Authors Bernardo Kastrup, Adam Crabtree, and Edward Kelly posed the above question as the title to their June 18, 2018, online article on multiple personality disorder (MPD), suggesting that MPD (now known as dissociative identity disorder [DID]) “might help us understand the fundamental nature of reality.”1 To prove the reality of MPD, they presented a case study of a woman with ten personalities, some of whom were blind and some of whom could see.2 As further proof of the reality of MPD, they cited a brain imaging study purporting to show that MPD/DID patients had different patterns of blood flow during “emotional” and “resting” states when compared to healthy controls.3 Things went downhill from there.
Making the illogical leap into New Age philosophy, they went on to write that the above-mentioned patient’s hysterical blindness was “a compelling demonstration of the literally blinding power of extreme forms of dissociation which gives rise to multiple, operationally separate centers of consciousness, each with its own private inner life,” and from there they argued that “this has important implications for our views about what is and is not possible in nature.” It wasn’t long before quantum physics and consciousness were tossed in, along with “constitutive panpsychism,” “cosmopsychism,” “idealism,” and universal consciousness, resulting in several paragraphs that could only be described as incomprehensible, although the term word salad had been suggested.
Normally, articles of this sort—Chopra-esque—are ignored by anyone with more than a freshman’s knowledge of either physics, philosophy, or psychology. However, this blog was published on the website of Scientific American(!), so a response is required. First, to the authors’ proof of MPD:
- Despite the MPD patient’s subjective claims of blindness or sightedness (depending on the personality), the objective findings were basically normal. This diagnosis is known as functional blindness to ophthalmologists and as a conversion syndrome (hysterical blindness) to psychiatrists. There was a reason the ophthalmologist referred the patient to a psychiatric clinic—and it wasn’t due to physical (cortical) blindness.
- The fMRI study on switching “states” of MPDs and control subjects was beset with flaws, the most obvious being that all the MPD patients were on psychotropic medications at the time (though none of the medications or doses were listed). The controls were not. Psychotropic medications (anti-depressants, mood-stabilizers, anti-psychotics, and stimulants) all change cerebral blood flow. In addition, this change in blood flow patterns during emotional switching is also seen in other diagnoses as well, most notably borderline personality disorder.
The matters of quantum physics and philosophy must be left to those who actually understand those things, but the research on MPD patients would certainly contradict the foolish notion that MPD would ever help anyone make sense of life, the universe, and everything. Starting with the obvious: MPD is a psychiatric disorder. Those who have been diagnosed with MPD suffer from the same erratic and impulsive symptoms as those with borderline personality disorder: unstable and intense relationships that usually end very badly, self-damaging behaviors due to impulsivity (reckless driving, drug abuse, reckless sex, etc.), recurrent suicidal behaviors or gestures, emotional instability, inappropriate and intense anger. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), one of the better diagnostic tools, shows the same pattern for both. It has often been suggested that MPD is simply a variation of borderline personality disorder.
If the symptoms of MPD sound horrible, the prognosis is no better; numerous psychiatric hospitalizations due to suicidal depression, inability to function in society, inability to hold down a job or enjoy a sustained relationship with another, intensive outpatient services, and decreased social functioning. Many if not most people with MPD are deemed mentally disabled, and as a group they have a higher risk of mortality than the population as a whole.4 If these patients hold the secret to life, the universe, and everything through their blinding power, then in the words of Samuel Goldwyn, “include me out.”
So “could Multiple Personality Disorder explain life, the universe, and everything?” The short answer is no.