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Plural Selves

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Plural Selves

Be Afraid:

She’s huddled in a corner of the room behind a table, locks of brown hair plastered to her moist cheeks and brow, rhythmically sucking her thumb while her eyes are squeezed shut. Knees gripped with one spindly arm to her chest, she rocks slowly making no noise except for the wet sound of the thumb in her mouth.
Minutes earlier she had been dancing for an audience of one, tapping her feet and singing; earlier still, she had been playing the piano: Bach, Mozart, and had been discussing music.

She acts like a child.

(Figure 1)
She is a grown woman.

Flashbacks of traumatic childhood experiences rent her mind to pieces and, now, she smashes a window with a tiny, balled fist. Sobbing and screaming, she leaves and she reverts into another “self,” a baby. The one who sucked her thumb in the corner, pre-verbal, no longer capable of speech or formal communication.

This is Sybil. According to the movie in which this scene takes place (and the book that it is based off of), she has up to 16 different, separate personalities that push through at different time, when they are needed, when Sybil herself can’t cope.

Many people are familiar with Sybil due to her sensationalized story in the 1970s. Terrifying and confusing, the movie’s portrayal of Sybil has, undoubtedly, cast a more than negative light on those who suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), once known as Multiple Personality Disorder.

Normal Multiplicity:

And who can blame them? The idea of being someone, or being with someone, who could change radically at any moment, who could become someone childlike and irrational in the body of an adult, becoming someone angry and destructive, and then changing to someone else the very next moment—it is terrifying.

But the reality is that we all experience, on a normal level, layers of “selves” that correspond to our external and internal environments. The “self” that stays up late watching that movie is not the same “self” that has to begrudgingly heave itself out of bed and go to work. We can all relate to the idea that the person we were ten years ago is not the same person we are today. The modularity of the brain means that we can, to our advantage (or disadvantage), change our state of mind, mood, motivations, (self), and interact with ourselves and others in very unique ways. 

Being “plural” is neither right nor wrong. It is not good or bad. It simply is.

However, the implications that “Plural Selves” have for education are wide-reaching and important, such as the administration of tests in certain environments, and ways of gauging different kinds of intelligences rather than just one type of intelligence.

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—
~Emily Dickinson, 1862
(Figure 2)

First Person Plural, More than I:

In an article called “First Person Plural,” Paul Bloom, a Professor of Psychology at Yale, explores the emerging concept that we, all of us, are composed of not one self, not two, but many—all representing different facets of our personality, different motivations—all indicating that the brain is composed of semi-independent modules. The brain is more than just one piece. It is composed of many different sections, which are themselves composed of smaller sections, and then smaller still...

    Like any organ, the brain consists of large parts (such as the hippocampus     and the cortex) that are made up of small parts (such as “maps” in the         visual cortex), which themselves are made up of smaller parts, until you         get to neurons, billions of them, whose orchestrated firing is the stuff of         thought. The neurons are made up of parts like axons and dendrites,         which are made up of smaller parts like terminal buttons and receptor         sites, which are made up of molecules, and so on (Bloom).

Another piece of evidence for normal multiplicity, Bloom suggests, is interpersonality amnesia, a characteristic of DID that means one self doesn’t have access to the memories of the other selves. But, on an everyday level, memory is “notoriously situation-dependent,” and it is here that one of the first applications to education is seen: “—remembering something is easiest while you are in the same state in which you originally experienced it. Students do better when they are tested in the room in which they learned the material; someone who learned something while he was angry is better at remembering that information when he is angry again...”

Because different states are expressed in different situations (essentially situation-dependent themselves), the things that these states learned will be best remembered when those personalities are present again. Envision it as a circuit in the brain that connects, depending on the stimuli (internal or external), to a certain module that determines the “self,” the states that exist in every mind.

Ideas for Educators:
●    Taking tests in the same room where the material was taught
●    Changing environments for students having trouble with material
●    Accommodating students... to a degree (Not to be used as an excuse)

Self-Binding, Out thinking Yourself

There is also the matter of “self-binding” to consider. We’ve all been in these situations before, anticipating the arrival of another, rival personality—the one that wants you, on a diet, to eat cake, to slack off on that essay due in two days, to max out your credit cards. So you, the present you, throws away the cake, removes all distractions, and hides your wallet. Self-binding is a method controlling the more negative qualities of other personalities that we expect to show up in the future—certainly, the self that first wakes up in the morning is very different from the self that is at work or school and has consumed the third cup of coffee.

(Figure 3)
Bloom writes,
Dieters buy food in small portions so they won’t overeat later on; smokers trying to quit tell their friends never to give them cigarettes, no matter how much they may later beg. In her book on gluttony, Francine Prose tells of women who phone hotels where they are going to stay to demand a room with an empty minibar. An alarm clock now for sale rolls away as it sounds the alarm; to shut it off, you have to get up out of bed and find the damn thing.

Thus, “Absolute coherence is not necessary a value.”

“The idea is that instead, within each brain, different selves are continually popping in and out of existence. They have different desires, and they fight for control—bargaining with, deceiving, and plotting against one another.
Walt Whitman gave us a pithier version: ‘I am large, I contain multitudes’.”

