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THE FOUNDATIONS OF PERSONALITY

BY ABRAHAM MYERSON, M.D.

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION
I. THE ORGANIC BASIS OF CHARACTER
II. THE ENVIRONMENTAL BASIS OF CHARACTER
III. MEMORY AND HABIT
IV. STIMULATION, INHIBITION, ORGANIZING ENERGY, CHOICE AND CONSCIOUSNESS
V. HYSTERIA, SUBCONSCIOUSNESS AND FREUDIANISM
VI. EMOTION, INSTINCT, INTELLIGENCE AND WILL
VII. EXCITEMENT, MONOTONY AND INTEREST
VIII. THE SENTIMENTS OF LOVE, FRIENDSHIP, HATE, PITY AND DUTY, COMPENSATION AND ESCAPE
IX. ENERGY RELEASE AND THE EMOTIONS
X. COURAGE, RESIGNATION, SUBLIMATION, PATIENCE, THE WISH AND ANHEDONIA
XI. THE EVOLUTION OF CHARACTER WITH ESPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE GROWTH OF PURPOSE AND PERSONALITY
XII. THE METHODS OF PURPOSE-WORK CHARACTERS
XIII. THE QUALITIES OF THE LEADER AND THE FOLLOWER
XIV. SEX CHARACTERS AND DOMESTICITY
XV. PLAY, RECREATION, HUMOR AND PLEASURE SEEKING
XVI. RELIGIOUS CHARACTERS. DISHARMONY IN CHARACTER
XVII. SOME CHARACTER TYPES

THE FOUNDATIONS OF PERSONALITY

INTRODUCTION

Man's interest in character is founded on an intensely practical need. In whatsoever relationship we deal with our fellows, we base our intercourse largely on our understanding of their characters. The trader asks concerning his customer, "Is he honest?" and the teacher asks about the pupil, "Is he earnest?" The friend bases his friendship on his good opinion of his friend; the foe seeks to know the weak points in the hated one's make-up; and the maiden yearning for her lover whispers to, herself, "Is he true?" Upon our success in reading the character of others, upon our understanding of ourselves hangs a good deal of our life's success or failure.

Because the feelings are in part mirrored on the face and body, the experience of mankind has become crystallized in beliefs, opinions and systems of character reading which are based on physiognomy, shape of head, lines of hand, gait and even the method of dress and the handwriting. Some of these all men believe in, at least in part. For example, every one judges character to a certain extent by facial expression, manner, carriage and dress. A few of the methods used have become organized into specialties, such as the study of the head or phrenology, and the study of the hand or palmistry. All of these systems are really "materialistic" in that they postulate so close a union of mind and body as to make them inseparable.

But there are grave difficulties in the way of character-judging by these methods. Take, for example, the study of the physiognomy as a means to character understanding. All the physiognomists, as well as the average man, look upon the high, wide brow as related to great intelligence. And so it is—sometimes. But it is also found in connection with disease of the brain, as in hydrocephalus, and in old cases of rickets. You may step into hospitals for the feeble-minded or for the insane and find here and there a high, noble brow. Conversely you may attend a scientific convention and find that the finest paper of the meeting will be read not by some Olympian-browed member, but by a man with a low, receding forehead, who nevertheless possesses a high-grade intellect.

So for centuries men have recognized in the large aquiline nose a sign of power and ability. Napoleon's famous dictum that no man with this type of proboscis is a fool has been accepted by many, most of whom, like Napoleon probably, have large aquiline noses. The number of failures with this facial peculiarity has never been studied, nor has any one remarked that many a highly successful man has a snub nose. And in fact the only kind of a nose that has a real character value is the one presenting no obstruction to breathing. The assigned value given to a "pretty" nose has no relation to character, except as its owner is vain because of it.

