A brief history of temperament

The four temperaments theory is the oldest and most consistently utilised theory of personality in the Western world.

Its origins lie at least as far back as the 5th Century BC when Hippocrates, the father of Greek medicine, described human health and composition in terms of four humours or bodily fluids: blood, bile, phlegm and black bile.

The four temperaments were further developed and codified by Galen, personal physician to Roman Emperors in the 2nd Century AD. Galenic medicine remained the authoritative medical paradigm in Europe until the 18th Century, and his texts were still studied as late as the 19th Century.

But even as Galen’s theories about the human body were slowly discarded, his observations of the human mind continued to fascinate philosophers, physiologists, and psychologists even to the present day.

What underlies temperament?

Various theorists have attempted to define the temperaments in terms of more basic physical elements.

Galen described them in terms of heat and cold on the one hand, and moistness and dryness on the other. The Choleric is hot and dry while the Melancholic is cold and dry. Sanguines are hot and moist, while Phlegmatics are cold and moist.

But with the advances of medicine people have sought to describe the temperaments in ever more up-to-date terms, corresponding to changes in medical or psychological paradigms.

The 18th Century philosopher Immanuel Kant described the temperaments in terms of either feeling or activity that was short-lasting or long-lasting.  A Choleric is characterised by long-lasting activity while a Melancholic has long-lasting feelings. Sanguines have short-lasting feelings and Phlegmatics have short-lasting activity.

A generation later the German “father of psychology” Wilhelm Wundt described the temperaments in terms of either strong or weak emotion and slow or rapid change. Cholerics have strong emotion and rapid change, while Melancholics have strong emotion and slow change. Sanguines have weak emotion and rapid change, and Phlegmatics have weak emotion and slow change.

Another 19th Century German, the physiologist Jakob Henle, suggested that the temperaments might arise from the inherent activity or tonus of the nervous system.

Henle described each temperament in terms of the speed and the duration of reactions within the nervous system. Cholerics have quick reactions of a long duration while Melancholics have slow reactions of a long duration. Sanguines have quick reactions of short duration, and Phlegmatics have slow reactions of short duration.

The famous Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov also studied the nervous system and he too drew on the ancient four temperaments to frame his theories.

For Pavlov the Choleric has a strong but unbalanced nervous system while the Melancholic has a weak nervous system. Both the Sanguine and the Phlegmatic are strong and balanced but the former is fast while the latter is slow. Though his studies focused on dogs, Pavlov applied his observations to humans also:

The melancholic temperament is evidently an inhibitory type of nervous system. To the melancholic, every event of life becomes an inhibitory agent; he believes in nothing, hopes for nothing, in everything he sees only the dark side, and from everything he expects only grievances.

The choleric is the pugnacious type, passionate, easily and quickly irritated. But in the golden middle group stand the phlegmatic and sanguine temperaments, well equilibrated and therefore healthy, stable…

The phlegmatic is self-contained and quiet, – a persistent and steadfast toiler in life. The sanguine is energetic and very productive, but only when his work is interesting, i.e., if there is a constant stimulus. When he has not such a task he becomes bored and slothful.

The psychologists

While the physiologists were studying nervous systems and linking their findings to the four temperaments theory, the new field of psychoanalysis founded by the Austrian physician Sigmund Freud approached the same questions of personality and temperament from a more psychological, clinically-oriented perspective.

Freud’s collaborator and contemporary Alfred Adler developed a personality theory that mirrored the four temperaments system.

Adler described each type or temperament in terms of high or low energy and high or low social interest. Adler’s Choleric equivalent has high energy and low social interest while his Melancholic equivalent has low energy and low social interest. Sanguines have high energy and high social interest, while Phlegmatics have low energy with high social interest.

Other psychoanalysts broke away from the four temperament model as they delved deeper into their own theories and observations. Carl Jung, for example, described a more complex range of cognitive functions and mental predispositions that were later codified into the famous Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the most popular personality theory in operation today.

Yet the four temperament model was not entirely forgotten. It was retained primarily in the work of the psychologist Hans Eysenck, who described the four temperaments in terms of extroversion and neuroticism. Extroversion refers to how outwardly oriented a person is, while neuroticism is defined as a tendency to worry, anxiety, frustration, moodiness, and jealousy.

In Eysenck’s model the Choleric has high extroversion and high neuroticism while the Melancholic has low extroversion and high neuroticism. The Sanguine has high extroversion and low neuroticism, while the Phlegmatic has low extroversion and low neuroticism.

Temperament today

Modern trends in psychology and medicine make researchers wary of trying to match their research to pre-existing ideas and concepts like the four temperaments.

Contemporary psychology does draw on the concept of temperament, but it avoids the original four in favour of a research-driven approach. Psychologist Jerome Kagan is one example of an influential researcher on temperament, demonstrating throughout his career that key biological/behavioural traits in infants persist throughout adult life.

Kagan’s work focused on high and low reactive children, and he acknowledges that there are many other ‘temperaments’ or aspects of temperament yet to be studied.

