Apr 13, 2013

Preview of My Changing Views on Personality and Relationships


(This post started out as a response to Jonathan's comment on my previous post, then grew to article length)

Part of why it may seem I'm going a little too far in turning away from socionics (I acknowledge that's possible) is that I haven't yet talked about the views that are taking the place of socionics in my mind. That's because I wanted to first do a methodical run-through of socionics before getting to my new perspectives, but it's going slow because I have almost no one to discuss it with these days. Hence this post, which is a kind of preview of my emerging ideas — "convictions," you might say — on phenomena previously described by socionics.

At this point, allowing myself to skip past some of the methodical stuff and cut to the chase will probably be useful to both me and my readers. Here are some of the main points in no particular order: 

1. Identifying people as "the same type" is useful only when they have significant obvious similarities. I'm done with sticking highly sensitive or highly intelligent/creative/refined/whatever individuals into the same type as people with a completely different background and sensitivity just because they share some esoteric "information preferences." If other people don't see obvious parallels between two people, then calling them the same type does more harm than good (this conviction comes from personal experience). 

2. This inevitably suggests a different set of types — either a similar number of types but with a much more uneven distribution, or a greater number of types. I personally don't care much anymore to name the types or create a consistent system such as socionics. However, identifying and describing the important common traits between two people I still find to be very worthwhile. 

3. The brain is not organized into socionic functions the way socionics suggests. The contents of our ongoing stream of conscious mental activity cannot be categorized by socionic function. In other words, the majority of the time, you will not be able to clearly relate what you're thinking about — or how you're thinking about it — to some socionic category. Rather than trying to force a socionics categorization, I'm more interested in just letting the information speak for itself and kind of self-categorize based on principles of pragmatism.

3.1. I would find it interesting to go through some of the music we once examined (back in 2007) using socionics terminology and allow different kinds of categories to emerge from that exercise. The questions I would start out with are, "what effect does this music have on the listener, and what does this music say about the composer's personality and state(s) of mind, and possibly the culture in which he/she grew up in?" Along the way we might discover that some music is just "better" than other, that level of sophistication is just as important a factor as the "states of mind" we were trying to describe using socionics functions, or that we come up with a number of states worth describing that does not equal 8.

3.1.1. I almost forgot to acknowledge, however, that Jung's and Augusta's idea of dividing up thought processes and basic traits into co-equal mental functions is a powerful and liberating idea that teaches one to see the other side of things and identify possible alternatives to nearly any approach to anything. That makes for a very useful mental tool, even if the details are not strictly correct. 

4. A result of point #3 is that interaction mostly does not occur on the basis of socionic functions. I believe that applying a general psychology/science perspective in examining specific cases brings one to different (simpler and better) conclusions than socionics about why people do or do not get along.

5.1. There is still something to functions and their impact on relationships. It's like they are bundles of values, but not actual mental processes or modules of information perception, processing, and output. 

5.2. There is still something mysterious about why people who are so different can sometimes get along so well. What socionics has done, however, is to put complementary differences on a pedestal. For the most part, people hang out with people of similar personalities who — perhaps — differ from them in some more subtle (and perhaps simpler and physiologically definable) way than being "a completely different type." 

6. Duality as described by Augusta is basically equivalent to falling in love. Remove the love, and duality is more mundane a phenomenon and barely preferable — on average — to other relationships. In modern culture, we expect and even require love for long-term relationships and generally prefer any relationship with love to one without it, regardless of the intertype relationship. There are good reasons for this coming from the logic of biological success.

6.1. Love does not obey the "laws" of intertype relations, and the idealizations that people project onto objects of passion do not necessarily come from the person's supposed Super-Id (dualizing) functions. That is, if you listen closely to what people want to have in an ideal partner — not just their conscious preferences but their emotional reactions to different people — I think you see that the preferences are 1) indeed significant and generally there for good reason; 2) not reducible to an "ideal dual"; and that 3) some people are [much] more universally desirable than others, and again, not because people are stupid and don't know what will make them happy, but because there are [nearly] universally positive and negative traits, habits, and life circumstances of great signifance to human interaction to which socionics is blind (see point #8).

