1st Edition

How Religion Evolved Explaining the Living Dead, Talking Idols, and Mesmerizing Monuments

By Brian McVeigh Copyright 2016

    Why did many religious leaders—Moses, Old Testament prophets, Zoroaster—claim they heard divine voices? Why do ancient civilizations exhibit key similarities, e.g., the "living dead" (treating the dead as if they were still alive); "speaking idols" (care and feeding of effigies); monumental mortuary architecture and "houses of gods" (pyramids, ziggurats, temples)? How do we explain strange behaviour such as spirit possession, speaking in tongues, channelling, hypnosis, and schizophrenic hallucinations? Are these lingering vestiges of an older mentality?

    Brian J. McVeigh answers these riddles by updating "bicameralism." First proposed by the psychologist Julian Jaynes, this theory postulates that an earlier mentality existed: a "human" (the brain's left hemisphere) heard voices of "gods" or "ancestors" (the brain's right hemisphere). Therefore, ancient religious texts reporting divine voices were recounting of audio-visual hallucinations—a method of social control when early populations expanded. As growing political economic complexity destabilized god-governed states in the late second millennium BCE, divine voices became inadequate.

    Eventually, humans had to culturally acquire new cognitive skills (modern religions) to accommodate increasing social pressures: selves replaced the gods and history witnessed an "inward turn." This psychological interiorization of spiritual experience laid the foundations for the world's great religions and philosophies that arose in India, China, Greece, and the Middle East in the middle of the first millennium BCE.


    Foreword by Marcel Kuijsten


    Prologue: Chasing Ghosts in Tokyo

    Part I: The World According to the Gods

    1 The Failure of Science to Explain Religion

    2 Why the Gods Began to Speak

    3 Divine Voices and Visions as Social Adaptation

    Part II: When the Gods Spoke and Walked among Us

    4 The Living Dead: Explaining Entombment and Ancestor Worship

    5 Towns as the Domain of the Gods

    6 Temples as Relay Stations: Transmitting Divine Commands

    7 Talking Idols: Tools of Divine Control

    8 Mortuary Monuments: How the Gods Awed Their Followers

    9 Heavenly Ambassadors: God–Kings and Sacred Rulers

    10 Ancient Civilizations as God-Governed

    11 Mesoamerica: Theocentric Civilizations of the New World

    12 Trimming the Theological Tree: Monotheism as Adaptation

    13 Angels, Divine Messengers, and Swarms of Demons

    Part III: When the Gods Fell Silent

    14 Prayers, Possessions, and Prophecies: Conjuring Up the Missing Gods

    15 The Gods Depart: The Late-Bronze-Period Dark Ages

    16 A Change of Mind in the Ancient World

    17 The Axial Age: The World Reborn without Gods

    18 Imagining the Transcendent: A New Cognitive Ability

    19 Introcosm: A New World of Space and Time

    20 The Self Replaces the Gods

    21 From Revelation to Reasoning

    22 When the Gods Still Whisper: Strange Behaviors Explained

    Epilogue: Science and Politics as Neo-Religion

    Appendices and Supplementary Charts

    A How to Chase Ghosts

    B Explaining Religion versus Explaining Religion Away

    C Gods on the Brain: Neurotheology

    D The Problem with "Cultural Evolution"

    E Six Hypotheses of Jaynesian Psychology

    F The Limitations of Evolutionary Psychology

    G Prehistoric and Historic Mentalities in Perspective

    H Predictable Objections, Rebuttals, and Qualifications

    I Verification and Applications of Jaynes's Theories

    J Primitive Psychopolitics and Neurocultural Adaptation

    K A History of Mentalities

    L Population Size of Ancient Towns and Cities

    M Dreams: A Form of Conscious Interiority

    N Pre-Axial and Axial Ages Compared

    O Solving the Mystery of Hallucinations

    P Autoscopy: Seeing One's Double

    Q What the Gods Can Teach Us: A New Understanding of the Mind

    Timelines of Mentalities


    1 Three Major Shifts in Human Mentality

    2 Prehistoric Mentalities

    3 Middle East

    4 Africa

    5 Europe

    6 South Asia

    7 East Asia

    8 Southeast Asia

    9 Oceania

    10 North America

    11 South America

    12 Mesoamerica





    Brian McVeigh