How to avoid loneliness by creating an imaginary friend

Tom Hank's character in Cast Away maintained his sanity by painting a face on a volleyball, naming it Wilson, and having deep (one-sided) conversations with it. Number Five from The Umbrella Academy befriended a partial mannequin he named Dolores, which kept him company during a multi-decade post-apocalypse that was bereft of other humans.

In his essay in Nautilus, Jim Davies, a professor at the Department of Cognitive Science at Carleton University, says imaginary friends really can offer comfort to lonely people.

The term "tulpa" seems to originate from Tibetan Buddhism. Samuel Veissière, an anthropologist and cognitive scientist at McGill University, describes tulpas as "imaginary companions who are said to have achieved full sentience after being conjured through 'thoughtform' meditative practice." In other words, this is a benign hallucination. But unlike typical childhood imaginary companions, creating (or "forcing") a tulpa often requires months of hard work. Tulpamancers imagine talking to the tulpa, sometimes for more than an hour a day, and eventually, perhaps after several months, the tulpa will start talking back.

What is interesting to me about this phenomenon, which is only now beginning to be studied scientifically, is the reason that people decide to create a tulpa in the first place: Most often they do it to relieve loneliness. This, too, seems to be connected with imaginary companions. When you have an imaginary friend, or a tulpa, you always have someone to talk to. It can be used as a way to escape unwanted solitude. (Others use them for advice, or to practice social situations that cause anxiety.) "There is likely no causal relation between tulpamancy and the development of psychopathology," a 2017 paper concluded. "Tulpas are an experience of plurality [in consciousness] that seem to coexist with optimal functionality, happiness, and mental health."

Here's a video about Wilson's role in Cast Away:

[Image: YouTube screengrab]