The Adaptive Unconscious

Bo

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
.I don't know how we missed it so long!

I think ya'll will be highly gratified to find the scientific backing for much of what Gurdjieff said, as well as what we do here on this forum. You could say that our approach is even better than Gurdjieff's and backed by science.

He also encourages (as we do) gaining knowledge of your psychology/machine as one of the only ways to be able to master any part of it. There are details and studies to fascinate and delight everyone!
Wow, fascinating excerpts! , will be getting this book too! :cool2:, i also really like his writing style, it's easy for me to follow and he gives good examples.
 

Laura

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
Another book that can be read in concert with "Redirect" and "Strangers to Ourselves" is "Making Sense of People: Decoding the Mysteries of Personality" by Samuel Barondes. This one can be very helpful in analyzing yourself AND making more accurate inferences about what is really going on inside you and/or others because it gives you some tools to do so based on what psychologists call "The Big Five" which relates to basic categories of personality traits. These categories were the result of years of analyzing words used to describe human behavior. I'm going to include a sort of table of them here, taken from the book, that shows you that there are numerous words that can be used to describe the same, basic, trait.

The Big Five: Representative Words

High Low

Extraversion vs. Outgoing, Withdrawn, timid,
Introversion bold, talkative, silent, reserved,
energetic, assertive shy

Agreeableness vs. Warm, kind, Cold, unkind,
Antagonism cooperative, uncooperative,
trusting, generous suspicious, stingy

Conscientiousness Reliable, practical, Unreliable,
vs. Disinhibition hardworking, impractical, lazy,
organized, disorganized,
careful negligent

Neuroticism vs. Tense, unstable, Relaxed, stable,
Emotional Stability discontented, contented,
irritable, insecure imperturbable,
secure

Openness vs. Imaginative, Unimaginative,
Closedness curious, reflective, uninquisitive,
creative, unreflective,
sophisticated uncreative,
unsophisticated


There are ways to evaluate yourself or others on scales of these traits and thereby get a very good idea of your issues or the issues of another (taking temperament into account as well.)

For the people who are whacko (technical term for too off-the-scale to fix), Barondes has some things to say about changing yourself into what you truly want to be. Once you've figured out that what you think you are is maybe not what other people think of you, then you are faced with "how do I really become that good person I always imagined myself to be?" So, here's a bit on that:

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What’s a Good Character?

When Benjamin Franklin was an old man he revealed the secret of his fulfilling life. It was, he said, a technique that he had invented in his twenties to improve his personality.

The personality that Franklin began shaping was already standing on a strong foundation. Ever since childhood he was, according to his Autobiography, “the leader among the boys.”1 But this same assertiveness cost him dearly by leading his father to withdraw him from the Boston Latin School, where he had been enrolled to prepare him for the clergy. Even though Franklin was at the top of his class and seemed destined for Harvard, then a Puritan finishing school, his father decided that he was too irreverent to be a minister and apprenticed the 12-year-old to his brother, James, a printer.2

Fortunately the work in the printing shop allowed Franklin to indulge his passion for reading and gave him the opportunity for an ambitious program of self-education. In studying essays from a London periodical he learned to write so well that he was soon publishing satirical pieces in his brother’s newspaper. He was also strong-willed enough to escape from his apprenticeship. At the age of 17 he ran away to Philadelphia with only a few coins in his pocket.

During the next few years Franklin had his share of youthful adventures. But as he settled into young adulthood, he felt the need to take more charge of his life. To this end he decided to curb his passions, break some bad habits, and build up the moral part of his personality, generally called character.

The approach Franklin took to building good character began by identifying its essential ingredients. Franklin was already clear about the character traits that interested him, which he called “the moral virtues.” But when he got down to making a list of them, he ran into the terminological problem that continues to bedevil contemporary discussions of personality because “different writers included more or fewer ideas under the same name.” In Franklin’s case, he decided “for the sake of clearness, to use rather more names, with fewer ideas annexed to each,” and settled on 13 virtues, with brief explanations:

Temperance —Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

Silence —Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

Order —Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

Resolution —Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

Frugality —Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

Industry —Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

Sincerity —Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

Justice —Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

Moderation —Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Cleanliness —Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.

Tranquility —Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

Chastity —Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation

Humility —Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Having laid out his list, Franklin immediately got started in a methodical way. Recognizing that he could not acquire these virtues all at once, he set to work on them one at a time. Believing that “the previous acquisition of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others,” he arranged them in that particular order: “Temperance first, as it tends to procure that coolness and clearness of head, which is so necessary where constant vigilance was to be kept up, and guard maintained against the unremitting attraction of ancient habits, and the force of perpetual temptations.”

What Franklin particularly had in mind when starting with temperance was to stop drinking so much at pubs, which had led him astray in the past. So for the first week of his program, he concentrated on temperance. He then continued down the list, completing all 13 in a quarter of a year and then starting over again. Day by day he kept a record in a tiny book in which he “might mark, by a little black spot, every fault I found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue.”

He found this daily record keeping both informative and rewarding. On the one hand, he was surprised to be “so much fuller of faults than I had imagined”; on the other hand, he was pleased with “the satisfaction of seeing them diminished.” But despite his progress, Franklin kept returning to the program from time to time and always carried his list with him, even in old age. In assessing this lifetime of practice, he concluded,

“[T]hough I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”
Franklin had good reasons to be satisfied with the results. Within a decade of setting his self-improvement program in motion, he had built a printing and publishing business that would leave him well off. With this newfound financial security, he was able to pursue his interests in science and statesmanship, which led to brilliant achievements and worldwide fame. But even more than these trappings of success, Franklin was grateful for “that evenness of temper, and that cheerfulness in conversation” that he attributed to his devoted practice of “the joint influence of the whole mass of virtues, even in the imperfect state he was able to acquire them.” So convinced was he of the value of his program that he kept toying with the possibility of publishing a self-help book called The Art of Virtue, to supplement what he had already explained in his Autobiography.

