Splitting Hairs

going deeper

Personality and the Brain

I just uploaded a book to this site that I’ve been writing over the past few years. It’s called Personality and the Brain. The book presents an hypothesis linking the Enneagram theory of personality to the brain. This hypothesis relies on recent neuroscientific research concerning prefrontal cortex (PFC) and amygdala asymmetry. I’ve set up the chapters as separate PDFs that you can download. Please use this posting to offer comments on the book generally. I’ll create separate postings for the individual chapters.

31 comments on “Personality and the Brain

  1. Michelle
    January 14, 2006

    Well I haven’t read the entire book yet but I did read the intro and the abstract so far and I think it’s great. First of all, because I have spent my entire life analyzing relationships. I have been a student, through life and school and even work, of human interactions and personalities and how those things shape an individual. Mostly because of misunderstandings in my life and growing up with a brother who’s been labeled as paranoid schizophrenic. Up until the last few years I have felt like I’ve wasted my life because I have nothing to show, no real skills. Like building a house or something, I haven’t been taught those things. Most of the world looks at someone with critical thinking skills as skill-less, unless they can make a ton of money with these soft skills (when in fact, isn’t critical thinking the ultimate skill?). But then over the last few years, after my own life changing events, I have had to do some serious soul searching and that’s when I was able to rediscover childhood interests. As I rekindled my interests in so many things, which includes math and science as well as art, believe it or not, I have started to understand one of the downfalls of our society which is that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. Maybe because these hands don’t think that they have anything to do with, let alone an attachment to, the same body. And by that I mean that our schools of thought from every subject you can think of like economics and math to psychology and social welfare have no dialog.

    How does this relate to your book…because I have also been noticing and trying to study and capture the essence of patterns that I’ve seen emerging in various forms. And I have never heard of this theory of Enneagram until today, however, through studying psychology I know quite a bit about Jung and Maslow and even fMRI and PET scans the prefrontal cortex and in fact took a few relevant classes such as the Psychology of Perception and Biopsychology. I am starting to see the connections there and I fully support your ideas and would like to encourage you to complete your book.

    Sadly, I will say that even if or when you get your book published, I don’t think that it will cause much of a stir in either of the communities that you’re bringing together with your writing. Which seems like you’ve already uncovered as you approached experts in the areas and been rebuked. And I think that you know the answer to why. Even if your book mathematically unites theories of science and personality (which is a science) to find an important truth about human nature, where’s the money at? The entire focus of your people vs. corporations is an explanation in itself. Can the pharmaceutical companies capitalize from some revelation in your theory? Can a profit be made somehow for someone who has the means to make it happen? If the answer is no, then your book won’t go far to encourage unbiased scientific studies because right now we’re living in a world that puts more emphasis on how much than how good. I am seeing this sad pattern emerge in my own work as I find ways to fix systems that aren’t functioning, no one wants to hear what I have to say because it’s easier to go along then to really get along. They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but we all know it’s broken and no one wants to invest in a viable solution. Now that I’m sounding like the pessimist that I don’t want to be, please do prove me wrong! Please prove that people will win out over profit! Maybe science will find an interest and decide to fund some studies, but just keep in mind that most studies now aren’t really funded by science in the hopes to educate, but instead are backed by big business with a motive. And that motive is to find a way to profit, even if it takes skewing the results of a study to make that profit. I haven’t let these setbacks stop me from trying and caring and I don’t think that we got where we are today from that attitude of doubt and fear. I do believe that there are people out there who care about the big picture and that’s why it’s worth finishing your book, so good luck!

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  2. Peter
    January 14, 2006

    Michelle — Thank you so much for your comment. It evoked many thoughts in me in response. I think I’ll leave a few different responses to cover them. Let’s start with my emotional response. Under this Enneagram theory, I’m an 8. 8’s can tend to be quite emotionally constipated. That is, when everybody else is sad and crying, the 8 is often only just starting to wake up, and feels little, if anything. That’s how I have been my entire life. But while I’m constipated on “downside” emotions, I have no such barrier to “upside” emotions. Upside stuff can send a rush of tingles up my spine, and even bring tears to my eyes. Stuff that does that to me includes music that moves me, breathtaking scenes of natural beauty, and random acts of pure kindness in the midst of fear and aversion. Another thing that fits in that list is listening to others speak the Truth. Well, since I don’t believe any of us can actually see or prove the Truth, the best we can do is spout out our own truths. The “truths” I speak of in this site are obscure amongst my friends and our culture. So when I see or hear others expressing the very same obscure truths, I can get this upside emotional reaction. Back in August, I had that reaction when I listened to Chris Chandler’s song “There’s Something in the Air / But It’s Not on the Airwaves”. I bloggged about this back then. Well today, reading your comment, I enjoyed the same pleasant upside reaction. So thanks again.

