Plato was among the first to envision three distinct aspects to a person. He imagined and then sculpted inner conflicts, depicting a charioteer steering two powerful horses. In this sculpture, a man works hard to reign in a white horse and a dark horse; he seems to be winning the battle. This is a metaphor for how we can use reason to steer our passions, both social and primitive. As his sculpture illustrates, Plato believed that reason can win out over other forces of nature.
The artist Odilon Redonof painted Le Chart d'Apollon to depict another viewpoint about the power balance our three aspects. He showed the strong forces of nature as huge, wild horses that could not be tamed.
How can you know what is a good model for you?
There are two paths to take that will help you envision the power balance between your primitive, social, and reasonable natures:
- Learn about about human nature from neuroscience, psychology, medicine, (Scientific American Mind is fabulous for this -- I love the magazine).
- Look inside yourself.
Bring along the attitude of a professional detective doing research on both journeys; I have been doing this for years. I have looked at this topic from ther perspective of many disciplines: philosophy, soio-biology, development psychology, psychoanalysis, literature, and so forth. It helps me to study human nature and myself with as much curiosity, tolerance and patience as possible.
Let's first consider the research about human nature (primitive, social, and reasonable aspects). Although there is tons of fascinating research on these topics (See Resources for specific suggestions), each of our aspects has been studied by certain divisions of academia:
- Animals and their emotions teach us about our Primitive aspects.
- Early attachments and mirror neurons teaches us about our Social aspects.
- Cognitive neuroscience teaches us about our Reasonable aspects.
Now, think about looking inside yourself. Try to start off with a non-judgmental attitude and the assumption that you have a lot to learn.
Sometimes we can't imagine three aspects of ourselves; we just don't feel that complex. We may feel strong in one respect, but weak in another. For example, we might be very social, but scared of being primitive, or very intellectual, but asocial. It may seem that this is how we have always been and "how we are".
In my experience, your primitive, social and reasonable aspects usually get imbalanced as a result of your inexperience, neglect, and fear - or some such combination.
When one of your three aspects hasn't developed, you may suffer without knowing why. Attending an aspect of your personality that you have neglected helps renew your growth. For example, if you've neglected your mind you can start reading. Or if your social life is weak, invite some friends for dinner, or join a group or a club. Balancing out your inner self will require spending time and energy in an unfamiliar realm of the world. While initially uncomfortable, it can become lots of fun. When your discomfort lessens, you get to explore a whole new aspect of life!