Doubt, the Catalyst for Consciousness

Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum

“I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am” is one of the most simple, but significant philosophical statements of all time. Hidden within that simplicity is the foundation for all knowledge. Only by doubting can one be certain of one’s own existence, because the process of doubting requires a subject capable of introspection. As Dr. Julian Jaynes said in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, “The eye cannot doubt or be in conflict, as the soon-to-be-invented conscious mind will be able to.” (pg 70)[1]

Before modern consciousness existed, while man was transitioning from a bicameral (‘two-chambered’) state of mind, he didn’t have the ability to introspect, reflect on the past, or imagine any possible future– he was controlled by his environment, acting in a stimulus-response manner (if you’re not familiar with the Bicameral Theory of Mind please read the short summary here: http://manicmatter.com/origin-consciousness-bicameral-mind/). During this time period, there were what Dr. Jaynes referred to as the preconscious hypostases, these were physiological responses which instigated behavior, as in the way someone’s breathing might increase as an enemy force charges onto a battlefield and this leads them to fight or flee. In the Iliad, these respiratory changes were referred to as phrenes, and they could cause a cascade of physical reactions in the body that would lead a person to commit to a certain action. Or, as Jaynes says, “The preconscious hypostases are the assumed causes of action when other causes are no longer apparent. In any novel situation, when there are no gods, it is not a man who acts, but one of the preconscious hypostases [bodily sensations] which causes him to act. They are thus seats of reaction and responsibility which occur in the transition from the bicameral mind to subjective consciousness.” (pg 259)[1]

Although not a physiological response, doubt, likely caused by an interruption in a signal being sent from one area of the brain to another, could be one of the most powerful internal sensations which Dr. Jaynes referred to as the preconcious hypostases. When a message is sent from one area of the brain to another, but it never arrives because of a signaling issue there is a feeling of doubt which is not easy to overcome– it makes one question whatever has entered their mind. If someone is able to question what they see, hear, or feel, then that displays more than a simple sense, it demonstrates that their senses are being interpreted. In this way, neurological doubt, as opposed to Descartes’ hyperbolical/metaphysical doubt, may have preceded consciousness, and in fact be the primary cause of consciousness as we know it. It’s important to state here that I use the definition of consciousness which was put forth by Dr. Julian Jaynes, and Descartes, in its simplest terms it would be “that which is introspectable.”

If Jaynes is correct, and consciousness emerged in the Middle East sometime around 1000 B.C. then the literature from that time period should reflect this, and indeed it does. While examining the Old Testament, Dr. Jaynes stated that “it is possible to look upon it [the Fall of Man] as a myth of the breakdown of the bicameral mind. The Hebrew arum, meaning crafty or deceitful, surely a conscious subjective word, is only used three or four times throughout the entire Old Testament. It is here used to describe the source of the temptation. The ability to deceive, we remember, is one of the hallmarks of consciousness. The serpent promises that “you shall be like the elohim [Gods] themselves, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5), qualities that only subjective conscious man is capable of. And when these first humans had eaten of the tree of knowledge, suddenly “the eyes of them both were opened,” their analog eyes in their metaphored mind-space, “and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7), or had autoscopic visions and were narratizing, seeing themselves as others see them. And so is their sorrow “greatly multiplied” (Genesis 3:16) and they are cast out from the garden where He-who-is could be seen and talked with like another man.” (pg 299)[1]

I believe that within the Biblical tale of the fall of man lies the biological cause of increased doubt, which led to subjectivity– the Forbidden Fruit. Many scholars think that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is merely a metaphor, but this doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a biological basis for it. In the Garden of Eden God commanded Adam, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16-17), but why would this be? It seems apparent to me that the myth details not just the acquisition of consciousness, but also of man’s change from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agrarian one. This is most evident in Genesis 3:17-19:

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

In the narrative, Adam, which is derived from the Hebrew word for soil (adama) as he was created from the earth, was exiled from the garden where he was forced to work the fields in order to eat for the remainder of his life. The name Chava (Eve’s name in the original text) is derived from the Hebrew root chayah meaning life– this is very interesting because she is the first being made from another living creature as all other organisms before her had been formed out of the ground. As you can see, the writers of the Old Testament were very careful with their words, so it’s no coincidence that the Hebrew name of the forbidden fruit is a pun on sin; khet is the Hebrew word for sin, and some Rabbinic traditions regard khitah, or wheat, to be a pun on sin. Thus, the story of the Fall of Man explains not just the acquisition of consciousness, but also of man’s change to an agrarian lifestyle because both events were precipitated by the ingestion of wheat.