Separating Character and Personality

Some of Benjamin Franklin’s ideas about personality have a great deal in common with those I have discussed so far. He, too, recognized that people’s individual differences could be thought of in terms of a set of traits. He, too, recognized that they are influenced by genes (which he called “natural inclination”) and by environmental factors such as culture (“custom”) and peers (“company”). And, being a lover of lists, Franklin would have been happy to organize his thoughts about his basic personality tendencies in terms of the Big Five.

Had Franklin assessed his own Big Five traits while drafting the self-improvement plan, he would have found much he was pleased with. The most obvious was his very high Extraversion, especially gregariousness, enthusiasm, and good humor. Also obvious was his self-confidence and freedom from negative emotions, signs of low Neuroticism, and his curiosity and creativity, signs of high Openness.

But Franklin wasn’t particularly interested in these characteristics, which he considered part of his God-given temperament and which he took for granted. Instead, he was raised to believe that the most important part of personality was its moral aspect, which was acquired through personal effort. To Franklin, this meant that he could build his own character by working on those virtues that seemed in most need of improvement. He also believed that good character was his ticket to both productivity and happiness.

Franklin was not alone in this belief. Through the ages philosophers and religious leaders have encouraged the development of good character. What mainly distinguished Franklin’s ideas from those of his predecessors was his elaborate practical method for self-improvement. Instead of simply singing the praises of a series of virtues, Franklin wrote out a personal to-do list and a step-by-step plan for upgrading one virtue at a time. Recognizing that backsliding is natural, he committed himself to repeated practice. Recognizing that some virtues, such as humility and order, were particularly hard for him to achieve, he decided to lower his standards and cut himself some slack. The result was a program that was explicit, realistic, and, as he looked back on it, seemingly effective.

Over the years, Franklin’s ideas about character attracted many admirers. He also had some critics who disagreed with the list of moral virtues he chose to emphasize. But despite such disagreements, most Americans who lived in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries shared the view that character was the most significant part of personality—and the part that could be improved through conscious effort.

Nevertheless, when scientific studies of personality were getting underway in the 1930s, the decision was made to separate the concept of character from the concept of personality. A leading proponent of this separation was Gordon Allport, whose research on categorizing personality traits I described in Chapter 1. Having been raised in a pious Midwestern Methodist family, Allport recognized that his personal values were not shared by everyone and had no place in his scientific work. As he put it:

Whenever we speak of character we are likely to imply a moral standard and make a judgment of value. This complication worries psychologists who wish to keep the actual structure and functioning of personality free from judgments of moral acceptability …. Now one may, of course, make a judgment of value concerning a personality as a whole, or concerning any part of personality: “He is a noble fellow.” “She has many endearing qualities.” In both cases we are saying that the person in question has traits which, when viewed by some outside social or moral standards, are desirable. The raw psychological fact is that the person’s qualities are simply what they are. Some observers (and some cultures) may find them noble and endearing; others may not. For this reason—and to be consistent with our own definition—we prefer to define character as personality evaluated; and personality, if you will, as character devaluated.
So when Allport scanned the dictionary to collect the raw material for a study of personality traits, he excluded words such as virtuous and noble that make moral judgments. Others who developed the Big Five followed his lead. Although they named some facets with moral-sounding words such as altruism and modesty, they insisted on using them in a purely descriptive way without expressing opinions about the merits of high or low scores.

The clinicians who defined the Top Ten patterns in DSM-IV also tried to withhold moral judgments. Trained to be open-minded about their patients’ behavior, they were guided by a professional code of conduct that used functional concepts such as adaptive and maladaptive rather than moral ones such as good and bad. Their functional view recognizes that there may be advantages and disadvantages to degrees of expression of different traits and patterns, and that any of them can be adaptive in certain circumstances.

But even though this functional view appears morally neutral, it recognizes that certain patterns are worth singling out because they tend to bring grief to those who express them and to those they deal with. In fact, the negative reaction to these troublesome patterns is the main reason they are considered maladaptive. And because such negative reactions are frequently expressed as moral judgments, it should come as no surprise that features of the Top Ten are also spoken of as “character flaws” in ordinary conversation. To emphasize this point, I have listed examples in Table 5.1.

Table 5.1 The Top Ten as Character Flaws

Pattern Character Flaw

Antisocial Crooked

Avoidant Cowardly

Borderline Unstable

Compulsive Rigid

Dependent Freeloading

Histrionic Vain

Narcissistic Selfish

Paranoid Untrusting

Schizoid Aloof

Schizotypal Bizarre


Identifying maladaptive patterns as character flaws isn’t just an idiosyncratic judgment. There appears to be a widespread preference for people who are honest, courageous, emotionally stable, flexible, productive, modest, generous, trusting, sociable, and only moderately quirky—the sorts of individuals with none of the ten flaws on the list. Put simply, behaviors that we consider signs of good character may also be adaptive because most of us recognize them as being desirable, prefer to deal with those who express them, and tend to stay away from those who do not.

We make such judgments all the time. And we place heavy emphasis on character in our intuitive assessments of people. Although our minds are naturally tuned to notice all of a person’s major traits, those traits that really grab our attention and dominate our thinking have a moral flavor that is linked to emotional reactions.

