Nov 1, 2010

Individual Differences in Focus and Attention Span

I have observed considerable differences in people's ability or desire to focus and the frequency with which they tend to move from one object of focus to another. The chart below sums up my observations in a sort of typology. In reality, both dimensions form a continuum, and each person is capable -- to some degree -- of operating in each state. But many or most people will be able to identify a primary state or two that they tend to spend most of their time in. I presume one's childhood personality can provide clues to help identify one's main operating quadrant or at least one's location along the continuum.

The chart below lists types of activities that correspond to different states of mind as well as broad personality traits. I think these traits are inborn, but it might be that childhood mental stimulation patterns (e.g. TV viewing, computer and video games, etc.) can permanently alter (shorten) one's attention span. Furthermore, people may go through periods (particularly their high school and college years) where they are more mentally focused, but then leave this state behind them after graduation.




The chart might also help identify the necessary state of mind to develop for a particular type of activity that one wants or needs to do. For instance, effective book study requires a highly focuses, undistracted state of mind (quadrant II). Achieving this will be easier for someone of this type and harder for people of other types. One can improve one's chances of success by choosing a time of day and environment when one's mind tends to be sufficiently calm and distractions are minimal. Also, there are useful tricks such as underlining, highlighting, and outlining that can improve one's ability to absorb complex information.

People who are typically calm and nonverbal may have problems getting to state I, which requires an active mind and mouth and quick reactions. Likewise people from quadrant I may find the idea of slow, repetitious activities almost unbearable, while people of type II may find them enjoyable and relaxing as compensatory activities. People in quadrant III may have a hard time building up the energy and concentration to engage in the solitary, focused activities of quadrant II, and people of type II often feel lost when in a type III environment.

In general, it seems that people move fairly easily between adjacent quadrants (i.e. from I to II or from I to III) but have difficulty engaging in activities from diagonal quadrants (i.e. IV from I). Again, both dimensions are continuous, so this pattern is most obvious for people at the extremes.

My next observation is that this typology is only loosely related to socionic types. For instance, among ILEs and IEEs types I and II are both common. Differences in attention span between people of the same socionic type can be especially drastic. One ILE manager and entrepreneur confesses to "never reading any books" while another spends many hours a week engrossed in personal study. The first speaks rapidly, is constantly communicating with other people formally and informally, answers dozens of e-mails a day (sending short, carelessly formulated replies), browses the Internet several hours a day, and spends little time alone. The second speaks more slowly and deliberately, spends many hours a day alone studying and writing, is meticulous and analytical, and spends only a few hours a day with other people, mostly choosing companions who share one or more of his interests.

I think what I am calling "short and long attention span" basically corresponds to what modern psychology terms "extroversion and introversion."

As a type II person, I enjoy my type IV compensatory activities and my occasional forays into type I, but type III people are as if from another planet. When I find myself "wasting time" on casual unfocused activities that are the norm for many other people, I feel disoriented, often disheartened, and need time to recover and get back into my usual groove. I imagine the same would be true for them in a type II environment. One way I have created a better environment for my mostly type II life is by eliminating TV and Internet at home -- two instruments that break down one's attention span and ability to engage in productive activities for extended periods of time. My type I acquaintances don't understand my decision because they aren't so easily disoriented by high levels of stimulation.

An interesting consequence of this typology is that people of relatively incompatible types can end up in the same quadrant. Quadrant II, for instance, can include both IEEs and LSIs, IEIs and LSEs. Quadrant I often has SEEs along with ILEs and ESEs along with LIEs. The solitary, meticulous work of accountants requires focus and attention just like the solitary research of an academic, even though the two activities are very different and two people of these professions might not get along. Type II can include both rigid and liberal individuals.

There is probably a tendency for more women to be in quadrants III and IV and more men to be in I and II. Author John Gray has written extensively about women's more open and receptive consciousness and men's greater focus, while recognizing that some women possess more "masculine" qualities and vice versa. In traditional cultures it is commen for women to get together to engage in light repetitive handwork (weaving, knitting, etc.) while engaging in conversation and social bonding. This would correspond to quadrant IV or III depending on whether more emphasis is on the physical activity or on socializing. Of course, if some guys get together for jogs through the park, that is also quadrant IV. Among the specialists of quadrant II males clearly predominate. Here you find people whose main purpose in life appears to be skill acquisition or knowledge production. Women can also be found in quadrant II, but their biological program requires them to be capable of letting go of personal pursuits for a while and be receptive to the needs of their dependent offspring. It should be noted, however, that the degree of gender differences varies from culture to culture, with masculine cultures (Japan, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico, U.K., USA) exhibiting greater gender differences than feminine ones (Scandinavia, Chile, Portugal, Thailand, Guatemala, etc.), according to researcher Geert Hofstede (who unfortunately left many countries out of his analysis, particularly the Soviet bloc and the Arab world).

Some readers may note similarities between my quadrants and the time management matrix of Stephen Covey (i.e. urgent vs. non-urgent and important vs. unimportant activities). I also noticed this, but I don't think the two systems have that much in common.

Sep 11, 2010

Socionics and Friendships Between Couples

If finding friendship with one other person is hard, try finding friendship between two couples. What does is take? Each member of both couples must find at least one friend among the other couple in such a way that all members are included. If any one person is left out of friendship, the couples are not entirely friends.

In the best case scenario, all four people are friends with all other three. This is rare, but happens. However, even this arrangement is fragile. A shift in the life circumstances of any of the four people can upset the balance and change the character of the friendship. The probability of such a shift happening in any given year is substantially higher than that of a shift happening among a single couple (a relatively high probability to begin with.

For instance, if a single individual has a 20% chance of a major shift in circumstances in a given year, then a couple has a 36% chance that one or more will experience a shift, and a set of two couples -- 59%. This is just to illustrate why close friendships between two couples are less stable than between two people.

What intertype relations might be more favorable for such a friendship? Among any four people, there is a dizzying variety of possible combinations of intertype relations. And yet, some tend to be more common than others.

It's easiest to recognize friendships between two dual couples. In my experience, it seems relatively common to have:

  • dual couples
  • activator couples
  • semi-duality couples
  • extinguishment couples

(where the relationship is defined by the intertype relation between any two individuals of the same sex)

A relationship between two couples may become unstable if there is cause for attraction between any two members of the opposite sex. Therefore, identity relations between couples are rarer than duality, and mirror rarer than activator. Identity friends typically have to keep their spouses out of the friendship to avoid sparking jealousy and concealed sexual competition between the two males or two females.

Since I have a lot of activator friends, I frequently encounter the "activator couple" scenario. Do couple friendships form in all cases? Only in about a third at most. It seems that most such friendships are saboteuged by rejection between "mirrors." In other words, an IEE and LSE may be close friends and may want to include the spouses in the friendship, but either the SLI spouse rejects the LSE or the EII spouse rejects the IEE.

There seems to be no surefire way of predicting rejection. It seems particularly common for the dual spouse to perceive the activator friend as a competitor for influence on the spouse. The more time the two spend together, the less time the dual gets with his or her spouse.

So, you can see how difficult it is for even an activator couple friendship to materialize. The likelihood of rejection between two opposite sex "mirrors" is quite high.

Paradoxically, more socionically distant relations between couples may be "safer" in the sense that the same sex friend of your spouse is less likely to be perceived as a direct competitor to you. However, such relationships will also likely not develop the same degree of closeness and trust.

Non-dual couples

As soon as we introduce non-dual couples, things get more complex since the likelihood of imbalance between the intertype relations of one member of a couple and the other member rises.

For instance, a LIE-ILI (mirror) couple (male member listed first for consistency) may become friends with a ESI-LIE couple (dual). In this scenario, two people get a dual relation out of the friendship, one gets an activation relation, and one gets "just" a mirror relation. It's easy to see that here the relationship will hinge mostly upon the ESI, who is "needed" by everyone else. Probably, the other three will only be able to talk amongst themselves, but when the ESI comes around, varied activities will become both possible and fun. It's typically hard to have extended fun with identity partners, mirror partners, kindred partners, etc.

The ideal friends for a LIE-ILI couple might be a ESI-SEE couple, but what are the odds of finding one? Likewise, the ideal friends for a LSI-SEE couple might be an EIE-ILI couple, but I would the odds of two such couples finding each other would be very low indeed.

Generally, it seems that the less socionically favorable the intertype relation between a couple, the more difficult it is to maintain friendships with other couples.

Other factors

To avoid sociono-centricism, it should be noted that the less favorable AND stable a couple's relationship is in general (not just in socionic terms), the greater difficulty they will have maintaining friendships with other couples. This applies to duals with an instable relationship just as much as to non-duals with a stable relationship. Can duals have an instable relationship? Of course. (Nonetheless, dual relations appear to be more common than others.)

