Many personality and psychological test consultants call themselves Compass or Meridian Services, assuring us with science they will guide us to know ourselves. Contrary to popular demand, the science of personality is primitive. With no definitive markers for our inner terrain, we cling fearfully to the contours of our ego like ancient sailors hugging the shoreline.
I became interested in personality when as a teenager I saw my friend's reflection in a window and realized his face was like a reflection only and I could not see directly what made his personality.
The empirical approach to mapping personality was not even considered until after John Stuart Mill's (1843) System of Logic of the Moral Sciences (Book VI). He described the possibilities for two empirical sciences of human nature: the general science of mind in Chapter IV (psychology) analogous to physics, and the more particular science of character development in Chapter V (ethology) analogous to geological history. Broadly speaking there resulted two competing disciplines. Psychology investigates what is most general about a person while characterology investigates what is most particular.
Ideas for measurement began in the 1860s with Francis Galton in psychology and with Julius Bahnsen in characterology (who's principles were applied to handwriting analysis by Abbe Michon), resulting respectively in the subfields of mental testing and handwriting analysis.
The most general in psychology of personality is personality traits that are common across the total population, which is the deterministic individual differences measured by statistical analysis in mental testing (or psychometry). The most particular in characterology of personality is the psychodynamic character of our dissociative motivations which is the willfully unique expression of the person, measured by the lettered landscape with handwriting analysis or graphology.
While character primarily was of interest to continental psychologists in Europe, personality traits were the interest of anglo-psychologists in England and North America. By the 1930s an international journal, Character and Personality, shared research from these two disciplines combining both statistical and handwriting analysis.
At the end of World War II in 1945, the title changed to Journal of Personality focusing exclusively on statistical (test) analysis of personality traits. Thereafter, verification of personality in handwriting was reduced to testing the correspondence of signs in handwriting to personality “signs” or traits and ignored the unconscious movement (automaticity) of handwriting that expressed the psychodynamic structure of character.
Mischell, 1968, concluded after he conducted a large number of statistical nomothetic personality studies during the 1960s that there was very little evidence to support trait theory of personality. As McAdams, 1997, explained individual differences in situations are more effective predictors of behavior than are individual differences in traits. “Thus, personality psychologists may be guilty of committing a fundamental attributional error by imposing broad categories concerning internal disposition to explain (and predict) the behavior of others, when in fact that behavior is better explained by factors specific to the situation”(p.21].
Trait theorists lost status and have never fully recovered despite efforts to defend their reputation(see Wiggins, 1997). By this time handwriting analysis had become orphaned from characterology and lost status with European psychologists, particularly in Holland who now favoured statistical analysis of personality traits (Dehue, 1995).
Psychometrists and graphologists squabble over differences in assessment conclusions without acknowledging the distinctions between personality and character. Prognostications are made on very thin “signs” of science in probabilities of prediction.
Maps can never fully represent the actuality of lived experience, Each person therefore must confirm their map by the experience of their own journey. But most contemporary maps of our personality are as vague and fantastical as treasure maps of ancient pirates.
Tragically we know more about the furthest frontiers of our physical universe than the treasure buried within. If we dare to wander beyond the ego horizon of our world forsaken by psychologists and without GPS coordinates, we are left adrift in a sea of the profoundly unknowable psyche.