7. VARIATION OF HUMAN FORM, FUNCTION AND
Residents of old cities are familiar with the remains of ancient fortifications: an irregular wall, traces of a moat, or a canal partly filled in to make a park or a playground, unexpected rises hiding ancient foundations. In the past the walls did have a vital function, in the present day they have been degraded into annoying obstacles, though sometimes with picturesque features. People, young and old, are in some ways like an historic city. They carry in their personalities the remains of defence-works, sometimes picturesque, not seldom disturbing. When a young person at some moment in his past has felt that his identity was being violated, he may have isolated the threatened part of himself by a protective wall. When, as a child, he constructed that wall he badly needed it, to prevent being fatally injured. But by its simple existence that wall has modified his later development. The early experiences of the body remain encoded in layers, that influence posture and gestures. When the accompanying mental memories, especially when they have been painful, are later retrieved, they will be relived accompanied by strong physical sensations. This happens in autobiographical writing, as stated by the Turkish-German authoress Özdamar in an interview. Also in psychotherapy, as mentioned by the Dutch psychotherapist J. de Vries (1998) painful memories are remembered with acute physical pain.
Quaint mannerisms in a person may be explained as left over fragments of a bastion from which supposed threats were held at bay. Children in distress have tried to make themselves invisible or unapproachable, by keeping close to the wall and avoiding eye-contact. Autistic features that have served a good purpose as withdrawal devices, have later become fixations from which it proves almost impossible to free oneself (D.Williams 1995). Under pressure people may present neurotic behaviours and mannerisms (such as stuttering) because they bear the burden of an archaic system of notions and constructs, which later deforms their communicative behaviour. More example are given in Chapter 10. Much of what has been learned can be unlearned, so there is hope of a cure. In an educational or therapy situation an individual is shown the way to free himself of old life lines and is offered the choice to throw out maladjusted concepts and attitudes for new, more appropriate ones.
In a population of well-adjusted people we see a variety of behaviour patterns or "personalities". Differences between people arise in the first place on the genetic level. With the renewed interest in the human genome, people will be aware that the potential for adaptation and defence is inherited. Only a portion of the potential becomes reality by learning. Early imprinting and later experiences select the basic model for the way an individual interacts with his environment. No two individuals are exactly the same. Similarities in details we will call traits, more comprehensive similarities we will call types of personality. The latter are resistant to change due to their central place in the organisation of the personality. The outward structures are more plastic and more easily modified by learning. The so-called life-scripts of Transactional Analysts belong to this category.
We are fortunate to have a thoroughly tested biological explanation of the variety in people and their different behavioural styles. A biological classification of human variety in physical appearance (body types) and in behavioural style (temperament) should be included in the curriculum of all educational and therapeutic professions and in courses for responsible parenthood.
We go back to an early stage in individual human development. From the day of conception every human being has gone through a brief unicellular existence before growing up to his later adult size and stature:
Organized colonies of cells have evolved into multicellular organisms. In Chapter 3 we have taken a look at Dictyostelium: within an organism-like assembly, tasks were divided between different groups of cells for the purpose of motion, reproduction and dispersion. Specialisation of tissues and division of tasks among organ systems has obviously had survival value.
Multicellular organisms are, by a differentiation of tissues, equipped for three vital functions:
In the vertebrate embryo we recognise the three basic functions in the germinal tissue-layers. They are called: the endoderm, mesoderm and ectoderm.
During the phase of tissue specialisation there is a double selection of cell-types:
- by it's position that is by the environment in which a cell is (re)produced, certain properties in cells are selected that are most compatible with that particular environment. Seen from afar this used to be called induction, but on close view it is evidently a process of selection
- a cell which possesses particular properties migrates to a place where these features prove to be of most advantage, and so secures itself an existence. In the course of events this leads to a close cooperation between cells of ever more diversity. A differentiation in three germ-layers takes place. The three embryonic tissue layers are the cellular ancestors of all the different organs and organ-systems in the adult individual. It is not a strict tri-partition: cells migrate during development and the various tissues are interdependent. This listing summarises what is derived from the primary germ layers:
|igestive tube,||muscular tissues||skin and sensory derivatives,|
|intestinal organs,||skeletal tissues|
|thymus gland||lymphoid tissues||neuronal tissues|
In the animal world we see diverging lines of specialised development. Insects are extremely light in weight and packed with sensory organs that are attached to a well developed nervous system. Birds of prey combine lightness with great strength and striking power. Some mammals, like the sea-cow and hippopotamus, seem specialized in digesting great masses of food and collecting weight in a gregarious social setting. It is tempting to compare the diversity within the human species with that of the animal world. Sheldon and coworkers have done this systematically, with intelligence and humour in the Atlas of Man (1954).