Why is this so? Why do traits with a moral quality have such a powerful effect on us? Is this just a reflection of the cultural influences that Allport emphasized? Or does something more elemental and deep-seated about them beg for explicit attention? Might there be moral instincts that incorporate specific emotions into our assessments of people?

Moral Instincts and Moral Emotions

The idea that there are moral instincts is not new, and one of its main proponents was none other than Charles Darwin. Having recognized that instinctive social behaviors of animals evolved by natural selection, Darwin concluded that the same was also true for humans and that this process contributed to the development of our moral feelings and actions. As he put it in The Descent of Man , “any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections being here included, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well, or nearly as well developed, as in man.”5

To grasp the significance of Darwin’s suggestion, it helps to translate it into the language of genes. What Darwin was saying is that social and moral instincts, and the brain circuits that control them, evolved in the same way as other innate mental processes of thinking and feeling—by the natural selection of relevant gene variants—and that a reason the human genome contains many gene variants that promote social and moral instincts is that such variants contribute to fitness.

In the case of those instincts that lead people to nurture their children and to be generous to other close kin, the selective advantage is easily identified: It is the perpetuation of shared genes, the great driving force of evolution. But why would our conscience and social instincts also impel us to be generous to strangers? Given that fitness is determined by competition between individuals, shouldn’t the genes that contribute to selfishness be the ones that are naturally selected? What forces would favor the selection of the genes and psychological mechanisms that restrain selfishness and promote what we call moral behavior?

A persuasive answer, which was proposed most forcefully by Robert Trivers,6 is that moral instincts—the instincts that lead us to behave in ways that benefit other individuals or the general social order—evolved because they also benefit those who express them. Put simply, primitive forms of these instincts, such as the cautious extension of generosity to strangers, led to the selection of people who returned the favor. The mutual benefits of such reciprocal altruism— doing favors for others so that they will do favors for you—is believed to have been one driving force behind the natural selection of gene variants that contribute to morality.7

As with other instincts, such as our instinct to speak, scientists believe that the instinct to reciprocate evolved by modifications of brain circuits that had already become established for other reasons. In the case of the moral instincts, Frans de Waal8 suggests that they may have had their beginnings in circuits for emotional contagion. One example de Waal gives of this primitive form of empathy is the instantaneous spread of fear from a bird that senses danger through the whole grazing flock, which immediately takes to the air. Another is the spread of crying from one infant in a newborn nursery to all the other infants in the room. In de Waal’s view, such emotional contagion may have been the basis for the next type of empathy, which he calls sympathetic concern. An example is the mutual embrace of a group of infant monkeys when one of them is in distress.

From these simple beginnings, new emotional brain circuits appear to have evolved9 that immediately reward both the donor and the recipient of altruistic behavior with positive feelings. The most obvious of these rewarding moral emotions10 is gratitude , the feeling that wells up in us in response to kindness and inclines us to reciprocate. This warm feeling transcends any conscious ideas we have about paying someone back. Instead of reacting like robots that are programmed to give tit for tat, we appear to have evolved a tendency to feel good about returning a favor.

The same is true of compassion , which adds emotional energy to our tendency to help those in need. We don’t simply make the rational calculation that someone requires assistance and that we will uphold the social order by coming to their aid. We also empathize with their pain and feel an inner sense of moral goodness as we bring them relief.

Even more unequivocally selfless is the emotion called elevation, the feeling of warmth and expansion when we simply witness or hear about acts of great kindness and compassion. If you have any doubt about the deeply ingrained nature of moral emotions, think of the tears of happiness that may come to your eyes when you observe something good happening to total strangers, tears that may flow freely not only in real life, but also while engaged in the make-believe world of the movies. Because of these properties, Jonathan Haidt has called elevation “the most prototypical moral emotion of all.”11

But Trivers also recognized that even though these positive moral emotions provide attractive internal rewards for moral behavior, they are not sufficiently powerful to override selfishness .12 To defend against cheaters and maintain the benefits of cooperation, we have also evolved moral circuits that are linked to negative emotions—moralistic anger, contempt, and disgust. When triggered by unfairness or by actions that seem morally repugnant, these negative emotions are usually coupled with facial and body reactions that instantly communicate disapproval and warn the violator to expect retaliation. They also generate internal feelings of indignation that may short-circuit our positive moral emotions and cause us to ostracize people who don’t play by the rules.

These negative moral emotions are surprisingly easily to elicit. For example, just seeing someone cut into a line— whether we’re in the line or not—may trigger moralistic anger; seeing a referee unjustly penalize our favorite football team may make us fighting mad; learning that a public figure has engaged in an immoral sexual relationship may elicit profound feelings of disgust and contempt; and even reading words that describe character flaws, such as those in Table 5.1, may arouse flickers of negative moral emotions. Such moral condemnation is so effective because it triggers the offender’s negative emotions and makes that person feel bad. Just a simple look of disdain or disgust may instantly elicit shame, embarrassment, or guilt. As we become socialized, the desire to avoid such mental anguish may keep us from even considering actions that would make others criticize us—from wearing the wrong clothes at a party to engaging in flagrant misconduct.

The ease with which we feel these positive and negative moral emotions underscores their power. However, as with other behavioral mechanisms, there are great individual differences.

Some people are strongly inclined to feel gratitude, compassion, and elevation, while others find it easier to feel disgust, anger, and contempt.

Some (antisocials) cheat all the time, while others (paranoids) specialize in detecting cheaters. Some (avoidants) are especially likely to feel embarrassed, while others (schizoids) are much less sensitive to disapproving glances. But even though considerable variations exist, most of us readily experience, recognize, and respond to each of the positive and negative moral emotions. All of this fits with Darwin’s idea that humans have evolved innate mental machinery that provides a biological basis for our moral behavior.

