stages

My new PT blog: The Fundamental Four

Psychology Today

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Dear Mouse Trap readers, I have some good news to share.

 

I have started blogging on Psychology Today and my brand new PT blog is named The Fundamental Four .

I am quite excited to be a part of a blogging platform as esteemed as that of PT, where I will be blogging alongside Timothy D Wilson and Art Markman, to name a few,  in the cognition category.  I’m awed to be writing alongside those whose work  I admire like Robert Biswas-deiner, Sonja Luybomirsky , Chris Peterson, Chris Badcock, Scott Barry Kaufman and Michael Michalko, again, to single out a few.

I look forward to that opportunity and to have conversations with these great minds and put forth my perspective.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my focus on the ABCD model of Psychology,  the four basic evolutionary processes and the eight stage evo-devo process. These themes I will now take to The Fundamental Four, (so will request all The Mouse Trap readers to subscribe to the new blog), but the Mouse Trap will continue in its present form focusing on many other themes that are dear to my heart.

I’ll also be cross-posting some of the stuff from The Fundamental Four over here, but do not depend on that:  subscribe to The Fundamental Four too, to keep up to date with my explorations in that sphere.

With that said, I would exhort all readers to at least read my first post there and if it resonates with you, please subscribe to that blog too and carry on reading!

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Buddha’s Brain

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I recently came across an authors@google talk by Rick Hanson, who is the author of ‘Buddha‘s Brain:  the practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom’ and was immediately drawn by the similarity of the framework he uses and my ABCD model. Rick draws a lot from the Buddhist tradition and its humbling to find many similarities between what buddha preached thousands of years ago and what neuroscience tell us today.

In particular the root cause of suffering is believed to be due to

1) trying to avoid unescapable threats/ pains etc like ageing and death.

2) pursuit of pleasures/opportunities etc that are fleeting in nature/ not permanent.

3) trying to separate from and become individuated while the nature of reality is connected and interdependent.

4) trying to stabilize  that which keeps on changing

The roots of these Rick believes are tied up to the three (I’ve extended them to 4) motivational systems that govern us. These are:

1) Avoid system – reigning this in leads to Calm , a sense of peace and increase in a feeling of moment-to-moment Happiness.

2) Approach system –  properly aligning this leads to Contentment, a sense of gratitude and increase in feelings of Well-being.

3) Attach system – properly utilizing this leads to Caring, a sense of loving-kindness and increase in feelings of Love.

4) Absorb system – properly using this leads to Creativity, a sense of insight and increase in feelings of Wisdom.

To me these are absolutely aligned to the ABCD model; the Avoid system is primarily about reacting to -ve (or even +ve ) Affect; Approach system is driven by how Behaviouraly actively or passively you respond to opportunities;  the Attach system is all about the dynamics driving the Self-other relational issues; while the Absorb system is the more Cognitively focussed one driven by broad /  narrow focus concerns.

 

Rick also thinks that these are related to how the learning (synaptic strength modification)  , regulation (inhibition or excitation due to firing)  and selection (the decision to fire based on summation of inputs)  happens in brains at synapse levels and that reigning these systems leads to Mindfulness (attention relevant/leading to learning) , Virtue (self-regulation of behaviour)  and Wisdom (the ability to make informed choices) at the macro level. As Rick believes that not only brains lead to minds, but what and how our minds act also affects our neural wiring due to self-directed neuroplasticity, he advocates practising mindfulness, virtue and wisdom to rewire your brain to take it to the Buddha’s state.

