A Comprehensive Model of Human Identity
Who am I? How am I different? Where do I fit? These are questions that concern us at the most basic level of our being.
Over the past several decades, we’ve made great progress in answering them. We know that our inner selves and shared cultures evolve in a series of stages. We’ve learned much about how our bodies affect our minds, and vice-versa. We’ve even discerned the outlines of how we differ in our social “wiring.”
Now it’s time we brought these domains of knowledge together to create a comprehensive model of human identity.
It’s useful to think in terms of quadrants.
In his 1995 book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, the philosopher Ken Wilber introduced a new conceptual map of the cosmos. It points out the Individual/Collective and Interior/Exterior poles of existence, then locates the aspects of our experience in the quadrants they define.
This map illustrates the fact that the cosmos is fractal. That is, the four basic aspects of every individual thing mirror those of the cosmos as a whole. This means that the map can help us understand the basic aspects of just about anything, including human identity.
Applying it to ourselves, we can understand a person in terms of four quadrants:
Your level of development in the intellectual, emotional, moral, relational, and other lines.
Your genetic makeup and environment, which determine your physical attributes and condition.
Your values and worldview, which guide your interactions with other people and the wider world.
Your innate hormonal “wiring” that predisposes you to take a certain role in social groups.
This model of human identity is called the Quadratic Model of Identity because it’s based upon Wilber’s quadratic map. Let’s examine it in detail, and take a look at each of its quadrants.
Psychologists have described the stages of personal development.
Early in the 20th Century we began to understand the dynamics of the inner self, when James Mark Baldwin pioneered the idea that human mental development proceeds in stages.
Psychologists who came after him identified different ways in which the inner self develops. Jean Piaget described the stages of intellectual development, Erik Erikson the emotional, and Lawrence Kohlberg the moral.
Other lines of personal development are still being defined. In the 2000s, Susanne Cook-Greuter described the stages of ego development, and lines such as the volitional, kinesthetic, and creative are currently being explored.
Genetics and environment both shape one’s physical presence.
With the advent of DNA sequencing in the 1970s, we began to see how our genes shape who we are as people. For example, scientists have identified genes associated with intelligence.
The fundamental factor in human identity—gender—is obviously genetic. Other components, such as one’s hormonal and neurological makeup, have a strong genetic basis. Your body, however, is shaped by more than your genes. The way you interact with your physical environment also affects your physical presence.
We’re developing a more complete understanding of how diet and exercise affect the human body. We’re also learning more about how environmental conditions activate or inhibit a person’s genetic predispositions.
There are several different levels of cultural perspective.
In the 1950s, psychologist Clare Graves noted that people develop new worldviews to cope with changes in their bio/psycho/social environment. In other words, their consciousness evolves.
In the 1990s, theorist Don Beck clarified and organized Graves’ ideas with his Spiral Dynamics system. It describes the progression of humankind—and individual people—up an evolutionary spiral of cultural perspective, from the basic Instinctive, through the Tribal, into the Traditional, and up on through the Modern, Postmodern, Integrative, and Holistic.
Each level of cultural perspective solves problems presented by the previous level, and provides a broader view of the world. Each level has both positive and negative aspects, which must be recognized and negotiated before moving to the next level.
The strongest component of human identity is social type.
Personality types can be thought of as social types. That’s because they evolved to help us survive and thrive in small social groups. Because humans are social creatures, your own social type forms the core of who you are.
The Kaneros framework described on this web site recognizes the social basis of human personality. As a result, it provides a clear and comprehensive picture of the different social types, and also helps people determine their own type.
There are 16 basic types of people, each of which describes a different kind of hormonal “wiring” that predisposes a person to be comfortable and capable in a specific social role.
Each quadrant affects all the other quadrants.
The four quadrants in this model of identity form an integrated whole, in that the quadrants affect and feed back on each other. For example, the physical factors of intelligence are closely tied to personal development.
All four quadrants interoperate. This becomes apparent when we examine an event from everyday experience, such as a man spraining his knee. When we employ the four quadrants to answer the question “Why did he sprain it?” the basic aspects of his identity are revealed:
The man’s emotional development is arrested at the Competence stage. Because of this, he’s unable to establish a lasting love relationship.
This frustrates him, which makes him physically tense. His tension makes it difficult to move fluidly, and this led to a misstep that turned his knee.
The man’s knee is his most vulnerable joint. Like the human spine, it evolved as a suboptimal solution that nonetheless worked well enough to allow us to walk upright.
Part of why he sprained his knee is that it’s a weak point in our anatomy, a legacy of our evolutionary past.
The man was raised in an authoritarian household in which individual initiative was stifled. The prevailing culture at his workplace also discourages independent action.
Because he’s lacked opportunities to develop independence, he remains at the fourth of eight emotional stages.
The man’s personality/social type is Painting Satyr. Men of this type take things to heart, which makes his frustration particularly acute.
Also, exercise isn’t usually a priority for them, and he’s typical in that respect. This left his knee weaker than it otherwise would have been.
A detailed diagram of the model can be useful.
Specifying the elements of each quadrant makes the Quadratic Model of Identity useful in more than a general way. While there’s no clear consensus as to what the specific elements should be, including the ones below makes the model a practically useful tool.