6.1.1. It could be true that dual relations are more often magical than others. However, the fact that they tend to be described as magical feeds a tendency to see duals any time there is magic. Furthermore, a "magical" dual might have more in common with a "magical ___ type" than with a non-magical dual. 

7. There do exist particularly potent combinations of people that socionics is unable to predict (because its model of the psyche is not just incomplete, but fundamentally incorrect). The cause of the potency is unknown to socionics but can be discovered on a case-by-case basis and then, perhaps, generalized into a set of patterns and general rules. I would speculate that these combinations are highly symbiotic on grounds that are more or less permanent (constitutional) rather than situational (e.g. your specific current needs complement the other person's). Such pairings are consistently able to elicit symmetrical positive emotions in each other. Why? I don't know, but I'm now quite confident it is not socionics.

7.1. People with more extreme traits may have different patterns of interpersonal compatibility than those with traits closer to the norm. In particular, they may experience incompatibility much more often and have greater unmet needs for understanding and connection. The causes of this are fairly straightforward and obvious and probably have little or nothing to do with socionics.

8. There are many very important universals that socionics is blind to. For instance, that some people are almost universally annoying while others are almost universally liked/admired. There are not 16 strategies of success, but rather just a handful, plus variations. People achieve success not only by relying on unique strengths, but also by developing universal qualities common to most varieties of success. Trying to follow a somewhat contrived and esoteric type-specific path to success seems to me generally less useful than working on improving the universals.

8.1. For the most part, our lives are dominated by universals — standard situations that would elicit similar reactions in most people. Socionics suggests the opposite.

8.1.1. However, there are definitely times when a person needs to focus on discovering and enhancing the individual and specific. Socionics can give some broad hints, but nothing more. So can other typologies. So can non-typological empirical psychology.

8.2. There are "better" and "worse" states to be in that are remarkably universal, but these states are hard to describe from a socionics perspective. "Type development" is a clumsy and unparsimonious way to describe it. Modern science now has a ton to say about what contributes to happiness and well-being, and research results don't obviously suggest a typological approach.

9. The territory that we each stake out in life and build our self-identities upon is mostly based on unconscious calculations of our probability of biological success in the various roles/niches we have tested or know of given our existing investments and available energy and resources. These roles are often continually changing as different actors come and go and resource allocation patterns (i.e. the economy) evolve, since these things affect our personal prospects. While there may be patterns in which personalities gravitate towards which kinds of roles, situational and non-typical factors are generally more important. Since our connections with people are to a large extent determined by these roles, the things that bring people together and create a bond are best described using non-socionic language because socionics plays a small part in it.

9.1. I think lasting interpersonal conflicts can be parsimoniously described as reflecting threats to self-identities, current roles, and biological success. If you are a sadist and want to cause people psychological pain, don't nerdily attack their hypothetical "point of least resistance"; instead, doubt their self-identity, jeopardize their current roles, and question their biological success. 

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That's a glimpse of where my ideas are taking me.

Back to Augusta...

An important question I ask myself is, if things really are as I have suggested here, how can Augusta and so many followers have thought for so long that the system worked? I think that a key to the longevity of many not-quite-true (I don't mean that perjoratively) idea systems is their complexity. The structure and sophistication of systems of thought often have the effect of aweing their adherents. If the ideas are complex and extensive, they may take a very long time to prove or disprove. I, for one, only feel confident in calling socionics "inaccurate" as of the past 6 months.

A long-lived idea system must also be at least reasonably accurate at some level — or impossible to disprove. The fact that thinkers have been identifying types of people for millenia suggests that there is some basis for this approach. It is also plainly evident that different combinations of people are more or less compatible, and that once-established relationships and attitudes toward each other often last for a long time. However, our limited consciousness seems incapable of understanding why this is the case without the help of science. One of Augusta's errors (and mine too) was overstating the role of permanent, constitutional differences in personality. Her model treats people as essentially unchanging actors and isn't well suited for describing short- and long-term development. This error, as well as its opposite — that everything is situational — are easy to make if you are unaware of the last 30 years of psychology research.