Here one might pause and consider what mind actually is. some would equate it simply as mind is what the brain does, but more reflection shows that mind is multidimensional (ya…. fits the ABCD model). To me, mind is a result of:

1)  Brain Activity

2) Body rootedness (embodied cognition)

3) Embedded with Other minds (relational construct)

4) Shaped/interpreted by culture

Another thing to note about Rick is that he is a fan of Paul Mc lean’s tripartite brain; extending both the MacLean model and Rick associations and aligning with ABCD model, I see the evolution of brain as:

1) Brain-stem (Reptilian brain) : the relative brain sizes in reptiles or those driven by this Avoid mode system should be proportional to their land areas that they need to defend as in territorial defence; this is what I predict, the greater the area/ territory they typically defend the bigger this area. In the reptilian evolution this factor must have driven brain evolution.

2) sub-cortical areas ( Paleomammilian brain) : the relative size of brain in these simple mammals should be tied to their foraging area or how vastly they explore for food/ mating opportunities. I predict that brain evolution during this phase was tied to the Approach mode and linked with exploration propensity and must be linked with typical foraging area, with animals foraging far and wide having bigger brains proportional to those who don’t.

3) cortical areas ( mammalian brain ) : the relative size of brain in these higher mammals corresponds with the social group size (the famous Dunbar number) . This phase of brain evolution was primarily driven by Attach motivational system where concerns for others and groups drove evolution of brain with those having dense social groups needing more brainpower.

4) Neocortical areas/ lateralizations (the human/primate brain): the relative size of brains might be related to artistic/ imaginative ability. This phase of brain evolution is still taking place and is being primarily driven by Absorb system; how much one assimilates and accommodates and how much one intellectually rejects would determine whether the brain evolves further and proportional to how creative (broad-minded) the species is. The more narrow minded/ unimaginative the lesser thee neo-cortical size; perhaps this is the advantage we had over Neanderthals and other hominids. The autism-schizophrenia continuum may be one effect of the cognitive evolution still happening.

Which brings me maenderingly to my final comparison:

1) Affect, or Avoid system deregulation leads to Major Depression. The neurotransmitter of relevance here is Serotonin. Compare also to cloningers Harm Avoidance.

2) Behaviour or Approach system deregulation leads to Addiction.  The neurotransmitter of concern here is Dopamine. Compare also to cloningers Novelty Seeking

3) Drive/Dynamics or Attach system deregulation leads to Bipolar or manic depression.  The neurotransmitter of concern may turn out to be norepinephrine. Compare to cloningers Reward Dependence.

4) Cognition or Absorb system deregulation leads to Schizophrenia . The neurotransmitter of concern may turn out to be acetylcholine.

That covers the major group of disorders. I’m still reading ‘Buddha’s brain’ and not all insights shared above are related to what Rick/ Buddhism says; but I find them broadly aligned with my ABCD model and the eight stage evo-devo model based around Theodore Millons four basic polarities.

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The Four Fundamental Causes

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This post is an ambitious attempt to link the four causes delineated by Aristotle, to the four questions asked by Tinbergen to the four types of explanations that can be made for any human/animal ability.

First a bit of a background.

Aristotle had listed four causes – Material,  Efficient, Formal and Final causes. From the Wikipedia:
Aristotle held that there were four kinds of causes:

  • A thing’s material cause is the material of which it consists. (For a table, that might be wood; for a statue, that might be bronze or marble.)
  • A thing’s formal cause is its form, i.e. the arrangement of that matter.
  • A thing’s efficient or moving cause is “the primary source of the change or rest.” An efficient cause of x can be present even if x is never actually produced and so should not be confused with a sufficient cause.(Aristotle argues that, for a table, this would be the art of table-making, which is the principle guiding its creation.)
  • A thing’s final cause is its aim or purpose. That for the sake of which a thing is what it is. (For a seed, it might be an adult plant. For a sailboat, it might be sailing. For a ball at the top of a ramp, it might be coming to rest at the bottom.)

While studying these causes scholars have stressed on two sorts of distinctions, the first is the concept of actuality and potentiality– while some causes like the final cause (teeos or entelchiea) and formal cause (eidos or energiea) are actual; the material cause is deemed to be poetntial.

