Your Symphony of Selves by James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber

(Global Heart | Esther Haasnoot) Discover and understand more of who we are. An Interview with James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber about their newest book: “Your Symphony of Selves”

Your Symphony of Selves

Many philosophers and cultures believed that human beings may have more than one soul, reflecting the different aspects of the human being, This pioneering book “Your Symphony of Selves” by James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber provides a wide range of perspectives from several sources, with mention of ideas, techniques, which facilitate understanding the multiplicity of souls in human beings. A must-read for every person interested in self-discovery. – Esther Haasnoot


“Each of us has different selves or subpersonalities, based on the relationship we have with other people, surroundings, groups, etc., that is, roles. People have more than one way of being. Their self—and their identity—are not fixed, but continually in process, as the boundaries between themselves and others, and between the different parts of themselves are negotiated. The many selves have their own preferences and agendas and make behavioral choices that are different from or inconsistent with a person’s “typical” or currently desired behavior. When things are going well, each plays its rightful role as part of a harmonious symphony.”

An Interview with James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber about their newest book: “Your Symphony of Selves”, by Esther Haasnoot for Global Heart.

Esther Haasnoot: In many cultures it is believed that human beings may have more than one soul, reflecting the different aspects of the human being, which may include the rational intellect, the animal, the life force, the spark of divinity, the ego, the dreaming self, and so on. Can you tell us more about that?

James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber: Thanks so much for inviting us to enter into this very important conversation with you, Esther. You are exactly correct that many cultures speak of more than one soul, which is why chapter Five’s title is “Souls and Selves in Religion and Philosophy.” We start with the formative domain of religion, where multiplicity has long played a role. We consider the still current view of multiple selves among certain shamanic and indigenous groups and cultures, like the Hmong, and we look at multiplicity in various religions, including Hinduism, the Greco-Roman tradition, and more.

But for us, the concept of soul, per se, is not what’s most important, nor are the various ways of describing it, some of which you listed above. What is important is that each human being has a variety of self-states that manifest as patterns of repeated behavior, neurology, intention, speech, posture, and so on, and that we move in and out of these different selves.

What’s particularly valuable for people is when they recognize that their selves are real, different from each other, have innate value, and cannot be simply fused away or gotten rid of. We can learn to work with our souls/selves/minds/parts and together play a beautiful symphony.

Esther Haasnoot: Sometimes our behavior changes simply because we have changed internally; that is, we have “changed our minds” and a new self is present. Does this mean that when you shift in mood you have indeed moved into a different self? What is your perspective, how do we know if we moved into a different self?

James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber: Let’s start with the difference between selves and moods. A receptionist at our publishing firm told us that as she read the book, she realized something. When she finished work— went home, changed her clothing, and picked up her young daughter from school—she was a very different person than who she had been 45 minutes earlier. She spoke differently, dressed differently, and had a 100% focus on her daughter, not on her job. Now, suppose she had found out an hour earlier in the day that she’d had won a $10,000 church lottery! That lottery win would likely put her in a great mood at work; she might, for example, decide to take out several close friends for an expensive lunch to share the good energy. But when she picked up her daughter—even though she didn’t have time to change clothes—she would still move into the focused-on-the-daughter self, which would also share that very good mood.

As for how to know when we have moved into a different self, we discuss several ways you can do that:

(a) Tune in to exactly what you’re caring about right now, in real-time: what are you focusing on, what do you care about, what “ordinary” or “normal” concerns do you have or not have right now? What stands out? What do you notice that you ordinarily do not notice?

(b) Be aware that, as William James pointed out, we are often different social selves in different social settings. If you are with a particular group of people, take notice of your thoughts, feelings, posture, speech, dress, and so on. See how you change, both internally and outwardly, when you have just entered into a group setting when you have been there for a while, and when you leave it, and then see if you can compare that to how you typically are when you are alone, or in a different group setting. For example, when you are on Zoom with your family and close friends, you might not pay as much attention to your hair and clothing as when you are with people from work or from your church, synagogue, mosque, and so on.

(c) Especially in times of actions that turn out to have been dysfunctional, sup-optimal, or outright unwise or even “crazy” or stupid,” see if you can get in touch with the part of you that thought it was a good idea at the time.

Esther Haasnoot: Carl Gustav Jung defined twelve primary archetypes that symbolize basic human motivations. Each type has its own set of values, meanings, and personality traits, however, one archetype tends to dominate the personality in general. that sounds a bit like the selves we are talking about, is that right?

