Abstract

This Chapter summarizes the hypothesis of this book. If these next few pages strike you as clear, understandable, and true, then feel free to dispense with reading the next 200 pages or so. Those pages merely flesh out this hypothesis. However, if you demur from these simple declarations, then the subsequent chapters await your attention.

The hypothesis of this book asserts that the Enneagram is reflected in the current findings of neuroscience. A model that I have developed joins the Enneagram with recent findings concerning the brain. As such, my model serves as a road between the Enneagram and the brain:

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My model is a road.

The Enneagram

The Enneagram is a theory of human personality. Under this theory, all humans are assumed to possess a survival instinct, combined with a fear of non-survival. Although survival and non-survival are unitary notions, the Enneagram asserts that there are actually nine “flavors” or types of these instincts. These types define our personality.

The Enneagram further says that each of us lives out our life as only one of these personality types. We don’t spend equal time sampling all or most of the flavors. At most, our personality might straddle two “adjacent” types. But certainly not more than three.

For convenience, “adjacency” arises from the numbers the Enneagram assigns to the nine types. Not surprisingly, these numbers are 1, 2, …, 9. “Adjacency” is defined in the expected way (i.e. 2 is adjacent to 1 and 3, while 1 is adjacent to 2 and 9, and so on).

These type numbers have precise meanings. Each corresponds to a particular pair of (desire, fear), or more formally, (attachment, aversion). As noted above, the Enneagram claims that the root desire or attachment of humans is to their survival; the root fear or aversion is to their non-survival. But there are 9 different types of desire, together with 9 corresponding types of fear.

Without further ado, these nine types of (desire, fear) pairs are as follows:

Type

Desire

Fear

Two

Loved

Unwanted

Three

Valuable

Worthless

Four

Significant

Insignificant

Five

Competent

Incapable

Six

Secure

Insecure

Seven

Satisfied

Pained

Eight

Strong

Weak

Nine

Peaceful

Lost

One

Good

Defective

 

Perhaps you’ve noticed that this list begins with type 2 rather than type 1. This is because the Enneagram experts say that the nine types can be grouped in interesting ways called “triads”. Two interesting triads are:

Triad 1: (2, 3, 4) … (5, 6, 7) … (8, 9, 1)

Triad 2: (2, 6, 1) … (3, 7, 8) … (4, 5, 9)

My Model

It is as at this point that we leave the Enneagram experts and enter my own model. This model makes an assertion concerning what is “interesting” about these two triads. That interesting thing is that these triads elegantly allocate four mental states: optimism, pessimism, aware fear, and unaware fear.

By “optimism”, I mean the following: the type is sensitive to its desire, and tends to associate that desire with self. For example, the 8 is an optimist because the 8 is sensitive to feeling strong, and tends to associate strength with self.

“Pessimism” is the opposite. In this model, pessimism is sensitivity of a type to its fear, and the tendency of that type to associate this fear with self. For example, the 2 is a pessimist because the 2 is sensitive to feeling unloved, and tends to associate being unloved with self.

By “aware fear”, I mean that the type is conscious of feeling uncomfortable when type’s particular fear is triggered. For example, the 5 – an “aware fear” type -- fears being incapable, and is quite conscious of feeling incapable the moment the 5’s competence is threatened.

“Unaware fear” is the opposite. For example, the 1 is an “unaware fear” type which fears being defective. But when the 1’s goodness is threatened, the 1’s consciousness of feeling defective is slow to come. At first, the 1 is unaware of this fear being realized.

