Jan 9, 2013

Reexamining Socionics: Introduction

I'd now like to begin an ambitious and open-ended intellectual exercise — to critically reexamine the foundations of socionics and look for errors. I have a few ideas, but I honestly don't know where this is going to lead. It could be great, or it could be pathetic.

As explained in previous posts, this idea only came to me recently after a critical mass of disqualifying counter-examples to socionics theory had accumulated. Until then, I had kept the original theory intact in my mind, but had tacked on increasing numbers of "additional factors" that influenced interaction and relationships. The sum of these efforts is presented in my post on "My Personal Typology."

Just so you know, this whole way of writing about people and their interaction feels increasingly ridiculous to me. Feel free to laugh with me at the level of intellectualization coming through in the previous paragraph. So, I will try to break free of this mold (pun intended) over the next few posts. After all, that's part of why I've decided to put socionics behind me. 

So, what are the foundations of socionics? Turns out I listed them in 2007. We have information elements or "aspects of information," which are a kind of logical necessity once you state that different functions (I previously called them "IM elements," following Augusta's nomenclature) perceive different types of information about reality. Then you have Model A with its 8 different positions, or "functions" (yeah, the double meaning of "functions" can be confusing), and the 8 functions/IM elements that can occupy the different positions, each of which describes a way of perceiving information, and a kind of state of mind. That's three sets of highly interrelated concepts, the core of socionics theory. These concepts come with some assumptions that I hope to look at as well. And they combine together to form a system of 16 types that can be broken down into dichotomies, 16 intertype relations, quadras, etc.

Yes, I understand that not everyone sees socionics as being about this stuff. But that's their choice to disregard classical socionics and reframe the field in their own peculiar way. I "grew up" on Aushra Augustinavichiute's texts, so that's what socionics is to me. I encourage you to revisit my presentations/discussions of some of her foundational works. Unfortunately, I only got partway through my write-ups, but enough work was done that you can get a good taste of things.

Augusta also gives the best presentation of socionics, in my opinion. She explains why she introduces concepts and starts with broad premises. Subsequent authors either write in a blatantly non-explanatory style (e.g. "Socionics divides information processing into 8 different varieties...") or pass over the broader ideas superficially (e.g. "Information can be divided into 8 types..."). Some make new broad idea inventions of their own, but they seem too detached from reality. Skimming over some of Augusta's writing now, I am still impressed with the boldness and freshness of her intellect. Take this for example (source):

'Direct' interaction of bodies — or collisions — are a rare phenonemon. 'Catastrophes' in space are rare only because heavenly bodies interact "from afar," by means of fields. Living organisms also interact through fields. From an observer's viewpoint, an organism's field is the sum of all interrelations between one object and other objects. The individual psyche perceives this interaction as all manner of internal feelings.

Even if I no longer "do" socionics, this stuff is still pretty cool to think about. Or how about this for something to mull over (source):

The human brain, in reflecting external and internal reality, serves not only the individual himself, but society as well. To satisfy his own needs, a person needs to have an idea of the entire reality around him. People cooperate in serving the needs of society; individuals communicate to the community their impressions of only certain aspects of reality. The mechanism for this phenomenon, in our present understanding, is quite simple: various aspects of reality are reflected in the human brain with differing degrees of differentiation and awareness. Aspects that the individual only uses for himself are reflected in general, composite form and are remembered as images, experience, and skills. Other aspects, which the individual communicates information about to society, are perceived in well-differentiated form with an accuracy that allows the individual to relate information verbally.

I personally love these kinds of broad-stroke descriptions. "Well, that's because it's typically extraverted intuition," you might answer. But I can assure you that different IEEs or ILEs will have different reactions to these texts. Some will say, "duh," some will find them annoyingly vague, others will question their validity (which I may do later). Others will read through them several times and be unable to understand what the author's saying. It's this kind of variation in response that has led me to stop looking for the "needle in the haystack" that is the "essence of extraverted intuition" and start interpreting things based on simpler proximate causes, or at least on personality traits with some kind of identifiable physiological basis. Or, actually, just not interpreting them at all if I'm not interested.

