Apr 9, 2013

"Fooled" by Socionics

This long and rambling post was inspired by this comment from Consentingadult.

I have a suggestion: instead of criticizing Augusta (which in itself is perfectly valid), why don't you actually criticize one or more of your own writings? E.g. the ILE description in the articlewhere you said, amongst other things: 
"I have known ILEs who were heads of research institutes, NGOs, language teaching schools, and consulting companies. Many more held various positions in all kinds of organizations where they had a great deal of independence. The common feature of all engaged ILEs seems to be that they are working on some far-reaching personal project that has yet to come to full fruition."
I would like to know: what was wrong about this, how did you fool yourself to arrive at such insights that you now claim cannot be true or valid?

I'll get to criticism of types eventually. I was hoping to start with information aspects, then move to functions and Model A, then to types and intertype relations.

If your question was not simply rhetorical (since I detect a bit of sarcasm), here is my response.

What's "wrong" about the ILE description

I described a subset of ILEs — those who are above-average, proactive, and highly engaged in the modern, growing economy. If I'd written something that described the under-average, reactive, and underengaged ILEs, or the subsistence farmer and hunter-gatherer ILEs equally as well as the more fortunate, modern ILEs, the resulting description would have been too abstract to "do any good."

One might argue that I've described the "greatest potential" that people of this type can attain to. I agree that that might be inspiring, and people want and need to be inspired. But it's not necessarily true that you can group people into 16 types and then expect that any of those people has the potential to achieve the level of success, fulfillment, or happiness of the most fortunate individuals of their type.

I described the ideal type, not the borderline, overly contradictory, or untypeable ILEs. This is a universal problem in socionics, and it comes from being unable to type all individuals in a population. If socionists can only type what they themselves can recognize, then they only describe the most recognizable types. Then other people will perpetuate the bias towards recognizable types and intertype relations.

I don't expect that socionics will ever overcome this problem because it is not sufficiently accurate to ever develop foolproof empirical tests. An "ILE" will always be "what I've defined as an ILE," and thus any description is as good as any other.

Why do I use the word "accurate?" Because I am convinced that no matter how you define and split the 16 types, the resulting intertype relations will not be close enough to those postulated by socionics to call the system "accurate." The reason socionics has a "lack of empiricism" problem is simply because it has an "accuracy" problem. If socionics were more accurate, the empirical data would be flowing in all around. For instance, the phenomenon of duality would be scrutinized and elucidated, and researchers would be studying it from multiple angles to learn more about how and why it happens.

The fact is, socionics duality as described by Augusta is a rare subset of dual relations, and when it happens between a man and a woman, there is a lot more going on that has nothing to do with socionics. And it doesn't necessarily happen just to duals. In my mind this is a fatal blow to the socionics model of the psyche, since duality was socionics' most powerful hypothesis.

How I managed to "fool myself" 

A bigger question to ask is, "how did Augusta manage to fool herself?" I'll speculate about this further down.

In my case, my initial insights were simple and promising enough that I continued my study of socionics. I had only really deeply processed a small number of my personal relationships, but my insights were promising enough that I was hopeful that socionics could be applied generally, and not just in these specific cases. Of course, I based my understanding on my experiences of the most easily recognizable types and relationships in my environment.

At the moment I wrote the ILE description, my arsenal of experience had grown from a handful to maybe a couple hundred people of different types. However, my deeply processed personal experiences relating to each of them lagged behind. Based on my experiences so far, I was willing to take the system on faith to a degree. When eventually forced to face major contradictions, I began to systematically consider the less easily definable types and relations that I had been discounting and give them an equal place in my mind alongside the recognizable ones. After a while, I concluded that socionics was not accurate enough as it should be, considering the large amount of mental storage space required to house it. Furthermore, the things it could tell a person (less than I used to think) were of little use to me at this stage of life. This process provided some new insights that I now feel obligated to share with my socionics audience.


When one begins to get into socionics, one recognizes only a tiny sliver of types and intertype relations — those that most obviously fit descriptions and can thus be interpreted thoroughly from a socionics perspective. These "obvious fits" then form the foundation of one's understanding of socionics, giving the person a bias from day one that they will be unable to correct until much later, if ever. If a socionics aficionado recognizes the limitations and inaccuracies of socionics from the outset due to a more methodical and less exciteable personality, you can be sure that they will never become socionics writers!

Socionics is, in a way, worse off than astrology. With astrology you at least know when a person was born, making disagreement on their astrological type impossible. Then you can read a description and say, "well, that doesn't fit!" In socionics, if a person doesn't match their type description, then you've probably mistyped them. Keep switching types until you find the "best fit!"

Changing times

Yes, this has been an absolutely normal way of thinking about psychological matters for eons, but the times are changing and this approach is losing popularity as science has more and more to say about things that people used to only be able to speculate about. More and more people are sensing this and jumping on the train of empirical psychology and neuroscience. This is one of the reasons socionics is, in my opinion, slowly dying out.

