The Hardware and Software of the Mind

Where the study of Personality went wrong in the modern Psychological discourse

Sun Dec 10 2023

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There is a crucial mistake that academics make when talking about the mind.

They talk in terms of hardware when they should be talking in terms of software.

In high school, you learn about biology and the anatomy of the brain. You learn about the lobes and cortexes and what connects to what.

But they don’t talk about the software of the brain. They don’t tell you what happens in the brain when people get stressed, angry, or ashamed. They might talk in terms of brain injury, where someone may need to undergo brain surgery. But when someone has depression… That is for the PHDs and licensed therapists to deal with. The brain’s software is too complex to be understood by the uneducated.

But that is not true.

Understanding the Software in the Brain

Computer hardware is to computer software as the brain’s lobes and cortices are to cognitive functions and processes.

Much like a computer operates with hardware and software, the human mind has the brain’s physical components and the immaterial elements like thoughts, emotions, and personality. Modern science has mapped the brain’s anatomy in great detail, yet it struggles to decode the subtler aspects of how we think, feel, and engage with our surroundings.

Because the mind’s “software” is poorly understood, we leave it to the experts.

But “experts” do not have all the answers. To make matters worse, they are incentivized to give prescriptions.

The brain’s “software” is often only examined when something goes wrong and a prescription is needed. This means that much remains to be explored and understood.

To make up the difference and understand what is going on in our brains, many people turn to personality tests. And that may be a good idea.

The Overlooked Gem: Personality Theory

Personality Theory is often dismissed as “pseudo-science.”

Those who favor measurable data are often quick to point out the shortcomings of personality tests when they are mentioned. Yes, the different personality theories floating around are imperfect; however, there is a paradox that the naysayers must wrestle with.

People are both similar and different.

All personality systems attempt to explain the dimensions by which we are similar and different. But one personality system does it better than the rest.

And that personality system is the Enneagram.

Why is the Enneagram so accurate? Because it bases the personality types on emotions.

The TL;DR on the Enneagram here.

Emotions are not the problem; they are the key

The default response of many to emotional struggles often involves quick pharmacological solutions rather than engaging in discussions.

The prevailing culture of immediate gratification pushes many to seek quick fixes whenever emotional distress appears. This approach, while sometimes necessary, can overshadow longer term solutions such as psychotherapy and personal reflection. The root causes of psychological issues are not commonly understood. But they are worth diving into (different personality types are predisposed to certain mental health issues).

Counter argument acknowledgment: I do recognize pharmacological interventions can be life-saving for many individuals with severe mental health conditions. A balanced approach that incorporates both medication and therapy is often the most effective way to address mental health issues.

There is value in conversations about emotions. And these conversations are necessary for addressing mental health issues at the root.

Carl Jung understood the importance of emotions.

From Jung to Now: The Shift from software to hardware

Carl Jung, inspired by Freud, pioneered the exploration of psychological archetypes.

Through psychoanalysis he attempted to map out what was happening inside the mind. He sought to explore the difference between stated preferences and revealed preferences. He was trying to map out archetypes or personalities. Over time, however, his subjective methods of study fell out of favor. They were replaced by the objective, reproducible experiments of behaviorism—like Skinner’s box and Pavlov’s dogs.

Science shifted into the realm of cognitive psychology and neuroimaging, the focus went to the brain’s hardware.

Freud and Jung’s psychoanalysis fell out of favor.

Counter argument acknowledgment: I do acknowledge the significant contributions of cognitive psychology and neuroimaging in advancing our understanding of brain function and its relationship to behavior and mental processes. These approaches have yielded invaluable insights that complement, rather than replace, the exploration of the mind’s “software.”

But there was another group of people that did a form of psychoanalysis that goes further back.

The Greeks decoded the software of the mind through “Archetypes”

The Greeks understood the importance of archetypes.

The Greeks had flawed gods. The gods weren’t meant to be perfect, and their emotions were on full display. Seeing how the gods acted helped the Greeks put into context their own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors and set up a culture where everyone was self-aware.

These archetypes served as cautionary tales, and they helped Greeks form a type of pattern recognition to understand people.

Today, we lack a shared set of archetypes. We have a gap in our collective understanding of emotions, thought patterns, and behaviors that drive our actions. We are waiting for the research and the experts to tell us how to feel, think, and act.

This limits our self-awareness.

But some see this problem and are trying to do something about it.

Advocates of the Less Tangible Aspects of Psychology

The following contemporary thinkers and practitioners are leading a renaissance in understanding the depths of our internal experiences, championing the exploration of emotions, personal narratives, and the subtle complexities of human behavior.

Dr. Brené Brown: Bridging Empirical Research and Emotional Insight

Dr. Brené Brown stands out as a trailblazer in integrating empirical research with the nuanced exploration of emotions. Her groundbreaking work on vulnerability, courage, and shame is rooted in extensive qualitative research, including thousands of interviews. Brown delves deep into the emotional landscapes of individuals, examining how emotions shape our identity, relationships, and behavior. Her ability to connect empirical findings with profound emotional insights has revolutionized how we understand human connection and resilience.

Esther Perel: A Fusion of Clinical Knowledge and Emotional Depth

Esther Perel, renowned for her work on relationships and intimacy, masterfully combines her background in clinical psychology with a rich exploration of the emotional aspects of human connections. Her approach goes beyond empirical data, delving into the intricate psychological dynamics that govern intimacy, trust, and desire in relationships. Perel's work is a testament to integrating scientific understanding with a deep appreciation of human psychology's less tangible, emotional aspects.

Jordan Peterson: Archetypes, Myths, and Personality Analysis

Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and cultural commentator, is known for his unique approach that intertwines the study of archetypes and myths with modern psychological practice. He advocates using the Big Five personality test, grounding his explorations of narrative and mythology in empirical psychology. Peterson’s work demonstrates how ancient wisdom and modern scientific understanding can be interwoven to better understand human behavior and personality.

Ray Dalio: Applying Personality Insights in the Business World

Ray Dalio, in his influential book ”Principles,” dedicates an entire chapter to personality, underscoring his recognition of psychology’s role in understanding human behavior, particularly in the context of business and leadership. Dalio’s approach reflects a pragmatic understanding of the importance of psychological insights in the professional realm, acknowledging that a deep understanding of personality can be crucial in effective decision-making and team management.

These thought leaders exemplify the synergy that can be achieved when empirical methods are combined with a deep exploration of emotions, archetypes, and personal narratives, offering a holistic approach to understanding human psychology.

The Future

A holistic understanding of the mind requires us to embrace both the seen and the unseen, the measurable and the immeasurable, the hardware and the software of the mind. The mind is not just a machine to be studied from the outside; it’s a rich, complex world waiting to be explored from within.

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