Liminocentricity, Enantiodromia, and Personality
If consciousness is 'liminocentrically' structured, we would expect
that it should be possible to construct a personality system that
reflects this fact in some fundamental way. The key conceptual ingredients
for just such a system are available in Jung's work, although Jung did not
incorporate these aspects into his early formulation of the theory
of psychological types (1921). Nor are they manifest in the
second-generation Jungian typologies (such as the MBTI or Keirsey's
system) that are built on Jung's early formulation.
In this paper we
Each of the following figures can be conceived as having three
levels of organization. Each is a whole comprised of parts, and the parts
are comprised of even smaller parts. At the highest level of organization
all three figures are similar; they each comprise a letter 'T'. But each is also
different - made up of different KINDS of parts, in different heirarchically
arranged ordering patterns.
In this paper we
Each of the following figures can be conceived as having three levels of organization. Each is a whole comprised of parts, and the parts are comprised of even smaller parts. At the highest level of organization all three figures are similar; they each comprise a letter 'T'. But each is also different - made up of different KINDS of parts, in different heirarchically arranged ordering patterns.
One can easily imagine a structure that would be a 'twice removed' fractal arrangement - a T made up of Xs made up of Os made up of Ts, for example. Or we might imagine a 'thrice removed' fractal structure, or one that is '10 times removed'.
When, like the figure immediately above, a structure is fractal with respect only to the highest and lowest levels, it is fractal at its two extremities and we may say that it thus resembles what we have been calling a 'liminocentric' structure. It is (relatively) 'indistinguishable' at its highest and lowest levels of organization.
If one is to believe what 'string theory' in physics has to say, extremely large distances in the physical world may be LITERALLY identical to (i.e. indistinguishable from) extremely small distances. Physical reality may thus exhibit a fractal identity at its extremities, and turn out to be a liminocentric structure. [See 'A Conversation with Physicist Brian Greene', in this issue of the Journal.]
Liminocentric structures also seem sometimes to manifest strange, paradoxical features - such as 'holographic' organization, in which the part appears to 'contain' the whole. By examining the following figures it is easy to see how holographic structure is a natural consequence of liminocentric organization.
This kind of arrangement - the looped series of nested-frames that we are calling a 'liminocentric' structure - has cropped up in various fields, where it has proven itself to be a useful model. The following diagram, for example, was used by Richard Schenchner, a Professor of Performance Studies at NYU, in his book Between Theatre & Anthopology. 1 He was trying to illustrate the fascinating 'suspension of disbelief' that characteristically takes place in theatre and performance art, in which there is an 'agreement to let the smaller frame AB become the larger frame AB1'. The resulting nested frames thereby assume what we would call a liminocentric arrangement.
In earlier articles we have also shown how liminocentricity is  utilized as an explanatory device in
music theory;  used in Indian myth to help us 'pull ourselves up by our bootstraps', according to Mary Doniger O'Flaherty;  appears as a metaphor for 'God' in the work of Plotinus; and  operates as a principle of organization in the mandala in general, and in the figures of the Enneagram and Dzogchen mandalas in
We have also argued that participatory democracy is the form of SOCIAL organization that is closest to displaying a liminocentric structure. 2
But why do we want to attribute such a strange structure to consciousness per se? In order to adequately explain this, we must begin by taking a look at what motivates us to say that consciousness 'has a structure' in the first place. For only then can we describe what it means to say, more specifically, that it has a 'liminocentric' structure.
In this section we wish to show how, on the basis of previous work that has been done in the area of philosophy of mind, it can be said that consciousness has a structure. And then we want to demonstrate what advantages there are to saying that consciousness might ultimately best be characterized as 'liminocentrically' structured - that is, structured like a series of chinese boxes, one within the other, with the innermost box indentical, paradoxically, to the outermost box.