The other concept is that of Hylomorphism, or the distinction between matter and form. I believe that the four causes can be broken down along the two dimensions of potentiality/actuality and matter/form as below to lead to a 2×2 matrix of causes.

Niko Tinbergen , a great ethologist, asked four questions or explanations about any biological phenomenon, inspired by the Aristotle’s 4 causes. . From the Wikipedia page:

 

However, I like to arrange it slightly differently. I retain the ultimate/proximate distinction, but supplement it with Accidental/ Teleological distinction. Accidental to me means phylogeny due to random genetic drift and genetic baggage; and physiologic mechanisms like hormones etc kicked in accidentally by random interaction with immediate environment;  on the other hand the process of adaptation and developmental unfolding to an adult form (ontogeny)  appear purposeful and pseudo teleological. Thus my arrangement:

Which leads to how I became re- interested in these four causes recently- it was while reading an article by Dean Simonton on ability , wherein he conjectured that studying both the generic and specific factors that affect performance as well as acquisition of ability is problematic and non-fruitful, that I remembered about these and saw how fruitful it may be to conceptualize ability in just so many terms. Hence my conceptualization:

In general for ability I think the following four factors are applicable and all four have strong influences on ability; I have named them talent, hard work, grit and optimism etc elsewhere. In general for any trait like intelligence, emotionality etc I think the 2×2 factor matrix is relevant and worth keeping in mind.

That brings me eventually to my own levels of explanations for any phenomenon. I believe evo-devo explanations as well as psycho-social factors have equal weight-age while explaining say behavior. while some of these explanations are mechanistic/deterministic other are of non-deterministic or chaotic origin. Similarly, while some are governed by factors internal to the organism others are mostly affected by extrinsic factors.

I hope the above conceptualization makes sense. It is inline with my eight stage model and four domains model where Evo is stage 1&2; social- stage 3&4, devo- stage 5&6 and psycho stage 7&8.

 

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2 factor theories of personality

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While most people are generally aware of the five factor model of personality (that is the FFM or OCEAN model that is revealed by factor analysis), the two factor models of personality may not be that readily apparent, though most readers will be familiar with some form or the other of the 2 factor models of personalities like the four humors/temperaments of the Greeks or the enneagrams or the temperaments used in Kiersey personality sorter.

In brief, two factor models of personality posit that individuals differ on two bipolar dimensions and that one’s personality type or temperament can be determined based on whether one is high or low on these 2 dimensions. for eg consider factor 1 and factor 2 as the 2 underlying personality factors; then there would be 4 typical temperaments : high factor 1, high factor 2; high factor 1, low factor 2; low factor 1, high factor 2; and low factor 1, low factor 2. Typically the extremes of the bipolar factors would be named such that low factor 1 corresponds to some trait and high factor 1 to opposed trait and similarly for factor 2.

The scheme becomes sometimes more complex by not mandating that a personality type lies on extremes, but positing that the balanced or middle value of these factors is also relevant; in these cases up to 9 personality types can be created by using the 3 typical values (high, mid, low) of the two factors. Enneagrams uses this schema.

To clarify by way of an example, the ancient Greeks posited 2 underlying personality factors – a hot-cold factor that coded the response-delay as to whether response was quick or slow to follow an event; and a dry-wet factor that coded whether the response was sustained or subsided quickly. This resulted in 4 temperaments: sanguine ( Air i.e. hot and wet; quick onset and quick offset; the happy-go-luck personality ) ; choleric (Fire i.e. hot and dry ; quick onset but prolonged offset; the energized or angry personality) ; Phlegmatic ( Water i.e. cold and wet; prolonged build-up but quick offset; the hard-to-provoke calm personality) and finally melancholic (Earth i.e. cold and dry; prolonged onset and prolonged offset ; the classical brooding personality) .

As one can see from the Wikipedia page on 2 factor models of personality, there are a lot of theories that define their personality types on the basis of 2 underlying factors one of which is factor 1 (the Wikipedia page cites that as extroversion scale) and teh second is factor 2 (which the Wikipedia labels people-task orientation scale, a nomenclature to which I am more sympathetic).