James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber: Yes and no. Carl Jung certainly plays an important role, but somewhat different than your question suggests. Let’s begin with where Jung fits in historically. Essentially, a great deal of importance had already transpired in the circle of men including William James, Alfred Binet (of IQ test fame), Pierre Janet, and Sigmund Freud—all of whom had personally studied with “the Great” Jean-Martin Charcot.

At first, all of these men were quite open to the reality of multiplicity, but Freud (who even named his first son “Jean-Martin Freud,” and who in his first well-known publication (Anna O., with Breuer) thanked Binet and Janet for their work in multiplicity, later completely changed his mind as part of his rejection of “the Seduction Hypothesis.” Once Freud changed his mind, selves went from an accepted concept—one for example completely embraced by the Father of American psychology, William James, in his notion of “social selves”—to being a completely buried idea, a meme non grata, by 1910.

As Jung was initially Freud’s protégé, you might expect Freud’s 180-degree turn on the reality of selves to have a strong impact on him. And this, in fact, is what we see. Jung—who wrote his medical dissertation on his own cousin’s case of multiplicity—instead took the idea inwardly in two ways. First, he brought forth the notion of archetypes. Second, he turned to the concept of “autonomous complexes.” Paul Levy explains the distinction between these: “Archetypes are living entities, psychological instincts or informational fields of influence that pattern human perception and experience. . . . Archetypes are the structural forms that underlie consciousness, just as the crystal lattice underlies the crystallization process. . . . The complexes are the inner, psychological vehicles that flesh out the rich repository of contents of the underlying archetypes, giving the formless archetypes a specifically human face.” The question becomes whether our “selves” are the same thing as Jung’s autonomous complexes.

Your Symphony of Selves

In the book, we further look at exactly what Jung had to say about this, and conclude that “it is not too great a stretch to say that he did indeed recognize selves, or sub-personalities, per se.” Certainly, Jung had a tremendous impact on others going forward in the history of healthy multiplicity, including Roberto Assagioli, who founded psychosynthesis, and the writer James Hillman, who, early in his career, strongly advocated the case for healthy selves.

Esther Haasnoot: On an energetic and physical level memories, trauma, and unprocessed emotion can be stored or hidden throughout the body. Where might selves originate or come from? Is that via a recurring pattern of mind-body chemistry, energy, perception, and behavior in a human being, or can they have a natural or biophysical origin and simultaneously arise from interactions with other human beings, or are they internally generated from archetypes?

James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber: Instead of a definitive answer, conclusion, or theory. we present ideas (from many other authors) and evidence as to the origin and nature of selves. Chapter 8, titled “Selves Explanations—Origins, Attributes, Roles”—looks at the following questions:

* What are selves, really?
* Where (from what source) do they arise?
* When are selves created?
* What type of selves are there?
* Are selves real?
* Why do we have selves?

To explore these questions, we look at the biological physical level of our being, then hone in brain anatomy and the default network, and consider the impact of intense events and interactions with other people in the formation of selves—including, very importantly, not just negative but positive interactions and events that may form new selves. We consider the many potential psycho-spiritual sources for selves—from angels, aliens, and ancestors to future selves, higher selves, and teacher selves.

What we have found is that just where selves come doesn’t matter all that much. Our focus throughout remains steady: we ask our readers to personally undertake the pragmatic inquiry of seeing whether they really do have a variety of different selves, often with different agendas, memories, and even codes of honor. The important thing is that when you know that you and everyone else in your life have selves, you can leverage that knowledge and make your life work better. As you do this, answers to the above sorts of questions become less important.

Esther Haasnoot: Although nearly all of us hear our own inner speech, the “hearing of voices”—as with multiplicity itself—is too often confused with mental illness. If on top of everything else you run a negative internal dialogue—hearing voices or just thinking thoughts that involve how bad you are, or how often you make mistakes—then you are likely heading toward a self that is inappropriate or dysfunctional. What is your view on that?

James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber: You are absolutely correct that hearing voices is normal. Nearly everyone does—at different levels of intensity and focus—just like nearly everyone talks aloud to themselves. The simplest and most obvious explanation, of course, is that this is one way your selves communicate with each other, whether mostly by impressions or partial words and thoughts or full-fledged sentences.

But let’s consider the scenario you raised: that you are suddenly immersed in steadily thinking negative, disheartening, and even hateful thoughts about yourself. Instead of labeling this as the fault of an inappropriate self, explore the opportunity here to listen to that part of who you are to see what the totality of you can do to “love it up into the whole,” as our contributor Kintla Striker puts it.

