Manifold Man


      – by Alexander Wilder

(from “The Later Platonists and Other Writings of Alexander Wilder” at

“One newly dead, wafted on winds of space,
Felt clustering shapes he knew not and yet knew.
‘Who are ye?’ cried he, scanning face by face.
‘Your self!’ they laughed; ‘We all have once been you!'”
– Arlo Bates, in Scribner’s Magazine

It is said that the late Robert Louis Stevenson had a dream the curious incidents of which enabled him to produce the strange story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In this tale he has described one of the characters as an amiable and truly worthy gentleman, and another as being totally the reverse. It transpires that these two persons who are so represented are actually the same individual. He is manifest at times as the man of superior worth, and on other occasions as fit only to consort with the vile. A certain practice of drugging produces these transformations. The evil result, finally predominates over normal condition and the degradation becomes permanent.

A recent number of the London Lancet narrates a case of multiple personality, far more extraordinary. The individual was a girl of twelve years old. She was apparently in good health till she was attacked with influenza. The changes then became manifest. Some were complete and others partial, some were sudden and others gradual. In some cases she was totally blind, and in all of them she was partially ignorant of what she had been in other states. In some of them her acquirements, such as drawing and writing and other normal faculties, were present; in others, they seemed to be lost. When she was in the blind condition she developed the faculty of drawing, aided by touch only. This sense was then enormously increased in delicacy. Her character and behavior were widely different in some of the peculiar states, from what they were in others. There were ten of these phases, and they varied in length from a few minutes to ten weeks. They have lasted about three years.

These descriptions, it appears to me, are little else than examples of human experience in conditions more distinctly marked than is common in every-day life. Indeed we need only to take note of our own motives and impulses, to perceive that there are periods in our temper quite in analogy with those which have been described. The celebrated preacher of the Eighteenth Century, Whitfield, once observed a wretched man making his way with difficulty, disgrace in every motion and feature. “There,” he exclaimed, “there goes George Whitfield, but for the grace of God.” A physiognomist is said to have described Sokrates as addicted to low vices, drunken and sensual. The philosopher checked those who were about to protest. Such had been his disposition, but he had been restrained by philosophy. So true it is that the greatest virtue is developed above the darkest vice, as the beautiful water-lily grows from filthy mud.

Holmes suggests that perhaps there are co-tenants in this house of which we had thought we were the sole occupant. He brings to confirm this the dream or revery of a budding girl in which several of her remoter ancestors seemed in turns to blend their being with hers. This takes us a step further. The lessons of experience are slowly learned, but they bring the deeper facts to view.

Many years have passed, but I remember it well. There had been worry and vexatious disappointment in several matters to which I was attending. To intensify the trouble, a severe influenza was developed, affording no opportunity for repose. It was in May, and the Columbian Exposition was about to open at Chicago as a memorial celebration of the third centenary of the discovery of the Western Continent. I must make ready for a week of service in a World’s Congress Auxiliary and could not pass my duties over to another. The matter was successfully carried through, after which followed months of work and responsibility. When December came I was prostrated by my fifth visitation of pneumonia.

The exacerbations were severer than they had been of aforetime, and were accompanied by hallucinations that were curious from their novelty. For several days there seem to be some half dozen persons in the bed with me sharing my personality, suffering as I did, and making the pain harder to endure because each of them was adding to it a spectral contribution of his own. I had the impression very vividly that if they should be removed elsewhere, the distress which I was suffering would then become easier to bear. This anticipation, however, was not realized. After a few days they did seem to go, but there was no such amelioration. There was, perhaps, an exchange of one form of sensation for another that was equally disagreeable, and with it possibly some change of hallucination.

An individual unable to leave his bed has abundant opportunity to speculate upon what he observes. The field is large; it may be larger than when he is in normal condition. Vagary and new sensation are added to memory and imagination, and all of them are busy with their contributions. Nor is it well to be contented with any flippant explanation, such as that it was mere phantasm that had its origin from the fever. I must be permitted to doubt the power of a fever to generate alone even a phantasm. It is by no means a producing cause. It may destroy, but it cannot create. It can only display something that really exists. If we are so disposed, we may call the manifestation abnormal and even morbid, but it is none the less real, and further enquiry must be made.

The subjective nature of the manifestations requires to be examined. The fever brought them to view; but whence did they come? In some way they were projected from the thought and personality of the individual sufferer. They were not mere phantoms external to him, but actual facts and qualities issuing forth from him into an apparition of objective reality. The several sufferers that apparently participated in my pain and uneasiness were portions of myself that were, as it were, individualized. The fever which was disturbing my body had caused them to seem as separate personalities, each of which might possibly be contemplated by itself. I did not think to count them, but thought of them as six or more. Accordingly I am not able to tell, or even to suggest, what or whether any specific quality or characteristic any or each of them may have personified. Though thus seemingly apart and distinct from me, they were all in a manner myself; and with that conclusion I must be content. Each of them, I was conscious, had an intimate relationship with the others.

