your brain authorizes a distribution of goods to the alter of the gods, despite the fact that evolutionary fitness is likely sacrificed in the wanton waste of food, goods, and even human lives in the case of human sacrifice (think Abraham and Isaac). When I said that these Neolithics “thought” that they should offer food to the gods, what form does this thinking take? Following Jaynes, I propose that the thought was not of the modern, conscious inner monologue kind that is familiar to most human adults today, but rather, took the form of bicameral control, which is a process carried out by the adaptive unconscious.

Strictly speaking, bicamerality is defined as a neural internalization of admonitory social control through a nonconscious process of auditory verbal hallucination similar to schizophrenic command hallucinations. For bicameral minds, this substitutes for conscious access, for reasoned will. Indeed, in a bicameral mentality, “… volition came as a voice that was in the nature of a neurological command, in which the command and the action were not separated, in which to hear was to obey ” (Jaynes 1976, p. 99). Bicameral control is a special form of brain authorization available only to the human species. It is a side-effect of our having evolved verbal language for social commanding/requesting. I suppose other vocal animals with sufficiently complicated cortical “echo chambers” could hallucinate as well, but I doubt that the hallucinations take the complex social form of gods, demons, ancestors, etc. that is prevalent in human societies. In the case of Neolithic food distribution, the “thought” to offer food to the gods took the form of a auditory hallucination of a god or ancestor’s voice commanding you to perform the sacrifice, giving you the guidance on how to perform the act, and threats and other reasons as to why you should do the act. Since the bicameral control assembly is processed by the verbally-modified adaptive unconscious housed in the frontal-temporal “association” areas, the intellectual power of a human guided by bicameral control is incredibly impressive. Ever wonder how primitive Neolithic humans were able to execute complex construction plans for building monoliths, calculate astronomical and mathematical results with extraordinary precision, etc.? I propose that it was the “god function” of the bicameral control assembly which was able to aid Neolithics in the construction of complex civilization. It is interesting to me that the savant Daniel Tammet had temporal lobe epilepsy when he was little. Could savant syndrome be tapping into vestigial bicameral functions? It is curious that some of the most common savant abilities are stuff that ancient Neolithics would have found incredibly useful such as amazing calendrical calculation (useful for guiding the planting and harvesting of crops according to accumulated social wisdom about seasons and dates).

The hallucination of gods literally created the social order which made it possible to erect huge hierarchically structured civilizations with specialized social classes like the priesthood and royalty, which acted as the “right hand” and “voice” of the gods (think of prophets and oracles). The process of hallucination authorization took the form of a hierarchical ladder, with every person hallucinating a Voice that was more powerful than them. The lower class hallucinated the voices of lesser gods and the dominant conspecifics. The kings hallucinated the Voice of the most powerful god, and acted as the direct messenger of the most powerful god, giving him incredible power in the society. Because the “content” for the hallucinations was socially shared in nature, the bicameral control assemblies in the lower classes “respected” the authority of the gods hallucinated in the higher social classes, with the King hallucinating the most powerful god. The societies which developed from polytheistic bicameral control to monotheistic control were able to create great social cohesion in their hierarchical authorization mechanisms. The social cohesion of bicameral control operating on shared social information enabled the explosion of civilization about 10-15 thousand years ago. In contrast to prevailing theories which claim that religion arose after the expansion of civilization, Jaynesian theory predicts that religion gave rise to civilization. Recent archaeological findings provide support for this theory. Describing the work of Klaus Schmidt on the major archaeological site Göbekli Tepe, a National Geographic journalist says “Göbekli Tepe, to Schmidt’s way of thinking, suggests…The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization.” This is an essentially Jaynesian hypothesis: bicamerality allowed for the rapid expansion of human society into great civilizations through the shared social authorization of behavior by hallucinated voices acting as representatives of a linguistically charged adaptive unconscious.

It was this unconscious power that allowed for the incredible intellectual feats of primitive Neolithic humans. The intellectual power also gave rise to the continuing human conviction that gods actually do exist. If your conscious self could directly tap into the computational power of the adaptive unconscious through the bicameral control interface, then you would be so overwhelmed by its intellectual superiority that you would likely immediately authorize the gods to control your behavior, believing that you are in fact receiving divine wisdom from a powerful entity. Indeed, we see the theme of emphasizing obedience in the most successful of all religions: “But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.” (Jeremiah 7:23-24)…”Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him” (Deuteronomy 13:4) But while there are still vestigial remnants of bicameral authorization in today’s religions (though most people who claim to hear God speaking to them are now sent to a psychiatric doctor), today’s religion is much different. We have lost touch with bicameral control. Most Christians receive God’s guidance indirectly through prayer and scripture study, not hallucination. Although the adaptive unconscous is very much still at large, it does not interface with the conscious mind through the same mechanisms. Today, the narratological conscious self has developed a sense of autonomy from the unconscious mind. Following Iain McGilchrist in his recent book The Master and His Emissary, there is a great deal of evidence to suppose that the conscious, linguistic, propositionally rational left hemisphere has been growing increasingly isolated from the right hemisphere. The corpus callosum mainly acts as a mechanism of inhibition i.e. when a left area is active, the homologous area in the right hemisphere is inactivated and vice versa. The “team of rivals” control strategy allows for greater specialization in behavior which is typical in humans. Language itself is the classic example of lateral specialization. Although both hemisphere are “active” 24-7, the delicate balance of functional specializations plays off the inhibitions in order to give rise to complex behavior. This is especially important in the process of self-control, a critical brain skill for succeeding in the modern world. Ultimately, the left and right hemispheres aren’t “opposed” to each other, but rather, work in harmony through neural competition. This can be likened to the “society of the mind”, “multiple drafts”, and “neural darwinism”. The various modules in the brain compete in order to “authorize” certain behaviors. In the case of our original food gathering social animal, the various circuits in the brain activate in parallel upon perceiving the dominant conspecific. The “loudest” circuit gets to authorize which behavior sequence to initiate or uninhibit: submission.


Filed under Consciousness, Psychology

2 responses to “Authority as decision-making and control

  1. Pingback: Authority as decision-making and control :: Paul Dupree at Unison Consulting

  2. A great post. I especially appreciated your idea about the abilities of savants and their applicability to neolithic society. Your comments about Göbekli Tepe are also fascinating. That challenges how most people think about early civilization.

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