Oct 31, 2012

Developing Physicality

Socionics suggests that some types are innately more "physical" than others and are more in tune with their bodily sensations and physical interaction with the outside world. Other types tend not to register these things consciously and tend to lack physicality, focusing attention instead on verbal, emotional, or mental interaction with the world.

This is how I saw things myself, until I gradually came to a recognition of the importance of physicality and vitality in my life and realized that I must take responsibility for these things myself. My personal experiments and research have convinced me that all [basically healthy] people are designed to be athletes — regardless of personality type — and to lead a life that is much more physical than that of most modern urban dwellers. 

This subject is very broad, so I will break the post into two parts: personal history that readers will no doubt find as interesting as the information in part two, which will be about developing physicality and vitality in general. 

Part 1: adventures in health and physicality

Despite my [presumably] personality type-related inclination to neglect my physical needs, I have always been mildly physically gifted, with naturally good coordination and endurance and a good degree of trainability. While most guys seem to begin their physical decline right out of college, I had kept in the same reasonably good shape by periodically starting and giving up exercise regimens, by frequently walking in the woods, playing frisbee, and by developing my hiking and biking hobbies, which provided me with the connection to nature that I craved. 

Over the years, my attempted exercise regimens gradually evolved to something more and more appropriate to my actual needs and abilities. Things like resolving to go to the gym X times a week and perform there a certain set of exercises tended not to work for long. Trying to do a set of exercises at home on a Total Trainer was only slightly better. Taking a one-minute detour on the way home to do pull-ups worked better, and I kept that up for some months, but that was just a single exercise. More successful still was combining enjoyable activities; leave the apartment in the morning, walk or jog in the woods, sometimes taking a quick dip in the lake afterwards, and finish up at the exercise bars at a nearby school to do a set of 5 exercises. This allowed me to ease into the exercise part by first doing something intrinsically enjoyable and getting my body warmed up. Note that this worked much better when I lived 2 minutes from the forest as opposed to 5 minutes, leading me to formulate some of the principles I wrote about in Willpower as a Limited Resource.

Around 2007-2009 I began to take much more interest in diet and health and finally began to understand something about nutrition, which until then had seemed like a contradictory and structureless field. I got into what you might call "lightweight speed backpacking" and long-distance backpacking, which are essentially athletic activities. Again, the reason I pursued this was not to improve my fitness, but to experience nature on a deeper level. Keeping fit came to be almost synonymous with experiencing nature. But, as far as upper body was concerned, all I did was occasionally do strength exercises. I didn't really have intrinsically rewarding activities for the arms and torso.  

Starting in 2009-2011, I began to be aware of mild, but nagging, health issues: problems getting enough sleep, digestive issues, frequent colds, and often struggling with the blues and compulsion-like behavior. These gradually increased or remained steady for several years, though I noted that they seemed to go away during backpacking trips, leading me to believe that they had to do with aspects of my city lifestyle. 

Then, in March 2012, I passed out and could have died of carbon monoxide poisoning after a long shower as a result of a faulty gas water heater installed in the kitchen of the apartment I was renting. I eventually came to, feeling absolutely horrible, and was barely able to crawl around to find my phone and call friends and ask them to bring an ambulance with them. I was lucky and did not develop any long-term neurophysiological sequelae, which often plague victims of acute CO poisoning. 

I was extremely alarmed by this incident and began recording all the physical and emotional complaints I had after that to better discern whether my quality of life was affected by the accident. I felt I had to take better care of myself and not let something like this happen again. The CO poisoning wasn't my fault, but on that day and the preceding one I had eaten very little and at first had thought my collapse was from low blood sugar. The symptoms and my subsequent research, however, confirmed it was indeed CO. A bit later, I found a house cleaner and cook who made my life a lot easier. Eventually I concluded that it wasn't healthy for me to be living alone (for the first time in many, many years), and I moved into a room in a shared apartment and immediately recognized the subtle emotional-physical benefits — as long as there is not too much tension among house residents. 