The metaphor of the Chinese boxes becomes especially meaningful when we identify those boxes as the experiential 'frames' or 'contexts' that operate within the individual's consciousness as she goes about her daily business. So we will start there - with an analysis of how our experience of 'context' is constructed in everday life, out of the more basic elements of consciousness.
A Model of Consciousness that Conceives of it as Structured
The singlemost important fact about consciousness may be, as philosopher of mind C.O. Evans (1970) was the first to point out, that it is structured, and that it is structured BY attention. 3 Attention plays the function of 'bifurcating' consciousness, dividing it into levels of awareness. It brings a 'figure' (of which we are explicitly aware) into relief against a 'background'. The background remains in what Evans called 'unprojected' consciousness. Although elements in the background of consciousness remain outside of the focal area circumscribed by attention, they are nonetheless 'in' consciousness. We can be said to be 'aware' of what is in the background, but in a different way than we are aware of what is in attention.
We are 'subsidiarily aware' of what is in the background of awareness, according to Evans and Fudjack (1976) 4, who chose to use Michael Polanyi's term to describe the kind of awareness that is relegated to the background. Out of this subsidiary awareness of elements in the background of consciousness we construct what we normally call 'context'. As we go about our daily business we are aware of the contexts in which we operate, albeit subsidiarily aware.
Objects of our attention are best conceived, then, as embedded in contexts, somewhat like a content in a container. The context, when it is operating AS context, remains in the background and is experienced in a non-focal way, with a more diffuse type of awareness. Context is typically experienced, Evans and Fudjack postulated, in the mode of 'feeling' 5 - we directly experience context as an 'underlying feeling state'; it lends a 'feeling tone' to whatever the object of attention is at the moment.
From behind the scenes, our feeling states influence what items will be 'selected' and relevated into projected consciousness as objects of attention. It is in this way that our feeling states can be said to perform the 'evaluative' function that Jung singled out as the defining quality of what he called the 'feeling function'.
Conversely, we respond to the objects to which we attend by subtle changes that occur in our feeling states (moods) or not-so-subtle changes (emotions).
So there is a feed-back and feed-forward relationship between what is in projected consciousness at any given moment and what is in unprojected consciousness. There are shifts in our feeling state as attention deflects from one object to another, in a complex series of moves which, taken together, make up the personal 'storylines' of our lives.
Although we can bring elements of the background into attention, we can never make the background itself an object of attention. 6 But this does not prevent us from widening the scope of attention in order to make explicit what is currently in 'subsidiary awareness' as an element of unprojected consciousness - although by doing so, that element is taken out of subsidiary awareness and is brought into projected consciousness as a focal object of attention.
By manipulating attention in this way, we can bring what was previously operating AS CONTEXT into the foreground of attention, as object. Or, conversely, we can narrow the scope of attention, focusing on some 'detail' of a particular object of attention - making this detail the new object of attention, while allowing other aspects of the previous object of attention to recede into the background.
Because we can widen and narrow the scope of attention in this way, it makes sense to speak of consciousness as not only organized by attention into two levels - which we can refer to by respectively speaking of 'content' and 'context' (or 'foreground' and 'background') - but also as organized into a multiplicity of HIERARCHICALLY arranged levels, which we experience as nested contexts.
Consciousness as Liminocentrically Structured
A model of consciousness such as the one presented in the section above describes an arrangement that is very close to a liminocentric structure. All that need be done in order to conceive of the structure that is modeled as 'liminocentric' is to recognize the nested heirarchy of contexts as arranged in a non-linear fashion - with the beginning of the series wrapping back around on the other end, in a loop.
But what does this 'looping back' mean EXPERIENTIALLY? For unless there is some experiential significance in seeing consciousness in this way modeling it as a liminocentric structure could turn out to be just a meaningless abstraction.
