This article was inspired by the book by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., “Many
Minds, One Self”.
How does the theory of the multiplicity of mind sound in the light of what we
know about the human brain from actual research? Thanks to the modern
technology, we are able to carefully study this most important organ and see
that the human brain works within the frame of autonomous “modules”,
cooperating with each other.
Dan Siegel, professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, Los
Angeles, writes that sub-personalities are “states of mind that have a repeated
pattern of activity across time. These specialized selves or self-states each
have relatively specialized and somewhat independent modes of processing
information and achieving goals. Each person has many such interdependent
and yet distinct processes, which exist over time with a sense of continuity
that creates the experience of mind. (Siegel, 1999, p. 231).
Dan Siegel also believes that any complex system works best when its
elements are strongly distinguished and to some extent linked to each other.
The same applies to social relationships, in which people need to find balance
between individual differentiation and interpersonal integration. What is
more, as it turns out, the same principle applies to the interactions between
parts of our personality. Neither excessive attachment or high reactivity of the
parts on each other, nor excessive isolation or lack of communication is good
for the inner family.
Siegel emphasizes that, despite the fact that modern psychology often neglects
mental systems, we must take them into account. It defines system integration
as a balance between the differentiation of the system’s parts and the free
linkage between them.
Imagine a mind as a jury, which must announce a verdict, or as a democratic
system where representatives are obliged to put forward one president or
parliament. This is how neuroscientist David Eagleman illustrates the
multiplicity of mind. He says that it is often the case that two subsystems are
most visible and in opposition (e.g. rational and emotional mind), but there are
much more of these neuronal subpopulations in total. The Self is to combine
the activities of our inner parts into a single narrative with a coherent sense.
I particularly like the view put forward by an American intellectual and writer
Douglas Hofstadter, winner of the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for a book on cognitive
processes and intelligence.
This is what he says on sub-personalities from the perspective of
neuroscience in psychology: “With its billions of neurons, the mind resembles
a community made up of smaller communities, each in turn made up of
smaller one. I like to refer to the highest-level communities (just below the
level of the whole) as ‘sub-selves’ or ‘inner voices’… These are competing
aspects of ourselves that try to lead the whole system.”
In turn, Michael Gazzaniga, studying the two hemispheres, came to the
conclusion that our brain functions as a set of cooperating but separate
systems (“multiple dynamic mental systems”).
Robert Ornstein, another representative of neuroscience in psychology said
that “we are not a single person; we are many”, whereas Antonio Damasio
uses the metaphor of an orchestra and says that the conductor appears later as
a result of cooperation of all parts of the brain, not the other way round.