So, enough with the introduction.

Jan 7, 2013

Type Identification and Distance to Subject

Two posts back, I wrote:

On top of this, as I considered the types of other people close to me, I realized that, in many cases, I was no longer sure of their types. Rather than thinking that this was a temporary moment of reevaluation, I have come to see this as typical. When people are psychologically closer than a certain point, "contradictions" in their personalities become more and more apparent, making their types harder to identify. I see this is a big problem; it really shouldn't be this way if socionics is indeed accurate.

To follow up on this observation, here's a graphic portraying this "focusing, then blurring" effect as the person whose type is being identified becomes closer and closer to the socionist (typer).

One of the typical psychological effects of any typology is that once you place a person in "your" category (in the case of socionics this would be whichever types you consider favorable), you tend to open up more to that person. Conversely, if you have put someone in "not your" category (e.g. an unfavorable type), you tend to close up and distance yourself somewhat from the person. This effect is most evident among people at the first stage of views on typology, as illustrated in my previous post.

When someone's type is hazy — either because they are too close or too distant from the subject, a kind of mental discomfort might be felt. After all, they must have a type! I'm suggesting here that this can serve as an artificial barrier to experiencing close relationships with other people.

But this effect shouldn't be blown out of proportion. It happens with any sort of categorization, not just in typology. For instance, a woman who suddenly decides, "this man is not trustworthy" due to a single emotionally significant incident will naturally distance herself from the man in the same way that a socionics hobbyist might after deciding that someone belongs to an "unfavorable" type. And as long as the woman is trying to make up her mind as to whether the man is trustworthy or not (or any other important characteristic), she may keep interaction at a safe distance.

The questions I'd like to pose are:

1. How universal is this "type blurring at close distances?"

2. Are there other kinds of characterizations of people that don't blur at close distances — other than obvious physical characterizations? Or is this a uniform problem of perceiving other people?

The Eroding "Essence" of Socionic Types and Relationships

Not only is it basically impossible to fully calibrate one socionist's typings with another's, but an isolated socionist's clarity about types and relationships is fully capable of eroding by itself. This post illustrates how that happens.

In recent years my view of the central importance of socionic factors (types and intertype relations) in personality and relationships has been steadily eroding under the weight of life experience. The graphic below illustrates this process. Many readers will probably be able to recognize their own position somewhere along this timeline:

Taken separately, each of the circles in the boxes above represents the area of overlap between individuals of a particular type or between relationships of a particular type (e.g. a number of samples of "identity relations"). This can be graphically depicted as follows:

The overlapping area can be called the "essence" of the type or relationship. As more and more outlying circles are added to the picture, or changes take place in our perception of individuals or relationship samples, the area of commonality between them tends to shrink.

An example of how this happens is having experience with more than one intimate dual relationship that seemed to have a very different "energy" to them due to considerable temperamental or other differences between the people of the same type.

An experience like this can lead one to begin looking at relationships through a different lens, which, in turn, can lead to a reevaluation of other relationships as well. Other relationships belonging to a single intertype relation which previously appeared more or less similar "in essence" may suddenly appear to be more divergent than before.

This goes back to the idea that as one studies a subject and begins to think in new categories, one mentally puts things together in new groupings, bringing some phenomena closer together and others further apart — in one's mind. Later, as the subject of study loses its influence on mental processes, the person may find that previously grouped phenomena are drifting apart in his mind and that there is no longer any compelling reason to place them together in the same category. That is the process I've described here.

As the overlap shrinks from explaining a hefty share of personality or interaction to being a kind of "hidden essence" that requires increasing perceptiveness and training to perceive, eventually you have to ask: at what point is the commonality too small to be worth making a big deal about? 

Jan 4, 2013

Why this Blog is Now Called "The [Ex-]Socionist"

A major shift in my views on personality and relationships has been gathering steam over the past 6 months, with several years of prehistory coming before that. I am preparing a special article on the subject, but will lay out the main points and factors here.

Basically, what has changed is that I've gone from generally viewing personality and especially relationships within a socionics framework, with caveats, to viewing things from an entirely non-socionics perspective, with occasional mental exercises such as, "is there anything typically socionic about this situation?"