Speculation about Augusta

I am quite certain that if Augusta were born today, she would not create socionics. She would read everything currently available on individual differences and go into psychology research or neuroscience. But she grew up before most of the really interesting research started being done, and was stuck in the Soviet Union where there was a official slant on psychology that downplayed personality differences. Thanks in part to typology, personality differences are now taken for granted.

Augusta created a system that allowed for much more healthy psychological variability than was commonly accepted at the time, but she was quite absolutist in her views on the types. For instance, she published a paper explaining why ILE is the best type to run a scientific research institute, ignoring other significant factors other than type. It seemed that she was proposing a new way of staffing posts and organizing society that could be implemented within the Soviet system.

Obviously, the zeitgeist has changed dramatically since then, even in the former Soviet Union. As I understand from my interaction with the socionics community in Kiev, in the late 1980s Augusta's interests drifted to other areas, and she became a less and less active participant of the socionics community, while continuing to occasionally voice her views on the subject. I was also told that she was in a rather unhappy marriage with an LSE (she was ILE), which could have contributed to her idealization of duality.

Was Augusta "fooled" by her own ideas? I suppose you could say so. She would have had the same problems with confirmation bias that any later student of socionics would have, alleviated by the process of discussing ideas and hypotheses with a group of associates. They noticed some fascinating new patterns, broke new ground, and made some mistakes that are easier to recognize decades later.

Watering down socionics

If socionists were forced to type everyone and, particularly, to examine every single relationship among these people, and then to describe types and intertype relations using a strictly statistical method, I am certain that we would see a drastic watering-down of both type and relation descriptions.  Socionics would lose its "teeth."

However, the more watered-down one's views on a subject are, the less motivated one is to propogate one's views. This is why the people who have built up the experience to help water down socionics usually can't be bothered to do so. I personally view this as my duty to society, but my motivation is much weaker than it was to promulgate classical socionics, which engaged my need for recognition, connection with others, and mental discovery. Now, the inspiration is just not there. There's no "vision" to be found by picking apart someone else's somewhat erroneous theory to a dwindling and disinterested audience. In fact, the main reason I am writing this post is probably to avoid doing my taxes.

From a kind of esoteric psychology perspective, it may be good to keep socionics classical, albeit full of illusions. People come through the system, receive rigorous training that excites them and fills them with energy, and they move on to do other things. But it's already too late; socionics is dying a long, slow death. Successive generations of socionists are less and less inspired and inspiring, career momentum and entropy are taking over, and there is just too much new and exciting information on personality and human interaction coming from research that takes a fundamentally different (empirical) approach than socionics.


Consentingadult said...

So basically what you are saying is that when you wrote about ILEs, you wrote about them as if the insights were the results from personal experience, where in fact you reasoned a lot from mere theory, giving it the doubt from the benefit. I'm glad you have explained this, and I'll tell you why it is important in a moment. At any rate, I myself see Socionics as a system of Ideal Types (in the way meant by Max Weber), and as such (i.e. as a tool for measuring certain personality traits, not so much pigieonholing personalitries), I think Socionics is a good system, but that's something for my own blog.

As far as Augusta is concerned: most of your audience have never read her. So explaining why and where she went wrong is not a compelling argument that's going to convince people Socionics is wrong. Simply 'we' have not been influenced directly by her works as you have been. You have said in yourself with so many words elsewhere: the conception most of us have of Socionics theory is far from what Augusta has written herself.

Jonathan 345 said...

It's very interesting to read your recent posts. On one hand, I see you've come to conclusions similar to what I've been saying for a long time, such as that socionics lacks adequately clear definitions; there are lots of gray areas regarding type; socionics deals with certain "ideal" types that not everyone fits well; the socionic community is a kind of free for all; there seems to be a dearth of any good research studies on it, etc. At the same time, it's a little disheartening to see that perhaps the most thoughtful and eloquent writer on the field is ditching it so thoroughly, and I get the sense that maybe you're going a little too far. Ultimately what makes Jungian typology interesting is that it really is an interesting way to categorize phenomena...arguably richer than doing so "by sensing organ/receptor." If the socionic community seems to be making no progress, it's probably the inevitable consequence of a lack of training in sound research design, and a perhaps misguided view that typology is necessarily about typing people unambiguously or giving them a single type, rather than about understanding some mathematical patterns that we have glimpsed but have not as yet fully defined.

If one takes a step back, what Jung was trying to do was to come up with such broad categories of experience that they would encompass both the most concrete and most speculative aspects, the most rational and irrational, and even address organization of reality that goes beyond logic. Perhaps the categories or number of dimensions involved are wrong, but the idea of coming up with such a broad taxonomy seems inherently interesting and applicable to many things. (As to whether it's useful, well I think that has to do with what one makes of it; I've seen people come up with useful insights from it, but of course there's also a lot of garbage and messed up thinking out there too. Clearly the science is lacking; either one needs good research studies or some sort of elegant representation in math or artificial intelligence.)