The goal is to orchestrate things so that this self too, can fit in more harmoniously. Remember: your selves possess innate value, and you can’t just push one down and try to ignore it. If a self that is dysfunctional or seriously troubled appears, or one that needs help or wants to do things that would be bad for the totality of who you are comes to the fore, we describe several possible steps:

1. Give that self full, non-judgmental, loving attention
2. Simply talk to that self or otherwise find a way to establish dialogue, which is innately validating and healing.
3. Negotiate with that self, both to come up with reasonable and workable solutions and so that self feels accepted and validated.
4. Work to heal that self on a deeper level; this often requires professional help.

Esther Haasnoot: How is being in the right mind at the right time the equivalent of mental health? Some believe that multiplicity also includes cases of mental illness or supposed demonic possession and exorcism. Like in the case of “Sybil”, a woman who suffered from multiple personality disorder, who was reportedly possessed by sixteen separate personalities. How do you see that?

James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber: We say early in the book that “mental health is being in the right mind at the right time” to give readers an easy-to-learn formula that sums up perhaps the most important thing someone can do on a day-to-day basis for themselves. Once you know that you really and truly have different minds or selves—and that these have innate value and have their own agendas, you have a choice. The choice is to be aware of the next time you are about to be involuntarily “switched” or “triggered” into the wrong mind at the wrong time, and do something about it ahead of time (easier) or in real-time after it’s already shown up (harder).

As for “possession” by different personalities, there are a few things to note. First, after the idea of healthy multiplicity was buried around 1910, it first popped up again in cases and then books (and movies) about pathological multiple selves, starting with The Three Faces of Eve, and then Sybil, and then The Minds of Billy Millignan, and When Rabbit Howls. These books, which showcase severe pathological cases of multiplicity, are fascinating, but we do not focus on them other than historically. Instead, following the tenets of transpersonal psychology, we suggest a way to build psychology from the ground from a positive basis
with respect to “cohesion” rather than “dissociation.”

We do this, in part, to end the stigma of multiplicity. It’s very important to remember that having multiple selves does not make one mentally ill. If you have a self or part that is in fact mentally ill or needs treatment for some reason, then you seek that treatment. Equating having different selves with “possession” is not only incorrect but represents outmoded superstitious thinking that has proven very damaging.

Esther Haasnoot: Not just negative, painful, and traumatic experiences create selves, but positive, affirming, joyful, and blissful ones can do so as well. Can you tell us about the advantages and disadvantages of opening to multiple selves?

James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber: In the late 1970s, what we call the “progressive therapists model” of multiplicity arose. These writers (generally practicing psychologists and psychiatrists) held that that the act of creating a new self—which happened in cases of severe physical, emotional, and sexual abuse usually to children—was a positive, evolutionarily adaptive, realtime response. The person under duress somehow managed to break off their mind into another compartmentalized space so they could endure what was happening without going completely insane. And then someone, that broken off, the compartmentalized mind became a real, living self.

When you start from the healthy selves’ worldview, however, you come to quickly see that many of the selves that constitute who you are were created during the happy, positive, and light-filled moments or interactions with people and the world. We give some specific examples of this, including what happened at age 52 or so when Jordan had a bicycle accident (including watching his heels going over his head) and stayed off a bike for many months. Then he got a new better bike. The moment he mounted it he was flooded with memories, sensations, and the cheer of many happy inner voices that riding was again happening. Jordan learned to ride when he was 5, and that moment of freedom—when his dad let go of the wheel and he was really riding by himself—has never left him. Moreover, not only can you access happy selves that were created during intense positive interactions with people or the world, but you can even forge new selves to meet the challenges of new times.

Esther Haasnoot: What are the potential sources of sub-personalities or selves, what kind of function do they have, when do they appear, and how do we embrace them as a useful tool or vehicle to carry out a personal inner drive to accomplish something?

James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber: As we mentioned earlier in our conversation, the book looks into potential sources of sub-personalities or selves at some depth. At the end of the day, we bring together the topics we covered in the following chart:

many selves chart

So, you can look at the physical level, you can look at intense interactions with Others and the World, or you can look for internal psychospiritual sources of selves. We also look at when selves first appear in someone’s life, and whether new ones stop showing up at a certain point. Specifically, we look at the following questions:

• When do selves show up in a person’s life?
• When do selves usually first appear?
• What does the many selves timeline look like for most people?
• Is there a time before which most people do not experience new or different selves?
• Is there a time after which most people do not experience new selves or the return of earlier selves?

Once again—no surprise—there are no cut and dried answers as to the timing of selves. Some thinkers, like the previously mentioned Pierre Janet, felt that our selves were all already present within us when we were born somehow, and unfold through time; others see it primarily as a function of the type and intensity of interactions you have with other people throughout your life but especially during early childhood.

