IFS vs neuroscience

This article was inspired by the book of the creator of the IFS model - Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., “Many Minds, One Self”.

How does the theory of the multiplicity of mind sound in the light of what we know about the human brain from actual research? Thanks to modern technology, we are able to carefully study this most important organ and see that the human brain works within the frame of autonomous "modules", cooperating with each other.

Dan Siegel

Dan Siegel, professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, writes that sub-personalities are "states of mind that have a repeated pattern of activity across time. These specialized selves or self-states each have relatively specialized and somewhat independent modes of processing information and achieving goals. Each person has many such interdependent and yet distinct processes, which exist over time with a sense of continuity that creates the experience of mind. (Siegel, 1999, p. 231).

Dan Siegel also believes that any complex system works best when its elements are strongly distinguished and to some extent linked to each other. The same applies to social relationships, in which people need to find a balance between individual differentiation and interpersonal integration. What is more, as it turns out, the same principle applies to the interactions between parts of our personality. Neither excessive attachment or high reactivity of the parts on each other, nor excessive isolation or lack of communication is good for the inner family. Siegel emphasizes that, despite the fact that modern psychology often neglects mental systems, we must take them into account. It defines system integration as a balance between the differentiation of the system’s parts and the free linkage between them.

David Eagleman

Imagine a mind as a jury, which must announce a verdict, or as a democratic system where representatives are obliged to put forward one president or parliament. This is how neuroscientist David Eagleman illustrates the multiplicity of mind. He says that it is often the case that two subsystems are most visible and in opposition (e.g. rational and emotional mind), but there are much more of these neuronal subpopulations in total. The Self is to combine the activities of our inner parts into a single narrative with a coherent sense.

Douglas Hofstadter particularly like the view put forward by an American intellectual and writer Douglas Hofstadter, winner of the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for a book on cognitive processes and intelligence. This is what he says on sub-personalities from the perspective of neuroscience in psychology: "With its billions of neurons, the mind resembles a community made up of smaller communities, each in turn made up of smaller ones. I like to refer to the highest-level communities (just below the level of the whole) as ‘sub-selves’ or ‘inner voices’... These are competing aspects of ourselves that try to lead the whole system".

Other scientists

In turn, Michael Gazzaniga, studying the two hemispheres, came to the conclusion that our brain functions as a set of cooperating but separate systems ("multiple dynamic mental systems"). Robert Ornstein, another representative of neuroscience in psychology said that "we are not a single person; we are many”, whereas Antonio Damasiouses the metaphor of an orchestra and says that the conductor appears later as a result of the cooperation of all parts of the brain, not the other way round.

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