Furthermore, in practice friendship is based not so much on socionics ("we just feel good around each other -- that's why we're friends") as upon shared interests and history ("we enjoy doing X together, we've been through a lot together, we have a lot to talk about"). Socionic factors certainly influence the likelihood that two people will become and remain friends, but it is far from a 100% determiner.

Looking at interests may help to explain the frequent "mirror rejection" pattern mentioned above. When two activators become friends, they most certainly share some interests and commonalities in values. These shared interests and values won't extend to all areas of life, but they're definitely enough to justify spending time together doing something of mutual interest and talking about life. However, what you share in common with an activator may not be what they share in common with their dual.

For instance, I am passionate about backpacking and the outdoors. A lot of my activator LSE friends have also somewhat enjoyed backpacking -- enough to make trips together generally worthwhile and fun. But what is the probability that someone who enjoys backpacking somewhat, but not passionately like I do, will choose a spouse that also enjoys it? Probably under 50% (the more passionate one is about something, the higher the likelihood they will choose a spouse that shares or sympathizes with the interest). And there you have one possible reason for rejection. The friend's spouse doesn't enjoy or understand backpacking, and is mistrustful of people who make it a central part of their life. Probably, if we were to dig deeper, we would find some other fundamental value differences underlying an interest or disinterest in backpacking that would make itself felt in other ways.

Each thing that just one of the friends is particularly passionate about is similarly prone to cause rejection or mistrust on the part of the other friend's spouse, who, more likely than not, does not sympathize much with the passion.

What seems to increase the likelihood of a compatible intercouple relationship is when both activation partners are equally passionate about their key shared interest/s. This means that it is likely that both have chosen spouses who are at least accepting of and somewhat interested in the area of passion. In this case, everyone can participate and experience enjoyment both from the activity and from the conversations that inevitably result.

But "equally passionate" is just another way of saying that the activator friends are more compatible than two friends who are unequally passionate about their shared interests. Many parameters of compatibility are not encompassed by socionics. Higher compatibility between friends increases the likelihood of compatibility between their spouses and between both couples. If you and your friend have built a friendship upon mediocre compatibility, it is less likely that your spouses can be included successfully in the relationship.

Leaving socionics behind for a moment, friendships between couples are more likely to form on the basis of a common interest or interests among all four members. Socionics becomes one of the limiting factors to the relationship and will tend to make itself felt during longer interaction sessions involving a greater variety of activities (for instance, not just talking about or doing the common interest/hobby, but also eating together, planning logistics, relaxing afterwards, etc.).

Even among two highly compatible couples (say, a complete quadra) differences will arise where one or two people dissent from the majority approach. Dissention can occur on the basis of irrationality-rationality ("I don't like how they don't warn us about what they're going to do"), on the basis of gender ("I'm tired of everything having to be so goal-oriented; why don't you and I take a walk around town together while the men do their thing?"), on the basis of sensitivity ("I just want to be alone for a while"), or any number of other things.

To sum things up, friendship between couples is more difficult and complex than dynamics between two people. Intertype relations between the two couples play a significant role in choice of intercouple friends, but there are a number of other important factors determining the possibility of friendship.

Socionics and Homosexuality

Recently I have had more contact with homosexuals than before and have thought a lot about homosexuals I have known and about past acquaintances I now suspect are gay. I've tried to pinpoint their commonalities and psychological peculiarities compared to heterosexual men or women, particularly those of the same socionic type.

My first observation is that in every case I find it difficult to type these people. In addition to their socionic type there is something else that appears to "cloud" the type (actually, my idea of the type). For instance, a gay LSE might talk about and express his feelings in a way that makes me suspect he's actually an ethical type. Or a gay SLE might lack the male dominance and seem more passive or even insecure than is generally typical of the type. These are just some possibilities. In most cases I still can't identify the types for sure.

I've found that in some cases it helps to think of the gay man as a woman, and then understanding his personality becomes easier. Likewise for lesbians.

Another thing I don't understand is how intertype compatibility plays out between homosexuals. I'm used to seeing heterosexual couples where masculine men choose feminine women or somewhat effeminate men are with somewhat tomboyish or "manly" women. I don't understand the attraction between two men who both appear effeminate. Perhaps it is more common for one partner to be more masculine and the other more feminine.

I also don't know if there is a correlation between socionic type and the tendency to take a masculine or feminine role in homosexual relationships. It is slightly tempting to hypothesize that logical types gravitate towards a masculine role and ethical types towards a feminine role, but I suspect the correlation, like always, is not neat.

Among people of a single gender and type I find a fairly wide range of masculinity, femininity and other characteristics. It's not impossible to imagine, for instance, an effeminate ILE with a gay partner who is a masculine SEI. Presumably effemininity among males has only a partial, very far from absolute correlation with homosexuality, and sexual preference is determined by something other than dosages of testosterone and estrogen during prenatal development.

I invite people with more experience and knowledge to share their observations and ideas.

Sep 10, 2010

"Personality and Individual Differences" Journal

As I've stated before, I'm interested in finding physiological mechanisms behind personality differences and relationship choices.

Here's the link to abstracts of the journal Personality and Individual Differences since it first came out in 1980: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/01918869

Readers may find it interesting to browse through the abstracts and take in the refreshingly empirical approach, though it usually produces mundane results.

If anyone knows of better sources in this field -- perhaps something that separates the wheat from the chaff -- please post a link.

Perhaps somewhere between the plodding, generally unenlightening empirical research machine that is modern academic science and the intuitive, oversimplified, and semantics dependent philosophizing of socionics and other typologies a connection can be made that spawns a new and better theory of personality and relationships.

Aug 19, 2010

Integrative and Disintegrative Tendencies in Society

I have been listening to an interesting audiobook in Russian called Istoriya Otmorozhennykh v Kontekste Globalnogo Potepleniya about how climate changes have impacted past civilizations and determined cultural development. The main thesis of the book (written by a journalist, Aleksandr Nikonov, with a strong background in climatology and ancient history) is that comparatively difficult climatological conditions breed integrative tendencies, whereas periods of more favorable climate correspond to disintegrative tendencies.


Do integrative and disintegrative processes correspond to quadra dominance? I tend to think so. Looking at the psychology of individual types, it seems like the most integrative types are in the Beta Quadra while the most disintegrative are in the Delta Quadra. By "integration" I am referring to the centralization of power, decision making, and social life. Disintegration would be the decentralization (or individualization) of all of the above.

The types of Alpha and Gamma quadras seem to have a mixture of integrative and disintegrative tendencies and are harder to put in either of those boxes.

Could it be that a worsening of natural living conditions pushes a society towards integrative processes and that an improvement in conditions promotes a growth in local prosperity and autonomy, and hence a decline in unity?

A secondary thesis of the book is that historically conflicts have been won by the side with the less favorable climate conditions relative to the norm for the location. Numerous examples are cited using the global and regional climate records as a guide. No society is able to maintain a linear integrative or disintegrative trend; there are always major fluctuations on the order of 20 to 100 years.

Assuming the first hypothesis is mostly true, the second might also make sense. Locations with the greatest worsening of conditions receive the greatest integrative stimulus. They also have nowhere to go; for them victory may be a matter of life or death. People defending prosperous, decentralized areas may be poorly organized and psychologically unprepared for the privations of war.

Assuming these hypotheses have some truth to them, what types of processes might we expect in the next 50 years or so, considering climate and geographical factors (which are a hobby of mine, for those that haven't noticed)?

At first, global warming initially probably made conditions more favorable for many or most areas of the globe. This would theoretically stimulate a weakening of central contral and integration. As warming continues and begins to create worse conditions for living and agriculture, we might expect centralization to increase. Places where conditions have worsened the most rapidly will be prone to unite more quickly and enjoy a military advantage over others.

As an example, imagine that Lake Mead goes dry (not hard to imagine, since it's already well on its way) and Las Vegas is left without water. In order to survive, people must band together and strictly observe pragmatic rules to make due with limited shared resources. But still there is not enough for everyone. So Las Vegasites start moving out in organized groups to the nearest more favorable sites, which are probably in southwest Utah. There they raid the local farms and bring the region under their personal control, duplicating whichever structural organization they had developed during their tough days in Las Vegas and en route. Utah, meanwhile, is also suffering from mild drought, but not nearly severe enough to make them band together in a social-military unit capable of withstanding the desperate Nevadans.

This is just an example. When I finish the book, I'll probably add some global scenarios and modify what I've written so far.

