Let's take a few steps to talk about the OCEAN in our lives.
I'm sure all of you have come across someone at work who didn't want to learn a new piece of software or a new way of doing things just because, "that's not the way we've done things around here." Or maybe you've had a boss who said they would absolutely do something to make your job much easier, only they got really busy and months later you felt bad pestering them again with the same request. There was also the colleague who went to a meeting with you where it was vital they share a piece of information they had...but they just refused to speak up. Perhaps you remember a senior executive who stomped around and yelled at your team because he thought that would really motivate you. And finally, after running into all those people, you probably tossed and turned in bed worrying about how you were ever going to be happy at work. For the most part, you or these other people had all the skills needed to do the job. HR screened everyone, interviewed them, and happily hired them. Yet something's failing in the actual work setting. What goes wrong?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post that introduced us to the roots of personality. I mentioned that in the personality section of my Evolutionary Philosophy, I said the following:

Psychologists currently list three levels of personality.
  1. Basic Traits / The Big Five (OCEAN) - Openness to new experiences, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism
  2. Characteristic Adaptations - personal goals, defense mechanisms, values, beliefs, life stage concerns
  3. Life Story - past, present, and future woven into a vitalizing myth

This week, I wanted to go into a little more detail about the first level of personality - your basic traits. Look again at those five examples of dysfunction in the workplace that I talked about at the top of this piece. They are all failures of basic personality traits. The co-worker who doesn't want to learn anything new is not O - open to new experiences. The boss who couldn't come through for you was not C - conscientious. The wallflower in a situation that required expression was missing some E - extroversion. The harsh executive was not A - agreeable. (And he likely got to his position because others mistook short-term results and overconfidence for true leadership.) And finally, when we struggle to deal with all these issues and take them on ourselves, we become a little too N - neurotic.

Most people think your personality is something you are born with, that it is immutable, something you can't change. But look at each of these elements of your basic OCEAN traits. Can you not improve each and every one of them? Can you not take shallow steps into new waters until you are eventually swimming in the deep end and perfectly comfortable being Open to new experiences? Can you not gather tips to organize your life and prioritize better so you can be more Conscientious about your commitments? Have you not seen people take public speaking classes through toastmasters and blossom into Extroverts on command? Do we not know of people who have had crises in their lives or sudden insights into the pain they have caused around them and vow to be more Agreeable? And who among us doesn't hope to become calmer and more resilient with age and see our Neuroses subside? All five of these traits are malleable if we know them and recognize the need to change them. A free 10-minute online test of your Big Five is available. Go try it out. Know thyself. I'm an O-96, C-98, E-48, A-69, N-14. I'm happy with my Openness and Conscientiousness. I'm pretty balanced between my extrovert sociability and introvert bookishness. I want to work a little though on my neuroses and try to be a bit more agreeable.

What about you?


02/15/2013 5:46pm

More later but I am 79-79-15-79-37....All of these types of tests are more accurate if people who really know you do the ratings though....

02/15/2013 10:45pm

Hmm. That's more introverted than I expected. And maybe more neurotic too. Do I know you well enough to tell you this is not you?

So your first quick comment is interesting. What is "accurate"? A fair representation of objective reality? A close match with how you see yourself? Or a capturing of how others see you? Ideally, all three should align if you "know thyself" and others take the time to truly see you too. In the workplace we can get 360 evaluations to see the viewpoint of others. Perhaps we need the same in our private lives.

02/16/2013 2:15am

Yeah, I coach hockey so I don't think I am that introverted, but on this particular scale, like "do you like spending an evening reading books or would you rather go dancing" type questions, I am introverted. I have a weird tension/paranoia/OCD thing but am pretty relaxed in general.

No matter what, I think unless you are very enlightened you see yourself as you hope you are and not as other's see you. (this is why everyone is embarassed to hear their voices on recordings)

Perhaps because a single person's evolution towards the great enlightment is so gradual that basically at no point along the journey do you feel yourself any different - millions of incremental changes may be hard to see while it is going on. And just like in calculus where a limit does not ever touch the line that defines it, perhaps evolutionary perfection is not knowable.

That may be why heaven was invented to hop over that barrier, the philosophical limit of human developmental calculus. Just change the mathematics with a mystical book and set of faith-based rules that are not fixed but are fungible and you get what we have now; people believing in a higher evolutionary plane that is only attainable through faith and religion. Pretty much all evolutionary philosophical decisions that could be made by people to make themselves live "higher" are made moot by religion.

02/17/2013 5:29am

So I know I used the phrase "more evolved" in a tongue in cheek manner about hockey goalies, but I'd actually like to stay away from using that term for the development of personality and character strengths during the course of an individual life. There's nothing evolutionary about that from a technical standpoint. It's just learning to make the most of what you've already got from the history of evolution that came before you.

