Listen to an audio explanation of the diagram
Mental symmetry is a meta-theory of human cognition based in cognitive styles which uses analogy to examine the mechanisms driving human thought and behavior. Translating this into English:
- A meta-theory is a general theory that ties together other theories. Currently, my main method of research is to examine the theories of others and explain their findings in terms of mental symmetry.
- My topic is cognition. In other words, when I examine the theories of others, I try to understand why they are thinking the way that they do and decipher what is happening under the surface within their minds.
- I use analogy to evaluate theories and concepts. Whenever a person performs some activity or builds some theory, the mind is being used. A person cannot do or think anything without using his mind. Therefore, it should be possible to discover the structure of the mind by comparing how people think and act in different contexts.
- My goal is to discover mechanisms and not just describe behavior or pose questions. This focus upon 'how does it work' is a result of my engineering background. I suggest that a search for general mechanisms makes it possible to combine theory and practice. If similar cognitive mechanisms show up everywhere, then one has discovered a general theory. But, if this theory describes how the mind functions, then it is possible to use this understanding to reprogram the mind so that it functions in a better manner, something which is eminently practical.
- Finally, what holds everything together is the diagram of mental symmetry shown above. It is fairly simple and does not contain any complicated math (though my book does use this model to explain some of the core cognitive mechanisms behind math).
If you are a beginner to the theory of mental symmetry, I suggest starting with A Programmer's Guide to the Mind which I wrote back in 1997. Even though it is slightly out of date, it still gives a good introduction to a number of basic concepts and is written at a fairly basic level. The book is divided into five sections and you can access the rest of the book from the Psychology page.
If all of this seems too complicated, then it is possible to approach this topic simply in terms of cognitive styles. Mental symmetry divides the mind into seven cognitive modules. Each cognitive style appears to be conscious in one of these seven cognitive modules. For instance, the Mercy person is conscious in the Mercy module. Therefore, if you want to know how a cognitive module functions, simply observe the behavior of a person with the corresponding cognitive style.
When one does research, it is proper to acknowledge others who are working in the field. Don and Katie Fortune have been teaching seminars since the 1980s using the same system of cognitive styles as mental symmetry and their main book has sold over 300,000 copies. They approach cognitive styles from a strongly Christian perspective and their website is here. If you want to know how a 'Christian perspective' affects a description of cognitive styles, I have attempted to analyze that. I should mention that there has been no collaboration between us and the Fortunes. But, since we have both been using the same system of cognitive styles for over 25 years, their work should be recognized and I admit that the writing style of Katie Fortune is more readable than mine. If you want to know how this all started, you can read about that here.
Links to all my latest material can be found on the forum page where you can also post comments and questions.
God, Theology & Cognitive Modules has now been out for about a year. Sales have been disappointing, but I have had some excellent interaction with a few individuals and I am more convinced than ever that this material is both accurate and significant. A few ideas have needed tweaking (and there a few typos in the book) but overall the concepts have survived quite well. It is available on Amazon. The price of the e-book version is $8.50 and the physical book retails for $27.95.
For those who have the book and are looking at the website, you will find a lot of supplemental material here. The model continues to evolve and my understanding becomes more precise, so I do not guarantee that everything on the website is 100% consistent with the book. The book refers only peripherally to personality traits, so I suggest clicking on various words on the diagram above for more information. Make sure that you also click on the sublinks that are on those pages. Also, the book only touches on neurology. More details can be found here.
In essence, the purpose of this book is to separate the content of religion from the attitude of religious fundamentalism, which can be done by starting from a cognitive model rather than from the specific words of some holy book. This does not mean that the content of a holy book is necessarily wrong. Rather, I suggest that it is the attitude of placing blind faith in a holy book that is inadequate, and that an attitude of blind faith in a holy book will warp a person's comprehension of the content of that book in predictable ways.
I have recently been extending the model of mental symmetry to the TESOL field, in collaboration with Angelina Van Dyke. TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) ties in very well with mental symmetry because students are experiencing major personal transformations in both linguistics and culture. We presented a paper at the Canadian national TESL conference in 2012 as well as at the BC TEAL conference in 2013. We are currently preparing a paper for publication.
I have been working on the theory of mental symmetry for almost thirty years. While my first two books have been hosted on another website for several years (the second book is still available at Book 2), I decided in the summer of 2010 that it was time to put together a website of my own on the subject. This website now contains over 1500 pages of information.