[added later: nope, nothing to add]

Aug 14, 2010

My Personal Typology

Last edit: 29 Oct. 2012 (sensitivity added)

My personal typology includes not only socionics, but bits and pieces of other systems and observations that I have found to be important in my interactions with other people. My typology is not systematized, but here's what it includes:


  1. Socionic type captures key aspects of how a person interacts with his environment. It is able to answer perhaps 50% of the question, "who is this person?"
  2. Gender encompasses the overarching biological program of the individual and broad communication styles and expectations that can create both attraction and problems between the sexes, regardless of socionic type. Within the genders, varying levels of male and female hormones add additional variety.
  3. Striking characteristics or experience, if any, play a critical role in the lives of people who possess them. Examples include: someone who spends most of their time traveling around different countries, an Albanian immigrant living in the U.S., a WWII-era former spy, a concentration camp survivor, a professional basketball player, a grotesquely obese person, a dwarf or midget, someone with a serious stutter, a CEO, a person who makes a living off selling his own art, etc. In such cases, you can understand a great deal about a person simply by recognizing their striking characteristics, which may override or enhance type-related inborn personality traits.
  4. Somatotype, e.g. levels of endomorphy, mesomorphy, and ectomorphy, help to explain things like why one ILE is physically adventurous while another is mentally adventurous, why one SEI is more comforting and nurturing and another SEI more ascetic and austere, or why one ILI is distant and another chummy. Physical constitution also may carry over into the sexual sphere, influencing the types of movements and touching that people find sexual.
  5. Intellect or IQ, particularly closer to the extremes, adds a confounding factor to intertype relations, helping to explain why people who "should" get along according to socionics and common sense sometimes don't, and vice versa. For people close to the mean, this factor plays a smaller role in their lives.
  6. Sensitivity, particularly whether a person is highly sensitive (HSP) or not.
  7. Sexual attractiveness, including all relevant factors (looks, financial success, status), helps to capture hidden layers of competition and mating behavior (attraction and rejection) occuring between people regardless of their other characteristics.
  8. Activity level, including hyperactivity and speed of speech, sometimes plays a role in interpersonal interaction, helping to explain, for instance, why one SEE tires you and another doesn't.
Points 5, 6, 7, and sometimes 4 often don't play much of a role unless they are striking, which means they could conceivably be included in point 3 -- "striking characteristics or experience."

Aug 8, 2010

Finally, a Socionics Book I Can Recommend

Well-known socionist Ekaterina Filatova of St. Petersburg has finally got a book published in English: Understanding the People Around You: An Introduction to Socionics. It is an English-language version of her popular book in Russian that sold around 75,000 copies. You can order it on Amazon.com.


While I have only skimmed the book in Russian, I think it is one of the best introductions to socionics on the Russian market and definitely the best (of three to date) on the English market. Maybe now the pressure will be off for me to write a book on socionics? :)

Filatova prefers to use a simplified 4-function model of the psyche (Augusta's original, so-called "Model J"), but in practice this doesn't seem to affect things much.

Here is the cover of the book:



Jul 14, 2010

Willpower as a Limited Resource

Willpower is often necessary to make positive changes in our lives. Any choice that runs counter to habit requires an injection of willpower.

Willpower is a finite resource that can easily be squandered. To get an idea of how little willpower we actually have at our disposal, consider that we are unaware or poorly aware of most of the processes going on in our body and psyche at any given moment. Our consciousness is only capable of processing a small bit of information at a time, whereas our unconscious mechanisms deal with enormous streams of information and produce rapid reflexes over which we have little or no control.

Exercising willpower requires holding in one's consciousness an additional thought over a substantial stretch of time. Generally, it is a thought that the mind frequently returns to and dwells upon, trying to "reprogram" a certain behavior or thought pattern that may or may not be fully accessible to consciousness.

Everyday tasks take up the lion's share of our consciousness, and only a small percentage seems to be consistently available for intentional self-improvement. I doubt the percentage varies much, if at all, from type to type. However, the kinds of things that people apply their willpower to may be type related.

For instance, extraverts seem more adept at applying willpower to change their external circumstances, while introverts are better at adjusting their reactions to things. Obviously both elements are critical in self-improvement, but an extravert seems to need an introvert to help him change his behavior and attitudes, while an introvert needs an extravert to help him change his life circumstances.

Some people might be somewhat more prone to self-improvement than others. This could be due either to greater self-awareness (more mechanisms accessible to consciousness) or to a greater propensity to exercise willpower upon the things they have become aware of. Such people tend to become spiritual teachers, in the loosest sense of the term.

Furthermore, during different periods of life people are prone to apply different levels of willpower. One may spend months engrossed in work, schooling, hobbies, or addictions and then suddenly begin an ambitious self-improvement campaign that uses a great deal of conscious resources.

What are the best ways to utilize one's limited willpower?

First of all, willpower is best used for small-scale incremental change, not for abrupt and drastic change. The latter is almost always reactionary and almost always fails. Pretty much any habit developed through willpower eventually becomes unconscious. That is one of the keys to self-improvement and to skill acquisition in general.

Consider that almost all crash diets are unsuccessful, as are most attempts to quit smoking. Most new gym memberships remain unused, and most New Year's resolutions forgotten.

Most often, behavioral changes are successful because they build upon a foundation of habits developed incrementally through the application of conscious effort.

A crash diet requires spending a large portion of one's time exercising willpower and conscious effort over a period of days, weeks, or months. Neither the diet itself nor the level of effort are sustainable in the long run. Any dietary habits gained are typically not applicable to normal life, and after a few weeks or months the mind is eager to stop thinking about food for a while.

A better way is to focus on developing, one by one, eating and lifestyle habits that you wish to maintain for the rest of your life. If there is a substantial amount of weight to lose, you may focus on trying to lose "one more pound" than on thinking about the entire 30 pounds you wish to lose by a certain date.

Rather than trying to change your entire diet abruptly, just introduce a change or two at a time, adding new elements once you feel the previous changes have turned into habit and no longer require conscious thought and effort.

Furthermore, the ability to "lose one more pound" is a useful skill you can use to maintain your ideal weight for the rest of your life, never allowing yourself to stray more than a few pounds in either direction. In contrast, crash dieting is not a useful skill unless it is unsuccessful, meaning that it's pointless (even harmful, according to dietologists).

The concept of incremental change is fundamental to skill acquisition. For instance, if you are trying to learn a foreign language and pick random words out of the dictionary to memorize, your success will be very minimal. If, however, you focus on learning words that you recognize from hearing or reading many times, your success will be rapid. In the latter case, you are focusing your consciousness on the "natural next step" in your language acquisition process.

A sure sign of an imperfect approach to skill acquisition is recurring frustration. This means you are reaching for material that is too far above your current skill level and too unrelated to your existing body of knowledge. Likewise in self-improvement. Failure in one's personal goals is often (but not always) the result of aiming for goals that would require too many life changes in too little time to achieve.

Another way to get the most out of your limited willpower is to gather objective information about the area of your life you are trying to change.

For people who know little about nutrition and health, crash dieting and crash exercise regimens may be the only method they can think of to improve their situation. Reading authoritative sources on the subject and talking to people who are obviously successful and talk freely about their lifestyles are excellent ways to learn about more effective and enjoyable ways of improving your health.

In many cases, the people who hold the answers to our problems are all around us, but we fail to ask them and acquire their know-how. One of the great benefits of the Internet is the opportunity to find all out about just about any "problem" and even discuss it anonymously with others, thus bypassing feelings of inadequacy that normally keep people from discussing their personal goals and issues with others.

A final strategy to maximize the efficacy of finite willpower is to focus on changing factors that contribute to the behavior rather than trying only to change the behavior itself. This was discussed in a previous post on asceticism.

For instance, instead of trying to to drink less, stop going to parties (it requires a lot less willpower). Instead of trying to get more exercise, sell your car (walking is the foundation of fitness). Instead of trying to eat less, adopt a diet of unprocessed foods (you will find it very hard to overeat on them). Instead of trying to get out more, cancel your home Internet subscription (give up your pseudo-socializing activities). Instead of trying to spend less money, cancel your credit card subscriptions and switch to a cash-only policy (it'll be a lot harder for you to make spur-of-the-moment purchases).

All of these changes involve creating a basic structure that makes it much easier to develop the behavior you want. In each example listed above, less overall effort is required to establish the structure and maintain it than to apply willpower directly to the behavior itself over a long period of time.