I found this exercise of writing down how I felt very useful for focusing my attention on this side of life, and developed it further during my next visit to Ukraine. First, for a month I wrote down everything I ate, my sleep times, and how I felt that day. Then I created a sleep spreadsheet where I applied a formula for calculating my sleep deficit. (I'm a real numbers geek, so I'll give it to you: 8.5 hrs. is my observed ideal sleep duration, and 0.8 is the coefficient by which I multiply yesterday's accumulated sleep deficit before adding to it today's deficit or proficit. This means that if I sleep on average 8 hrs. a night, then I will on average feel like I'm missing about 2.5 hrs. of sleep due to the accumulation of deficits. This is not always entirely true, but it's usually a good approximation). Along with sleep times I recorded my level of alertness on a scale of 1 to 5 to see how it correlated with my supposed sleep deficit.

I liked the idea of rating aspects of life, because it meant that I paid attention to them during the course of the day. I often translate quality of life questionnaires for use in healthcare in Ukraine, so I am used to the idea of rating these kinds of things. So I started adding other aspects of life that clearly contributed to my overall wellbeing, and had them average up to produce a quality of life index for each day. 

At first these were purely physiological indicators such as alertness and presence of physical complaints (illness, pain), but soon I added psychosocial indicators such as "speech apparatus" (ease of speech and communication; voice tembre), "acceptance" (how accepted by others and free to be myself I felt), and general emotional state. These were clearly very much intertwined with health and wellbeing. Later I also added a couple intellectual indicators: "flow state" (how much of the time I was in an engrossed, pleasurable flow state) and "breadth of awareness." I realized that neglecting my personal work activities (writing and site development) for weeks or months on end had been having a subtle harmful effect on my ego and self-confidence, so I added "professional development" to the mix of indicators. In the end, I've got a set of 12-13 indicators that approximate many areas of life that actually determine how I feel — about myself and life as well as physically. In addition, I began writing notes next to the number regarding significant factors that had influenced the individual ratings that day.

Turns out I am hardly unique in this sort of quantitative approach to improving well-being. There is a whole movement that espouses these methods, called "The Quantified Self." 

I found this practice to be a massive leap forward from typical records that people keep when they have some self-development goal, which usually involves contriving a goal that you think will make your life better and writing down your results for the day. 95% of the time, the results are not what you planned, and efforts are abandoned within weeks. I sigh when I see people start up a new "watch me lose weight" or "watch me get fit" self-delusion blog that will almost inevitably contain no more than 3-5 posts. This time, rather than deciding what should make my life better, my approach necessitated from the beginning that I observe my own body and see what was happening to it, with no implicit goal in mind. And yet each of us has the same organismic goal: to increase quality of life — happiness. Finding out more about what brings you happiness causes you to do better at seeking those things out and integrating them into your life. 

When I went to Crimea for over a month, I decided to finally get serious and see some doctors and take some tests to address "everything that had ever bothered me in the past 10+ years." A lot of online research was also involved. I read about nutrition, vitamins and minerals, psychosocial factors, mood, stress, and fitness. Before that, I had read the well-researched and fascinating book The Four-Hour Body and had read about the Mediterranean diet, the Paleo diet, and the benefits of sprinting-like exercise and "evolutionary fitness" (listen to interview here). After some research, I began to suspect my diet was deficient in some vitamins and minerals and began to correct those by adding a variety of nuts and different foods. Turns out deficiencies tend to cause apathy and depression in addition to physiological problems, but the symptoms are often vague and can easily be confused with other things. (My hunch about the deficiencies turned out to be correct). 

While in Crimea I would go to the beach every day with my friend, going down a 170 m. high cliffside via a cement staircase. Soon we started running down and walking back up the stairs as fast as possible. Needless to say, we also swam in the Black Sea, each of us developing his own kind of bathing routine that started with just going 5 meters out in the water, taking a dip and thinking, "what do I do now?" and eventually evolved into (in my case) a 15-30 minute swim up and down the beach using different swimming strokes and enjoying the views of the beach and cliffs and the increasingly cold early-autumn water. I also spent a lot of the time minimally dressed, my skin exposed to the fresh air and sun, both on the way to the beach and back and around the house and yard. A pull-up bar is welded into the balcony, so I also did chin-ups whenever passing by, inventing stranger and stranger ways of doing them to involve more muscles. After about a week of this, I experienced a new jolt of alertness that would override any sleep deficit I had, i.e. thanks to some kind of hormone injection I was now getting from my rigorous daily physical activity. 