“Our different personalities may have different point of views, that can be experienced and understood  while these personalities are expressing themselves. Communication between our different selves, and the persistence of the stimulus in different occasion of our life make this internal dialogue easier allowing to express our inner wealth. On the other hand, a censure on opinion change can create barriers between our different point of views.”

The goal of the educator should be to encourage communication between the different personalities.

(Figure 4)

Ideas for Educators:
In that same respect, perhaps there are effective ways for educators to encourage students certain methods of self-binding, of having a sibling or parent:
●    hide the video game console
●    unplug the TV
●    turn off the modem
By showing that there are ways to make studying—and even learning in the classroom more effective—not only can students focus better, but perhaps retain and remember more information.

Multiple Intelligences:

We all learn best in different ways. Some students are visual learners, needing to see concepts modeled for them; others learn kinesthetically, moving and working out ideas; and others are linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist learners.
(You can test yourself here to see what type of intelligence is your strongest!)

Linguistic intelligence - refers to an individual's capacity to use language effectively as a means of expression and communication through the written or spoken word (Examples: poets, writers, orators, and comedians. Some famous examples include: Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman).

Logical-Mathematical intelligence - refers to an individual's ability to recognize relationships and patterns between concepts and things, to think logically, to calculate numbers, and to solve problems scientifically and systematically. (Examples: mathematicians, economists, lawyers and scientists. Some famous examples include: Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger, and John Dewey).

Visual -Spatial intelligence - refers to the capability to think in images and orient oneself spatially. In addition, spatially intelligent people are able to graphically represent their visual and spatial ideas (Examples: artists, decorators, architects, pilots, sailors, surveyors, inventors, and guides. Some famous examples include: Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Leonardo DaVinci).

(Figure 5)
Musical intelligence - refers to the capacity to appreciate a variety of musical forms as well as being able to use music as a vehicle of expression. Musically intelligent people are perceptive to elements of rhythm, melody, and pitch (Examples: singers, musicians, and composers. Some famous examples include: Mozart, Julie Andrews, Andrea Boccelli and Leonard Bernstein).

Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence - refers to the capacity of using one's own body skillfully as a means of expression or to work with one's body to create or manipulate objects (Examples: dancers, actors, athletes, sculptors, surgeons, mechanics, and craftspeople. Some famous examples include: Michael Jordan, Julia Roberts, and Mikhail Baryshnikov).

Interpersonal (Social) intelligence - refers to the capacity to appropriately and effectively communicate with and respond to other people. The ability to work cooperatively with others and understand their feelings (Examples: sales people, politicians, religious leaders, talk show hosts, etc. Some famous examples include: Bill Clinton, Ghandi, Oprah Winfrey).

Intrapersonal intelligence - refers to the capacity to accurately know one's self, including knowledge of one's own strengths, motivations, goals, and feelings. To be capable of self-reflection and to be introverted and contemplative are also traits held by persons with Intrapersonal intelligence. (Examples: entrepreneurs, therapists, philosophers, etc. Some famous examples include: Freud, Bill Gates, and Plato).

Naturalistic intelligence - refers to the ability to identify and classify the components that make up our environment. This intelligence would have been especially apt during the evolution of the human race in individuals who served as hunters, gatherers, and farmers. (Examples: botanists, farmers, etc. Some famous examples include: Charles Darwin, E.O. Wilson) (Wise).

This idea, commonly appropriated by educators today, is known as the Multiple Intelligences Theory, founded by Howard Gardner, Ph.D, and author of the book “Frames of Mind.” In it he not only introduces the changes in the approach to “intelligence” over time, but also devotes a chapter to each type of intelligence and to the implications and applications of Multiple Intelligences.

It is important to remember that we ALL have each of those intelligences listed above; some are just stronger, more used, than others.

Interesting for us is his chapter on the “Biological Foundations of Intelligence.” In it he writes of “canalization” and “plasticity” of the brain and the development of the nervous system over time.

Canalization: the development of an organism along relatively predictable pathways despite abnormality or injury, for our purposes, in the nervous system

(Figure 6)

Plasticity: the capacity for continuous alteration of the neural pathways and synapses of the living brain and nervous system in response to experience or injury that involves the formation of new pathways and synapses and the elimination or modification of existing ones

The idea is that human brains, more or less, follow certain developmental pathways despite certain external stimuli (canalization). Obviously, very traumatic experiences will hinder the development of, or injure, the brain—but the nervous system is a rather resilient, hardy thing. But there is also space for change, for deviation from those predictable paths, that are influenced by idiosyncratic information and knowledge; this is what allows the brain of a child to acquire and reshape new information and what allows the brain of an adult to heal from injury.

It is this same plasticity that allows us the novelty of Multiple Selves. Our ability to adapt and change to suit our environment, to store, integrate, and use novel information, is also part of what gives rise to our “selves.” As said before, we all have those different types of intelligences, but part of the malleable part of the brain is the fact that each of us will find a different mode of learning and inquiry to be most effective.