Conclusion

For a lay person like me, learning about these different theories and approaches to the four temperaments adds to the sense that there’s a central phenomenon behind the archetypal four, and help us clarify exactly what the differences between them are.

As Kant wrote:

In this way the ancient forms can be preserved, and only receive a meaning better suited to the spirit of this doctrine of temperaments.

I still believe that Henle’s two-factor model of excitability versus duration of impression is the most fundamental, yet it helps me to have the others available too.

How better to explain a melancholic than “low energy, low social interest”? That’s me in a nutshell.

Other theories may seem more or less apt, but at the very least they show how different people have perceived the temperaments. We can also see where they have gotten it wrong, describing temperaments in ways that don’t at all accord with our experience, or letting their own temperament blind them to the true nature of the others.

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The conflicted storyteller

For years I’ve struggled on and off to write fiction.

I once wrote a novel, but it wasn’t very good. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t very good, and I needed it to be so much better if I was to push it, believe in it, take it as far as it could go.

After a few years of consideration and doing other things – mostly discussing fiction with like-minded friends – I’m well aware of some of the faults in my past efforts. But like everything I do, there has to be a deeper reason, a cause or problem that prevents me from achieving what I want to achieve.  I must be missing something profound.

I still haven’t found the answer – I’ve found a dozen answers, and collectively they help, but it’s not enough to break through the malaise I feel when I try to write fiction.

Part of the problem is that I don’t really want to write fiction….

“Il n’y a pas de solution parce qu’il n’y a pas de problème”

There is no solution because there isn’t any problem

– Marcel Duchamp

That is, my motivation is complex. If I wanted to write fiction, I would be writing it. When I think about writing fiction, in fact I feel terrible about it. I think fiction is pointless, indirect, a waste of time, empty escapism. No wonder I don’t want to write it.

Yet I can’t let it go.

So now I think the truth is more like this: I want to write something, but I don’t know what it is. It is different from my current work, writing non-fiction articles. But the moment I look at the alternative of ‘fiction’ in its various guises, I feel that it is not that either. The reality is that I do not know how to write fiction yet, and all I have in mind to guide me are a dull set of limited conventions. I can easily write non-fiction because I know the essential parameter of seeking to understand and to solve a problem.  But when it comes to fiction I don’t know the essence, only the conventions and accidental characteristics.

So what are the essential parameters of fiction?

It turns out that ‘fiction’ is not a very useful word. It simply means something ‘imagined’ or ‘shaped, formed, made’.

‘Story’ is a better word. I do want to write a story, and it turns out that ‘story’ comes from ‘history’: a “relation of incidents”, not distinguished from the modern use of the term ‘history’.

So if I want to write a fictitious story, it means I wish to relate a series of incidents that did not happen. But why would I do this? What is the point or purpose, such that I could make it a good story, rather than a bad one?

Perhaps the essence of a fictitious story is not so different to the essence of an actual history? Indeed, if we go back further, from the Latin historia to the Greek historia, we find that the meaning changes from “narrative of past events, account, tale, story,” to “a learning or knowing by inquiry; an account of one’s inquiries, history, record, narrative,”, which is in turn derived from histor “wise man, judge,”.

So is a history an account of the inquiries of a wise man?  But surely the real purpose of stories these days is merely to entertain?  And surely the kind of work that goes into creating modern fiction has little at all to do with wisdom and inquiry? Isn’t imagination and creativity the very opposite of inquiry?

This is, for me, the crux of the problem. Non-fiction is inquiry. My articles and even my private writing is aimed at inquiry, understanding, illumination. But my attempts at fiction appear to travel another direction entirely, toward imagination, unbounded elaboration, essentially frivolous fantasy.  And if I look at any one of the stories I’ve enjoyed in my life, can I truly claim to have learned anything from them? Have I gained anything more than entertainment and escapism? Is my desire to write fiction in fact a desire to participate in escapist entertainment more fully?

What do we gain from reading fictitious histories?

 

 

The rise and fall of religious music

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I was raised Catholic but stopped going to church as a teenager, as soon as my parents would (reluctantly) allow it. I never found the Mass particularly interesting, inspiring, special, momentous, or mysterious – except in the sense that it was a complete mystery to me why these equally bored and unhappy-looking people continued to go to it week after week.

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned at least a part of the reason why a supposedly revolutionary and historically transformative religion could come across as so tedious and banal, seemingly comprised primarily of a set of goodwill gestures such as shaking hands with the people next to you, standing, sitting and kneeling at the same time as everyone else, and taking part in the whole rigmarole of receiving communion; the one-hour show interspersed with a set of slightly embarrassing hymns whose lyrics stood in stark contrast to the reality around me.

“We are the Church.
We are a people.
We’re called to bring Good News to birth.
We are the peace.
We are the promise of love outpoured
to renew the earth.”

