Marshall University Course



“The Brain, The Self, The Voice of God”

RST 480-101 (“Special Topics”)

Fall Semester 2012

Marshall University, College Of Liberal Arts, Department of Religious Studies

Instructor: James D. Cohn, Adjunct Faculty


Location: Harris Hall 403

Time: Wednesday 3:30 – 6:00 Pm, Aug 29, 2012 - Dec 12, 2012

Instructor: Rabbi James D. Cohn, M.A.

Phone: 304-825-3114



Course Description: An interdisciplinary approach to Bible texts that touches on archaeology, psychology, and neuroscience to explain why the Bible describes the hearing of God’s voice as a common and widespread experience. The course explores Julian Jaynes’s theory of consciousness as a recent development in human culture that replaced the “lost” voices of idols, gods, and  rulers, with the introspective self-dialogue that now dominates mental life.

Textbook: The Julian Jaynes Collection (referred to below as Collection), Marcel Kuijsten, Editor (Julian Jaynes Society, 2012); Hardcover, 376 pages; ISBN-13: 0979074424. Each student must bring to class sessions a copy of the Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”) in English; any translation is acceptable.

Online resources: Students will access additional materials online, using this link:

Session Dates and Topics (Fall 2012):

8/29       Framing the Task: The Essential Questions and Some Working Definitions

9/5         What is Consciousness and Where Does It Come From?

                ASSIGNMENT DUE: Collection (Introduction)

9/12       “Mind-Talk” – The Role of Language in Consciousness

                ASSIGNMENT DUE: Collection (Chapter 9)

9/19       Consciousness is not Innate, but Learned

                ASSIGNMENT DUE: Collection (Chapter 8)

9/26       NO CLASS (YOM KIPPUR)

10/3       Animal Intelligence and Animal Consciousness

                ASSIGNMENT DUE: Collection (Chapter 10)

10/10     Temple Grandin, “Rain Man,” and the World of Metaphors

                ASSIGNMENT DUE: Collection (Chapter 14); both Grandin articles

10/17     Why Computers Don’t Speak In Metaphors

                ASSIGNMENT DUE: Collection (Chapter 15); Buchan article


                ASSIGNMENT DUE: TERM PAPER TOPIC PROPOSAL (See Syllabus for examples)

10/31     Prophecy and the Dual Brain

                ASSIGNMENT DUE: Collection (Chapter 24); Bentaleb article; Hoffman article

11/7       Bible text study as “Software Archaeology”

                ASSIGNMENT DUE: Collection (Chapter 22); Dennett “software” article

11/14     The Heard Voice Becomes the Written Word

                ASSIGNMENT DUE: Keen “maverick theorizer” article; Leo article

11/28     I.  The Written Word as Law:  Morality or Behavior? II. Hebrew Grammar and the Tower of “Babble”

                ASSIGNMENT DUE:Dennett “language” article; Gordon article; Popper article; and pp. 11-17 in the                                     Steinberg article

12/5       Alternate Revolutions: Talmud and Gospel

                ASSIGNMENT DUE: Young article

12/12      FINAL EXAM

Course Objective:  To understand and analyze the following: the widespread depictions of gods and idols throughout the ancient world’s artifacts and literatures; the relationship of introspective consciousness and language; the influence of oracles on entire nations and cultures; the disappearance of prophetic voices in biblical literature over a specific time frame; the question of when and why a theory of mind arose in human development; the appearance of  vestiges of earlier mentalities in modern mental life.

Background: In 1976 Princeton University psychologist Julian Jaynes (1920–1997) put forth a bold new theory of the origin of consciousness and a previous mentality known as the bicameral mind.  In his controversial but critically acclaimed book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Jaynes asserts that introspective consciousness did not arise far back in human evolution, but is a learned process based on metaphorical language in a narratized mind-space. Jaynes argues that prior to the development of consciousness, humans operated under a previous mentality he called the bicameral (“two-chambered”) mind. In the place of an internal conversation with oneself, bicameral people experienced auditory hallucinations directing their actions, similar to the command hallucinations experienced in psychosis. These hallucinations were interpreted as the voices of chiefs, rulers, or gods. To support his theory, Jaynes draws evidence from a wide range of fields, including neuroscience, psychology, archeology, ancient history, and the analysis of ancient texts.

Relevance: Jaynes's theory has profound implications for human history as well as a variety of elements of modern society such as mental health, religious belief, susceptibility to persuasion, psychological anomalies such as hypnosis and possession, and our ongoing conscious evolution.