This sense of complexity in a personality has been noticed by different writers, and explanations have been offered, which widely vary. Oliver Wendell Holmes tells us autocratically of an unconscious action of the brain and a distinct correspondence between every process of thought or feeling and some corporeal phenomenon. Emmanuel Kant carries the idea still further, and propounds that the soul is acted upon by the nonmaterial natures of the spiritual world, and receives impressions from them. Professor Tyndall is also philosophic in his deductions. “It was found,” says he, “that the mind of man has the power of penetrating far beyond the boundaries of his full senses; that the things which are seen in the material world would depend for their action upon the things unseen; – in short, that besides the phenomena which address the senses, there are laws, principles and processes which do not address the senses at all, but which need be and can be spiritually discerned.”

These assumptions do not quite solve the matter satisfactorily, but they afford valuable help. I readily acknowledge the presence and influence of spiritual essences in my own thinking, and also that these influences may extend to illumination and seeming intuition. Everything, Goethe declares, everything flows into us, so far as we are not it ourselves. Doctor Holmes has further suggested, and in this I am ready to agree with him, that other spirits, those of ancestors in particular, and other persons who are in rapport with us, have a place of abode in our personality, and so may qualify our action, even inspiring it sometimes. I am not alone in my body, or with it, for everyone is with me whose nature, disposition or proclivity I share. This universe is an ocean of mind, and my interior essence may permeate it in every part as a drop of alcohol will diffuse itself over an immense body of water. For the body does not contain the soul, but is itself surrounded by it, as well as permeated and enlivened.

The apparent personifications were so completely in and of me that I was fully conscious that each of them felt every pain that I suffered. Each one of us is a complex personality in which an assemblage of living entities are grouped and allied together as parts of a single whole. As my body is a one, that is composed of a plurality of members – muscles, bones, membranes and nerve-structure all depending on one another in this totality, so my selfhood is constituted in an analogous manner, of qualities, characteristics, impulses, passions, tastes and other peculiarities.

We may follow the subject further, and explore into the recesses of our selfhood in order to ascertain somewhat more definitely in relation to the qualities and characteristics that make it up as an entirety. “The proper study of mankind is Man,” and the proper way to pursue this study is for each of us to endeavor to know himself. Metaphysical speculation is not a study of what is outside of our nature, but rather of that which is superior to nature – the mind or spirit by which it is animated.

I remember that even in earlier boyhood I was of a serious, thoughtful turn. I was thus led to contemplate my personality as a two-fold entity composed of the body and the living principle. Naturally I considered the body as the principal object, but early teaching assured me that there was a soul that would continue after the body had perished. I was also told that according as I was good or bad, this soul of mine would enjoy delight in heaven or suffer excruciating torment in hell after its separation from the body. All this impressed me that the soul was a something distinct from me and not that it was my actual self. That I had to learn afterward.

Yet in this period of imperfect knowing there came forth many thoughts spontaneously, that did not harmonize well with these cruder notions. I could sit and contemplate my limbs as things that were distinct from my real self. When by some accident, a leg or an arm was temporarily benumbed, I noticed that it was apparently dead, and that though I myself was alive and in full possession of my faculties, no impulse of my will could move the paralyzed organ. This showed that the selfhood was myself from which the body was essentially distinct. This self was the being that thought, reasoned, willed, and impelled to action; and however closely the corporeal structure was allied to it, yet it was nothing more than its instrument. Speaking in more explicit terms: I am soul, and this body of mine is only my shadow, my objective manifestation. It may therefore be declared without further evidence or argument, that this soul, this ego, myself, has its being substantially distinct from the body, and accordingly, that it is superior to the body, and older.

Following this exploration into the subjective nature, I perceive that in the soul there are varieties of faculty and function that can be distinguished from one another. Thus I love, desire, feel and enjoy, and also experience the reverse of these in one department of my being; but think, observe and reason, in another. Designating these two departments after the fashion of the time, we term the one, soul, and the other, the understanding or reasoning faculty. It may be remarked, however, that these are so intimately close to the corporeal structure and functions, that it is not altogether clear from what has been here set forth that both soul and mind are not participant with it, rather than coordinate. By an instinctive consciousness I associate the thinking faculties with my head, and the affectional, sensitive and appetitive qualities, with the central ganglionic region of the body. If now, I push the investigation no further, I may be ready to say that life and existence itself can be no more than an illusion of the senses, and therefore, that death, ending it all, is the only thing genuine and real. Animals seem to possess all the traits to which reference has been made, in a less or greater degree; and from this analogy I can be little more than they.