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  3. Peter
    January 14, 2006

    On Jung, Freud, Maslow, and Adler, and how their ideas relate to the Enneagram, I have actually written up four other chapters that I didn’t include with the book. Originally, I had them in as Part 2 of a 4-part book, but friends suggested to me that these chapters bogged down an already heavy book. I agreed with them and so took these chapter out.
    But these are among the most interesting chapters to me. I mean, the Enneagram-brain connection is interesting to me also. But not near as innteresting as assuming the model is correct, and then seeing how it fares in analyzing other domains. To my mind, it does an astonishing thorough job.
    Specifically, these four chapters provide an Enneagram analysis (my own) of, respectively: (1) skepticism; (2) the origins of personality theories; (2) Freud, Jung, Adler, and Maslow; and (4) evolutionary psychology and spirituality.
    I’m waiting to see how folks react to this book before I throw up these additional chapters.

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  4. Peter
    January 14, 2006

    On your “pessimism”, let me offer a clarification. The “pessimism” I speak of in this book does not concern the world or society. Instead, it concerns only ouselves. For example, as an 8, I’m one of the optimist types who tends not to see the pessimistic side. Here’s how this plays out. On this “Duck! and Gather” site, I’m predicting coming social calamities (e.g., peak oil, pandemic, natural disasters from global warming, financial collapse) in America and, thus the world. Indeed, this coming calamity may prove so dire it might bring about the end of Western Civilization, a meme that is a thousand years in the making. If that’s true, then we are headed for a “dark ages”. I’m going to blog/podcast about this. In other words, it is fair to say that I’m an out-and-out dire social pessimist.
    So what does it mean to say that my peorsonality type is optimistic? Here’s what it means: I have a feeling of certainty that I will survive these coming calamities, and will learn how to enjoy the “dark ages”. In fact, one thing I want to explore in the PeoplesWiki are methods to prepare for these calamities. i.e. What do we do when oil hits $100 a barrel and goes up from there? What do we do when avian flu becomes human transmitable and lands in one of our airports? What do we do when social order is collapsing, and guys with shotguns are riding around in pickup trucks? I don’t have all the answers to these questions. But I am confident that we interested people will come up with some good answers, and I, for one, will at least survive.
    This is not a rational sentiment. A rational sentiment would have me making equal plans for things not working out (e.g. getting my will in order). But that’s not my optimistic bent. That’s the role my pessimistic wife (a 2) plays in our family. She’s like the canary in the coal mine for our family. She literally and figuratively sniffs out the downsides. She makes me think harder. We’re a useful pairing.

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  5. Pingback: Duck! and Gather: The Blog » Please Comment on “Personality and the Brain”

  6. Niki
    December 9, 2006

    Juliana Savic…does that mean something for you..or your parents?

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  7. admin
    December 11, 2006

    Nope.

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  8. John
    December 13, 2006

    Can you please post the 4 discarded chapters for our perusal — they seem to tackle very interesting subject matter.

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  9. admin
    December 13, 2006

    OK, John. Thanks for the push. I’ll try to work on it over the holidays. I looked at those chapters a couple of months ago and while I still find the subject matters fascinating, I found my writing to be horrible. I’ll try to clean things up a bit.

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  10. kryptyk
    January 28, 2007

    Peter,

    I just recently (a couple days ago) discovered the Enneagram through an Internet chat buddy. I have always tended to be a skeptic about such systems – but after reading a bit online I was blown away by how accurately it appeared to reflect the actual tendencies and behavioral patterns I observe in myself as well as other people.