Student Outcomes: Identify and articulate the different definitions of consciousness; describe what consciousness is and what it is not; contrast introspective and non-introspective words, and give examples of the application of introspective meanings to words of non-introspective origins; explain how the language of interior mental life employs spatially-related words; distinguish bicameral from post-bicameral cultures; arrange selected books of the Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament,” OT) in their likely sequence of composition, and justify the arrangement by employing the critical tools of documentary analysis; practice the psychological principles associated with Julian Jaynes’s theory of consciousness by observing their own experience of, and descriptions of, their mental life, and generalize this experience to post-bicameral culture; compare the neurobiology of auditory hallucinations with Jaynesian interpretations of biblical descriptions of “authorization” from the voices of God, gods, rulers or ancestors, and provide support in the form of specific OT citations; correlate the rise of introspective language in the Bible with the disappearance of vocal authorization (the “lost voice”); explain the cultural framework of typical mental experience structured by post-bicameral cultures, and differentiate the mental life articulated by those who have atypical experiences such as autism or schizophrenia, assessing the role of language, speech, and hearing in such experiences; identify and inventory arguments advanced by Jaynes, and propose and defend alternative explanations to those arguments; predict future confirmations or refutations of Jaynes’s theory that developing technology can afford; cite examples of the use of metaphor in the language of interiority, and trace the development of metaphorical language in OT literature; list examples of mistranslations or transvaluations by of bicamerally-produced biblical words; state both the “soft” (cultural/psychological) and “hard” (physiological) versions of Jaynes’s theory of consciousness; list the consequences of Jaynes’s theory for the disciplines of theology, religion, psychology, linguistics, philosophy, and neuroscience.

Method of Presentation: Classes will be a combination of lectures, discussions, exercises, videos, and other media.

Student’s and Instructor’s Responsibilities: The students are research colleagues with the instructor in the exploration of a difficult subject that is not completely understood.  Each person’s contribution to this exploration is valued.  The instructor encourages students to take risks during class discussions by venturing ideas, observations, objections, or conjectures that are not fully formed, so long as these are expressed with collegial respect. The instructor undertakes to safeguard the atmosphere of collegiality.  The grading of class participation, below, reflects not the correctness of the student’s comments, but rather the student’s engagement in the process.  (For other responsibilities, see the Marshall University catalog.)

Term Paper:  Each student will produce a Term Paper.  The topic is to be selected from the topic list supplied at the end of the Syllabus (or selected by arrangement with the instructor), no later than the start of the class period on October 24.  The class session on October 24 will be structured as a conversation on the part of students and instructor to frame and refine the Term Paper subjects, and (where relevant) to interrelate them.

Final Course Grade: 100 points possible.  The Final Grade will be found by taking the sum of three elements: Class Participation (possible 30 points), the Term Paper (possible 35 points), and the Final Exam (possible 35 points). The total possible points equals 100.  The final grade for the course will apply the following scale to the total points earned:

100-90 A

89-80 B

79-70 C

69-60 D

59-0  F

Grading Detail: Class Participation – possible 30 points: There is no attendance requirement as such, but it is easily seen from the following grading of class participation that the course grade is partly determined by class participation. See “Student’s and Instructor’s Responsibilities” above for more about participation. The scale for each class session is as follows:

0: Student is absent

1: Student is present but does not participate

2: Student participates when prompted

3: Student participates as a research colleague

There are 12 class sessions, not counting the exam day and the Term Paper Conference day.  Of these 12 sessions, the lowest two scores will be dropped.  Then, the student’s remaining 10 daily scores will be added.  This leaves a number expressing the total points for the semester, of which the maximum possible score will be 30.

Grading Detail:  Final Exam – possible 35 points: The total number of points possible for the Final Examination is 35. The exam will be graded A to F, and then the points in this grading element will be applied as follows:

A: 35

B: 32

C: 28

D: 25

F: 0

Grading Detail:  Term Paper – possible 35 points: The total number of points possible for the Term Paper is 35. The paper will be graded A to F, and points in this grading element will be applied as follows:

A: 35

B: 32

C: 28

D: 25

F: 0

Possible Topics for Term Papers:  Suggested topics are listed here. You only need to select one topic, and you may select it from any of the listed categories, or from the “Additional Topics” at the end of the categorized list.  You may substitute a topic of your own choosing if you obtain the instructor’s approval before you begin. You are required to notify the instructor of the topic you have selected no later than the start of the class period on October 24, Term Paper Conference Day (see the “Term Paper” section of the Syllabus).