Personality and the Brain


A hacker’s journey through the Enneagram and the emerging brain research


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Peter Savich
















Copyright © 2005 by Peter Savich.



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. See for details.



Thanks for this book (or blame, in the case that this book proves painful to read), goes to:

·      My dear ex-wife Jennifer and beloved mother Panayiota who, respectively, divorced me and died, around about the same time in the late 1990s, thereby sending me headlong into a glorious tailspin, a result of which for me is either a sharpened eye, or madness. You be the judge;

·      My dear friends Tony and Dana who, not once, but twice, handed me Helen Palmer’s Enneagram book. The second time stuck;

·      My adored father Dusan, whose endless curiosity evidently rubbed off on me, turning me into a breathless chaser of information and patterns, for better or for worse;

·      My beloved wife Kate, who has humored me these past few years in my efforts to write up this pig;

·      My dear sister Kathy who actually read the whole thing, provided constructive feedback, and even feigned interest right up through Chapter 6, at which point she confessed that, although the book bored her stiff, she had read and edited it out of sense of obligation, which comment sent the two of us into an interesting conversation about obligation versus appetite as a wellspring of motivation;

·      My dear friends to whom I sent drafts of this book, who were gracious enough to remain silent, and refrain from telling me what they really thought about it, thereby affording me the illusion that this book is interesting, long enough to get me to write up the meat of it;

·      Various publisher and authority type figures to whom I have sent this book, who likewise graciously remained silent, or diplomatically demurred, thereby freeing me of any remaining inner drive to finish the bloody thing;

·      You all, who will either remain silent, as has been my experience thus far, or who will pipe up and instruct me on where to take this beast;

·      Some of you all, who, I still hold out hope, will find this topic enduringly fascinating, and will express eagerness to collaborate on developing these ideas further.



Preface           .................................................................................................................. v

Introduction:  History is Calling...................................................................................... 1

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Bibliography  ................................................................ Error! Bookmark not defined.


I’m a hacker. When it comes to this book, I’m strictly an amateur. I’ve never formally studied, nor have ever made money in writing, the Enneagram, or neuroscience. So, in some ways, I have no business writing this book. As for you who is reading this book, well, that’s your business. Given all this, why might this book be worth browsing, let alone reading?

What I can offer you by way of an answer is my motivation for writing it. Put simply, that motivation is this: to kick off a dialogue directed toward the search for a profound truth about humanity.

What I write about here is a model that I have stumbled across which purports to join the Enneagram with the current findings of neuroscience. The Enneagram is a theory of human personality. Assuming the term “New Age” can be ascribed coherent meaning, the Enneagram is certainly a New Age thing.

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the brain. In the past decade or so, this branch of science has exploded in research activity.

My model for joining these two fields depends upon two pairs of mental states: (optimism, pessimism), and (aware fear, unaware fear). Under this model, the nine personality types of the Enneagram are described as nine different patterns of these four mental states.[1]

As for neuroscience, that field has had much to say in recent years about how our brains manifest optimism, pessimism, aware fear, and unaware fear. Accordingly, if my model is valid, the Enneagram will enjoy a firm underpinning in neuroscience. Why would this fact be important?

One reason is that this would validate the Enneagram. In today’s world, the truth monopoly is claimed by both science and religion. The validation I speak of here acknowledges the former claim.

As for neuroscience, my model would bring order to a growing, unruly sea of research concerning human personality. As of this writing, that enormous body of research struggles for coherence.

Validation for the Enneagram, and order for neuroscience, would cause each domain to leap ahead. Domains leaping ahead might seem rather compelling to the people formally studying and making money within these domains. No?

Perhaps. But that is not my experience. I have contacted leaders in both fields – Enneagram and neuroscience – soliciting interest in pursuing this model. It is upon the work of these very leaders that this book depends. That is, when this book makes assertions about what the Enneagram is, or how fear manifests in the brain, these assertions are based upon the research and words of these leaders. But I found that when I contacted them directly about my model, for one reason or another, they weren’t much interested.

So maybe this book is a waste of time after all. Yours for reading it, and mine for writing it. After all, if the very experts upon whom this book relies can’t even muster interest in it, why should you?

