Ghosts in the machine

Although I find it fascinating, on a personal level, to learn about the findings of psychical research in themselves, as a medical doctor and psychotherapist my primary focus is the application of such knowledge – how can the findings of psychical research be used to improve the situation of those who are suffering? And, in particular, I think of the bereaved, who are in pain because of the loss of a loved one, and those who have a fear of death.

Fundamental to my cognitive, patient-education approach is helping people understand that the much-trumpeted (and instinctive) equation “mind equals brain” does not stand up to critical scrutiny, and, especially, does not account for masses of compelling empirical (facts) and scientific (research in controlled conditions) evidence. When we understand that “we” are not our brain, it is easier to open up to the possibility that “we” survive physical death.

Now, i would like to discuss a range of most intriguing studies concerning multiple personality disorder, or MPD. MPD is a severe, well-known and much studied condition in which two or more distinct identities, or personality states, are present in—and alternately take control of—an individual. The person also experiences memory loss that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.

The "alters" or different identities have their own age, sex, or race. Each has his or her own postures, gestures, and distinct way of talking. Sometimes the alters are imaginary people; sometimes they are animals. As each personality reveals itself and controls the individuals' behaviour and thoughts, it's called "switching”.

Obviously, the key question is – Are these personalities “real”? Are these simply changes in behaviour, enacted by an unstable personality, or feigned for some obscure psychological reason?

Whilst, lacking a definition of personality which can be falsified, it is impossible to answer the first question, the second one has been investigated by studies and experiments in several domains, and the answer is no. The changes across personalities go far beyond observable behaviour. In fact, apart from marked differences in physiological responses such as allergic reactions or galvanic skin response, or changes in handedness and handwriting, “switching” has been shown to affect some of the very neurological processes that materialists say generate mind (and personality itself…).

Much research, for instance, has gone into assessing sensory changes, particularly visual ones. In three separate studies between 1985 and 1991, researchers found “clinically significant optical differences between alter personalities” on six measures: visual acuity, manifest refraction, colour vision, pupil size, corneal curvature, and intraocular pressure. In a replication study, a control group of nine people was added, who attempted to simulate alter personalities, for comparison with nine MPD patients. An ophthalmologist, blind to which persons were the patients and which the simulators, administered and evaluated the ophthalmological tests. There were 4.5 times more changes among different personalities in MPD patients than in those of the simulating controls.

Even more striking – and more related to the key point I am trying to make – are the studies on differences in electroencephalography (EEG) profiles. Researchers Miller and Triggiano remarked in 1992, “psychophysiological research using evoked potentials has provided some of the most consistent and convincing experimental evidence for the existence of MPD as a clinical entity, as well as for the distinctness of the personality states”. In the pioneering study by Ludwig et al. (1972), “The average visual evoked responses for each personality (four) were quite different from each other,” and in fact “each personality had its own individual AER type, as if four different people had been tested”.

Now – hang on a second. Are we not told, incessantly, that mind is the “product of the electrochemical activity of the brain”? That consciousness is an “emergent property” (you put together 100 billion unconscious neurons, you wire them together in a really complicated manner, and they miraculously become conscious)? Are we not told, by some academically well-placed extremist, that consciousness is an illusion?

And what do we have here? An “altered state of consciousness” (as the researchers define the personality “alters”) changes the way brain responds (electro-chemically) to visual stimuli. Not bad for something that “does not exist”, isn’t it? The same – repeat, the same – physical brain, not “a” brain which is the same to another, but the same physical object, which allegedly produces one consciousness is actually modified in its innermost functioning by a “personality” change.

You have to explain to us how this happens, Mr Reductionist. If mind and the brain are ontologically identical, as you say, how can one do work on the other?

We, the less dogmatic, are left in bewilderment and wonderment. Again, we have hard data (science, Mr Skeptic, published in peer reviewed journals) which are simply incompatible with the mind=brain equation. And we are left to marvel at the idea of not one “ghost in the machine”, but, in the case of MPD, different “ghosts”, which take control of the stupendously complex “psychoneurosocial” being we call man.

- See more at:


Dr. Parisetti,

Thanks for this. Curious if this is duplicated on your blog? I'd rather email people directly to your blog if you've published this there.

It seems possible that consciousness is a product of the brain (thus natural) and when the brain dies, the consciousness born from that brain lives on (also thus natural) and that the experiences people have are caused by consciousness utilizing the brain.
I think everyone has an aspect of consciousness (something which is an aspect of their 'self') which many are not aware of, and many who are aware of this attribute agency to that which may not be at all very accurate.
I remember a documentary I saw a few years ago about this woman who had multiple personalities ( 6 of them IIRC).
Each of the personalities had skills, interests, philosophy, hobbies, ways of speech, routines, etc that differs from the others, and each personality (except one IIRC) were totally unaware of the others.

Some psychiatry's really love to hate this condition (Dissociative identity disorder) because they cant wrap their head around it, so they claim it doesn't exists or that its fake. :)

Some here might be interested in this movie, called Sybil (2007 film).
Its about a fairly well know case of MPD from the women Shirley Ardell Mason.
The methods to treat, or ease the conditions are not quite simple.

Ralph Allison has some interesting ideas that came out of his work with patients with MPD, such as concepts about the "inner self helper" or "essence."

IIRC There was a psychiatrist had found a way to help people who hear voices in their head that was angry - and who told them to hurt themselves or others - that if the patients started a calm quite "dialogue" in his mind with those voices their animosity and anger almost always subsided and in that way could get those voices to back down and not be so overpowering.

It was something along this way. I might have misremembered some things but the synopsis was something like this. I bet someone here knows about the story/method, It was brought up on the old forum.