Augusta attempted to explain phenomena which are still clouded in mystery — namely love and interpersonal attachment/rejection patterns — and did a half-decent job at it. Good enough to make a lot of people excited about the discovery. Because there are so many types and varieties of intertype relations, a place could be found for any person in the universe revolving around any particular person. To find points where the system breaks down requires comparing overlapping universes to see how the predicted relationships and perceived personalities play out. Like I said, this can take a lot of time — years and years — as one tries tweaking typings and one's understanding of socionics to see if things can be made to fit after all. 

4 comments:

aestrivex said...

"Augusta attempted to explain phenomena which are still clouded in mystery — namely love and interpersonal attachment/rejection patterns — and did a half-decent job at it."

As someone who feels you are making the error of withdrawing too harshly from socionics, indeed, rather than provide a detailed counterpoint of all of the bullet points you listed, here is the basic idea, summarized just by this:

Augusta did do an imperfect job at classifying something highly complex and mysterious. Nonetheless, she indeed did a good job that was exciting. This makes her work highly valuable, and not useless just because the classification is imperfect.

Nothing, for instance, about modern neuroimaging reflects the perfect "brain-o-scope" in any way. Yet, we believe that it tells us some minor part of what is going on in the brain during highly limited tasks where the subject can't move more than a finger. These are deep limitations. Does it make neuroimaging valueless?

I feel that as part of your withdrawal of socionics, and have said so often, that you place undue emphasis in how "good" science, psychology, and especially neuroscience are at addressing these mysteries. They tell us an important piece of the puzzle, but socionics tells us a different piece, and indeed one that is vastly overlooked in the puzzle of the mind. Individual differences are rarely examined deeply, and while social psychologists and many cognitive neuroscientists invariably ignore the possible influence of individual differences, it is obvious to me that it is something worth examining that sheds additional light on findings from those disciplines (for instance, socionics theory suggests that people may have different susceptibilities to Zimbardo's "power of the situation." This is untested, but seems completely plausible).

There is this idea that is espoused by many socionists that it should be perfect at explaining intertype relations and that duality is magic. I agree wholeheartedly that these are bad ideas. But say, for the sake of argument, that socionics correctly predicted 75% of intertype relations, and totally failed in other cases, both due to model inaccuracy and greater scope of individuals in question. Would such a model be of no value? To clinicians? To researchers?

Jonathan 345 said...

Like old times...maybe we should see if Sam shows up. Anyhow, a lot of good points in your blog post. Since you took the trouble to number them, here are some further thoughts/ideas. Overall, I think sometimes we have to be critics of something to become free of it and develop something new, and that's a good thing. But here's some food for thought (just to be contrary :)...

1. To me, the fascination of typology is actually when one can find hidden similarities that aren't obvious.

3. Yeah. I see socionics as sort of like identifying the shapes of clouds as triangular, square, etc. Sometimes it fits, or kinda... You're right that most of the time it's more rewarding to seek to understand people on their own merits.

4. It's an interesting question for research. In my own observations, I think a person's perception of others people's personalities does have a role in whom one is likely to approach for conversation, though this may tend more toward similarity than complementarity (as you point out in 5.2). In a way, typology is merely an attempt to give names to some common perceptions people have about other people's personalities. The fact that the actual people may be far more complicated (as per point 3) doesn't contradict that.

5.2. True. With MBTI, people often make the opposite mistake..e.g., it's assumed people will get along with similar types and clash with distant ones. Socionics recognizes power in complementarity, which is also a concept from Jung. I think people will agree with that approach to the extent that they've experienced that power, even through thought experiment.

6. & 6.1.1. This is a clear flaw in her writing. Just as with alpha-centrism, this seems to be one of those things that people know is incorrect, but somehow it never goes away. :)

6.1. As I understood it, at least, socionics presumes to make predictions about the course of the relationship and its particular challenges, not so much about initial attraction.