Different Cultures, Common Values

But instincts and emotions just provide the raw materials for our morality. Cultures provide the critical details. As Darwin pointed out:

[A]fter the power of language had been acquired, and the wishes of the community could be expressed, the common opinion how each member ought to act for the public good, would naturally become in a paramount degree the guide to action … [F]or the social instinct … is, like any other instinct, greatly strengthened by habit, and so consequently would be obedience to the wishes and judgment of the community.13
Such wishes and judgments of the community vary greatly from culture to culture, and this was the reason Allport felt obliged to eliminate the concept of character from the scientific study of personality. But a group of psychologists led by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman have challenged that decision.14 In a study of the major Eastern and Western religious and philosophical traditions, they found universal admiration for a large number of character strengths. The strengths that are highly valued in all cultures were combined into six categories, which they call the six core virtues:

Temperance —Strengths such as self-control and prudence that protect against excess

Courage —Strengths such as bravery and persistence that help accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal

Humanity —Strengths such as kindness and love that involve tending to and befriending others

Justice —Strengths such as fairness and citizenship that contribute to community life

Wisdom —Strengths such as open-mindedness and love of learning that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge

Transcendence —Strengths such as awe and spirituality that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning

Other researchers have also recognized universally admired character strengths, and Robert Cloninger, a psychiatrist, has developed his own way of categorizing them. In his view, character has three main components, which he calls self-directedness , cooperativeness , and self-transcendence .15

Self-directedness refers to control of the self by being purposeful, responsible, and resourceful. It overlaps with temperance and courage. Cooperativeness refers to forming mutually beneficial relationships with other people by being empathic, compassionate, and principled. It overlaps with humanity and justice. Self-transcendence refers to awareness of our participation in the world as a whole by being spiritual, wise, and idealistic. It overlaps with wisdom and transcendence.

But recognizing the universal admiration of core virtues doesn’t preclude variations in cultural emphasis. In fact, obvious differences exist in the degree to which cultures prize particular virtues. In thinking about a person’s character, it is important to pay attention to the way someone expresses both universal and culture-based values.

The Power of Culture-Based Values

To study differences in culture-based values, Richard Shweder, an anthropologist, divided the moral order of each culture into three categories that resemble those Cloninger used to describe individuals. Shweder calls his categories ethics of autonomy, which resembles self-directedness; ethics of community, which resembles cooperativeness; and ethics of divinity, which resembles self-transcendence.16

The first of Shweder’s categories, the ethics of autonomy, views each person as a free agent. Its main focus is maximizing the rights of the individual and achieving personal excellence. But the ethics of autonomy also balances the individual’s right to self-fulfillment with a commitment to equal autonomy for all. It is the predominant moral view in many contemporary secular cultures.

The ethics of community turns this around by sacrificing some autonomy for the benefits of having a defined place in an organized group. It views the family and the community as the most important entities, whose moral integrity and reputation must be protected by each of its members. It also views each person primarily in terms of social roles and obligations rather than individual rights. Its main moral themes—duty, hierarchy, and interdependence—have a central place in traditional cultures.

The third category, the ethics of divinity, permeates the traditional cultures in which religion plays a major role. It views each person as a manifestation of a grand universal design that transcends individuals and provides a spiritual basis for moral behavior. In some versions, each person is seen as a responsible bearer and representative of a holy legacy rather than as a mundane practitioner of reciprocal altruism. Breaking down a moral system into these three categories is not just an abstract exercise. It can also help us recognize how our own culture shapes our personal moral judgments.

Consider, for example, something as seemingly trivial as the proper way to address your father. To most contemporary Americans, who are largely governed by the ethics of autonomy, it is acceptable to use his first name. But in the traditional Hindu society that Shweder studied in India, it is considered extremely disrespectful, a violation of both family hierarchy (community) and the sacred natural order (divinity).

The same approach can also help us understand the basis for the passionate disagreement about the morality of abortion by two groups of Americans who are each convinced that they are right. In this case, the pro-choice group belongs to a subculture that emphasizes a version of the ethics of autonomy that gives priority to the individual woman’s right to protect herself from what she considers a very harmful outcome and downplays the right to life of the unborn fetus. In contrast, the pro-life group belongs to a subculture that emphasizes a version of the ethics of divinity that gives priority to the sanctity of all human souls.17

When considered in terms of the values of their cultures, it becomes easy to see how two people who are equally endowed with moral instincts and emotions can fervently defend such different positions. In judging the character of an individual, it is thus important to separate the person’s culture-specific values from his or her rankings on those values that are universally admired. Little relationship may exist between the religious, political, and philosophical worldviews mandated by their culture and their personal rankings on temperance, courage, justice, humanity, wisdom, and transcendence.

The Character of Benjamin Franklin

To see why it’s important to separate culture-specific values and universal values in judging a person’s character, let’s go back to Benjamin Franklin. One reason he makes a good subject is that there has been surprisingly intense disagreement about this aspect of his personality. Even though everyone recognizes Franklin’s great contributions as a founding father, many critics have challenged the depth of his morality. Much of this controversy centers on what Franklin included in his list of 13 virtues, as well as on what he left out. If you look over the list, you will see that almost all of the virtues are simply tactics for self-regulation and self organization— the ethics of autonomy . To his fans, Franklin’s practical tactics for success are worth emulating. A recent example is Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which describes a stepwise plan for getting ahead that was inspired by Franklin.18

But critics are disappointed in Franklin’s focus on the practical and condemn him for neglecting the higher and more inspiring aspects of morality. He has even been accused of representing “the least praiseworthy qualities of the inhabitants of the new world: miserliness, fanatical practicality, and lack of interest in what are usually known as spiritual things …. He had a cheap and shabby soul.”