As for embracing selves as a useful tool or vehicle to carry out a personal inner drive to accomplish something, that comes right back to “being in the right mind at the right time.” If you want to achieve something artistic, you have to learn to work with and support one or more of your creative selves and soothe the other parts of you that might not understand why you are spending so much time and energy on a “personal” project. If you want to achieve something new that has always seemed beyond your current capacity, then you may just have to create a new self that is somehow capable of doing what’s necessary to achieve your ends.

Esther Haasnoot: If I am made up of several persons, which is the real one? None, only one or the sum of all? There must be a “governing personality” “highest-self” or “overall-self” that ultimately makes choices about which self is in charge, right?

James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber: When a symphony orchestra plays Brahms Symphony No. 3 in F (Jordan’s favorite symphony), which of the musicians is actually playing the symphony? Is it the concertmaster (the lead violin) who is really in charge of playing it, or is it the tympanist, or perhaps the conductor himself or herself? Well, obviously, it has to be all of them, playing in a coordinated manner, to turn black and white marks on a piece of paper into the elegant, harmonized, interrelated, far-more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts acoustic event we call a symphony.

Many of the theories that have been created for explaining and working with selves—from Roberto Assagiolio’s Psychosynthesis to Gurdjieff’s “Fourth Way” to Internal Family Systems—decide at the end of the day that things work best if you find a way to reach and contact some kind of Super Self. The question of whether this is possible for some or most people isn’t one we have a position on, because we simply don’t have enough evidence, one way or another.

Esther Haasnoot: What about pets and animals generally? Do they have selves? Animals can display distinctly different behavior patterns—perhaps self-states—sometimes rapidly switching back and forth between being.

James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber: We do discuss the likelihood of animals having selves. The brief answer is, “So it seems.”

However, I (JF) posed the question to my two 9-pound mixed-breed dogs, Timmie and Adam. That seemed to be a good way to consider the question, since Your Symphony of Selves is based primarily on experiences, rather than on opinions.

After the dogs talked among themselves, Timmie (alpha dog) naturally responded first. “I am not convinced that the different aspects of my personality are true selves. As you know, I love you, but I worship Dorothy {my wife}, the one who rescued me from that awful animal shelter.
“There are those times when you move towards her quickly or are holding something that might hurt her.…inn an instant I’m hype-alert. I snarl, bark, and lunge, and would probably bite you (almost have a few times) if you got much closer. When that feeling overtakes me, my prior relationship with you becomes invisible. It’s certainly more than a mood. However, since I am in it for such a short time, it’s hard to say it’s a full-fledged self. It is, however, totally opposed to my normal feelings.” He lay down beside me and started to lick his paws.

Adam, who almost always defers to Timmie, shook his head.

“Although I have the utmost respect for whatever Timmie says—and not only because when I disagree with him, he bites my ear—in this case, I see things differently. When I am with either you or Dorothy or both of you, all I really want is to be near you, to be on your laps, to be affectionate, and to be held or touched or, best of all, to have my belly scratched. In that state, I have not a negative feeling in the world.”

“However, you know very well about the trauma in my childhood before I came to you and how it made me frightened of so many things, like loud noises and strangers, and of dogs larger than myself (which is almost all other dogs). When a stranger appears, or I see a large dog, even one that is gentle and friendly, I’m triggered.”

“Rather than being frightened and withdrawing and whimpering, I become enraged and vicious. If not held back, I would—I really would—attack a person, a large dog, even a child on a scooter. My affectionate self knows it’s a reaction to trauma, but once I am in that self, I feel as if I would attack any of those things without reservation (like I did that poor grocery man last week. That self is as real when I’m in it as this one is now.”

“Therefore, yes, at least in my case, clear multiplicity.” Adam then requested that he be taken up onto my lap and have his belly scratched. Timmie went off to be with Dorothy.

About the Authors

James Fadiman, Ph.D., a former president of the Institute of NoeticSciences and a professor of psychology, has written textbooks, trade books, and novels. He is one of the foremost researchers in microdosing studies, the author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, and is a co-founder of Sofia University, rooted in transforming the transpersonal. He has been researching healthy multiplicity for more than 20 years and lives with his filmmaker wife in Menlo Park, California. For more information:

Jordan Gruber, J.D., M.A., Renaissance Wordsmith, has created and sculpted authoritative volumes in forensic law, financial services, and self-development. He founded the Enlightenment.Com website and has co-authored an authoritative book on rebound exercise, The Bounce; you can find a free excerpt at He lives in Menlo Park, California, with his wife and family.

Source: Global Heart

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