You just have to sell your car once, whereas getting more exercise while having a car requires expending precious willpower day after day over several months. Keeping a diet of unprocessed foods requires exercising self-control only when buying food, whereas eating less requires exercising it every time you eat.

~~~~~~~

Using these three strategies -- making small incremental changes, educating yourself, and focusing on contributing factors -- will help you make the most of your very limited willpower resources.

Jul 8, 2010

Thresholds and Psychological Types

I think the concept of thresholds might be important in unraveling the mysteries of different psychological types.

A threshold is "the magnitude or intensity that must be exceeded for a certain reaction, phenomenon, result, or condition to occur or be manifested" (MacBook Dictionary).

Thresholds are already a working concept in neuropsychology, and some types of thresholds -- such as pain thresholds -- have already been well-researched. Some people react to pain at lower pain levels, while others are more resistant. The lower a threshold, the greater one's sensitivity.

Could it be that socionic types essentially differ on the basis of their thresholds for different kinds of stimuli? Or might threshold levels at least be a partial answer to the question, "what are the significant mechanistic differences between people?"

I see this "mechanistic approach" to personality as the opposite of socionics' more traditional "abstract logic" approach where logical categories are established and phenomena (people, interaction, information, behavior) are classified according to these categories, but 1) there is never absolute certainty as to whether the established categories are actually the most useful ones, and 2) the actual mechanisms by which the categories exist and operate are unknown.

The pitfalls of socionics' dominant methodology are well-known and far-reaching, and I feel like I talk about them in every other blogpost. The shortcomings of the mechanistic approach are 1) the slow pace of scientific progress and 2) the possibility that the results obtained through research will be too disorderly to be of much use to laymen. In my opinion, many socionists have a gut fear of disorderly scientific findings messing up their clear mental picture of things socionic.

But I digress. The mechanistic approach must be developed in socionics to bring it back to life and make it something more than a scientific conjecture (that is treated as fact by many of its proponents).

When looking for thresholds that may be significant determinants of interpersonal behavior and compatibility, I see no reason to assume that there must be 4, 8, or 16 such thresholds, or that the level of the threshold can be only "high" or "low," making it convenient to divide people into two discrete groups. Or that each threshold must be independent of the others (such as the four Jungian dichotomies), making it convenient to create a typology.

I would prefer to work from the bottom up, observing individual people and looking for thresholds, and basically any traits in general, that seem to play a significant role in their interaction with the world around them.

It is easiest to start with myself and people with a temperament similar to my own. From what I can tell:

- well-developed planning faculties, but unwillingness to make long-term plans (commitments) due to impulsivity (see below) and changeability of one's state
- low short-term self-control (things like leaving the house on time, abstaining from eating free cookies, or redoing one's work), but fairly high ability to make rational longer-term choices
- impulsivity as a result of low short-term self-control and changeability of moods and desires (a low threshold to a certain kind of stimuli?)
- waves of productivity as a result of impulsitivity; someone like this typically has to find a way to exploit one's changeable mental states in order to be productive, for instance by choosing an unstructured lifestyle and developing productive activities for each recurring state, and then engaging in each of them as the states change
- generally high threshold to signals from one's own body and to sensory signals in general; can easily take a mental interest in these areas via study or mentorship
- strong tendency towards mental absorption, which is a positive emotional experience; this absorption is often stronger than the demands of one's physical needs and almost always stronger than one's self-control, leading one to "overdo" things and neglect one's personal needs and external duties, if any
- great interest in information exchange with other people; a need to know what's going on in the spheres one is interested in and exchange information about it with other people
- low novelty threshold, and novelty is associated with positive emotional experiences; mental activity is easily stimulated by anything unexpected, unusual, and unfamiliar (however, this applies only to things that can provide mental stimulation: news, information, facts, activities, people, capabilities of other people, characteristics of the environment)
- as a result, one tends to use novelty as an "upper" to stimulate positive states and motivate oneself to act; lack of novelty is associated with boredom, lethargy, and indifference
- avoidance of pain and potentially painful situations (low pain threshold?), whether physical or interpersonal; this can lead to avoidant behavior patterns and an unwillingness to deal with problems

Clearly, this temperament "signature" is not unique to myself. Furthermore, it is clear that it has an evolutionary basis and serves a valuable societal function.

The observations above might be summarized as follows:

Societal purpose
This type is oriented towards the satisfaction of a certain kind of mental needs -- one's own and of society (hence the drive to exchange information). It specializes in the detection, processing, and conveyance of new and potentially useful information (news, trends, useful skills, tricks) and accumulates and exchanges this knowledge and skills with others, largely passing by information that is not easily conveyable. Where there is too much information available for one person to keep track of and process (such as in a complex society), a person of this type tends to develop niche interests and disregard other areas, in order to conserve energy.

Thresholds
Other, competing classes of needs -- physical and, to a lesser degree, social -- take a second seat to mental needs. This is probably accomplished through thresholds: mental states having to do with the presence or absence of new, interesting information (boredom/absorption, mental excitement level, a sense of prospects or the lack thereof) have low thresholds, meaning that they affect behavior powerfully, while physical needs have high thresholds (with the probable exception of one's pain threshold) and social thresholds are at medium levels.

Lifestyle
This type is poor at making commitments, exercising continual conscious discipline, or submitting to structure and external demands due to impulsivity, changeability of moods, lack of self-control, and high susceptibility to mental absorption. At the same time, the type is good at engaging in a wide range of activities fitted to its different states of mind.

In addition…

Challenges
Find ways to become an information specialist and exchanger without overstimulating yourself mentally and weakening your body and social relations. Develop a lifestyle that capitalizes on your high mental absorption potential and lack of self-control while steering you away from addictions (see earlier post).

Who complements you
Most likely, people with high novelty thresholds, low physical thresholds, and medium social thresholds, who are also moody, changeable, and impulsive.


Some ideas

I would need to do some research on physiological and neural thresholds to build upon or revise what I've written above. However, I do have some ideas that might be applicable to socionics.

One is that extraverted intuition types are fundamentally interested in information exchange, while what introverted intuition types are interested in can less easily be called "information" in the traditional sense of the world. It's more an experience or process, or perhaps a way of seeing things.

Another observation regards different types' response to what I call "novel information." Most extraverted sensing types I can think of seem to have a much more reserved, somewhat negative (mistrustful) response to novelty. They are more resistant to the influence of new information and tend to accept it only after it has ceased to be novel (at least in their particular social circle). Again, we have to be careful about defining "novel information" (which I won't try to do here).

It is tempting to try to associate each socionic function with some kind of threshold, and I try to resist this impulse. Nonetheless, I wonder if one might have a low threshold not only with the 1st function, but also with the 4th. The difference might be that the motivation with the 1st function is to embrace, while the motivation of the 4th is to avoid. In other words, the 1st function is easily stimulated with the purpose of embracing, while the 4th function is easily stimulated with the purpose of avoiding.

It is also tempting to continue on in this classical socionic spirit and hypothesize a "new socionics model" (whoop-dee-do) where each function number is assigned an approximate threshold level (High, Medium, or Low) and a positive or negative sign:

1: L+
2: M+
3: M-
4: L-
5: H+
6: M+
7: M-
8: H-

You analytical types can now pick that apart in search of symmetry and asymmetry and make it more elegant, but I am still convinced that this type of model gets us nowhere. It just teases a certain brain module without providing any real answers. Progress will be made by working from the ground up, collecting data, and trying to understand how specific neural mechanisms work.

So, it is more useful, in my opinion, not to look for thresholds that correspond to socionic categories, but rather thresholds that correspond to directly observed phenomena.

I find myself moving away from the classical socionics ideas that information can be divided into 8 categories and that when two types interact one function somehow conveys information to the same function in the other person. I'm not sure these concepts have much practical potential anyways (can they ever be tested?).

When thinking in terms of thresholds we can see that some bit of information might be "novel" and hence stimulating to one person and yet "old news" and hence uninteresting to someone else of the same type. Thus, it could be treated with interest or disinterest for reasons having nothing to do with type. The novel information (or old news) might be conveyed by a person of any type (imagine hearing a phrase such as, "have you heard about ________?"). Thus, something novel might be gleaned from someone who had no idea that he possessed novel information or qualities.

Note also that I am suggesting a definition of extraverted intuition quite different from Augusta's definitions: "the inner content and structure of an object" and "the object's potential energy." In practice I find that extraverted intuition types (ILE and IEE) are more about gathering, trying out, and conveying new and novel information than about "studying underlying phenomena" and "grasping the inner substance" (traits of analytic minds, perhaps?).

Jul 6, 2010

Career Opportunities for the Future