Under my model, these four mental states are allocated among the 9 types as follows (notice that Triad 1 runs along the rows; Triad 2, along the columns):

 

Optimism

Optimism & Pessimism

Pessimism

Unaware Fear

8

·              optimism

·              non-pessimism

·              unaware fear

9

·              optimism

·              pessimism

·              unaware fear

1

·              non-optimism

·              pessimism

·              unaware fear

Aware Fear

7

·              optimism

·              non-pessimism

·              aware fear

5

·              optimism

·              pessimism

·              aware fear

6

·              non-optimism

·              pessimism

·              aware fear

Aware Fear & Unaware Fear

3

·              optimism

·              non-pessimism

·              aware fear

·              unaware fear

4

·              optimism

·              pessimism

·              aware fear

·              unaware fear

2

·              non-optimism

·              pessimism

·              aware fear

·              unaware fear

 

Enneagram = Nine Patterns of Four Different Mental States

The Brain

Current findings in neuroscience describe how (optimism, pessimism), and (aware fear, unaware fear) manifest in the brain. These two pairs correspond to two regions of the brain. These are the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the amygdala, respectively. The PFC lies under our foreheads; the amygdala just inside our temples.

The brain is divided into a left side and right side. So there exists a left PFC and a right PFC, as well as a left amygdala and a right amygdala.

Fairly settled findings support the claim that the left PFC mediates optimism, while the right PFC mediates pessimism. A recent, rather thorough and well-constructed study found that the left amygdala mediates aware fear, while the right mediates unaware fear.

Further, it is well settled that individuals differ in a systemic way with respect to PFC asymmetry. This means that for some people, their left PFCs consistently exhibit more activity than does their right PFC. For others, the situation is reversed, with right PFC exhibiting more activity than the left. For still others, activity on both sides is relatively balanced. This asymmetry is akin to hand dominance. Some of us are left-handed, others right-handed, and still other are ambidextrous. Apparently, the same dynamic holds in our PFC.

As for the amygdala, this “dominance” dynamic has not been reported as of this writing. However, recent amygdala research provocatively suggests that this dynamic may indeed hold for the amygdala as well.

No research of which I am aware has considered the interaction between PFC asymmetry and amygdala asymmetry.

My Hypothesis

My hypothesis is that the 9 Enneagram types are simply labels for certain patterns of asymmetry dominance in the PFC and amygdala. Specifically, this hypothesis proposes the following:

 

Left PFC

Left & Right PFC

Right PFC

Right Amygdala

8

·              left PFC dominant

·              right amygdala dominant

9

·              PFC balanced

·              right amygdala dominant

1

·              right PFC dominant

·              right amygdala dominant

Left Amygdala

7

·              left PFC dominant

·              left amygdala dominant

5

·              PFC balanced

·              left amygdala dominant

6

·              right PFC dominant

·              left amygdala dominant

Right & Left Amygdala

3

·              left PFC dominant

·              amygdala balanced

4

·              PFC balanced

·              amygdala balanced

2

·              right PFC dominant

·              amygdala balanced

 

This same information is represented in the following schematic diagram:

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Schematic of My Hypothesis

This schematic is evocative. For example, one aspect about the Enneagram I didn’t mention above is that when a type feels sufficiently insecure, that type “shifts” to a second type. For example, when the 7 feels sufficiently insecure, the 7 shifts to the 1 (i.e. the 7 acquires attributes of the 1).

Look closely at the schematic for the 7 and for the 1. Notice anything? They are left-right mirror images with no overlap. In fact these two types are the only such pair in the entire Enneagram.

Now guess which type is the only type prone to manic-depression, also known as bipolar? That’s right, it’s the 7. This shift between mania (the left side of the moon) and depression (the right side of the moon) is nicely captured by this schematic.

Similarly, compare the 8 with the 6. The 8 schematic runs Northwest to Southeast; for the 6, it’s Northeast to Southwest. These schematics are opposites in a different way. Could these two types be opposite in temperament?

Bingo. The 8 is the swaggering bully who, among all the types, is most often considered “courageous”. The 6 is the fearful anxiety hag, who, among all the types, is most often considered “cowardly”.

What about the 4? For the 4, all four corners of the schematic are lit up. What is the 4’s temperament? The Enneagram answers: the 4 is the theory’s  “drama queen”. Again, the type is elegantly evoked by the schematic.

Further Research

But in the end, pictures are just pictures. And this hypothesis will remain as merely a hypothesis until such time as significant brain research is conducted. It is my hope that this book will spur some of that research.