Sep 6, 2009

Socionics on the PCT

Some of my readers may know that I spent the summer hiking the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), a 2660 mile long trail through the great coastal ranges of the West that starts at the Mexican border and ends at the Canadian border. My journey lasted over four months and provided ample time to reflect on many different things, including socionics and other psychological topics. Here's my write-up of the adventure, if readers are interested. 

I began the trip alone but quickly met dozens (actually, over 100) of other long-distance hikers who began the same day I did. I noticed that while I was in the stage of just getting to know people, the mere half-thought of trying to guess their socionic types was revolting to me. This continued for quite some time; I actually began to wonder if perhaps socionics had finally lost all relevance to me. People's types clearly weren't important to me. I needed to make some friends and alliances quickly, and doing so based on instincts and largely unconscious criteria is the best way to do that. 

However, in just a couple cases, a kind of "deja vu" sensation would strike me when found myself talking to someone in a very familiar and intimate way. "Probably, this is a dual," I would think, particularly after noting some common SLI traits such as practical-mindedness, an affinity towards animals and the natural world, an ability to simultaneously bring out both my intellectual and my comical sides, etc. In all other cases, however, I didn't care to even think about socionics. 

At first, I found it a challenge to connect with other thru-hikers (the standard term for long-distance hikers). I didn't know what to talk about and was turned off by many of them, especially those who quickly banded together in groups or seemed to focus too much on smoking or drinking. I was quite often lonely and keenly felt my lack of belonging to any group. Events near the start of the hike had also put me days behind all the people I had begun to make friends with, so what few connections I had made were promptly lost for the time being. 

After a few weeks, things began to turn around. The "herd" had had the chance to spread out a bit, and the number of thru-hikers in my immediate vicinity dropped to a low enough number that I was starting to recognize people I had met before. No longer did I feel I was trying to break into a hopelessly large group of people; instead, I was seeing individuals with whom I might or might not have something in common. 

Somehow, I gradually learned how to talk to other thru-hikers. Over the next few months, starting a conversation became more and more natural, and just a month or so into the hike, I was able to dispense with all typical formalities when meeting other thru-hikers. Introductions were shortened and often just skipped over until the end of the conversation, and I (and other thru-hikers) would begin expressing our true thoughts and feelings almost immediately, even if we had never met the other person before. So, a conversation might go like this:

- Hello.
- Hi. You must be a thru-hiker.
- Haha, of course. How's your hike going?
- It's going great. I just had the most awesome experience...

This openness and spontaneity would also often carry over onto interactions with day-hikers, weekend hikers, and people in trailside towns. Needless to say, it brought a freshness to conversations that I had rarely experienced before outside of close friendships. I hope it stays with me. It feels like a more harmonious state of mind that is less concerned with appearances and conventions and more centered on emotional experience and realizing one's personal desires. 

After a month, I was more or less at the front of the pack and had just a dozen or two other hikers in the vicinity. I soon built up a history of interaction with almost all of them and felt comfortable (though in slightly different ways) with each of them. At some point, the thought of identifying their types occurred to me naturally, and the typings came easily. From here to the end of the trip I was able to identify the types of people around me with fairly little effort, provided I had time to have at least a few good conversations with them.

What I found was that every, or almost every type could be found among thru-hikers, even though, on the whole, most thru-hikers shared a pretty specific set of traits: intelligent, articulate, individualistic, liberal, anarchistic, agnostic or atheist, interested in natural science. Yet these same general traits could be found among many different types. There were also differences between hikers at the front of the pack and those who were in the middle of the "herd." Those at the front tended to have even more of the listed traits, and also to have a more serious attitude about their hike, having generally done more planning, training, and more careful gear selection. 

The only types I do not recall meeting (but could easily have missed) are EII and LII. Unexpectedly, I discovered an apparent predominance of irrational types -- as much as 2/3 of the thru-hikers I got to know. Among these, base extraverted intuition and introverted sensing types seemed most common. Irrationals seemed to be very flexible in their group alliances and more prone to join up with or ditch someone on the spur of the moment, whereas rationals seemed to hike much longer with the same person, or to even do the entire hike without ever teaming up with anyone for more than a few hours, because they would not adjust their pace or schedule for anyone. Irrationals, on the other hand, tended to fall out of spontaneously formed groups not because of their rigidity and singlemindedness, but because of their ever-changing sleep schedule, daily mileage, eating habits, hiking speed, etc. I myself was a perfect example of this, never permanently settling on any particular hiking style. Instead, I tried to learn to adjust my speed and schedule to what my body felt like doing rather than try to have my body do what I decided it ought to do.

I met many people who seemed to be "typical" representatives of their type ("typical" is in quotation marks because anyone is atypical when viewed from a certain angle), such as ESEs who welcome vast numbers of thru-hikers into their homes and treat them with great hospitality and unwavering good cheer, or a voluptuous, husky-voiced SEE girl whom others assumed (wrongly) was "sleeping her way" down the trail. However, even more common were the openly atypical: an oldish ILE with a very muscular, chiseled frame, an effeminate LSE male, a rail-thin ESI girl with incredible speed and stamina, etc. Who's to say what is typical and atypical in socionics, though? What I mean to say is that while there is certainly -- theoretically, at least -- some elusive set of "core" traits for each type, experience with real people constantly whittles away at any preconceived notions about what the types should look like, what things they should be interested in, what talents they should have, etc. 

I found that in the setting of a long-distance hike, type did not seem to be as important for establishing a connection with someone as shared attitudes and shared hiking styles. Simply for practical reasons, another hiker who walks the same pace you do for the same amount of time each day will be easier to connect with than one who hikes faster or slower, no matter how psychologically compatible he is. If another hiker has chosen to use ultralight gear, like me, that automatically gives us something to talk about. Furthermore, by this time in the hike we have all been through so many similar joys and tribulations that there is enough material to talk about with nearly any other thru-hiker for at least an entire day. 

This and other thoughts left me in a quandary. I still don't know to this day whether socionics is at all worth promoting. To so strongly oppose faith-based worldviews on philosophical and psychological grounds and then promote socionics seems hypocritical; as no proper proof of socionics' claims exists, adherents must take large portions of it on faith, which spawns a culture in which people declare things as if they were true and easily forget that no one actually knows for sure that they are. Socionics' proper place in science is as a conjecture -- a hypothetical answer to the questions "how do people differ?" and "why are some relationships good and some bad?" To promote socionics as something much more than a conjecture would be intellectually dishonest of me. At other times, I would think about approaching the subject in the spirit of classical socionics, but with copious reminders that this is just a hypothesis that remains to be proven. Still other times I would think, "to hell with socionics!" and prefer instead go back to square one -- the basic questions of personality and interaction -- with a purely empirical approach, speaking of socionics only in a critical light.

Some of the books I read or listened to this summer during my hike have strengthened my interest in the third approach. For instance, I have read William James' famous work The Varieties of Religious Experience and was quickly convinced of the superiority of the strictly empirical method of study, applied with unwavering neutrality to even such subjective phenomena as religious experience. Certainly that same kind of thinking could shed much light on the muddled topic of individual differences and varieties of interaction. I have read (listened to) Nietzsche's The Antichrist and have reflected upon the general effect of socionics upon the human spirit: is it something that strengthens the spirit -- the "will to power," as Nietzsche would put it -- or weakens it? The answer seems to be that it largely depends on the person; socionics can be a tool to achieve a useful end, or a means to reaffirm one in one's weaknesses using a whole new set of excuses clothed in fancy technical jargon. Yet I can't help thinking that there is something in socionics that generally spawns weakness. Perhaps it is the tendency it brings to analyze what must be lived -- to apply conscious thinking in place of instinctive doing. Surely this cannot be an effective formula for augmenting one's personal power. Unless, that is, the student of socionics previously suffered specifically from a lack of mental analysis regarding himself and his interactions. 

