Sunday, January 08, 2006

Toying With Theoretical Models - Part IV: Towards A Layered View

This is part IV of a series of essays:

Part I Motivations

Part II Obvious Problems

Part III What Evidence Must Be Addressed

Part IV Towards A Layered View

Part V Beauty and the Beast

Part VI The Critical Thoughts

Readers who have followed this series this far will be starting to wonder when I'm going to derive anything from the preamble I've done so far. Starting with this essay, I will start to put forward a model that I've been developing in my mind for quite some time.

The basics of the model are actually quite simple - it is based on two related, but somewhat independant concepts.

The first is the distinction between behaviour and identity. Back here, I discussed the disjoin between public behaviour and core personality traits. Essentially, what I am arguing is that the public behaviours of individuals are "filtered" expressions of some core personality traits. In the extreme situations involving psychopaths, the behaviour may be completely decoupled from the individual's core attributes. In essence, behaviour is not necessarily identity.

The second aspect of the model is the notion of core attributes of personality. These are the "core of our being", the very basis against which individuals interpret their life experiences. In most cases, we derive our public behaviours from the layers of experience and response that we evolve in life.

Behaviour is connected to identity at some level. For the sake of relative simplicity, it is probably reasonable to assume that the connection is somewhat elastic, allowing for individuals to adapt their behaviour to the situations they find themselves in.

Core attributes should be seen as existing along some kind of continuum, rather like the spectrum of light used in physics. Individuals may fall anywhere along the length of the spectrum. In the case of sexuality, the first axis is that of gender orientation. People may be strongly heterosexual, strongly homosexual, or they may well fall somewhere in between, with some attraction to both genders. Like the interpretation of the MMPI, there are other axis that intersect for with the gender attraction axis, rounding out the individual's overall sense of sexual identity. The degree of flexibility that an individual experiences in terms of behaviour is likely related to how close to the polar extremes of the behavioural spectrum for a given attribute the individual lands.

Although an individual's core attributes may evolve over time, presumably influenced by life experience, they would do so at relatively slow rate, and likely over a relatively small range when compared with the variety and range of behaviours that an individual may present.

The notion of human behaviour (especially sexual behaviour) as similar to a spectrum is elegantly described in The Sexual Spectrum by Olive Skene Johnson. (Certainly far more elegantly than this writer is capable of)

The notion of separating behaviour from "core identity" attributes is derived from a combination of sources:

1) A University textbook entitled "Abnormal Psychology" - in particular the chapters describing criminal psychopaths. {I'm pretty sure that book is out of print now}

2) The Uninvited Dilemma which describes in excruciating detail the experiences of Transsexuals - in particular their efforts to "live normally" prior to gender transition.

3) A lot of ad-hoc observation of humanity over the years - where I have come to appreciate that the masks that people wear socially often differ considerably from their 'persistent, private selves'. (In particular, a young man that grew up all of a block away from me whose life was deeply troubled - I'll always wonder what became of him)

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