Final Common Pathways, Modus Operandi & Human Evolutionary Adaptation
Throughout the foregoing chapter we have used the term “styles” to refer to the two primary patterns of functioning. We could just as will have used the term “adaptations.” Both terms suggest ways of coping, ways of going about life; these concepts are not attempts to comprehensively describe personality. Rather, they are an attempt to conceptualize areas of personality that serve as an interface between contact/expression/behavior with others and longings/motivations/needs deep inside our beings. These are neither the deepest nor the surface levels of personality functioning. Instead, they are organizing propensities/capabilities that function somewhere in the middle as integrative centers between input/output to the outside world and our core longings/needs/desires.
As such, the core and outer adaptations are directly connected to how we meet the world, how we get our needs met, how we proceed with others, how we participate in human contact, and how we give-to and receive-from “the other” and others. For these reasons, these two adaptations have determining relevance to understanding the course of events in primary relationships. They go to “the heart of the matter” concerning how we organize ourselves with respect to matters of emotional intimacy, attachment and self-definition.
A useful way to think about these two adaptations is as “final common pathways.” The concept of “final common pathways,” originally derived from the biological sciences, has long since found varied applications. An example in physiology is found in the description of the way that blood flow from capillaries culminates in venules which in turn culminates in veins. In neurosciences, the notion has been used to describe the way that dendrites culminate in axons and axons cluster to form nerves. In cultural anthropology the concept has been applied to the way that the diverse experiences of individuals come together in a finite number of cultural symbols and social conventions. In linguistics, language itself can be thought of as a system of enormously complex “final common pathways” for an even larger range of individual experiences.
Applying this concept to our topic at hand, the core and outer adaptations are each “final common pathways” that bring together and synthesize a large range of varied outside situations and internal events. These syntheses, which proceed along polar opposite lines, are likely reflective of the two possible attitudinal niches available to the human species, possibly mammalian life in general. It is arguable that this pattern of core/outer polarity is so central in human emotional relating that is must have important implications for human evolutionary adaptation and natural selection, a topic for future study.
An important inference of the “final common pathway” concept is that the same underlying motivations can feed into different final common pathways, and that different underlying motivations can feed into the same final common pathways. Unfortunately, the extreme overt differences of core/outer-styled responding readily obscures these underlying similarities and underlying differences. During polarization, for example, there are generally far more points of human similarity than couples can readily see. Not uncommonly, couples therapy takes up the task to help couples come to see, both what is truly similar underneath the final common pathways of difference, and what is different underneath a final common pathway of similarity.
A related way of viewing these adaptations is to view them as psycho-interpersonal “modus operandi” (MO’s); habitual ways of functioning in the world wherein a person responds to a large range of circumstances and stresses in life with a repetitive behavioral tendency. This is a kind of “all roads lead to Rome” notion, except in this situation we have two final destinations, Rome and Constantinople. The “dead-end loops” that partners in the marriage-of-opposites frequently reenact highlights this compelling modus operandi aspect. In this vein, one person in the relationship responds to varied threats/challenges with reflexive longings/entreaties for help while their partner carries the opposite inclination to shut-down, go remote, and focus on problem solving. These are highly compelling generalized tendencies and they play central roles in generating the hurt feelings/conflicts/escalations that trouble so many couples.