In a word, I'm more uncertain than ever about what to do with socionics. I don't know if there is much personal value left in it for me. My hike left me with a resolve to promote ideas of real importance, such as routes to achieve greater personal freedom and happiness, reconnect with the natural world, and increase overall fitness and health while reversing our society's runaway consumption. Now, socionics appears to me to be an intermediate step towards something greater, a temporary training ground for bigger and better things. If socionics were widely accepted as the final answer, our world would quickly become intolerably stuffy and restrictive. 

 I find myself increasingly drawn to wholly suspend socionic categories in my analyses of things, because there is more to be learned that way (for me at least). And yet, socionics has trained me to pay close attention to psychological phenomena in the first place. 

Apr 1, 2009

The Math of Predicting Marriage Success

I came across a remarkable study that could open up some avenues of empirical research into socionic phenomena. 

Some British researchers learned to predict with 94% accuracy whether a new couple would get divorced or not in the next four years based on data from just 15 minutes of conversation. 

I highly recommend this radio discussion transcript from 2004. Basically, they would film newlyweds discussing a contentious topic such as family finances and attach point values to various displays of positive and negative emotion, such as humor or contempt. "Marriage success" was defined simply as remaining together after four years. The more positive a couple's points, the greater their chances of staying together. Successful couples, they found, had up to five times more positives than negatives, whereas unsuccessful couples had an equal number or more negatives than positives. 

Furthermore, by looking at the data and observing couples, they were able to distinguish five general patterns of interaction: (source)

Stable couples
1. "the validating couple" -- calm, intimate, companionable, like to back each other up
2. "the avoiders"-- do their best to eschew conflict. 
Unstable couples
1. "the hostiles" -- neither person wants to talk about contentious issues
2. "the hostile-detached couple" -- one is fiery and argumentative, and the other isn't.
Borderline couples (can go either way)
1. "the volatile couple" -- romantic and passionate, but have heated arguments 

If you're interested in learning about their methodology and findings in depth, their book The Mathematics of Marriage is available online at Google books. 

Brain Chemistry and Typology

Evolution of typologies and thought systems in general

It seems that brain chemistry is the current typological fashion, somewhat like the concepts of "information" and "information processing" in the mid-20th century. The idea of personality types is ancient, but with each new period of philosophical or scientific development it seems that the types are reformulated in contemporary terms, leading to an evolution and inevitable drift of the types themselves through cumulative subtle changes in descriptions and emphasis. 

Today a dominant philosophical/cultural trend is the increasing scientific understanding of how the brain functions. More and more, you hear words like "serotonin" over the church pulpit and in everyday conversation. Typologists realize that in order to remain culturally relevant, they need to somehow respond to the dominant trends in psychology and philosophy, much like the Pope feels pressure to formulate some sort of official stance on issues such as AIDS and climate change. 

An important effect of the need to remain culturally relevant is that thought systems evolve to encompass ever more phenomena. For instance, sects founded on a few narrow doctrinal principles over time expound views on virtually all culturally relevant matters. Or, limited typologies such as the forerunner to the Enneagram gradually evolve into general typologies of personality. If there's a greater market for a system of general personality types than for a system of, say, vices and how Christian hermits can overcome them, then why not try to break into that market? If other typologies offer relationship descriptions, then why don't we add some on, too? These are classic examples of memetic competition among overlapping thought systems. 

Personally, I am most sympathetic to science and less so to thought systems based on imagination and mental constructs. I feel that science memes are more lasting and tend to build on each other and generate permanent, tangible progress, whereas other kinds of thought systems basically run around in circles with a periodicity of 10 years, 100 years, 1000 years, or whatever with almost no innovation. When innovations in thought systems do occur, it seems to often be the result of an "injection" of scientific, or factual knowledge. But I digress... 

Typological applications of brain chemistry

If any readers are aware of other typologies that have attempted to link brain chemistry to personality types, please leave me a note. 

1. Helen Fisher's types (discussed in depth in previous post) -- based on neuroscience from the outset, but with the choice of four types possibly influenced by millenia-long typological traditions. Uses 2 neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin) and 2 hormones (testosterone and estrogen).

2. Enneatypes. See article "The Enneagram and Brain Chemistry" which links the 9 enneatypes to 3 different neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, and norepinepherine) and 3 different levels thereof, which technically produces 27 types, but only 9 are given. 

3. Keirsey Temperaments. According to a poster at the forum, the book The Edge Effect "ties in neurotransmitters in the brain with the four Keirseyan temperaments (NF, NT, SP, SJ). Naturally, that means he focuses on four neurotransmitters: acetylcholine, dopamine, seratonin, and GABA."

To further quote this poster ("Patrick"), "I did a little Googling, and it seems there are actually ten or more known neurotransmitters. But of course fans of four-type systems will pick four, and enneagram fans will go for three or nine." Exactly my thoughts. While we like the idea of there being 2 x 2 (4) or 3 x 3 (9) or 4 x 4 (16) combinations because it makes for much easier subcategorization, it is unclear whether nature actually needs us to have such a tidy number of important neurotransmitters rather than, say, 6, 11, 17, or 26. 

The attempts to link the Enneagram and Keirsey temperaments strike me as amateurish, and the article linking Enneagram to neurotransmitters seems to suffer from trying to immediately relate new entities (neurotransmitters) to existing thought structures (Enneatypes) without learning about the new entities in sufficient detail first. Lofty language such as "We hereby propose a theory of personality whereby high, medium, and low activity of each of these three neurotransmitters systems are distributed in an enneagrammitically logical way" only serves to cement that impression. But this is, of course, just a hypothesis, and hypotheses are often like that. 

In any event, attempts to link type and brain chemistry will probably grow more sophisticated as more information from research becomes available. 


Right now, many people are testing the waters by suggesting hypotheses about the correlation between brain chemistry and personality types. Based on my experience studying religions and the history of their interaction with science, I would predict that either the neuroscience ends up radically changing the typology, or the typology abandons attempts to correlate types with brain chemistry altogether. Ultimately, typology and neuroscience are driven by different and often incompatible approaches; one has a system in mind and needs "meat" to put on the bones of that system, whereas the other has no system in mind, just a collection of observed facts, and begs some systematic explanation. In practice, it seems, typologies are rarely willing to give up their systems, nor science -- its facts. 

For a perfect illustration of this quandary, read the article "Enneagram and Science" at

Helen Fisher's Types: Explorer, Builder, Director, Negotiator

In a previous post I wrote of a personality and matching test at that was developed by researcher Helen Fisher. We are already seeing some possible patterns in how her types correspond to socionic types, and I encourage readers to take the test if they haven't already and share their results in that post. 

The best introduction to Fisher's research is this half-hour interview with her by Nicole Simon. Here Fisher talks about the history of her research, her main findings, and the types themselves. Each type is supposedly related to one of four chemicals that broadly influences personality: dopamine (a neurotransmitter), serotonin (neurotransmitter), testosterone (hormone), and estrogen (hormone). 

Explorer: (more dopamine expression) -- risk-taking, curious, creative, impulsive, optimistic and energetic

Builder: (more serotonin expression) -- cautious but not fearful, calm, traditional, community-oriented, persistent and loyal

Director: (more testosterone expression) -- very analytical, decisive, tough-minded; they like to debate and can be aggressive

Negotiator: (more estrogen expression) -- broadminded imaginative, compassionate, intuitive, verbal, nurturing, altruistic and idealistic

(descriptions taken from Fisher herself in Time article)

These types have a fairly clear biological basis:

There was a great deal of data that people vary in terms of their expression of dopamine and norepinephrine, serotonin, estrogen and oxytocin and testosterone. I culled from the academic literature all of those data points that show that these particular brain-chemical systems are related to certain aspects of personality. And I saw constellations of temperament traits that seemed to be associated with these chemicals.

Why Fisher did not include the neurotransmitter norepinephrine or the hormone oxytocin in her system is unclear. Perhaps the related personality traits were less obvious or fundamental. In the interview she states that people have been talking of 4 types for thousands of years, and she feels there's a reason for that. This is another case of the form of an idea being more lasting than its content (which I talked about in the previous post on the Enneagram) -- in this case, that there are four types. How these types are defined has varied widely. And is the four-based system an actual attribute of nature, or simply how our logical, order-seeking brain would like to see things? 

