The Severance Soul – False Waking in the World Dawn
A new show debuted this year on Apple TV called Severance, and the crux of the story is this – A biotechnology corporation, Lumon Industries, uses a mindwipe medical procedure called “severance” to separate the consciousness of their employees between their lives at work and outside of it. Due to their increasingly divergent life experiences, the consciousnesses of the employees in the work place (dubbed “innies”) gradually split from their consciousnesses outside of it (dubbed “outies”), to the point that they become distinct personalities with their own agendas. One severed employee, Mark (Adam Scott), gradually uncovers a web of conspiracy at Lumon, and the mysterious project the employees are unknowingly working on.
The idea of split consciousness is not new in psychology and neuroscience. It refers to a state in which one’s consciousness is divided into distinct components, possibly during hypnosis, brain damage, or altered states of awareness. Some researchers have suggested that split consciousness can help explain various phenomena, such as dissociative identity disorder, blindsight, anosognosia, and the effects of cutting the corpus callosum (the bundle of fibers that connects the two hemispheres of the brain) in patients with severe epilepsy.
One of the most intriguing questions that arise from the study of split consciousness is where does consciousness go when we are ‘blacked out’? For example, what happens to the consciousness of a person who undergoes a surgical procedure under general anesthesia? Or what happens to the consciousness of a person who experiences a false awakening, a phenomenon in which one dreams of waking up but remains asleep? Or what happens to the consciousness of a person who believes in the Dreaming, a concept in Australian Aboriginal mythology that refers to a timeless realm of ancestral spirits and creation stories?
There is no definitive answer to these questions, as different theories and perspectives may offer different explanations. However, one possible way to approach them is to speculate on the basis of some existing evidence and ideas. Here are some examples:
– One possibility is that consciousness does not go anywhere when we are ‘blacked out’, but rather changes its mode or level. For instance, some researchers have proposed that there are different levels of consciousness, ranging from minimal to full, and that these levels depend on the degree of integration and differentiation of information processing in the brain (Seth et al., 2016). According to this view, when we are ‘blacked out’, our consciousness may be reduced to a minimal level, in which we are still aware of some basic aspects of ourselves and our environment, but not able to form complex thoughts or memories. This may explain why some patients under general anesthesia can still respond to verbal commands or stimuli (Mashour & Avidan, 2015), or why some people who experience false awakenings can still perceive some details of their surroundings but not realize that they are dreaming (Windt & Metzinger, 2007).
– Another possibility is that consciousness does not change its mode or level when we are ‘blacked out’, but rather shifts its focus or content. For example, some researchers have suggested that there are different modes of consciousness, such as wakefulness, dreaming, and deep sleep, and that these modes depend on the balance between internal and external sources of information in the brain (Hobson et al., 2000). According to this view, when we are ‘blacked out’, our consciousness may shift from a mode that is dominated by external stimuli (such as wakefulness) to a mode that is dominated by internal stimuli (such as dreaming). This may explain why some people who undergo callosotomy can still have a unified consciousness despite having two disconnected hemispheres, as each hemisphere may generate its own internal narrative based on its own sensory input (Corballis et al., 2018), or why some people who believe in the Dreaming can access a different realm of reality through their dreams or visions, as they may tap into a collective unconscious that transcends their individual experience (Stanner & Berndt, 2009).
– A third possibility is that consciousness does not change its mode or level or shift its focus or content when we are ‘blacked out’, but rather splits into multiple components or streams. For instance, some researchers have argued that there is no single unified consciousness, but rather multiple forms of consciousness that can operate independently or interactively depending on the context and task (Baars et al., 2013). According to this view, when we are ‘blacked out’, our consciousness may split into different components or streams that are not aware of each other or communicate with each other. This may explain why some people who suffer from dissociative identity disorder can have multiple personalities that take over at different times and have different memories and preferences (Dell & O’Neil, 2009), or why some people who experience severance (a fictional condition in which one can choose to erase specific memories) can have gaps in their autobiographical memory and identity (Severance TV series).
These are just some possible ways to speculate on where consciousness goes when we are ‘blacked out’. Of course, none of them can be proven or disproven with certainty, as they rely on assumptions and interpretations that may vary across individuals and cultures. However, they can serve as starting points for further exploration and discussion on this bizarre phenomenon.
The corpus callosum is a bundle of nerve fibers that connects the two hemispheres of the brain. In some rare cases, doctors may perform a surgical procedure called a corpus callosotomy or split-brain surgery, in which they cut the corpus callosum.
The primary reason for this procedure is to treat severe cases of epilepsy that do not respond to other treatments. By cutting the corpus callosum, the spread of epileptic activity can be limited to one hemisphere of the brain, reducing the severity and frequency of seizures.
Split-brain surgery can also be used to treat other conditions, such as tumors, that affect one hemisphere of the brain. In some cases, it may be used to treat other neurological or psychiatric disorders, although this is less common.
It is important to note that split-brain surgery is a last resort and is only considered when all other treatment options have been exhausted. The procedure can have significant side effects, including changes in cognitive function and perception, and is only performed in specialized medical centers by experienced neurosurgeons.
There is no clear consensus on the question of split consciousness in split-brain patients. Some researchers have argued that cutting the corpus callosum, the main connection between the two hemispheres of the brain, leads to a division of consciousness into two separate entities, one in each hemisphere. Others have challenged this view and suggested that consciousness remains unified despite the lack of interhemispheric communication. The evidence for both positions is based on various behavioral, cognitive, and neural experiments with split-brain patients, but none of them are conclusive or uncontroversial. Therefore, the debate remains open and unresolved.
In the Australian Aboriginal mythology, the Dreaming, also known as the Dreamtime, is a concept that refers to the time before time, when the world was created by the ancestors of the Aboriginal people. According to some speculative theories, the Dreaming may be linked to the brain’s two hemispheres and their respective functions.
In this theory, the left hemisphere of the brain is associated with rational thinking, language, and logical analysis, while the right hemisphere is associated with creativity, intuition, and non-linear thinking. The Dreaming, according to this theory, represents a state of consciousness in which both hemispheres of the brain work together in harmony, allowing for a heightened sense of creativity, intuition, and spirituality.
Some researchers have suggested that this theory may be supported by studies of the brains of Aboriginal people, which have shown that they may have greater interhemispheric communication than people from other cultures. This increased communication between the two hemispheres of the brain could potentially explain the heightened spirituality and sense of connection to the natural world that is often associated with the Dreaming in Aboriginal mythology.
If we combine the speculative theory of the Dreaming with emerging technologies such as Neuralink and futurism, we could imagine a future where the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds become increasingly blurred, and the human brain becomes more interconnected with technology.
Neuralink, a neurotechnology company founded by Elon Musk, is developing a brain-computer interface that would allow humans to interact with computers and other devices using their thoughts. This technology could potentially enhance our cognitive abilities, improve our memory and learning, and even allow us to communicate telepathically.
If we combine Neuralink with the theory of the Dreaming, we could imagine a future where humans are able to tap into a heightened state of consciousness that combines the rationality of the left hemisphere with the creativity and intuition of the right hemisphere. This state of consciousness could potentially be induced or enhanced using brain-computer interfaces that stimulate specific regions of the brain.
In this future, the Dreaming could become a more accessible and tangible experience, allowing us to explore new realms of creativity, spirituality, and understanding. We could potentially use technology to better understand and harness the power of the Dreaming, and to integrate it into our daily lives in ways that are currently unimaginable.