There is a table listed at the end of the Wikipedia article and form a cursory look at the table one can see that the interpretation of the two factors have changed from time to time; it began as affect/emotion based interpretation; got morphed into behavioral terminology; briefly flirted with motivational constructs that lead to character types(refer Fromm) and finally also had some recent cognitive interpretations. I am a big proponent of the ABCD model of psychology and the eight stage models of personality; I have formerly reconciled the ABCD model with eight personality factors/stages by following Theodore Millons approach whereby each Affect, Behavior, Desire (Motivation) and Cognition is split in 2 underlying polarities viz, pleasure/pain; active/passive; self/other and broad/narrow respectively.

While reconciling the above I have also been acutely aware that I am more focused on the person side of personality rather than the situation side of personality. Those who are aware of the person-situation debate in personality psychology will be aware that any analysis that focuses on person to the exclusion of environment/situation is not doing full justice to the study of personality or psychology. To remedy that I propose that while factor 1 in each ABCD domain can be used as a proxy for the splitting of Affect, Behavior, Desire or Cognition under the 2 polarities and in internal focused , the factor 2 is more in relation to the environmental/ situational effects and is more external.

If you have lost me till now, please bear patience. Let me clarify by way of an example. consider the DiSC theory and assessment produced by William Martson. He proposed 2 factors ; Factor 1 is Active/passive with reference to behavior of person and Factor 2 is open/controlled or favorable/antagonistic with reference to the environment one chooses to operate in/ finds oneself in. Thus, his definition of DISC as follows:

Dominance, which produces activity in an antagonistic environment; with a feeling of unpleasantness until stimulus is acted upon
Compliance, which produces produces passivity in an antagonistic environment; with a feeling of unpleasantness until stimulus is reconciled
Inducement, which produces activity in a favorable environment; with a feeling of pleasantness increasing as interaction increases
Submission, which produces passivity in a favorable environment; with a feeling of pleasantness increasing as yielding increases

Of course he is working on 2 levels – the Affect level where he discusses feelings and emotional tone and stimuli and the Behavioral level where he discusses active/passive behavior in a appropriate environment. With this I am all set to propose my new 16 factors theory of personality that may also bridge the gap between ABCD model of personality/psychology, the eight stages /factors theory of personality and the 16 personality factors or the 16 MBTi types.

To recall, Affect is the first stage/domain where pleasure/pain polarity is operational; I propose we also take in account a second polarity/factor as to whether the stimuli causing pleasure(pleasantness)/ pain(pleasantness) is present/being introduced or being recalled/ is absent. Let us call this factor Stimuli present/stimuli absent.

Behavior is the second stage/domain where active/passive polarity is operational; here the effect of environment can be subsumed under the polarity of whether the environment is favorable or antagonistic. Let us call this factor env favorable/antagonistic .

Desire is the third stage /domain where the motivational impetus can be either Self /Other focused. Here the environment/situational factors to consider are the significant others or the desirable objects – be it things or peoples . I call this polarity of being concerned with objects the things/ people factor.

Cognition is the final fourth stage/domain where the operational polarity is that of Broad/narrow – or put another way abstract(generalized) and concrete (specialized) ; here I posit that the system which is being cognized can be either chaotic/ orderly and that view of how the system is conceived results in factor of system chaotic/orderly.

Let me now elaborate all the 16 different types that emerge once one takes all these 2 factors (diff for each domain) and the 4 domains (ABCD) under consideration.