Walter Isaacson, who has summarized several hundred years of such polarized assessments, believes that these divergent opinions are largely culture-based, a reflection of a split in the American view of good character that was already developing in Franklin’s lifetime. As Isaacson put it, “Franklin represents … the side of pragmatism versus romanticism, of practical benevolences versus moral crusading … of religious tolerance rather than evangelical faith … of social mobility rather than an established elite … of middle-class virtues rather than more ethereal noble aspirations.”20

Franklin would probably agree about this cultural split. But he would then try to convince you that he had picked the right side. He might begin by pointing out that, instead of being purely selfish, his emphasis on self-development was also designed to help others. And instead of having a “cheap and shabby soul,” he would argue that he was devoted to many high ideals, such as human rights, and had done a lot to implement them. As for spirituality, he would tell you that he valued that, too, but that he had replaced the puritanical God of his childhood with a benevolent one who “delights in the happiness of those He has created … and delights to see me virtuous.”21 To express his belief in this benevolent God, Franklin added the following daily prayer to his table of 13 virtues:

O powerful Goodness! bountiful Father! merciful Guide! Increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. Strengthen my resolutions to perform what wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to thy other children as the only return in my power for thy continual favors to me.
So was Franklin right to conclude that he was virtuous? Was he right to consider writing The Art of Virtue as a guidebook for us all?

One way to assess his character is to consider how he ranked on the six universally admired categories of virtues. Focusing on them helps minimize the influence of our culture-based values.

Starting with temperance, defined as “strengths that protect against excess,” Franklin readily acknowledged that he had a lot of excess to protect against. In fact, his whole self-improvement project was explicitly designed to rein himself in. So it’s not an accident that his list of virtues featured efforts to control himself. And these efforts may have worked. From what we know of Franklin’s life, he deserves a fairly respectable score on temperance.

Turning to courage, Franklin gets high marks. A notable example is the way he faced down vicious personal attacks from the British Crown before and during the American Revolution. And he frequently put himself in harm’s way to defend causes and principles he believed in. This didn’t spare him from being criticized by the more steadfast John Adams, who believed that Franklin was too willing to compromise in difficult negotiations. But to Franklin, this was a sign of shrewdness rather than cowardice.

When it comes to Justice, Franklin’s score skyrockets. He was, in fact, deeply committed to fairness and good citizenship. His recognition of the value of mutual assistance was already clear by age 21, when he organized the Junto, a club of a dozen up-and-coming young men who met regularly on Friday evenings to educate and inspire each other. Franklin’s interests also extended to the much larger community, which he enriched by helping to found many important institutions, from a lending library and a fire brigade to the University of Pennsylvania and the United States of America.

Moving on to humanity, Franklin deserved only a middling score for the warmth of his personal relationships. As Isaacson pointed out, “His friendships with men … were more affable than intimate. He had a genial affection for his wife, but not enough love to prevent him from spending fifteen of the last seventeen years of their marriage an ocean away. His relationship with her was a practical one.22” Joseph Ellis considers Franklin a master of superficial interpersonal relationships, “a man of multiple masks … whose most sustained expressions of affection came late in life with his grandchildren.” 23 But Franklin was hardly a cold fish; closeness to others was just not his highest priority.

In wisdom, however, Franklin was at the very top
: creative, curious, open-minded, eager to learn new things and to provide counsel to others. These exceptional strengths were apparent in his many practical inventions, in his famous research on electricity, and in his brilliant achievements as a diplomat and statesman. Most important, Franklin was eager to apply his broad knowledge to help others live richer lives.

But unlike Franklin’s high score on wisdom, which is generally accepted, his high transcendence is not obvious to everyone. Being known for his down-to-earth practicality, many people overlook Franklin’s dedication to great causes, such as religious tolerance, and to the development of the physical sciences that help us find our place in the universe. They also may fail to see that his commitment to self improvement was not only designed to get him ahead, but was also an expression of his lofty idea that everyone can live a rewarding life if they set their mind to it. So Franklin did, in fact, find meaning in great ideals, and he certainly felt a sense of awe about the natural world. But he chose to express his transcendent feelings in practical actions rather than in flowery rhetoric.

When taken together I think that Franklin had good reason to be pleased with his character as well as his achievements. His is not a simple story of a self-made man. It is also the story of a man who was serious about his character, a man who learned to moderate his weaknesses and build on his strengths. Proud though he was of what he had made of himself, he was also aware of his limitations and looked with tolerant amusement at those of others.

Why Character Matters


When Gordon Allport decided to “keep the actual structure and functioning of personality free from judgments of moral acceptability,” he opened the way to objective assessments of individual differences in our basic traits. But sizing up people is never completely objective. When we first meet people, we don’t just notice their Big Five traits. We also form an intuitive impression of their character.

As we get to know them better, we flesh out details of their objective and moral characteristics. But the moral ones tend to stand out because they speak most directly to our emotions, drawing us to those individuals with a mix of virtues that we find attractive and turning us away from those who do not. Although our description of a personality relies heavily on information that is contained within the Big Five and the Top Ten, we are most moved by the moral and emotional assessment of the whole package, using both universal and culture-specific criteria.

