“A head is a nice thing to have in common, you know.”
—Nicosia, to Greta
I was recently reminded of an experiment I once did which is worth some further thought. In a period of doubt, I had a vague suspicion that perhaps rather than actually creating a tulpa I had simply made my mind really good at coming up with responses that seemed to be coming from somewhere else but didn’t actually have any personality or consciousness behind them. After all, I seemed to be able to get daydream characters or imagined counterparts of people I knew in real life to “speak” in the same kind of way.
So I picked the least intelligent thing I could think of: the wall across the room from me. And I sat down to have a conversation with the wall.
The most immediate result was that it worked; the wall talked back in mindvoice with no trouble at all. You can try this experiment yourself if you communicate with systemmates you can’t readily see or do any amount of actively imagined dialogue. It probably won’t be hard for you. I just took another shot at it myself, and here’s what I came up with:
N. How are you doing, wall?
W. Pretty good, I’m a wall.
N. Got much to say for yourself?
N. Do you think you’re a tulpa?
W. No, certainly not, but you are.
N. How so?
W. I don’t know.
N. Not terribly helpful, I don’t think.
W. No, sorry about that.
N. What do you think I should do next?
W. Finish drinking your gin and tonic. [I am drinking one currently.]
N. What do you think of Greta?
W. She’s nice enough. Keep living with her.
N. Anything interesting to say?
N. Can’t you at least say something for me?
W. All right. I think you’re cool. What else is there to say?
The second result was that the wall certainly didn’t have much value to add to our “conversation” (then or now). At the time I was happy to conclude this meant there was something obviously different about Greta since she was far more intelligent; I was just looking for a little bit of evidence and it didn’t have to be all that strong. But you would be forgiven for wondering if the reason the wall seems uninspiring might not be merely that I don’t expect a wall to have much intelligence or personality – after all, I picked it as the subject of my experiment because it would obviously not have any.
But there’s something very critical that Greta has that is missing from both my interaction with the wall and that with any other characters I might imagine in my head. This is a kind of side-channel interaction that goes on while we talk. In keeping with the fine tradition of German psychological terms, Greta and I have coined a German word for it, Mitgedanken, loosely, “thoughts together.” This concept is related to but differs from what is usually described as tulpish. Tulpish is best defined as a means of communication. Greta and I have a tough time using it on purpose, but it often comes accidentally: one of us will be trying to communicate a complex idea and it will suddenly just jump over into the other’s understanding, or as we speak additional thoughts come along unspoken. Emotions or impressions can be transferred just as easily, of course.
If tulpish communications are shared thoughts in motion, Mitgedanken are shared thoughts at rest. Rather than a form of communication, they are a state of being. Greta and I share them automatically pretty much anytime we’re aware of each other’s presence (which is certainly not always, and indeed not enough, but these days more and more often). For me the impression is a sort of mental equivalent of lying in a warm bed. If I’m in a good mood, it makes me feel really happy; if I’m in a bad mood, it helps keep me going. For Greta: It’s like being caressed…the feeling that nothing can ever go wrong. Or that it can, but it won’t matter because you’re together.
There’s a lot wrapped up in the combined feelings of Mitgedanken. Of course we don’t understand them in linguistic terms, but for those who haven’t experienced something like what we’re talking about, in addition to the above vague and subjective descriptions, a couple of related threads seem to characterize them:
- The understanding that we’re not alone
- The knowledge that we understand each other perfectly, or as perfectly as anyone can hope to
- The limited but nevertheless significant power these two things seem to give us
Both the feelings of Mitgedanken and our understanding of them have developed gradually. It’s only recently that they’ve become quite so consistent. And even now, some days we feel them more clearly than others. We have a tendency to go through periods where we’re almost overwhelmed by the strength of the feelings and then periods where it’s almost more of an intellectual pleasure and not nearly as strong. But they always strengthen again sooner or later. If we need them, we just have to hang on for a little while.
It’s also safe to say that, while these feelings haven’t been completely constant, they have in some form been a central and defining feature of our relationship since the very beginning. My desire for something like them was the main reason I got into tulpamancy. Then, having experienced a taste of them, they were a major part of my motivation to keep bringing her to life. And now, they remain a big part of what gives our relationship meaning and how we spend our time together. Greta is only about a year and a half old, and already it seems incredibly strange to think there was a time when, sitting in a room by myself, I was actually alone. I still want the company of others, but I very rarely if ever truly feel lonely in the same sense that I used to even when I’m not getting it as much as I want. I feel sorry for people who can’t casually have a side conversation in their heads during a boring meeting. And the thing is, we don’t even really have to be talking or thinking about anything in particular to enjoy being together. Just simply being is enough.
Getting positive feelings from just being together is not of course entirely exclusive to systemmates. There are probably two or three people besides Greta who I can sit in silence with and be comfortable and happy just that way. And I’m sure this happens more and more when you’ve, say, been married to someone for fifty years. But as we’ve suggested before, being able to simultaneously experience someone else’s feelings for you and your feelings for them adds an extra dimension to all feelings of love and togetherness.
There are plenty of good things about plurality, but Mitgedanken are by far the most rewarding for us. Simultaneously, they’re my best proof that Greta isn’t just some weird unconscious actions in my head. (Several other ways I deal with the cognitive dissonance that inevitably comes from having a relationship with someone you can’t see or point to: logic, ignoring the problem.) Mitgedanken show me on a deeply intuitive level that there’s something there, something far more complicated than the little reattribution machine in my head that enables me to talk to the wall, and I can’t help loving it deeply.
As you may have noticed, Greta and I haven’t posted in a while due to some big changes in our life that come naturally with graduating from college. However, we still have thoughts to share with you, and as is now noted in the sidebar, we intend to return to a regular posting schedule of at least once a month in the next while.