Fisher attaches a second type to the first as a sort of auxiliary feature, creating a system of 12 possible combinations. 

Socionics and Fisher's types

From the summaries given by Fisher, it appears that each of these four chemicals corresponds at least somewhat to more than one socionics category:

Dopamine: extraverted intuition, extraversion, irrationality

Serotonin: rationality, introversion, sensing

Testosterone: logic, sensing

Estrogen: ethics, intuition

So, a common type for an ILE might be "EXPLORER/director," for IEE - "EXPLORER/negotiator," for IEI "NEGOTIATOR/explorer," for ILI "NEGOTIATOR/director," for LSE "DIRECTOR/builder," etc.

Fisher says that Explorers are the rarest type (8%), and builders the most common (>40%). 

Fisher identifies herself as an EXPLORER/negotiator. 

Type development

Fisher says that while our natural propensities are genetically determined, much of our brain chemistry is dependent on situational factors, and our type may change or become more or less evident. This is a different view than socionics, but not necessarily a conflicting one, since the two typologies are based on different principles. 

I find this possibility intriguing. I would say that my "Explorer" type fully awakened only at the age of 23 under the influence of a host of external factors. If I had remained in the situation I was in, I might be a different type today or simply a less obvious Explorer. If you find a natural Director working away at a dull job and make him the coach of a college football team, the experience could trigger a metamorphosis in him and a long-term change in his career direction. 

Before a string of deeply "exploratory" experiences (spending extensive time abroad in Slovakia and Russia), I was a star math student planning on majoring in math in college. After spending 3 years abroad speaking two different foreign languages and being exposed to new ways of life, however, I could no longer focus my mind on math. It simply did not provide the rewards I had now come to expect from my activities: experiencing new things, seeing new places, meeting new people, and perfecting and applying my language skills. I think all these activities had activated my dopamine system in some way such that my brain had become reliant upon dopamine stimulation, which I could not get from mathematics. The propensity for this "dependency" was certainly built into my system to begin with. Had I had been a different "Fisher type" to begin with, my experiences abroad may not have had such a lasting impact on my path in life. The vast majority of people who went through the same experiences I did returned to life in the U.S. with only slightly modified career plans at most. 

Intertype attraction

I have found conflicting views on which types attract which, seemingly from Helen Fisher herself. One view is that each type is attacted to its own. The other view is that Explorers and Builders attract (despite there being 5 times more builders) and Directors and Negotiators attract. My type profile (I am EXPLORER/negotiator) said I "tend to naturally gravitate to EXPLORER/director." 

The conflicting statements on mutual attraction suggest that the correlation is weak or borderline, and that Fisher herself is not entirely sure yet. But she may not be able to say that outright, since she is being paid by these matchmaking websites to provide a matching algorithm. Correct me if anyone has read her latest book and has more information.


I think the study of chemicals and their effects of personality is a high-prospect direction of inquiry. It is based on a body of scientific research and lends itself to empirical study, meaning that strangers can work on research all at once and build on each other's findings with ease -- quite the opposite of socionics or the Enneagram, where people have to communicate closely and extensively to transfer knowledge. 

Emerging patterns of correlation between socionic types and Fisher's types open up the possibility of discovering the roots of certain socionic categories in brain chemicals. The four Fisher focuses on are not the only chemicals known to influence personality, but certainly some of the most important and best researched ones. 

Commentary on the Enneagram of Personality

I have written a bit on the Enneagram of Personality over at Wikisocion, and here I will compile my writings into a single piece. 

Enneagram basics

(slightly adapted from Wikipedia)

Although mostly understood and taught as a typology (a model of personality types), the Enneagram of Personality is also taught in ways intended to develop higher states of being, essence and enlightenment. Each of the 9 personality types associated with the Enneagram represents a map of traits that highlights patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. By learning one’s type and the patterns and habits associated with that type, one can use the Enneagram system as an effective tool for self-understanding and self-development.

Adherents of the theory believe that each Enneagram personality type, or style, is based on a pattern of where attention goes. They believe that by learning about what kinds of things one habitually attends to and puts energy into, one can observe oneself more accurately and develop more self-awareness, and that by enhancing one’s self awareness with the help of the Enneagram, one can exercise more choice about one’s functioning rather than engaging in patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior in an automatic, habitual, unconscious way.

Types are named "One", "Two", "Three", etc. A secondary type, or "wing" can be present and is generally supposed to be one of the two types adjacent to the base type. This allows for a manageable diversity of types (roughly 18) similar to that of socionics or the MBTI. 

As you can see from the description above, a self-perfection concept is more strongly built into the Enneagram of Personality than into socionics or Myers-Briggs Typology. Along with each type, there are different levels of development that show the type at its best and its worst. Further type differentiation is possible through the application of three subtypes: self-preservation, sexual, and social. 

Scientific criticism

All categories of the Enneagram are fundamentally qualitative and thus subject to divergent interpretation. The advantage of this is that the Enneagram of Personality is safe from scientific inquiry and cannot be disproven. By comparison, socionics has elements of a scientific system (concepts such as "information processing" and the claim to predict relationships to some degree) and a general prescientific bent, which makes it vulnerable to eventual debunking (or proof through scientific evidence). The Enneagram is in about the same position as the writings of Nostradamus; nothing is unequivocal, and after-the-fact interpretation provides enough intrigue to ensure the longevity of the idea system in the minds of curious inquirers.

Just to be clear, I don't intend to say that the Enneagram is worthless. On the contrary, for some people it can be very useful as a guide for self-improvement. The difficulties I mention become evident when people try to get together and discuss the Enneagram and discover that each person understands it a little bit differently, and these cumulative differences of interpretation and experience make conveying conclusions and knowledge extremely difficult. The Enneagram is far more easily applied personally than in groups of strangers.

I have read a few different sets of Enneatype descriptions, and each was different, placing more or less emphasis on different aspects of each type. Depending on which set of descriptions people resonate with more, their type identification will differ as well. 

Possible correlations with socionic types

This is a hotly debated topic, and I'm sure many people will disagree with me, but here are some parallels I saw between Enneatype descriptions from Wikipedia and socionic types as I see them. If I were basing my assessment on a different set of descriptions, I might see different correlations. I'm not totally set on these, but these were my initial thoughts:

One — EII, IEI
Two — ESI, EII
Three — LIE, EIE, LSE, ESE
Four — ILI, IEI
Five — LII, LSI
Seven — IEE, ILE, ESE, EIE
Eight — SLE, SEE, LSI, ESI
Nine — SEI, SLI

My own Enneatype would be "7w1." Read how I came to that conclusion here. This time, I was basing my self-typing on a different set of descriptions, but one that seems compatible with those at Wikipedia. 

Historical roots of the Enneagram

This is the really interesting part. What follows is a direct quote from my post at Wikisocion:

OK, I tracked down the supposed Plato connection through the thread at First observation: it's not Plato, but the neoplatonic movement of the IV century AD, and the role of the 9 passions was proposed by people who were not necessarily part of the platonic tradition — Christian hermits living in the deserts:

It was Evagrius who was to reveal that the Christian aesthetics of the Byzantine deserts had discovered that 9 passions − anger, pride, vainglory, envy, greed, incontinence, gluttony, lust and acedie, distorted human perception and consigned the human search for the divine to the banal and ordinary.

So, the link to Plato himself is extremely tenuous, or simply nonexistent.

The article is mistaken about the term "aesthetics." They mean ascetes who practiced an ascethic lifestyle of self-denial. It doesn't make sense otherwise. Here's more on ascetism and the "desert fathers" who practiced it in the IV century. So the original "9 passions" were formulated in the context of trying to purge oneself of earthly desires and unite with God through a hermit lifestyle. Each person who chose this path encountered different obstacles on his pursuit of self-denial and godliness, depending on his personal makeup. That's where the basic idea of the Enneagram came from, and the idea of transcending the weaknesses inherent to each type.