Compared to where I was coming from 8-11 years ago, this is a spectacular shift. But it has come on so gradually — except for the last part — that it's been barely noticeable. Earlier this year, I was still pretty sure I was interested in completing some socionics projects, such as making an online test and perhaps putting together some compilation of essays. But now I am almost certain that my work in socionics is done for good.

That said, my Socionics.us website will be preserved in its current entirety and moved to a sub-section of another of my websites, TryUkraine.com.

Problems with socionics

What made me stick with socionics up till earlier this year was the conviction that, despite an increasing number of caveats, the "core" of relationships was still determined by socionics. This conviction was based mostly upon my experience of a set of very meaningful relationships in my own life, which I attempted to extrapolate — carefully — to those of other people. This summer and fall, I realized that I could have been wrong about one of those key relationships. I had always typed this friend as SLI despite her self-typings of alternately IEE and ILE. Then a friend got to know this person as well and disagreed strongly with my SLI typing (which already didn't matter as much to me anymore). As I looked at things through his eyes and saw a fairly convincing case for another type, I could feel it was time to leave socionics behind.

If she was indeed ILE, then it was ridiculous that I had had my major "dualization" experience with her — upon which I had based my understanding and descriptions of the process that have helped other people looking for the same thing in their lives. If she was indeed SLI, then it was ridiculous that I was the only person out of a fairly diverse group who could see it. Either way, the situation was entirely ridiculous and discredited socionics.

Shortly before this, I had finished rereading Richard Feynmans book, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! While reading, I had asked myself wryly, "what would Feynman have thought of socionics?" Feynman wasn't particularly perceptive when it came to psychology, but he had a very good B.S. meter. In one of his stories, he recalls his participation in a philosophical debate where the concept of an "essential object" was put forth, but none of the participants could produce a definition of what an "essential object" was, and so it could not be decided whether X was an "essential object" or not (read this short summary of Feynman's attitudes on philosophy). I couldn't help chuckling about this, since it is so reminiscent of socionics terminology (what does "inner statics of objects" mean? is X an example of extraverted or introverted logic? etc. etc.).

Granted, Feynman's attitudes on philosophy were no doubt rather extreme and misguided, since out of the mental exercise of philosophizing sometimes — occasionally — come ideas that flower into scientific fact and theory. However, there is no doubt that Feynman would have thrown socionics in the garbage heap of undefinable philosobabble after 3 or 4 questions posed to even the very brightest of socionists.

At the time I read this book, Feynman's invisible voice resonated powerfully with me. One of the reasons for this is that I had spent many months preceding it absorbed in modern research about the body and brain. The things science has taught us about ourselves over the past decade are truly amazing, and we are on the cusp of learning even greater things about where we come from, how we differ, and how our common neurophysiology operates.

Contrast that to the scientific output of socionics (none, basically). The main texts and premises were laid out in the 70s and early 80s and since then have been discussed to no end in a distinctly philosophical vein, with each socionist making tentative, non-confirmable, and non-transferrable conclusions based on personal experience alone. The "practical application" vector of socionics is following down the exact same path of Myers-Briggs Typology (whose influence, I believe, is already waning): personal counselling, forays into organizational management, courses for those who want to learn the typology, and of course numerous self-help books that all say roughly the same thing (and some splinter groups who mean slightly different things with the same terminology).

Meanwhile, a very large portion of mental energy in the socionics community is devoted to analyzing the community itself, which I view as a dangerous intellectual trap: such analysis appears promising, but ultimately is a waste of time and energy and actually stems not from the truth-seeking instinct, but from the "I'm right and everybody else is wrong" self-assertion reflex. It shouldn't be engaged in too much to avoid self-poisoning. A few years back I was gifted perhaps the fattest book on socionics ever written (in Russian, of course), titled, The Smile of the Cheshire Cat, or the Possible and the Impossible in Socionics, which was basically a study of how socionists think about socionics, and whether their views were substantiated or unsubstantiated, in the author's opinion. I wonder how many people got through this book.