Experientially, what it means for consciousness to have such a structure is that one winds up in the same place whether one NARROWS the scope of attention to the maximum possible extent (by 'concentrating' awareness) or WIDENS the scope of attention to the maximum possible degree (thereby diffusing awareness). At both extremities one experiences a 'pure', 'undifferentiated', or 'objectless' state of awareness. These two extreme mental states are indentical and indistinguishable, phenomenologically speaking. While IN the objectless state of awareness, there is nothing to distinguish the state arrived at by an extreme concentration of attention from the one arrived at by an extreme expansion of attention.
It may, however, be the case that the same state can be used in different ways, depending upon how one exits or enters it. For instance, there is an undifferentiated state arrived at by a concentration of attention that is called 'samyama' in Patanjali's 'Yoga Sutras'. One enters into this state by concentrating on an object, peeling away its successive conceptual layers. It is as if one is entering into the 'essence' of the object of meditation when the undifferentiated state that this process results in occurs. When one returns from the undifferentiated state, however, it is presumably with paranormal knowledge about the object - according to these sutras. We might describe what happens in such a process by saying that one 'intuits' something about the object by permitting oneself to enter so deeply into it as to experience its 'empty core'.
What about the undifferentiated state arrived at by diffusing attention? When we widen the scope of attention to include progressively larger frames, what happens? If, as Evans argues, our experience of 'self' arises out of our identification with the frames that remain in the background of awareness as we attend to objects in the foreground 7 then the progressive widening of attention will make the series of nested frames explicit; so as one pulls back or 'zooms out', the larger, more inclusive frames are brought into focus and one 'steps out' of lower-level frames and lower-level self-identifications. The outer limit to this process is to bring 'everything' into attention, with nothing remaining in 'background awareness'. This would be commensurate to a realization of 'egolessness', as Evans pointed out back in 1970. 8
In either case - whether we expand or contract attention to its limit, consciousness winds up 'undifferentiated', lacking the bifurcation (into subject and object) that characterizes normal or 'everyday' consciousness.
Accomodating Mystical Knowledge about 'Extreme' States
Basically, what we have done by taking the model one step beyond the work of Dr. Evans, and specifically identifying the structure of consciousness as 'liminocentric' is to accomodate what mystics have been telling us for ages about the basic nature of the mind, as this essential nature is revealed by an investigation of certain 'extreme' mental states.
In the West we tend to think of 'enlightenment' itself as an exceptional mental state, outside of (or separate from) ordinary states. But in many of the spiritual traditions of the East, enlightenment is described as, in essence, a 'realization' 9 about the ultimate nature of the mind. Enlightenment is really nothing but the 'ordinary' state, as seen (and experienced) from a somewhat wider perspective, as it were. This is not unlike how the Newtonian frame which describes events in the material world at a HUMAN scale can be conceived as enclosed within a wider frame of explanation that is Einsteinian.
Perhaps we can explain this by using a second visual metaphor, as follows.
By 'dilating' and 'expanding' the scope of our attention we not only discover that 'form is emptiness' (the donut has a hole), but also that 'emptiness is form' (objects precipitate out of the larger 'space') - to use Buddhist terminology. The emptiness that we arrive at by narrowing our focus on the innermost is identical to the emptiness that we arrive at by expanding our focus to the outermost. The 'infinitely large' is identical to the 'infinitesimally small'.
This enlightenment experience is a realization about the nature of the mind which entails recognizing it (in a direct, experiential way) as liminocentrically organized. The overall structure is paradoxical, and so the articulation of this realization will 'transcend' logic - insofar as logic itself is based on the presumption that nested sets are not permitted to loop back on themselves in a non-heirarchical manner. 11
But as we tried to demonstrate in our recent series on the Enneagram as Mandala, liminocentric organization not only provides a structure that explains why consciousness is inextricably paradoxical, and accounts for our sense of irony and mystery, it also permit us to appeal to logic (the 'law of the excluded middle') within certain limited and specifiable boundaries. Such a structure thus reconciles 'incompatibles' (logic and paradox, in this case) by conceiving of the system as odd or unusual (ie, 'paradoxical') ONLY at its extremes. 12
Similarly, the ordinary 'psychological' space in which our experience as human beings takes
Just as the orthogonal x, y, z coordinate system that models human-scale physical space provides us with only a rough and partial truth - and thereby constitutes a 'limiting case' of a more general law - Jung's diagram does not adequately represent psychological space. A more accurate picture, like Figure 3 below, would show the dimensions wrapping back around on themselves so as to constitute an 'enantiodromically' related function-pair, as we defined that in our Conclusion to the mandala series.