Body types, or somatotypes, express a biological pattern in the long term time-window of form. Related patterns of biological functions and behaviour of the individual are expressed in short term time-windows. Remember that the only difference between adapting form and behaviour is a matter of time-scale (Chapter 2). It is not surprising that a characteristic set of genes expresses itself differently in different time-scales. Factor analysis, applied to measurements of a large human population, has yielded three primary components that determine the human form. The investigators noticed a relation to characteristics of the germ layers, therefore the components that influence the individual physical form or somatotype were named: endomorphy, mesomorphy and ectomorphy. Sheldon's taxonomy of somatotypes derives its value from the fact that experienced observers can distinguish, with a high inter-observer reliability, the amount of influence of any component on a seven-point scale. The cipher 1 stands for a minimal expression of the trait, 7 for its maximal presence.
An example of the notation used is:
somatotype 3 4 4, for a body-type that shows an almost equal distribution of the components endo- meso- and ectomorphy, in that order;
somatotype 1 3 6 would stand for a mesomorphic ectomorph, with very little endomorphy. In everyday language the first example would have a farm horse type of body build, the second would be a spare, sinewy person.
Numerous studies have demonstrated a satisfactory reliability and validity of this approach. Yet the number of researchers in the behavioural, medical and social sciences who have adopted it has remained limited (in the Netherlands: Petersen 1961, Verdonck 1972). One of the reasons is that studies that describe inequality and human diversity are not deemed to be politically correct. The outcome of such studies gives rise to the concern that this will lead to unfair discrimination. Thus a subject of research that has the potential to improve the life conditions of individuals and groups of all ages, is deliberately ignored and left to go waste. Mankind would be better served by the kind of science that seriously takes into account individual talents and aspirations, especially when these are deeply rooted in a persons genetic disposition. At the end of the next chapter we hope to reconcile the two conflicting viewpoints.
Diversity is an asset to mankind. It should be positively accepted as a fact, not negated as an embarrassing impurity. The facile trend of our time: a uniform treatment of the most diverse human beings, is in need of revision. Diversity maybe promoted and used for the good of society and for the unfolding of its individual members. Not only sports trainers (Tanner 1964) but also educators (Walker 1963) and health workers should be familiar with the fact that there are differences in physique that correlate with different individual inclinations. The great diversity within our species is one of the wonders of mankind. Application of this knowledge does justice to every person's possibilities.
After earlier authors had proposed a similar view, it was Sheldon who collected convincing evidence
Although not all his claims have as yet been justified the main body of his theory on human physical and mental development has been well substantiated. Based on the descriptions given by Sheldon in "The varieties of human physique" (1942) we mention some of the criteria for identification of physical properties.
The body is rounded and exhibits a central concentration of mass. The trunk predominates over the limbs, the abdomen over the thorax, and the proximal segments of the limbs predominate over the distal segments. The bones are gracile and the muscle system is poorly developed. Muscle relief and bone projections are absent. The body displays a smoothness of contour owing to subcutaneous padding.
The head is large and spherical, the face is wide with full cheeks. The neck is frequently short and forms in side view an obtuse angle with the chin. The shoulders are high and rounded. The trunk is relatively long and straight, the chest is wide at the base. The limbs are comparatively short and tapering with small hands and feet.
When mesomorphy predominates, the body is sturdy, hard and firm. The bones are large and heavy, the muscles well-developed, massive and prominent. The heavily muscled thorax predominates over the abdomen. The proximal and distal segments of the limbs are evenly proportioned. The bones of the head are heavy. The face is large in relation to the cranial part of the head. Massive cheekbones and square jaws are the rule. The arms and legs are uniformly massive and muscular, strongly built knees, massive wrists.
"Ectomorphy means linearity, fragility, flatness of the chest, and delicacy throughout the body. We find a relatively scant development of both the visceral and the somatic structures. The ectomorph has long, slender, poorly muscled extremities with delicate pipe-stem bones, and he has, relative to his mass, the greatest surface area and therefore the greatest sensory exposure to the outside world. He is thus in one sense overly exposed and naked to the world" (Sheldon 1942). The facial part of the head is small as compared with the cranial part - just the reverse of mesomorphy. Dolichocephaly (oblong cranium) is common in ectomorphs. The chin is sometimes hypoplastic and receding. The neck is long and slender and projects forward, forming an angle with the body axis. The rounded shoulders hang limply forward, owing to lack of muscular support. Arms and legs are comparatively long, particularly the distal segments.
A comparison with the diversity of animal forms of life suggests that there are universal strategies for survival that have stood the test of time:
If we look for specialisation in the animal world we find e.g. the hippopotamus as paradigmatic for processing and storage of food and birds of prey as having specialised in visual perception and extreme mobility.