In any case, maybe it's not what neuroscientists are currently researching or what Feynman would approve of, or something that people trained in Socionics (but not in modern-day psychology research techniques) are capable of researching in any effective way, but at some level those things are perhaps irrelevant.

Jonathan 345 said...

PS - one other comment (sorry for my babbling on)...just wanted to clarify that of course imagining a Feynman-like "BS meter" and other problems with socionics as it stands are completely relevant...just that they don't prove that there isn't any substance to Jung's core idea.

Rick said...


>>So basically what you are saying is that when you wrote about ILEs, you wrote about them as if the insights were the results from personal experience, where in fact you reasoned a lot from mere theory

No, this is mostly incorrect. At the time I knew at least 20-30 ILEs that I was thinking about when I wrote the description. However, my description was biased towards the more capable and self-realized ILEs — the "ideal ILE." I no longer think that's a fair bias, and I question the utility of dividing people up into 16 types at all.

Rick said...

Jonathan, it's great to hear from you! I do think I am mostly done with typology. My brain no longer wants to think like that anymore and is happy to switch camps and fully embrace a more typically empirical, statistical, and pragmatic approach. That's where the action is anyway.

I really do sense a withering of interest and support for typology these days as neuroscience gains steam. It feels like a lost cause. Try to find a single TED talk, for instance, espousing some kind of typology (of anything). This, of course, proves nothing about the worthwhileness of typology, only that it is in a downward trend (at least for the time being). I think we are learning so much about human physiology and psychology that any typology that may eventually emerge will be quite unlike socionics.

The rest of my response was long enough that I'm putting it into a separate blogpost. This will also enable easier discussion.

Jonathan 345 said...

Thanks...Yeah, good to be chatting again after such a long time. I'll take a look at your points in the most recent post. Anyhow, it's probably always good to give socionics some rest now and then, as there are so many things to discover. Nevertheless, I think that after one leaves typology for a while, it comes back because (in my view at least) the information aspects exist in some form and are a salient aspect of reality.

The points you raise mostly reflect how I think about socionics, except that in my view the information aspects were always more important than any presumed connection between that and how the brain works. None of Jung's arguments make reference to biology; rather, the rationale is always based on appealing to the reader's validation that those aspects exist...e.g., that possibilities are obviously different from concrete realities, and that decisions could potentially be based on something other than logic.

Nevertheless, I do think it significant that the brain seems able to deal with information aspects beyond what one could easily program into a computer. Simple computer programs are restricted to handling operations based on logic; more recent artificial intelligence research has branched into interpretation of sensing perceptions and also made attempts approaching intuition.

In any case, I've always taken the statements of Augusta and other socionists as being highly speculative and subject to criticism, so maybe that gives me less to be disillusioned about. :)

By the way, there are actually some TED talks influenced by personality theory and Jung's concepts, such as Susan Cain's popular talk, "The power of introverts," and some various talks on intuition, left/right brain theory, etc. Of course, these are not about socionics, but perhaps closer to MBTI. Here's an interesting one pulling together neuroscience, Jungian type, and teaching:

"Neuroscience, Jungian Type and Mathematics--Insights into Student Struggles"

I haven't had a chance to listen to the whole thing, but perhaps it might be interesting for you because apparently the speaker is claiming that neuroscience is supporting rather than refuting the ideas in Jungian typology.

Rick said...

Thanks for the TEDx video, Jonathan. I've written a new post on it and written the researcher asking her to respond to my critique.

Ezra said...

So it's up to Rick to do people's research into socionics for them?

Tell me about the usage for Weber's ideal types.

Ezra said...

Rick, I just want to say that I find your writing such a pleasure to read, and it's always made a lot of sense to me from a rational and intellectual perspective. I get tired of academic theorising on impractical matters, so it's refreshing to read something both intelligent and engaging to me.

You've also - coupled with other disillusioned hobby socionists - persuaded me that socionics is a waste of my time, in as lucid a fashion as possible. Commendable. By rights, as an IEE you should be speaking a different language not well interpreted by my SLE brain (so in true socionist style let us switch around until we find the best fit type - an SLI, of course)! But you don't, so... Reality 1 - 0 Socionics, ha.

Rick said...

Thanks, Ezra. I enjoy feeling useful. Those three letters don't mean much to me anymore.

I have a simple hypothesis that may make more sense after reading my most recent blogpost: the condition of one's physical body strongly influences one's thought patterns. I find that in popular culture it's common these days to hear the opposite view — that one's thoughts influence one's health. While there's plenty of support for that viewpoint, I believe the body's effects on thinking are far greater.

"Empty theorising on impractical matters" may be an expression of underdeveloped physicality and messed up hormones / neuromediators. If people can improve their nutrition and day-to-day lifestyle of their physical body, they will both feel better and tend to waste less mental energy on fruitless pursuits.

(There are many caveats to this, but I won't write about that here.)

Physicality is not just about exercise and building muscle, it's about moving your body around in space, accumulating sensory impressions from the real world, and interacting with the world in a physical way. This is the antidote to most theoretical blah blah.