In our Mandala series we showed how Thinking and Feeling (and also iNtuition and Sensing) comprise a complementary pair of polar opposites that are so inextricably intertwined that one is tempted to think of them as conceptually inseparable. Like the 'incommensurables' that the mandala nevertheless succeeds in 'reconciling', the incompatible functions are inextricably joined together in a pair of polar opposites. So when we talk about one of these functions 'turning into' its polar opposite, we must construe this quite literally.
And then the 'extended' diagram above, with its 'circular' dimensions, becomes the more apt illustration of the psychological space in which we live. As we move along the T-F axis, away from the original intersection (A), T incrementally increases until at some 'extreme' point (B) it 'enantiodromically' transforms into 'F'. The same thing can, of course, be said about moving in the other direction, along the 'F' portion of the T-F axis. Or about what happens as we move outward along the 'S' limb of the 'S-N' axis (when suddenly we find 'S' transforming into 'N') or along the 'N' limb (where, at some point, 'N' transforms into 'S').
Loomis's Critique of Jung's Simple 'Cross' Diagram
Jungian analyst Mary Loomis makes a similar point to the one that we are here making - about the inadequacy of Jung's simple 'cross' diagram.
The oppositional arrangement of the functions as imaged by the cross was a teaching device used by Jung to explain the possible interactions of the functions. Unfortunately, it has contributed to the misunderstanding of Jung's theory. The cross is an incomplete symbol. The oppositional arrangement contradicts Jung's basic premise that the aim of psychological growth is the resolution of opposites. [Mary E. Loomis's Dancing The Wheel of Psychological Types (Wilmette, Illinois: Ciron Publications, 1991), p. 31)
Furthermore, it is not JUST the diagram with which Loomis finds fault. 'Jung's use of the cross symbol', she suggests, 'is not the ONLY reason why misconceptions about his theory have occured'. Loomis, we believe, is politely hinting at the fact that Jung's position changed in some signicant ways after he published his 1921 work on personality.
'It is my intent ...', she continues, 'to clarify the concepts in Jung's theory of psychological types, utilizing his later, more obscure writings and comments.' She is referring to the same material to which we appeal in the 'Enneagram as Mandala' series in order to explain how Jung came to believe that personality could change profoundly by re-organizing it around what he called 'the Self', as opposed to taking the 'ego' as its center. 'Then I will reframe the dynamics of his theory,' Loomis announces, 'in order to return to Jung's original intention that typology be a road map for the individuation process'. 14
What, specifically, is misleading about the cross-diagram, according to Loomis? It misleads us, she says, when it comes to explaining how what she calls the 'eight cognitive modes' [Ni, Ne, Fi, Fe, Ti, Te, Si, Se] characteristically 'interact'.
The image of the cross reinforced the idea of oppositions and of preferring or developing one function at the expense of another function. But permanent oppositions, as we have noted, are contrary to Jung's basic premise that the resolution of opposites is the aim and goal of an individual moving toward increased consciousness. It becomes obvious, as we examine Jung's theory of psychological types more closely, that Jung utilized the symbol of the cross as a teaching device to explain how he conceived the four functions to be interacting in an unaware, unconscious individual personality.
As we shall see, the problem is not so much that the resulting typology is 'static'. The difficulty, rather, is that the topological surface on which the relationship between the four functions is mapped is two-dimensional and 'linear' - i.e., it does not depict the 'enantiodromic' capacity that T has for 'turning into' F (or vice versa) or N to turn into S (and vice versa).
