Why Are People Like This? Part 1: Series Introduction

People perplex me. Everyone is different, but also everyone is the same. Less figuratively, the unique patterns of actions and behaviors of all of the people there are fall into some common categories. Less technically, there seem to be “types” of people. For the past few years, I’ve been studying people and personality in an attempt to understand people. More honestly, I’ve been doing this most of my life, often seeing school primarily as a place to interact with people and only secondarily as a place to learn. Fictions are interesting to me because of the characters involved. Narratives of all kinds, including histories, seem to me to be series of interactions of people. 

The philosophical questions around people seem endless. It’s not even clear what exactly the word “people” means. Yes, there are plenty of words with inexact or unclear definitions that we nonetheless use without issue, but what the word “person” means is at the center of many debates, including those regarding abortion and euthanasia rights. I have to use “human” and “person” non-interchangeably as one refers to a biological category and the other to some other category–which category is contested; I think it’s a social category–to me, to be a person is to be considered a person by other persons.. Dolphins might be people, but they’re definitely not human. Human embryos might not be people, but they’re definitely human. 

This raises some questions. Where does the word “human” come from? Where does “person” come from? How did the use of these words evolve over time? One could challenge the grounding of the claims to knowledge I make hereafter, but I proceed in the face of ever-possible skepticism. Who is included or not is an open question philosophically, but also empirically. Given the lack of consensus on these matters, I cannot claim to have a firm grasp on the language at the outset. However, what common experience does show is that there’s substantial disagreement on what or who qualifies as a person as well as what import that has. There’s at least two important dimensions of variability here: how narrow or wide one’s concept of personhood is, and how valuable or disvaluable people are judged to be. Very narrow concepts of personhood may include only a select group of adult humans, and at the limit case, no people at all. Very wide concepts of personhood may include many kinds of animals, machines, fictions, and nebulae. At the limit case, everything is people. 

My plan is to explain people in four main subseries, each of which will contain several subsubseries of several posts each. I intend to post multiple editions of these posts, as I add links to later posts into these earlier posts and as I incorporate feedback.

The first subseries will be about Personology. That is, the science of people. First I’ll introduce the foundations of Millon’s Bioevolutionary Model and then get into the Model itself. Along the way I will of course have my objections to Millon, but that’s the point. After this I’ll explore Millon’s categorization of personalities and make some attempts to expand upon it. 

The second subseries will be about Dissociation. First I’ll have to clarify the concept of dissociation, then I’ll move into a subsubseries on how it interplays with personality. Moving to a neighboring concept, I’ll next consider dissociation and identity. This is to build up to a subsubseries I’m eager to write, on Dissociative Identity Disorder and personality.

The third subseries will be about, in a word, context. The first subseries will explore Personology’s place in theoretical science. There aren’t exactly many university departments devoted to Personology, but to say there aren’t many devoted to studying people would probably raise many more objections. The next subseries will be on practice and applications to demonstrate the real-world pay-off for all of this theoretical work. Following these two subsubseries about the context of Personology, I’ll write two subsubseries on the context of personality. Socialization and situation strike me as the two most relevant kinds of context to consider.

The last subseries, and the one I’m most admittedly undecided about, focuses on evil. I’m starting to think, though, that I might be better off if I focused on good. Perhaps many ills of this world are created because we focus too much on avoiding or fighting evil and not enough on being or doing good. Anyhow, I’ll start by working out the concept, then develop categories. Once I have a working concept of evil (or good (or both)) I can move onto the role situation has relative to personality in human behavior. Finally, then, I’ll talk about freedom. 

My guiding motivation is simply to understand how people work. To be blunt, I’m rather weird, and my mind gives me an experience of life that’s in some ways quite different from that of most of the people I’ve encountered. More on me later; what’s important about my unusual experience here is that because I experience everything from my own perspective, the “default” of my model of how minds operate is based a lot on my own. This is normal, of course, but which parts are the weird parts? Studying philosophy has been interesting in part because it gives me a view into how people think about things. I enjoy studying psychologists and philosophers because I want to understand how they understand psychology and philosophy. Having students to teach in Philosophy classes has given me the opportunity to have serious discussions about substantive yet accessible and widely meaningful topics with a wide variety of people. 

This is all pretty academic so far, which seems bound to miss a lot of what people are. So I’ve taken dives into different arts and music, tried new things with whoever has been friendly enough to share some experiences, and browsed far corners of the Web. I will occasionally make direct use of some of this in the series. Movies, television, and video games all provide some especially rich ideas of personality. Some video games try to simulate people, which also provides some explicit models of personality to look into.

Intentional behaviors are actions. As one develops, actions cluster into more complex actions. For instance, when learning a piece on the piano, the multiple intentional key-presses through practice become intentional series-of-key-presses. Collections of actions related to a domain cluster into action systems. These action systems are activated in response to one’s environment. The development of a personality is the development of a coordinated system of strategic activation of action systems. In humans this usually takes around six to nine years. Through the lens of personality, then, we can describe and explain everything we do, to whatever degree of precision our science is developed to at a moment.

The task of the Personology subseries, then, is to work up the science of personality, Personology. There’s a way to systematically understand the ways personalities work, and don’t work, drawing on a wide range of disciplines, though centered on building a foundation in biology for application in psychology. We’ll begin from the nature of personality to develop a rigorous theory while confirming with what empirical evidence exists along the way.

The task of the Dissociation subseries is thus to explore what happens when the action systems are not unified, synchronically or diachronically. This is taken to be the default state of infants, and an uncommon state for adults. 

The task of the Context subseries will be to look to how groups of people act. While this sounds like an overwhelming task, the holomorphisms with personality will allow the work of the first two subseries to save us a lot of time.

Finally the task of the Evil subseries is to look at one natural application: making the world less bad. Another application is making the world more good. Understanding the interactions of personality, environments, and chance will enable us to understand why people do the things they do.

Next: Personology Part 1

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