Affect driven combinations/types :

  1. generally feels pleasant due to presence of stimuli (a happy-g-lucky sanguine person; predominant emotion : joy; ‘reward’ driving factor in terms of reinforcement theory)
  2. generally feels pleasant due to absence of stimuli ( a lazy , lethargic., contended phlegmatic personality; ‘relief’ in terms of reinforcement theory) .
  3. generally feels unpleasant due to presence of stimuli ( an angry person energized to remove that stimuli; choleric with predominant emotion anger and ‘punishment’ driven in terms of reinforcement theory;)
  4. generally  feels unpleasant due to absence of stimuli (a sad person grieving loss of a beloved object ;melancholic with  predominant emotion sadness and ‘penalty’ is the reinforcement principle in use)

Behavior driven combinations/types

  1. Actively strives in favorable environments. (Influence/Inducement in DiSC terminology)
  2. Actively strives in even antagonistic environments (  dominant in DiSC terminology)
  3. Passively accommodates in even favorable environments (Submission/ steadfastness in DisC terminology)
  4. Passively accommodates in unfavorable environments ( Compliance in DiSC)

Desire /Motivation driven combinations/types leads to Fromm’s Character orientations

  1. Accommodating others with a focus on people – Marketing Character orientation as per Fromm
  2. Accommodating others with a focus on things – Receptive orientation-Fromm
  3. Assimilating in self the other people – Manipulative orientation-Fromm
  4. Assimilating in self with a focus on things- hoarding orientation-Fromm

Cognition driven combinations can be correlated with Hermann Brian dominance Instrument

  1. Broad/generalized synthesis of chaotic patterns ( Imaginative thinking style)
  2. Broad/generalized synthesis of ordered  patterns (Interpersonal thinking style)
  3. Narrow/specialized analysis of chaotic patterns ( Sequential thinking style)
  4. Narrow/specialized analysis of orderly patterns  ( Logical thinking style)

Of course I would love to correlate the cognitive factors with the Beauty and sublime factors of Kant but am unable to paint a coherent picture at this time. Maybe one day I will.

How do you find the above marriage of ABCD theory with 2 factor models of personality? do let me know via comments.

 

 

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Dichotomies; or Psychology in a nutshell

"Two buckets" view of heritability.

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The field of psychology abounds with dichotomies– some of which are patently false/outdated, as per the grapevine. The familiar ones include Nature-nurture and mind-brain; in the former it is assumed that now everything is a mixture of both nature and nurture while in the latter both mind and brain have been conflated to be the same. However as separate disciplines of neurology and psychology attest , and the naive disorder classification system scientists themselves use, which squarely puts one disorder as psychological while other as more neurological attests, there is some merit in considering things at different level of explanation- at the brain or neuronal level of explanation and at the mind or self/ organism level of explanation,

 

In this article I argue that not only there is merit in these dichotomies, but that these dichotomies grasp fundamental aspects of being and all provide a glimpse of the proverbial elephant to the blind men that we are.

 

To begin with , the most fundamental dichotomy I consider is that of BRAIN-MIND or DETERMINISM-FREE WILL. To me the proponents of BRAIN fall on  the DETERMINISM side of the table, while those of MIND fall into the FREE WILL camp. Let me elaborate. On the one side is reductive materialism that believes everything can be reduced to and explained in terms of neural firings and that all behavior is predetermined( from say the time of the Big Bang); on the other hand are people who tout the  HARD problems and propose that qualia exists, subjectivity exists, agency exists, even if the basis for that be found only in quantum effects, or rather the basis for which will never be found in classical brain based accounts but will always be non-computable/ non -comprehensible but intuitively grasped by phenomenological experiences alone.  To me there is merit in both arguments and my personal belief is that we are both determined and free, both brain and mind and that one is not the same as other but entails a different sort of world view. If I can go out on a limb, the first view of BRAIN is mechanistic/autistic in nature; while the second view that of MIND is mentalistic/psychotic in nature.  But we are moving ahead of ourselves.