This is a follow-up to my posts "More on Career Recommendations" and "The Energy Descent Future", both of which have little to do with socionics but contain information that could be important for developing career and business opportunities that both fit your personality and will be in demand in the future. So, this post should be at least as useful as more traditional discussions of what careers are suitable for different personality types. The shortcoming of such discussions is that they assume that the job market will continue evolving in the same direction as it has been over past decades. There are a number of reasons to suppose that this will not be the case.


My comments below are based on the expectation of an energy descent, or reduction in total energy available to the economy, due to the exhaustion of cheap fossil fuel sources. There appears to be no way to avoid an energy descent, and probably no way to avoid a drop in economic output as a result. The energy descent has likely just begun, and there is no end in sight.

There will be winners and losers in the new economy that will take shape as fossil fuels are phased out (whether through high prices or centralized measures). People who align themselves correctly with the underlying trends stand to gain, while those who try to play by old rules will lose.

In general, the losers will be any goods or service industry that is heavily dependent upon cheap fossil fuels to function (whether directly or indirectly). That means:
- international trade
- large corporations
- administration and management personnel
- bureaucratic structures
- industrial agriculture
- automobile industry
- federally funded science
(and many others)

In general, the winners will be small local businesses and entrepreneurs who are the first to occupy vital niches in the new economy.
- locally produced goods
- traditional home builders and home retrofitters
- people who build useful things in their garages
- mechanics who can build useful things out of cars and other machinery
- scrap material collection and trading
- people who can convert lawns into gardens
- local organic farmers and backyard gardeners
- plant nurseries and seed banks
- people who know how to set up and run non-mechanized aquaculture, animal husbandry, and small-scale agriculture
- people who have means of transportation allowing them to trade goods across modest distances (5-100 miles or so)
- family doctors and dentists who have their own equipment
- local chemical labs (think insulin and other critical medications)
- people who can solve local engineering problems, such as stabilizing riverbanks, building waterwheels, hooking up solar panels, etc.
- security guards
- teachers of practical trades

This is just a partial list. There will be tons of these opportunities, and much of this type of work may be under-the-table at first, unless government regulations are rapidly adapted to changing conditions (very doubtful).

People who are primarily employed in the first group may experience a long period of increasing disappointment and shattered expectations before finally making the transition to the second group. Those who foresee these changes are able to provide useful services or goods from the beginning will be in a great position to benefit from the new opportunities available.

UPDATE 4/3/2011:

I just came across a great article that goes into greater detail on the professional opportunities of the future with thinking along the same lines as my own. It's got quite a few good ideas:

Jul 4, 2010

Introductory Socionics Video

I thought I'd have some fun making some videos on the subject of socionics. Here it is:






Maintaining Independence from Commercial Systems

This is a very condensed version of what was going to be a long essay. I decided that many of the points I was making were too obvious and repetitive to warrant a complete posting here.



On a typical day a person participates in a large number of systems created and/or managed by other people. While such systems are only able to exist because they address some human need, their interests never completely coincide with those of the people who rely on them. There is always tension between between the appetites of these systems and the needs of the individuals using them.

This tension is particularly apparent when examining commercial systems, where the system's interest is transparently financial. However, in noncommercial social organizations one can also identify tension between the system's needs and those of participants or "users."

The basic point of this post is to help readers identify their optimal level of involvement in the systems they participate in -- particularly commercial systems.

Examples of such systems are: websites such as Facebook, Google, or even Wikipedia, your job, your gym, your church, the healthcare industry, the automobile industry, the real estate industry, the food industry, the Internet in general, and the institution of higher education.

Each of these systems provides valuable opportunities and services to those you use them. Some are commercial, some are not. All such systems can only exist because they address some need, whether personal or organizational. However, from an early stage in the life of any system the primary purpose changes from serving users' needs to serving the system's own needs. Successful systems must undergo this change in order to survive, but they also must continue to effectively satisfy their users' needs as well.

Essentially, it is in the interests of such systems to stimulate a higher level of involvement than what is actually optimal for individual users. Here is a chart that illustrates this difference:


The green line shows diminishing returns for a person who is taking part in the system, and the red line shows increasing negative side-effects as one becomes overinvolved. The optimal level of involvement for the individual is where they are receiving most of the benefits from the system (the things the system does best) but are experiencing few if any negative side-effects.

The goal of systems (commercial systems in particular) is generally to stimulate as much involvement (energy investment) as possible without causing the user's complete destruction. This strategy is essentially parasitic. A parasite strives to divert as many of the host's resources for its own purposes without killing the host.

The ways in which systems stimulate over-involvement for their own benefit are most transparent (and probably most sinister) in large-scale commercial systems such as the healthcare industry or the real-estate industry, which end up controlling our entire lifestyle.

It is natural for many people to assume that the mechanisms used to induce overinvolvement were developed by some brilliant (perhaps sinister) mastermind who definitely knew exactly what he was doing, but really they arise gradually over time as a natural result of wise financial decision-making on the part of the system's managers and investors.

In the longer version of this essay I demonstrated points such as the following:

- Your gym is interested in getting as many people as possible to buy memberships and as few of them as possible to actually use them.

- Facebook has been taking steps to increase the levels of addiction among Facebook users. None of these steps help people become more socially connected.

- The healthcare industry has a number of players (providers, insurers, pharmaceuticals, employers, and consumers) with conflicting interests; the competition between the big organizational players' interests and the sidelining of consumers' interests produce the unfriendly, overpriced, and often maddening healthcare system we have in the U.S.

- The automobile and transportation industry is interested in keeping people from walking and having easy foot access to important locations, even though this comes at great cost in health and quality of life for residents.

- The real estate industry is interested in getting people to buy homes that are as large and costly as possible and consume as large a percentage of consumers' income as possible -- as much as 40 times more income than is necessary to provide the basic comforts that housing is meant to provide.

And so forth.

An important thing to understand is that each system does a good job at providing at least one relatively vital service (or a vital service for some subset of the population). However, as the system grows in influence, it tries to get people hooked not only on the vital service, but on as many nonessential auxiliary services as possible.

For instance, Facebook is unparalleled at helping people reconnect with old friends and acquaintances whom it is very hard to keep track of any other way. The healthcare industry is unparalleled at performing complex medical procedures. Churches are unparalleled at providing people with an aggression-free environment where they can experience a sense of unity with other people. Higher education is unparalleled at creating a research environment for the furtherment of knowledge.

A shrewd individualist, it would seem, should be able to recognize the essential services a system can provide and make use of them without being lured in by the nonessential, often costly additional services that the system offers, but actually doesn't provide very well.

The conclusion? No system can be fully trusted to take care of your needs for you. It is probably not in their interests.

Jul 1, 2010

Asceticism in a Modern Setting

For millenia individuals and groups of people have chosen to forego pleasures and comforts in order to obtain physical, psychological, and/or emotional benefits.

Learning to cope with physical hardships and deprivations has been a key aspect of entering manhood in many indigenous cultures. In learning to deal with pain and hardships, a young man developed valuable masculine qualities such as stoicism, willpower, and the ability to make sacrifices for the greater good.

In many religious communities, initiates have been taught to forego sensual pleasures -- sex, physical comforts, wine, and good food -- in order to direct all their emotional excitement towards worship or meditation.

It seems that asceticism has existed primarily as a cultural undercurrent; only rarely has it become a dominant cultural feature -- for instance, in ancient Sparta. Typically, mass culture is quite hedonistic (enjoyment and comfort oriented), and ascesticism is practiced among individuals and small groups out of the public eye. Even when some variety of asceticism becomes the official ideology -- for instance, in a highly militarized and/or fundamentalist state -- most people maintain a lackadaisical attitude towards the ideology and practice a milder form of it in their personal lives.

This suggests that self-discipline and abstention from indulgence is not for everyone, or that people are capable of it to different degrees. It could be a useful tool for people suffering from addictions, but the power of their addiction may be stronger than their ability to exercise self-discipline.

Self-discipline and some form of asceticism are common themes in the life histories of famous people today and in the past. It typically (but not always) requires discipline and concentration to achieve fame, and with fame come additional temptations that can lead to one's downfall if one relaxes one's vigilance (Elvis Presley comes to mind as a typical example).

Is asceticism relevant in modern society?

I would say yes, more than ever. Thanks to the immense and cheap energy of fossil fuels, industrial society was able to release most people from the inconvenience of hard labor and provide them with all sorts of comforts and pleasures at very little cost or effort.

This disruption of the human "power process" (the process by which people gain a sense of personal power or empowerment) was well described by Theodore Kaczynski in his treatise "Industrial Society and Its Future." Industrialization made the innately empowering vital activities (direct provision for one's needs) unnecessary and replaced them with surrogate activities ("jobs") that people pretend are vitally important but deep down feel that they are not.