After that short caveat, I'll make a few other comments about your suppositions.

As to the calculus of gradual improvement, I think that's right for people that are generally trying to learn from their mistakes, but who don't take the time to actually study philosophy or positive psychology or other self-help genres (including religion). If you do look into that literature, you can make pretty noticeable jumps in your life skills. I know I have. (Of course, many people don't improve at all during their adult lives or even get worse if they fall under the spell of a selfish or repressive belief system.)

As for heaven, I know it has other purposes such as consolation over death and infinite reward for finite suffering, but in its use for housing the "perfect" you after you die, then your mathematical comparison is probably apt. Just as we can easily imagine a perfect circle even though there is no such thing as an actual circle in nature (they're all slightly squared because their exact dimensions for circumference and diameter do not divide to perfectly equal pi), there are surely no perfect humans either, but people may use heaven to imagine one.

I'm not sure I perfectly followed your last point about religion making striving for higher living moot, but if that's what you meant, then yes, that is one of the problems of religion - putting your personal development on hold for the future or in the hands of a fictitious god (or worse yet, in the hands of ancient religious dogma and hierarchy), waiting for promised rewards in an afterlife that to all evidence will never actually come. Maybe it's scary for some to let go and say "we are all that we have in this universe", but it is the only way to truly act as adults and learn to govern ourselves.

02/18/2013 11:21pm

Regarding #10. Evolution describes the rules that govern the way that life survives. The end product of evolution therefore would be immortal life. Humans may have the intellectual capacity to achieve this end.

Is that what evolution describes or is it merely a biological process of random mutation that allows the "fittest" - definitely not the best or luckiest to survive. The fittest means for the particular environment that a species is inhabiting. The blow holes of whales and dolphins migrated to the top of their heads due to this and they evolved/adapted/survived. Evolution does not imply a goodness for sure, that seems to be more a man-made construct. I tend to believe on many levels that the earth would be much, much better off and was much, much better off without sentient beings roaming around imposing their will on the planet. Would I want to be an unevolved caveman from 50,000 years ago, maybe not.... Would it be better for the thousands of other species on the planet that man has screwed up, definitely....

As for immortality, their is a species of jellyfish that does a Benjamin Buttons (never saw the movie, but I think I understood the premise) and reverts to a polyp and can then start life over. I have a feeling that is not exactly what you meant however. For humans, I see immortality in the biological perspective of my kids' DNA and how they carry that on. In a sense we are all tied together and are really vessels for DNA's survival and in a way are "immortal."

Metaphysical Tom Cruise Scientological immortality, I think it is a theoretical possibility but more likely we will find a way to extend human life to 200-250 years (just like the bible says!)....

Immortality only takes faith in religious doctorine (your choice)....

02/19/2013 2:39am

Watch this TED talk for the best summary of why some gerontologists believe we can end aging. This is a big part of my next novel.


The quote I have from the bible (in Genesis after god throws Adam and Eve out of Eden) says our lifespans will be 120. The bible says a lot of contradictory things. But really, this is just what has always been. It wasn't until the mid 1950's that we discovered DNA. It wasn't until the 1960's that we even had a decent theory about why we age. This field is new but making headway rapidly. I really believe we will defeat aging.

(Turritopsis nutricula is the jellyfish you are referring to. I'm writing a scene with that fact in it today actually - as a rebuttal to the "It's not natural!" argument about immortality.)

As for the kids / DNA view of immortality, that's also called the "disposable soma theory" - as in our bodies are disposable, but the stuff of life inside us carries on. That's certainly one way to look at life continuing on and on. It's the best physical immortality we have right now. (Although adding memes to our collective learning is another form of information that can survive for long periods of time. In our gene-culture coevolutionary species, I prefer to focus my efforts on that part of immortality.) But the disposable soma is not the dream of personal immortality that man has striven for since the dawning of the understanding of death. We won't accept this lesser view of immortality as long as there is research to be done on finding "true" immortality.

Would that continue to wreck the planet? (For we certainly have.) I argue that in fact it will make us learn to treat the planet better since we'll then be around to live with the consequences of our actions instead of selfishly taking whatever we can during our 70-year lifespans. Much more on that later in my section on ethics.

I will try to find a more accurate turn of phrase for "Evolution describes the rules that govern the way life survives." The theory of evolution does describe that random mutation and selection process that you are talking about. And from that we see that the "fittest" survive in the conditions that occur (and change). Perhaps I should say, "Evolutionary systems produce entities that survive. The end product of evolution therefore would be an immortal life...."

02/19/2013 3:18am

I think we won't defeat aging but alter the way it occurs and allow people to age more slowly. I saw the TED of which you speak and it seemed to me to be very speculative/sci-fi-ish.

