A new study that appeared in The British Journal of Psychiatry by researchers at University Medical Center Groningen in The Netherlands suggests that nearly 1 out of every ten children, seven to eight years of age, report hearing voices that don’t really exist and appear to come from nowhere. For the most part, researchers have found that these voices “don’t have an impact on daily life,” and advise that children who report them should merely be reassured and watched very closely.

Of course, the researchers have already probed for potential links between children who report hearing such disembodied voices and those who will later suffer from mental disorders like schizophrenia. Nonetheless, in most cases this sort of activity, at least among young children, has not been found to be a cause for concern, and is considered to be quite normal.

If we choose to look at this from an evolutionary viewpoint, it almost seems that hearing voices would be beneficial to young people, or even mature adults at various times throughout human history. Many people have observed how animals have a sort of “sixth sense” when it comes to navigation and other biological functions (consider the multitude of stories of household pets who, after being separated from their families, manage to travel enormous distances to find their way home). Indeed, if we were to consider whether man could have ever harnessed similar instincts, it might make sense that our early ancestors, often wandering nomads, might have had a psychological development in their brains that created a sort of “knowing” or “guiding force” they could rely on. Indeed, it would be assumed that this would have been entirely a product of how the early mind worked, rather than some supernatural force. To put it simply, before mankind had risen to the dominant species on Earth, they may have relied on senses that instilled a feeling of “being led,” when in essence, they were leading themselves.

Another example of this might be a child who, in a moment of distress (getting lost in the forest, for example), manages to find their way back to safety. Rather than saying they followed landmarks they recognized or other visual cues, they might say that an imaginary friend “led them home,” or kept them company so they wouldn’t feel alone on the way home. Again, it is evident that such a psychological manifestation might be helpful in creating the impression of comfort and security when a child might otherwise succumb to fear of the dark, or of merely being alone in such traumatic circumstances.

Although the circumstances above are intended for use as an analogy, similar phenomenon is occasionally reported by adult victims of trauma, as well as UFO abductees. One abductee, while on a family picnic in France in the 1950s, had wandered into the nearby woods, where she was later found unconscious and bleeding from the nose. Her only immediate recollection upon being revived was witnessing a group of rabbits hopping about in the clearing where she had been found. Later, hypnosis suggested that she had encountered a group of “strange little men” in the area, rather than the harmless rabbits she had remembered. Another famous example is Whitley Strieber, author of the Communion series, whose early abduction accounts were filled with memories of a large owl lighting on his windowsill and staring at him with its dark eyes. Later in Communion, Strieber also recollects a trip he made with his father by train, in which he experienced another abduction sequence. His only memory of the event had been looking out one of the windows as the train passed a hill, on top of which sat a large wolf howling.

In his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, psychologist Julian Jaynes looks at the notion of bicameralism, which is a psychological hypothesis that argues how the human brain may have once assumed a state where cognitive functions were divided between one part of the brain which appears to be “speaking”, and a second part which listens and obeys. Throughout history, prophets and seers long claimed to have been able to hear the voices of God and angels, and Jaynes made the argument that there was a similar period during which a variety of religious texts illustrated the complaints that their authors “could no longer hear the gods,” or that “God no longer speaks to me.” If Jaynes’ theory that early man was directed by auditory hallucinations, often interpreted as being some external source or “higher power,”again the notion that a child might do this in their developmental years leading to age ten doesn’t seem so strange, but in fact may be a hold-over from a time when all people’s minds acted in this way.

So perhaps the “gods”, or even something archetypical within ourselves, does still speak… to a few of us, at least.

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Author: Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, researcher, and podcaster. His interests include areas of history, science, archaeology, philosophy, and the study of anomalous phenomena in nature. He can be reached at info@micahhanks.com.

3 Replies to “Voices of Reason: Archetypal Sub-consciousness and the Mind

  1. I’m with you on this one, Micah, mate – if there’s anything to Evolution, (or Natural Selection, the mechanism supposedly behind it), then people going round hearing and seeing things that ‘aren’t there’ doesn’t make a lick of sense.

