Science, Yes. Only Science, No.

It's All In The Evidence

The Enneagram Monthly articles inquiring whether the Enneagram can embrace science are important both for their contributions and for dealing with an implicit bias in our culture. The bias can be stated something like this. "If it is scientific, then it is true." I like that. The implicit other side of that, "If it is not scientific, it is not true," I don't like.

Let me illustrate. I'm from Kansas and every few years our legislature publicly embarrasses itself in front of everyone. Two sides meet to discuss educational curriculum. On one side are educators, equipped with science: texts, history, numbers–- the full arsenal. On the other side are the "creationists," with a poorly hidden agenda of protecting morality and the bible. T. S. Eliot has a wonderful line, "…united in the struggle that divides us." What unites them is their unconscious bias: only science is true. The educators claim truth because they have science. But watch closely. The creationists claim science because they start from the position that the bible is true. And if it is true, it is scientific.

Once you insist on only science being true it is a short step to fundamentalism and defending Noah's Ark as holding dinosaurs and polar bears. As embarrassing as it may seem to deGrasse Tyson, Sarah Palin is a scientist! Fundamentalism is the scientific bias without erudition. Scientists insist on facts and Fundamentalism treats literary texts only as facts.

The facile identification of science with truth shows up in our everyday language. If something does not require a lot of intelligence, we say, "Well, it's not rocket science." (Rocket science isn't doing so well, lately, either, their last ship blew up, so maybe we should look elsewhere for intellectual criteria). But we never say, "Well, it's not like irregular Greek verbs" or" it's not as hard as learning a Bach fugue."

So, let me go all Ken Wilber and argue that while science has hegemony (his term) over the way of reaching truth in our culture, there are several other ways. In his Marriage of Sense and Soul, he quotes the Perennial Philosophy tradition, (think Hugh of St. Victor and Duns Scotus) which asserts there are three ways of knowing: the eye of the flesh, the eye of the mind and the eye of the soul.

The eye of the mind would roughly correspond to contemporary science, and is monological. That means the scientist looks at the rock but the rock doesn't look back. This is the way of sensory or computer validation only. Everything else is subjective, anecdotal and slippery. The operative and telltale word here is "proof." Proof has only one methodology for the majority of our culture. Tobacco companies killed millions because they insisted on only one definition of proof. Now climate deniers do the same.

The eye of the mind is dialogical and requires at least two subjects and involves feedback. Dialogical knowledge requires two minds. Two people cannot discuss a book until both of them read it. There are subjective elements. When you listen to music on the radio and the DJ wants to be serenely objective, she does not talk about key changes or modulation in the third movement. She tells how many concerts, how many awards and whatever can be counted. She sticks to indisputable data. A seminar, on the other hand, can discuss opinions, preferences, subjective impressions and what in our culture is frequently dismissed as "soft" data.

The eye of the soul is direct experience. Wilber calls that translogical. This is the world of direct immediate experience, the kind we have of knowing ourselves, experiencing emotions and not being moved by outside evidence to the contrary. Science often identifies with being "evidence-based." That's nice. But that just pushes you back to another problem. What do you consider evidence? Ask anyone who has done counseling. How do you present evidence that one loves or does not love you? Evidently, evidence is not self-evident. I think the Enneagram community can quite comfortably embrace science and knowledge gleaned from dialog and direct experience.

Let me illustrate the three ways. Dr. Jerome Wagner can represent a scientific approach. A Five with a keen intellect whetted by a Jesuit education and equipped with computers and with the ability to talk about statistics in complete sentences, he devised a 500-item questionnaire that will pass muster as science in any academic or scientific arena. His approach fairly bristles with the objectivity so revered by scientists.

The Narrative tradition doesn't use 500 questions. Their approach is the eye of the mind: the narrative tradition (which I wish they would call the dialogue tradition for my convenience) asks for the subjects to reveal themselves. They talk back. Both sides have to continually refine each other's understanding of the experience of their Enneagram style. Without computers or "objective" verification, people see the Enneagram as it happens to panels and observers. This requires training and relevant information. Anyone who can read can get his or her correct style from Wagner's scientific test. Not so with the dialogue tradition.

What Wilber calls the translogic way of knowing is immediate direct experience.

Last week, I explained to a coaching client that she was a style Nine. After about 20 minutes she broke into tears and said she had never been known this well. That's knowledge from the inside about the inside.

Yesterday I received this e mail from an Enneagram teacher about learning his Enneagram style. "When I heard a panel of Threes speak, I knew intuitively that this was my type. I knew that the material was true and the people were being honest. It explained idiosyncrasies about me that were previously incomprehensible. Although I am a physician and usually require evidence-based proofs to accept new concepts I knew with certainty that the Enneagram offered me the truth."

So while I applaud the Enneagram community embracing science, I am also concerned that our culture of reductionist science be reverenced as the only (especially implicit) criterion of Enneagram truth and validity. The cultural bias is one of the reasons the Enneagram is not accepted more in academic settings.

Of course the Enneagram is scientific – the collective evidence of thousands of people is valid. But the Enneagram is also poetic and literary and intuitive. It is discovered where minds meet. The Enneagram is also an experience those who study it find utterly convincing without any outside evidence being necessary.

The following anecdote is offered not as scientific evidence, just proof that the reality of the Enneagram is obvious. My five-year-old grandson was listening to a well-known announcer, Dick Vitale, broadcast a basketball game. Vitale is loud, fast-talking and fizzes with exuberance. He is obviously a flaming Seven. The technical term enjoyed by many Enneagram teachers is puer aeternus. My grandson recognized puer aeternus, but didn't have the Latin, so he commented, "He sounds like an old teenager." Nailed it. No science required.