I have been acquainted with the socionics community long enough (12 years) to see how people's socionics "careers" have taken shape. I have to admit that I would not want to be in their shoes. Those that are still with it seem (to me) to be at an intellectual dead-end, trying to continue extracting some kind of revenue and recognition from what they have invested their entire adult lives for, and still doing the same things they were doing 10 years ago with little discernable progress. And it's not as if you can easily "switch careers" from socionics to some other field — say, stand-up comedy or business management. Those socionists that have left seem (to me) to have wasted years of energy doing... what? It's hard to pinpoint any concrete benefits from "doing socionics," unless it directly enabled positive relationships or tangible personal growth. In contrast, in more practical fields you can learn something, apply it immediately, and experience the benefits or lack thereof. Most or all of the benefit of socionics, in my opinion, comes from a few broadly useful realizations about people and their interactions that one tends to pick up very early in the game.

I also used to think that socionics would take hold in the West or East and develop basically along the same lines as in the former USSR. I no longer think this is the case. It is now very clear to me that modern psychology and neuroscience are developing along a very different path than socionics, and there will be little or no convergence. The scientific research coming out now is exciting and promising enough that it is capturing people's attention and imagination, and they are becoming less and less prone to take interest in more theoretical, less research-friendly perspectives such as socionics. The further neuroscience progresses, the weaker pre-neuroscience theoretical approaches like personality typologies become.

Also, I see no hint that psychology is discovering the kinds of discrete categories of people that socionics talks about, or that research on human interaction is tending to see things in an "information metabolism" perspective. Rather, we're seeing more and more research into hormones, attraction, relationship building, genetic difference vs. similarity, concrete predictors of relationship success, etc. And individual differences are almost always proving to be points on a continuum rather than lightswitch-type categories (either on or off). At least for the moment, science is definitely not moving towards socionics. My nose for trends tells me that the future is not with abstract or philosophical approaches to psychology (e.g. typology), but with our rapidly advancing understanding of the actual physical processes that shape the nervous system and human behavior.

On top of this, as I considered the types of other people close to me, I realized that, in many cases, I was no longer sure of their types. Rather than thinking that this was a temporary moment of reevaluation, I have come to see this as typical. When people are psychologically closer than a certain point, "contradictions" in their personalities become more and more apparent, making their types harder to identify. I see this is a big problem; it really shouldn't be this way if socionics is indeed accurate.

On a final note, my research into physiology, health, and lifestyle has led me to see many traits increasingly on a "better/healthier — worse/unhealthier" scale rather than in an "all traits are created equal" vein, which was partly inspired by socionics and partly due to my own egalitarianism. "Weak T" or "weak sensing," for instance, really is probably best seen as a weakness, and not as "the flipside of your strengths," as I would have emphasized in the past. Improve nutrition and lifestyle, and many of these weaknesses can go away, at least in part. It's often not the best approach to assume — as socionics suggests — that such weaknesses can only be compensated for through other people (e.g. complementary types), though there is merit in that idea.

That covers most of what I wanted to say. I will write more on these subjects later, and this blog will continue to live on.

Jan 3, 2013

Physicality, Part 2

Developing Physicality, Part 2

I'll write an abbreviated version of what I originally intended to post, because otherwise I'll never get around to finishing this topic. 

Basically, the questions I have been trying to answer are, What is optimal health and well-being (let's call this "personal functioning"), and what is necessary to attain it? 

There are many aspects of personal functioning — for instance, physical health and robustness, relationship skills, mental sharpness, and emotional life. Science is uncovering more and more connections between these areas that in some ways are surprising and in others confirm our intuitions. Some of these areas are more basic than others; for instance, improving your physical health (e.g. nutrition and exercise) will improve mental functioning much more than vice versa, and emotions and human interaction are almost as basic as physical health. 

So, speaking of physical functioning, what types of, and how much, exercise is necessary to get the lion's share of the benefits, which extend into one's emotional, intellectual, and interpersonal life?