What did Ancient Hebrew sources say the forbidden fruit was? Rabbi Yehuda/Judah, a 2nd Century wise man who is the most frequently mentioned sage in the Mishnah, the first written compendium of Judaism’s Oral Law, proposed that the fruit was wheat because “a babe does not know to call its mother and father until it tastes the taste of grain.”[2] The first book of the Kabbalah, the Sefer Yetzirah (the Book of Formation) which was said to be written by the patriarch Abraham, says that the forbidden fruit was wheat,[3] this teaching is also found in the Talmud, a collection of the opinions of thousands of rabbis on an assortment of subjects which is second only to the Torah. Many people would question how wheat could be considered a fruit, or a tree; the Talmud says that wheat is a fruit because of the way in which it grows.[4] Sages in the Midrash, an early commentary on Biblical texts, said that wheat once grew as tall as a palm tree, but its height was reduced after mankind had sinned.[5]

While viewing the Garden of Eden myth as a metaphor for the change in ancient man’s way of life, this brings us to the question of why ancient man was not “supposed” to eat wheat. I believe that the simplest, and most logical explanation would be that man has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to eat vegetation in its natural form; wheat, and most other cereal grains (grass seeds), require mechanical processing and baking before consumption so this is something which man didn’t eat until the point when civilization had advanced to a sufficient degree several thousand years ago in the Levant and Iraq. But, on a physiological level, why was wheat so different from the foods which man was adapted to? Before anatomically modern humans (from approximately 30,000 years ago) began adopting agriculture, their diet consisted of meat, fruits, nuts, legumes, roots and tubers, consumption of cereal seeds hadn’t begun to increase until the end of the Pleistocene around 10,000 years ago. (Constantini 1989)[6] Around this time-period, according to Loren Cordain, “hunter-gatherers occasionally consumed cereal grains; however these foods were apparently not major dietary components for most of the year.”(1999)[7, 8] As the climate in much of the world was becoming more hospitable for humans, large game became more and more depleted, and new sources of food were required for humankind’s ever-increasing numbers– it was at this time that gathered plants were becoming more and more important for survival. Despite their nutritional shortcomings cereal grains have several advantages related primarily to ease of storage and planting, but the major change which grains allowed for was a much greater population density.

Babylon System, Tower of Babel, Tikulti Ninurta: Consciousness

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The development of large, agricultural societies allowed for the specialization of labor since only a relatively small portion of the population would be required to farm this would leave time for the others to focus on a particular trade like tool-making, cloth-making, and building. This new way of life led not only to social stratification, but also to the exchange of ideas, and the development of organized governments to properly plan and manage surpluses. Looking back, it’s interesting to note that

the extent to which early groups became civilized correlates with the type of agriculture they practiced. That is, major civilizations (in south-west Asia, Europe, India, and east and parts of South-East Asia; central and parts of north and south America; Egypt, Ethiopia and parts of tropical and west Africa) stemmed from groups which practiced cereal, particularly wheat, agriculture (Bender 1975, Adams 1987, Thatcher 1987). (The rarer nomadic civilizations were based on dairy farming.) (Greg Wadley and Angus Martin 2000)[9, 10, 11, 12]

