Monday, October 12, 2009

"Shadow", Chapter 11, Part 3

How I reached my bed I have no notion. Those who drink much have told me that they sometimes forget all that befell them in the latter part of the night, and perhaps it was so with me. But I think it more likely that I (who never forget anything, who, if I may for once confess the truth, though I seem to boast, do not truly understand what others mean when they say forget, for it seems to me that all experience becomes a part of my being) only slept and was carried there.
Severian truly does have an interesting concept of "remembering everything." This is a good reminder that there are lots of ways to be unconscious: sleeping, which Severian in his pride seems to think is the only one that affects him, but also coma, blackout, seizure, delirium, drug-induced unconsciousness, sleepwalking. These last two are interesting to me, because even though the person you normally think of as "yourself" isn't aware, someone is controlling your body. Sometimes when people indulge in drugs, they "become a different person." That raises an interesting question - maybe it's the same person, just with certain inhibitions gone or certain emotions affected by altered brain chemistry. But maybe it really is a different person. As always, a little research shows that this idea is a lot more prevalent in pop culture than among professional psychologists. It's debated whether dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder) even exists. However, they do seem to agree that dissociation exists, so that should go in our above list. I find it odd that dissociative fugues lasting days seem to be well-documented, but dissociative identity disorder is rare enough to be controversial. I think that the resistance to DID might be in part due to its complete contradiction of how we think about ourselves. Our entire society takes as an assumption one person = one body:
  • Law, and therefore most other secular activities: an individual has rights, and is responsible for their actions. "There are two people in there, acting at different times, you say? Should we hold one accountable for the actions of the other, you say? Shut up."
  • many religions: a person has a (singular) soul. "Your actions on earth will determine what happens to your soul after death. You are two people, you say? How many souls do you have, and what happens to them, you say? Shut up." This one is presumably not too big a problem because, unlike juries, most gods are omniscient, and can keep this all straight.
Another part of the resistance might be that psychologists want to downplay any aspect of their field that requires subjective ideas. I am ambivalent about this. So our current thinking is all based on the individual: their rights, their responsibilities. If they turn out to be dividual after all, it's a big mess. I personally think that we'll have to deal with it eventually, because eventually technology will enable:
  • one person = one body
  • one person = several bodies
  • one person = no bodies (unless we start redefining "body")
  • several people = one body
  • "Other"
This question of "what is identity?" recurs throughout the Book of the New Sun.

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