Given the abundant cheap energy of modern industrial society, diverse forms of need satisfaction have been developed that an easily generate dependencies and addictions. This is an ideal way of making money for producers of goods and services. I'll start with things that are not traditionally associated with addictions.

1. Food. Food producers play on our natural biological impulses to generate addictions to their products, which contain sweeteners, fats, and excitotoxins that make us eat more of something than we really need, and also generate cravings. Since super energy-dense food was a relatively rare treat in our evolutionary past, we seem to be programmed to eat as much of it as we can when we come across it. Now this trait is kicking us in the butt, so to speak.

2. Comforts. In this category are all kinds of appliances and comforts that reduce one's expenditure of effort, and, of course, the automobile. On the surface they appear to make life easier, but beneath the surface they make us less resourceful, weaker (physically and psychologically), and more isolated. Once one is in this state, continued use of these "comforts" is almost inevitable.

3. Entertainment. In the electronic age it is now possible to spend many hours a day stimulating one's entertainment needs while putting forth very little physical and social effort. Myriad computer games, movie and TV program viewing, virtual social networking, information browsing, and virtual sexual stimulation are all easily addicting activities that can gobble up mental and physical resources. Since empowerment occurs via the achievement of results through the exertion of effort, entertainment activities produce little or no empowerment and actually tend to make one less physically and socially robust.

4. Traditional addictions. Drugs, booze, gambling, compulsive behaviors such as shopaholism, etc.

The typical member of a modern affluent society has mild to severe addictions in one or more, or even all of these areas: food, comforts, entertainment, and traditional addictions. In general, modern society provides decent mental development, is rather weak in emotional development, and is utterly pathetic at developing the body's physical capabilities.

It is all too easy to fall into the trap of idealizing pre-industrial society, which may have been far from ideal. Contact with rural communities in Ukraine and elsewhere suggests that such societies are prone to a different set of addictions, for instance alcoholism, domestic violence, and gossip.

Sometimes I wonder if most people in pretty much any society are basically doomed to spend their lives trapped by various addictions in an act of voluntary self-suppression that indirectly enables the self-realization of a few, more empowered individuals.

Addictions are a major obstacle to self-realization. Self-realization requires focus, dedication, passion, and, of course, concerted effort over a long period of time. Food addictions sap our physical strength, willpower, and self-esteem. Comforts remove us from the natural world and make us more helpless and dependent. Easy entertainment distracts us from personal goals that require effort and focus. Traditional addictions can rob us of our willpower and eventually of our friends, work, and families.

Socionics and addictions

We could take a brief socionics detour and discuss which types are more prone to different types of addictions. I'm not sure the correlations are great enough to warrant a separate discourse on the subject.

Certainly there are predominately "male" and "female" addictions. Males tend to gravitate to traditional bad habits (alcohol, gambling, drugs), to competitive games, sex, and food. Women seem to accumulate addictions to entertainment with social and emotional content, physical comforts, food, and drugs.

I'm sure there are also type-related patterns. I've seen a few SEI hedonists with dependencies on drugs and unhealthy food. ILEs and IEEs seem to easily get attached to online information gathering and dissemination, which can quickly become a meaningless activity if overengaged in. I'll bet there are plenty of ethical extraverts with Facebook addictions, as well as SLE alchoholics. I haven't peeked enough into the private lives of different people to recognize unequivocal patterns, though.

Asceticism as an empowering force

Addictive tendencies and unhealthy behaviors can be managed to a large degree by removing or altering the facilitating factors and adopting a more austere regimen in trouble areas.

This requires honesty to be objective about yourself, self-reflection to identify facilitating factors in your environment, courage to take steps that other people may perceive (at first) as strange and unnecessary, and a good dose of self-love to even care about it all in the first place.

Let me share what my wife and I have done to nip some problems in the bud. You may find our solutions unconventional and eccentric, but they have improved our quality of life and personal power.

1. Food. We keep no unhealthy foods in the home and consume no sugar (sometimes we use honey). We've replaced sources of saturated fat with olive oil and adhere to a Mediterranean diet whose health benefits are amply supported by scientific research. Sometimes when we are with other people or need to buy something to justify our use of wi-fi in a public cafe, we'll buy some food that we wouldn't consume at home, but we never buy this food at the store to bring it home. Any tendency towards unhealthy compulsive eating is kept out of the home. We've come to really enjoy our choice of healthy, largely unprocessed foods, and find that we never feel like pigging out because it lacks the substances and combinations that stimulate this behavior. We are also experimenting with growing food in our own apartment.

2. Comforts. We do not have a car and get around by public transportation. We've chosen a place to live where it is convenient to do so. We don't have a washing machine or dishwasher and have learned to do these tasks quickly (just as quickly, actually) by hand, which saves resources and makes us more flexible as travelers. Our attitudes towards comfort and cleanliness have become more natural as we've foregone expensive appliances and technology and learned how to do things effectively ourselves. We feel more capable and resourceful as a result.

3. Entertainment. We have no TV, radio, or Internet at home. This is perhaps the most radical lifestyle choice with the most unexpectedly positive consequences. Living without mass media promotes independent thought and the ability to engage in self-directed activities for longer periods of time. We spend more time talking and doing things together as opposed to being passive recipients of entertainment. No Internet at home means no compulsive Internet use, a better sleep schedule and sounder sleep, more time together, less chaos in the home, conditions more conducive to writing, a more physically and socially active lifestyle, and greater frequency of face-to-face meetings with friends and groups of people with common interests.

To deal with her dissatisfaction with superficial online interaction, my wife has chosen to go back to writing paper letters and mailing them to people who are important to her. She's removed much of her information on Facebook and no longer uses it to socialize. This hasn't been a problem for me, so I continue to use Facebook as I see fit, but not at home.

Whenever I get a new computer, I immediately remove all the built-in games to avoid compulsively wasting time on them. I have no games to play in the home. This isn't a problem for my wife, so she doesn't worry about it.

To get online, we go to one of several places in town or at friends' houses. This, I feel, puts the Internet in its proper place. If you have unlimited Internet access at home, as the years go by you will almost inevitably find that its role in your life has become too large and that in some ways you have become a slave to it. Of course, different personalities have different susceptibilities.

4. Traditional addictions. These have not been a problem, so we haven't needed to take any steps to fix it.

As you can see, our life is pretty austere in several ways. I believe that austerity is often needed to keep one's natural strengths from turning into compulsions that control your life. As I have probably written elsewhere, one's strengths are often related to involuntary behaviors -- things that you "can't help doing."

For instance, I can't help gathering and sharing information. When there are no barriers to this activity, I can engage in this compulsively and excessively online to the detriment of other areas of my life. I also can't help concentrating on something for long periods of time. This means that I can end up spending too much time on one activity past the point of exhaustion. Improving my basic habits and keeping the Internet out of the home reduces the likelihood that I'll have episodes where I have wasted many hours of time and end up feeling wasted myself.

In short, one's weaknesses are often outgrowths of one's strengths. If some asceticism is introduced to create some obstacles for these weaknesses to develop, you can enjoy and benefit from the strengths without overdoing it.

If you're a natural connoisseur of good foods, you may find you'll need to limit yourself to a strict diet where you may experiment only with natural, wholesome foods or where you are only "allowed" a gourmet meal once a week.

If you are wasting your life on computer games, you might remedy the situation by getting yourself an old computer that is too slow to run any interesting games.

If you have a habit of running up credit card debt, you might want to close all your bank accounts and adopt a cash-only policy.

Some people may think you're strange, but don't listen to them. The benefits to be gained from freeing yourself from dependencies are well worth any minor inconveniences.

Jun 21, 2010

The Energy Descent Future; Visionaries and their Types

During the past year I have spent a lot of time studying and thinking about the issues of energy, climate change, environmental issues in general (soil degradation, deforestation, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity, etc. etc.), and the prospects of industrial civilization. I am now familiar with the ideas of a number of influential thinkers and have solidified my own views on the subject. In this essay I'll discuss energy descent visionaries -- people who have recognized underlying trends much earlier than the general populace -- different typical responses to these realities, and the types of changes that are likely to take place in society, from a socionics perspective.

Background
It is very likely that peak world oil production (so-called Peak Oil) occurred in July 2008 at 74.82 million barrels/day, when prices also reached a historical peak of $145 a barrel. This probably triggered the world financial crisis. From now on production will fall because the remaining oil is increasingly costly to extract, and the economy flounders when oil prices rise above a certain level, since oil consumption is an integral part of every significant production process.

What next?
There are 4 basic lines of thinking on what will happen next, among those who are aware that something significant has happened. These were described by David Holmgren and are portrayed in the following graph.







1. "Techno-Explosion" - Human inventiveness, technological progress, and the invisible hand of the market will ensure us continued progress, economic growth, and new sources of cheap energy.