Well, before I answer, let me just point out that my decision to post this book on the Internet for free download speaks to my suspicion that there are not many of “you”. At least, not enough of you to attract the interest of a for-profit publisher.

But even though this book won’t be read by many, I do suspect that one or more of you will take the plunge. And it is to you daring souls that I note: radical breakthroughs in fields often come, not from the “experts” in those fields, but rather from outsiders. Consider various domains in science, humanities, art, literature, music, sport, religion, and other human activities. Think about radical turnings in those fields. Now consider the person or people who fomented that turning. Were they “insiders” or “outsiders”? My reading has found that the latter are well-represented in the class of revolutionaries. I’ll just leave it at that, for now.

Now, I realize that I’ve offered a terribly thin reed for your interest to stand upon. Essentially, what I’m saying here is that my credential for revolutionizing not one, but two domains, is that I am an outsider to both. Doing the math, one quickly realizes that more than six billion others can assert equally compelling credentials. What’s so special about my own?

Now I find myself compelled to say more about me than I had wanted to in this book. I had wanted the arguments of this book to stand on their own. Let the reasoning and the chips fall where they may. I had wanted what I was saying, rather than who I am, to serve as the only topic of relevance.

It’s not that I’m shy about talking about myself. On the contrary, for the better part of my 42 years, my self has served as the topic of greatest interest to myself. You’re right. I’ve been a bore most of my life. But now that I’m ready to get over myself already, I find that I’m compelled to return to that same, old boring topic. Well, for the remainder of this Preface at least. (And yes, I do notice the annoying number of times I have used the first person singular in this Preface – not to mention in this sentence.)

A useful place to start when discussing me is to ask: If even the experts of the two fields that I’m looking to join in this book are not even interested in it, why am I? And why post this book for free download on the Internet?

First, I’ll say that I feel rather certain about this model of mine. This certainty has me eager to share this model with you.

Of course, that’s not saying much. I’ve been infected with the “certainty” disease my entire life. During the dissolution of my first marriage, my wife at the time hissed at me: “You’re so certain!” She said it like an epithet. This confused me. To my tender ears at the time, it was as if she had accused me of being “so beautiful!” or “so smart!” or “so wonderful!”. I had never questioned my certainty, and to that point, certainty certainly seemed to have had served me well. But in subsequent years, I’ve come to realize that my certainty is merely a feeling – one that is in the same class as indigestion or movements of my bowels. Nothing to get too excited about. In any case, now and then, my certainties have proven wrong. I’m well aware that my present certainty about this model may suffer the same fate.

So that is one reason I’m self-publishing this book. Please! I implore you. Disabuse me of this certainty of mine.  If this model is faulty, I want to hear your reasoned, critical argument.

So that, at bottom, is why I have written this book, and am now self-publishing it. I have an idea. It might be a big idea. I feel like it’s a true, big idea. I want this idea of mine tested in the court of my peers. Since I’m “nobody” in relation to the subject matter of my idea, “my peers” in this case means you, and everyone else too.

Another topic you might want to hear about before plunging forward in this book is: Why does this topic interest me? Yet another is: How did I develop my model? The second question is easier, so let’s begin with it.

I have formally studied mathematics and law, and have made money in those fields and in a number of others. Over the 30-some years of my work-study life, my main activity has been analysis. In this work, I assess complex systems of information, and identify useful patterns in them. This is only one way in which the human brain works. It just so happens that for me, this kind of mental activity has predominated not only my working life, but also my personal. (Which, if you’ve read “Men are from Mars, Women from Venus,” may help explain why I’m onto my second marriage.)

So how I developed my model was to study the Enneagram closely, and study the findings of neuroscience closely, and think about the patterns each was exhibiting. Trying out various patterns, I feel I’ve hit upon a sound, common one.

I realize this explanation may be unsatisfying, but it’s the best I can do. This sort of analysis is simply the default way that I look out upon the world. It informs the filter of my personal rose-colored glasses. I am aware that there are other ways of looking out upon the world. I struggle, trying to peer through those other lenses too. But, at this stage of my life, time and again, I snap back into analysis mode. I can do it (at least I think I can); I just can’t describe how I do it.