Here are some research findings that I have found particularly significant:

1. 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (brisk walking!) 3 times a week is enough to enjoy the substantial cognitive benefits it brings, which stem primarily from increased oxygen flow. Additional exercise brings decreasing cognitive returns. Hormones are also released during aerobic activity which serve to regulate mood and stabilize emotions. 

2. Strength exercises, particularly involving large muscle groups and when performed to failure, not only build muscle, but cause hormonal responses that are important to maintaining health and well-being: growth hormone, testosterone, and IGF-1. 

3. To get decent-to-optimal amounts of vitamin D, which affects numerous body systems, you need to spend a lot of time outside with your body exposed to the sun. Or take vitamin supplements. 

4. Fitness is best enhanced through short bursts of anaerobic (maximum effort) activity, or "interval training," rather than by sustained, monotonous aerobic activity.

So, someone who's really getting the lion's share of possible exercise benefits is going to be doing a fair bit of moving around on foot with occasional bursts of speed, doing varied light physical labor (or working out) with occasional bursts of intensity, and loafing around outside partly clothed. 

What kind of body does this lifestyle produce? A lean, muscular, highly functional body with great endurance — basically, a kind of all-purpose athlete. This is accessible to nearly all of us, and our biology suggests that this is how we're "supposed" to be. 

Of course, one can live a "normal" modern life without any of these things, but your brain will be operating below potential due to lower oxygen flow, and may tend to develop hormone deficiences, low vitamin D, etc. 

Furthermore, because of decreased physical development and body awareness, your attention might more easily become overfocused on your mental or emotional life — errands to run, information to consume, online interaction, your own or other people's problems, etc. My experience is that engaging the body more — effectively putting it back in its rightful place — makes it easier to see the relative importance of different activities and let go of "parasitic" ones. 

Of course, I'm speaking from the perspective of someone whose body has been chronically underused. Most of us are in this boat. Relatively few people in developed societies today overuse their body and underuse their minds and emotions, though this would have been a common problem in generations past. 

It seems there are two basic ways to incorporate the four above points into your lifestyle — the "left brain" way and the "right brain" way (these are my terms).

A "left brain" approach would be to put together an exercise regimen incorporating all of these elements at levels necessary to reap the benefits. If you don't get enough sun, you can always take vitamin D supplements. This route allows you to spend a minimal amount of time (as little as 2 hours a week, including walking), but requires a lot of willpower (a limited resource) and planning to carry out, because abrupt — rather than spontaneous or organic — shifts in activity will be necessary to keep to your particular exercise regimen. 

A "right brain" approach would be to find ways to weave physical activity and time outdoors into your daily life, and then take advantage of moments when your body feels ready to do something aerobic, anaerobic, or intensely muscular. This route requires more time overall, but less willpower. It may also be more sustainable in the long run because its protocols are simpler and more intuitive. However, most people who pursue specific results are attracted to left-brain approaches, which seem more reliable and results-oriented. 

I personally have settled on a mostly right-brain approach, given my tendency to do things only when I feel like doing them. I spend a lot of time walking around and really enjoy running when I'm late. I do a few different kinds of athletic activities — mostly with other people — and am looking for more. Variety is crucial, unless you have found an activity you're truly passionate about. Physical activity is hardly time lost, even when I'm alone. I like to listen to interesting podcasts or language recordings, and when I have something stimulating to listen to, it's a great pleasure to go out for a long walk, putting in some sprints here and there when I feel ready for it. 

I've noticed that as I become more physically active, I tend to have more "physical" thoughts and impulses — for instance, to strain some set of muscles for no particular reason while standing around, to jump up and touch the ceiling, hang on a bar or tree branch, lift a heavy object in a particular way, try to perform an ordinary movement gracefully, etc. This is a good example of how, by turning one's attention to a particular set of problems or stimuli, one can develop one's brain and personality in a new direction. In addition, the further one goes down this path, the more pleasure one gets out of it. The endorphins seem to come easier and easier. 

P.S. I have not mentioned here many related subjects, such as the value of physical play, friendly competition, developing motor skills, flexibility, and communing with nature. Plus, I haven't even talked about nutrition. This post focuses exclusively on exercise.