Ascetism as a philosophy was preserved for centuries in Christian monastic traditions. At some point it connected with Islam through the Sufi tradition: "Sufism evolved not as a mystical but as an ascetic movement, as even the name suggests; the word Sufi may refer to a rough woolen robe of the ascetic. " [source]. A typology such as the Enneagram of the time could be a useful tool for helping understand the challenges different disciples faced on their ascetic path.

Often, in the evolution of ideas, the form is more memorable than the content. For instance, that there are 4 elements (earth, fire, air, water) as opposed to the specific interpretation of these elements. What I find is that the form of philosophical ideas such as this is more resistant to change over time than their content. In other words, although people remember the four elements from 2 millenia ago, the meaning they attribute to them isn't necessarily the same as that of 2000 years ago. That means that, in the case of the Enneagram, what may have been passed down is simply the existence of 9 types, whereas the content and interpretation of those types has almost certainly undergone considerable evolution.

Gurdjieff himself was probably not an ascetic in the sense of the early Christians. For instance, he advocated living a normal sex life. He also did not see spiritual development as taking place through overcoming moral weaknesses. It seems that by this time the 9 types had lost much of their initial content. Today, the proponents of the Enneagram are not ascetics by any stretch of the imagination, but believe in self-perfection by transcending one's weaknesses, which is a more general philosophy than ascetism. Today's Enneatypes preserve some of the form of the original 9 ascete types, but now the main emphasis has shifted from describing and overcoming vices to describing personality. If the original emphasis had been preserved, I would expect to see type descriptions that focused mainly on the 9 passions, their influence in personality, and the route for that type to overcome its particular vice. Today, when you read "the 7's vice is gluttony" tacked on to a type description, it seems like a totally peripheral aspect of the type as opposed to the central aspect that it originally was.

So that's my assessment of the Enneagram's roots. Today's enneatypes are similar in form but different in content from the original ones, which can only be understood within the context of the Christian ascetic tradition where it was born. 

Mixture of ideas in descriptions

As a result of the Enneagram's historical legacy, today's descriptions contain a mixture of esoteric-sounding tidbits and modern personality descriptions. For instance, at the end of the Sevens description at Wikipedia one finds the following morsel of wisdom:

Ego fixation: planning
Holy idea: work
Passion/Vice: gluttony
Virtue: sobriety

How these four vague concepts interrelate, and what their relationship to the rest of the description (which reads like a modern personality description), one can only guess. I personally relate to the description of Sevens, but not to these added four aspects. 

"Gluttony" was one of the vices upon which the original typology was based, and it's pretty clear in the context of the list of vices that gluttony was meant literally: pigging out on food and getting drunk. The antidote to this is to learn the virtue of sobriety -- abstaining from pigging out and drunkenness. Planning and work have no obvious connection to this and sound like a much later addition ("Ego fixations" is certainly a very modern concept). The main description itself now has nothing to do at all with gluttony. 

So, we see that the types have clearly undergone considerable evolution and are not the same as they used to be. Yet, tradition and the elusive link to antiquity dictates that these esoteric atavisms remain and continue to feed the imagination.

How to restore clarity to the Enneagram

I see today's Enneagram as a hodgepodge of modern popular perspectives on personality and some old ideas that have lost their central role. Many popular ideas about the types seem mutually exclusive or at best totally unrelated to each other. To restore clarity and consistency to the Enneagram, I would return the vices to their central position in the understanding of each type. This would probably entail a retyping of most people, since today people are basing their typings on type descriptions that have strayed far from the original nine vices. 

So, in order to restore clarity to the Enneagram, the following formulation, or one much like it, would have to be accepted as the basis for the system:

Enneatypes describe the most difficult challenges, or "vices," that a person encounters on his path to self-perfection. 

So, Enneatypes would no longer be about personality in its entirety, but about a certain specific aspect thereof. Going down the list of vices, I would no longer be a Seven ("gluttony" is certainly not my problem), but perhaps a Two ("pride" is the vice). 

Under this understanding, the descriptions should then describe the vice, the difficulties it creates, and how to overcome it. That is probably what the original system was about. 

Mar 30, 2009

Help Support

Because of some financial difficulties this year, I am asking for donations to help pay for Wikisocion hosting and domain renewal in May. I need $100. Find out more at Wikisocion. Thank you.

UPDATE MAR. 30, 2009:

$100 has been received. Thank you very much!

Mar 24, 2009

Introduction to Neuroscience and Personality

I'm an amateur in neuroscience, and it will probably show in this and subsequent posts. Nevertheless, it is useful to write down what one is learning about in any case. If you see that I am wrong on a matter of fact, please tell me about it. 

Human personality has been an object of study for thousands of years. Starting in the middle of the 20th century, advances in neurobiology made it possible to begin to study neurophysiological processes that might be linked to personality. Before that, personality researchers were only able to observe and classify general behavioral traits. While this approach allows for a holistic approach to personality (seeing the "forest," not just the trees), definitions and classifications are inherently inexact, subject to misinterpretation, and lacking in scientific rigor. Socionics and other personality typologies fall into this category. 

The development of technology for studying brain functioning has opened up new avenues for exploration. A nuts-and-bolts understanding of how the brain works and how behavior is generated can ultimately show us the "trees" of which the "forest" of personality is made. Most likely, the coming years will see many new ideas about personality that increasingly integrate data from neuroscience. Indeed, both the academic world and the educated public have grown accustomed to neuroscientific explanations for psychological phenomena and have come to expect them. This is part of the century-long advance of biology into the behavioral and social sciences, with darwinian natural selection as the overarching explanatory paradigm. 

There are a number of partially overlapping terms in this area, so here I will give some definitions:

  • Neuroscience - the scientific study of the nervous system. Considered a branch of the biological sciences. An umbrella term than encompasses most of the other fields listed.
  • Neuropsychology - the applied scientific discipline that studies the structure and function of the brain related to specific psychological processes and overt behaviors. Considered a branch of psychology.
  • Neurobiology - the study of the cells of the nervous system and their organization. Considered a subdivision of neuroscience and biology.
  • Neurophysiology - the study of nervous system function.
  • Neurology - a medical field dealing with disorders of the nervous system.

Usefulness of neuroscience for the study of personality 
The defining feature of personality is that it differs from person to person. Therefore, for neuroscience to be integrated with personality psychology, neurobiological parameters must be discovered that vary significantly between people. It seems natural that researchers' attention will first be focused on general properties of the nervous system, and then on variations of those properties as they come to understand them better. 

Though neuroscience is still in its infancy, some such brain characteristics have already been discovered that seem to have a bearing on personality (list is probably partial):

  • levels of neurotransmitters (there are many)
  • size of different parts of the brain
  • localization of brain activity

In addition, though not specifically relating to the brain, varying levels of hormones produced by the endocrine system have also been found to influence personality, such as testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol. The effects of these hormones are felt throughout the body, not just in the brain. 

Neuroscience methods and tools
Neuroscience studies phenomena that can be observed directly through the use of special equipment. Assessment of individual neuropsychological characteristics can take place through direct (brain scanning and other neurophysiological measurements) or indirect (observing performance during tasks known to be associated with kinds of neural activity) means. 

Brain scans are used to investigate the structure and functioning of the brain directly and include the following tools. The first two capture brain structure, while the last two depict its current functioning:

  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imagine) - shows tissue composition of body/brain through the use of magnetic fields
  • CAT/CT (Computed Axial Tomography) - shows structural makeup of body/brain through the use of x-rays which are computer processed to produce a 3-D model.
  • fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) - uses magnetic field to show blood flow activity in the body/brain, which correlates highly, but not absolutely, to neural activity.
  • PET (Positron Emission Tomography) - shows how and where body/brain responds to a particular molecule that was injected in the bloodstream and contains a radioactive tracer isotope. 