Wadley and Martin go on to offer a possible explanation for this fact– over the last several decades numerous groups of researchers have conducted studies which have demonstrated that cereal seeds, including wheat, maize, and barley, (as well as bovine and human milk), have opioid activity (interestingly enough, wheat and milk also contain proteins which have some degree of stimulatory activity, and also an analog of a dopaminergic peptide called MIF-1).[13, 14, 15, 16, 17] The psychoactive peptides which have been isolated from these seeds are called exorphins “because of their exogenous origin and morphine-like activity.”(Zioudrou et al 1979)[15] In the years following this groundbreaking research,

researchers have measured the potency of exorphins, showing them to be comparable to morphine and enkephalin (Heubner et al. 1984), determined their amino acid sequences (Fukudome & Yoshikawa 1992), and shown that they are absorbed from the intestine (Svedburg et al.1985) and can produce effects such as analgesia and reduction of anxiety which are usually associated with poppy-derived opioids (Greksch et al.1981, Panksepp et al.1984). Mycroft et al. estimated that 150 mg of the MIF-1 analogue could be produced by normal daily intake of cereals and milk, noting that such quantities are orally active, and half this amount ‘has induced mood alterations in clinically depressed subjects’ (Mycroft et al. 1982). (Greg Wadley and Angus Martin 2000)[9, 18, 13, 19, 20, 21, 17]

With this understanding of how exorphins can affect the human body, and knowing that there is no consensus as to why early man adopted agriculture Wadley and Martin go on to propose a new theory on the origin of agriculture and civilization:

Cereals and dairy foods are not natural human foods, but rather are preferred because they contain exorphins. This chemical reward was the incentive for the adoption of cereal agriculture in the Neolithic. Regular self-administration of these substances facilitated the behavioural changes that led to the subsequent appearance of civilisation.

In the bicameral era man would experience hallucinations in novel/stressful situations so that an individual would know what to do, in this sense every man had a god that walked with him and could be experienced face to face; after man began eating wheat this increased various by-products of stress in the body so that the voices would appear intermittently or perhaps almost continuously in some people. Thus you can see how it could be said that ancient man walked with god and spoke with him face to face, because god was always there for him and he provided assistance in times of need; after eating the forbidden fruit man was separated from god because the voices began to be experienced randomly so they would no longer provide helpful commands. The people who were living at the time of the breakdown of the bicameral mind, the first people who had consciousness as we know it, left records of their interactions with god. As god receded from the mind of man like a tide which would never return, the words of the prophets of the Old Testament acted like a bridge which would allow others to cross the chasm which lay under the lost sea. The word of god had replaced the voice of god, but the ebbing tide left behind a hollow space for a new kind of mentality, one which would allow mankind to deal with complex societies which led to much more novelty than they’d ever been exposed to before. Thus, as the hallucinated voice had changed from producing commands distilled from stored-up, admonitory wisdom to what was probably a steady stream of matter-of-fact statements, musings, and reproachful rants, suddenly this voice was a stimuli which one could react to. Not only could the voice provide sudden verbal insight, or “inspiration” (as the now-changing god-side of the mind “breathed into” man), but one could also speak to it in the sense that as the voice (I want to specify here that as the voice occurred more often it would likely be perceived as less and less of an auditory hallucination which was “heard” and more as the god-side of the mind speaking to the man-side in an internal space which was still developing) says something like “look at that drawing, that’s not what the tower looked like” then the man could say “yes, the tower was not round.” So, in effect, we could bounce ideas off of this new structure as if it were another person– it has been said that two heads are better than one, and what amounts to two brains is perhaps the best. Over time, with an adjustment to the diet, the acquisition of new metaphorical language, and a changing social structure, the god-side of the mind became more of an analog space, a mind-space, where narratization occurred.

 

“Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum” is an expanded form of Descartes original “Dubito, ergo sum.” It was written by French literary critic, Antoine Léonard Thomas, in an award-winning 1765 essay in praise of Descartes.

Acknowledgments:
I would like to thank Rabbi James Cohn and Carole Brooks Platt for reviewing this essay and providing helpful commentary. I would also like to thank musicians Angel Olsen and Will Oldham/Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy for providing continued inspiration.

References:
[1] Jaynes, J. (1976). The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

[2] Babylonian Talmud: Berachos 40a; Sanhedrin 70b. (500 CE)

[3] Kabbalah: Sefer Yetzirah (~1000 CE from earlier texts)

[4] Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin 70b. (500 CE)

[5] Babylonian Talmud: Bavli Ketubot 111b. (500 CE)

[6] Constantini, L. (1989). Plant Exploitation at Grotta dell’Uzzo, Sicily: New Evidence for the Transition from Mesolithic to Neolithic Subsistence in Southern Europe, in Harris, D. R. & Hillman, G. C., eds, Foraging and Farming: The Evolution of Plant Exploitation, Unwin Hyman, London.

