Quantum Superposition Personalities
Do you wonder where the Self resides?
Who am I, and how do I know?
It’s a question that seems easy to answer, until you interrogate the indicators. No wonder the spiritual leader, Ram Dass, said awakening begins when you realize that you aren’t who you thought you were.
We all adopt a series of personas throughout our lives. Some of these are byproducts of culture and proximity: artist, athlete, student; writer, doctor, chef; mother, brother, spouse. Sometimes they’re adaptive; other times, they’re not. They may be imposed upon us through bias and stereotype, or created ourselves to cope and cover up: the overachiever who feels worthless; the addict easing the pain of PTSD; the asshole who just wants their mother to hold them.
These personas are inherently time-bound, based on past experience and future projection. Identity is the glue that ties it all together, but in some sense, what we call a Self lives only in memory and imagination; as conceptions and constructions in other peoples’ minds. Perhaps infinite potential versions of us exist simultaneously, like quantum superposition personalities, only called into being when one is observed.
Who we really are dwells between these past and future states, eternal and ephemeral, constantly dying and being reborn. It exists only in the perpetually passing present moment: right now, and right now, and right now.
And memory is a funny thing, a picture of a picture of the past. We are all constantly changing, from the personas we adopt to the cells that make our bodies, regenerated every seven years. The more we learn, the more we see that seeming constants such as space, time, and even reality are more subjective than we think.
What we call the waking world is actually a model our brains learn to build when we were young by sampling sensory data from our physical environment: an internal representation of our external world, shaped by evolution and experience. Processing every sight, sound, color, and smell in real time would overwhelm the system, so as we get older, the model becomes our default state. Our brains rely on its predictions to get us through our day, merely cross-checking these with the data perceived by our senses.
Eventually, our brains learn to build this consensus world even in the absence of physical, sensory information received from our environment—for example, when we’re asleep. Maybe our identities are crafted the same way: by sampling data from our sociocultural environments, taking pieces of the personas others observe and assembling them to build a consensus personality. Perhaps, eventually, this personality can exist even in the absence of other people, creating a model Self that runs subconsciously: while waking, sleeping, and all the places in between.
Just as the brain’s model helps us navigate our world without being flooded by thousands of sensations, having a consensus personality with a backstory and a plan helps us function in society. But models are merely a stand-in for the real thing. They can also keep us from presence: stuck in the future or past, repeating the same patterns simply because they’re the default.
Researchers believe the part of the brain that’s most responsible for keeping the model running is the same one involved with self-reflection, and it’s the part that most recently evolved: the default mode network, or DMN. As humans began living in larger groups, the reasoning goes, they needed to not only predict their own environment, but the behavior of others in their group. Over time, the ability to guess what was happening in other people’s minds turned inward, and the observer was born. This is the voice of our internal monologue, telling us a story about who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. It’s also the voice of depression and anxiety, the one we spend our lives trying to transcend.
Many believe there are universal personas, what psychologist Carl Jung called the archetypes: innate, inherited models of people and behavior, formed by the accumulation of our ancestors’ consistent experiences over time. There are infinite possible archetypes, according to Jung, only called into being when observed through myth and story, art and dreams. They form the “collective unconscious” from which individual and communal personas emerge—a consensus model of the human psyche.
Some researchers say they’ve found neural structures that correspond to these archetypes, located in the areas of the brain that have most evolved. Over time, writes researcher Charles Laughlin, they “begin to model the aspect of experience they mediate,” laying the foundations for our instincts and intuition. This concept is known as neurognosis: the neurological basis of subconscious knowledge.
For there to be a universal model of the psyche, archetypes would have to somehow be transmitted between people who are not only unrelated, but have never even met. Yet quantum physics might explain this.
In a quantum system like our universe, everything is interconnected; events in one part directly impact another, with information transmitted through quantum fields. Even when two parts are separated, they continue to behave as a system, no matter what the distance, and all humans emerged from the same ancestors. The archetypal knowledge that forms our personalities could also be transmitted this way, some scholars say.
Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance states that all forms of life, from molecules to crystals, cows, and people, have a collective memory that each individual contributes to and draws from. Through what are known as morphic fields, they transmit abilities and information: a kind of telepathy. Societies, Sheldrake says, transmit memories through morphic fields of culture like myth, ritual, and art.
But there’s a catch: the model your brain builds only exists in the presence of the serotonin molecule. That’s why introducing a new molecule—like a psychedelic—can so drastically alter our experience of the world. Some think psychedelics even gate access to the collective unconscious; according to researcher Andrew Gallimore, the immersive worlds encountered on a DMT trip could be a hyper-evolved “autonomous psychic complex,” where parts of the collective psyche have formed consciousnesses all their own.
Maybe the models of our Selves and very societies are only structurally sound in the presence of other people, living through the stories we tell. But just like you have to have a model in order to break it, you have to have a Self before you can lose it. Part of awakening in today’s culture involves claiming our identities—not those given by others, but the ones we feel in our soul.
In this way, I think being queer is inherently spiritual, since the whole premise is realizing that you aren’t who you’ve been told. But no matter who you think you might be, as Ram Dass (himself queer) said, all humans are just “God in drag.” We play our parts, calling our infinite Selves into being, until finally, the true one can be seen.
Perhaps there’s a realm of the collective psyche where we’ve achieved a higher learning; maybe the beings encountered in the psychedelic space are just our future interdimensional Selves. It’s possible that dismantling the model through some transcendent act provides a portal to enlightenment, a rift in space-time where we finally exit the cycle of suffering.
Until that happens, maybe we’ll never fully grasp who we are. But I wouldn’t mind catching a few good drag shows while we’re here.