Openness mystical experience and creativity in the The Five Factor Personality Model
Salvadore Dali, a perfect example of a creative high Openness scorer said “The difference between Dali and a madman is that Dali is not mad”. High openness scorers can be sculptors or psychotics, madmen or mystics and some may cross and recross the wafer thin boundary of sanity. You do not have to dig far to find highly open creative and intelligent people with psychological problems. Comic Genius Spike Milligan and the artist Vincent Van Gogh come to mind. Some of these geniuses refused treatment fearing that would remove their talent, and who were cured have indeed lost their talent. Openness, sometimes referred to as openness to experience, is perhaps the most mysterious and intriguing of the big five personality traits .
Overview of Openness
Openness involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity. Low scorers can be considered practical and down to earth. tend to be conventional and traditional: conservative with a small “c”, prefer familiar routines to new experiences, and generally having a narrow range of interests.
High openness is asociated with crystallised intelligence, the ability to use skills, knowledge and experience, but not fluid intelligence, the ability to see order in confusion, solve problems and understand the relationships of various concepts, independent of acquired knowledge. Fluid intelligence is predominant in individuals with Autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger syndrome , a milder form of Autism. Incidentally IT workers tend to develop Asperger's syndrome though careful work life balance can avoid this problem. The two forms of intelligence do however correlate with each other and both forms are needed for a balanced life.
While the paradigm of the high openness scorer is the creative artist the core of this trait seems to be the ability to find associations between apparently disparate objects or concepts. This can lead to a mystical experience in which everything seems connected and it is impossible to pick up a pen without picking up the table it was resting on and the table brings images of all tables everywhere as does the pen. Ouspensky in a mystical experience summed this up by saying “A man could go mad from a single ashtray”. Another way of putting it is that a high openness scorer with high intelligence can throw a handful of ideas into the air like common stones and knit them into a diamond necklace before they landed.
High openness predicts participation in those cultural and artistic activities that need some sort of effort such as listening to complex music or following a novel with a twisted plot. It is also associated with mystical experience. I also think it is associated with scientific creativity at the highest level. Many great scientists have had experiences that could be regarded as mystical and these have sometimes resulted in discoveries that changed the world.
The high openness scorer works by metaphor rather than meaning. To the low scorer a brick is a brick, but to a high scorer it is a bed for a baby doll, a weight for a pendulum, a whetstone, a symbol of the weight of the baggage we carry from the past or something that floats in the air the way dogs lack fleas. It can also represent the transition from nomadism to agriculture to city living.
The high scorer tends to challenge social norms and may sometimes seem protean adopting and abandoning political and religious views as part of a quest for self expression. High Scorers tend to be politically liberal and tolerant of diversity.As a consequence, they are generally more open to different cultures and lifestyles. They are lower in ethnocentrism and right-wing authoritarianism.
Openness, mysticism, religious experience and psychosis
In “Personality” Nettle looks at Alan Ginsberg, author of the poem “Howl” and describes an incident which many mystics will recognise no matter how imperfect words are to describe it. Then he dismisses it as having features common to psychotic disorders and notes Ginsberg's mother had psychiatric problems. Ginsberg's experience started with an auditory hallucination, and I have noted elsewhere that hearing voices does not mean you are insane or even at risk of going insane.
It is true that high openness scorers tend to have experiences that can be regarded as either mystical, religious (St Teresa, Francis of Assisi and James Fox for example) or psychotic and most religions tend to put such peoiple in monasteries and convents, but in a small number of cases there seems to be an indication that spirits, or at least conscious entities outside the experiencer's mind are involved. Some of these are mentioned in books by Colin Wilson, and some of the communicators in spiritualist seances appear more intelligent and completely different from the medium. So there is a possibilty (much more research is neede )that sometimes there may be a psychic component to these experiences and that high openness may involve a natural tendency towards a condition in which spirits may communicate with, obsess or even possess the high scorer. High scorers seem to be unusually susceptible to hypnosis and this may help spirits affect the experiencer.
The major theme of openness is however the ability to see connections others miss. Like Picasso who saw a bike saddle as a sculpture of a bull. Sometimes the associations something arouses lead to auditory hallucinations, and these may just be random mental noise ans Nettle indicates, or may be genuine communications from some entity. Sometimes such communications are helpful, sometimes harmful and sometimes they lead to the impression of receiving communications from advanced beings in distant galaxies.
Openness has advantages as well as risks. Creativity may create triumph from disaster and lead to world shattering ideas. It may lead to higher status and it certainly seems like fun.
Openness is squeezed out of children as they grow though there are certain places where openness is allowed and encouraged up to a point: places of worship (as long as the power structure of the religion is not threatened) and brainstorming sessions (but suggesting the board be shot is a bad career move) are immediate examples ( and religious experiences are often uncomfortably like psychotic experiences)
Oh, I forgot to mention: High scorers tend to have more sexual partners over a lifetime.