The Significance of Four
Hippocrates inherited the idea of the Bile and Blood and Phlegm from earlier physicians who understood that these bodily fluids had important connections to life and health. He was also familiar with the ideas of Pythagoras who had noted a similarity between the four seasons of the year and the stages of growth in humans. This became known as the "Four Ages of Man". The four ages are: Childhood, Youth, Adulthood and Old Age. Hippocrates combined the two ideas in what became the first systematic representation of the differences between people.
F.M. Cornford says, "Pythagoras found out that the perfect consonances (as they are still called) of the musical scale - the intervals of the forth, the fifth, and the octave - can be exactly expressed as ratios between the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4, which, added together, make the perfect number 10. The ratio of the octave is 2:1; the ratio of the fifth is 3:2, the ratio of the forth is 4:3. This discovery was, no doubt, made by measuring, on a monochord with a movable bridge, the lengths of string required to yield the several notes forming the perfect intervals." (Before and After Socrates [London: Cambridge University Press, 1964] 66).
Music opened Pythagoras' mind to a revolutionary concept: There is constancy in the universe! In fact not only constancy but an apparent simplicity. Pythagoras reasoned that if this harmonious structure was constant through all the variety of musical scales (was in fact the architecture of all music) might not other apparently complex realities have a basic explanation? Cornford puts it this way, "For if the chaotic welter of sounds that besiege our hearing can be reduced, by the simple principle of limiting measure, to the harmonious order of art and finally to proportions of number, might not the whole of nature, with its acknowledged beauty, be framed on a principle analogous or even identical?" (ibid., 67) Pythagoras wondered if order, and not chaos, was the norm, but that we, lacking a full understanding of the numerical nature of things, fail to perceive the order and instead feel lost and unable to predict what will happen next. The Pagan culture that Pythagoras left when he moved to Samos, held that the God's controlled things and humanity was helpless to stand against such random or at best cyclical realities. The fundamental change in Pythagorean cosmology was summed up in the phrase, "Things are numbers" and as such the formula and arrangement of things could be worked out.
This very "Greek" way of approaching things was set in motion by Thales who plucked geometry out of the hands of Egyptians (who used it in a practical way) and made it a universal truth, able to be applied to a whole manner of questions. Pythagorean understanding suggests that the same use might be made of numbers. Perhaps a clear understanding of numbers would unveil a whole new understanding of the cosmos.
The Tetraktys was the Pythagorean expression of the importance of four. Claimed to contain the
knowledge of all things the tetraktys is a triangular shape of 4 lines made up of ten dots. It looked like this:
0 0 0
0 0 0 0
The top dot represents singularity, the Monad, or Godhead, principle of all things, latent being, source, unity, beginning, perfection.
The next two dots down symbolize the first manifestation, or dualism of the cosmos. Male and female, light and darkness, heaven and earth, sperm and egg, good and evil, right and left, inside and outside, etc.
The next three dots represent the three levels of the world - infernal, terrestrial and celestial, - and the three levels of human life - Mind, body and soul, and of time - past, present, future, and of the process of life - Birth, growth, death.
The last four dots form the base and represent the four elements - fire, air, water, earth, the four points of the compass - north, south, east, west, the four seasons - spring, summer, autumn, winter, and the points of the cross which related to the four corners of the square (or the 4 corners of the earth).
To this Hippocrates added the four humors which became the four personality types which have been interpreted and expressed in countless ways. Which begs the question: But what if there are more than 4 basic personality types? Or Less? In fact, theories of personality currently in vogue suggest 5 as the magic number. But there are some more compelling reasons, or at least tempting ones, to consider 4 as a better starting point.
In Defence of Four
1. Personality theories are maps. They are designed to guide the map reader to her destination. So it is important to ask the questions, "what is the destination?" and "which map is best for the journey?". Four is a convinient number for sorting personality types because it is easy to lay out in two dimensions on a page. This is known as a circumplex structure and is valued by anyone trying to design a model of personality. It is the same reason that most geographic maps are made of paper and lay flat, even though the geography itself is three dimentional and ultimately almost never flat. There are tricks to help visualize three dimensions on a flat page and some theories of personality, that of Hans Eysenck for example, use three gradients to represent the personality. This diagram is sometimes called the three-D cross. All systems that use more than 6 extreams or that have more than eight quadrants are not easy to describe visually.