    For instance, how did our primate ancestors – so afflicted – tell whether the potential edible they thought they’d spotted in the distance was really there or not, especially when they also had to decide whether the lion wandering below their tree was also an hallucination or not?

    I’m also aware of Jaynes’ work, but he seemed to imagine our present ‘mental’ situation is an improvement on that of our ancestors, whereas my take is basically the same as that I once gave someone who wondered how people survived their nights before the invention of stable light sources.

    Originally, people could see in the dark, (something that can be verified, to a degree, by sitting long enough in the dark) – it was only with the advent of artificial light people forgot how to use such features of their eyes as their peripheral vision, with its capacity for, say, distinguishing between stable and unstable regions of darkness, (try looking directly at a patch of night sky with seemingly no stars, then took another look from out the corner of one of your eyes).

    The point being, just as the advent of electric light and mechanized transport has made us less aware of many of our bodies’ extraordinary physical capacities, and the invention of writing, then books, and now computers’ve made many of us unaware of our ancestors’ – and, indeed, our own – capacity to memorise literally phenomenal amounts of all kinds of data, so our supposedly ‘idiot savant’ ancestors probably had a far, far better grasp of the nature and uses of what we nowadays view as mere mental illnesses to be suppressed by medication, or expunged by surgery.

  2. Being a supra-bicameral adult as I have known myself to be now for some 8 years, the challenges I have faced in my attempts to be heard or understood by the ‘regular’ people all around me have been staggering, and often life-threatening. What I mean by supra- is that there are no voices or entities involved with me, I simply turn my mind toward a topic, and it is illumined for me in a way unlike anything I had ever previously imagined. I desperately hope, of course, that this skill is indeed a gift, and not a trap

  3. Micah, I find your suggestion that an anthropomorphic manifestation of instinctual guidance might be an improvement in fitness in some situations to be amusing (and as far as I know, original). It does make sense, though I would imagine that more often than not the hallucinatory elements might be maladaptive (particularly when, due to the priming of a frightening situation, the whole of the hallucination becomes fearful rather than comforting).

    As for the complaints of our evolution-skeptics above — well, for one, the form mentioned in the original post does not appear to be a constant hallucinatory fugue. Most psychological problems (as opposed to neurological problems) are best considered to be maladaptive solutions that are at best not much better than the problems they solve (from the point of view of the therapist). Delusions have a tendency to be protection from some ostensibly more traumatic truth, and likewise these hallucinations (perhaps a link to DMT from the pineal gland? Is there a link to stress response? I don’t have the time to research it at the moment) would be intended as temporary adaptive behaviors to ensure survival. I do not know how Jayne framed it with The Bicameral Mind, but a hallucinatory fugue fundamentally diverged from any valid model of reality would be maladaptive (a hallucinatory fugue that is a faster version of a good-enough model of reality is the status quo even for modern humans, as cognitive science research has consistently shown for decades). This does not factor out the potential for a minority of people who never leave the world of illusion (or delusion, depending on your choice of epistemological system), just as the fact that many people wake up from REM sleep does not conflict with the equally valid fact that plenty of people go through life with constant hallucinations ranging from low-scale hypnagogia and acid flashbacks to hallucinations that purely by the grace of goddess do not kill them quickly.

    I would like to test your supra-bicamerality, organelle. There is a documented effect called cryptomnesia that matches what you describe far better than the hypothesis of a bicameral mind seems to. I make use of cryptomnesia daily, and it rarely fails me; I assume that I make use of it likewise when I engage in bibliomancy and scrying, for the sake of adhering to the law of parsimony. In either case, there is one thing I should warn you about: a lack of agnosis is dangerous in any situation, let alone a situation wherein you listen to a vast spew of knowledge from an unknown source. Remember PKD’s experience as documented in VALIS, and likewise RAW’s experience with the Sirius people. The greatest mistake one can make is to agree with oneself, because then there is no one to argue against it. To quote the late John Keel, “Belief is the enemy.”

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