    I then found this site on the Wikipedia article and promptly proceded to download and print the book. I found myself unable to put it down until I was done reading it in its entirety (or at least what you have published thus far.) I found your way of thinking, personal history, and your general philosophy towards life to be quite inspiring and uplifting – and your style of writing witty, clear, and insightful. To be quite frank, though, I have my doubts as to whether your general presentation is likely to accomplish your principal objective directly – namely, “getting the Enneagram experts invited to the party.” I think your style is quite compelling to someone like myself, who has little emotionally or materially invested in any one particular model – being someone who, like yourself, am quite the outsider in both psychology and neuroscience yet has an intensely focused interest in the synthesis of novel ideas. So your efforts have certainly not been in vain.

    While your ideas have certainly given me plenty to think about, I still feel deeply unsatisfied for a couple reasons. First is that you never got around to elaborating on the dynamics of integration and disintegration – and while your optimism/pessimism and aware-fear/unaware-fear dimensions certainly seem like a promising approach, I still am not seeing how this would explain these dynamics. Perhaps you intended to put this off until your core hypothesis (assymetry in activity in PFC and amygdala) could be further verified experimentally. Secondly, I suspect your model is a tad bit too simplistic still. I was wondering whether it might be a good idea to look not merely the lateral dominance, but perhaps looking into the mechanisms themselves – perhaps looking into reinforcements and inhibitions. Rather than merely looking at optimism/pessimism, it might be productive to look into whether the optimism and/or pessimism is directed inward at self or outward at environment, for instance. Or whether fears and anxieties tend to produce more outward or inward reactions, and whether they tend to encourage cooperative or competitive activation of different regions of the PFC. I’m even less an expert on neuroscience than you, but I have this deep suspicion that without exploring these possible mechanisms we’d be missing something quite profound and potentially groundbreaking. Furthermore, it seems that a full understanding of the dynamics of the Enneagram would require nothing less – and that levels of activity alone do not provide a mathematical model which is rich enough to really understand personal growth and disintegration.

    Anyhow, I plan on doing some more research on this – I’ll let you know if I stumble upon anything potentially insightful. Perhaps your ambitions are more limited in the short-term. Even then, though, I get this distinct feeling that while you are truly onto some MAJOR discovery, you’re still missing an important piece which makes the model viable.

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  11. admin
    January 28, 2007

    Wow, what a splendid comment. Thanks much kryptyk. Your excellent questions remind me to get to that item on my “to do” list entitled “draft up simple paper on Enneagram theory.” Basic idea would be to do a broad and complete yet shallow treatment of the subject matter for the less energized reader — in contrast with the deep, dense, and incomplete book that only one in a million people like you would read. 🙂

    You raise great questions. Here are some quick answers:

    1. integration/distintegration — to the extent you mean personality shifts (e.g. 8 going to 5 in times of security; 1 going to 4 in insecurity; etc.), the book offers completely opaque clues that I had meant to tie up in the unwritten third part. Specifically, there’s no specific brain research on this dynamic that I could find. But there was a curious artifact of lateral brain testing — called “test-retest relibaility” — that did seem to hint at this. That is, at one point in time, the subjects come in to have their brain scans, and the pool is sorted into left, right, and middle dominance (PFC). Then, at a later time, they come back in, and are retested. Studies I read found only about 60-70% test-retest reliabilty. That means that something like 1/3 of the subjects showed a different PFC dominance pattern at the later date. My spider sense that this is reflecting integration/distintegration life events between the two test days. Clear as mud?

    2. inward vs. outward optimism vs.pessimism — I didn’t make this clear in the book either, but I what I tried to get across was the notion that all of it is inward directed — none outward. In other words, the Enneagram is purely a theory of personal survival (ie. how will I do in this situtation?), not of social interests (i.e. how will he or they or we do?). Read that way, the Enneagram is the missing link of evolutionary psychology (that part is in a chapter I wrote but didn’t upload because I thought the writing really sucked). Here’s an example: I’m an 8. According to my hypothesis, I am thus an optimist. Yet, I have a blog called “Duck & Gather” in which I predict and analyze all manner of calamity about to befall Western Civilization. Heck, we’ve even bought some gold to hedge against this collapse. Am I a pessimist or an optimist? You can’t answer that question until you ask one more, spefically: “Peter, assuming some of your collapse scenarios prove true, how do you think you will fare?” My answer is: “Just fine, thank you!” That’s an “optimist”.