But anyway, the more interesting question, I believe, is: Why have I directed my analysis machine toward the Enneagram and neuroscience? My interest in the neuroscience fields cited in this book is primarily as the body of work that must be cited in order for any theory of human personality to be validated. So this question really boils down to a simple one: Why does the Enneagram interest me?

In the early 1990s, in my late 20s, friends introduced me to the Enneagram. That was during the period of my first, ultimately doomed, marriage. At the time, I found the Enneagram to be a mildly interesting topic. No more nor no less interesting than the various topics featured week-to-week in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

But then, in the latter half of the 1990s, three life events shattered my child’s worldview. For one, I was divorced from my first wife, who I adored. For another, my mother, who I also deeply adored and who adored me even more, died of the degenerative disease known as ALS. Third, via the Internet, my financial fortunes took a turn toward the black. At the time, it felt as if God had traded my first wife and mother with me for a pile of cash. It was a trade I was not at all prepared to make.

The predominant feeling that coursed through me during the late 1990s was the disorienting sensation of vertigo. My simple understandings about myself, about life, about how the world works, were blown up. Understand that, prior to these banal life events of mine in the late 1990s, by far the saddest day in my entire life had been the day that the basketball team I played on in my youth lost a certain game. For years after that game, thinking back on it would bring upon a quickening of my heart; a piercing of pain. I now realize that when you’ve made it to 33, and losing a ballgame is the saddest day of your life, two things are true: (1) you’ve had one unusually lucky 33-year ride; and (2) you’re overdue for some doozers of a bad day.

Well, in the late 1990s, I experienced those doozers of a day. These days, I’m just like most all other adults. We all have been assigned baggage to carry around with us.

But here’s where I lucked out again. For most people, their truly awful days come separated in time. The time between sad days allow most of us to digest, and rationalize those days. Those days are like God beating us with a stick. If those days are separated sufficiently, we are able to heal in time for the next beating. However, we may develop flinches.

For me, all of these beatings came pretty much on the same day. It was as if God had beaten with me with a stick. But rather than pausing to let me get back up, He/She continued to beat me until I simply could not digest or rationalize those beatings under the worldview to which I was clinging.

In the late 1990s, God beat me senseless, and then tossed some coins on me for good measure. It is from this time that my healthy disrespect for America’s culture of money took hold. It’s not that I’m anti-money. What I’m anti is the worship of money. I oppose notions that purport to equate money with the feelings and sensibilities of us humans.

In the year 2000, I awoke with a different worldview. Although the content of that view was still fuzzy, I knew it was radically different from my old one. I’ll give you one quick example. Prior to my mother’s death, had you asked me if I was going to die some day, I would have answered “Yes.” But secretly, although I knew that death visited others, I suspected that I was going to be the one who cheated death. This wasn’t a fully formed belief or anything. Just an unstated assumption.

But then there came that Spring morning in 1999 when we stood over my mother’s freshly dug grave, lowered her coffin into it, and tossed dirt onto the box. The moment the dirt hit the box, I knew. I knew that some day, I too would die. Pondering this realization further over the coming years, I’ve come to accept that I am dying a little bit every day. (You probably are too.) Being an optimist, this realization has pushed me to places and practices I never would have imagined in my younger days. (I’m talking about things like Yoga, fasting, and meditation here.)

Well, in 2000, when my new worldview was cracking out of its egg, those same friends of mine once again handed me their Enneagram book. Nearly ten years had passed since the first time they handed me that book. The first time, my interest was mildly piqued. But in 2000, when I re-read that book, a blinding light went off in my head. This Enneagram model clearly and unambiguously explained not only my life and my own banal life events of the late 1990s, but it also explained just about every other human dynamic I could think of. For me, it still does.

This caught my attention. How could a mere model of human personality – a model with so flimsy a foundation – have so exactly predicted the course of my own life, and those of my friends and loved ones?

This question sent me headlong into the findings of neuroscience. My rusty math brain knew that if A is true and B is true, there must be road from A to B and back. Else, either one or both is false.

