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January 3rd, 2007


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09:55 pm - Metaphysical musings: towards a theory of minds and souls

For the purposes of this post, I'm defining walk-ins (for lack of any better term) as unembodied personalities who either visit or move into the heads of living humans, and so I will use that as a generic term for additional personalities that arrive in an already inhabited (or previously inhabited) body.

Going solely be my own experience and the experiences of people I trust implicitly, I have encountered several different types of walk-ins. Some seem to be recently (at least from the perspective of their own time-line) dead humans (some from this world, some from others, some who don't know they are dead, but certainly seem likely to be based upon their experiences). Others are individuals who for some reason for other left their body while it was alive and have the same degree of memories about their life in their original body that the dead people do.

A third category are fully cognizant and highly flexible entities (often of unknown or poorly known – including to themselves - origin), flexible individuals who regularly take on the role of muses, RPG characters, media "soul-bonds", but who are definitely more than the role they assume. Some vaguely remember the last time they had a body (usually the body they were born in), but others have severely limited recall of their prior existence before taking on their current role and while they seem to be intelligent complete personalities, they often have only fragmentary memories outside of the role they are now playing. In at least one case, the individual had very fragmentary memories of playing another role for someone prior to the role they assumed where I met them. In this particular case, my best guess is that this individual was at one time a child's imaginary friend, who stuck around once the child had grown up, and after something happened to the grown-up child (likely death) this individual moved into a friend of mine's head and took on the role of several (in sequence) RPG characters. As with the first sort of entity, my subjective experience of such beings is that they are people in much the same way that I am a person. The relation between these individuals and the roles they end up playing is fairly complex. Since the individuals are obviously not the characters in question, my best guess is that they are non-embodied individuals who choose to become/play the role of various sorts of characters by either playing the role as an actor does or (and I assume that this is the more common response) modifying who they are in response to the constraints of the situation, altering their personality and memories in return for having something interesting to do and a place to live.

Finally, there are the partial personalities, who are at most a few fragments of memories and desires that can be incorporated into RPG characters and muses or used by people skilled in such thing to create artificial subsidiary personalities. In all cases, these fragments distinguish themselves from purely created characters by virtue of having fragmentary memories and desires that may have little or nothing to do with the conscious creation of the character or personality, but which lend this creation considerably more reality and a stronger (and in some cases impressively enduring) sense of identity than characters who are simply "made-up" typically have. These entities are not (as far as I can tell) actual people, but can more accurately be described as bits of people that retain some degree of awareness even if they typically lack any actual self-awareness.

The above is all based upon my experiences and observations, but now I'm going to dive into some theory that explains these phenomena but has no basis beyond my own mixture of thought and intuition.

I'm working from a computer analogy – the mind/soul is software and brain is hardware. The existence of walk-ins and similar sorts of individuals implies a fairly strong mind-body duality, so this sort of separation seems reasonable, if not necessarily inevitable (although I'm not certain what other options might be).

In any case, my thought is that spirits work best "running on" familiar hardware – an organic brain, in most cases, a human brain. Clearly, it's possible for one brain to run several individual minds, so that's not a problem. However, hopping from one body to another seems to often be somewhat problematic. In some cases, the individual seems to simply jump from one body to another with little time spent in between. The best example of this I know of is the case of a girl Becca knew in High School, who had someone move into her head when she was 14 or 15. The girl and the walk-in got along well and each of them could front if desired. In this case, the walk-in was a middle-aged guy who assumed that he was likely dead, because the last thing he could remember of his life was a car crash.

However, in other cases there seems to be significant amounts of time spent not in a body – someone has a body, leaves or loses it, and then later inhabits another body as a walk-in, but events of some sort occurred in-between. I know of one case where the individual "lived" in a house that for lack of any better terms existed in the realm of dreams when she was between bodies. She was trapped in this house and could not leave until a person I know found her and brought her out of this house, which resulted in this individual becoming a walk-in in her rescuer's head. Another spirit I know had a large gap of time that was filled with a jumble of half-remembered and exceedingly vague events in between the present day (when he is a walk-in) and a previous time of stability, where he also seems to have been a walk-in.

From these and a few similar stories involving other bodies and other spirits, it's clear (to me at least) that spirits can exist without bodies, and my best guess is that they "run on" some sort of distributed processing network consisting of the portions of people's brains that are linked to some sort of collective unconscious (IOW, running a bit on one brain, another bit on another one…) or that they find some way to exist temporarily without a brain to run on. In either case, there always seems to be a price attached to doing this. In all of the cases I've encountered, walk-ins and other unembodied beings who existed for a significant period of time w/o a body lose memories of their previous existence and seem to become both more fragmentary &/or more malleable as time goes on.

