Sunday, May 24, 2009

Evolution and personality.

The historical direction of evolution has been to move toward greater complexity, more richly processed information and more elaborately pursued purpose. Complexity appears to rise inexorably and to pass through a threshold every once in a while where parts are integrated into new wholes.

One way to think about evolution is as a rise in complexity, control and consciousness. Stuart Kauffman, in At Home in the Universe, points out that the range of self-organization and spontaneous order in nature may be much greater than we’d previously supposed. Kauffman contends that complexity itself triggers self-organization, or what he calls “order for free,” so that if enough molecules pass a certain threshold of complexity, they begin to self-organize into a new entity such as a living cell.

Laws of complexity generate much of the order in the natural world and it’s only then that Darwinian selection comes into play, further molding and refining. According to the late Nobel Laureate in economics, Friedrich von Hayek, “Order generated without design can far outstrip plans men consciously contrive .... Evolution leads us ahead precisely in bringing about much that we could not intend or forsee.” The chief vehicle that moves economies and civilizations forward is unplanned experimentation among billions of people who don’t know one another.

Learning from experience, in the sense of acquiring new response patterns, doesn’t alter unconscious structures, according to psychodynamic theory. But if those parts of the personality that aren’t dominated by unconscious processes are sufficiently expanded, then there is a change in the relationship of the conscious to the unconscious and hence a difference in a persons overall functioning. Research in many different institutional settings and in many parts of the world, shows that those who adhere to more extreme political positions have distinctive personality traits separating them from those who take more moderate positions in the same setting.

The formal content of a person’s political orientation - left or right, conservative or radical - may be determined mainly by education and social class, but the form or style of political expression - favoring force or persuasion, compromise or dictation, flexible in policy or rigidly dogmatic - is apparently largely determined by personality.

A person’s personality is generally formed rather early and then tends to be relatively stable for life. Although people can and do acquire new skills and knowledge triggering significantly new behavior, central tendencies such as being extraverted or introverted, for example, are likely to persist.

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