[Religious Types 9] Type, Time, and Community

29 04 2012

[Previous Post in the Series]

I take Jung’s typological distinctions, especially as developed over the last century, seriously. I take them to be fairly basic ways of distinguishing how we access and interact with the world. I also take seriously the epistemological and ontological implications of the system, especially in regards to the integration of the individual and their environment. That integration has a personal dimension, but that personal dimension rests on a still more basic dimensions, those of the social/cultural and the biological.

It’s easy to think of this in terms of layers. At the ground level, the type depends upon basic functional capacities that evolved as part of the adaptations that characterize us as a species. Those adaptations are in dynamic relation with the environment. The adaptations change how species interact with the environment and those interactions transform the environment to which species adapt.

The type also interacts with society and history, the concrete ideas and habits that communities develop and transmit through cultural, rather than biological, inheritance. The elaboration of Jung’s types and the practices for applying them to different situations falls into this category.

Cognitive functions are both patterns of perception and evaluation we have developed as a species for navigating our environment and the concepts we have for talking about and refining these functions, for optimizing our use of them. While the biological dimension is fairly constant, the ways in which we talk and work on them need not be.

This way of talking about them captures well the relative durability of the biological dimensions and the dependence of the conceptual discussion upon it. The only problem, though, is that this way of talking elides the subtle yet profound dynamism at work between these two dimensions. Personal achievements can become cultural achievements and cultural achievements can exert an enormous pressure on the ecology of the species, transforming the environment and adaptive trajectory of a species.

Few things illustrate this quite so well as cooking. Cooking is not a biological trait but a cultural one. It requires a certain range of biological capacities, to be sure, but it begins as an achievement by individuals that becomes part of the cultural repertoire of their communities. Once that cultural pattern becomes widespread within a species, it significantly diminishes the amount of energy needed to digest food, which subsequently makes it possible for the organism to, through thousands of years of variation and selection, explore higher calorie biological processes (e.g., a sophisticated brain).

The cognitive features that make the discovery of cooking possible become increasingly favored as advanced cognition proves a powerful adaptation. As the brain becomes more complex, so too does the cultural field it supports and makes possible. The survivability of the organism becomes more dependent upon the individual’s integration into cultural activities. In turn, the cultural sphere itself becomes one of the more prominent ecological pressures shaping  the species’ evolutionary course.

This is where things get a little more complicated. The individual remains the point on which evolutionary pressures operate. It is the individual who reproduces or doesn’t. However, in cultural species like ours, the individual’s relationship to the community can have a dramatic impact on that process. The community can support the individual in ways that diminish the individual’s need to attend to other ecological factors.

Obviously, this can only go so far. A community remains, by and large, at the mercy of its immediate environment. Yet, within that community, it becomes possible for the individual organism to develop in a more plastic fashion. As long as the community as a whole develops in response to their environmental pressures, individuals can develop more freely. There can be a greater cognitive variation from person to person.

The community thus takes on a crude sort of unity, acting in some ways as an organism in its own right. Individuals, like the cells in the body, can become more specialized. Since the variation of the body as a whole is complicated and unlikely to be productive, that variation is going to remain largely cognitive, i.e. along the spectrum of cognitive functions.

It’s worth noting that this flexibility means that an individual type need not be genetic, i.e. it isn’t necessary that INTP reproduce an INTP. So long as the variability itself is genetic, the INTP can be born to any type, serve to benefit their community, and thus allow the genetic flexibility that makes their type possible to continue into the future.

This suggests that the relative frequency of a type in the population tells us something about the trajectory of this communal evolution. While we can’t map the present distribution of types precisely onto their evolutions, the relative cross-cultural stability of type distribution suggests the modern distribution is entrenched. It also suggests some stability in the social patterns that helped shape these developments.

[Next Post in the Series: Community by the Numbers]

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