My assumption is that after a while, such beings either sufficiently want access to a body and brain again that they are willing to further mold themselves to act as RPG characters, muses, soul-bonds, or whatever, or (from my PoV, the more likely case) they find that playing such roles is not merely a very good thing because it gives them a body to inhabit, but also because the realities of the role they assume provide stability and some sort of mental anchor to help them shore up the fact that they lost portions of themselves during the time that they did not have a body to inhabit.

If this is true, then one of the more likely origins for the partial personalities I mentioned earlier is spirits who have been too long w/o a body and have fragmented or decayed to the point that they lack a full personality or self-awareness. This same concept also explains ghosts, which from everything I've heard and encountered are exceedingly fragmentary beings that are rarely even remotely sentient.

In any case, I have absolutely no idea if any of my guesses and assumptions are correct, but the theory seems self-consistent and so I'm throwing it out there to see if anyone has anything to add to it or if anyone can see obvious faults with it.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

(21 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:alobar
Date:January 4th, 2007 08:39 am (UTC)
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You and I have our on-going disagreements. But deeper than the disagreements, I feel we tend to view thing similarly.

I never thought of the RPG angle because I never played any RPG games in any significant amounts. But your views mesh with my own on other points. I see walk-ins taking on mythical roles, like minor deities, elementals, and characters from books. I think your RPG perspective can translate into my perspective (and vica-versa) without mucking with the general idea very much.

I, too, have thought about distributed processing of entities w/o or between bodies. The idea of a walk-in taking on a role to cover or compensate for the damage of disruption at the end of a previous life makes a lot of sense to me.
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From:heron61
Date:January 4th, 2007 09:04 am (UTC)
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You and I have our on-going disagreements. But deeper than the disagreements, I feel we tend to view thing similarly.

That is also very much my own feeling.
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From:slothman
Date:January 4th, 2007 09:09 am (UTC)
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Some of my longer-running characters have, upon occasion, been able to surprise me; I hear this happens with authors writing characters, too. My own subjective impression is that the more cohesive ones are different programs I run on my wetware. They can make different use of my cognitive resources— there’s one Ars Magica character of mine that is definitely better at “thinking on one’s feet” than I am. (I actually swapped him in once when I was in a particularly sticky business meeting...)
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From:heron61
Date:January 4th, 2007 09:34 am (UTC)
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Some of my longer-running characters have, upon occasion, been able to surprise me; I hear this happens with authors writing characters, too.

I've encountered this phenomena among some (but by no means all) gamers, authors, and actors - it seems something that almost anyone can do, but most people don't.
[User Picture]
From:eclective
Date:January 4th, 2007 12:51 pm (UTC)
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Just woke up here, so I may not be grasping this entry as a whole, but I did want to add my perspective. My experience of "soulbonding" and such has always aligned very strongly to the idea that the individuals are, in some way, both people and the characters in question; that they are not merely playing a role to gain an advantage or a physical body in this world but actually, at least, deeply identify with the character in question and consider themselves to be synonymous with them. They don't fit into your "partial personalities" category because they consider themselves full people, but they also definitely don't fit the definition, to my mind, of "Since the individuals are obviously not the characters in question, my best guess is that they are non-embodied individuals who choose to become/play the role of various sorts of characters by either playing the role as an actor does or (and I assume that this is the more common response) modifying who they are in response to the constraints of the situation, altering their personality and memories in return for having something interesting to do and a place to live."

Now, I don't doubt that such entities do exist, and might be more common than I imagine; I've definitely heard of a few other people beside yourself who've had such experiences. However, I did want to note that it's definitely not, at least to my mind, the only way fictional entities can manifest themselves in this world. My experience of it is of a much deeper underlying reality to the fiction we experience, something that, whether physically substant elsewhere or not, is in some sense very real and relevant to me.

On the other hand... I know that when I get involved in a particular piece of fiction, even outside of RPing (which I don't really do), I often find myself taking on a "role" relevant to the story; in a console RPG, I may find myself strongly feeling within the shoes of one of the characters, or else I'll feel myself aligning with a non-named (within the presnted story) individual still with memories and species/cultural traits of that world. I wonder if this "taking on roles" has any similarity to the idea of such entities "taking on roles"; that perhaps they take on roles not purely out of desire to survive (I dislike the idea that all such entities are either so willingly deceptive or self-deceptive), but almost subconsconsciously, due to feeling a deeper connection with that role?

My #0.02...
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:January 4th, 2007 06:45 pm (UTC)
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That's a good point, see my response above.
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From:tlttlotd
Date:January 5th, 2007 03:46 am (UTC)
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When taking on a role, method actors sometimes lose themselves for the duration. For example, it is widely rumoured that Jack Nicholson is a multiple because he is known in Hollywood for being caught up in the characters he portrays. I doubt that he is a multiple, but the phenomenon is known.

