Many of us grew up with an imaginary friend by our side. Maybe you still like to personify your favorite character or superhero, but these companions typically don't usually last beyond childhood. However, there's an ancient idea gaining more and more traction in our modern world. It's the idea that given enough thought and focus, we can actually create real sentient beings. They're known as tulpas, beings or objects that are created in someone's imagination by visualization techniques.
Stuff They Don't Want You To Know hosts Ben Bowlin and Noel Brown chat with their "imaginary friend" Matt Frederick about all about things, well, imaginary. And in this episode of the podcast, Can a Thought Be Alive?, that includes everything from hallucinations and schizophrenia to psychology and, of course, tulpas.
Meditation, often an integral part of Eastern and ancient religions, can be used to tap into the power of the human brain — a power that goes beyond how we use our brain daily. Meditation has been attributed to the power of levitation, visions of the future, out-of-body experiences and to the creation of the tulpa.
Tulpas aren't the same as imaginary friends or hallucinations. Children tend to summon their imaginary friends and typically "control" them. And for the most part, kids usually know these imaginary friends are not real, although that doesn't lessen their emotional attachment to these companions.
Though imaginary friends were at one time viewed as a detriment to a child's psychiatric health, scientists have made major turnarounds: Now the thought is that children with imaginary friends are often more social, more creative, spend more time laughing and smiling, and are generally well-adjusted. It could be the imaginary friend helps a child learn empathy, sharing and even nurturing skills.
Hallucinations, on the other hand, are uncontrollable by those who experience them. Often the hallucination can even exert control over that person, as in the case when someone with schizophrenia describes being instructed by hallucinations to harm others or themselves. And unlike imaginary friends, those experiencing hallucination can't just make them stop or disappear. They often require medication — often for a lifetime — to cope with hallucinations and delusions.
So where do tulpas fit in? Like imaginary friends, tulpas are "entities" generated entirely in the mind. But unlike imaginary friends, some believe tulpas think on their own, experience emotions and have memories. Tulpas generate personalities, desires and curiosities all their own, quite separate from their host; French explorer and Buddhist Alexandra David-Neel wrote that tulpas will eventually leave the host's body, like a child leaves the womb. She herself claimed to have made a tulpa that grew more and more sinister until it eventually had to be destroyed.
So what's really going on? Can our thoughts really come to life? And if so, what are the implications? If not, are people simply creating manifestations of their subconsciousness and then attributing it to another being — similar to the bicameral mind theory? There are so many possibilities in this mindblower — and we don't even know what Ben and Noel think yet. You'll have to listen to the entire podcast to find out.