The many in our dreams

Giotto di Bondone's Joachim's Dream (1303-1305). Source: Wikimedia Commons.
As I posted on social media recently, a critical essay of my work has been published, a few days ago, in a Russian newspaper. I know a few words in Russian but can't really read an essay. Yet, Russian-speaking readers told me that one of the criticisms made in it is the following: whereas we can see an interact directly with other people and animals, the different alters of a patient with dissociative identity disorder (DID) can't see or interact directly with each other. Therefore—or so the argument goes—my stating that life, biology, is the image of dissociation in universal consciousness is incoherent.

It so happens that, in my upcoming book on Schopenhauer's metaphysics, I tackle precisely this criticism in the passage reproduced below. In it, by 'universal will' I mean universal consciousness. Since I offer this as a defense of Schopenhauer's metaphysics, the implication is that, in my view, Schopenhauer, too, explains personal identity and life in terms of universal dissociation. I make this case quite extensively in the book, which will very soon be available for pre-ordering.

Soon available for pre-ordering.
Long quote from Decoding Schopenhauer's Metaphysics

A criticism that could be offered at this point is this: whereas we can perceive and interact directly with other individual subjects in ordinary waking life—after all, I can surely see and interact with other people and animals—an alter of a human DID [Dissociative Identity Disorder] patient cannot perceive and interact directly with another alter of the same patient; there is nothing the second alter looks like from the point of view of the first; the first alter cannot reach out and touch the second. So how is it that I can reach out and touch other people and animals if they, like me, are analogous to alters of the universal will?

The key to making sense of this is rigor in interpreting the analogy: we are likening (a) a person with DID to (b) the universal will with something analogous to DID. But remember, unlike the case of the person, there is no external world from the point of view of the universal will. The latter is, ex hypothesi, all there is, all phenomena being internal to it. So we are comparing apples to bananas when we relate the person’s life in the outside world to the entirely endogenous inner life of the universal will. It is much more apt to compare the latter with the person’s dream life, for only then all experiential states in both cases are internally generated, without the influence of an outside world. This, and only this, is a fair analogy.

So what do we know about the dream life of a human DID patient? Can the patient’s different alters share a dream, taking different co-conscious points of view within the dream, just like you and I share a world? Can they perceive and interact with one another within their shared dream, just as people can perceive and interact with one another within their shared environment? As it turns out, there is evidence that this is precisely what happens, as research has shown (Barrett 1994: 170-171). Here is an illustrative case from the literature:
The host personality, Sarah, remembered only that her dream from the previous night involved hearing a girl screaming for help. Alter Annie, age four, remembered a nightmare of being tied down naked and unable to cry out as a man began to cut her vagina. Ann, age nine, dreamed of watching this scene and screaming desperately for help (apparently the voice in the host’s dream). Teenage Jo dreamed of coming upon this scene and clubbing the little girl’s attacker over the head; in her dream he fell to the ground dead and she left. In the dreams of Ann and Annie, the teenager with the club appeared, struck the man to the ground but he arose and renewed his attack again. Four year old Sally dreamed of playing with her dolls happily and nothing else. Both Annie and Ann reported a little girl playing obliviously in the corner of the room in their dreams. Although there was no definite abuser-identified alter manifesting at this time, the presence at times of a hallucinated voice similar to Sarah’s uncle suggested there might be yet another alter experiencing the dream from the attacker’s vantage. (Barrett 1994: 171)
Taking this at face value, what it shows is that, while dreaming, a dissociated human mind can manifest multiple, concurrently conscious alters that experience each other from second- and third-person perspectives, just as you and I can shake hands with one another in ordinary waking life. The alters’ experiences are also mutually consistent, in the sense that the alters all seem to perceive the same series of events, each alter from its own individual subjective perspective. The correspondences with the experiences of individual people sharing an outside world are self-evident and require no further commentary.

Clearly, our empirical grasp of extreme forms of dissociation shows that a DID-like process at a universal scale is, at least in principle, a viable explanation for how individual subjects arise within the universal will. Whether the cognitive mechanisms underlying dissociation are also conceptually understood today is but a secondary question: whatever these mechanisms may be, we know empirically that they do exist in nature and produce precisely the right effects to explain the illusion of individuality posited by Schopenhauer. In this regard—and in many others as well—Schopenhauer’s metaphysics is empirically plausible.
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2 comments:

  1. I'm curious as to whether or not you have read this rather dated (May of 2003) journal paper: The disunity of consciousness? It appears in the Trends in Cognitive Science Journal and it was linked to in this recent The Conversation article by Subhash Kak, Why a computer will never be truly conscious.

    For your own amusement, What is the matter in Amy Glennon?, with a transcript here; which is quite old (1995) but I recently had cause to recall . . .

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  2. Years ago I was in contact with a German girl (that also had a YouTube channel, which she has now deleted) that had intense DID.

    This was of course her formal diagnosis, but since she was a person that was very oriented towards spirituality, alternative forms of healing and understanding the world, as well as esoteric and the occult (all of this not only theoretically, she also had a lot practical experience in these areas), she understood her "disease" quite differently.

    We chatted on various occasions and tried to figure out together what her actual problems may be and what her diagnosis means outside of the realm of modern mainstream medicine and the materialistic understanding of our reality. I myself have about a decade and many thousands of hours of personal experience with various meditative practices and through them states of oneness, bliss, rapture, as well as hell and pain, not to mention a slew of experiences that could be dubbed "paranormal" (from telepathy, to entity contact, to experiencing one's body as pure energy, heightened intuition and knowing things will happen...etc.) - because of which I did feel like I could help her understand her condition. And indeed together we came to some interesting conclusions.

    To keep it short, it seemed quite likely to both of us that both she and either most or all of those suffering from DID are in fact beings that have incarnated on this plane that have some sort of mutual pact or agreement where many souls (or alters in your terminology), share the same body. Indeed the experiences she had with her alters and the transformations that occur, as well as her own insights into this area, showed strongly that the majority or even none of the alters present were in fact her, as the core alter/soul inhabiting the body, simply being further fragmented, but in fact distinct core alters / souls, each with their own point of view and agenda. Though despite that she did seem to be the primary holder and keeper of the physical body and thus the physical body she had was in a way a co-expression of the minds (since of course the body is the mind in gross form, as you know very well) of a multitude of core alters /souls, yet it seems primarily her own.

    If this is true then through DID you have indeed stumbled upon the perfect example in terms of physical manifestation of how the Cosmos works in terms of the individuation of souls / core alters and their experiences and a perfect ground to explore and study the nature of beings / core alters beyond the physical. In the case of DID this means that the alters of a patient suffering from such a condition are in fact not merely some kind of fragments of one core alter being further dissociated from itself, but in fact separate and distinct individual core alters / souls on the Cosmic scale, sharing one physical body. Thus in esoteric terminology - DID, for the most or in all cases, is in fact an example of many souls/monads inhabiting one physical body. In your terminology, these would be alters of course, but I have frequently used the term "core alter" here to differentiate between alters that are fundamentally only dissociated from the All (core alters or souls/monads in esoteric terminology) and those that are even further dissociated from core alters themselves, like a fragmented form of core alter personality.

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