Yin and Yang — the underlying principle

There is certainly timeless beauty, elegance and truth to the yin-yang symbol. I learned about it in my history class in sixth grade and I found it a great metaphor for life but I found it hard to grasp the underlying principle. Are those cosmic (physical) forces? Biological forces (chi). Psychological principles? Or just an abstract philosophical idea? Were those just random opposites, as it often seemed to me, or was there much more to it?

Female (yin) and male (yang) are often used to explain the underlying principles and that does make sense to some extent. This principle has been used by David Kibbe among others to categorise body types from most feminine to more masculine (see above). However, as a teen, I did find the female — male distinction more puzzling than explanatory. Why should the female yin be associated with darkness and night and not light, when it’s women who give birth and men who often destroy it? Why was yang order, when women tend to be more orderly than men? Why was the unknown associated with yin, when men venture out into the unknown more often than women? It’s not that the male-female idea seemed wrong, but only a part of a bigger story.

I haven’t given much thought to yin and yang since middle school. Until I read a book on Taoism recently. What if yin and yang just corresponded to my forager-farmer dichotomy? Around 6,000 years ago foragers and farmers started to mix genetically. Before that farmers (yang) and foragers (yin) had mostly avoided each other for as long as possible, probably for several reasons like higher endogamy among farmers and the reluctance of foragers to take up farming. Farmers need to create order in their sedentary environment, foragers constantly adapt to new environments. Farmers would be less explorative and egalitarian than foragers and higher in conscientiousness (order) and authoritarianism. They probably also would have different complexions, with farmers having a lighter and foragers a darker complexion (cf. kapha and vata in Ayurveda).

In The Righteous Mind (2012) Jonathan Haidt points out that yin and yang have an uncanny resemblance to political psychology:

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang refer to any pair of contrasting or seemingly opposing forces that are in fact complementary and interdependent. Night and day are not enemies, nor are hot and cold, summer and winter, male and female. We need both, often in a shifting or alternating balance. John Stuart Mill said that liberals and conservatives are like this: “A party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.” The philosopher Bertrand Russell saw this same dynamic at work throughout Western intellectual history: “From 600 BC to the present day, philosophers have been divided into those who wished to tighten social bonds and those who wished to relax them.

This correspondence between liberal — yin and conservative — yang is also somewhat influenced by gender as women are more often liberal and men are more often conservative. However, it should be clear that gender is not the main underlying principle in political orientation. If the forager-farmer dichotomy is the underlying principle to yin and yang, yin should have the qualities of a feminine forager type and yang that of a masculine farmer type. In Myers-Briggs that would be INFP and ESTJ, respectively.

I started googling in order to find out if anybody has ever tried to match yin and yang with MBTI and I found a lot of links to a certain Alexander Paulos who did face-typing, which has a long tradition in Taoism, for MBTI types. Indeed, Paulos typed INFPs (like princess Diana) as yin, yin, yin, yin in his system and ESTJs are the opposite yang.

Unfortunately, Alex Paulos’ book is out of print, however, there are a couple of featuring him available. I found that Paulos’ ideas are very similar to mine and do not only include facial shapes, but also body type and movements, which makes a lot of sense if you consider that different subsistence strategies were the evolutionary pressures behind them.

For more check out my book Evolutionary Symmetry — Face and Body Typing : What our bodies reveal about our temperaments and evolutionary past


Originally published at http://the-big-ger-picture.blogspot.com on October 19, 2022.



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