One might go on indefinitely discussing the various features of the face and discovering that only a vague relationship to character existed. The thick, moist lower lip is the sensual lip, say the physiognomists, but there are saints with sensual lips and chaste thoughts. Squinty eyes may indicate a shifty character, but more often they indicate conjunctivitis or some defect of the optical apparatus. A square jaw indicates determination and courage, but a study of the faces of men who won medals in war for heroism does not reveal a preponderance of square jaws. In fact, man is a mosaic of characters, and a fine nature in one direction may be injured by a defect in another; even if one part of the face really did mean something definite, no one could figure out its character value because of the influence of other features—contradictory, inconsistent, supplementary. Just as the wisest man of his day took bribes as Lord Chancellor, so the finest face may be invalidated by some disharmony, and a fatal weakness may disintegrate a splendid character. Moreover, no one really studies faces disinterestedly, impartially, without prejudice. We like or dislike too readily, we are blinded by the race, sex and age of the one studied, and, most fatal of all, we judge by standards of beauty that are totally misleading. The sweetest face may hide the most arrant egoist, for facial beauty has very little to do with the nature behind the face. In fact, facial make-up is more influenced by diet, disease and racial tendency than by character.

It would be idle to take up in any detail the claims of phrenologist and palmist. The former had a very respectable start in the work of Broca and Gall[1] in that the localization of function in the various parts of the brain made at least partly logical the belief that the conformation of the head also indicated functions of character. But there are two fatal flaws in the system of phrenological claims. First, even if there were an exact cerebral localization of powers, which there is not, it would by no means follow that the shape of the head outlined the brain. In fact, it does not, for the long-headed are not long-brained, nor are the short-headed short-brained. Second, the size and disposal of the sinuses, the state of nutrition in childhood have far more to do with the "bumps" of the head than brain or character. The bump of philoprogenitiveness has in my experience more often been the result of rickets than a sign of parental love.

[1] It is to be remembered that phrenology had a good standing at one time, though it has since lapsed into quackdom. This is the history of many a "short cut" into knowledge. Thus the wisest men of past centuries believed in astrology. Paracelsus, who gave to the world the use of Hg in therapeutics, relied in large part for his diagnosis and cures upon alchemy and astrology.

Without meaning to pun, we may dismiss the claims of palmistry offhand. Normally the lines of the hand do not change from birth to death, but character does change. The hand, its shape and its texture are markedly influenced by illness,[1] toil and care. And gait, carriage, clothes and the dozen and one details by which we judge our fellows indicate health, strength, training and culture, all of which are components of character, or rather are characters of importance but give no clue to the deeper-lying traits.

[1] Notably is the shape of the hand changed by chronic heart and lung disease and by arthritis. But the influence of the endocrinal secretions is very great.

As a matter of fact, judgment of character will never be attained through the study of face, form or hand. As language is a means not only of expressing truth but of disguising it, so these surface phenomena are as often masks as guides. Any sober-minded student of life, intent on knowing himself or his fellows, will seek no royal road to this knowledge, but will endeavor to understand the fundamental forces of character, will strive to trace the threads of conduct back to their origins in motive, intelligence, instinct and emotion.

We have emphasized the practical value of some sort of character analysis in dealing with others. But to know himself has a hugely practical value to every man, since upon that knowledge depends self-correction. For "man is the only animal that deliberately undertakes while reshaping his outer world to reshape himself also."[1] Moreover, man is the only seeker of perfection; he is a deep, intense critic of himself. To reach nobility of character is not a practical aim, but is held to be an end sufficient in itself. So man constantly probes into himself—"Are my purposes good; is my will strong—how can I strengthen my control, how make righteous my instincts and emotions?" It is true that there is a worship—and always has been—of efficiency and success as against character; that man has tended to ask more often, "What has he done?" or, "What has he got?" rather than, "What is he?" and that therefore man in his self-analysis has often asked, "How shall I get?" or, "How shall I do?" In the largest sense these questions are also questions of character, for even if we discard as inadequate the psychology which considers behavior alone as important, conduct is the fruit of character, without which it is sterile.

[1] Hocking.

This book does not aim at any short cuts by which man may know himself or his neighbor. It seeks to analyze the fundamentals of personality, avoiding metaphysics as the plague. It does not define character or seek to separate it from mind and personality. Written by a neurologist, a physician in the active practice of his profession, it cannot fail to bear more of the imprint of medicine, of neurology, than of psychology and philosophy. Yet it has also laid under contribution these fields of human effort. Mainly it will, I hope, bear the marks of everyday experience, of contact with the world and with men and women and children as brother, husband, father, son, lover, hater, citizen, doer and observer. For it is this plurality of contact that vitalizes, and he who has not drawn his universals of character out of the particulars of everyday life is a cloistered theorist, aloof from reality.