Weekly Head Voices #242: Multiplicity of me

This, the 242nd edition of the Weekly Head Voices, looks back at the weeks from Monday April 18 to Sunday May 22 of the year 2022.

If you like backyard philosophy, you’re in the right place.

Even if you only like bullet lists, you’re going to be ok.

Figure 1: Photo by friend WvdL.

Figure 1: Photo by friend WvdL.

Learning at the Burning

There’s an unwritten rule that you should not make any life decisions for at least three weeks after the (Afrika)Burn.

Apparently people have, inspired by the sometimes weird experiences of the event, made some major but unfortunately quite regrettable decisions in its afterglow.

Anyways, I did not come back with anything like that.

Without sounding (too much) like Zaphod eating the fairy cake powering the Total Perspective Vortex and walking away pretty much unscathed, through the week’s ups (mostly) and downs I learned a bunch, and I did come back with some internal changes, but they were at their most extreme a strong reminder (kick in the butt might even be appropriate) of a partially buried perspective or two.

Furthermore, it is now exactly three weeks after the thing, and although that dusty afterglow has definitely waned, it feels like I’ve just merged back into reality without any major incidents, just a slight tweak (or gentle kick in the butt) here and there, for the better.

(Because inquiring minds might want to know, yes, we again brought the BURNIVERSITY. We’re probably one of the smallest theme camps, but we were intense, and it feels like our interactions were too.)

Anyways, here are some completely random words, some of them loosely based (or not at all, or something in between) on a recent conversation with friend PK, and some of them from friend DW:

  • PERMA is a good framework for your well-being, and that of your loved ones:
    1. Positive Emotion
    2. Engagement
    3. Relationships
    4. Meaning
    5. Accomplishment
  • That thing you’re stressing about is most probably not worth such a high personal cost, and health-risk.
  • Just do the work.
  • Just showing up every day is a super power. Pick your thing(s), show up to them every single day, profit.
  • Chopping onions is the physical manifestation of your love for the people for whom you are cooking. Give it (chopping onions, making food, loving) your whole attention, and see what happens. Thank you DW, for this wisdom, and for the food.
    • (Dear reader, between you and me, man that guy was burning so bright…)
  • Practice will boost your powers of attention. This will deeply improve you, and how you interact with others.
  • Kindness is still the most important super power.
  • Check up on yourself every day, about all of these completely random words.

Multiplicity of you

In 2018, I talked about Homo Deus, a book by Yuval Harari in which he discusses several thought-provoking ideas, one of which I highlighted then and would like to discuss again now:

Your experience of being a single identity, a single I, is most probably an illusion, as your brain most probably houses more “me"s than you would think.

Research by the Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman and his various collaborators showed that we house at the very least two major selves, namely the remembering / narrating self and the experiencing self.

The experiencing self is the one who actually does the living and the experiencing of each moment, while the narrating self is the one who continuously stitches together your whole story, often bending the truth to fit its (your) opinions of yourself and those around you.

The narrating self is the one who dominates, for better or for worse.

Kahnemann himself pointed out the irony of this the best:

Odd as it may seem, I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.

(You might have heard of Peak-End Theory, or the phenomenon that humans tend to judge an experience based largley on the single peak moment, and on how they felt at the end. You can thank your remembering self for this, and you can imagine how this could really complicate your decision making.)

Harari discusses Kahneman’s selves, but continues into more research with people who for various reasons have separated brain hemispheres.

When you show one brain hemisphere one version of reality, and the other another, it is as if there are multiple narrating selves in the same person who come up with stories that they are convinced are the truth, although in this case these stories conflict diametrically with other thanks to the design of the experiment.

From this and other data, Harari concludes that humans generally house multiple identities.

What I want to to get at, is that it helps to remember (always) that “you” are in fact a collection of sometimes competing “you"s.

As if that were not challenging enough, your narrating self takes responsibility for all of these feelings, and tries to weave it all into a consistent story, although that is often extremely difficult or even impossible.

In an 2012 interview with Sam Harris, Bruce Hood had the following to say about this:

By rejecting the notion of a core self and considering how we are a multitude of competing urges and impulses, I think it is easier to understand why we suddenly go off the rails. It explains why we act, often unconsciously, in a way that is inconsistent with our self image – or the image of our self as we believe others see us.

That said, the self illusion is probably an inescapable experience we need for interacting with others and the world, and indeed we cannot readily abandon or ignore its influence, but we should be skeptical that each of us is the coherent, integrated entity we assume we are.

Because this thought has become much more prominent for me in quite a positive way, I would like to take it even further, by reminding you to practise reminding yourself of the following:

  • Although your perception is generally tied to your narrating self (the one that’s going to remember this blog post), the complete “you” in fact constitutes the whole playing field, the consciousness and its physical medium, in which all of these selves live and move around. In the words of Harris, “you can drop back into that” and just be the consciousness, be that which contains it all.
  • While your own selves truly live in this conciousness, high definition versions of your surroundings and everyone you interact with are also running in this same (your) neural network.
    • This means that you have a surprising amount of control of how you experience life.
    • When you hear a dog barking, this is really nothing more than clusters of neurons firing in your brain, but you visualize the dog over there. When you feel the wind blowing over your skin, there’s just another set of neurons firing not far away from the barking dog. It’s all inside your head, and the borders between “inside” and “outside” are far more blurry than you might think.
  • All of your selves are you. Treat them like you would a group of your closest friends. You can hold them up to the group’s standards, but you have to forgive, and you have to be kind.

Folks, I wish you all (and all the yous), and all of your people, peace and love.