Written by: Ashley Koh (21-A1)
Designed by: Sophia Chiang (22-O1)
Close your eyes. Breathe deeply, in and out, almost as if you’re falling asleep or meditating intently. Hold all the words you want to say in your mind, and start to construct the world you want to enter. And then, open the door. Before you, the towering halls of Hogwarts, or the volleyball courts of Haikyuu!!, or even the fields and Regency-era buildings of Bridgerton start to materialise. And to your heart’s surprise and excitement, the characters you love and cherish start to run towards you, treating you as one of them and bringing you around to sightsee. You spend 10 glorious months with them, living in this beautiful world that you never thought was possible. And then, reality comes crashing back down and you open your eyes. In the real world, only 10 minutes have passed.
Congratulations, you just shifted realities.
The scenario described above is one that many, especially youths, have increasingly been searching for. “Shifting”, short for “reality shifting”, has become one of the most popular trends, especially in the past two years since 2020. But how on earth did it become so prevalent? What is the science behind it? And most importantly, should you hop on the bandwagon?
What exactly is “reality shifting”?
Based on the extract above, you still may not fully understand what is “shifting”. So let me explain it a little more clearly.
“Shifting” is grounded in the idea of the “multiverse” (yes, the same “multiverse” that so many comics talk about, albeit less flashy and dramatic). Its origins trace back to the 1st century, when philosopher Chrysippus spoke about his belief that multiple universes existed, and this was expanded upon by mathematician and University of Cape Town professor George Ellis, who similarly talked about his belief, and summarised the concept as “there is a multitude of parallel universes, in which things unfold differently and which we are not usually able to perceive or see due to our limited cosmic vision.” It is this very concept of the “multiverse”, that “shifting” derives its entire premise from.
Thus, “shifting” is best described as the practice of shifting your consciousness from your present plane of reality (known as “Current Reality” and abbreviated to “CR) to the reality you wish to travel to (known as “Desired Reality” and abbreviated as “DR”).
HOW IS SHIFTING DONE?
Before we get into any debate and discussion about “shifting”, it’s important to understand (briefly) how shifting is done:
Step 1: Script. Before shifting, it’s necessary to prepare. For many “shifters”, they write a “script” before they begin to shift. The contents of these scripts can vary from person to person, though common elements include basic parts of worldbuilding like your name, age, and various other traits in the DR (including superpowers for Marvel, Hogwarts house for Harry Potter). Another aspect of the script includes safety measures: “shifters” will make sure they add “I cannot die.” and/or “I cannot get permanently injured” as ways to ensure their safety within the DR. Some even go so far as to add non-safety-related parts, such as “I have infinite money” etc. “Scripting” seems not to be necessary, although it aids with the visualisation and worldbuilding, which are imperative to the practice.
Step 2: This step differs for many, as it can either be “dreaming” or “awake” shifting. For those who choose to shift through dreaming, they would first fall asleep, then try to control their consciousness during the dream in order to shift, similar in premise to lucid dreaming. For those who shift while “awake”, meditation is usually employed in order to reach this same state of physical unconsciousness and mental consciousness.
Step 3: Shift. Though it may seem a logical step to follow step 2, this step can be incredibly difficult for “shifters” to achieve, especially for beginners. Getting ready to shift does not translate automatically to shifting, again similar to lucid dreaming, but when the “shifters” do succeed, this results in “reality shifting”.
After this quick understanding of how “reality shifting” works, let’s dive into what made shifting the phenomenon it is today.
The Rise of Reality Shifting
“Shifting” as a practice doesn’t seem to have a clear origin. Its roots may lay in astral projecting, lucid dreaming, and other related practices, but by itself, “shifting” is not a phenomenon with a well-defined history.
Nonetheless, that has not stopped it from becoming massively popular among the youths, especially those who use social media platforms like Instagram and (you guessed it) Tiktok. As with many of the newest mini cultural phenomena, Tiktok has also been responsible for the rise of “shifting”.
As of this writing, the tag “shifting” has 10.8 billion views, showing the immense popularity of this practice. Videos under this tag often have more than a million views, which is no mean feat on a platform where millions of videos are uploaded a day. Indeed, due to Tiktok, awareness about “shifting”, and with it its myriad detractors and supporters, have become much more common, and conversations about it have begun at much faster rates.
With all the hype about it, is there any science behind it? How does it actually work?
Actual Science? Or Just Quack?
Many people who criticise “shifting” have pointed to the fact that there is very little science to support the practice, and that it’s purely just lucid dreaming, or even simpler, just people imagining very creatively and thoroughly.