In addition to brain scans, electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) may be performed to record the levels and characteristics of electrical activity and magnetic fields, respectively, associated with neural activity.

Indirect methods are also used to study brain functioning. These include standardized neuropsychological tests of performance on tasks linked to specific neurocognitive processes, such as memory and verbal proficiency tests, and experimental tests measuring reaction time and accuracy on a particular task thought to be related to a specific neurocognitive process.

Prospects and difficulties 
Some of the tools listed above have been used on a limited scale to study people with different personal characteristics (skills, destructive behavior patterns, etc.), sometimes revealing observable differences in brain structure or functioning. Neurotransmitter levels probably play a significant role in shaping personality, but they are hard to measure directly because the brain doesn't leak them out to the rest of the body, and invasive procedures involve considerable risk of harm. Some commercial sources claim that neurotransmitter levels can be determined through urine tests, but this is debatable. Personality and behavior questionnaires such as those developed by Helen Fisher at may or may not accurately predict the level of neurotransmitters and hormones they are supposed to reflect. To their credit, the object of study is known and measurable in principle, even if there are difficulties at the present.

People of the same socionic type (or MBTI type, or whatever) could be run through brain scans to find commonalities, but this would require determining their types beforehand through inherently nonobjective means or by using a test of questionable validity. I doubt such a project could receive academic funding. I will continue to look into this topic. 

UPDATE APRIL 1, 2009: I just received a new book in the mail called Neurodynamics of Personality that talks in depth about the connections between physiology and psychology, and how new knowledge of the brain's workings sheds light on personality. I plan to read this book soon and incorporate it into new blog posts. 

Mar 22, 2009

Personality/Compatibility Test at

I mentioned anthropologist and love researcher Helen Fisher two posts ago. She has put her observations and ideas about love and compatibility into test form at There, in about 20 minutes, you can take a test that tells you about your personality, strengths and weaknesses, and who you might be most attracted to. 

Please take the test (I'm sure you'll find it interesting) and report back in the following way:

1. your socionic type (self-typing)
2. your test result
3. your opinion of the accuracy of the description (0% to 100%)

There are people from the MBTI or Keirsey camp who see a correspondence between Fisher's types and Keirsey temperaments or MBTI types, but I think these correlations are baloney. It's the same old fallacy of assuming that types are literally real and that only one set of real types can exist, therefore two different systems of types must either correspond closely, or one of the systems is bogus. 

In further posts I will discuss Fisher's types in greater depth. 

Experiments in Socionics

In previous posts I have discussed the pervasive lack of scientific method in socionics. All socionic studies conducted so far have been one of two types:

  1. Studies of type-related behavior that accepted as a given that participants' types had been identified correctly.
  2. Studies of socionists' opinions regarding socionics and socionic types.
Neither of these types of studies is of much use to researchers outside the socionics community. None prove the existence of types, intertype relations, or other concepts, or demonstrate the precise physiological or mental characteristics associated with socionic categories. I know of no ways of proving any of socionics experimentally. If you do, please leave a comment after the article. 

However, if we broaden our interests to include psychological compatibility, personality differences, and perception, then we can potentially create lots of good studies with real  scientific value that would touch on -- but not prove -- theoretical elements of socionics. Here are some ideas for such experiments. 

Does psychological compatibility exist?

Try to determine whether different combinations of people living or working together closely experience significantly different levels of compatibility, and whether these levels are dependent upon particular pairings of people. 

"Compatibility" could be measured physiologically (levels of hormones in the blood associated with stress, contentment, irritation, etc.) verbally (using questionnaires), or through observation (how much time people spend talking, characteristics of conversation, etc.). A combination of the three would be most informative, but if the subjects knew that the object of the study was to measure psychological compatibility, that might color their responses to the different people they are paired with. To avoid this, questionnaires could be about subject's general emotional state, mood level, and well-being in order to not give hints about the real purpose of the study. Subjects would be told the purpose of the study was to find out more about their physiological responses to living conditions, for instance. Questionnaires and blood tests should be administered once daily at the same time each day. Daily routine would be the same each day. Observation would be conducted through hidden microphones that would record the amount of time each day that the people spend talking. If other patterns are discovered, researchers could analyze conversations for other parameters as well, such as the amount of laughter, emotional tone, or range of topics discussed.

Necessary conditions
To allow for compatibility to be clearly felt, subjects would ideally need to spend at least one week together in an isolated setting. They should have some kind of work to do, but nothing that would involve anyone other than each other. 

Possible settings include:
- a prison where inmates spend most of their waking time in their cells without external contact
- a hospital ward or sanatorium where people are recovering from long-term illnesses in a stationary setting
- an artificial setting, such as a summer camp in the woods specifically for the experiment

Participants of a single sex and heterosexual orientation (to rule out confounding sexual factors) are paired randomly multiple times (say, 4 times over 4 weeks) and made to spend most or all of their time together. Blood tests and questionnaires are given daily at the same time each day. Participants may be given tasks that require them to interact more closely with their roommate. A hidden microphone tracks the amount of time each day that roommates spend talking, and can be used to analyze conversation content. At the end of each week, participants are abruptly moved to a different location (room) where they are paired with another person they have never met before. 

Variation 1: Participants could be reunited with one or more previous roommate at some point in the experiment. Researchers would be checking to see whether compatibility levels are the same as the first time together. 

Variation 2: Pair partners with people of the opposite sex (if they are both heterosexual) to see how results change when gender factors are introduced. This could make things complicated. 

Variation 3: The study could be duplicated for both sexes to allow for comparison of results between the sexes. 

Possible findings
Such a study would produce a large and very interesting body of data with a myriad of possible conclusions. Here are some questions that might be answered:
  • Do people have stable compatibility levels with others? Or do levels (as measured in the experiment) fluctuate?
  • If they are stable, how quickly are those levels achieved? Within one day? Five days?
  • Are all people equally susceptible to compatibility? Or are there people who tend to be compatible, or incompatible, with everyone or nearly everyone?
  • How widely do compatibility levels fluctuate? Is the fluctuation the same or different for different participants? 
  • How well do people's self-reports correlate with blood test results? Is their perception of their own state correct?
  • How does audio data from hidden microphones correlate with blood tests and self-reporting? Do more compatible partners always talk more? What, if anything, is different about their audible interaction? What about incompatible partners?
  • When people are paired repeatedly with the same person, how closely do the results of the second period together match those of the first? Are there any patterns, such as that incompatible partners get even worse, or compatible ones get even better?
Most likely, many other things would be discovered that aren't on the list. 

Implications for socionics
Such a study could support or refute some of socionics' basic claims and assumptions about intertype relations and compatibility.  

The Evolution of Love

Socionics founder Aushra Augusta was not an expert on matters of love and romance, despite having written a paper titled "The Nature of Erotic Feelings." She wrote of her own type, ILE, as basically a helpless victim of love, and the system she engendered was intended to explain how love would develop between two people independently of their intentions or efforts. While some hard-nosed determinism provides a much-needed counterbalance to the popular view that "you can make it work with nearly anyone if you just try," the extreme determined-from-the-cradle view is ultimately just as incorrect as its antipode. 

Augusta's view of romantic feelings was characteristically one-dimensional and idealized. She focused, in essence, on only psychological intimacy -- just one aspect of the romantic experience. She discussed how well types in different intertype relations were able to satisfy each other's deep psychological yearnings. Certainly, psychological intimacy is an important aspect of relationships, but it is not the only one. Let's take a broader, evolutionary look at the phenomenon of love and see what we can learn about it beyond the framework of socionics. 

Helen Fisher is a well-known anthropologist who has been studying the phenomenon of romantic love for many years and has written a number of books about her findings. She divides love into three stages or components: the sex drive, romantic love, and attachment. Here's an excerpt about them:

Humans have evolved three distinctly different brain systems for mating and reproduction, according to Fisher — sex drive, romantic love, and attachment.