    Hey, keep reading. I look forward to finding out about what else you stumble across.

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  12. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    I completely understand your example and it makes sense.

    However, I suspect there is even greater theoretical power in also looking into how our brain interprets the environment and whether it associates optimism or pessimism towards it. Let me show you an example of how I feel this might greatly strengthen your model:

    I’m a 5. (as you might have guessed.) I tend to be optimistic towards myself when it comes to my own thoughts – and I tend to be optimistic towards the environment when it comes to sensory stimuli. But I tend to be pessimistic towards myself when it comes to implementing my ideas through action – and I tend to be pessimistic towards the environment when it comes to expecting social rewards.

    Make sense?

    In my direction of integration, I become more like a healthy 8 – and healthy 8’s tend to be optimistic towards implementing their ideas through action as well as optimistic towards the environment when it comes to expecting social rewards. In my direction of disintegration, I become more like an unhealthy 7 – and unhealthy 7’s tend to be pessimistic towards their own thoughts and pessimistic towards the environment when it comes to sensory stimuli.

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  13. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    I should actually clarify that – Healthy 7’s are actually optimistic towards their environment when it comes to sensory stimuli – but when they are unhealthy, they become more like unhealthy 1’s which are certainly pessimistic towards the environment when it comes to sensory stimuli

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  14. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    I guess what I’m saying is that we should not only distinguish between optimism/pessimism directed at ego-self vs. environment – but also to distinguish between sensory vs. social rewards and punishments.

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  15. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    Perhaps my example was not best. Your model does seem to account for why I would simultaneously experience optimism and pessimism – however, looking at an average 7, we tend to see an optimism towards action in anticipation of sensory and social rewards but a pessimism towards own thoughts. Your model doesn’t seem to account for this.

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  16. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    Also noteworthy is that average 1’s tend to be pessimistic towards sensory stimuli yet optimistic towards own thoughts. I guess I should work out this model in more detail before presenting it to you.

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  17. admin
    January 29, 2007

    Let me say first that this kind of dialogue — sort of raw and off the top of our heads — is exactly why I uploaded this book in the first place. I mean, it’s a dificult space to grock, and when we stick our heads in it, questions pop up. It’s fun and useful to be able to bounce those questions off of each other. Maybe I’ll try to get a discussion board up. This current model — I blog and we all comment — doesn’t seem to fit. Oh well. When I have the time. On to your thoughts.

    Yeah, one aspect of the Enneagram the book didn’t delve into was Ichazo’s three instincts: self-preservation, social instinct, and sexual instinct. Is that what you’re referring to? In their 1996 book, Riso/Hudson basically punt on this aspect of the model, saying it’s undeveloped.

    But of course, looking at the list closer, we can see evolutionary psychology. ie. What are some approaches for having my own genes survive? Strategy #1: save myself. Strategy #2: lean on others (society) to save me. Strategy #3: have kids.

    How would optimism/pessimism play in this model? Perhaps opt/pess determines how each type allocates energy to the three approaches, and within each approach, how opt or pess the type is that the approach will succeed.

    This is just my first guess. We would need to go back into the books of the Enneagram experts and see if there’s evidence for this. But as Riso/Hudson said, the area is fuzzy.

    Moreover, for linking with the brain, there’s nothing concrete I’ve seen in the research on this three-part survival model. Maybe this is because these are really hard phenomena to test (i.e. what is subject A’s sexual strategy?). On the contrary, opt and pess are much easier to test for.

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  18. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    I thought I’d mention a couple other things:

    1) I happen to have a friend who is a very successful publisher who could potentially be very interested in helping us get these ideas published.

    2) I happen to have another friend who is the son of one of the most famous scientists of the 20th century – who I will not name here – who might show some interest in this stuff.

    3) My sister has a PhD in psychology and is now a professor at U.C. Berkeley. She could potentially help us gain access to the necessary resources to actually perform experiments – but we need to be mindful of the inevitable resistance this will produce. (Again, there’s me being pessimistic about social rewards. But I don’t think this fear is entirely unfounded. Two complete outsiders trying to overturn accepted ideas might tend to produce some anxiety in those with vested interests in preserving the status quo.)