Essentially, what I was doing was a “certainty check”. When I re-read that Enneagram book in 2000, that old feeling of certainty hit me. To my sensibilities, this model of human personality was the Truth.

But by 2000, I had come to distrust these feelings of certainty. This distrust is what led me to neuroscience. I knew that if the Enneagram – or any personality theory (e.g. Myers-Briggs, Freud, etc.) for that matter – is true, it must find validation in the findings of neuroscience.

I think I’ve found that validation. This is what I’ve written up here. This book is about how one goes from the Enneagram to the brain and back. At least, it’s about how I get from here to there and back. Does this road serve you as well?  I’m eager to know.

I’ll conclude this Preface by saying one thing further. A few years ago, a friend said to me, in exasperation, “you have no ambition!” What this person meant by “ambition” was what current American culture means – namely, the quest for the ego triad: fame, money, and/or power.

I thought about this assessment of me, and realized it was correct.  As I mentioned above, I don’t care much for money anymore. I’ve certainly had my fill of what meager fame I’ve enjoyed. And I’m done with trying to exert control over other people.  Nope, it’s true. I’m done with conventional ambitions.

But then I responded that I do have other ambitions. Mine are these: love, wisdom, and health. Concerning health, for example, my ambition is to live to the age of 120. As I am writing this, I am in the midst of a three-day fast that will end upon the winter solstice. In my fast, I drink only water, and ingest no food. I am doing this primarily because I believe, based on what I’ve read, this will promote my health ambitions. Also, as an added bonus, I’ve found that my fasts tend to make me more loving, and tend to sharpen my understandings.

This is not to say that I’ll throw back any money sent my way, nor shirk from any fame that greets me, nor disavow any powers I possess. It is to say only that I’m done with chasing such things.

Where does this book fit into these present ambitions of mine? The answer is that it fits in the core. First, the Enneagram allows us to understand others, and thereby love them – even the “evil” ones among us.

Second, the Enneagram serves as a bridge to an astonishing array of domains. For example, I believe it rationalizes (without reducing) religion and spirituality. At the other end, it seems to rehabilitate the field of evolutionary psychology. It explains cultural differences (e.g. How and why is America different from Canada, and why both differ from France). It offers an elegant exit to the cul de sac in which the neuroscience of personality is presently stuck. It explains why Messrs. Freud, Jung, Adler, and Maslow came up with their particular theories of personality, and how each theory falls short. The topics are endless. Wherever human fingerprints are found, the Enneagram serves to explain much, if not most.

I find these explanations fascinating. I intend to write further about them. But before I venture too far down that ledge, please do me this favor: read this dull text. Then tell me whether or not there’s anything here.

Peter Savich

Los Gatos, California

December 18, 2005

Introduction: History is Calling

It is early in the 21st century, and America is uneasy. The crash of NASDAQ in 2000 was followed by the events of September 11, 2001. Together, these events served to jolt us awake. Our “Culture Wars” between the political Left and Right, which had been strident before the millennium, have since turned caustic and incendiary. Evangelical Christianity and bearish finance agree on at least one thing: whether it’s about “rapture” or crushing debt, America is standing on the precipice of a profound crisis.

If this sentiment is correct, then the question arises: What will save us? The answer that has come from American culture over the past half century is that technology will save us. But we now know that while an airplane can ferry a child to urgent, life-saving surgery, the same technology can be repurposed as a missile to vaporize us while we sit at our desks. We now know that what matters is not the technology, but rather the state of mind of the humans using the technology. What goes on inside our heads?

Today, many centuries after the Reformation, we stand at the apex of mechanization. Yet despite all our wondrous gadgets and the magic pills of pharmacology, we are faced with the truism we learned as children: It takes only one asshole to ruin it for the rest of us. “Why did he do it?”, we wonder. Why does one person respond one way, and a second person respond the opposite way? Stated another way, in these early troubled days of the new millennium, the oldest open question stares us straight in the face: What makes us tick?