Motivated partially by a desire to conceive of each function as capable of an enantiodromic shift, Loomis offers an alternative to the cross-diagram 15, but one which tries to remain within the limiting confines of a two-dimensional surface. Her only recourse for dealing with the linearity imposed by a flat surface is to enclose the cross in a 'circle', which hints at the fact that the outer edges of the cross might be able to connect in some kind of 'looped', non-linear fashion.
There are advantages, however, to extending the 'simple cross' diagram using the alternative that we suggest above, by creating a 3-dimensional model. The original two-dimensional figure can then be seen as a projection of the sphere onto a plane. One can easily see why Jung's figure is not wrong, per se - when one recognizes that if one looks down at the sphere in Figure 3 from the top, one sees Figure 2. This doesn't make Figure 2 any less misleading, insofar as it gives the impression when taken by itself that the dimensions or axes are linear when they are in fact circular.
There is a second, perhaps more important advantage to working with a three dimensional model of the sort we've put forward above. We begin to see that the dimensions of human psychological space can be defined or described in such a way as to create a very interesting topological surface on which human personality types can be 'mapped'. This surface is similar to the kinds of surfaces on which modern physics has, for nearly a century now, been mapping our physical world (See 'Conversation with Physicist Brian Greene').
In comparison, until very recently psychologists have followed an increasingly conservative path with respect to modeling. In their desire to be seen as 'real' scientists they have ironically not permitted themselves the same kind of conceptual freedoms that brought success in other fields like physics. This is doubly ironic, because long before the physicists adopted such strategies, artists, mystics, and folk psychologists demonstrated a profound interest in describing human experiential space in terms of additional 'unseen' dimensions and in terms of dimensions related in non-linear, paradoxical fashions.
As a consequence of this conceptual conservatism in psychology there are no major theories that map personality onto the kinds of unconventional topological surfaces that we have been considering in this and other papers on this site.
It seems to us that the first step in moving in this direction is to recognize the need to do so. We must sensitize ourselves to the benefits of non-linear topologies, perhaps by looking to physics and other disciplines, where they have been used successfully.
The second step is to identify precursors in this regard - the Buddhist system, for instance, which maps personality type onto the surface of the 'mandala', which, as we have attempted to show, is conceived as a non-linear (indeed 'liminocentric') surface. Or we can look to the Enneagram, which can also be construed as a mandala with liminocentric structuring, as we have shown. In addition, we might turn our attention, as we've done here, to the implications that the concept of 'enantiodromia' has for understanding the relationships that exist between the very DIMENSIONS of psychological space.
Since none of the systems mentioned above carry the topological mapping project to completion, it is probably wise to consider them precursors to the kind of personality typology that might be constructed in the future if topological concerns are taken seriously. The Buddhist system, like the Enneagram, lacks the idea of personality 'variables' (or 'dimensions') that are defined independently of the personality 'types' that are distinguished - what we have elsewhere called an adequate 'theoretical infrastructure'. But, by virtue of its sensitivity to liminocentric structuring, it offers us profound insight into what a 'path of realization' approach to personality is. It shows us how we might conceive of our inadvertent internal 'contradictions' as telling us something PROFOUND about the nature of the non-linear shape of the psychological space in which we exist as conscious human beings.
Similarly, although the MBTI (as an offshoot of the Jungian system) provides us with a viable theoretical 'infrastructure' by which the dimensions of human psychological space might be fundamentally described, it fails to discern the NON-LINEAR nature of the topological surface that will be required to adequately model the structure of the mind. It thus winds up providing an over-simplified description of the psychological 'space' in which we abide as human beings.
Only by avoiding these theoretical pitfalls, while continuing to cherish the insights that each system respectively offers, can we put ourselves in a position to arrive at a synthesis of the two, a more complete view of what a sophisticated and adequate personality theory might actually look like.