She believes that the sex drive evolved to motivate individuals to look at a whole range of partners. Romantic love — the obsessive fascination and elation associated with the early part of a relationship — developed to enable a person to focus mating energy on one partner at a time, thereby conserving time and energy.

Attachment, or the feeling of comfort and security that develops in long-term relationships, evolved to enable an individual to tolerate that person long enough to rear a child together, as a team, according to Fisher.

Fisher is not convinced that romantic love is evolutionarily designed to last forever. Once a couple was expecting a child, it would've been much more adaptive to move into the attachment phase, to raise children in a more calm, stable, rational state, Fisher says. Romantic love is not rational, it's an enormous energy expenditure that is metabolically expensive. You're walking all night, talking till dawn — we'd all die of sexual exhaustion, if romantic love lasted continually.

I'm inclined to agree with Fisher's division of love. Different hormones and different brain states have been found that are associated with each of these stages, or components of love. For instance, oxytocin in women or vasopressin in men is released after making love and contributes to feelings of emotional attachment to one's sexual partner. 

Now let's examine the three kinds of love more thoroughly. Importantly, Fisher states that things do not always start with a sexual attraction. A relationship can start off with a kind of friendly attachment and progress to the other stages. Or, one can experience a lengthy period of romantic love with no sexual consummation. I think most adults have had experience with relationships that started in different ways. For convenience we'll describe things in the order Fisher has given.

1. First, the sex drive motivates one to look at a range of partners. Anyone who looks and acts like a good bundle of genes is attractive. Quirky individual preferences also begin to play a role, such as particular kinds of look, facial or body features, mannerisms, and expressions. These tastes can evolve over time. Some "objects" appear immediately attractive, while others become attractive with time. Likewise, objects can lose their attractiveness if other traits are discovered that diminish the person's positive qualities. 

Generally, a person is not either "attractive" or "unattractive," but somewhere along a continuum between the two. Often, conditions are attached to the effect of, "I could sleep with him/her if..." This is where the crude Russian expression "she'll be good enough for me if I have some beer" comes from. 

The more time people are given to observe an "object," the more -- I think -- their individual personality preferences affect perceived attractiveness. For instance, signs of a sharp temper may appear to be a character defect to one observer, making that person lose his attractiveness, while the same sharp temper may appear to be a positive sign of passion and vitality to another observer, increasing the attractiveness of that person. So, at some stage in the evaluation of sexual attractiveness, personality traits are factored into the equation. Already, people are subconsciously estimating how well they will mesh with the other person in terms of tastes, values, interests, beliefs and allegiances, etc. 

If a person is more focused on sex itself than love, however, the calculations may be different -- less focused on personality qualities, for instance, and more on the actual mating ritual and how well it is progressing. Many species -- and I think this clearly includes humans -- have a number of mating strategies ever present in the population. One such strategy is promiscuity -- actively pursuing and preferring short-term sexual encounters, presumably with the expectation that the child will be reared by others. This strategy provides dividends as long as a large majority of the population pursues a longer-term mating strategy and can be counted on to help with child rearing. If nearly everyone were promiscuous, however, a couple that happened to be faithful and oriented toward the long term would reap the dividends of being much better able to provide for their young, thanks to teamwork. 

2. Through superficial interaction with prospective partners, the individual begins to focus energy on a single object, which expresses itself as romantic love, or infatuation. One's choice appears to be the result of subconscious calculations -- basically, how genetically desirable each "object" is, multipled by an estimate of one's chances of acquiring each of them. Inexperienced lovers often incorrectly assess their chances, leading to premature or misplaced infatuation and more frequent rejection, while more seasoned lovers are able to make more accurate predictions of whom they will actually be able to seduce and hold on to, and hence enjoy better luck. This skill is not necessarily a function of age, but more of positive programming through successful love experiences, good role models, and hands-on experience. 

Romantic love is a goal-oriented state directed towards acquiring a single person and being as close to them as possible (to crowd out any competitors and ensure that the person becomes attached to you). It is a state of constant anticipation. If the goal is placed tantalizingly in front of you but never quite achieved, romantic love can rage on for quite a long time, as long as the object still seems to be attainable. If, instead, the object is acquired swiftly and in its entirety, romantic love can actually quickly subside to a more manageable level, as the body understands that the object is now "in the bag," and the person can safely direct its energies towards more productive things, such as building a roof over the couple's head that doesn't leak, or otherwise preparing for their future together. Romantic love ultimately lays the groundwork for building an environment where offspring have a good chance of survival. 

3. Once the object of love is securely "in the bag" and one's longings for emotional oneness have been satisfied, romantic love subsides, and the couple's attention turns to more pragmatic tasks.  Since our complex brains are so big and take years to grow and develop after birth, child rearing requires years of sustained effort. A lengthy period of cooperation between parents is one of the things that best ensures childrens' survival. Another is close cooperation with other people in the community -- particularly those of one's own gender -- to procure food, ensure defense, and divide chores. What mechanism motivates a couple to stick together at this point, especially given the sex drive's inclination to notice a multitude of other potential partners around? Feelings of emotional attachment, a sense of security and dependability.

Just as subconscious calculations underlie our brain's "choice" to start the mechanism of romantic love rolling, I believe calculations are at work in deciding to stay with a long-term partner or break things off. Things like proof of effective teamwork, sufficient and pleasurable sex, shared experience, and especially the presence of children tip the odds in favor of staying together, while difficulties working together, sexual problems, and a lack of shared experiences can tip the odds towards breaking up. Of course, if other prospects appear on the horizon, that will influence the equation as well. One has to weigh the costs and benefits of staying together versus moving on. 

Purely material interests play a considerable role as well -- in some cases, the defining role. The prospect of losing property or financial security in the event of a breakup keeps some couples together who might separate in other circumstances. If children are involved, all the more so. Rather than fester under these conditions, our brains actually adapt to them, and our attitudes to our partners change as the result of material considerations. If a person is providing important material benefits, most likely their partner will be more patient and forgiving with them -- to a point, of course. 

Perhaps a good deal of the "calculations" taking place is nothing more than the buildup of certain chemicals in the area of the brain dedicated to that relationship or person. Maybe that sounds naive. However, if each orgasm together releases a hormone related to feelings of attachment, maybe other positive experiences do as well. Presumably, those hormones would have a cumulative effect resulting in an overall attitude towards the relationship, sort of like a long string of "+1" and "-1" that adds up to a final positive or a negative number. In addition, the newer "pluses" and "minuses" have greater weight attached; a great orgasm, successful cooperation on a project, or an expensive new piece of jewelry can temporarily outweigh a previous string of minuses -- at least until its effects fade, too, with the passing of time. In effect, each partner seems to keep tabs on both the relationship as a whole and the current development of the relationship. Could that "tally count" be expressed as a buildup of a certain hormone in an area of the brain? I don't know.

While it may seem that feelings of romantic love in a long-term relationship are destined to inexorably fade away into a low-level "attachment" or communal living habit, all is not lost, says Fisher:

Fisher cited the studies of Elaine Hatfield, who found that people in good, long-term relationships reported not only a deep sense of attachment to their partners, but also low-grade feelings of romantic love. This emotion comes back, at various times when a couple is on vacation, before or after they make love, even when one partner says something funny.

According to Fisher, there are two keys to making love last.

First, couples need to do new things together — novelty and variety has been shown to drive up the activity of dopamine and norepinephrine, both chemicals that are associated with feelings of romantic love. Go swimming after dark, go to a different restaurant for dinner, says Fisher. Even the smallest change of pace can reignite passion.

Second, and more obviously, according to Fisher, it's important to pick the right person from the get-go. The chemistry between two people is what causes the feeling of romantic love in the first place, and helps to keep it percolating.

"Low-grade feelings of romantic love," I guess, are a nice treat from nature to allow us to "live happily ever after." The end.

Further reading
Love and Relationships "knol" - learn all about the different chemicals involved in love, and research relating to love and attraction. Try not to get depressed upon reading it. 