2. Four feels right. This assertian is, obviously, subjective because, as has been mentioned already, most modern theoriest think 5 feels right. But it is the four corners of the earth, the four seas, the four cardinal points, the four winds, the four evangelists, the four seasons, the four points on the cross and the four elements that somehow give a sense of stability. The four letters of the tetragram, the name of God in Hebrew, hint at completion. "In the Bible, and especially in the Book of Revelation, four also suggests [the] notion of universality, the four living creatures being the totality of all living beings in the world of light (they are covered with eyes). The four horsemen carry the four great plagues, the colors of their horses corresponding to the colours of the cardinal points and those of the day, to show the univerality of their action within space and time. White is east and dawn; red, south and noon; grey, west and dusk; black, north and night. The four destroying angels standing at the four corners of the Earth (Rev. 7:1); the four rivers of Paradise (Gen 2:10); the four walls of the heavenly Jerusalem, facing the four points of the compass; the four camps of the twelve tribes of Isreal (Numbers 2); the four emblems of the tribes, one for each group of three, lion, man, bull and eagle; the four letters of the name of God, YHVH, each one according to Jesish tradition corresponding to one of the emblems - Y with man, H with lion, V with bull and the second H with eagle; The four Evangelists - there could not, St Irenaeus says, have been more nor
less - and each of these emblems of the trives of Isreal attributed to one of the four Evangelists and
agreeing, in a most peculiar way, with the charactersitics of the Gospel concerned - the lion to St. Mark, the man to St Matthew, the bull (or ox) to St Luke and the eagle to St John: these creatures, furthermore, corresponding with the cardinal constellations in the signs of the Zodiac - Taurus (bull), Leo (lion), Aquila (eagle) and Aquarius (man); all these groups of four symbolize a totality (CHAS p. 429)."(A Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant [Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1994]403)
3. Many of the theorist of this century have used 4 as a base for their theory. "In 1907 Adickes said man is divided into four world view: dogmatic, agnostic, traditional, and innovative. In 1920 Kretschmer said abnormal behaviour was determined by the temperment similar to thos of Adickes: hyperesthetic, anesthetic, melancholic and hypomanic. Thus some people are born too sensitive, some too insensitive, some too serious, some too excitable. Around 1920 Adler spoke similarly by pointing to four "mistaken goals" people of different make pursue when upset: recognition, power, service and revenge. Also in 1920 Spranger told of four human values that set people apart: Religious, theoretic, economic and artistic." (Please Understand Me:Character & Temperament Types by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates [Del Mar: Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, 1984]3) Pavlov sorted his dogs into four types. He used conflicting conditioning on them to see how they would respond. Some remained cheerful, some got angry, some went to sleep and some got really nervous. Raymond Cattell came up with 16 personality factors (4x4) and the Minnesota Multephasic Personality Inventory added 12 (3x4) pathological factors. Second order factor analysis uncovered 8 (4x2) deeper factors. Arnold Buss and Robert Plomin at the University of Colorado studied infant twins and compared them to a random sample of other infants. Through a technique similiar to factor analysis they determined that there were four dimensions of temperment. Their work is summarized in Buss's text book, "Personality: Temperament, Social Behavior, and the Self."
4. Four is easy to remember. This may seem silly but a theory's usefulness depends on how well it can be used by the greatest number of people. Theories with more than 4 primary categories run the danger of becoming too complex to be helpful. It is like a map with to much detail on it. You spend so much time trying to figure out the map you miss the turn off. Theories with larger numbers of basic factors may be useful for academics interested in treating psychological disorders, but even the Five Factor Model has come under criticism because it is too descriptive and not diagnostic or predictive enough. One thing about the classic theory is that countless people have used it and give anecdotal evidence for its effectiveness in predicting behavior and offering individuals insights into themselves and others.