Studies and In The Media

Media coverage and scientific studies of tulpamancy include:

Samuel Veissière, 2014: Talking to Tulpas: Sentient Imaginary Friends, the Social Mind, and implications for Culture and Cognition Research:

After 6 months of participant observation online, 166 Tulpamancers from 17 countries were recruited, interviewed and tested in a semi-structured survey by Dr Samuel Veissière, an anthropologist working at McGill University’s Dvision of Transcultural Psychiatry. Veissière is now putting together a team of cognitive scientists (from such disciplines as psychiatry, philosophy, neuroscience and psychology) for an ongoing ethnographic, cognitive, behavioural, and neurological study of Tulpamancy.

Samuel Vessiere, Apr. 3rd 2015: Varieties of Tulpa Experiences: Sentient Imaginary Friends, Embodied Joint Attention, and Hypnotic Sociality in a Wired World:

This article presents a summary and discussion of key findings from ten months of experimental cyberethnography among tulpamancers. Tulpas, a term reportedly borrowed from Tibetan Buddhism, are imaginary companions who are said to have achieved full sentience after being conjured through ‘thought-form’ meditative practice. Human ‘hosts’, or tulpamancers, mediate their practice through open-ended how-to guides and discussion forums on the Internet and experience their Tulpas as semi-permanent auditory and somatic hallucinations.

Studying Tulpas and their hosts is fascinating on many counts, not least because it provides an opportunity to observe an emerging culture and the mediation of new kinds of persons – in this case, that of multiple humanoid and non-human persons ‘hosted’ in single bodies and a large-scale sociocultural matrix of ‘healing’ generated without physical interaction between members. As an anthropologist who underwent retraining in cognitive science, however, I am less concerned with the seemingly ‘strange’ and ‘exotic’ aspects of Tulpamancy and am most interested in what the practice can reveal about fundamentally human mechanisms and processes. Thus, I seek to investigate (but in no pre-determined order) how neurocognitive, attentional, and narrative processes invariably shape all forms of sociality and experiences of personhood on the one hand, but also how social, political, and technological processes invariably shape mechanisms of attention, cognition, and perception. I gravitate toward sociocognitive, enactive models of hypnosis as ways of mediating sociality and personhood.

Graeme C. Nash, July 3 2016: Neuroholographic Organisms: An Independent Study of Sentient Thought Forms

This paper offers to explore certain phenomena unique to the culture of thought form meditation (of which has still been vastly untouched by the scientific community) by accounting for a brief historical summarization of the paper’s subject matter, detailing the hypotheses based on transcripted interviews of experienced practitioners — including dialogue from a respective companion’s point of view (i.e. the eponymous “sentient thought forms” of which this paper outlines), and presenting collections of ethnographic data gathered throughout this independent and thorough examination of the new tulpa phenomenon in today’s world.

T.M. Luhrmann, Oct. 18th 2013: Conjuring Up Our Own Gods:

Consider how some people attempt to make what can only be imagined feel real. They do this by trying to create thought-forms, or imagined creatures, called tulpas. Their human creators are trying to imagine so vividly that the tulpas start to seem as if they can speak and act on their own. The term entered Western literature in 1929, through the explorer Alexandra David-Néel’s “Magic and Mystery in Tibet.” She wrote that Tibetan monks created tulpas as a spiritual discipline during intense meditation. The Internet has been a boon for tulpa practice, with dozens of sites with instructions on creating one.

Jack, a young man I interviewed, decided to make a tulpa when he was in college. He set aside an hour and a half each day for this. He’d spend the first 40 minutes or so relaxing and clearing his mind. Then he visualized a fox (he liked foxes). After four weeks, he started to feel the fox’s presence, and to have feelings he thought were the fox’s.

Finally, after a chemistry exam, he felt that she spoke to him. “I heard, clear as day, ‘Well, how did you do?’ ” he recalled. For a while he was intensely involved with her, and said it felt more wonderful than falling in love with a girl.