A dominant germ-layer not only finds expression in the physical form of the body but also in its physiological functioning and in the individual behavioural style as determined by his strengths and abilities. A persons individual disposition has been called his temperament. "By temperament we shall mean, roughly, the level of personality just above physiologic function and below acquired attitudes and beliefs. It is the level where basic patterns of motivation manifest themselves." (Sheldon, 1942). Behaviour, according to Sheldon, is an organic structure in action (cf. also in Chapter 3: Goodwin on embryogenesis). Structural components determine the temperament. The three basic components of motivation and behaviour that are shared by individuals in different proportions have been named: viscerotonia, somatotonia and cerebrotonia. Their relation to the corresponding somatotypes is shown in the table:
The viscerotonia component.
There is an special interest in and devotion to food, the preparation and consumption of it in company, coupled to love of ample conversation. Social contact, friendliness, companionship are important for the viscerotonic individual. He expresses his feelings freely and dislikes solitude. He avoids physical effort, is easy going and prefers luxurious environments. The central issues in his strategy to cope with life are, on the material level:
The somatotonia component.
In contrast to the emotional extraversion of the viscerotonic, the somatotonic shows extraversion in his actions. He hates to sit still, likes movement and exercise. Nothing gives him more pleasure than removing barriers that may stand in his way and exploring the limits of his strength. He is competitive, has a loud voice and can behave recklessly. Little inclined to reflection, he may appear callous and tactless. His strategies for coping in life are:
The cerebrotonia component.
The sensory-receptor properties are well developed. As a consequence however the central nervous system (CNS) is soon overloaded and rapidly tires. The cerebrotonic has the gift of concentrating his attention on the external world as well as on his internal world. His vigilance and autonomic reactivity make him behave in an inhibited and uncertain way: introverted behaviour. He has problems with expressing his feelings and with establishing social relationships, and can very well bear to be alone. The elementary strategies of coping with life are:
Development, whether it occurs in cells, systems, children or cultures, is never linear, but always interactive. The diversity of temperaments displays its full advantage when different human varieties interact and cooperate for a common purpose. Man is a gregarious animal. This enables individuals to follow their genetic endowment and add to their special skills and inclinations. Tasks can be distributed among specialised individuals within a social group. The group thus increases its fitness and this has led to evolutionary enhancement of diversity in the human species. The evolution of diverse genotypes is controlled by gene-selection. Those genes are selectively reproduced over the generations that have given the carriers (phenotypes) an advantage regarding survival and reproduction. This goes for individuals as well as for groups.
In a social structure such as any human society there is an advantage when individuals of different constitutional cooperate. Mutual reinforcement of idiotypes that fit in well with the aims of the group, establish a dynamic network of human cooperation. In the fourth century BC the Greek author Plato had already ventured an opinion on the subject. He observed three classes or types of people functioning in a nation:
Consideration and justice are virtues that can be exerted by all three classes. The similarity with the three dominant temperaments: viscerotonia, somatotonia and cerebrotonia is obvious. It confirms the idea of a three-partitioned social orientation which is deeply rooted in human consciousness. Plato referred to classes of people manifesting different attitudes toward life, as well as having different values and morals. Others have carried these ideas further (7.8). Plato also compared the organisation of a nation with the cooperating parts of a living organism. The Systemics approach in the natural and social sciences (J.G.Miller, 1965) has given a new impulse to these analogies.
K.E.Boulding (1978) has laid down his ideas on the evolution of society in a book called Ecodynamics. He discerns three groups of organisers of human society, "... which I have identified as the Threat system, the Integrative system, and the Exchange system. This is a recurring thread in the great drama of human life and history and I call it the "TIE" saga, for these relationships do indeed tie us together into organisational structures, thereby enormously increasing the capacity of the human race for making both material and personal artifacts." In summing up the three organisers we change the order TIE into ETI to correspond with the order in which we have discussed Plato's classes and Sheldon's temperaments.
"No human relation seems to exist that does not exhibit all three of these organizing relationships in various proportions. Each has pathologies of its own. The threat system may be the most inclined to pathology (violence, war, destruction), exchange systems can lead into unemployment, mal-distribution, and overemphasis on monetary values. Integrative systems can lead to tyrannies of conviction, unduly demanding parents, religious intolerance, persecution and xenophobia. Without integrative systems the threat system could never lead to organized warfare."
