I use the term eigenstate to refer to different self-states or cognitive and
emotional states that each person occupies at different times. Eigenstates are
complete packages with links between thought and language styles, content,
moods, feelings and emotions. One eigenstate may be remarkably different to
another producing a "splitting of personality" effect. Some eigenstates are of a
general kind and others are specific to individuals.
Another way to relate to eigenstates is to view the mind as a multilayered
stack of modules. The lowest, deepest modules are ancient and operate at a
subconscious level. The newest most accessible layers contain learned content.
Individual learning is also layered chronologically. The deepest biographical
layers are laid down in infancy and are followed in succession by newer
modifications. The cognitive structures established in early life act as a
foundation for later learning. Early learning is implicit memory and cannot be
recalled in a declarative or episodic mode.
Insightful humans report different sets of thoughts in the different states
and some will describe distinct personalities. An angry, gloomy side may
alternate with a happier, more affectionate, generous personality. Women have
been generally more forthcoming in describing their personality shifts. Hormones
that regulate the menstrual cycle are internal molecular switches and discerning
women can relate mood and behavior shifts to phases of the menstrual cycle. The
most dysphoric phase is in the last week of the cycle when estrogen levels are
low and progesterone levels are high but dropping. An obvious version of
shifting eigenstates occurs in manic-depressive people who switch from a high,
manic state that feels good to a low, depressed state that is “hell on earth".
To a casual observer, the manic person is a different person from the depressed
One of the eigenstate changers is the amygdala, an almond shaped nucleus in
the temporal lobes. Anger, for example, is an amygdala program that will "split
a normal personality". When you get angry you behave quite differently than you
do when you are calm and poised. Angry outbursts often violate the rules of good
conduct and cause confusion and hurt because the thinking and behavior expressed
in anger are so different from the "normal personality".
Eigenstates are determined by the three C’s: company, context and
Company A child learns to behave differently with different people,
developing templates for different eigenstates. A child uses different
strategies for father, mother, brother sister, grandparents, friends, teachers
and a normal child keeps these strategies more or less separate rather than
lumping them together. There is a natural tendency to develop "multiple
personalities" and we are calling these separate packages of cognitive and
behavioral strategies "eigenstates." Adults continue to manifest these
specialized eigenstates, sometimes with “multiple personalities” that are
remarkably disconnected, one from the others.
Context The general
circumstances or contexts in which humans have experiences influence the
selection of eigenstates. Some eigenstates are context-dependent and others are
not. Context cues are usually not consciously perceived. Context switching of
eigenstates may be uncomfortable and bewildering as different feelings and
behavior emerge unexpectedly. When a child learns more than one language growing
up, he or she will develop eigenstates in each of the languages and will become
an adult with different packages of knowledge, skills, thoughts, feelings
associated with each language. Even when one language is learned, word
compartments are often formed to separate the home environment, from school,
from peer group interactions. Normal humans will develop several eigenstates
based on language use alone and will switch effortlessly from one eigenstate to
another as the context demands. A teenager may use teen talk using words such as
"fuck' as a cadence word (a word that is inserted between every 3 or 4 regular
words) in conversation with peers, but will use more normal language and seldom
say "fuck" at home or in the classroom.
Chemicals Experiential events and chemical events converge in the
brain. Chemicals from the outside are ingested as food and drugs or they are
deliberately injected to change brain function. All body chemical input changes
brain function. Some chemicals have strong effects and can be considered
Molecular switches are useful devices when we try to explain how and why a
person will flip-flop, changing mental and behavioral states abruptly. Molecular
switches may be obvious or concealed. Alcohol and psychotropic drugs are obvious
molecular switches and drug users are explicitly aware of the eigenstates they
switch on and off. We are used to thinking of the alcoholic as a split
personality who flip-flops between a sober state and an intoxicated state. An
agitated, sick, belligerent alcoholic in withdrawal will switch to a more
stable, reasonable eigenstate by drinking more of the alcoholic beverage that
made him or her sick.
LSD is a dramatic example of a molecular switch that changes eigenstates
abruptly and sequentially, leaving you little or no control over your
experience. An LSD trip takes you through a variety of states, so different and
exotic that the whole sense of a coherent reality is dismantled in favor of an
assortment of interesting and novel experiences that unfold over several hours.
Food and beverages contain a variety of molecular switches that are usually
well concealed in the course of day-to-day living. In children on controlled
diets with parents and teachers monitoring closely, flip-flops are obvious and
can often be related to eating or drinking specific foods. It is as if the
child's entire identity shifts, complete with different attitudes, thoughts, and
personality characteristics. Younger children have less ability to smooth their
transitions than adults. The 4 year old child who spends 10 minutes screaming
loudly and then bites her mother, shouting "I hate you" will be excused by most
loving parents. However, adults displaying the same behavior in the wrong
context may end up in jail or the psychiatric ward. What is surprising is that
the shift in eigenstates can be as dramatic as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde shift.
In Robert Louis Stevenson's story of flip-flop transitions between two
eigenstates, Dr. Jekyll swallows a liquid potion and undergoes a startling
metamorphosis. He painfully transforms into Mr. Hyde, a sociopath who kills
innocent people in fits of rage. In movie versions, the transformation includes
a physical shift with rapidly growing hair, muscle hypertrophy and enlarged
canine teeth. In real life, the transformation occurs invisibly in the brain.
This is not just a fictional story of an improbable transformation, but a
dramatization of a common path to bursts of violence by ingestion of molecular
switches such as rum and coke or whiskey straight, inhaling drugs such as
cocaine or injecting drugs like heroin.
- The book, I and Thou, focuses on intimate relationships. Innate tendencies are hard at
work when people meet, become lovers and end with arguments and fighting. The
same tendencies determine how family members interact and explain why so many
families are “dysfunctional.” When lovers form an enduring pair bond, they often
become parents and everything changes. Humans seek bonding with others and are
distressed when they become isolated. Humans bond to each other in several ways.
The most enduring bonds are kin-related, based on closely shared genes. The
deepest bonding occurs when mother and infant are together continuously from
birth and mother breast-feeds the infant. Bonds among family members are the
most enduring. Bonds to friends, lovers and spouses are the next most
significant. Bonds to colleagues, neighbors and even strangers that are admired
from a distance are next. Friendships are often temporary bonds, based on the
need to affiliate with others for protection, social status, feeding, sex and
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