Flying Toasters Not Required

Kerry Dawkins, 2017

(This is an expanded and updated version of my 2007 article, ‘Plurality and “Genius”’. Updated further in February 2021.)

Although claims that plural systems are more spiritually or intellectually gifted on average than their singleton counterparts are a common refrain among both plurals and some fringe therapists, they are more myth than reality. Both stereotypes are ultimately harmful for plurals who are working out their identities: they induce self-doubt in systems who may not have exhibit the traits commonly associated with multiplicity, and these compensatory claims suggest a tacit prejudice against disabled people. Neither mystical powers nor an extremely high intelligence are required to be a valid plural system.

Spiritual powers

The internet is littered with anecdotes about plural systems magically switching out the lights in a room, making toasters fly across the room, channelling long-dead spirits and doing other things associated with the supernatural or paranormal. Anecdotes, however, are not data. No empirical evidence has demonstrated a relationship between multiplicity and paranormal phenomena. I can assure you that nobody in our system has made any toasters fly or caused the electricity to go out.

Perhaps some people associate multiplicity with mystical powers because of a deep-seated belief that mental illness and disability are shameful in themselves, and there should be some sort of benefit to offset those socially undesirable traits. This belief implies that disabled people are less valuable than others, especially if they lack skills society deems useful. Also, plural systems who have learnt to cooperate can use their plurality for beneficial ends. Spiritual powers don’t confer legitimacy on systems.

Intelligence

Extreme intelligence may seem a bit more prosaic than mystical spiritual powers, but it’s another attribute wrongly applied to plurals as a whole. Some claim that, based on psychiatrists’ observations of a limited group of patients, multiples are, on average, more intelligent than singlets, and that we become plural because we were bright enough to develop a creative mechanism to survive repeated early-childhood trauma. A study conducted in 1996, however, suggests that there is no statistically significant relationship between DID and measured intelligence. The study is imperfect; it uses IQ scores as shorthand for intelligence, and it’s more than twenty years old. The sample is also limited to people receiving inpatient treatment. If this study is indeed true, however, then there is no evidence suggesting that systems receiving treatment are more likely to be highly intelligent than the general population. The scant amount of scholarly literature on DID and cognitive ability allows people to fill in the gaps with untestable claims.

Perhaps this folk association between plurality and higher intelligence comes from the anecdotes of therapists who saw mostly educated, white, middle- and upper-class women like Shirley ‘Sybil’ Mason. If therapists work primarily with professional middle-class clients, they may draw false inferences. Plural groups may also appear more skilled than average because many people are contributing their talents for the good of the system.

We can attribute both these claims of high intelligence and of metaphysical powers to a latent prejudice against disabled people. After all, if plural systems are more intelligent than non-plurals, doesn’t it make them more valuable than society? Intelligence itself is value neutral; people aren’t worth more or less than others because of their relative strengths in learning, analysing and applying information. Even if a system is significantly more intelligent than most people in the general population, that doesn’t give them licence to use their abilities as a shield against stereotyping or an imprimatur of legitimacy.

Concluding remarks

It’s all right to set the stereotypes aside. Cleverness and magical ability are not a prerequisite for being a legitimate plural system. The only requirement is that you perceive yourselves as more than one. No more, no less.