When people project action to imaginary agents, they create virtual agents, apparent sources of their own action. This process underlies spirit possession and dissociative identity disorder as well as the formation of the agent self.
This chapter discusses the experience of losing the authorship of one's action to an imagined agent. This transformation is sufficiently bizarre that it has been something of an obsession in both the popular press and in scientific literature. Much of the liveliness of the field of anthropology, for instance, has to do with the documentation of intriguing practices of spirit possession in various cultures around the world. To confront the topic of virtual authorship, then, is to try to understand how the very seat of human agency can be transformed. The chapter examines action projection to imaginary agents of all kinds, beginning with ordinary forms of pretend play and role enactment, and proceeding to cases of channeling and mediumship, spirit possession, and dissociative identity disorder.
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