Mar 2, 2007

Roots of Typology

Personality typologies are often accused of being "unscientific," as if everything that is unscientific is not worthwhile. Yes, typologies are unscientific - in the sense of applying qualitative, not quantitative categories to people (with all the ensuing complications). And yet typologies keep cropping up in many different areas of human activity as a practical necessity. Let's look at some of the contexts that have produced typologies.

Firstly, people spontaneously generate simplistic typologies all the time in everyday conversation with other people, most often with just two types but sometimes with three or four:

- "There are two kinds of people: those who... etc."
- "I've noticed there are big differences between first, second, and third-generation Asian immigrants in the U.S...."
- "Our school was full of jocks. Nerds like me avoided them at all cost."
- "I think people who do drugs have a fundamentally different brain chemistry."
None of these "typologies" is "scientific," since they imply qualitative "type diagnosis," and much of their apparent unambiguity breaks down when you try to type every single person. But their purpose is to generate an awareness of significant differences between people for the sake of personal understanding.

Secondly, somewhat more complex typologies are applied in business, sports, health, and other fields. In these cases up to five types may be used, but not much more than that. In health, there are Hippocrates' "four temperaments" or "humors." In sports there are people with predominantly fast-twitch muscles and those with predominantly slow-twist muscles. (I'm not very well-read in sports, so I can't recall other examples, but I know I have come across a few of them.) In business there are many fairly simple typologies of leaders, typologies of employees, and typologies of clients. The purpose of these is to predict general behavior within the context of your activity for the purpose of maximizing effectiveness.

Finally, there are the most complex typologies usually associated with mysticism and spiritual growth. Here I would include Jung's typology (since he was interested in understanding the process of individual growth in different people). The "four temperaments" of Hippocrates might go here as well. Spiritual teacher Gurdjieff taught that many esoteric teachings divided people into types - "twelve or maybe more." Aldous Huxley, in his book Perennial Philosophy, relates Sheldon's somatotypes to preferred spiritual paths. Tibetan buddhists and other eastern religions and western monastic orders appear to demonstrate an awareness of types and allow for somewhat different spiritual paths for different disciples (as opposed to mass religion, which does not differentiate). In a more bastardized form, some of these typologies are marketed in the West on the self-help market. Your Temperament: Discover Its Potential is a typical title. The purpose of all these typologies is to facilitate personal development by discovering innate characteristics and developing individuality.

Basically, typologies of this last category tend to arise whenever complex skills are systematically handed down from teacher to disciple, usually within some sort of spiritual or quasi-spiritual discipline. In this highly demanding context, individual differences between people become obvious, a lot of attention is directed at each individual disciple or apprentice, and it is paramount to have disciples choose the right approach within the discipline early on to avoid discouragement and failure. So some sort of typology is a practical necessity here as well, even if it is not fully elucidated and exists in the form of collective know-how.

To summarize, we can see that the creation of typologies - whether mundane or complex - is a natural human tendency that increases understanding and effectiveness by helping to recognize and take advantage of significant differences between people. The implied purpose of socionics - like other development-oriented typologies - is to contribute to individuals' self-realization and to effectiveness and wisdom in interpersonal interaction.


Yi liu said...

"But their purpose is to generate an awareness of significant differences between people for the sake of personal understanding."

For some reason a lot of people refuses to accept that they do this on a regular basis.

Anonymous said...

i have no idea on finding info related 'types' and 'different spiritual paths for dif disciples' you mind telling about that..?
one thing that i think is great about Socionics topology is the concept of limited information processing orientations..
it's incredibly predictive, and probably something which will be researched more deeply as a purely science thing [beyond the human tendency to 'topologize']

Rick said...

>> i have no idea on finding info related 'types' and 'different spiritual paths for dif disciples' you mind telling about that..?

I don't know of any set-in-stone typologies from esoteric traditions, but Gurdjieff hinted at some. There is classic book, "The Perennial Philosophy" by Aldous Huxley that looks at teachings common to all geniune spiritual traditions. He talks about Sheldon's somatotypes (endomorph, ectomorph, and mesomorph) and the different spiritual inclinations of these types. I highly recommend the book.

Just imagine that you're in a monastery where people go to live and perform some inner transformation (they hope). It's totally natural in that setting for people to notice the different strengths that different monks have: some are "men of prayer," others are "men of action," others are "men of charity," others are "men of knowledge," etc. etc. If you are an experienced monk who is given a new guy to mentor and you see that he is a "man of charity," you're not going to try to turn him into a man of action, but rather help him develop the forms of spirituality displayed by others like him who preceded him.

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to a story concerning response to stress having to do with different brain chemistry:

Could such differences be related to personality type, as 'identified' by Socionics?

Rick said...

>> Here's a link ...

It is probably somewhat related, but not rigidly so (that's just my intuition). A lot of research findings fall into this category.