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  19. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    BTW, my hope is that gradually the number of outsiders will grow from 2 to 3 to 4 …

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  20. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    I noticed something…

    You say you’re a type 8. I find it interesting how your model involved the dominance of one region of the brain over another…and my addition involved the consideration of “thinking” as a separate aspect of ego-identity from “action” and “sensing.”

    Which leads me to the following suggestion:

    It seems like it would be a good idea to get people representing all the different personality types involved in this project since it is likely that they can each provide their own unique insights.

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  21. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    Could we identify “action” with what Riso/Hudson call “instinct” and “sensing” with what they call “feeling”?

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  22. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    It seems that the “action” aspects of the ego would necessarily involve things like the cerebellum, brain stem, adrenal gland, etc…

    And the “sensing” aspects would involve the sense organs, the visual cortex, olfactory bulb, temporal lobes, etc…

    “thinking” would probably take place principally in the prefrontal cortex, I suppose.

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  23. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    I suppose the amydgala could also be part of the “action” system since it’s the brain’s alarm system, so to speak.

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  24. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    Actually, it seems that “sensing” most adequately encompasses what Riso/Hudson mean by “image.”
    When they say “presented outwardly” it seems to mean that the ego’s self-image is directed towards other people.

    But Riso/Hudson don’t seem to describe what happens to the “Instinctive Triad” nor the “Thinking Triad” in terms of sense perception. Nor do they describe what happens to the “Feeling Triad” nor the “Thinking Triad” in terms of physical action. (exertion of will over body, feeling of inhabiting a body)

    I suspect that what characterizes the “Thinking Triad” is that all three types identify the ego primarily with external sense perceptions – yet the three types differ with respect to whether they identify the ego more inwardly or outwardly when it comes to thoughts and actions.

    Then optimism/pessimism towards the ego-self depends on which way a person’s attention focuses in identification with ego.

    I would suspect that the survival instinct would make the ego tend to desire to preserve that with which it is identified. That would explain unhealthy Eights’ tendency towards violence and unhealthy Fives’ tendency towards nihilism.

    It seems that an average Five would tend to seek preservation of the physical environment over preservation of the body, whereas an average Eight would do the opposite. A healthy Five would tend to seek preservation of the body like a healthy Eight, but an unhealty Eight would tend to act in ways leading to their total annihilation of the self – the body AND the physical environment. Paradoxically, though, a healthy Five would tend to seek preservation of the body, potentially sacrificing some of the physical environment – and a healthy Eight might even be willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of the physical environment.

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  25. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    This leads me to suspect that evolutionarily speaking, with respect to the social instinct, the “Thinking Triad” are the tool makers and builders (5’s are the inventors, 6’s are the planners, 7’s are the builders), the “Instinctive Triad” are the conflict-resolvers (8’s are warriors, 9’s are diplomats, 1’s are judges), and the “Feeling Triad” are the resource managers (2’s are the distributors, 3’s are the allocators, 4’s are the collectors).

    With respect to the sexual instinct and self-preservation instinct I am less clear since I think I have a much stronger social instinct.

    Of course, this is just vague, off-the-top-of-my-head speculation – but I suppose that’s what we’re doing here.

    ——
    We really do need to find a better way to communicate – this is getting awkward.

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  26. admin
    January 29, 2007

    Yup, we need a discussion board. Then I and/or anybody else could respond individually to your many fascinating threads. I’ll try to get to that this week or so.

    Um, great that you’re connected to some folks who might be interesting in experimenting. Seems like a good next step for these ideas.

    Yeah, the beauty of the Enneagram is that no personality type owns it. In other words, every type in the model sucks. The model favors none of the types.

    This contrasts with Myers-Briggs and the Jung model upon which that theory was based. I reviewed Jung’s 1921 book “Personality Types” in which he defined the 8 types of his model (that Myters Briggs turned into 16). One of Jung’s eight types is the “Introverted Intuitive” type. That type is, under Jung’s model, by far the best type. It is, in his words, the type of the “prophets of Israel”. It was also, by the way, the type Jung believed himself to be.