2. "Green-Tech Stability" - We may experience a small drop in economic output as we transition to a more sustainable economic model where alternative sources of energy come to replace fossil fuels and ultimately allow us to continue our modern lifestyle and current level of societal and technological complexity.
3. "Creative Descent" - As the economics of production and distribution fundamentally change, incremental decisions will be made at the individual level, resulting in a gradual retrofitting of much of our existing infrastructure for useful purposes in a new, increasingly sustainable society with ever less energy at its disposal.
4. "Collapse" - The end of economic growth will trigger financial collapse, followed by economic collapse, political collapse, and the disintegration of society.

Predispositions to various viewpoints

It seems that one's views on this subject tend to be heavily influenced by 1) one's position in society and 2) one's temperamental disposition (personality). Views #1 and #2 are prevalent among those who control capital. After all, scenarios #3 and #4 leave little role for big capital. The vested interests of those who have political power and financial capital predispose them to see the future as either scenario #1 (Libertarians and Republicans) or #2 (Democrats and Independents). Even if these people have personal doubts about the possibility of these scenarios, their practical interests lead them to publicly promote one or the other.

Vast disinformation campaigns are funded by groups with vested interests in scenario #1 to discredit destabilizing information such as climate change research, Peak Oil, and the environmental movement. The mainstream environmental movement is also well-funded and generally fights scenario #1 and promotes #2, while making use of science that actually suggests #3 or #4. Almost no one is interested in funding campaigns related to #3 and #4 (for the reason stated above), so they stay out of the mass media, out of the public eye, and out of political debate.

People who are at the fringes of society and are part of various subcultures may be predisposed to views #3 and #4. They have already internally rejected mass culture and lifestyle in some way or another, and so it is hardly a leap for them to suppose that the powers-that-be will not be in power for long, and that people with lifestyles and views more like their own will prevail. In general, people tend to paint a picture of the future where people like themselves are more successful than average.

From a type perspective, it seems to me from my limited observations that types with extraverted sensing may tend to support scenario #1 or #2, possibly because it is often hard for them to imagine a life much different from what they have now, their active nature often puts them in a position of material influence where they derive gain from the status quo, and because they tend to be somewhat more territorial about their current position and possessions.

Types with extraverted logic tend to place a lot of stock in technological progress and can't imagine that people would choose to give up technological advancements. They tend to be experts about one or two things related to energy and technology and are absorbed by the trends in those areas alone. I find a lot of people with views #1 or #2 among them.

Types with extraverted intuition tend to see situations holistically (and often, but not always, superficially), change their expectations of the future quickly, and are less psychologically attached to the current socioeconomic system. Therefore, upon learning some facts about the situation, they easily jump to view #3 or #4. If optimism dominates melancholy in their temperament, then #3.

Types with introverted intuition seem to naturally be aware of problems; telling them that things may get worse is hardly news. Many seem predisposed to think that everything is going down the tubes and that nothing can be done about it (view #4). However, some have a strong contrarian streak that leads them to debunk whatever views they perceive to be dominant.

Types with introverted sensing tend to feel at the sidelines of society more often than those with extraverted sensing. Criticism of modern civilization among these types is common, since industrial society devalues their natural strengths in many ways. These types seem predisposed to views #2 and #3, but not to the extreme pessimism of #4, which requires a great degree of imagination.

I have nothing to say at the moment about other socionics functions and how they may predispose one to a particular view of the situation. Of course, it is not only one's personality that influences one's views, but also one's position in society (what, if anything, is at stake), as well as cultural factors that are perhaps too diverse to classify.

Some energy descent visionaries and their types

As to be expected, when we talk of the trends of the future we find that more intuitive types have influential and well-articulated views on the topic. Take these typings, as always, with a grain of salt. Many of them are open to discussion. This is just a sampling of those who hold influential views and is not meant to be exhaustive. Representative videos are provided where possible.

Joseph Tainter (ILI) authored an influential book, Collapse of Complex Societies, where he hypothesized that societies collapse when they obtain smaller and smaller benefits from additional investments in complexity. I would not categorize him as an activist of any kind, but rather a scholar and theorist on the subject of complexity and collapse. He focuses on history and economics much more than environmental issues.
Tainter answers some questions

Jared Diamond (IEE), geographer and ecologist, authored the other well-known book on collapse, called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Here he examines how societies respond to environmental problems that inevitably arise as a result of population growth and habitat exploitation. Diamond is outspoken on the environmental problems that modern society must solve over the next few decades in order to avoid collapse. His books and numerous public lectures have a human touch and tend to inspire activism.
"Why Societies Collapse" TED presentation

Ted Kaczynski (SLI), aka the "Unabomber," was a math whiz who severed his ties with modern industrial society to live a peaceful life in the Montana woods. When his peace was disturbed, he began a terrorist mail-bomb campaign against people who he felt represented the "Establishment." His manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future, published in 1995, contains many psychological insights relating to industrial society's negative influence on the individual, but it shows a lack of awareness of numerous objective issues, notably the myriad environmental problems of our time, and Peak Oil.
Industrial Society and Its Future

According to another viewpoint, Kaczynski could be a paranoid LSI who believed sweeping revolutionary change can be effected by attacking basically random people who are representative in some way or another of negative societal forces.

Dmitry Orlov (ILI), a popular blogger and author, compares the collapse of the Soviet Union with the impending collapse of the U.S. He lays bare the foolishness of U.S. leadership and the folly of mankind in general.
Explaining why America will collapse

Richard Heinberg (IEE), ecologist and author, focuses on Peak Oil and how society must change to deal with it. He focuses on societal paradigms and adaptation to a post-Peak Oil future. His presentations have a human touch and suggest personal and community applications.
On our post-carbon future (note his criticism of Schwarzenegger's (LSE) faith in technological progress)

Bill Mollison (ILE), naturalist and co-originator of the concept of permaculture. Developed a design system for land use that is fully sustainable and can improve degraded land in a matter of years. Spent years traveling around the world helping set up permaculture systems and spread knowledge. Permaculture is a whole new system of living, not just a new agriculture method.
Permaculture in the tropics

David Holmgren (LII), ecologist and co-originator (with Mollison) of the concept of permaculture.
Permaculture & Peak Oil: Beyond Sustainability

Geoff Lawton (IEE), prominent permaculture designer and consultant. Has a warmer and more personal touch than, say, Mollison, while at the same time seeming somewhat less scientific and more enthusiastic.
At the Permaculture Research Institute

Al Gore (LII), politician, businessman, and climate change educator. Gore's type may predispose him to scenario #3, but his financial and political interests probably influence his promotion of a scenario that looks more like #2.
Gore's new thinking on the climate crisis

Bill Gates (LIE), business magnate and philanthropist, is wedded by wealth to scenarios #1 or #2. Any proposed solutions must therefore involve big business and centralized government. Furthermore, his personality leads him to focus on technology development and logistics, problems which seem entirely solvable.
Bill Gates on energy and climate


Afterthought: my personal views
My personal views are along the lines of the permaculturalists -- a extraverted intuition dominated field (even though it focuses heavily on food production!). In my opinion, these thinkers have best been able to lay bare and tie together all the different factors and problems facing society and propose a realistic solution. They seem to have the best scientific support (and little industry support). Scenario #3 seems the most realistic and, at the same time, is sufficiently positive to inspire individual action. Proponents of scenario #4 have less to offer and seem to have less understanding of agriculture and ecology. Scenario #1 is impossible; if it were possible, it would already be happening, because all the economic incentives are in favor of taking that direction. Scenario #2 is potentially inspiring, but naive. See, for instance, Richard Heinberg's detailed report on the limitations of all important forms of energy. It will quickly become apparent that there is no complete replacement for fossil fuels.

The future - from a socionics standpoint

Cheap energy and ease of transportation promotes the concentration of capital and the growth of centralized power. Using abstract socionics language, this favors extraverted sensing over introverted sensing. As oil becomes scarce, some trends of the past few centuries will be reversed. Instead of being drawn into a complex economic system where each person has a narrow function and only 1 or 2% of people produce food, people will retreat from the global integrated economy and begin producing more and more of their own food. There is no way to avoid the re-localization of agriculture and economic decentralization in the U.S. and other countries. This will favor a value shift towards introverted sensing. Whether society takes a more "Alpha" or "Delta" direction is hard to say. If existing societal institutions are basically preserved, then we might have a Delta situation. If not, then probably Alpha. Those who stand to lose most from this turn of events are large corporate and power structures who run our lives today. If these power structures collapse, new ones will eventually appear (the extraverted sensing blind spot of today's permaculturalists). Permaculture philosophy is terrific for establishing sustainable human activity, but it gives little attention to the possibility of nomad raiders and the eventual establishment of a feudal system of governance where individual farmers and tradesmen must pay tribute and suffer some degree of servitude.

Jun 15, 2010

The Dynamics of Temperament

