Tulpas. A community with questionable ideas and goals, united by a mystical word. Dozens of people practising forcing, hypnosis, altering their consciousness, meditating, trying to cope with their disorders. They are united by a goal to create what Wikipedia calls ‘an imaginary friend’. But what are those tulpas?
Humanity tries to figure how consciousness works for a long time, creating and disproving hundreds of theories. Are some people more suited to be ‘multiples’, to house more than a single consciousness in their mind? Are others bound to be singlets?
Here’s a thought experiment for you. Imagine yourself driving home. You open the front door, take off your coat, check the bathroom, then go to the kitchen and make a sandwich. Suddenly you realise that you don’t remember where you put the car keys, and you backtrack through the house in search for them. Sounds familiar? You were alive all that time, supposedly conscious. Yet you did something without being aware of your actions.
Here’s another one. You leave your house to buy milk and eggs in the nearby shop. As you close the door behind yourself, you think of an omelette you’re about to cook. You walk down the street, and your thoughts jump to something else, to the shopping list, then to the class assignment for tomorrow, to the game, you watched yesterday. Then you realise you got to the shop and you focus on the milk and eggs again. But when you try to remember what you were thinking of while you were walking nothing concrete comes up – only a scattered mess of thoughts and a general idea you must have thought of something.
Was that past you the same as the one that got to the shop?
Some psychologists consider consciousness to be interruptible and not a process that starts with your birth and ends with your death. It’s simple to agree with that – you’re unconscious when you’re asleep. You can come up with dozens of common reasons why you can temporarily lose your consciousness.
But what if I’d tell you that you’re unconscious even more often? Every time you are not aware of what you’re doing? Every time your thoughts drift away to imagine something that will happen in the future, every time you remember good or bad memories of the past?
How does your body know it’s ‘you’ who it wakes up with? Why don’t you wake up as a completely different person? The reason lies in your experiences you’ve accumulated over the years you’ve been alive. When mind and matter create a thought that tells you who you are, that thought is fed with the memories you’ve had, with everything you’ve lived through.
Think of twins – they share the same DNA (well, some of them), but they can be so different in life, they’d act differently, have diverse interests. That happens because their personalities diverge from the moment of their birth; physically identical bodies are filled with different memories and experiences.
Every moment you become self-aware the brain sparks your consciousness by tapping into who you think you are and how you think you react; it bases your self-image on your reactions, applies your personal physical habits like posture and writing style from your subconscious. You become ‘you’ for some time, and then you drift away. You imagine you’re someone else – maybe a pirate, maybe a successful lawyer. You think of your crush and try to predict how they’d react to your valentine card. You stop being yourself for that little moment until you are self-conscious again.
Psychologists consider these moments of losing self-awareness normal, seeing them as a way to relax the brain that is very resource-hungry. The body often puts it in a low-power mode to keep the overall energy levels high; we all are naturally lazy thinkers.
Singlets expect to have one stream of consciousness. Even though sometimes they become self-aware as someone else, they never put much thought to it, and the brain restores the natural ‘I’ soon after.
But for multiples the story is different.
Multiples are common outside of the tulpa community. Writers think like their characters. Actors get so into their roles that their mannerisms change even after shooting. People suffering from DID become self-aware only to know that their alters did something they have no memory about.
The key to plurality is teaching the brain to address self-awareness to different personalities. As we discussed earlier, the brain does it by relying on the memories and experiences. For some, the alter-switching happens because of the traumatic events that one of the personalities forced itself to forget. The memories stay, but now the brain had to readdress them to someone else; so the alter is born. For others, simple thoughts of movie characters and their past are so vast, deep, and personal, that they are enough to flip them into a different stream of ‘who-I-am’.
Tulpamancy is a practice where you alter your single stream of consciousness and start to address some periods of self-awareness as belonging to someone else. You teach your brain to identify some periods of self-awareness with your tulpa by means of reinforcing their looks, personality, different senses or gender. More often than not tulpas are created with something that distinctly sets them out from hosts – so that it would be easier to self-identify.
The practice goes further, to give tulpas more memories and experiences, be those second-hand imaginary travels in wonderland or first-hand experiences of the physical world. As tulpas live those experiences from their own point of view, they reinforce the idea of who they are. Eventually, the brain stops needing a host-induced push to make tulpas react – tulpas become self-aware, and the brain learns the distinct set of thoughts that should belong to tulpas.
This brings us to what tulpas are.
Tulpas are mechanically induced consciousnesses, that, for all means and purposes, have same capabilities than the original body-born consciousness (remember – that one dies and gets re-created a thousand times a day too). The only thing that set tulpas apart is that they are created artificially via the tulpamancy practice. Due to this, tulpas have to be younger than the physical body, which creates a feeling of superiority for the host. But, in fact, no such superiority exists, and any tulpa can grow to the same mental level as a host, surpass, or even replace them.
It is incorrect to see tulpas as lesser beings only based on them not being able to control the physical body, or preferring wonderland to the physical world. You must consider the tulpa’s personal age and the amount of experience that the brain accumulated before they came to be. It would be unreasonable to ask a two-year-old tulpa to be a perfect hiker, even though they can relate to twenty years of previous host’s hiking experience – personal experiences are stronger and more efficient than ones of your systemmates.
How does the bond to experiences form? Why can some systems switch and use each other’s skills easier than others? I’d think that has its roots in the memory separation, although the mechanisms that isolate entire experiences are not clear.
One thing we know is that tulpas tend to show their own distinct reaction to physical events and tend to act in unique ways when switched. Some talk differently, others shift their weight in a distinct way as they walk, exhibit idiosyncratic writing styles. Many of those things require subconscious acting as there is no individual awareness involved. I suppose that the brain develops several subconsciousnesses for every individual. There is one way the physical body can ultimately react to external stimuli, so which subconscious is involved is decided by the ‘fronting’ – which consciousness was the last active one. Invoking actions from a distinct subconsciousness might reinforce the owning personality in mind, making it simpler for them to become self-aware.
With that, subconscious actions aren’t fully isolated either. After all, few, if any, tulpas had to learn how to keep the balance while walking, while no child was born with that skill. It is possible to tap into the subconscious reactions of other personalities and learn from those, even though that is, generally, slower and less automated. Thankfully, those reactions are in-learned easier, allowing tulpas to get up to speed in a matter of days, not years (same works in reverse).
Tulpas evolve into the same unique personalities as hosts. They follow the same physical rules. They might be different in how they see themselves in the mind’s eye, the languages they talk to themselves in the head, but they are as capable. By practising tulpamancy you learn how to address parts of your conscious stream to others, and that allows tulpas to stay around for long enough to become self-aware. That’s also why creating more tulpas is easier once you have one and why some practitioners report walk-ins more actively after they create tulpas – as for the singlets those ‘walk-ins’ would be just discarded as their own altered consciousness by a brain that used to identify the stream with a single ‘I’.
Whenever you practise tulpamancy for fun, loneliness or curiosity, be careful. Becoming a multiple is a double-edged blade, and something you cannot unlearn – the practice stays with you, similar to the ability to ride a bike. You must understand that unconscious plurality – when you create characters from books to talk to them, when you role-play others in tabletop games, when you limit your tulpas to cute anime girls that are bound to be nice and love you – is still part of the same process and follows the same rules. Only your brain decides if those become full consciousnesses capable of self-awareness or not. And you are the one who can train your brain.