7. I agree that it's generally more interesting and profitable to observe what one finds for what it is and discover the relationships that are there than to just continually apply existing theories. Perhaps this will lead to a valuable new theory...or if one eventually comes to a conclusion supporting socionics, at least it's not a forced one.

8./8.1 Clearly most people will avoid someone who's rude and stinks, but that doesn't invalidate the idea of typology or similar approaches. It's really a matter of balance, isn't it? If one focuses too much on universals, one misses the true diversity in people and their wants & needs; but it's equally a mistake to ignore the universals.

9/9.1 Socionists probably make too much of the PoLR. You seem to be outlining an understanding of human behavior that combines biological evolution and rational choice theory. Seems interesting.

Anyhow, I think you know all the points and counterpoints anyway...but maybe now is just the time be free...

Carrina Murphy said...

Before I criticize you, I’d like to thank you for outlining a few important views that are almost never talked about and even scoffed at when brought up in group situations. This is an important discussion.
I apologize beforehand if you find my style of discussion presumptuous.
Point 1.
1) “Identifying people as the same type is only useful when they have similar characteristics.”
a. Identifying an individual as one type or within a group of types has multiple uses. I’m not sure what your singular usage is that you are hinting at, but maybe I wouldn’t disagree with this strong point of yours if I understood it better.
2)“I’m done with sticking highly sensitive or refined individuals into the same type as …….. [non such people]”
a. I agree that this creates another parallel altogether. For instance, an se ego who has been pushed around as a child may have serious aversions to such behavior, vehemently making it a point to create space for people, and placing significant effort on respecting the personal space of others. This is just a hypothetical example of the commonly accepted stereotype of behavioral manifestations of an information element contradicting the personal experience that the information element has taught them to begin with.
b. From another angle though, socionics isn’t intended to categorize behavior. It’s attempting to classify aspects of the human mind which aren’t observable. This is the same problem that we have in neuroscience today. (I’ll admit, neuroimaging is much more productive than socionics is for diagnosing illnesses and as a brain surgery aid ;)
c. Neuroscience and cognitive psychology rely mainly on inferences when observing cognition. While they are helpful, drawing a comparison between those and socionics may not be helpful due to the differences in what they propose to examine. What socionics attempts to classify is much simpler than the whole of cognition (which even neuroimaging can’t observe.)
3) “If people don’t see obvious parallels between two people, calling them the same does more harm than good”
a. If I call two men (one with black hair and one with blonde hair) a duck, somehow they start quacking around and now I have caused them harm because they are categorized together. I recommend that people identify with more than conceptual preferences to avoid these *socionics induced ills*. If only I would have called one a duck and the other a swan.
b. More seriously, let me categorize two men. One is bald but one has hair. Both have genetics that cause proper hair growth post-adolescence. If my purpose isn’t served by further categorizing them as “shiny-head” and “lackluster”, I won’t do that. I’ll simply say they both have a similar genetic variant. On the other hand, since we are working with categorizations, if my desired outcome requires that I further categorize them, then I will. If not, then I won’t.
c. I’m interested in what this proposed harm is and if it is in any way related to the identification with a type.
Point 2.
1) “This suggests a different set of types”
a. Not necessarily. What it suggests is that the system may need to be tweaked. Either simplified or
b. If you’re interested in sub classifying a system of sub classifications, go for it. Gulenko is attempting this very thing.
c. I agree that after observing types, behavioral manifestations strictly do not apply across the board.
2) I see this now “not interested in naming types or creating a consistent system”.
a. Fair enough, if that’s your preference currently.

Rick said...

Carrina, thank you for your comments. I'll choose a few to clarify:

1a. I'm talking about the uselessness of putting two people in the same type category who share no obvious similarities.

2b. The risk is that people classify aspects of the mind that are nonexistent or so poorly observable as to be inconsequential.

3c. The "harm" I refer to is the resistance people always demonstrate when they are put in the same category as people they do not identify with in any way. This comes out most strongly at socionics gatherings where people start typing those around them and suggesting/forcing their typings on others.