After a year-long hiatus I have resumed reading Neurodynamics of Personality. The chapter titled “The Dynamics of Temperament” was quite interesting. Here I will post some excerpts with my comments below.

Psychological theories of temperament view it as a biologically based set of personality traits, present from infancy, that forms a sort of template for the development of personality... It is ordinarily thought to include such traits as extraversion or introversion, “neuroticism,” activity level, level of arousal, emotional reactivity, predominant mood, speed and capacity of information processing, ability to regulate one’s own behavior, and the capacity to deal with novel situations.

While research on personality traits as dimensions of temperament has been productive, we believe that it may be useful to shift the emphasis somewhat from traits to the subcomponent neural processes that determine those traits...

(This is what I have come to think about socionics, too.)

Temperament has a strong biological component, reflecting heritability and early developmental influences (including intrauterine and perinatal factors). At the extremes of temperament (e.g., marked shyness or gregariousness), it is likely that constitutional factors so dominate the picture that, barring exceptional experience, certain predispositions will have a strong and decisive influence on behavior and character that endures throughout the life of the individual. However, experience may modify certain aspects of the expression of temperament, and experience certainly accounts for much of the variability among persons with essentially similar temperamental styles. For example, research has demonstrated the importance of “goodness of fit” between the temperament of the child and the environment provided by the parents.

The text goes on to summarize how successful personality development depends on an adaptive interaction between the individual and parents who are able to successfully deal with the child’s temperament, and on an adaptive relationship with the world at large, particularly as the child moves through school and into the adult world and must adapt to different environments that are more or less compatible with his or her temperamental characteristics. More on this below.

Temperament and dynamics

Temperament acts as a fundamental organizer for emergent psychological experience by affecting the probabilities associated with the activation of various neural networks. We are in fundamental agreement with Zuckerman’s (1995) conclusion that “we do not inherit personality traits or even behavior mechanisms as such. What is inherited are chemical templates that produce and regulate proteins involved in building the structure of nervous systems and the neurotransmitters, enzymes, and hormones that regulate them. We are not born as extroverts, neurotics, impulsive sensation seekers, or antisocial personalities, but we are born with differences in reactivities of brain structures and levels of regulators” (pp. 331-332).

Temperament as a process is always undergoing modifications and shifts (albeit often subtle) as ongoing adaptation occurs... Many different streams of processing contribute to the expression of temperament at each moment...

The probability is greatest that an individual’s temperament would occupy a more or less predictable region of the temperament phase space -- a shy child is likely to be shy most of the time.

Temperament may be more “noticeable” among those in one of the tails of the distribution, but temperament (or, more precisely, its subcomponent processes) influences even those who lie closer to the mean, whose expressions of temperament do not have a visible or defining “signature” such as hyperactivity.

Temperament and environment

This section talks about how one’s environment can interact with temperamental styles to contribute to the development of more or less adaptive personality traits.

[Speaking of a boy diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)] Parents, teachers, and peers may find him exasperating, and the behavioral style he acquires in turn may lead to the development of a conduct disorder or antisocial personality. If his parents and siblings are able to deal with him in a positive, adaptive manner, the outcome may be positive, but an active, agressive, energetic style is likely to dominate his personality. In the same way, the biologically shy child is likely to remain shy. If raised in a stern environment or exposed to physical and emotional abuse, such a child may develop a very avoidant personality style. If a child like this is treated sensitively and manages to avoid being traumatized, he or she may show a very successful adaptation in life.

Temperament, because it influences the probabilities of behaving in certain ways, can lead to a significant shapin gof the environment. Thus, temperament can have a significant effect on one’s learning history. A corrolary is that temperament not only affects the kind of environment the person encounters, it also affects how and what a persona learns from his or her experience. Distractability, for example, may lead one to overlook the details of certain transaction and may interfere with learning from those encounters. For the shy person, a single experience of interpersonal failure may provide an education that lasts for a lifetime. To a natural extrovert, the same sort of interpersonal failure may have little or no lasting effect.

On the “goodness of fit” between child and environment:

[Quoting Thomas and Chess (1980)] [This] goodness of fit results when the properties of the environment and its expectations and demands are in accord with the organism’s own capacities, motivations, and style of behaving. When this consonance between organism and environment is present, optimal development in a progressive direction is possible. Conversely, poor fit involves discrepancies and dissonances between environmental opportunities and demands and the capacities and characteristics of the organism, so that distorted development and maladaptive functioning occur.

An infant’s temperament expresses itself in interaction with an environment that is first and foremost on interpersonal environment... It is an infant’s caretakers who first experience their child’s termperament and whose responses will influence how and in what way this temperament is brought into some sort of alignment with the demands of the environment.

The authors go on to discuss how a fussy baby’s temperamental development may benefit more from a relaxed, unanxious mother than from an anxious one.

Children who are temperamentally biased in one way or another may require more active engagement with caregivers to help compensate or correct for their innate dispositions... Different temperaments make different demands on caregivers, and different caregivers will show considerable variability in their aptitude and motivation in responding appropriately and adaptively to the child’s temperament.

Temperament can also be influenced to some degree by the child’s developing capacity for reflective self awareness. Thus, for instance, a shy person can deliberately behave in ways that stretch her behavioral repertoire or at least minimize its influence. Presumably such learning across time can, in some cases, become stable enough that the temperamental influence recedes in large areas of behavioral functioning. Nonetheless, under stress, one might expect the basic temperament to be more visible in such people. The disorganized, distractible child can develop neural networks associated with organizational habits if given adequate support in doing so. The establishment and activation of these networks over time changes the likelihood of their subsequent activation. Thus, procedural learning may shape the expression of temperament.

The fit between child and environment is never perfect. Winnicott (1960) suggested that this is not a bad thing, because a hypothetical “perfect fit” between an infant and its caretakers (where “perfect” is defined as total maternal attunement and adaptive responsiveness to her infant’s needs) would undermine a child’s spontaneous exercise of its adaptive capability (apart from being impossible). Within limits, imperfect fit leads to the exercise of these capabilities providing much of the scaffold for subsequent personality development. Thus Winnicott was led to observe that what was necessary to support normal developmental processes was a “good enough” fit between an infant and his or her parents.

Temperament can lead to psychopathology when a child has unhelpful or incompetent training experiences (bad fit). The shy child who is ridiculed or unsupported by the parents may go on to become pathologically shy, whereas another equally shy child who is supported and encouraged may develop an adaptive behavioral style.

...In some cases the constitutional imperative associated with a given temperament may be so pronounced that there is an increased likelihood of psychopathology. Temperament in such cases can be considered dynamically as leading to psychopathology by reducing behavioral plasticity.

Psychopathology also can result when an individual’s temperament is somehow not adequately and constructively accommodated by his or her life structure. Thus a distractible person who becomes an accountant or air traffic controller may experience stresses that could lead to pathology. Similarly, a gregarious person who finds him- or herself working alone may suffer as a result. Life structures that don’t conflict with pronounced temperamental variables are likely to be less pathogenic.

Finally, if a society is unable to provide appropriate niches that can accommodate people with varying temperaments, psychopathology can be the result. A border collie bred to walk great distances while herding sheep will develop neurotic symptoms if forced to live in an apartment in the city. Similarly, highly active children may become symptomatic in environments requiring long periods of sustained attention. Different societies are more or less successful in providing the variety of niches within which diverse temperaments can find expression.

Temperament and a bit of socionics (my comments)

Temperament (as described in this article) and socionics are clearly related, but not equivalent. Different people of a single type seem to share a certain general temperament footprint, but specific levels of traits differ from person to person. Some people carry one or more “extreme” type traits, while others seem to have no pronounced temperamental style. Extremes are more common among males.

Variation in temperamental traits is essential to homo sapiens and other advanced species. It seems to me that the more extreme the trait, the greater the risks and the potential rewards to the individual. They remain in the gene pool because historically they have provided reproductive dividends. Some traits may be associated with higher rates of suicide, homicide, accidents, etc., but also with high reproductive success if the individual survives into adulthood, or with higher reproductive success of the person's relatives, who are likely to be carrying genes for the trait as well.

Human populations need scouts, impulsively aggressive types, loners and independent thinkers, melancholics, hyperactive types, and of course large numbers of generally conservative people who easily become attached to the conditions they grew up in and are resistant to change. Take away too much temperamental variation, and societies become inflexible, static, and vulnerable to change. Most of the time what the scouts and explorers have to say is not very important, but occasionally it is very important. Most of the time violent types are a pain to live with, but they sure scare the hell out of your enemies. And so on.

Feel free to discuss the quotes and any connections to socionics or personal development.