Sarah Sheard's Thoughts and Theories

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Multiple Personality and Complexity Theory

You have heard of Chaos theory...that theory that makes all those pretty fractal pictures? Well, Complexity theory is related and the next step. It investigates the structures that arise when many small things get together and self-organize into something example is a flock of birds, or a community of people, or an anthill or bee hive. The larger thing begins to develop characteristics of an organism itself that are independent of the characteristics of the smaller thing.

Now, I have a theory... (this should surprise no one reading this blog).
You know how brain cells are individual organisms, each with a nucleus, taking in nutrients from the bloodstream, putting out wastes that are cleared by the blood? Clearly they work together to form an organism, the brain. Clearly the brain has developed very important characteristics that are independent of the characteristics of the brain cell. Some of these are mechanical in nature, such as the plumbing that keeps the brain alive (arteries and veins, the chemical blood-brain barrier that keeps almost all toxic substances in the blood from reaching the brain cells, etc.)

But many of the characteristics that the brain has developed are far more wondrous than this. The brain has developed memory, for example. We still don't really know how that works. The brain has developed language processing, spatial ability, the ability to think about exponents. For heaven's sake, we can think! We are conscious! We are self-aware! How is that even possible, from a bunch of neurons?

Another interest of mine is dissociative disorders, having been close to someone with what turned out to be a variant of multiple personalities while I was growing up. I read an amazing article that address the development of multiple personalities in terms of complexity theory. Their contention, which I believe entirely, is that development of a personality is the process of pulling together a number of personality factions, usually something that happens during adolescence (actually, I think this is my interpretation of their contention). If something goes wrong, the factions are not integrated well, and something akin to a poorly organized society ensues. They make the analogy to countries where minority opinions are repressed. The minority opinions don't go away, they fester. Occasionally they take over, and then they repress the other opinions. Exactly the same thing happens in multiple personalities.

I could write a thesis on this.

That last sentence may prove prophetic.


  • OH keep it up, this is fascinating and more detail would be wonderful. Great site, Sarah, really is. You have such interesting things to say...but hey, no surprise there!

    Hugs, Lindy

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:12 PM  

  • Hi, Sarah--thanks for this. If we can learn to "grok" MPD we will have learned a great deal about who we are and how we are who we are. We know very little about either of these subjects now. This complexity theory approach is an excellent one.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:40 AM  

  • I had some more discussion on this at the Complexity conference I just attended. One very wise neuro-physicist explained the different personalities as semi-stable dynamic states of the mind/brain. Think of a blob vibrating vertically vs. vibrating horizontally. You can't do both at once, and you can transition from one type of vibration to the other. Personalities thoroughly engage the entire mind, but two semi-stable dynamic states can transition from one to the other. When one uses therapy to "integrate" the two, one gradually brings down the energy barrier between them and makes it more transparent, so the more stable of the two can willingly transition to the other.

    By Blogger SarahSheard, at 9:19 PM  

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