Apr 29, 2012

Notes on Language, Energy Exchange, Attention, and Teams

Sometimes I wonder: would intertype relations exist if language did not exist? How would they express themselves in the absence of language?

In different relationships people seem to exchange energy on different levels and in different ways. For instance, in some relationships there is a lot more talking (interchange of mental energy) than doing (interchange of "vital" energy). In others it may be the other way around.

Where talking takes place, not all of it is of the same quality. For instance, contrast the joking and banter that takes place at parties with a serious conversation where you try to explain exactly what you mean by something. Or think of a religious ritual where people perform certain actions together while set phrases are spoken in a particular way, versus a board meeting where you propose undertaking X rather than Y for reasons A, B, and C.

In the former cases you might say that the form of the talking prevails over content; in the latter cases, content prevails over form. Where form prevails over content, we might say that language plays a secondary role. Imagine people in such situations making unintelligible sounds with their mouths while preserving the same emotional coloring. Much of the interest and meaning of the situation would still be discernable. In contrast, an explanation of something mental that is devoid of emotions would become intolerably boring were an understanding of the words themselves to be taken from us.

In all interpersonal situations, energy is exchanged on all levels — mental, emotional, and physical. Or, perhaps more precisely, we experience thoughts, feelings, and physical responses as a result of the interaction. However, our attention during interaction may tend to gravitate towards any of these different "levels." With one person our attention tends to focus in the verbal mind; with another, on physical actions and responses; with a third — on various sentiments; with a fourth — on nonverbal mental images, etc.

Our tendency to seek out diverse types of interaction demonstrates a need to switch attention from one level of experience to another. This, in turn, comes from our need to perform a variety of different tasks and solve different kinds of problems in order to survive and thrive in the world. We are built to be cooperating specialists — able to generate a surplus of one kind of energy (attention) while experiencing a deficit in other kinds. The deficit is not so great that we are wholly unable to survive on our own, but thriving is definitely impossible without cooperation and energy exchange.

To understand how all of this is designed to work, and why, I think one needs to experience something akin to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle for some period of time. I have experienced it during long-distance backpacking trips where I had lots of interaction with other people. You can also get a good taste of it at scout camps or team-building activities if they last long enough (at least a few days) and take place outside or at least in a semi-natural setting. During such experiences a kind of "team" forms and one can observe the fluid collective switching of attention from one level to another (mental, emotional, physical, etc.). You can also see that different individuals perform different functions within the group due to their particular variety of energy/attention surplus.

In a good team a lot of diverse interaction is happening on all levels — mental, emotional, and physical. A person will forget the feelings of disbalance that they often have in ordinary life ("I need to stop analyzing everything," "I need to stop wasting so much time," "I need to stop being so lazy," "I need to get out and socialize more," etc.). In my experience a good short-term team needs to have 5 or more members to "cover all the bases." The smaller the size of the team, the greater the importance of interpersonal compatibility and hence intertype relations.

A well-matched dual pair probably makes the most robust "micro-team," but even here the interaction is not varied enough to satisfy the need for energy exchange on all levels. Each partner will have a need to regularly share information with others who have specializations similar to their own. In addition, they will have a need for some degree of community interaction and belonging that can't be met by a single other person.

From the perspective of a single individual, a team of 2 has just 1 configuration for energy exchange. A team of 3 has 3 configurations (2 pairings + 1 group of 3) but tends to subdivide into one pair and one "loner." A team of 4 has 7 configurations (3 pairings + 3 groups of 3 + 1 group of 4) but often subdivide into two pairs. A team of 5 has 15 configurations (4 pairings + 6 groups of 3 + 4 groups of 4 + 1 group of 5), which is often enough unless there are two very "closely knit" pairs. A team of 6 has 31 configurations (5 pairings + 10 groups of 3 + 10 groups of 4 + 5 groups of 5 + 1 groups of 6), a team of 7 — 63, a team of 8 — 127, etc. A theoretical "socion" of 16 people of different types would have 32767 possible configurations for energy exchange for a member of the group.

These large numbers are deceptive. The vast majority of the larger configurations will feel "about the same," and only a limited number of the smaller configurations will be productive and stable enough for an individual to want to experience them on a regular basis. Also, gender, age, and certain other roles place limits on the level of interaction possible (acceptable) between members, in effect shrinking the size of the group in terms of configurations of energy exchange accessible to each individual. However, at some point a group size is reached where almost everyone can meet almost all their needs for diverse interaction and activity engaging the mind, emotions, and body.

Hopefully these digressions have been interesting. Returning to the opening question, I think that intertype relations would exist even without language. Some relations do seem to focus more attention on verbal interaction — generally two static types or two dynamic types. Of these relations, conflict, supervision, and mirror relations tend to be particularly verbally-oriented (in my experience, as an irrational). In these relations it can seem like misunderstandings and mistrust all stem from different ways of talking about things and expressing things in words. It would be particularly interesting to study these relations in a totally nonverbal environment.

Perhaps I'll write more on these subjects in subsequent posts.