This question has always been pressing. But it is not until these current days that the question has emerged as universally urgent. History is littered with the carcasses of societies that fumbled this question and consequently vanished from the books. But today, the threatened society – America – harbors the most awesomely destructive weapons ever devised by mankind, and the threat – “terrorism” – seems as nebulous, borderless, and inexplicable as metastasized cancer. Even more disturbing, each side seems to be saying the very same thing. Namely: “If we hit them hard enough, they will crawl away.”

The reason this dynamic is universally urgent today is that it seems unbounded. After September 11, while driving, did you ever catch yourself wondering if the oncoming vehicle might suddenly decide to veer headlong into you? If so, you suddenly realized how many innumerable assumptions of civility you had been making. Now if, as the Right in America tells us, the “terrorists” are “evil” and their motivation is to destroy order, civility, and freedom, then there truly is no safe place on earth. Conversely, if, as the Left in America tells us, the American leadership is unbalanced in its fears, then the prospect of global nuclear winter is as real, if not more so, as it was in 1962. And if that global prospect is not far-fetched, then the potential for global financial collapse is even greater.

So history seems to be laying down the gauntlet. It seems to be saying to us: “You’ve been on this planet for 100,000 years.  You’ve had all that time to figure yourselves out. Time’s up. Either figure out what makes you tick, or move aside and give the dolphins a chance to run things.”

Well, it’s not like we humans haven’t been trying. For the last few thousand years at least, many of us have proposed theories of personality to explain why different people sometimes respond differently. Among the most famous were the ancient Greek theory of humors, and the Ayurvedic system which originated in ancient India.

In the past century, the number of personality theories grew considerably. One major source of these theories was the circle of Sigmund Freud. A century ago, Mr. Freud developed a theory of personality based on the “pleasure principle”. This is the notion that we humans are born with the instinct to seek pleasure, and this instinct develops as we mature. “Disciples” of Mr. Freud, including Alfred Adler and Carl Jung, authored theories of their own. Decades later, others, including Abraham Maslow, proposed still new personality theories. And at the close of the century, the brain scientists (“neuroscientists”) took over this effort.

Science Meets Anti-Science

The good news is that this last effort may prove to be the most promising yet. The neuroscientific approach to cataloging human personality is the most promising because it involves measurements recorded by “objective” machines. Up until the close of the last century, studying human personality was a matter purely of inherently fallible human observation. But over the last ten years, technologies have emerged allowing recordings to be made in the deepest corners of living human brains – the deep corners from which human personality arises.

Two of these technologies are Positron Emission Topography (“PET”) and Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (“fMRI”).  Some of the critical brain research cited in this book rely on PET or fMRI or both.  PET and fMRI serve as “poster children” for the remarkable advances of science.

PET and fMRI are relatively new technologies.  Although the first version of PET was invented in 1973, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that it was useful for brain research.  Moreover, not until the late 1990s did PET began to approach widespread adoption among researchers. For example, it wasn’t until 1999 that the chief inventor of PET, Michael Phelps, was awarded the Enrico Fermi Presidential Award and elected to the National Academy of Sciences. 

fMRI was invented in 1990 at AT&T Bell Laboratories.  MRI, the technology upon which fMRI is based, is older.  fMRI improved MRI by enabling researchers to study the functioning of living brains, rather than just their structure.

Both PET and fMRI are very expensive technologies, ranging in the millions of dollars for full systems.  The largest current manufacturer of PET is CTI Molecular Imaging, Inc., with headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Mr. Phelps serves on the board of directors of CTI.  CTI’s sales of PET equipment did not begin to ramp up until the late 1990s.  As CTI explains, “[o]ne of the principal reasons for growth in the PET market is the increasing number of PET applications being approved for reimbursement by third-party payers, such as Medicare, Medicaid, private insurers, and HMOs.”

Currently, PET and fMRI equipment are owned by large, well-funded medical institutions and well-funded universities engaged in medical research.  As such, the recent explosion of neuroscience papers based on PET and fMRI comes from big research hospitals, and big medical research universities.  Standing on the shoulders of older brain research – including EEG research, the study of brain damaged patients, and the study and “sacrifice” of lab animals – the PET/fMRI research has brought neuroscience to a point of profound understanding of humanity.

