There have been a number of discussions here on LessWrong about "tulpas", but it's been scattered about with no central thread for the discussion. So I thought I would put this up here, along with a centralized list of reliable information sources, just so we all stay on the same page.
Tulpas are deliberately created "imaginary friends" which in many ways resemble separate, autonomous minds. Often, the creation of a tulpa is coupled with deliberately induced visual, auditory, and/or tactile hallucinations of the being.
Questions that have been raised:
1. How do tulpas work?
2. Are tulpas safe, from a mental health perspective?
3. Are tulpas conscious? (may be a hard question)
4. More generally, is making a tulpa a good idea? What are they useful for?
Pertinent Links and Publications
(I will try to keep this updated if/when further sources are found)
- In this article1, the psychological anthropologist Tanya M. Luhrmann connects tulpas to the "voice of God" experienced by devout evangelicals - a phenomenon more thoroughly discussed in her book When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. Luhrmann has also succeeded2 in inducing tulpa-like visions of Leland Stanford, jr. in experimental subjects.
- This paper3 investigates the phenomenon of authors who experience their characters as "real", which may be tulpas by yet another name.
- There is an active subreddit of people who have or are developing tulpas, with an FAQ, links to creation guides, etc.
- tulpa.info is a valuable resource, particularly the forum. There appears to be a whole "research" section for amateur experiments and surveys.
- This particular experiment suggests that the idea of using tulpas to solve problems faster is a no-go.
- Also, one person helpfully hooked themselves up to an EEG and then performed various mental activities related to their tulpa.
- Another possibly related phenomenon is the way that actors immerse themselves in their characters. See especially the section on "Masks" in Keith Johnstone's book Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre (related quotations and video)4.
- This blogger has some interesting ideas about the neurological basis of tulpas, based on Julian Jaynes's The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, a book whose scientific validity is not clear to me.
- It is not hard to find new age mystical books about the use of "thoughtforms", or the art of "channeling" "spirits", often clearly talking about the same phenomenon. These books are likely to be low in useful information for our purposes, however. Therefore I'm not going to list the ones I've found here, as they would clutter up the list significantly.
- (Updated 2/9/2015) The abstract of a paper by our very own Kaj Sotala hypothesizing about the mechanisms behind tulpa creation.5
(Bear in mind while perusing these resources that if you have serious qualms about creating a tulpa, it might not be a good idea to read creation guides too carefully; making a tulpa is easy to do and, at least for me, was hard to resist. Proceed at your own risk.)
1. "Conjuring Up Our Own Gods", a 14 October 2013 New York Times Op-Ed
2. "Hearing the Voice of God" by Jill Wolfson in the July/August 2013 Stanford Alumni Magazine
3. "The Illusion of Independent Agency: Do Adult Fiction Writers Experience Their Characters as Having Minds of Their Own?"; Taylor, Hodges & Kohànyi in Imagination, Cognition and Personality; 2002/2003; 22, 4
4. Thanks to pure_awesome
5. "Sentient companions predicted and modeled into existence: explaining the tulpa phenomenon" by Kaj Sotala