Jan 22, 2010

Basic Human Psychological Needs

My experience hiking the PCT in 2009 provided me the perfect setting to reflect upon basic human psychological needs. For over four months I lived a scaled-back existence comprised of simple tasks like walking (for roughly 12 hours a day), eating, sleeping, basic hygiene and gear maintenance, and basic logistics. In addition to the simple everyday tasks, I spent much time talking to other people and sharing experiences. Our conversations alternated between the mundane, the humorous, the raunchy, the social, the personal, and the philosophical.

Here is a summary of the needs I discovered through introspection and comparison with "normal" city life.

Physical needs
(I leave out obvious needs such as "eating, drinking, sleeping, sex")

  1. Physical interaction with one's environment. We have bodies that our built for physical interaction with our surroundings, and we feel better (physically, mentally, and emotionally) when we use them in this way for at least a couple hours a day. This includes large body movements (working out, physical labor, sports, dancing, etc.) and fine motor movements (arts and crafts, playing musical instruments, building things).
  2. Outdoor visual stimulation. It is a natural thing to want to go on a walk and look at the world around you and see what's happening in one's habitat. A stroll through one's neighborhood or a large outdoor market or any place where people congregate is enough for more socially oriented people, while others need to have more natural visual backdrops and need to take walks in parks and forests. 20 to 30 minutes a day is about the minimum.
Social needs
  1. Friendly interaction. The basic minimum is one conversation with a friend per day (for me at least). A "friend" is defined as someone with whom you can let down your barriers and speak and act spontaneously. After two full days with no friendly connections mental fatigue sets in. Normal activities lose their allure, and one really starts to feel down.
  2. Superficial interaction. It turns out friends are not enough. One needs to interact with other people at different levels of intimacy. 4 or 5 superficial interactions a day with strangers or people you don't know well can fill this need (for me at least). You practice developing your social persona, being useful to strangers and receiving utility from them, and sharing information with a wider social circle.
  3. Solitude. Not surprisingly, one tires of continual social interaction. I personally prefer to spend about half of my time alone "doing my own thing." Not getting enough solitude leads to irritability and moodiness. Getting too much of it leads to mental fatigue and deprivation. Solitude does not necessarily mean the absence of people. If two or more people are comfortable enough with each other to not have to always talk or otherwise interact when they are together, then one may attain a state of solitude in the companionship of others. Solitude allows one to think clearly and deeply, engage in complex activity, and feel centered.
Intellectual needs

This category seems to be the weakest of the three, meaning that one can forego them the longest with the least ill-effects. They are also very hard to tease from social needs because they are usually filled through social interaction.
  1. Exchanging information independent of the present time and place. A long but accurate definition. One finds oneself actively discussing topics that have nothing to do with the activities and needs of today. Backpackers inevitably find themselves engaging in social and political criticism, discussing the history of religion, and arguing about how to live a healthy life -- in addition to more proximate concerns such as food, gear, inflammation, and trail logistics. These "abstract" concerns exercise the mind's ability to think generally and convey information that might be applicable to other people as well as oneself.

    There were very few things besides food that I craved while hiking the PCT, and they were intellectual outlets. Despite my very frequent intellectual conversations, I craved stimulating books and the opportunity to write. While I did learn to pick up books (paper and audio) along the way and listen to or read them while I walked, I did not figure out a way of satisfying my need to write. I would have been very happy to have 2 hours a day to write about various topics that I spent so much time mulling over. Journaling can satisfy some of this need, but I simply did not have enough time and paper!

The needs described here may differ a bit from person to person, but I believe they are universal. One of the main things I took away from my experience was that I need to, and want to, organize my life in such a way as to fill every one of these needs. This realization solidified my resolve to not live a typical suburban American lifestyle, which I came to view as even more inadequate as before. Such a way of life is not nearly as good at fulfilling basic needs as a long-distance backpacking trip. Needs for physical activity and interaction are typically very poorly met unless one's work is physical. Also, 8-hour day jobs often overload your need for superficial interaction and fail to meet your needs for friendly interaction and for solitude.

Clearly, I will have to continue shaping my own counter-culture lifestyle to fill my basic needs. Physical needs can be met in an urban setting by rigorous exercise and physical activities (music, dancing, cycling & walking to one's destinations, etc.) or by taking a physical job that leaves the mind free to enjoy substantial amounts of solitude and moderate levels of social interaction. With a bit of land, my wife and I could practice some agriculture to enjoy a physical connection with our environment. Social ties need to be enjoyed more by developing connections with people who share our interests and values and have time to do things together.

At any rate, a typical urban 9-to-5 job with its ensuing lifestyle demands seems out of the question for me. Physical activity needs to be built into one's lifestyle rather than performed as a guilt-driven afterthought. There need to be many hours a day available to perform interesting, non-compulsory work. Friends need to be drawn in closer, and antagonistic elements need to be moved further away.

That is my formula for leading a happy life and filling my human needs.

I don't mean to suggest here that everyone's happiest lifestyle will be just like mine or that giving up a 9 to 5 job is a prerequisite to being fully happy (though it probably is for a significant number of people). The most important thought here is that our individual psychological needs exist and are quantifiable. In this post I have tried to quantify my own and speculate how they may differ somewhat for different people. I wish everyone could have an experience such as my own (not necessarily backpacking) where they are in near-ideal circumstances for the development of personal happiness over several months. With a bit of reflection, perhaps, this could lead to long-term changes in how you live your life.