Today, neuroscience has advanced to the point that one leading brain scientist claims that neuroscience will be the first to accurately map human personality.  Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison argues: “[T]he categories that have emerged from psychiatric nosology and descriptive personality theory may be inadequate, and [] new categories and dimensions derived from neuroscience research may produce a more tractable parsing of this complex domain.”  (Translation: “We’ll get there first!”)

Mr. Davidson’s claim brings to mind that branch of history that asserts Columbus discovered America in 1492.  Well, I suppose the assertion is true so long as we conveniently overlook the native population that preceded Columbus’ “discovery” by some ten thousand years or so.

One day not far from now, I picture Mr. Davidson landing on the shore of human personality and jabbing the flag of neuroscience into the sand.  The next thing Mr. Davidson hears is “ouch” because he has just impaled the New Age personologist who was already there, meditating on the beach.

This is the point of this book. The hypothesis of this book is that what the neuroscientists are about to find out about personality and the brain has already been described by a theory of personality known as the Enneagram.

If this hypothesis proves correct, it will probably surprise many people. One reason is because the Enneagram seems to have come to us straight out of the heart of the “New Age.”  Credit for modern development of the theory goes to a Chilean who has claimed that a “divine coma” inspired him to teach the theory.  The theory was introduced to America in the 1960s in Big Sur, California, at the Esalen Institute – recognized by some as ground zero of the New Age. 

Antecedents of the theory are generally muddled, with the experts mumbling vague things about the mystical branches of certain religions.  Credit for popularization of the theory goes in part to Jesuit priests.  Some adherents assert “sacred” properties of the numbers associated with the theory.  I could go on.

The point here is that with the Enneagram today, there are no white lab coats.  No experimental rats.  Nor any federal research grants.  Big hospitals are nowhere in sight.  And big medical research universities seem unlikely to touch the stuff with a ten foot pole.

Given the Enneagram’s modern emergence and early life in domains farthest from conventional science, it seems entirely possible that leading neuroscientists like Mr. Davidson have never even heard of the Enneagram.  At least, it seems unlikely that any have delved into the theory to any significant depth.

At the same time, reading the books of the Enneagram experts, one suspects that none of the experts has devoted significant effort looking into neuroscience.

That neuroscience and the Enneagram seem to be unaware of each other does not necessarily mean they are unrelated.  To my mind, the two domains are parallel trains running in the same direction, covering the same ground, and reaching the same conclusions.

If this is true, each side should know it.  Neuroscience could answer many open questions in the Enneagram (e.g. what part is nature?  what part nurture?).  The Enneagram, for its part, could serve as a map to guide and make efficient future neuroscience research on personality and mental health. More to the point, the Enneagram could help accelerate neuroscience’s revelation of human personality. Since history seems to be rather impatient these days, a little alacrity might come in handy.

If it is true that the Enneagram and neuroscience are describing the same thing, then somebody ought to tell them.  But who?

Why Me?

I claim that I am eminently qualified to draw a neuroscience-Enneagram connection. My qualifications are as follows: ability to read and ability to reason. At least I believe I have these abilities. 

I am neither an expert in neuroscience, nor an expert in the Enneagram.  In other words, when it comes to the subject of this book, I’m a hacker – a lay-person diving headlong into two information-intensive subjects.

What I write in this book about both subjects does not come from me.  This information comes from the experts in the respective fields.  These experts have published their findings and theories in books and in papers. 

The only qualification for making use of this information is the ability to read.  The only qualification for connecting one set of information with another set is the ability to reason.

In essence, what I am is a synthesist.  “Synthesis” is just a fancy word for “translation” and “matching.”  Enneagram experts talk in terms of “growth dialectic”, “return to essence”, and “spiritual work.”  Neuroscientists, for their part, talk in terms of “affective style,” “brain plasticity,” and “prefrontal asymmetry.”  The job of this book is to translate both into common English.  Once translated, the only job left is to match common words.  Since most of us learned matching as infants, the rest is child’s play.

But if this book is child’s play, then why hasn’t anyone else yet written it?  One possible answer is that I am mad, and my ideas here are madness.  But if that’s the case, you aren’t reading this anyway.[2]

The other possibility is that this book is the result of a rather odd combination of interests.  One confession I’ll make is that I’m a Recovering Mathie.  Although I swear I haven’t touched a drop of Math in years, I’ll confess that I still live with the Math Urge. 