The theory of mental symmetry began life as a system of cognitive styles—a way of dividing people up into seven different categories. You will find a lot of information about personality types at www.cognitivestyles.com, along with a personality test which started out several decades ago as the project for my Master’s Degree but has since been massively rewritten and expanded. Lane Friesen is my older brother, he did the initial work on cognitive styles, and we did a lot of research together, though he no longer uses the diagram of mental symmetry.
The theory of mental symmetry has the following attributes:
- It can be used to analyze personality traits and predict personal compatibilities and conflicts.
- It maps onto major brain regions. Obviously, the brain is far more complicated than the diagram of mental symmetry. However this seems to be the simplest model that encapsulates mental functioning.
- It explains cognitive development. Mental symmetry does not just divide people up into various fixed categories. It also explains how the mind develops and the major stumbling blocks that emerge on the path to growing up, and appears to provide a theoretical framework for the research that was done by Jean Piaget on cognitive development.
- It explains economic behavior. Economists talk about value, money, inflation, and the marketplace. Mental symmetry explains the mental processing that lies behind all this activity.
- It explains many psychological conditions. Psychologists like to diagnose and treat various neuroses and psychoses. I have focused on analyzing how the mind works when it is functioning properly, which also provides a clue as to what has gone wrong when a syndrome strikes.
- It includes fundamental aspects of MBTI® (the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) as a subset. The MBTI® categories are viewed as mental splits which must be integrated—at great personal cost—in order to achieve mental wholeness.
- It helps to understand history. Many years ago, I first read A Study in History, by Arnold Toynbee. While Toynbee came up with a number of significant concepts, it appears that the theory of mental symmetry allows you to go much further with the analysis of history.
- It can be used to explain the philosophy of science. In an appendix to my book, I analyze Quine's Web of Belief in extensive detail. Mental symmetry looks at the cognitive basis for scientific thought and extends this method to the subjective and the nonmaterial. Saying this another way, mental symmetry suggests how one can escape the materialism of scientism without abandoning the rational thought of science.
- It provides a rational, discussable basis for morality. According to mental symmetry, the ultimate personal goal is to achieve mental wholeness, which simply means having all seven mental modes working together in harmony. In essence, mental symmetry adds cognitive details to Kant's categorical imperative.
- It makes it possible to analyze religion. The cognitive science of religion analyzes folk religion but avoids theology. Mental symmetry uses a similar but extended approach to analyze folk religion, theology, and the cognitive science of religion. After all, a good cognitive theory should be able to analyze both the topic being studied and the researcher doing the studying.
- It provides a possible rational framework for UFOs and the supernatural. We all know that 'serious scientific work' avoids such fringe topics. However, in the same way that physicists explore concepts such as Flatland by altering natural laws in systematic ways, so I have found that if one uses the model of mental symmetry to explore the 'mirror image' of human existence, then descriptions of what we call the supernatural make some sense. This type of analysis seems to be consistent with the strangeness contained within quantum mechanics. Even if such a mirror-image non-physical realm does not exist, it appears that humans will be mentally driven to try to develop such a realm and will attempt to impose the resulting 'inhuman' structure upon the rest of humanity. I suggest that bureaucracy is one example of humans functioning in a mirror-image manner that is incompatible with normal human existence.
Obviously, when one is using a single cognitive model to analyze topics as diverse as religion, science, philosophy, psychology, culture, neurology, and 'aliens', then the very fact that these various topics are being mentioned in the same sentence may be taken by some to indicate that serious research is not being done.
However, if one takes a cognitive approach guided by a cognitive model, then one can tackle a rather broad range of topics in a rational manner. For instance, instead of trying to prove whether or not God exists, one can focus upon how the mind forms a concept of God, something which can be rationally analyzed independently of the existence of God. Even if God does not exist, a mental concept of God is sufficiently potent to drive the entire course of a society. One can even evaluate religions from a cognitive perspective. For, if one discovers that the steps which must be taken to reach mental wholeness correspond to the doctrines of a certain religion, then one can make the hypothesis that this is a valid religion.
*Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Myers-Briggs, and MBTI are trademarks or registered trademarks of the MBTI Trust, Inc., in the United States and other countries.