Mar 20, 2009

Faith in Socionics: How to Take Someone Else's Word for It

When I was 23, I abandoned the faith-based worldview of my youth and began to subject everything I thought I knew to rational standards of knowledge, such as how do I know that? and what hard evidence exists to support that belief?, and if I would find a belief to be untenable, I would ask myself where the belief had come from and why it existed in the first place if it were untrue. 

When I got into socionics, I found both answers to personal questions that had (in my opinion) a rational and supportable basis, and also elements of faith that I found disturbing. I thought the faith-based elements were the doings of individual teachers of socionics rather than something inherent to socionics itself. For instance, my teacher insinuated to me that his group's method of typing was the only accurate one, that they were better than everyone else, and that there were grave risks to be had if one got involved with socionists who did not have their unique skills. I had no way of knowing whether that was actually true or not, and my teacher assured me that over the course of time I would realize all these things for myself. That all smacked of the religious worldview from whence I had come, and I would challenge him on these points for several years, to no avail. 

As I got to know more socionists and learned of different groups in the community (in the Russian speaking world), I eventually gained an accurate, and quite different perspective: I had been studying with people who were peripheral members of the community and viewed as semi-authoritarian quacks by other socionists who had dealt with them. It took a long time for me to overcome the negative programming I had been given regarding the socionic mainstream, and see that the mainstream was actually moving along in a healthier, more rational direction than those I had studied with. 

The group I speak of was not unique. Similarly dogmatic socionists with a siege mentality could be found in many places, and some were quite prominent on the web. Their concept of socionics was always significantly different than that of the mainstream. I don't mean to suggest that the mainstream view is necessarily the correct one; however, my experience showed that peripheral socionists with authoritarian tendencies had less rational and more idealized or illogical views of socionics. A certain charisma to these socionists helped them instill in their followers the faith necessary to overcome the doubts that would naturally arise. Those that lacked charisma or other necessary qualities simply had no followers, but wished they had.

To illustrate how a dogmatic, faith-based mentality develops, imagine you believe that 90% of people are intuiters, and that the holy grail of duality is accessible to only a tiny minority of the population. This would require a modification in practice of how the intuition/sensing dichotomy is applied, and members of your school would inevitably encounter opposing views on the matter when exposed to other schools of thought. So, you instill them with the belief that other schools are "way off," that they have "no practical experience, just empty philosophizing," etc. This creates an "us versus them" mentality for those who stay in your school (those who disagree, leave). Your unusual views place you in constant opposition to stray outsiders who decide to come and argue with you a bit. When asking for proof of your typing method, you say, "well, first you have to learn it; once you begin to apply it, you'll see for yourself that it works. I'm not here to prove anything; try it for yourself." If they continue to criticize, but never try to learn the method, you simply call them closeminded and other bad words, and the feeling grows within your community that everyone else is "dogmatic," thus bonding the community even tighter in the face of a hostile environment.  

People can grow up in these environments and take years to come to see that they were falsely programmed. In many cases, that realization never comes. When it does, it creates a strong backlash. 

So, we find many teachers of socionics invoking -- overtly or covertly -- faith among their audiences. Is this the problem of those individuals, or of the field as a whole? 

I'm inclined to believe it's characteristic of the field as a whole. Really, nothing in socionics is provable in the scientific sense of the word. Only the most basic of observations are indisputable, such as the fact that relationships tend to differ quite a bit, that getting close with certain people tends to bring negative consequences, while with others you experience positive changes. Also, people with whom you may have difficulty interacting often have positive relationships with others. Finally, the mundane observation that people are very different and have different natural inclinations. 

None of socionics' original constructs, however, are indisputable (this does not imply they are incorrect). Nothing about types, dichotomies, or the socionic model of the psyche can be demonstrated scientifically. This means that people must accept the constructs because they seem to make sense, rather than because they have been proven. 

As a result, people find themselves believing (assuming to be true without having adequately tested it) that relations between certain types will have certain characteristics, that dual relations will be the best, that they will get along better with certain kinds of people, etc. Having just a bit of experience that appears to confirm parts of the theory, they will take other people's word for the rest of it. They will say to other people, "there's this theory that describes relationships between types. It says that... ", thus passing on the socionics meme without having submitted it to rigorous testing. Because of the difficulty of objectively determining types, rigorous testing can only take place on an individual basis and takes years and years of experience. Meanwhile, the socionics meme marches on, passed along by people who think it makes sense, but are unable to confirm or disprove it. 

There are many people in the socionics community, such as myself, for whom socionics has answered many questions about personal relationships. For us, socionics provided an explanation for our actual experience. For many others with less experience, however, socionics is received as a "neat system to learn more about myself and others." For the first group, there's not too much faith tied up in their study of socionics, but there is for the second. The assurances of the first group that "it works" then stimulate belief among the second group, who don't have enough experience of their own to know either way. 

Whether or not socionics phenomena actually "work" or not is irrelevant in a way; I think putting yourself in a position where you are taking other people's word for something can weaken you psychologically, especially if you are taking people's word for something as intimate as your own personality, potential, and relationships. Basing personal choices on unproven psychological theories rather than personal experience and impressions can narrow your possibilities. Also, such an environment can easily give rise to authoritarian leaders who tell weaker individuals what to think about themselves, their potential and relationships, and about other people. 

I wish I could say there were some easy trick to avoiding placing faith in socionics, but I don't know of any. Perhaps with this and subsequent posts I can help sow some seeds of healthy skepticism. 

Mar 18, 2009

Development of the English-Language Socionics Community

I have been sensing recently that the English-language socionics community is entering a new phase of development -- one of increasing fragmentation. This article discusses the causes and implications of this evolution.

Socionics forums
Originally, people were drawn together to to discuss socionics, because there was nowhere else to do so. was where the bulk of socionics information could be found, but the site (as far as I know) did not have a forum at the time. grew, and eventually people settled into the community, and differences of opinion began to form. A group splintered off and created At first this was not too successful, but after the passing of a few (?) years, it appears that the new forum is reasonably active and here to stay. At some point, a forum was established at

A number of single-member forums were attempted, but none of these were successful. Next, the Socionics Workshop project was created. At first not too active, through persistent efforts it has become stable and reasonably active.

Most recently, the former admin of created his own socionics forum and seems to have been successful in attracting a certain number of people to it. His persistence in socionics related projects will probably guarantee some measure of success.

That makes 5 viable forums now, instead of 1 just a few years ago. Recently, I have noticed people taking on new usernames at the new forums. This reflects a desire to break with the past and participate only in one or maybe two forums instead of jumping from forum to forum as they used to. The sense that there is a single socionics community seems to be gradually disappearing.

Socionics wikis
Something similar has happened with socionics wikis. Wikisocion was created to be something independent of any socionics 'schools' that might develop. I did not foresee that fragmentation would lead to the creation of new socionics wikis as well as new forums. With an emphasis strictly on amassing information, I did not think that Wikisocion would develop the same social problems as socionics forums typically do. Now there are wikis in place at and (coming soon). Naturally, building an active wiki community takes much more than simply setting up the software, and both of these competing wikis could well end up the sole domain of a single contributor, but given an active forum community that is already in place, both these sites stand some chance of creating a viable socionics wiki over time.

In short, fragmentation is the new trend, and every breakaway group has the bright idea of generating its own texts, own forum, and own wiki, which are not easily distinguishable in substance from the others. It seems that the main motive for this is not dissatisfaction with existing information, but interpersonal animosity: people want to keep doing the same activities as before, but without the aggravating presence of "certain individuals." More on animosity later.

Parallels with the Russian-language socionics community
Basically, the same processes are taking place, but with some key differences. Most importantly, the practical development of socionics in the West is not occurring as thoroughly as in Russia, Ukraine, and Lithuania due to the fact that almost all discussion and communication is online. Seeing that socionics is a kind of applied psychology, trying to use it in person, in groups generates more skills and understanding than discussing it over the Internet. Hence, for now at least, the factions that have formed in the English-speaking Internet are not able to really develop any collective know-how beyond some common general approaches used in online discussion. Due to their years of hands-on experience, socionics groups in the former Soviet Union have been able to amass much more know-how and are still far ahead of their western "colleagues." Blessed with free time and an intellectually conducive environment in the USSR during their early years, they were able to work together synergetically in ways that seem unlikely in the more materially preoccupied West.