Nathan Thompson, Sept. 3rd 2014: Meet the ‘Tulpamancers’: The Internet’s Newest Subculture Is Incredibly Weird

Disclaimer from the contributors: This article features “targeted” quotes in order to portray the community in a negative fashion as well as taking quotes out of context and using images and names without permission. Please take this article with a grain of salt.

Tulpas remained the preserve of occultists until 2009, when the subject appeared on the discussion boards of 4chan. A few anonymous members started to experiment with creating tulpas. Things snowballed in 2012 when adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic – known as “bronies” to anyone who’s been near a computer for the past three years – caught on. They created a new forum on Reddit and crafted tulpas based on their favourite characters from the show.

“The Reddit forum has 6000-plus members,” writes Dr Samuel Veissière, Visiting Professor of Transcultural Psychiatry, Cognitive Science and Anthropology at McGill University in Montreal. His study is the first academic literature about contemporary tulpamancy. “The Russian social networking site Vkontakte also boasts 6000+ members… [Although] actual numbers are difficult to estimate.”

“The My Little Pony fandom was one of the first online communities to really grab hold of the tulpa phenomenon,” says […]. “Bronies are very accepting of weirdness; they have that mindset of, ‘Wow, that’s not normal; that’s cool.’ The [My Little Pony] characters evoke a simple goodness… what fan wouldn’t want one for a friend?”

Rachel Monroe, Nov. 17 2014: All My Friends Are In My Head

Disclaimer from the contributors: As with the prior article, though to a lesser extent, this article contains some outdated information on forcing and sensationalized sections.

Tulpas started cropping up as a popular topic of conversation on 4chan around 2009. The growing community was eventually trolled out of 4chan; over the next few years, they moved onto scores of message boards, tumblrs, and blogs. Currently, the tulpa forum on Reddit, the central online gathering place for people engaged in creating “intelligent companions imagined into existence,” boasts nearly seven thousand subscribers (although far fewer active posters). Tulpa-creation as practiced on the internet would likely be unrecognizable to Tibetan mystics who conceived of tulpas as magically created manifestations. Redditors creating tulpas don’t think of themselves as shamans engaged in metaphysical edge-play; they tend to frame the practice as an exploration of human cognition, relying on an odd contemporary blend of mindfulness practice, folk neuroscience, and role-playing-game character creation.

Erin Stewart, March 14 2016: The Imaginary Friends That Are Never Left Behind

Alex is a six-foot-tall young woman with vibrant red hair living in a small town in England. She’s a vegetarian and an extroverted tomboy who loves to travel. She spends most of her time with her close friend Harrison. They share secrets and plan for the future.

The only thing is: Alex isn’t exactly real.

Alex has only existed since October of 2015. And even now, you can’t see her.

Alex is Harrison’s tulpa, or an imaginary friend created through intense meditation. Harrison, a 22-year-old software developer, is very real; and with his self-created Alex he is never alone. There’s a growing community of people just like Harrison, who manifest similar companions. 

Laura Klivans, August 24 2016: Making Friends

This week, a story about people who start hearing voices in their heads. But, instead of trying to get rid of the voices, they try to make more. Reporter Laura Klivans has the story.

MTV, September 26 2016: Owning It (Episode 1) | ‘Tulpamancy’ (Kettu’s note on the episode)

Kate Wheeling, September 29 2016: Subculture: Tulpamancers

Tulpamancers are people who imagine companions, called tulpas, into being through meditation-like practices. While the word tulpamancer is derived from a Tibetan word for “incarnation,” one ethnographic study found that tulpamancers are mostly young, white men in their late teens and early 20s who congregate on Internet forums like Reddit. They tend to be empathetic, yet socially anxious. Tulpas are not considered a symptom of illness or a disorder, but they may be a coping mechanism for loneliness (or, in some cases, mental illness) for their creators. Many of those creators describe overwhelmingly positive experiences with tulpamancy, and some say the practice has helped ease their depression, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder.

For additional research covering the topic of plurality in general, see Other Resources.