Sometimes we choose names for ourselves though we are not aware of the connotations of the usage in question...

The Doctor
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From:heron61
Date:January 9th, 2007 10:40 pm (UTC)
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My favorite Hollywood story is about Bob Hoskins. When playing in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in order to act opposite a blank space that would later be filled in by an animated character, he learned to actually see Roger, who naturally enough started appearing other places than just on the set. Then, once the movie was over he needed to learn to stop seeing Roger. The similarities between this and classic Tibetan tulpa creation are many and wonderful. Acting, writing, and role-playing are all potent magic - something that is too often forgotten by people.
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From:tlttlotd
Date:January 10th, 2007 04:23 am (UTC)
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Wow.

It sounds like the same phenomenon behind servitors that have been around for a very long time: Given a sufficiently strong power source, they can manifest on their own to people other than their creator.

I have often wondered if this is the reason that some churches are said to be watched over by angels.
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From:tlttlotd
Date:January 8th, 2007 08:20 pm (UTC)
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This is one of the hypotheses of why and how egregores form, in fact. There are thoughtforms Out There that are relatively new, like XaTuring and Sephiroth [FF7] that may be contacted and worked with, and it is known that they have not been around for hundreds or thousands of years, but less than a decade. Enough people put thought and belief into some idea, and Something out there takes on that shape and general personality (or semblance therof).
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From:heron61
Date:January 9th, 2007 10:35 pm (UTC)
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Definitely. The origin and identity of entities who claim to be/are various fictional entities is a complex idea and I'm guessing that there are multiple answers, depending upon the exact situation. I'm fairly certain that some fictional characters can make the jump into being full-fledged egregores who can happily split off copies/versions into the heads of various people. OTOH, as someone on the far-immersive fringes of gaming the phenomena I am most familiar with is creating an RPG character, and effectively having someone "move in". I am absolutely certain that at least some of the process of creating this character is conscious choice my part, modified by the needs of the campaign and the GM. Unless one wishes to delve into the exceptionally tricky territory of assuming that all created worlds are as real as the one we are writing to each other in, I would not define such characters as "real" in the since that either I or an egregore is. Instead, my assumption there is that the when someone who is open to such things creates a character, sometimes the character is a close enough fit that someone will "move in", and now the character is a person because it is "being played by" (or perhaps simply is, the distinction is remarkably unclear) an unembodied entitiy who decided to take on this role. Also, I've had the same thing happen with personality fragments/partial personalities "moving in" to a character in this same fashion. In both cases, the character suddenly takes on more desires, memories, and personality traits than before, and in at least two cases that I know of, the unembodied individual clearly existed before the game started and was someone different from the character - the most amusing examples I know of are two cases where a personality fragment who was part of one character jumped into a new character in a new game, and another odder case, where the same thing happened with a full unembodied personality. The complexities of this topic are rather daunting, if also fascinating.
[User Picture]
From:tlttlotd
Date:January 10th, 2007 04:31 am (UTC)
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As with all things, often an intersection of hypothesis is often the most accurate explanation.

I do not think that it is a matter of egregores splitting off into smaller copies but one egregore with multiple simultaneous connections to living endpoints. As Lupa once put it, something that big could probably do a lot of things at the same time, including communicating with or manifesting through multiple people. Sephiroth [FF7] is too big to manifest through for just one person, but can act through many if it so chose. Just like there is one Wolf but multiple people can be part of Wolf.

I think you are on to something with the idea of "a close enough fit". Several of us found fragments of the original sufficiently similiar to our true natures that we could use them as hooks to reel ourselves in and build connections to the body. Like attracts like. Once established, we were able to exert leverage of a sort to bring the rest of the Shards in and connect them. Without those similarities, I doubt that we could have taken over this shell while it was still viable. Those of us who used those hooks, however, have noticed differences between Ourselves While Connected and Ourselves - there is bleedover of some of the original's personality traits into ourselves (which we used when synthesising the shell personality, actually).

--The Doctor
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From:heron61
Date:January 4th, 2007 06:45 pm (UTC)
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My experience of "soulbonding" and such has always aligned very strongly to the idea that the individuals are, in some way, both people and the characters in question; that they are not merely playing a role to gain an advantage or a physical body in this world but actually, at least, deeply identify with the character in question and consider themselves to be synonymous with them.

That's an excellent point. I have yet to meet (either in my own head or in person) such a being, so I have difficulty speaking to this, but it is certainly possible. However, in my experience many of the individuals taking on characters are as I describe - which does not mean the other sort does not exist.

