Your Symphony of Selves: Discover and Understand More of Who We Are

James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber
Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press, 2020. 434 pp., paper, $19.99.

In Your Symphony of Selves, a psychology professor (James Fadiman, who is also former president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences) and a JD (Jordan Gruber, also founder of the Enlightenment.com website) set out to challenge a basic assumption that has prevailed in psychology throughout the last century.

The authors posit that whereas ancient polytheistic societies may have projected their felt personal multiplicities onto their god forms, the more recent monotheistic traditions may have given root to the currently popular single-self assumption, which views every human being as a singular identity. Throughout the last century especially, any mention of multiple personalities in a given person was assumed to be pathological. Now, however, mounting evidence shows that we all consist of multiple selves.

A good quote to help readers begin recognizing our multiple selves is offered from Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli: “Have you ever noticed that you behave differently in your office, at home, in social interplay, in solitude, in church, or as a member of a political party?”

The authors argue their point from the perspective of various fields—religion (especially Buddhism), philosophy, popular culture, the arts, science, postmodern thought, and even the law. By their own admission, Your Symphony of Selves is short on theory and long on stories and examples. Fadiman and Gruber claim that the present state of the healthy selves concept doesn’t yet call for a fully developed theory, although they have analyzed the model from many different angles and note that people in psychology and self-help are starting to incorporate this concept into their work.

Fadiman and Gruber evaluate the merit of trying to meld the multiple selves into a single identity. They dispute theories advanced in favor of an overall governing “Higher Self”: “Many of the systems then suggest that above and beyond these separate and observable selves there is . . . a higher, wiser, special or morally superior being, perhaps one of a different order, a super-self or supra-self . . . We part ways with all these supra-self systems . . . simply because we have not found enough compelling evidence” (emphasis added).

In favor of their premise, Fadiman and Gruber employ the idea of swarm intelligence, usually more recognizable in the animal world but applied here to the wisdom that is available to us individually if we make full use of our multiple selves. It is “an intelligence that does not apply to any of the individuals or even the aggregate of the individuals . . . this ability to make decisions, to carry out computations that exists only at the level of the group . . . conscious choices . . . [are] distributed across the actions of multiple agents.”

Quoting one Peter Baldwin, the authors note that “one does well to engage the persona or personas least uneasy in regard to a particular issue.” Further, dishonoring or rejecting any one of our selves pushes them into the unconscious, yet strengthens them, enabling them to “grow inside of us in unconscious ways, gaining power and authority.” The authors also point out that the voices one hears from any higher self may be unreliable or inconsistent.

Whether it is called a Higher Self, a supraself, a transpersonal self, or merely the Self, Fadiman and Gruber insist that trying to consolidate the selves, ignoring any one of our selves, or even trying to unify them into a single identity leads to a less wholesome and less fulfilled life. However, they quote Dan Millman, author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior, who suggests we ask: “What would the strongest, bravest, most loving part of my personality do now? And then do it. Do it with all your heart. And do it now.”

While this is an eye-opening book, Fadiman and Gruber seem to have missed an opportunity to explore the fairly obvious larger question. Whether the wisdom supplied by that “strongest, bravest, most loving part of [our] personality” emerges from a singular governing entity like a Higher Self, or from the swarm intelligence these authors favor, it would seem worth a mention  that personal integrity, integration, and coherence emerge from this point.

Perhaps our capacity to access and follow that strongest, bravest, most loving part of our personality reliably and consistently corresponds to our level of spiritual growth. And just maybe that same part is where we find the self of a different order, one that offers connection to the Infinite, however that may be understood. 

Margaret Placentra Johnston is the author of two award-winning books on spiritual development: Faith Beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind (Quest Books, 2012) and Overcoming Spiritual Myopia: A View Toward Peace Among the Religions (2018). She is a practicing optometrist and lives in northern Virginia.


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