Allport recognized the importance of such moral assessments. He was just fearful that they would muddy up the rational judgments that science depends on. But in making sense of a person, we have good reason to remain deeply interested in their character because it gives us a very meaningful framework for dealing with them. And this moral perspective is particularly relevant when considering the person’s life story, which I turn to in the following chapter.
 

aragorn

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Reading Wilson's book, this one passage stood out for me. Here he describes the role of the consciousness in the typical man. Saying basically the same thing as G about the mechanicalness of us humans, but in modern terms :)

"Consciousness is like the child who “plays” a video game at an arcade without putting any money into it. He moves the controls, unaware that he is seeing a demonstration program that is independent of his actions. The child (consciousness) believes he is controlling the action, when in fact the software in the machine (nonconsciousness) is completely in control" (p46).
 

Psalehesost

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Laura said:
We've been passing this around and a few people here have the kindle version. After finishing it, I can say that the importance is not that it tells us something we didn't already know, but that it describes in modern cognitive science language exactly what Gurdjieff was talking about in terms of humans being machines. I don't think that people realize exactly how TRUE that is. It is also somewhat frightening to realize how mechanical we really are, how we do, indeed, lie to ourselves all the time, and that the only way we have of knowing what is going on inside ourselves is by inference and feedback from a network. It really is TRUE.

But the only way you can have of being able to observe yourself is if you KNOW WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING AT AND FOR! That's why this book is so important.

Realizing just how true what Gurdjieff proposed about human psychology could scare you to death... that's the real terror of the situation: that you are nothing BUT a machine that thinks in programmed loops and lies to your conscious mind which then lives and breathes lies itself. Sheesh!

But, as I just said, there is hope: inference and feedback. And that's the premise we have been working with for years here.

Also, the writing exercises come into play dramatically here on the forum because writing about things is way more important than self-reflection.

Combine that with the EE program which can release the steam of backed up emotional pressure, and we have some hope. But, as Wilson points out (and Gurdjieff said, too), it isn't easy. Facing the truth about yourself, that you are not who you think you are and that you lie all the time, is really tough. But it is starting to look like the only game in town that has any chance of working and that is based on science, not wishful thinking.

P.S. If anybody can't get a copy of the book, send me a PM.
Reading these latest threads - this one, along with "Do you know when you are lying to yourself?" and others - has, in processing it, increasingly made me lose faith in the inner narratives - realizing that the "narrative self" is always a fraud by its very nature, and that it cannot ever be anything else - no matter how it describes itself - which, in a sense, makes everything very "equal".

"My" self-image has begun to crumble in a big way - and there's a growing indifference, in seeing that all concerns based or focused on it are inherently bogus.

Regarding self-reflection, what I've done in processing this is to a great part different from narrating to myself - feeling and sensing deeper into myself - I don't know exactly what this part of my mind then reached is, but it's wordless and seems driven by feel. And in a way it seems much more "real" than the narrative self.

Also, some thoughts on some of what is discussed and excerpted here:

I now have some thoughts - my present understanding - to network below, hopefully not going off into "left field":

Regarding the ideas of "self-improvement" based on character and traits and so on, I think the "self" can be changed by such efforts, and that it can make one a "better obyvatel"; but that unless something fully ruptures first, it - and also the "conscious mind" learning some "tricks" to influence the adaptive unconscious - would simply amount to "improving" (growing) the false personality.

I think if the adaptive unconscious rules the "conscious mind", then this would perhaps be the "wrong work of centers", other centers driving the thinking center. If this is corrected, I think the "conscious mind" is however still part of the lower self; in Gurdjieff's analogy of the coach, it would mean that the driver of the coach takes charge, at least in part - a major functional improvement in the machine, but one would still be fully mechanical until the real master (higher self) in turn takes charge of it.

In the introductory chapter to Beelzebub's tales, Gurdjieff remarks that the "conscious mind" we know is "fictitious" and that he thinks the "subconscious" is the real mind and ought to be predominant in man - here's an attempt to make sense of this: The "subconscious" seems to correspond (he implies this in part of the text) to the essence, and the emotional center is "the soul" of the essence (he states this in a lecture in Views from the Real World). If the "fictitious self" is overthrown, that would mean the false personality now driving the lower thinking center is gone from its helm. With the essence more in charge and working by itself, the thinking center could then function without being hijacked and be used for real reflection.
 

herondancer

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Psalehesost said:
Regarding the ideas of "self-improvement" based on character and traits and so on, I think the "self" can be changed by such efforts, and that it can make one a "better obyvatel"; but that unless something fully ruptures first, it - and also the "conscious mind" learning some "tricks" to influence the adaptive unconscious - would simply amount to "improving" (growing) the false personality.
Why would it be a bad thing to become a better obyvatal? Even if that is all that was accomplished, G. probably would have considered it a great improvement over the general level of many people. It would fall in line with "faking it" till you make it. The more Ben got his own life in order, the more other people developed confidence in him. He was able to do for others, create improvements in the lives of those around him because they were willing to listen to him.

By cultivating the habits that make for a decent, responsible human being, it may slowly open up the communication lines for something more. And even if it doesn't, the world would still be a better place. It's win-win imo :)
 

Psalehesost

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
herondancer said:
Psalehesost said:
Regarding the ideas of "self-improvement" based on character and traits and so on, I think the "self" can be changed by such efforts, and that it can make one a "better obyvatel"; but that unless something fully ruptures first, it - and also the "conscious mind" learning some "tricks" to influence the adaptive unconscious - would simply amount to "improving" (growing) the false personality.
Why would it be a bad thing to become a better obyvatal? Even if that is all that was accomplished, G. probably would have considered it a great improvement over the general level of many people. It would fall in line with "faking it" till you make it. The more Ben got his own life in order, the more other people developed confidence in him. He was able to do for others, create improvements in the lives of those around him because they were willing to listen to him.

