Thanks to Graham Rawlinson, one of the Fellows who organised the successful open space event in Chichester last week. On hearing the RSA is planning a major project on the policy implications of new insights into the workings of the brain, Graham recommended to me Multiplicity by Rita Carter.
It is an interesting combination of a science and self-help book based on the argument that we are made up not of one unified personality with many facets but of many different personalities.
This does not mean we are all suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), but that external stimuli affect which of our personalities is in the driving seat at any time and that in turn our ways of thinking and reacting depend on which personality is in charge.
Unlike those who suffer from MPD, our personalities are in touch with each other and draw on the same bank of memories but they are distinct entities with different characteristics.
Carter - who we hope to get to the RSA as a speaker - cites evidence of multiple and hidden personalities from several sources; those who are unusually aware of their different personalities, psychotherapy case studies and hypnotism.
Among her more compelling points is the comparison of personality switching with 'ambiguous illusions' such as the Necker cube (the line drawing in which one face of the cube can either appear to be at the front left or at the back right but never both at once). Carter also argues convincingly that a key aspect of socialisation is our capacity to believe, and project, the illusion that we possess a unified single personality despite the evidence to the contrary.
Also fascinating is her argument that a key characteristic of modern culture is the greater freedom we have to indulge and experiment with different personalities. Less clear are the implications of the distinction between one personality with many facets and many personalities, connected to each other and with common memories.
Carter's argument is that we can live more effective and contented lives if instead of bemoaning the weaknesses of our single 'I' we learn to manage the 'household' of different personalities that inhabit our minds.
If we can persuade Rita to speak at the RSA I hope we get a chance to explore both the science and practical implications of her fascinating thesis.