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. 


Anonymous said...

"Really, nothing in socionics is provable in the scientific sense of the word."

Why not? When I read books on Social-Psychology, I often read of experiments where I think: "wow, what an ingenious way to make a concept measurable if which I thought it wasn't measurable." Especially since western psychology have already developed ways of measuring psychological phenomena.

That so far people really haven't tried, does not mean Socionic phenomena aren't measurable and provable.

My gut feeling tells me that it should be possible to come up with testable hypotheses (either proving or disproving socionics).


Rick said...

Yeah, social psychology is awesome that way. Their experiments are sometimes diabolically ingenious.

However, I think there's a significant difference between a concept from social psychology and a socionics concept. It seems trivial at first, but when you're actually trying to build an experiment, it starts getting in the way.

I don't know quite how to put it, but social psychologists are content to deal with observable behavior patterns, while socionics focuses on qualitative patterns whose effects are felt over the long term. Furthermore, social psychology doesn't have any a priori typologies (that I am aware of), and at most only classifies things after the fact.

I really can't think of a single way to demonstrate, for instance, that the psyche has functions, or that sensing types, or ILIs, or extraverted ethics, or whatever -- have any particular characteristics. The only way to attempt to do this is fundamentally flawed: you would have to first assume that your method of distinguishing these types/categories is correct from the outset. Then, you would conduct comparative studies among those who you identified as such and those outside of the group.

However, such a study would not be repeatable by other researchers, unless your identification method was purely algorithmic (test-based). However, no socionists believe that existing tests are highly accurate.

MBTI researchers generally don't either, but they have followed this line of research anyway. It doesn't hold much water in science, though. To demonstrate, I could create a typology with 2 types: "readers" and "TV watchers." I could then ask them questions such as, "how much do you read each day" and "how much TV do you watch each day." Then, we could observe the people in real life to see how much they do these activities, and conclude, "Type A people indeed watch much more TV than Type B people." But, because that was precisely what the test questions asked, the results would be meaningless. If the MBTI asks about your behavior, and then research confirms that people of certain types exhibit behaviors that were asked about in the test, that's meaningless.

However, I can think of experiments that would demonstrate general observations about the nature of relationships and interaction patters. These would have real scientific value and could be repeated by other researchers, and requires no a priori acceptance of socionics or use of socionics concepts.

For instance, you could pair up prison inmates in random combinations and periodically switch roommates, all the while monitoring the level of stress and other hormones in their blood. The hypothesis would be, for instance, that 1) you would find different stress levels between different pairings of inmates, 2) the stress levels of each partner would be similar, and 3) when a person is reunited with a previous roommate, the stress levels return to the approximate level they were at when the pair was together before.

The goal of this would be to support the idea that different pairs of people have different levels of compatibility.

Liutauras said...

On faith in general. Faith is the essential and irreducible fact of one's life and mentality. No one can be a faithless person. To be faithless means to be absolutely rational, i.e. being capable of properly measuring all your preferences and perfectly assesing the consequences of any actions taken to maximize your preferences. It means that you have to be perfectly informed, but that's impossible in the real life. It's supernatural. On the contrary, the world is so uncertain, unpredictable and complex that most of your decisions and actions are based on the assumptions that you can't never asses them properly. Actually you have to believe in them if you are going to make anything. Of course, the faith may be corrected if it does not suffice the reality properly, but very often it shapes the very understanding of reality according to which that faith is to be corrected. Moreover, various beliefs shape the identity and actual behavior of actors, or in other words, the faith programmes believer.

On faith in modernity. Despite the rationalisation of human mind that take place during modernization, irrational (magic, mythical, religious) elements of human thinking have not vanished (about the structures of consciuosness (such as magic, mythic, rational) that altogether affect the thinking of people nowadays, see the works of Swiss philosopher Ian Gebser). By instance, in politics, the essential myth of modern political organization is the assumption that political process can be managed in an efficient and rational way (March & Olsen; Powell & DiMaggio). However, due to many objective and intersubjective reasons, the real politics always resembles more chaos rather than rationally designed order. "It's a big mess", according to a popular and actually quite right perception. Since the modern political organisation fails to accomplish the reason why it was created, in order to ground its legitimacy the practical orientation then often shifts from the emphasis on the results to the emphasis on the process. Application of procedures creates certain ceremonial activities of modern politics that do not make big sense in the terms of rationality and efficiency, but they often help to confirm the general myth of rationality of politics, even if the reality is different from the image. Let us take an example of democracy. It is observed that in all political units (of what type they would be) there is a ruling minority and majority of ruled ones. However, the mythology of democracy tries to break this almost natural regularity, but the very concept is an oxymoron by itself. Democracy means the rule of ruled, which sounds both as a paradox and as a nonsense. In fact democracy indeed increases the powers of ordinary citizenry, but it cannot fully realize its mythological mission because of its impossibility. SInce the reality differs from the ideology, one puts emphasis on the elections. However, elections is only the procedure (or political ritual) to change the government, but it is far from realizing the essence of unrealistic democratic mythology (i.e. to give all power to the people).

