Wednesday, October 10, 2018

#2083: Helen Palmer

An enneagram is a drawing with nine lines that in New Age religions functions as a mystical means to categorize personalities through numerology – think “self-help-directed tarot version of scientology pushed by the human potential movement”, and you’ll get the rough idea. The enneagram – more details here – purports to represent nine personality types; how you define them seems a bit nebulous, but it usually has to do with identifying the kind of fundamental energy that drives the victim person in question. The basic version of the enneagram was apparently revealed to one Oscar Ichazo, a disciple of Gurdjieff and founder of the Arica institute, in some kind of religious vision.

In any case, among the idea’s foremost current proponents is Helen Palmer, who apparently seems to be under the delusion that the esoteric oral tradition she claims to follow can somehow be backed up by science as long as she peppers her writings with concepts and phrases associated with contemporary psychology. Palmer is the author of the 1988 book The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life(Arica sued Palmer for copyright violations but lost) and says that the “Enneagram is a psychological and spiritual system with roots in ancient traditions” (1954, in fact), and that her personality types are grounded in various fundamental weaknesses or sins (anger, pride, envy, avarice, gluttony, lust, sloth, fear, and deceit) that fundamentally drive our personalities; knowing these will then ostensibly help you achieve “self-understanding and empathy, giving rise to improved relationships.” Given that there is no well-defined means for determining personality types in the system beyond bare intuition, the idea is conveniently completely untestable, of course. According to Palmer, she teaches enneagrams “in conjunction with a psychiatrist who has a deep interest in the Enneagram. The psychotherapists want it as a very useful, hot tool to work with normal, high-functioning people. You see, there is no psychology for the normal and high functioning person” – a claim that doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence in Palmer’s understanding of what psychology is actually about. In any case, it is “the spiritual agenda [that] is paramount, which is this conversion process. Whether we know it or not, we’re all transforming, because we’re hungry for the opposite of our vice. Even if we don’t know about our vice, we suffer from lack of its opposite tendency.” And yes: critical-thinking-challenged people are actually throwing money at this kind of thing.

Diagnosis: Amazing nonsense. Probably ultimately relatively harmless, however.

Hat-tip: Skepdic

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