By cultivating the habits that make for a decent, responsible human being, it may slowly open up the communication lines for something more. And even if it doesn't, the world would still be a better place. It's win-win imo :)
I didn't suggest that it would be a bad thing to be a better obyvatel - I saw a risk in accomplishing this through growth and development of false personality. But after thinking about it, I think this concern amounted to black and white thinking - and an excuse (adaptive unconscious strikes again) not to make efforts.
 

nicklebleu

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Laura said:
Aragorn said:
This was interesting! Some parts tie closely into what Goleman and Porges are saying (e.g. prefrontal cortex, neuroception). I'll get the book :)
This one is definitely going to go to the top of our "must read" list. It was published in 2002, I don't know how we missed it so long!

I think ya'll will be highly gratified to find the scientific backing for much of what Gurdjieff said, as well as what we do here on this forum. You could say that our approach is even better than Gurdjieff's and backed by science.

He also encourages (as we do) gaining knowledge of your psychology/machine as one of the only ways to be able to master any part of it. There are details and studies to fascinate and delight everyone!
Will buy the book ... don't know how I missed this thread! :(

The pile of unread books is growing faster than I can process them ... is there somewhere a course in speed-reading available?
 

Biomiast

Jedi Master
Hi to all,

I have listened the audiobook and I was pretty shaken yesterday. To see how we do what our unconscious said to us is amazing. More amazing than that, our conscious mind makes up excuses and invents reasons to our behaviour, causing us to think we have decided with our conscious thought. Indeed, we are prisoners of our minds. :shock:

I know Gurdjieff talked about these things, but I thought he was talking half metaphorically, yes I can not control myself, but if I think about my actions consciously, I can discern the difference between conscious and unconscious thought. The experiments show otherwise, all the time, we are unaware how our unconscious mind interprets our environment and tells us what to do. Reminds me of anart saying we can not think the way we think and we need a network to break free.

On a side note, I was wondering if the adaptive unconscious is related to Von Economo Neurons, or spindle neurons because insular cortex, the brain region containing spindle neurons are associated with complex emotional processing, body homeostasis, perception, self awareness and motor control.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insular_cortex

More information on VENs and their role in intuition as well as rapid decision making.

Von Economo neurons (VENs) are a recently evolved cell type which may be involved in the fast intuitive assessment of complex situations. As such, they could be part of the circuitry supporting human social networks. We propose that the VENs relay an output of fronto-insular and anterior cingulate cortex to the parts of frontal and temporal cortex associated with theory-of-mind, where fast intuitions are melded with slower, deliberative judgments. The VENs emerge mainly after birth and increase in number until age 4 yrs. We propose that in autism spectrum disorders the VENs fail to develop normally, and that this failure might be partially responsible for the associated social disabilities that result from faulty intuition.

When we interact with another person we create a mental model of how that persons thinks and feels. We are likely to have initial, quick intuitions about the person, which are then followed by slower, more reasoned judgments. The mental model is a synthesis of our quick intuitions and our slower deliberations. Intuition uses probabilistic logic whereas deliberation uses inductive and deductive reasoning. Both intuition and deliberation are influenced by emotional value judgments.

...

We experience the intuitive process at a visceral level. Intuitive decisionmaking enables us to react quickly in situations that involve a high degree of uncertainty which commonly involve social interactions. Frequently we do not have the luxury of sufficient time to perform deliberative cost benefit analyses to determine the most appropriate course of action, but instead must rely on rapid intuitive judgments. ACC and FI are active when subjects make decisions under a high degree of uncertainty. These areas are involved in the subjective experience of pain, which is powerfully magnified by uncertainty.

...

We hypothesize that the VENs and associated circuitry enable us to reduce complex social and cultural dimensions of decision-making into a single dimension that facilitates the rapid execution of decisions. Other animals are not encumbered by such elaborate social and cultural contingencies to their decision-making and thus do not require such a system for rapid intuitive choice.
http://www.allmanlab.caltech.edu/PDFs/AllmanTICS2005.pdf
 

Laura

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Thanks for those comments, Biomiast. Indeed, if this book is read with real attention, the true terror of the situation as Gurdjieff described it cannot be denied. And yes, the ONLY hope is to use inference and a network.

Another tool that can be used is Louise Hay's little book "You can Heal Your Body" which relates different physical problems to the most likely unconscious issue. It's not 100% right but it opens a door to thinking about how the body speaks to us about what is really going on when we can't decipher things ourselves.
 

Psalehesost

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Biomiast said:
To see how we do what our unconscious said to us is amazing. More amazing than that, our conscious mind makes up excuses and invents reasons to our behaviour, causing us to think we have decided with our conscious thought. Indeed, we are prisoners of our minds. :shock:

I know Gurdjieff talked about these things, but I thought he was talking half metaphorically, yes I can not control myself, but if I think about my actions consciously, I can discern the difference between conscious and unconscious thought. The experiments show otherwise, all the time, we are unaware how our unconscious mind interprets our environment and tells us what to do. Reminds me of anart saying we can not think the way we think and we need a network to break free.
Laura said:
Indeed, if this book is read with real attention, the true terror of the situation as Gurdjieff described it cannot be denied. And yes, the ONLY hope is to use inference and a network.
Until I've worked through more of "Strangers to Ourselves", the first chapters of McRaney's "You Are Not So Smart" - in conjunction with having read this thread and some other information - has had some of that effect on "me".

It sufficed to make clear that we can't have any idea about whether any memory, any conclusion about ourselves as we are - or were in the past - or any meaning we in general assign to things, and so forth, is just an automatic lie, "interpretation" or assumption from or driven by the adaptive unconscious. In general, we are "lie machines" - at present, fundamentally, lies are our nature.

