EnneaMediCina: the Enneagram in the light of neuroscience

What is the message that the Symbols, these archetypal models of the collective unconscious, have held for people of all times since time immemorial?

Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and anthropologist stated that the Archetype is like an invisible pattern that determines what structure a crystal, for example, will take on as it forms. He considered number a numinous, sacred entity and defined it as “an archetype of order made conscious”.

The Pythagorean school also believed that ‘the whole universe was harmony and number’ and that, consequently, the ultimate essence of reality was mathematics.

Like Pythagoras, St Augustine also believed that everything had a mathematical relationship and it was up to the mind to seek out and investigate the secrets of these relationships or have them revealed to it by a divine force. St Augustine wrote ‘Numbers are the universal language offered by the deities to humans as a confirmation of truth’.

Archetypes, these collective representations of the unconscious, being inherited, are a common heritage of humanity and are found in the myths and legends of all peoples.

There can be as many Archetypes in life as there are characteristic situations, which are found in typical and recognisable patterns of human behaviour, as symbolically represented by the nine Enneatypes of the Enneagram.

On a psychological level, the Enneagram is based on the thought that human intelligence is expressed through three fundamental aspects linked to the Instinctive, Emotional and Mental Centres.

Reptilian brain

These three centres correspond to three different modes of being, to three brains according to MacLean’s evolutionary view, each of which is characterised by deep behavioural and character connotations typical of the centre itself.

The first brain, reptilian (instinctive centre), is connected to the automatisms of, for example, the heart and the digestive system. It is the centre that ensures both the physical and psychological survival of the individual, the place of vigour, of motivation, of action.

Enneatypes 1, 8 and 9 make use, primarily, of this centre to cope adequately with the different situations in life. The digestive system and the solar plexus area are very much involved here, which is why they are also called ‘belly types.

The memory of one’s own experience occurs mostly unconsciously, with the strong mediation of this centre, and the response to unconscious stimuli determines the responses of the conscious.

Nobel prize-winner Eric Richard Kandel describes a long-term, explicit, verbalisable and memorable memory system concerning one’s autobiography, but also an implicit, non-rememberable and non-verbalisable subterranean memory, made up of sensations and emotions, rather than words, a somatic memory, connected to the reptilian brain.

In the first two years of life, childhood experiences are stored in this form of memory, managed by the instinctive emotions par excellence that is theamygdalawhich, precisely because they are not conscious, cannot be remembered, verbalised and released, without precise psycho-body involvement work on the so-called ‘doing centre’.

This unconscious memory constitutes, in fact, the brand, the backbone, the ‘mother’ of the individual’s personality and continues, over time, to condition his emotional, cognitive and affective life and, coming back to us, I would say, the functions of the enneasymbolic archetypes.

Limbic system

The emotional centre, the limbic brain, is the place of emotions and affectivity, aspirations and bonds. It is concerned primarily with the present. Types 2, 3 and 4 essentially use this brain, which puts the relationship with people at the centre of existence. Here it is the heart and circulatory system that are very much involved.

Nowadays, neuroscience addresses the question of how at the cognitive level psychological functions are produced by neural circuits; the interaction between the brain and its environment.

Within neuroscience, PNEI investigates the relationships between the psyche the nervous, endocrine and immune systems, which, through the transmission in the body of molecules called neuro peptides, interact seamlessly with each other.

Neuropeptides are psychic molecules in that they transmit emotions and psychophysical signals that, in response to unconscious stimuli, reach every body district.

As ancient Chinese medicine has affirmed for millennia, there is now increasing confirmation that emotions are first and foremost physiological, neurovegetative events that are closely linked to the unconscious, to experiences that cannot be remembered, and that affect the functionality of the entire psyche-soma.


Finally, the neocortex, the part of the brain that characterises the nature of human possibilities, tries to make sense of the self and the world, using reasoning, imagination and the study of different possibilities and points of view.

In the centre of the head move enneatypes 5, 6, and 7, the types most interested in information and rationalisation.

The centre of the body that drives them is the brain and central nervous system.

For neuroscientist Goldberg Elkhonon, the right hemisphere of the human brain deals with novelty, while the left deals with well-developed configurations, with stereotyped programmes.

Everything new is processed by the right hemisphere and sent to the left, which creates a model of it.

Since the parts of the right brain involved in emotional processes are also involved in the processes of reasoning, decision-making and thought processing, brain ageing is linked to the inability to learn new things, emotional hardening that demotivates new discoveries and experimentation and the creation of new models. 5

Returning to the enneagrammatic model, we find that enneatypes 2, 3 and 4 are positioned to the right, in the hemisphere connected to novelty, to the analysis of the emotional content of experience.

Enneatypes 5, 6 and 7, on the other hand, occupy the left-hand side of the model, the part devoted to analysing the meaning of words and creating operational models.

Above, within the instinctive centre, the origin and resultant of a visceral dialogue that influences the responses of the two cerebral hemispheres, one encounters enneatypes 8,9,1. The personality masks with which the individual protects his or her own survival are therefore to be read as a consequence of cross-work between the centres, between genetics and epigenetics.


Since everything is in constant vibration, including human DNA, which can vary its rhythm according to different emotional states, scholars speak of a tightly woven network that connects all matter through vibrational events.

DNA as an antenna, therefore, as an electrical capacitor, as an oscillating circuit capable of receiving and transmitting electromagnetic waves and thus information.

Do the nine ‘traps’, or ‘passions’ of the Enneagram (pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, lust, deceit and fear) symbolise then, character exacerbations, which prevent energy from flowing freely, disabling the ignition of genes within the DNA?

Does the countercurrent direction indicated by the arrows of the enneagram therefore indicate the most suitable path for the integration of psyche and soma and guide the switching on of DNA genes?

The ancients, who had already understood all this, passed on to us their knowledge enclosed in symbols, in numbers, which are nothing but condensed paths of growth, of awareness, of transformation.


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