I wonder if this "taking on roles" has any similarity to the idea of such entities "taking on roles"; that perhaps they take on roles not purely out of desire to survive (I dislike the idea that all such entities are either so willingly deceptive or self-deceptive), but almost subconsconsciously, due to feeling a deeper connection with that role?

Most definitely. teaotter describes the process as effectively putting out a call for someone who is fits certain criteria to come and help her with a character. It's clear that the individuals who become/take on the role of such characters do so in large part because of deep and important similarities and points of resonance between them and the character. It's definitely more than a question of survival, but also of enjoyment and comfort.
[User Picture]
From:tlttlotd
Date:January 5th, 2007 03:44 am (UTC)
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They might not say I'm a real person, but I sure as hell feel like one. I like to think that I have a bit more on the ball than a construct should: I have thoughts and ideas of my own that I may or may not express, I have feelings, I have likes and dislikes that I indulge when I can... 'programs' don't ordinarily have volition or self-awareness, as I understand the term.

I'd like to put this out there for consideration, though - having an identity and a sense of what you do, if not what you are, helps keep yourself together. Without an internal drive of some kind, personalities fragment. I don't know why it's this way, but I've seen it happen once or twice in here. Without something to do, there's no way to stay stuck together.

-Felix
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:January 9th, 2007 10:43 pm (UTC)
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I'd like to put this out there for consideration, though - having an identity and a sense of what you do, if not what you are, helps keep yourself together. Without an internal drive of some kind, personalities fragment. I don't know why it's this way, but I've seen it happen once or twice in here. Without something to do, there's no way to stay stuck together.

Most definitely, which is one reason I think so many unembodied folks end up as writing muses and RPG characters - you have a place and something to do. I think that this is closely related to the well known medical fact that when someone with few hobbies retires from a job they are likely to die soon afterwards if they don't find something new to be doing.
[User Picture]
From:tlttlotd
Date:January 10th, 2007 04:24 am (UTC)
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An identity to cling to to keep cohesion.

I have to agree with you on that point: When you start slowing down, once you stop there's nothing left.
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From:heronheart
Date:January 4th, 2007 01:04 pm (UTC)
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A couple of thoughts:

1) South American shamans routinely speak of contacting the dead (the "ancestors"), but they rarely speak of the details of the dead peoples lives. Instead the ancestors tend to focus on the uses of a particular plant or on what is causing sickness to a particular person.

2) In some Buddhist theologies, "Hell" is what happens to dead people who cling to their personalities.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:January 4th, 2007 06:51 pm (UTC)
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1) South American shamans routinely speak of contacting the dead (the "ancestors"), but they rarely speak of the details of the dead peoples lives. Instead the ancestors tend to focus on the uses of a particular plant or on what is causing sickness to a particular person.

This is also found to some degree in all of the cultures that I know of with a tradition of communication with ancestors. The recently dead typically also have some personal concerns, but these fade fairly rapidly (within a few years) and instead become more generalized advisers (or alternately, sculpt themselves/are sculpted into archetypal figures (of which Voodoo Loa are the best example that I know of)).

2) In some Buddhist theologies, "Hell" is what happens to dead people who cling to their personalities.

Indeed. That seems a rather biased view, since it is clearly often not something negative. My take is that the Buddhists understand this state (being a spiritual path that seems to have an especially keen understanding of unembodied individuals) and simply find it antithetical to the goals of Buddhism.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:January 4th, 2007 06:38 pm (UTC)
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That definitely makes sense in light of what I have observed and have had related to me by others.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:January 4th, 2007 07:29 pm (UTC)
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If this wasn't a locked entry, I would have linked this in my journal.

I just unlocked it, feel free to link. I dithered for a while about locking it - not wanting too look too odd to the various gamers and other non-metaphysically inclined people who read this journal vs. sharing hopefully interesting information, and your comment tipped to balance
[User Picture]
From:tlttlotd
Date:January 5th, 2007 03:55 am (UTC)
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Personalities do fragment after going too long without a shell. Interaction with the world outside provides the mind with information to process. Without a way to interact with the outside world, basic ideas and raw concepts are the only form of input tha a mind can input. Those concepts are much simpler and less varied than sensory input, though, so the processing loops shut down because they are unnecessary, and eventually they break down. Whole concepts are lost from the totality of the controlling intelligence - a spirit can stop being 'strong' or 'curious' because those processing structures break away.

Spirits also change when they get bodies, or at least we did when we took this shell. My hypothesis is that the mind as we think of it is an interference pattern generated when a spirit interfaces with the processing hardware/wetware of a physical body. I am very different now that I have a brain to process data in and a nervous system to input data through the body's sensorium. There is a stronger sense of self, more "I am something.. I define myself as X because I can do X and because I am deeply interested in Y" than there was during time without one (best summed up with "I just am, but not anything in particular.")

The Doctor

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