Certain long-standing inner dynamics, looking at their effects and results, have been exposed as being a means for the adaptive unconscious to keep a near-constant, near-absolute control, as a means to always feel "certain" and "right" in relation to some perspective (often one "arrived at" on the spot), and as being based on constant, incessant lying to myself.


It seems to me that Gurdjieff was right and that the "conscious mind" in itself is also completely mechanical. That we merely experience "what happens" in or through it and confuse it for our "self". That in us which in itself experiences, on the other hand, has the potential to Be(come) more - but as we are it is solely a passive observer of our existence until the machine comes to actually, fully work correctly. The "conscious mind" which is merely experienced, meanwhile, thinks mechanically and goes "I, I, I" as it produces mostly lies - and beneath it, most of the time the adaptive unconscious rules nearly absolutely.
 

cubbex

The Living Force
I thought it was more or less as the automatic part of our centers, and it looks like. I'll read all posted here, looks very interesting.
 

cubbex

The Living Force
I've read it, so much thinking and ideas. For example the method free association used in psychoanalysis, can be used to get the unconscious to the conscious and as has been said, maybe we can use this outwardly, connecting the dots of our behavior, our actions to understand ourselves instead of connection our internal images and thoughts. Though, some say the thought exist through people, and through communication, because we give sense to this world and meaning. To understand what we are we need to maybe, understand why we gave such meanings and why we communicate in every way with the world?

Pretty interesting. If we can't control our unconscious - that, to be honest I've never found why we need to - we can control external parts of ourselves.

Laura said:
We've been passing this around and a few people here have the kindle version. After finishing it, I can say that the importance is not that it tells us something we didn't already know, but that it describes in modern cognitive science language exactly what Gurdjieff was talking about in terms of humans being machines. I don't think that people realize exactly how TRUE that is. It is also somewhat frightening to realize how mechanical we really are, how we do, indeed, lie to ourselves all the time, and that the only way we have of knowing what is going on inside ourselves is by inference and feedback from a network. It really is TRUE.

But the only way you can have of being able to observe yourself is if you KNOW WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING AT AND FOR! That's why this book is so important.

Realizing just how true what Gurdjieff proposed about human psychology could scare you to death... that's the real terror of the situation: that you are nothing BUT a machine that thinks in programmed loops and lies to your conscious mind which then lives and breathes lies itself. Sheesh!

But, as I just said, there is hope: inference and feedback. And that's the premise we have been working with for years here.

Also, the writing exercises come into play dramatically here on the forum because writing about things is way more important than self-reflection.

Combine that with the EE program which can release the steam of backed up emotional pressure, and we have some hope. But, as Wilson points out (and Gurdjieff said, too), it isn't easy. Facing the truth about yourself, that you are not who you think you are and that you lie all the time, is really tough. But it is starting to look like the only game in town that has any chance of working and that is based on science, not wishful thinking.

P.S. If anybody can't get a copy of the book, send me a PM.
Incredible. So I was more or less right when I thought that psychology were false attempts to reach the esoteric knowledge, but I has been reaching it ind different ways, structuring the knowledge in a more precise way. I was not that lost.
 

Gawan

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Laura said:
Thanks for those comments, Biomiast. Indeed, if this book is read with real attention, the true terror of the situation as Gurdjieff described it cannot be denied. And yes, the ONLY hope is to use inference and a network.
I must admit I was a little bit depressed after reading the book and also already in between and brought up some things.

And I also enjoyed his writing style cause he brought up the studies and examples from previous chapters again. The kindle version is nonetheless not the best one imo, no links to the notes for example.
 

dantem

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Great read indeed! I'm half-way through it and that sub at page 63 was really interesting:

Is The Adaptive Unconscious More Sensitive To Negative Information?

Now we come to the most speculative point about differences between nonconscious and conscious processing: there may be a division of labor in the brain, in which the unconscious is more sensitive to negative information than the conscious self.
[...]animals and humans possess preconscious danger detectors that size up their environments very quickly. The sensory thalamus evaluates incoming information before it reaches conscious awareness. If it determines that the information is threatening, it triggers a fear response. In evolutionary terms, it can be seen how adaptive it is for the brain to trigger a fear reaction to be dangerous (i.e. negative) stimulus as soon as possible.
[...] There is increasing evidence that positive and negative information is processed in different parts of the brain, though the extent to which these different brain regions map onto conscious versus nonconscious processing is unclear. There is at least the possibility that the adaptive unconscious has evolved to be a sentry for negative events in our environments (19)

(19) - For evidence that negative and positive information is processed in different regions of the brain, see Davidson (1995) and Cacioppo, Gardner, and Berntson (1997).
This one goes directly to Mouravieff and Gurdjieff and their subdivision of the 'centers' in two halves.

Then the way he talks about the origin of these 'negative informations' reminds me of De Becker's Gift Of Fear and Gladwell's Blink books. There are nonconscious processes that can save your life, or let you get an unpredictable grip on certain situations.

Now having a negative part of a Higher Intellectual Center make much more sense in evolutionary terms, especially if 'evolutionary' is considered in G's terms. Just consider it as being an interface with a nonconscious part of ourselves that remains connected with information that comes from one's own soul experiences, even if we're not aware of them. It's like the 'negative emotions' that are based on 'love' - as M's tells us - that could be seen as information (light/knowledge).

At least this is what popped up in my mind :huh:
 

Oxajil

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dantem said:
Just consider it as being an interface with a nonconscious part of ourselves that remains connected with information that comes from one's own soul experiences, even if we're not aware of them. It's like the 'negative emotions' that are based on 'love' - as M's tells us - that could be seen as information (light/knowledge).
Hi dantem, I don't really understand the above. Could you please elaborate?
 
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