Feb 27, 2007

An Integrated Social Science

One of the topics I think about a lot is the nature and workings of human society and the role of different kinds of people in society. Science seems to have an insufficient understanding of these things at the moment. Sociology studies society at a whole, minimizing the role of the individual or of different kinds of individuals. Psychology studies the individual, but doesn't look at the implications of differing personalities on society as a whole. Personality psychology studies individual differences, but not the results of these differences. Social psychology examines the mechanisms of social relations, but not the differences between individuals. Economics describes production-related behavior on the micro and macro scale, but doesn't consider how production niches are pursued on an individual scale, or the psychological and biological basis for choosing different niches. Political science tries to understand the nature of power structures, but not the role of different kinds of people within them. And so on. (Please correct me if you are competent in any of the fields I have listed and believe I am misrepresenting them.)

Do you sense that the picture is incomplete - that the social sciences lack an overarching philosophical framework? I certainly do. Basically, what is missing today is an integral approach that would put each of these separate fields in their proper perspective and show how individual differences between people play out on the psychological, interpersonal, societal, economic, and political level - in addition to recognizing the commonalities between people that are already described well by these fields.

An integrated social science would show how the societal level reflects upon the individual and how the individual level reflects upon the societal. We would know what kind of people rise to power in different circumstances and different kinds of power systems, as well as the psychological effects on the individual of living under different power systems. We would know what kinds of people are responsible for generating different kinds of social relations and movements and would understand which economic and political conditions bring which tendencies to the forefront.

I'll bet some readers might think I'm going to suggest that socionics can provide this framework. More zealous socionists indeed see socionics as precisely this kind of overarching philosophical framework. However, I am skeptical, because of the underdeveloped empirical basis of socionics. I don't think modern social science will accept a philosophical framework that introduces arbitrary new categories without demonstrating that they are essential to an understanding of phenomena. This would go against Occam's razor. Socionics as a discipline, however, can be very useful to the individual, even if a lack of empiricism often makes dialogue difficult between socionists. At the very least, it has opened my eyes to a lot of very interesting phenomena. If socionics develops an empirical backing, it may be able to provide very valuable insights to contribute to an integral social science.

I personally know of two approaches which are working towards an integral social science. One is Ken Wilber's "integral psychology," which attempts to integrate worldwide esoteric teachings regarding different states of consciousness and developmental stages with modern psychology and sociology. This is very interesting, but so far Wilber seems to have barely touched on such fields as economics and political science. Also, he focuses at the subjective experience of individuals much more than things that can be objectively measured, which may lead to problems with future scientific research in the field. Nonetheless, this approach seems promising.

The other approach is the ever-expanding paradigm of Darwinian evolution and natural selection. Evolution has been successfully applied to physiology and - as of the mid-20th century - to human behavior (via evolutionary psychology). In the late 1970s a new field of inquiry - "memetics" - was born that attempted to apply the concept of replicators to social phenomena (mainly trends, fads, belief systems, ideas), as well as the development of the brain.

Philosopher Daniel Dennett has described the theory of evolution as "universal acid" - a substance that eats through anything, even the container that holds it or the ground that it drops onto. Dennett and others have tried to show how evolution brings us to a new understanding of value systems and morality - areas far removed from what natural selection was originally intended to explain. Incrementally, Darwinism is being applied to more and more of the social sciences.

In my opinion, evolution by natural selection is the concept that is most likely to establish a common framework for understanding the social sciences and the interrelations between them. This process seems to be well underway. In psychology (especially in the West) non-empiric approaches are gradually being marginalized (Freudian psychoanalysis, transpersonal psychology, humanistic psychology, and others), despite their intuitive appeal. As more and more empirical instruments are being developed - primarily through the use of computers and information technologies - it is becoming easier and easier to test hypotheses in the social sciences. And evolution is the theory with the firmest empirical basis in probably all of modern science.

Despite the lack of genuinely empirical studies and fundamental research in socionics, I believe its basic principles actually fit very well into the evolutionary paradigm. I have explained how in a separate article that is all about socionic phenomena but makes no mention of socionics itself. Evolution can help explain why there are differences between people and why there are different varieties of personal relationships.

As socionics and personality psychology develop more clever and effective tools for empirical research, it should become easier to detect defining differences between people. For example, height and weight might be very easier to measure, but they probably play a much less definitive role in interpersonal relationships than other, externally invisible factors. Some people today say of personality typologies that they are unsupported by scientific research and thus are "baloney," but they are wrong. Science has not yet developed the tools to detect definitive personality differences that have been evident to people for thousands of years who have observed these differences in the course of their day-to-day interaction with others. The fact that these differences have been described in different words using different systems does not mean that they do not exist objectively.

