Kerry Dawkins, 2017
(This is an expanded and updated version of my 2007 article, ‘Plurality and “Genius”’.)
There is a pervasive myth that plural systems are either endowed with extreme spiritual powers or intelligence in comparison to non-plurals. I am sceptical of both these premises to say the least and think that both stereotypes are ultimately harmful for plurals who are working out their identities. Neither mystical powers nor extremely high intelligence are required to be a valid plural system.
I have seen people making out that plural systems have special, mystical powers time and again: there are anecdotal stories of systems doing things like 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. There is no evidence whatsoever that multiplicity is associated with any of these phenomena. It’s a patently ridiculous stereotype that doesn’t match the reality in which many plural systems live. There’s actually a joke in online plural circles about ‘toaster powers’ that comes from this silly stereotype. I can assure you that none of us at Plures House have made any toasters fly or caused the electricity to go out. In fact, most of us are really quite sceptical and hold relatively materialistic beliefs that don’t even include supernatural phenomena in the first place.
I suspect that some people associate multiplicity with mystical powers because of a deep-set belief that having anything considered a mental illness or disability is shameful and there should be some sort of benefit to offset it. There are a few problems with this: firstly, it’s disablist to make out that people are less valuable because they experience something disabling, and secondly, plural systems who’ve learnt to co-operate can use their plurality for beneficial ends. A system isn’t more or less valid because of their belief in supernatural phenomena.
I don’t mean to disparage people who do believe in supernatural phenomena, of course; everyone is entitled their own beliefs and it is not my place to tell people what they should or should not consider valid. My problem is with the stereotype that all of us must be predisposed to have mystical powers in order to be validly multiple.
Extreme intelligence may seem a bit more prosaic than mystical spiritual powers, but it’s another attribute wrongly applied to plurals as a whole. It is common to claim that, based on observations of a limited population made by psychiatrists, multiples are on average inherently cleverer than singlets, and their system-members were created because they were bright enough to come up with a creative coping mechanism in reaction to repeated traumas that happened early in life.
A study conducted in 1996, however, suggests that there is no statistically significant relationship between DID and measured intelligence. Of course, it’s imperfect. Firstly, I take issue with the use of IQ tests as an absolute measure of learning potential, and secondly, the study is over twenty years old. It’s also limited to people receiving inpatient treatment. But if this study is in fact true, then there isn’t any evidence supporting the idea that systems receiving treatment are substantively more intelligent than other people.
I suspect that this idea came from anecdotal evidence from therapists who saw mostly educated, white, middle- and upper-class women who could afford that kind of therapy. Shirley ‘Sybil’ Mason& was apparently crashingly intelligent. If therapists are primarily seeing educated clients, then they may draw the erroneous conclusion that intelligence is higher amongst trauma-based plural systems seeking treatment than people in other populations. Plural groups may also look cleverer because many people are contributing their individual talents for the good of the system.
As with the claims of metaphysical powers, I think some of these claims of high intelligence can also be put down to disablism. After all, if plural systems are more intelligent than non-plurals, doesn’t it make them more valuable than society? I think intelligence is, or should be, value-neutral; people who have global learning disabilities are not inferior to people who take less time to learn. Nobody is worth more or less than other people because of how quickly or slowly they learn.
You do not need to be especially intelligent or spiritually connected in order to be a valid plural system. Regardless of the ridiculous stereotypes, cleverness and magical ability are not a requirement. Multiplicity can happen regardless of how quickly you learn or how spiritual you are. There are plural systems who struggle to learn academic subjects, and there are multiples whose system-members are primarily atheists, agnostics or other people with more materialistic views. The only requirements are that you perceive yourselves as having more than one self-perceiving entity in a body, no matter how you originated, how quickly you learn or how connected to the supernatural you are.