On faith in socionics. Since the science has its own mythical structure, socionics as scientifically constructed theory is any exception to that. Any scientific theory deliberately distorts our understanding of reality and on the same time tries to convince us that this distorted image of the reality is the very reality. On the other hand, the openess of the theory then is an important aspect that may help us to discriminate among theories. Likewise with value systems, the more open theory is, the more possibilities are to complement it with other analytic conceptions. Concerning this aspect, more open theories are better since they offer more possibilities for oneself to amplify one's horizons of understanding reality and in such a way to reduce the distortion effect of scientific interpretation of the world. Furthermore, if we follow Tertulian sentence "Credo, quia absudum" ("I believe since it's absurd"), the essence of faith of socionics should lie in some kind of "crazy thing". I find two crazy assumptions that constitute the faith in socionics. One is an idea that it is possible to instrumentalize affection, on in other words, to understand the interpersonal relations only by means of the language of mathematics by ignoring the causality of human virtues. Another crazy idea that follows from the first one is the conception of deterministic causality of type. While the first crazy idea is reckoned to be the essential part of socionic mythology, the second one is only derivative and thus can be loosened without the rejection of the very theory of socionics. In fact I think there lies the main differece between less developed or 'closed' (or autocratic/static) and more advanced or 'opened' (or democratic/dynamic) versions of socionics. The causal determinism of the conception of type can be loosened if we come to agreement that the direct and linear causal relation between the type and its actual behavior is not an assumption, but only the hypothesis. Moreover, other posible causal relations have to be taken into account. In other words, the deterministic and linear causal relation [if x, then y; or "type (x) is sufficient and necessary condition of actual behavior (y)"] has to be complemented with alternative (conjectural and multiple) causal relations. The alternative relations are: a) conjectural: if xz, then y; or "type (x) is necessary, but not sufficient condition of actual behavior (y), since there is a need of additional cause z; b) multiple: if x + z, then y, or "type (x) is sufficient, but not necessary condition of actual behavior (y), since there can be other completely different causes (z) that could result in the same consequence; and c) multiple and conjectural (or INUS): if xz + w, then y, or "type (x) is neither necessary, nor sufficient cause for actual behavior (y) but it is part of a cause that is sufficient, but not necessary".

To conclude, I think that introduction of alternative causal relations may amplify the understanding how the type really affects actual behavior, and on the same time it can make socionics less distortive and more compatible with the reality. Take an example of the causal relation between the actual capabilities of an individual and the type that represents him or her. Or take the causal relation of actual interpersonal relations of the couple of individuals and their types respectively. Is, for example, the happiness of family life determined only by the constitutive types (that would be linear and direct relation) or (a) it possibly altogether depends on other factors (i.e. for happy family to be formed, duality is not sufficient as there are some other conditions to be satisfied), or (b) there may be along with the socionic causes another factors of radically different kind; or both (c). My intuition would be that in most cases the causal relation between actual behavior and type is of conjectural or INUS kind, but to discuss that more space and actual data is needed. Anyway, despite the fact that the faith in socionics is conceptually indispensable (otherwise there would be no intellectual tension that is necessary for any theory), one can strive for more developed forms of this faith in order to avoid the distortion of reality and to amplify the horizons of understanding of complexity of personality.

Rick said...


You bring up many interesting ideas and philosophical quandaries. Yes, faith guides our decision-making in the absence of perfect knowledge (which is always). In science, however -- whose purpose is to accumulate and explain objective knowledge -- the role of faith should be limited to making choices between alternate interpretations of facts, or formulating new hypotheses based on existing knowledge (well, that's my idea of things, anyway!).

I think we can quite objectively compare the amount of faith necessary to accept different theories or descriptions of the world. I think socionics requires an inappropriate amount of faith for a scientific field. Not only must one accept a body of type and relationship descriptions (as in any typology or qualitative psychological theory), which are by definition approximations, but one must also accept as given the existence of a host of postulated entities such as "Ne", "Ni", "sensing", "vulnerable function", etc. etc. In socionics discussions, these entities are treated as real for all intents and purposes. Thus, socionics requires a "double dose" of faith compared to other psychological constructs such as Big 5 Trait Theory, which requires placing faith only in the accuracy of its descriptions and test. The traits themselves are not postulated, unseen entities as in socionics, but are simply terms of convenience used to describe observable behavior.

I'm not saying the Big 5 is necessarily a better explanation of personality (it lacks depth), but it is in a much stronger position scientifically, and its lack of need for faith in its adherents means that it can hardly be used as a potentially harmful ideology.

Jeranimo said...

Faith-based teaching sucks, although at this point it's pretty much all we've got. I put faith into Sergei Ganin's website when I was first learning about Socionics (and am still mentally paying for it-- I wish I could have taught myself Socionics before I ever learned his garbage!!), just like I put faith into your website when I was expanding my understanding of Socionics (which turned out to be a great decision). And I mean, who's to say there's no faith-based teaching in science? How much do we really see ourselves? Most of the information we learn is tested by extrapolations of what we already know ...and even that isn't infallible. You can see something happen 430583058 times and think for sure you know why it's happening-- but then the 430583059th time might bring you a completely different result and baffle you completely. The way I see it: if Socionics works for you, great!!! If part of it works and part of it doesn't, harmonize what you've observed with the theory you're trying to integrate. Maybe you have to make your own changes in order to make it make sense. That's the nature of both language-based communication and learning in general. If it doesn't work at all, and you're sure you've given it a good shot, then leave it for something else. Not everything has to be proven empirically before it becomes logically valid; just because you can explain something to someone doesn't mean it's true. Maybe this is some kind of Ti-quality I'm manifesting in spite of your Te-preference (and if it is, I apologize). But I don't really see why it has to be "all or nothing"; proof is relative to the environment in which it is proven. Psychology is a shining example of that can put 15 people in a room and make them eat sandwiches, then ask them how many enjoyed their sandwich and create some kind of sandwich-based personality theory. Technically, you could do all the proving you want!! Cross-examine, sample from a variety of populations, stage the experiments in varying environments and at different times of the day; the proof could still be created. Why not just learn anything and everything you can and test it in the unforgiving fire of Life? You'll eventually get what works for you, I'm sure.