Sunday, April 11, 2010

Schizophrenia (Dissociative-Identity/Multiple-Personality Disorder) and Possession

In connection with my current work on my novel, The Storyteller, I have again been forced to confront an important question I've been asking for many years off and on. It is so important because the answer, or complex of answers that one gives, or could give, is like a touchstone of where one stands in a wide field of investigations of the human psyche, from hard cognitive science to outright 'occult' spiritualism.

The question is this:

What is the true nature or cause of, or the mechanism involved with, the phenomenon nowadays technically called 'Dissociative Identity Disorder' (DID)?

The question can be paraphrased in more practical terms, if you will:

Is/are there any experiment(s), and if there is what is/are the experiment(s) that can clearly differentiate between the DID being caused by:
  1. Only physiological and biochemical factors in the brain; caused by any number of innate and external influenced and factors?
  2. 'Occult' influences, such as possessing 'spirits', or other, possibly 'incarnate' human beings or creatures from Earth or somewhere else, including 'other universes'?
  3. A mixture of both; meaning that physiological and biochemical factors in the brain and associated 'mental' states, may provide occasional conditions for (2) to occur?
Regardless of what our answers to these questions say about ourselves and our philosophical position, if you will, it is clear that the correct answers are of profound importance to our understanding of not just ourselves, but also the nature of the cosmos at large. Indeed, I'd say that their import is so fundamental and influential of everything we know, think we know and what we can know, that it's almost scary.

One could argue, of course, that there are other issues that might similarly influence our view of the universe and our place in it. I mean issues that are mostly considered to be of little interest to science, excepting in terms of abnormal psychology. Things like UFOs, ghosts and the like for example. Survival after death. Near-death experiences (which some now try to explain by the presence of excess C02; but is correlation causation?). You get the gist, I'm sure. And it is true that they are touchstone-issues, whose resolution, one way or the other—conventional or paranormal science, or a mix of both—would have a profound influence on our self-understanding.

Of course, some would claim that the issues have been resolved in favor of the 'scientific' explanation. Others believe with equal fervor that the 'occult' answers are more accurate. Me, I think, the jury is very much out, and may remain so for a long time.

But studying UFOs and ghosts is hard, if for no other reason but that they are rare. They have also exhibited tendencies to behave in ways that make them appear 'unscientific' phenomena. That's why the world of science likes to jump on them; because it's so easy to tear the observations and the observers to shreds. Also, there are, not to put too fine a point on it, a lot of frauds and hucksters in the business. (And, yes, there are those also in, for example, politics; but that's different...sort of.)

The situation is different with people exhibiting symptoms of, or are diagnosed with 'clinical', DID. They're all over the place, so to speak. They live amongst those who appear not to have such symptoms—though I'm not so sure that absence of symptoms in most people is necessarily evidence for the absence of something qualifying as DID, albeit in form below the threshold of detection. It's not like there's 'flaps' of DID, like there are 'flaps' of UFOs. And there are no mysterious psycho-physical phenomena that might be caused by fraud. All we have is a person that seems, at one time or another, to exhibit characteristics that aren't typical of the person he or she was when not that other person or persons. In some fascinating cases we have instances of Foreign Accent Syndrome, which psychologists have trouble explaining. Or maybe they have an angle on FAS, because much of that could be explained by simple changes in vocalization and speech timing. But it gets interesting when people start talking in other languages than their own; languages of which they have either no or scant knowledge. The interesting thing about this is that these events are usually associated with brain trauma, and they often go away as the injury is thought to heal. That last snippet is particularly interesting.

As you may notice, if you click here, I am kind-of on the 'possession' side—and in some ways this post repeats stuff I've said before—but I'm open to coherent 'conventional' explanations, should anybody come up with them. I haven't come across any as of today.

Still, my main point here is that we have literally millions of people in this world who live with DID. Millions, who, if properly—and compassionately—studied with openness and diligence, might actually help to tell us all who we really are.

Instead, what do we do? We declare them to be 'abnormal' and try to suppress the phenomenon with drugs. That makes perfect sense in many cases, because the 'other' personalities and their interference in the 'normal' person's—understood to be the original, if you will—life can be destructive. But what about those cases that aren't like that? What about trying to teach and help those people to manage their 'disorder', come to terms with it, and thereby learning to control it—rather than drugging something that might actually be valuable out of existence?

Of course, one may also wonder just how many people do have non-clinical versions of the same 'disorder'. And how many of them know it and deliberately make sure that nobody notices, because they are afraid, rightly so methinks, of what's likely to happen if someone does. The very least is that they'll be stigmatized—maybe in a benevolent and possibly benign kind of way, but it doesn't change the fact that they'll suddenly be viewed as other than 'normal'; attracting attention and even consideration, again possibly well-meaning, from others; attention they really don't want.

Maybe some of them actually like their alternates and coexist with them in a productive kind of way, benefiting from their presence. It would be fascinating to know, would it not? I mean, who knows where mere imagination ends and reality begins?

Here's a recent report on another possible instance of foreign-language syndrome. (Added 14 April 10)

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