Some promises, as they say, were never meant to be kept. All this emphasis on how great and promising and exemplary we were, only made the reality seem more dull. I’m not sure what inspired these songs, or what, if any, effect they were supposed to have on the congregation.

But people love them. These hymns, written and implemented from the 60s through to the 80s are a staple of the Catholic liturgical diet in the Western world. In 2004, for example, the readers of the English Catholic magazine The Tablet voted Dan Schutte’s ‘Here I am Lord’ as their favourite.

 

Schutte was one of the founding members of the St Louis Jesuits, described by wikipedia as:

a group of Catholic composers who popularized an Easy Listening/folk music style of church music through their compositions and recordings, mainly from their heyday in the mid `70s through the mid `80s.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered that Easy Listening/folk music wasn’t the intended musical form for the Catholic liturgy.

The intended musical form was, and still is, something more like this:

 

That’s an introit or entrance chant from Pentecost, just one of about a dozen components of the Mass that would traditionally be chanted like this. The chant itself has a varied history: beginning with the simpler ‘plainchant’ in the early Church, so-called Gregorian Chant emerged around the 9th Century, with diverse forms of it developing organically in different regions and monasteries.

For example, the simpler melodies of St Ambrose’ hymns from the 4th Century were so popular among the people, that his Arian opponents accused him of working with magic powers; to which Ambrose supposedly replied: “what can be more powerful than the confession of the Trinity, which is daily witnessed by the mouth of the entire people?”

 

At some point, people began adding a second voice to the Gregorian chant:

 

The development of multiple voices, or polyphony, eventually gave us the beautiful Renaissance polyphony from the likes of Byrd and Palestrina. Here is Byrd’s take on the introit Spiritus Domini. The countertenor starts with a solo part, the polyphony kicks in at 1:22.

 

Whole Masses were sung in polyphony, which though beautiful is also extremely difficult. But even beyond polyphony there were further developments, to a point where great composers like Mozart wrote entire Mass settings. Listen to the first couple of minutes of this Mass setting by Mozart:

 

That’s a lot of music for a simple ‘Kyrie Eleison’ – ‘Lord have mercy’.

As beautiful as it is, I can see why in 1903 Pope Pius X called for a return to Gregorian chant and a move away from theatrical orchestral settings generally:

“These qualities are to be found, in the highest degree, in Gregorian Chant, which is, consequently the Chant proper to the Roman Church, the only chant she has inherited from the ancient fathers, which she has jealously guarded for centuries in her liturgical codices, which she directly proposes to the faithful as her own, which she prescribes exclusively for some parts of the liturgy, and which the most recent studies have so happily restored to their integrity and purity.

On these grounds Gregorian Chant has always been regarded as the supreme model for sacred music, so that it is fully legitimate to lay down the following rule: the more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple.

The ancient traditional Gregorian Chant must, therefore, in a large measure be restored to the functions of public worship, and the fact must be accepted by all that an ecclesiastical function loses none of its solemnity when accompanied by this music alone.

Special efforts are to be made to restore the use of the Gregorian Chant by the people, so that the faithful may again take a more active part in the ecclesiastical offices, as was the case in ancient times.”

Not only Pius X, but subsequent popes, Vatican II documents, and the new Mass itself called for Gregorian chant to take pride of place in the liturgy. As late as 1974 Pope Paul VI was calling for a minimum repertoire of Gregorian chant to be sung in parishes, including the Ordinaries of the Mass in Latin.

Why didn’t this happen? Why have we ended up with Easy Listening/folk/pop-inspired liturgical music? Why are parishes so hostile to Gregorian chant, to Latin, to the musical heritage of the Church? These questions and more will be answered in my next post….

The vibe of ‘white genocide’

So when I wrote an article basically mocking the idea of ‘white genocide’ and the people who subscribe to it, I didn’t think I’d get many hostile comments. Perhaps the moderators were already working overtime, but even the stuff that got through surprised me.

It turns out that some people really do believe multiculturalism is a genocidal plot aimed at white people! I was kinda hoping the whole thing would turn out to be elaborate satire. Alas, no.

In comments we’ve had LOTS OF CAPS to emphasise the seriousness of the threat, we’ve had what looks like an attempt to pin ‘white genocide’ on ‘The Jews’, and we’ve also had the slowly dawning realisation that this is apparently the first (alleged) genocide ever to be carried out by means of voluntary intermarriage between consenting adults.

The essence of the ‘White Genocide’ argument is elusive.  I’m not sure we ever got to the level of actual evidence; but evidence isn’t really required in this kind of argument, not when it’s all so obvious and everyone knows it’s happening, right?  I mean, to have to meaningfully compare alleged genocidal acts against precedent would detract from the spirit of the debate.  To have to explain how this ‘genocide’ is supposedly happening, the expected time-frame, and the interventions required to stop it BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE is asking a bit much of people who are already demonstrating such courage in speaking out against the conspiracy.  Ultimately, in language any true White Australian will understand, when it comes to ‘white genocide’: “it’s the vibe of the thing.”