Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Personality: Evolution of Personality

TORONTO, ONTARIO - When discussing the meridian personality classification system, called the Genetic Personality Types (GPT) by their discoverer, Bob Cooley, the subject of which of the sixteen personality types or four worlds amongst them is the most "advanced" sometimes comes up. Anyone asking this question has really missed the point. One of the most appealing aspects of the theory is that each of the sixteen types brings its own geniuses to the human race, that everyone can access them whether they naturally exhibit them or not, and that human interactions depend on the presence of all types. In a very real sense, all sixteen types are not only on an equal footing, they all represent the advancement of the human race.

Yet, few people would argue that all animals, or even other mammals, exhibit the sixteen types. Ever heard of an appendix-type cat that seems to have a natural sense of acupuncture points on its siblings? Or a kidney-type dog that amuses itself and those around it by imitating its human owner? I sure haven't. It's easy to see that domesticated animals, especially, have individual and greatly diverging personalities, but mapping those personalities to the human GPT classifications doesn't seem straight-forward.

So how did the GPT personalities evolve? We may never know the answer to that question, but psychologists may have come across a clue. Daniel Gilbert, in his best-selling book "Stumbling on Happiness," makes the case that it was the development of the frontal lobe that made us human. What goes on in the frontal lobe? The ability to conceptualize about the future. Gilbert puts it bluntly: "The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future."

In the GPT theory, orientation to the future is a characteristic of the types in the "Thinking" or "Analytical" world. The development of the "Thinking" world may be what caused the species to move from ape to human. Yet, it is not clear what existed previously. Did the "Emotional" world and its ability to draw so profoundly on the past exist in apes in the same way as it does in humans? Or did apes, like other animals, have only a rudimentary sense of the past, the same way that a squirrel could bury an acorn before the winter but not really have the ability to contemplate its future? Since the "Thinking" and "Emotional" worlds balance one another, it might make some sense that the greatest evolutionary advantage would be in their evolving simultaneously, rather than one after the other, but one could also have developed in response to the other.

The focus on the "Thinking" world as being the key evolutionary step as embodied in the frontal lobe also seems rather counter to the traditional way of differentiating humans from animals, which is in terms of spirituality. Religious doctrine only put words on a sense that seems to be quite common in this species that we are the only ones with "souls," not other creatures. This is generally linked to the "energy" sensitivity of the "Spiritual" world. And, by the same argument that there is an evolutionary advantage to balancing worlds, one might imagine that the "Spiritual" world developed to balance the present-focused "Physical" world that seems the most instinctual and animal-like.

Yet, I'm quite convinced that this rather belittling view of the "Physical" world is unfounded. The "Physical" world may be focused on the present, but is that present the same as the animal's present any more than the human's view of the past is the same as the animal's view of the past? Are there skin-type animals convincing other individuals to do what they want? Are there lung-type animals taking the kind of leadership in groups that humans do? I hardly find the alpha male gorilla to be analogous to a lung-type human leading a construction or research crew. (Of course, as a spiritual type, I would have a hard time belittling the "Physical" world.)

The bottom line may be that the human brain fundamentally views time differently, no matter what GPT world it emphasizes. If it is the sense of time in all its categories, not just the future, that is indeed defining, and that ability came from the development of the frontal lobe, then all four worlds may have been developed roughly simultaneously in evolutionary terms. That would certainly be a more satisfying conclusion for those that want to believe in the equality of the sixteen geniuses.

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