Reflections on Complementary Functions

I'm posting here my response to the following question:

I don't know if you're still into socionics, but I have actually become better in applying it, and I think it's pretty accurate. The problem is explaining the theory to other people. Socionics seems like more of a system that is based on observation than anything else. (For example, I can't see any reason why Ti types would necessarily seek out Fe types - you could come up with a reason, but it doesn't necessarily prove it, unfortunately.) That's why I'm wondering about its history, because it will make it easier for me to explain to people why it might work. So, here's the question: do you know how Ausra Augusta and her associates developed the system? Was it based on observing a handful of people she knew, or were, for example, hundreds of people talked to in order to develop Model A? (Or something else?) I don't really want to burden you with finding an answer, but you seem like one of the few people in the English speaking world who might know.

I still think of socionics regularly when meeting people and reflecting on their personalities. The subject, I think, will continue to interest me forever. I think the complementarity of functions that you mention is a great mystery that remains to be uncovered by science. Simply by giving the mystery a name (i.e. Ti and Fe), socionics does a lot towards finding an answer, but "Ti and Fe" itself is not the answer.

The answer is doubtless to be found in neurophysiology. Something about the neurophysiological activity known as "Ti" leads to neurochemical exhaustion if not supplemented by "Fe."

More broadly, any specific type or closely related types of mental activity will lead to exhaustion if engaged in long enough or with enough intensity (mirroring the effects of physical activity). As a result, one feels drained, irritable, or devoid of will.

"Ti" and "Fe" may be seen simply as convenient, though imperfect, ways of categorizing mental activity.

Since the source of "Ti" and "Fe" -- evolution -- acts via our physical survival and successful physical transfer of genes and is only interested in our mental activity inasmuch as it produces external results, the mental activity represented by "Ti" or "Fe" must also represent broad types of approaches towards dealing with one's external environment.

A "Ti person" tends to tackle problems and opportunities in his environment in a certain way that differentiates him from most others. This typically leads to success in some areas and deficiencies in others. Yet, because we are not bees or ants, the differentiation cannot be absolute. A "Ti person" who performs more types of tasks adequately probably stands a higher chance of reproducing than one who cannot.

The "purpose" of this differentiation appears to be to make social cooperation desirable and inevitable. It is distinct from sexual drives which make reproduction desirable or from survival drives which make animals territorial and prone to aggression.

The fact that what we call Ti and Fe tend to attract one another is a conclusion born of observation more than logical deduction. Augusta recognized that such patterns existed, but she had no name or framework for them until she came across Jung's Typology, which she adapted to fit her needs more closely. Model A was developed as a result of studying Jung, observing her acquaintances in everyday life, and discussing her ideas with a group of like-minded friends who took interest in the topic. They would field ideas among each other and see how well they played out among each other and in their personal experience, much like any informal but stable group of friends. In this way they were able to develop the overlapping experience that is so critical to socionics (as well as being its Achilles' heel). Without it, socionics discussions tend to be difficult and relatively unproductive.

Jan 20, 2010

Socionics in Public: Ukrainian Politics

An article just came out on a leading Ukrainian news site, Pravda.com.ua, called "Between SLE and ESI: a Socionic Portrait of the Leading Candidates" (article text provided in English through Google Translate; original is in Ukrainian).

Some readers may know that Ukraine just had its first round of presidential elections since the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005. This article talks about the types of the three main figures from the Orange Revolution. Yuschenko became president, Tymoshenko spent much of the past 5 years as Prime Minister, and Yanukovych was defeated in the past election and spent the 5 years as the head of the opposition. So, these three figures have been the most prominent politicians of recent Ukrainian history.

The article's author, the "head of a socionics academy" (my experience suggests this is an exaggeration; "socionics instructor" would likely be more accurate) proposes the types of SLE, ESI, and LIE for Tymoshenko, Yanukovych, and Yuschenko, respectively. Setting aside the issue of whether these types are correct (my opinions can be found on my wikisocion page), I want to look at the usefulness of this article in general.

First of all, do the descriptions provided fit the individuals? Yes -- they are perhaps 80-90% accurate, as least as far as the average reasonably informed viewer/reader is able to judge.

Were the type descriptions modified to be more relevant to the specific person being described? Yes, obviously so. For instance, as an LIE Yuschenko "craves freedom of speech and individual actions in society." With her EIE subtype Tymoshenko is able to "achieve her ends with military cunning and punish demonstratively." Obviously, these are "politicized" type portraits that would have much less relevance for your average representative of the type.

How are multi-faceted aspects of their personalities addressed? Using subtypes -- not one, but two. Tymoshenko's IEI subtype allows her to "portray a weak woman when needed." Her EIE subtype allows her to "sense and provide what her audience wants to hear." Yuschenko's ILE subtype allows him to "study ethnic characteristics and value and develop ethnic culture," etc.

Are non-Ego functions at all described? Yes. Some of these are addressed under the headings: "Sympathises with," "Needs," and "Is activated by."

Are intertype relations addressed? No. For instance, how does Yanukovych and Yuschenko's supposed dual relationship manifest itself, if at all?

What do you think of these kinds of socionic portrait appearing in mass media?