The Math Urge is the compulsion toward a unified truth.  The Math Urge tells one that if two different sets of knowledge strike one as true, there must be a unifying theory connecting them if they are indeed true.  This urge holds no matter how divergent the two bodies of knowledge (see, e.g., Niels Bohr and “Contrari Sunt Complementa”[3]).

The second quirk of circumstance at play here is my reading taste.  I am a Recovering Mathie who, one day while walking through the bookstore on his way to the “Biology” and “Physics” sections, took a wrong turn and suddenly found himself lost among “Self Help” and “New Age”.  Before anyone could stop me and slap some sense into me, I had pored through the Enneagram books. 

I must confess that I found the Enneagram theory somewhat interesting.  Well, more accurately, I found it rather persuasive.  OK, I’ll admit it.  I found the theory breathtakingly compelling.  The Enneagram struck me as Truth laid bare.  In fact, the better I understand it, the more Truth it seems to reveal.

Now this testimony of mine, plus $2.82, will buy you the proverbial overpriced caffeine fix.  However, for buying the status of “consensus reality”, the Enneagram needs more.  It needs to be seen as truth through eyes of many more people than simply myself and a few others.

One way to approach consensus reality is through the technologies of neuroscience.  If the Enneagram is indeed true, then we should be able to look at humans through the eyes of PET and fMRI and recognize the theory as true.  That is, we should be able to do so if PET and fMRI are truth-telling technologies.  I believe they are.

At some point while reading the Enneagram books, it happened.  The Math Urge hit me.  I said to myself: “Self, if one thing is true, and a second thing is true, then there must be a road between them.”  If the Enneagram is true, and the findings of neuroscience are true, the Math Urge says there must be a road between them.

After pondering the problem for awhile, I stumbled upon what I suspect to be a road taking us from the Enneagram to neuroscience.  The point of this book is to describe that road.

Why This Book?

To be fully candid, I’ll say one more thing here about the road between the Enneagram and neuroscience: that road may not be so obvious.  The problem is, I believe, that some Enneagram experts seem to have missed some key notions at the edges of the theory, while other experts may have given undue emphasis to red herrings.

If the current Enneagram books were road maps, they would be like those tourist maps you get from rental car agencies in Hawaii.  Those maps tend to exaggerate the highways, and tend not to show the narrow dirt roads.  So in Hawaii, it takes close attention, dogged persistence, and a little bit of luck to find those dirt roads, and allow the rental car to go where no rental car has gone before.  (At least, not since the last time a misanthrope like you rented the car.)

The same dynamic holds with the Enneagram.  If one simply picks up an Enneagram book and tries to head directly from there to the brain, one will likely miss the turnoff to the dirt road that heads to the brain.  It’s far easier to miss that turnoff than it is to find it.

This doesn’t mean that I purport to be an expert on the Enneagram or neuroscience.  I don’t.  I’ll just say that I’m reading the Enneagram books and the neuroscience papers with the attention to detail and dogged persistence that perhaps only a trade secret lawyer poring over source code would bring to bear.  (O.K. I’ll confess that I’m also a Recovering Lawyer.)

I have been asked: “If your primary audience for this book is the people who control the PET and fMRI machines, why don’t you just send them an email and point them to the Enneagram?”

My answer is: “I did and I didn’t get any response.”

I suspect there aren’t many neuroscientists who venture into the “Self Help” section of the bookstore, or who would seriously consider information from that section as being useful to their work. Or even if they did, I suspect most would filter out tips from lay people like myself. Moreover, even if neuroscientists read the Enneagram books, it’s not altogether clear that they’d find the subtle turnoff toward the brain described in this book.

So the next question is: Why a book and not simply a paper?  The answer is that there’s a lot of ground to cover when one is trying to marry two fields that, on the surface, seem opposite.  Marrying opposites is tricky business requiring careful analysis.  Tough to fit this careful analysis into a paper.