The first belief system, that based around BRAIN/ DETERMINISM, is not without its own challenges/dichotomies. Consider that the BRAIN is sculpted and so everything is pre-DETERMINED. Who sculpted the BRAIN? NATURE or NURTURE? Both GENES and ENVIRONMENT can be equally strongly deterministic and capable of shaping our brain and predisposing us to act in a particular way.  No matter whether you believe in the all-empowering GENES or in the power of SITUATION to elicit behavior, or in the childhood influences that still govern adult REACTIONS, or believe in middle ground of developmental unfolding and epigenetic mechanisms, the predominant theme is that of doom and gloom and predestination. So NATURE-NURTURE is the dichotomy relevant here.

What about the FREE WILL/MIND camp? They too have to answer some tough questions as to what causes agency- is it REASON or PASSION? Does the freedom come from a lifetime of UNCONSCIOUS HABIT that gets engrained as character/PASSION or do we make a CONSCIOUS and REASONED  DECISION every time we ACT ? Is it FREE because it is an inbuilt IMPULSE; or is it  WILL because it can veto and CONTROL? The focus is squarely on ACTIONS- but Actions driven by PASSIONS or Actions driven by REASON? Note that in the NATURE-NURTURE theme the focus was on REACTIONS- what hidden force (genes/environment) causes us to react so and so; here the focus is on actions and what drives them ;  here the focus is on the perennial battle between romanticism and enlightenment /rationalism.   We grant that someone acts- but what is the basis of that action- is it PASSION or is it REASON? is it hidden, unconscious and spontaneous or is it deliberate, conscious and planned? the basic dichotomy here is between PASSION and REASON as the drivers of human action.

 

What about finer levels of dichotomies. Here again , on further analysis one can see that NATURE /GENES has a dichotomy in terms of Paternal genes or Maternal genes (working at cross-purposes at times as per genomic imprinting theory) ? NURTURE/ENVIRONMENT has a dichotomy in terms of SHARED (or PASSIVE) ENV. influences versus nons0hared or ACTIVE (niche constructing) ENV. influences.  PASSION has tensions between SPONTANEITY/random/Life force/EROS versus HABIT/ingrained/Death instinct/THANTOS; while  REASON has to balance between IRRATIONAL (mythos/chaotic) reasons versus RATIONAL (logos/orderly) reasons .

GENES are historical past facing; ENVIRONMENT is organism past + present facing; PASSION is Present + organism future  facing; while REASON is totally future facing.

So where am I getting from here.  It is to my ABCD model of psychology. Affect, Behavior , Desire/Motivation and Cognition.

To me, BRAIN-MIND/ DETERMINISM-FREE WILL debate is a manifestation of debates between primacy of Affect/behavior over motivation/cognition. Motivation /cognition are not directly observable/ measurable while in some sense affect and behavior are . Further, in BRAIN side there is tension between Affect (mostly inbuilt or genetic)  and  Behavior (mostly learned and a result of environmental influences) ; in a similar view, on the MIND side there is tension between Motivation (FREE/ PASSION) and Cognition (WILL/REASON).

 

Of course, there are finer levels of dichotomies embedded in ABCD as per the eight stage model where each of ABCD splits in two components based around- that of pleasure-pain, active-passive, self-other and broad-narrow. To me these dichotomies make perfect sense now.

To extend to one particular domain of personality psychology: you have deterministic personality theories emphasizing traits or behaviorism and you see a conflict/debate in personality theory in terms of Person (genes/traits) vs. situation(environment) variables.   On the other hand are free-will theories of personality centered around Psychoanalytic theories and Phenomenological/existential theories where the fundamental conflicts is between conscious/ and unconscious; between past and future orientation, between passion/libido and reason/actualization.

 

To extend to another domain – that of psychopathology- Motivation defects in EROS and THANTOS lead to Mania and Depression respectively and remain in conflict with each other; Cognitive deficits in REASONs, that is, in MYTHOS based chaotic/dreamy/irrational reasoning versus LOGOS based orderly/reality-oriented and logical reasoning lead to the opposed and yet conflated phenotypes of Autism spectrum disorders and Psychotic spectrum disorders.

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