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Humans may have once been like the Borg

Screenshot: Star Trek: TNG, The Best of Both Worlds

Nearly 30 years after they first appeared on screen, the Borg remain one of the more terrifying and formidable enemies ever introduced in the Star Trek universe. With their armies of mindless drones hell-bent on assimilating every human being and robbing them of their personhood, the Borg collective represents the opposite of everything we hold dear about humanity. They lack all compassion, cannot be reasoned with, and are totally unable to think for themselves. But, if some psychologists are to be believed, we may have once been more similar to the Borg than we’d like to think.

A new piece on Nautilus explores this idea by looking back at the 1976 book The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. In the book, Jaynes argues that early humans did not have an explicit sense of self, but rather experienced the world through a bicameral mind, having one part of their brain that gave orders and another part that followed them. This is similar to the notion of an individual Borg existing simultaneously as a drone and the plural “collective.”


It wasn’t until the advent of writing that the bicameral mind started to break down and the singular consciousness of humans started to emerge. Trek fans will probably remember the episode “I, Borg” in which a single drone that is separated from the collective loses his connection to one half of his bicameral mind, allowing an individual identity (embarrassingly named “Hugh”) to take hold. Or, if you’re more of a Westworld fan, this is basically what Anthony Hopkins’ character is always going on about.

Whether humans ever existed with bicameral minds is still highly debatable, and, considering we currently possess a sense of identity, it can be hard for us to even wrap our minds around what that existence would be like. Nevertheless, it’s fun to imagine a giant Borg cube roaming the Mesopotamian river valley, assimilating Bronze Age technology.

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