Evolution is also helping out the social sciences by highlighting parallels between the animal world and humans' social relations that allow us to look at our species from without and gain a wider perspective. Those who research wild dogs, primates, lions, and other animals which are genetically not far removed from humans find a wide span of personalities, social relationships ranging from altruistic friendship to domination and submission, and social structures that share close similarities to those we find in our own species. Research in genetics and neurobiology, now part of the evolutionary framework, is constantly adding new pieces to the puzzle.

Natural selection - which raises our understanding of competition to a whole new level - can help us understand what's really going on behind the scenes of economic interaction and production. The concepts of comparative advantage and production niches - which are fundamentally Darwinian - apply just as much to human relationships as they do to national economies, as some economists have suggested (I wish I could cite something here).

A consideration of evolutionary factors affecting personal relationships would also help flesh out socionics, which currently suffers from its appearance of maximalism. Socionics seems to simplify some aspects of personality and relationships and has a hard time accounting for characteristics that depart from what is described by its model. Many socionists would disagree with me, saying that by introducing such concepts as "accented functions," one can add flexibility to the socionics model. However, socionics cannot explain why some people's functions would be "accented" in the first place (except by assuming some previous intertype influence on the person that led to a continual emphasis of that function). Economics, psychology, and social psychology - underpinned by evolution - on the other hand, can provide simpler explanations for departures from socionic patterns.

Obviously, a lot of research remains to be done, and it is unlikely that socionics would become part of any integral social science without undergoing some sort of metamorphosis in order to become more like a natural science. The same can probably be said of other social sciences. But this is what might well happen in the future as our technology and scientific understanding advances.


Anonymous said...

i love to post here, though most people would say it is littering of intellectual property into the public domain where others profit by it
but this is one aspect of how a field developes.

"accented function"... from the viewpoint of how it first developes:
...has'ent anyone done family topologies?..
i have done 1 family topology,
and noticed that from a 'father' the children where basically swap axis (1st and 2nd function), intro/extratim swaps on a primary function, or sharing in the primary function with a different 2nd function.
also parents say that some children remind them of there own parents etc.
so perhaps in a dynamic psychology situation (as appose to plainly genetic and predetermined)... parents contribute greatly to socionics type of off-spring__
generations just swinging the trend in an 'ideal social situation'
'ideal'...like the ideal gases,
cause it changes for different societies_communities, and with female male developmental psychology periods per individaul, and probably with the dominance structure of a family,..where younger sibs absorb the socially created environment from parents and older sibs.
But ultimately this can be empirisized.

Yi Liu said...

So what you are really saying is that socionic quadras of parents and other family members has reasonable predictive powers over the quadra of the child

Anonymous said...

no i did'ent say that,
perhaps that is a aspect Socionists will research on mass..

i am following Rick's context..
i.e.Socionics moving into the direction of new research and empiricism which can eventually be self-proved..

i was suggesting that level of developmental socionics as an investigative plain,
obviously we can all say genetics, but who knows enough of genetics to point concrete results in that direction?
(i am sure a case can be made for genetics, but that has to remain secret until the capacity comes in place... otherwise socionics might be forlorn for longer then it should as a science)

Anonymous said...

Anthropology ;-)

Rick said...

>> Anthropology ;-)

Very amusing. That's the social science I completely forgot about, isn't it? Is it close to becoming an "integral social science?"

tinytinylittlewords said...

Anthropology is somewhat integrative, though also so afraid of it's shadow (it's canonical history of imperialism) and in its theoretical endtimes, leading it to be subsumed by other social sciences that appropriate its methodologies (ethnographic fieldwork) without adhering to the basic models of communal cohesion (symbolic orders) and life arcs (rites of passage).
Structuration theory is a great theoretical pathway towards integration, as its established a solid basis for transcending the agent-structure issue of absolute free will vs. absolute determinism.
I think you are also forgetting philosophy, history, communications and others that offer a repository for integrating social science.
Reflecting on it further I think integration can only work by establishing fundamental mechanisms of socioeconomic tendencies, which typology in its multiple manifestations solidly points towards, especially when considering its parallels to the brain's processing architecture.
Outside of producing a seminal narrative that outlines how these sciences overlaps, I don't think the sciences would be as effective if there wasn't some concentration and incomplete pictures when it comes to particularized studies. I think it's more important for people who are specialized in fields to be more open to seeking advice and support from those who specialize in other fields, instead of the constant reinventing of the wheel that ego-driven academics are prone to.