Implications of fragmentation
Whereas up until a few years ago the spirit of the online socionics community was generally one of cooperation, now more competition is evident. Multiple forums and wikis must now compete for active members. Each community tries to create its own body of knowledge in order to be autonomous, even though it that body differs little from that of other communities. Each forum or wiki or other project is ultimately about the same topic, with almost no specialization possible in practice. This means that each forum is in direct competition with the others and defines itself through overt or implied references to "the other forums." This direct competition seems to perpetuate existing ill-will between communities. Indeed, competition seems to be the defining aspect of the current phase of socionics. Judging by how the Russian-language socionics community has developed, it may well be permanent.

The type of competition that is evolving in socionics is more akin to the competition of business or politics than to that of academia. It is a competition for website hits, popularity, and influence among the mass consumer rather than for recognition within one's professional community (although undoubtedly there are elements of politics and business in academia). To their credit, Russian and Ukrainian socionists are making efforts to develop a professional community, mostly to collectively defend themselves and the field from the ill effects of outsiders who misrepresent socionics for personal gain and engender negative public perception of socionics through their careless practices. Not to say, of course, that mainstream socionists don't make mistakes or always conscientious. Socionics as an pre-academic field is particularly vulnerable to abuse by entrepreneurial or neurotic individuals. Rather than the thorough, rational academic, nowadays it is the savvy independent website developer who wields the most influence in forming popular perception of socionics. Socionists basically find themselves in the same position as practitioners of natural healing -- vulnerable to quacks and at the mercy of those who form popular perception of the field and whose websites are at the top of search engine results. Recognizing their vulnerability, socionists begin to focus more on promotion, advertising, and Google page rank and somewhat less on developing the field of socionics itself.

As more and more people develop their own personal formulations or interpretations of socionics and write about them as "socionics," the neophyte experiences greater and greater conceptual confusion when trying to learn about the subject in English. A review of the two books published on socionics in English reveals significant differences in theory and method. A review of information sites on socionics confirms this suspicion. Indeed, as a beginner to socionics in Ukraine in 2000, I found the amount of information on the subject (in Russian) simply staggering, yet ultimately found only a very small amount of it to be actually necessary and useful. The rest was redundant, superfluous, speculative, or misleading or plain false. Almost everything of value had been derived from Augusta, so studying her writings proved more important than reading anything else, though some people find her style hard to digest.

Animosity in socionics
Anyone who has participated for any length of time in socionics forums has encountered animosity -- often shocking in its vehemence. At one forum you read about how another forum sucks. As a website owner, you get messages telling you you're an idiot and a failure (as well as thank you messages, to be sure). Forum comments about the stupidity of other forum members or information sources are everywhere. People are quoted incorrectly; their motives are misportrayed. This animosity seems to have grown over the past few years and become institutionalized through the formation of competing forum communities.

Long-standing socionics practitioners literally have to pass through a prolongued bath of negative emotions to remain in the field, and few are capable of making it through without becoming embittered, even traumatized on some level. Those who seem impervious to the negative emotions tend to lack intellectual depth.

As I have mentioned, animosity goes hand in hand with competition for limited resources (active forum members, personal popularity, popular perception, advertising or book revenue, etc.). Competition, in turn, is the result of having no niches to develop (i.e. it's all just "socionics"), and also because of the lack of science in the field (i.e. there are no objective criteria for choosing between competing views).

But perhaps most of all, animosity arises because socionics is about people. Community members inevitably use it on each other (by typing, labeling, and categorizing), often causing offense and bad feelings. Participants of socionics forums reveal a lot of themselves and end up becoming vulnerable. While the personal disclosure is necessary to build relationships with friends within the community, it will inevitably be misinterpreted or judged less positively by others, who are then likely to refer to you unflatteringly behind your back. We are all guilty of this at socionics forums, and it seems unavoidable due to the nature of the subject. Too much personal information and sentiments shared publicly by too many people builds a foundation for interpersonal animosity. Within a community of regular members, such as an active online forum, there is no way to reduce exposure to potential enemies; they are all there in one spot. This allows bad relationships to flourish along with potentially good ones, and the spirit of personal disclosure and analysis, and getting and giving feedback on things that are personal, that is inherent to socionics, provides the spark to set the process in motion.

Let me rephrase that thought. I think the basic source of animosity comes from having too much personal contact with people with whom there is no natural basis for friendship (for whatever reason). When boundaries are crossed with the wrong people, animosity arises. Socionics encourages people to get more personal and open up more than they normally would, since the topic of discussion is personality, right? As a result, more boundaries are crossed with more of the wrong people, especially on online forums where there is no way to handpick one's audience. This is a recipe for a morass of bickering and in-fighting.

As a result, we get a rather perverse situation where a field that has a lot to say about personal growth and interpersonal relationships spawns a community that actually breeds animosity as one of its side effects. I'm not the first person to say this; a while back I found an article online in Russian, called "Socionics: the Science that Teaches Animosity" (copy of article posted here).

From my point of view, the processes taking place are natural and inevitable. I tend to think that if it could be any different, it would be.

While socionics can be applied individually with positive results (in my experience, at least) and discussed fruitfully among friends and similarly minded acquaintances, making socionics a topic of discussion among larger groups seems to invite contention. When a stable community develops, animosity and eventual fragmentation appear inevitable, and discussion is plagued by a lack of scientific method. Commercial and territorial interests eventually arise, and a mixed bag of people are attracted to the profession, where there is no accountability or quality control other than one's own internal guidelines. The conscientious and responsible then form associations to protect themselves from outsiders. Hopefully, at some point the field of socionics is overtaken by rational, empirical science before anything really bad happens.


Follow-up Dec. 2009
This post deserves a follow-up at some point. The reasons for this are the failure of McNew's individual socionics projects, my 8-month hiatus from all things socionic, and a recognition that some of my assessment above was colored by my own sensitivity to animosity, ill-will, and bullying behaviors.

Announcement 2

This blog will continue to be developed, but the emphasis will likely change to conform to my evolving interests. I am just as interested in personality, interaction, compatibility, and society as I always have been and will continue to write about these things, but approaching these topics from a primarily socionic standpoint is losing its attraction for me. Socionics trains one to learn to recognize and put a name to important distinctions between things, but ultimately, a socionic explanation is not really an explanation in the scientific sense. 

Furthermore, socionically expressed "conclusions" cannot be proven, which makes rational dialogue problematic. Without a body of empirical data, the only way to convey "truth" is to express views in as logical and understandable a form as possible. Yet, even the most logically conveyed view in socionics has no hard and fast data to support it. As a result, it becomes very hard to distinguish between correct and incorrect views. Instead, people gravitate towards the views that they can understand and relate to rather than to the ones that are best supported by evidence. With no one able to counter false ideas with sound data, crackpots and ideologues flourish. Even those who are more "right" than others have no real means to prove their points, and are easily embroiled in personal attacks and counterattacks to defend their position. The personality of the socionist becomes more important than his professional competency, which is impossible to objectively ascertain anyways. 

In light of this, developing socionics in the traditional vein, using conventional socionic terms and practices, is becoming something of a dead-end for me. I dislike being able to counter opposing views or lack of understanding only with carefully chosen words. I would prefer to have a more real and tangible object of study that speaks for itself, rather than having to rely so heavily on semantics. As anyone with much experience at socionics forums can attest, semantic misunderstandings are the bane of socionics as an object of study and discussion. I tire of the dependence upon semantics, of the need to constantly rephrase things to make them more understandable and overcome people's objections. 

So, at least in the foreseeable future, this blog will contain much more information about scientific research in the area of mental and psychological differences between people and why these differences might be significant. This blog will no longer be about teaching socionics to people.