However let's suppose that "tomorrow" it is possible for people to live forever. There will be a few ways this works, but most likely it would either be some sort of bio anti-rusting pill or bio replacement of parts. So either chemical or mechanical or a combo of both. Who would control it? How would it be distributed? Are people evolved enough to handle this? I think it is pretty utopian to think people are ready to handle even the possible distribution of anti-malarials, let alone anti-aging meds. (You hear about the murders of nurses who were distributing polio vaccine? It is thought to be a plot to sterilize young girls...)

It would most likely be developed in the West and most likely by huge multi-national pharma, or the bio-tech would have been purchased by them.... Would it be covered on health plans? How much would you charge for immortality? Would this ever extned to the second and third world? Heck would it extend outside of the G-20? Wanna talk about recipe for resource wars, this would be rife for it.

So let's go ahead and say enlightenment ruled and everyone was immortal at birth "tomorrow." We have 7 billion people on the planet and basically you would never have fewer. How long would it take to reach 10 million, 20 million with almost no deaths? Not too long I bet. Wouldn't there be political reasons to ramp up population growth to get the fair share of the pie? (see Garrett Hardin, Tragedy of the Commons). There would be huge resource battles, uneven population growth for cultural, political, and religious reasons - imagine all the Mormons who would be showing up at your door...

Okay all that solved...people are smart, nice to each other, and didn't breed like rabbits. People would basically become a monoculture, one very suspectible to diseases. No one would survive the Black Death or whatever the next superbug that would come along, or more precisely, each bug would just wipe out huge swaths of people with no resistance due to the biological evolution we have now.

I think everyone hopes that they will break the immortality barrier, but I can't see it happening and also I think the resultant issues would cause so many problems that people would yearn for the good old days.

I do think you took lightly the DNA aspect of immortality. The Gibney strand has been rolling along for millenium happily combining with other strands but always there. The biological thing that makes people, people is not our sentient nature but the DNA that has a desire to replicate itslef and combine with other DNA.

I would also postulate that immortality can be attined through works. We celebrate long dead people who have left postive and negative immortalities on us. I have heard at funerals that as long as you continue to talk about people who are dead that they are still "here." I sort of believe that. Jesus, Hitler, Plato, Michael Jordan, Jonathan Kellerman, Madonna, etc have achieved an immortality that will go far beyond whatever science will ever come up with in terms of life spans (I believe), and you really don't require the world to remember you but just a few select people to make it work...

02/19/2013 4:49am

If the 20 minute TED talk seemed to sci-fi for you, check out the book Long For This World by Jonathan Weiner. If that's still too shallow for you, check out the published papers in scientific journals listed in the bibliography. This is real stuff.

You bring up a lot of valid scenarios and fears about the questions that surround the technology of anti-aging. What are the purposes of art though if one of them is not to explore these types of questions and bring warnings about them or new ideas for their solutions? Let's discuss this more once I have brought my art to the table. I don't want to scoop myself too much here.

I don't think I dismissed DNA immortality. I said it's the best we have. But then again, tell me about your great-great grandfather. You have up to 8 of them. Which one was most like you? Our DNA gets more and more diluted as it passes down through the generations until very little of "you" can be said to exist at all. DNA mixes and matches, offspring get better or worse, society and environments change - the concept of genetic immortality is very broad and general for the entire species. It's not specific at all in the way that many of us are looking for, or in the way that we know who created the ideas of platonic forms, christian beliefs, newtonian physics, etc., etc.

Good feedback and discussion. This is why I blog! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about your ideas. This is way better than facebooking isn't it. :-)

02/19/2013 5:56pm

Way better than FB. I need to go another week or two without it and I won't care anymore about my friends' kids' soccer games or what name Starbucks wrote on their latte.... I will probably do a sign off letter with my email at some point though, for those who want to stay in touch. I pared my friends down to 70 and someone asked a few days ago why I had so few. I told them that in order to add someone my rule was I had to delete someone else... They thought that was shocking. But really how often do you need to hear from some second cousin in Ypsilanti?

It would be easier to communicte through your blog if the comments were consolidated somewhere and not under each individual blog post. Maybe this is poor blog ettiquette, but... Something like an open forum, but I guess that is what FB is.... I guess I could click the little box that will notify me huh?

02/19/2013 11:40pm

The little box will still only notify you about discussions on that particular blog post. If you want to be notified any time anyone comments on any of the blog posts - you might be able to do that using some rss feeds, but I think mostly you'd have to stalk this website like a crazed fan. That's sort of just the way that blogs work. If you want to talk generally, email me for a private discussion, or yeah, post a discussion thread on the EvPhil facebook page for a public discussion. I think you can still do that even without having a personal fb wall that anyone can see or send friend requests to. (We both know someone who I'm pretty sure does that so he can just see Nassim Taleb's facebook page.)

When you sign off from FB, you can also tell people about how you discovered you were an introvert through this blog post...

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