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Multiple Personality Disorder and the ‘Hard Problem of Consciousness’

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Ready to have your mind blown?

A new paper published in The Journal of Consciousness Studies claims that consciousness isn’t a unique property of humans-rather, the entire universe is conscious, and humans are all manifestations of its multiple personalities.

The proposition, based on research into dissociative identity disorder in humans, is meant to solve a perennial problem in philosophy: the “hard problem” of finding where consciousness comes from and understanding its true nature.

The hard problem of consciousness can be summed up like this:

Humans are made up of a bunch of matter (atoms) that organizes itself into biological systems (sensory organs, the brain, etc.), but if humans are just assemblies of various systems, why are we able to reflect on those systems and have individual, subjective experiences?

Why aren’t we unthinking automatons?

Of course, the question of where human consciousness comes from is made even more difficult by the fuzzy definition of what actually constitutes “consciousness.”

One potential theory, called “constitutive panpsychism,” is that consciousness doesn’t just magically spring from the complexity of physical systems like the brain-instead, everything has its own rudimentary form of consciousness, all the way down to atoms.

However, that runs into its own issue, called the “combination problem”: What mechanism would allow a bunch of smaller consciousnesses add up to form a bigger, human-sized one?

This is where dissociative identity disorder (DID) research comes into play.

Scientists have discovered that some people have multiple, subjective consciousnesses contained within their brain, each of which can have its own subjective experience-for example, one woman had a separate personality (called an “alter”) that was blind, and after undergoing a brain scan, it was found that the parts of the brain associated with sight were turned “off” when that alter was in control.

This spurred scientist Bernardo Kastrup to wonder if we were looking at the structure of human consciousness the wrong way.

The research into DID made Kastrup reassess a theory called “cosmopsychism,” which proposes that the universe as a whole is a united consciousness spread across all creation, and all the matter we observe is its “body”: “The physical universe as a whole is the extrinsic appearance of universal inner life, just as a living brain and body are the extrinsic appearance of a person’s inner life.” The issue, of course, is that if everything was part of one consciousness, humans would be aware of everything that’s happening the universe, as well as within each other’s minds.

This is where Kastrup makes his big claim:

“We know empirically from DID that consciousness can give rise to many operationally distinct centers of concurrent experience, each with its own personality and sense of identity. Therefore, if something analogous to DID happens at a universal level, the one universal consciousness could, as a result, give rise to many alters with private inner lives like yours and ours. As such, we may all be alters-dissociated personalities-of universal consciousness.”

Think about that for a few hours.

Chris Mahon
Outer Places
Headline Image: © UnSplash


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