[7] Cordain, L. (1999). Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-edged Sword. Evolutionary Aspects of Nutrition and Health: Diet, Exercise, Genetics and Chronic Disease, Vol 84, pg 19-73. Retrieved January 1, 2014, from http://www.direct-ms.org/pdf/EvolutionPaleolithic/Cereal%20Sword.pdf

[8] Sinclair, A.J. & O’Dea, K. (1990). Fats in Human Diets Through History: Is the Western Diet out of Step?; in Wood JD, Fisher AV (eds): Reducing Fat in Meat Animals; pg 1-47. London, Elsevier Applied Science.

[9] Wadley, G. & Martin, A. (1993) The Origins of Agriculture: A Biological Perspective and a New Hypothesis. Australian Biologist 6: pg 96-105, June 1993. Retrieved January 1, 2014, from http://www.ranprieur.com/readings/origins.html

[10] Bender, B. (1975) Farming in Prehistory: From Hunter-gatherer to Food Producer. John Baker, London.

[11] Adams, W.M. (1987) Cereals Before Cities Except After Jacobs, in M. Melko & L.R. Scott eds, The Boundaries of Civilizations in Space and Time, University Press of America, Lanham.

[12] Thatcher, J. P. (1987) The Economic Base for Civilization in the New World, in Melko, M. & Scott, L. R., eds, The Boundaries of Civilizations in Space and Time, University Press of America, Lanham.

[13] Fukudome, S., & Yoshikawa, M. (1992). Opioid Peptides Derived from Wheat Gluten: Their Isolation and Characterization. FEBS Letters (Federation of European Biochemical Societies), Vol 296, No 1; pg 107-111. Retrieved January 1, 2014, from http://www.de-poort.be/cgi-bin/Document.pl?id=395

[14] Fukudome, S., & Yoshikawa, M. (1993). Gluten Exorphin C: A Novel Opioid Peptide Derived From Wheat Gluten. FEBS Letters (Federation of European Biochemical Societies), Vol 316, No 1; pg 17-19. Retrieved January 1, 2014, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/001457939381727H

[15] Zioudrou, C., Streaty, R., & Klee, W. (1979). Opioid Peptides Derived from Food Proteins: The Exorphins. The Journal Of Biological Chemistry, Vol 254, No 7; pg 2446-2449. Retrieved January 1, 2014, from http://www.jbc.org/content/254/7/2446.full.pdf

[16] Brantl, V., Teschemacher, H., Henschen, A. & Lottspeich, F. (1979). Novel Opioid Peptides Derived from Casein (beta-casomorphins), Hoppe-Seyler’s Zeitschrift fur Physiologische Chemie, Vol 360; pg 1211-6.

[17] Mycroft, F. J., Wei, E. T., Bernardin, J. E. & Kasarda, D. D. (1982). MlF-like Sequences in Milk and Wheat Proteins. New England Journal of Medicine, Vol 301; pg 895.

[18] Heubner, F., Liebeman, K., Rubino, R. & Wall, J. (1984). Demonstration of High Opioid-like Activity in Isolated Peptides from Wheat Gluten Hydrolysates. Peptides, Vol 5; pg 1139-47.

[19] Svedburg, J., De Haas, J., Leimenstoll, G., Paul, F. & Teschemacher, H. (1985). Demonstration of Betacasomorphin Immunoreactive Materials in in-vitro Digests of Bovine Milk and in Small Intestine Contents After Bovine Milk Ingestion in Adult Humans. Peptides, Vol 6; pg 825-30.

[20] Greksch, G., Schweiger C., Matthies, H. (1981). Evidence for Analgesic Activity of Beta-casomorphin in Rats. Neuroscience Letters, Vol 27; pg 325-8.

[21] Panksepp, J., Normansell, L., Siviy, S., Rossi, J. & Zolovick, A. (1984). Casomorphins Reduce Separation Distress in Chicks. Peptides, Vol 5; pg 829-83.

 

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