Rank and status can be based on either one of the three components: Wealth, Power, Holiness. K.E.Boulding mentions that for this group of genetic organisers of the human society "there is practically no parallel in biology." At first glance this remark is surprising, because the analogy with Sheldon's germ-layer based organisers fairly jumps to the mind:
But then, as I have mentioned before, the study of temperamental types is a neglected chapter in social science. When social scientists catch up, they'll probably say that they have recognised all along that evolution has distributed skills and intellectual potential unevenly over the members of the human race, in order that every individual can develop to the best of his own abilities and can find a place in society that suits him.
The germ-layer theory explains the biological motive that underlies diversity. The advantages for society of individual diversity may turn to a disadvantage for some individuals in whom specialisation is carried through too far. These individuals suffer from an unequal and unharmonious distribution of physical and temperamental features. The question to be asked then is: are they, by their special hereditary disposition, exposed to extra risks regarding their physical health and their mental stability? The answer is yes, specialisation comes at a cost. Inner harmony and social adjustment fall short when
On the other hand a personality in which one of the three drive-sources is scarcely apparent will be at risk too. These individuals pay the price for the specialisation that, for humanity as a whole, is a positive asset. Fortunately however, society will assist the unbalanced individual, who can be valued as a person because of some outstanding quality, although generally deemed eccentric. Eccentricity is tolerated far more at the individual level than at the common cultural level of any human community. A severe imbalance of drive-sources can be particularly crippling, as may be deducted from the following examples.
In a well functioning democracy the three sources should be equally balanced. Plato, although he failed to realise this in the politics of his day, at least expressed it in his teachings.
It strikes me that health care professionals, who confess to "holistic medicine", often turn to metaphors from antiquity. S.R.Savithri (J.Communication Disorders vol. 21, p 271) has reviewed Sanskrit literature and remarks that there are three Dosa's or life sustaining principles.
Issuing from the Chakra's (nodes of energy located in the trunk) the Dosa's exert their influence all through the organism.
I respect the intuition of the ancient thinkers and acknowledge that comprehensive models are relevant to diagnosis and therapy. At the same time I would strongly urge the advocates of age-old thoughts to go beyond ancient notions and to include in their thinking the comprehensive models of the present day. Sheldon's theory, even considering some methodological flaws, is well founded and has great merits. Here is the opportunity to reconsider the ancient metaphors and to give them a firm biological foundation. We plant our feet firmly on the earth, as opposed to floating around in a disconnected way: "Grounding" as it is called in therapy, is important as a strategy for survival, as a remedy for ruptured social structures, and as a foundation for scientific thinking.
The social sciences have the potential to explain and amend several causes of human conflict and to find ways for reconciliation. I am convinced that they will succeed better by taking into account the varieties of temperament. A personal disposition is modified by the interaction of genetic propensities with environmental events. The same stimulation can have entirely different effects on two different people: what is frightening to one, is a welcome challenge to another. What is avoided by the first is solicited by the second. We are in the realm of values: what is most rewarding is of most value.
Charles Morris (1956), a professor of religion, has extensively investigated people's preferences, as expressed in their choice of answers to questionaries. In earlier work C.Morris (1942) had distinguished three basic components of the human personality:
The relative strength in which the components are represented, expresses itself not only in a variety of personalities but also in a variety of cultures, religions, manifestations of art and philosophy.
In his later empirical research C. Morris asked the subjects of his investigation to list their preferences of "Thirteen ways to live", 13 descriptions including values proclaimed by the various ethical and religious systems. The "ways" are spread over three categories: (I) dependence (II) dominance and (III) detachment. By statistical (factor) analysis Morris uncovered a limited number of factors that accounted for a large part of the results.
Factor A: social restraint and self-control. Its antithesis is: unrestrained and socially irresponsible enjoyment.
Factor B: enjoyment of progress in action; delight in overcoming obstacles by vigorous personal activity. The antithesis is: a life focussed on the development of the inner self.
Factor C: withdrawal and self-sufficiency; attaining a high level of insight and awareness. The antithesis is: continuous merging with others for group achievement and social enjoyment.
Factor D: receptivity and sympathetic concern.
Factor E: sensuous enjoyment, appreciating the simple pleasures of life or having the ability to live in the present in abandonment to the moment. The antithesis is: responsible submission of one's self to social and cosmic purposes.
Since the structure reminded him of the somatotypes (5.4) and the temperaments (5.5) Morris undertook the labour of relating his 'values' to the somatotypes in more than three hundred of his subjects. There was a significant correlation between the somatotypes of the subjects and the value-categories that one would expect them to be linked to:
Charles Morris work is extremely relevant to the social sciences. Yet it has gone largely unnoticed: it has probably been avoided as being politically incorrect. As I announced earlier this conflict will be resolved at the end of Chapter 8, where the two-way hierarchy within concentrically arranged systems is established.
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