Not so. My thought is not circumscribed by their limitations. This reasoning faculty which I am able to perceive and contemplate in myself is really itself two-fold, and perhaps manifold. It certainly is a receptacle of something else than the facts that have been observed, lessons that have been learned, and the various deductions and conclusions. It is far more than a storehouse or encyclopedia of former thoughts and observations that may be classified, labeled and put away as in pigeon-holes. There is a faculty of apperception transcending all this sort of thing. This is the faculty that renders us conscious of our selfhood, of our moral and reflective nature, and of all that is in us, of us, and about us. We are by no means hurrying too fast with the argument when we summarize the description of this faculty with the apothegm attributed to Elihu in the book of Job: “Certainly, there is a spirit in mankind, and the inspiration of the Almighty maketh them intelligent.” Superior to the soul and understanding, and yet both surrounding and permeating them is this inspiration or influx, and it makes human beings intelligent because it is itself an extension and projecting of the divine Intelligence. Our minds are made luminant by the apperception which has been thus established. We have the earth at our feet, and God at our head.

The Apostle Paul defines man as being an entirety, made up of “spirit and soul and body.” Plato had already described him as triune, consisting of body, soul and the mind or superior intellect. In the Timaeus he assigns the mind, the noetic and absolutely immortal part of the soul, to a seat in the summit of the head; while the mortal part is placed in the body – the better portion above and the lower part below the diaphragm.

“With the mind (noos) I myself serve the law of God,” Paul writes, using the philosophic term. . . .

The concept of the “double,” or “astral” body, has been universally entertained. The Egyptian sages used to teach that there was a corporeal structure and an aetherial body that was like and yet distinct from the soul. After the death of the body, the soul was supposed to go directly to the gods, but the double remained on the earth and was nourished from the aetherial principle that was in the offerings of food made to it by friends. It was believed that food after this principle had been thus partaken, had no further nourishing quality. The manes of the dead, that we read of in Roman literature, was a similar personification, and its peculiar rites are described by Virgil in the fifth book of the Aeneid.

But the Egyptian diviners held that man was really a complex personality. There was the khat or body; also the ba or soul, the khu or reasoning faculty, ka or eidolon, the khakit or shade, the ren or name, the ab or heart, and the sahu or corporeal framework. Of this last, divested of the entrails, the mummies were made. All these parts were supposed to sustain an intimate vital relation to one another; and it was believed that there could be no perfect life ultimately, except these were again joined. The eidolon or double, the ka being of divine origin, survived the body, and hence was subject to innumerable vicissitudes. It needed the funeral offerings to relive hunger and sufferings. If the sahu or mummy chanced to be destroyed, this astral form would unite itself with some image or simulacrum of the deceased person. In this way phallicism was integral in the Egyptian rites; and the serpent as representing the soul and intelligence was borne aloft at festivals, and worn on the sacerdotal tiara.

These notions undoubtedly came from older peoples. Bunsen conjectured that Egypt derived her learning from the country of the Euphrates and Lamartine declared his full conviction that that country received it from India. We may expect accordingly to find there the whole dogma of component principles, in the human form. The Sankhya philosophy is accordingly thus explicit. We are told of the body, the atma or soul, the buddhi or intelligent principle, the consciousness, the understanding, the senses, the manas or passional nature, etc. The whole theory is there. We conceive of these principles as separate entities and describe them as such. Yet, to borrow the words of Pope for the purpose:

“All are but parts of one stupendous whole.”

In conclusion, I am certain that the troublesome bedfellows which have been described as causing me so much annoyance were only so many constituents of my individual self, which the excitement of fever had brought into consciousness as so many personalities. That they were not mere phantoms created by hallucination is almost demonstrated by the fact that I seemed to feel in myself that what I was suffering at the time they were suffering along with me. I suppose that they were those principles of soul that are more commonly described as qualities and sentiments. Perhaps they are capable of being brought into consciousness so as to be recognized by the external sensibility, as living beings, because they are actually endowed with life. “Every thought is a soul,” the philosophic Mejnour declares to his pupil in Bulwer’s famous novel “Zanoni.” What we denominate qualities and principles are animate realities, which may be apprehended as such; not, however, as things apart from us, but as constituent elements of our being.

(Metaphysical Magazine, Vol. 21, no. 3, July, 1907)


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