Critical thinking is not for everyone? (Enneagrams)

Recently at work we had to take Enneagram tests, followed by a three week course on the subject, in three weekly two hour meetings, given to us by an expert.

My view of those personality tests:

  1. If you force people to answer leading questions that pigeonhole them into a bunch of set categories, you will get results that look similar to the categories involved.
  2. The rest of it does not follow logically, or psychologically, or scientifically, and is not based on a foundation that’s in any way rational.

To clarify, there are nine personality types, and apparently I am a reformer, type one. But each type has (to avoid their jargon) an unhappy path and a happy path. In other words each type can be in a healthy or unhealthy state, and in that state, they take on the characteristics of another personality type. However, we were given explanations neither for how these arbitrary major types are selected, nor how their preset paths to the healthy and unhealthy states work. That is, the arbitrarily selected personality types take on preset characteristics of other arbitrary personality types, and this has no foundation in… well anything really.

Can you guess why these explanations were not given? (Bait and switch, baby!) Of course, it’s because the enneagrams are based on pseudoscience. Why does each type have preset paths to another type? This is where the pseudoscience comes in. You can find a decent explanation here. It’s also clear that other skeptics have a similar view to me. See this skeptics stack exchange question. It happens to be about the same test that we took at work. There’s no answer posted, but the view of skeptics is clear from the comments.

Here is an excerpt from the first link above, illustrating the rationale behind the way the personality types relate and the selection of the preset types that they take on under healthy and unhealthy states:

An enneagram is, literally, a drawing with nine lines. Figuratively, however, the enneagram is a New Age mandala, a mystical gateway to personality typing. The drawing is based upon a belief in the mystical properties of the numbers7 and 3.* It consists of a circle with nine equidistant points on the circumference. The points are connected by two figures: one connects the number 1 to 4 to 2 to 8 to 5 to 7 and back to 1; the other connects 3, 6 and 9. The 142857 sequence is based on the fact that dividing 7 into 1 yields an infinite repetition of the sequence 142857. In fact, dividing 7 into any whole number not a multiple of 7 will yield the infinite repetition of the sequence 142857. Also, 142857 x 7 = 999999. And of course 1 divided by 3 yields an infinite sequence of threes. The triangle joining points 3, 6 and 9 links all the numbers on the circle divisible by 3. To ascribe metaphysical or mystical significance to the properties of numbers is mere superstition and a throwback to an earlier time in human history when ignorance was considered a point of view (apologies to “Dilbert” and Scott Adams).

As you can see, the pseudoscience behind the enneagrams is numerology. Just because there is some mathematical relationship between a bunch of numbers when you divide them by each other does not mean that personality types assigned to those numbers have characteristics of those numbers. Numeral systems are in any case simply a representation of numbers that people came up with. In other words, an abstraction, a map to represent real concrete things. Any “mysterious relationship” between numbers is simply a quirk of the numeral system itself. Would a numeral system other than base 10 yield the same “mysterious” relationships between numbers? I don’t think so… But to apply other things, in this case types of personality… to those numbers, and read something into that… well that’s just silly.

If you go ahead and read the Skeptic’s Dictionary link above, it should be clear that it’s all nonsense. Enneagrams may have some merit, because once you force people to answer questions that put them into a broad category, the category will apply to them… somewhat. But the rest of it is pure bullshit. The reports read like a bunch of Barnum statements which could apply to anybody. Primed to credulously accept them because the broad categories seem applicable, people who take the test then buy into it without really noticing.

And yet, nobody else in the office has my view. I wouldn’t rate myself as much above average a critical thinker. But everybody else in the office seem to have approached the subject very credulously indeed. (Unless of course some kept their skeptocism to themselves.) I don’t believe Enneagrams are harmful because the vague, general descriptions in the reports based on them do contain things that apply to everybody, so by following them when dealing with others, we may accidentally consider their thoughts and feelings. So it could do some good… by accident. The person running the coaching I was part of was quite obsessed with it and did seem to help people, but I have seen such zeal before, in others obsessed with other personality tests, as well as religion, 12 step programs, astrology, and psychics. The placebo effect is real.

To be fair, I did keep an open mind. But open does not mean that I accept claims without checking them out. And the claims made by Enneagrams do not check out. Of course nobody who buys into Enneagrams will read this and accept my conclusion. I am, after all, being critical, and a true believer will likely deduce that I am just doing what a type one does in writing this, thus everything written here can be dismissed as exactly what a reformer would write. More broadly, they could probably write off every skeptic as being a reformer too.

2 thoughts on “Critical thinking is not for everyone? (Enneagrams)

    1. Employers love it too. They can put people into nice little pigeonholes and explain away when people respond to being treated like shit as them being on the negative path of their personality rather than face the fact that they treat people like shit.


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