However, some psychology experts actually disagree with these popular assumptions. For instance, psychologist Grace Warwick dubs shifting as a ‘transliminal experience’ which is believed to arise from one’s sensitivity to unconscious psychological material. Similarly, Dr Susan Martinez-Conde notes that the dissociation that reality shifting involves is not something unfamiliar to humans. “‘Our mental self dissociates all the time, such as when we read a book or watch a movie, leaving behind our physical reality to temporarily inhabit a literary or cinematic one. This is possible thanks to the vivid imagination that humans are equipped with, and this imagination is likely what enables one to ‘shift realities’”.
Indeed, many practices that shifters employ to “shift realities” include meditative practices where the mind seemingly becomes detached from reality, and affirmations to encourage the shifter to keep shifting, as seen in popular methods like the Raven method and the Julia method. The Train and Heartbeat methods are even more intense in their manifestations, with the first being a shifter manifesting a train carrying them to their desired reality, and choosing to consciously step into their DR off the train, and the second being the shifter imagining they are lying against the chest of someone from their DR and listening to their heartbeats.
The methods do seem very manifestation and meditation based, both of which have tangible scientifically proven results. However, “shifting” itself has not undergone any rigorous scientific inquiry as to its authenticity and ability to provide results, and has so far been seen as an interesting psychological phenomenon bearing more study.
And what about the claim of the “multiverse” that so many “shifters” believe in? What’s the science behind that?
In spite of the fact that there is a lot of theoretical physics supporting this theory (which the author will not go into because I am extremely bad at physics), the multiverse theory is just that: a theory, based on many laws of physics that we currently have. As tempting as it may be to believe that the multiverse actually exists, “shifters” will have to be disappointed for now.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
With all this talk about “shifting”, and the science behind it, it’s about time we head into the questions that started off this article: What’s so bad about “shifting”? And is there anything good about it?
“Shifting” seems like a good way of escapism. For those whose CRs are not so pleasant right now, “shifting” into their favourite fictional worlds, or even worlds where they want to be in can seem like a pleasant alternative.
And for many, it is. “Shifting” provides a temporary respite from the stresses and pains of the modern world and reality, especially in times when we are suffering many catastrophic events happening at once. It’s no coincidence that the rise of “shifting” was around the same time the COVID-19 pandemic was sweeping across the globe, with many teenagers stuck at home and no longer able to live the teenaged lives they were envisioning for themselves. For them, “shifting” became a way to temporarily forget all their troubles for a while, and go to a world where none of the traumas and hurts they were currently experiencing existed.
However, there is an emphasis on “temporarily”. Indeed, many veteran “shifters”, as well as some psychological experts warn against “shifting” for too long and too often. “Shifting” is similar in that sense to other forms of escapism, like watching Netflix, playing video games, and even substance abuse. It can be highly addictive, especially because there is a strong attachment created between the “shifter” and the characters in their DRs, and it can be very easy to fall into the trap of simply “shifting” again and again, until it is hard to distinguish current reality from the fictional one.
Additionally, the jarring contrast between the DR and CR can be intensely painful on a psychological level. Disappointment after coming back from the DR can quickly translate into feelings of depression and misery, further worsening the pain that the “shifter” can feel in their CR. That is the reason for those “I just came back from Hogwarts after 8 months, bring me back” crying videos that may have popped up on your For You Page.
Furthermore, “shifters” themselves have garnered criticism from those not part of the community, with words such as “cringe” and even “cultish” levelled at them. And indeed, the sometimes excessive lengths “shifters” go to defend their community, and the practices they do can be extremely off-putting and even insulting to some.
However, the intense criticism that “shifting” has garnered, seems to have been misdirected, and could possibly be attributed to the fact that the community is mostly made up of teenagers. Many trends that teenagers have liked have also garnered similarly negative portrayals from the outside community, and could explain the disproportionate backlash that is associated with “shifting”.
Should You Shift?
All in all, “shifting” is a trend that, like many others, may soon die out and be quickly replaced by others in the never-ending rinse-and-repeat cycle that so many social media platforms see themselves going through.
Even so, should you start trying to “shift”? Frankly, it’s really up to you to decide. After all, despite all the scary claims in the previous section, “shifting” itself is a pretty harmless and even fun practice, if done in moderation. It can be similar to “roleplaying” or “lucid dreaming”, both of which are similarly enjoyable and bring little detriment to those who engage in them.
Thus, if you’re feeling a little adventurous and want to bring a little more colour to your life and wanna try out those new manifestation techniques you’ve seen on Tiktok, go ahead! Just follow the steps above, and see you in the next world!