Monday 17 September 2012

P or not-P: the lack of a characteristic cognitive style in low trait Psychoticism?


High trait Psychoticism is in bold font; Low trait Psychoticism is normal font.

1. Cold - versus warm, charming
2. Aggressive - versus submissive
3. Egocentric - versus follows groups expectations
4. Unempathic - versus socially-expressed agreeableness, empathy, sympathetic
5. Tough-minded (i.e. impervious to events) - versus tender-minded, strongly affected by experience/ people
6. Antisocial - versus gregarious, needs other people
7. Impersonal - versus life consists of intense, direct relationships
8. Impulsive (behaviour dominated by current emotions) - versus conscientious.
9. Creative - versus applies peer approved, learned rules and traditions 


My assumption is that ancestral humans were high Psychoticism on average - for example, anthroplogical accounts of recent hunter gatherers show that they exhibited extremely high trait Psychoticism behaviours. 

Therefore high P is the baseline, and low P is something that evolved more recently - probably due to multiple generations of selection in complex/ agricultural/ high latitude societies. 

So - high P is the original and natural state for humans.


But what unifies all the behaviours characterized as high Psychoticism?

My answer is that the specific behaviours of high P are all products of a characteristic mode of thinking or cognitive style. 

And this high P cognitive style is similar in form to the mode of early childhood, dreams, trances, delirium, psychedelic drugs, and psychotic states - except that it may occur in an adult, alert, aware and fully-orientated person.

Also - this high P cognitive style is that which is characteristic of creative genius - a fluid, multiply-valenced, widely-associated style of thinking with direct links to behaviour. 


It is the cognitive style of High-P which leads to the apparently self-contained, self-confident person, of high self-esteem; interested-by, absorbed-by, motivated by their own vivid and emotionally-engaged subjective, imaginative experiences - thus not easily influenced, nor easily-deflected from their chosen course of action. 


This leads onto the question of what is the characteristic cognitive style of 'Not-P', or low trait psychoticism?

The answer is that there is no single characteristic style of low-Pychoticism; instead it encompasses a variety of cognitive style, which are united not by similarity but by the fact they are not-P. 


This can be clarified by an analogy of Poetry versus Prose: Poetry represents high-P while Prose represents low-P. 

Poetry can be defined in terms of characteristics like rhythm, rhyme, alliteration; by prose is merely defined as Not-poetry: there are innumerable styles of prose.

So we get Poetry versus Not-Poetry: P versus Not-P: 

Thus Poetry has a positive definition in terms of what is is; but Prose has only a negative definition: as being something other than poetry. 

There is therefore no characteristic form of Prose, its forms are unbounded, you cannot say prose is 'like this' in the way that can be done with poetry.


So, non-Psychoticism, or low-Psychoticism forms of thought are not like the cognitive style of early childhood, dreams, trances, delirium, psychedelic drugs, and psychotic states... but what there are like cannot be briefly stated, and will vary according to circumstance. 


Another, and psychologically-related, example is comparing the characteristically natural, spontaneous way that people behave (for example as young children) can be contrasted with formal manners, etiquette, courtesy or social protocols. 

There are innumerable different systems of manners - there is not a characteristic style of manner. And manners must be learned for each specific human society and typically for specific niches within society (e.g. different manners for the two sexes, ages, classes, or occupations).


I believe that it is precisely because high Psychoticism is natural and spontaneous that it is the mode of thinking which drives creative genius - which offers least friction, and harnesses the primary motivations; while by comparison other modes of low-P thinking are learned, artificial, shallow, and less driven. 

NOTE: Regarding Psychoticism as original, primary and spontaneous entails a re-framing of the Big Five traits of Agreeableness (essentially same as Baron Cohen's Empathizing) and Conscientiousness. these become outcomes of an evolved reduction in Psychoticism, rather than positive things in their own right. In particular, there would not be a specific mode of thought characteristic either of Agreeableness/ Empathizing or Conscientiousness; rather they would be the outcomes of learned forms of thinking.