    Jung’s model also had one especially unfavorable type. It was one of the flavors of his “Extraverts”. Turns out that that particularly loathsome type was the type of Sigmund Freud. In other words, Jung’s entire personality model was a fairy tale to promote himself, and to slag his nemesis Freud.

    But Jung wasn’t the only one doing that. Freud, Maslow, Adler — all of them did the same thing. That is, each of these guys — Jung, Frued, Adler, and Maslow — was a different Enneagram personality type. And the theories of personality they come up with themselves tracked the fears/desires of their own Enneagram type.

    I wrote up a chapter on this that I haven’t uploaded because I was being a little too uncharitable to Jung.

    My bottom line is that what I love about the Enneagram is that every type is unattractive. That is what makes them a “type”. Because when any of us is universally attractive, we’ve moved beyond type. This strikes my spider sense as most likely true.

    Anyway, I write all this because reading your comments, it seems to me that you may have been interested in Myers-Briggs, and also in Riso/Hudson’s Thinking/Feeling/Instinct formulation. I believe that both of these models have just enough truth in them to keep smart people like yourself interested and looking deeper. But ultimately, I believe, both are false models that reflect the limited worldview of 5s (i.e. Jung, one or both of Myers and Briggs, and one or both of Riso and Hudson are or were 5s).

    By the way, the reason why I think I might be of value in this whole domain is that I am an 8 who was raised by a 5. That is, my entire book, and this entire thread is the product of a 5 worldview. But it’s that worldview, expressed through the 8’s style. How does that play out? It plays out when I call “bullshit” wherever I see it. And in personality theory, there is so much bullshit, one gets knee deep quickly.

    So ultimately, that is what my book is about. It’s about calling “bullshit” on much of what I’ve read in Enneagram books, boiling the theory down to opt/pess + aware/unaware fear, and leaving the rest behind for now. Then it goes into the swamp of endless brain papers, and finds some that corroborate or at least hint at this model.

    From here, I’d love to see the domain move toward neurosciece. Let the scientists now develop the theory further. We’ve had more than enough “hand waving” from the Enneagram “experts”. It’s time to get these fuzzy models down to numbers that can be recorded by machines.

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  27. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    Another thing that bugs me is this apparent worship of a frickin’ geometrical figure, as you so aptly pointed out. The Enneagram is more of a topological model than a geometric one. What it ultimately boils down to is a graph with two components – a 3-cycle and a 6-cycle – which correspond to “state transitions” – and a topological space where each type covers a contiguous region which blends into the regions for other types.

    The Enneagram symbol is a useful heuristic for practical applications, but perhaps quite misleading from a purely abstract mathematical perspective.

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  28. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    One question I have in particular is, “why two disjoint graphs?”

    I’ve read in several places about how the 6-cycle follows the digits of the recurring decimal for 1/7. But not one source seems to dig deeper into why this is significant at all. Why are base 10 numbering systems even relevant, for that matter? Might the Enneagram take on a more transparent form were we to use, say, base 3?

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  29. kryptyk
    January 29, 2007

    Do you know of any statistics regarding what percentage of different populations are of different types? Would it be possible to obtain a decent approximation of how many humans on Earth are of each type? Would type preponderances differ between different cultures? Is it even possible to obtain an unbiased sample?

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  30. admin
    January 29, 2007

    Screech! Full stop! I’ve just created a discussion board for the book that will replace this hokey blog commenting approach. So thanks krytyk for kicking this slow camel into a higher gear!

    From now on, please use the discussion board (http://petersavich.com/PersonalityAndTheBrainBB/) to discuss the book and related topics.

    So this blog entry is hereby closed for comments. (Well, I guess you still can comment here since I too lazy to figure out how to shut off commenting for this lone entry. But there you have it.)

    p.s. krytyk — please enter your outstanding questions on the discussion board. They’re a great place to start off that site. Sorry for the duplication work. You’re just too fast. 🙂 Thanks.

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  31. admin
    June 17, 2007

    Vroom! Start your engines again. Tthis morning, I accidently killed the discussion board in the middle of trying to prune the spam from it. Oh well. So anyway, this thread is once again the place to post comments on the book.

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This entry was posted on December 20, 2005 by in Personality and the Brain.

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