Now, this book does not prove my claim that the Enneagram is reflected in the current findings of neuroscience.  In my opinion, satisfactory proof will come only via the use of brain technologies like PET, fMRI, and EEG. This book does not present direct Enneagram-brain research using these technologies. Instead, this book simply presents a detailed hypothesis, and provides reasoned arguments in support.

The primary purpose of this book is to invite neuroscientific research.  The technology exists today to conduct the research to find out if the Enneagram is in fact scientifically valid.  If it is, the gains to the understanding and treatment of mental illness alone would be staggering.

Helping Yourself

At this point, one might begin to suspect that this book is an uber-self-help book. After all, the Introduction began by referring to an impending global crisis, and the pressing need for humans to understand humans. So one might suspect that this book is not merely a self-help book, but rather a human-help book. Maybe this book even outlines a blueprint for saving the world.

Sorry to disappoint you but this book is far more prosaic than all that. In fact, not only is this book not a save-the-world book, it’s not even a self-help book. That is, after you read this book, I wouldn’t expect you to feel any better about yourself. You might feel that, but that is not the purpose of this book.

Accordingly, this book is not like the bulk of Enneagram books. Those books are placed in the “Self Help” section of the bookstore because their primary purpose is for people to help themselves feel better.

All this book seeks to do is to up the ante on the dialogue concerning possible neuroscientific underpinnings of the Enneagram. With this humble objective, one might ask: So what’s with the global crisis, save-the-world stuff at the start of the Introduction?

The answer is: We have to start somewhere. One place to start is to move toward a universal understanding of humanity. Now, even if this book manages to help move such a dialogue forward, and even if that dialogue ultimately leads to a profound understanding of humanity, we are probably decades away from this understanding reaching a degree of universality sufficient to impact society.

For example, I would suspect that a majority of scientists is not ready for profound truths to emerge from “pseudoscience”. Nor would I suspect religious types to be ready to trade their Satanic notions about “evil” for mundane recordings of blood flow in certain areas of the brain. Nor would I suspect the pharmaceutical companies to be ready to conceive of mental illness as a problem of degree, rather than of kind – a problem that may turn out to be best resolved by non-pharmacological means. I would suspect even that many Enneagram Hand Wavers are not ready to bequeath their field to the People for the Scientific Treatment of Rats, Monkeys, and Other Expendable Life Forms.

In other words, even if the hypothesis of this book proves true, adoption of that truth into society promises to be a slow and painful process. It promises to be slow and painful because a great many will not want to accept that truth given that it contradicts their own deeply held worldview or interest.

So I repeat once more the narrow purpose of this book. That purpose is to encourage at least one sincere neuroscientist to conduct studies to validate, reject, or modify this book’s hypothesis.

This Book

This book is divided into three parts.  Part One introduces the Enneagram.  It does not substitute for the Enneagram books of the experts.  Instead, the purpose of Part One is to sift out those aspects of the theory that are fodder for neuroscience.  But the experts apparently weren’t thinking about the brain when they wrote their books.  So Part One approaches the Enneagram from an oblique angle relative to the common treatment of the theory.

Part Two dives into the current findings of neuroscience.  This Part does not canvass all of neuroscience.  Instead, it focuses on certain recent findings concerning mood and fear.  There is a great deal of research in these areas.  Reasonably firm findings are emerging.

Finally, Part Three does the matching.  If Parts One and Two are well formed, then Part Three should fall out rather cleanly. But, of course, if it was all that clean, this book would offer a theory, not merely a hypothesis. So Chapter 9 identifies the holes remaining to be filled by research. The Epilogue then concludes this book with some provocative suggestions as to the potential consequences of the validation of this hypothesis. In short, validation may well harken the dawning of a new understanding of humanity. History might add: “And not a moment too soon.”


[1] “Optimism”, “pessimism” and “fear” are highly ambiguous terms. Later in this book, I assign precise definitions to them. So for now, try to resist racing too far ahead on how these notions might apply to the Enneagram or neuroscience.

[2] At the time I wrote this line, I was assuming that this book would be formally published. But now, since I’m self-publishing this book over the Internet, the distinct possibility remains that I am entirely mad. Caveat emptor.

[3] “Opposites are complements”.