Then, in the midst of this idyllia, I received a large translation assignment. Over the course of the week that I was preoccupied with it, I observed — through my rating system — how my quality of life plummeted in almost every way. I had no idea this type of stress could have such a powerful disruptive effect on everything. This led me to read and reflect about stress response and what kinds of stress the body is or is not designed to handle well, due to our evolutionary past. I realized I needed to watch out for and steer away from potential negative stressors. I also managed to work out a routine that helped me deal with potentially stressful computer assignments. The solution was to inject physical stimuli and pleasure by taking breaks and doing something physical every 20 minutes, which I'll talk about more in Part 2. 

I had to give up my intense beach-swim-sprint-shirtless living routine when I left again for Georgia, but after a week of chaos I've managed to settle into a new one that's just as good except for the shirtless part (Georgians are more conservative). On the weekends I'm usually backpacking, and during the weekdays I meet a good friend every evening to go bouldering at an indoor rock-climbing place, where there are also a few workout machines and bars. We often follow this with a visit to a restaurant or bar for relaxing conversation. I also have started playing ultimate frisbee twice a week with another group of people, and other physical, but non-strenuous activities are also part of the physicality menu. Key here is that all these activities are pleasurable, playful, require skill development, and involve other people and socializing. 

I can say that at age 35 I am the fittest I have ever been in terms of both strength and endurance, and that I see physical development as an essential part of life of the same degree of importance as intellectual and social development. 

In Part 2 I will write about why all this is necessary,
and what it does for you (cascading effects and so on).

Oct 26, 2012

Highly Sensitive People and Socionics

last edit: 31 Oct 2012 (theta brain state)


I recently learned of a trait commonly termed "Highly Sensitive Person," or HSP. This is a trait I have long wondered about in myself and others and have called different names at different times (e.g. self-awareness, introspectiveness, sensitivity, etc.). I used to loosely associate it with ectomorphy; I think I was identifying a kind of ectomorphic variety of high sensitivity and ignoring other varieties. Since then I've noticed HSP traits in people of different somatotypes.

After investigating the subject, I'm convinced that it is a very influential personality trait that has important ramifications for intertype relations and personal development. So influential is the trait that HSPs may be practically untypeable socionically, having a set of traits that appears to conflict with or override typical type traits.

Further information online

In addition to the Wikipedia article, there is some really good information available in research articles on Elaine Aron's site, as well as large amounts of personal accounts and feel-good sites on the subject online. Lots of podcasts and interviews on the subject can also be found.


According to studies, 15-20% of the population is HSP, and the numbers are evenly distributed among men and women and hetero- and homosexuals. The numbers are about the same for different nationalities, though different cultures may be more (e.g. Japan) or less (e.g. U.S.) accepting of the trait. Of particular interest is that the trait is also observed in animal species.

Psychological and physiological aspects

It is speculated that roughly 50% of psychologists' clients are HSPs. HSPs are more sensitive to childhood experience and display more maladaptive behavior with suboptimal upbringing and more well-adapted behavior with optimal upbringing relative to non-HSP children.

HSPs appear to be more prone to certain mental and physical conditions, such as neuroses, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, etc. Their brains appear to spend more time in theta state — typically, a drowsy or meditative state — which may indicate more reflection/"recharging" and deeper processing of impressions received during their daily activities.

I would estimate that 30-50% of socionics aficionados are HSPs and that these are many of the same HSPs that are likely to end up in counsellors' offices.

HSP and Asperger's Syndrome

Both of these groups have their online "fans" and often resemble pop-psychology. I've seen lists of famous people who supposedly had that or the other trait, and there was quite a bit of overlap... My personal opinion is that many psychological conditions are overdiagnosed. I myself have been wrongly labled as "high-functioning autistic" by at least two non-specialists who only saw me in certain settings. Of course, this did nothing to improve our interaction... While many AS and HSP online hobbyists seem confused about which diagnosis to give themselves, this article makes a good attempt at separating the two.

Difficulties with the HSP construct

Upon learning about HSPs, a lightbulb flashes on in your mind and many things begin to make sense. Then, once you start identifying sensitivity levels in different people, you realize that each HSP has a different variety of sensitivity, making it hard to generalize. Things that you would tend to attribute to sensitivity in yourself are absent in other HSPs, and vice versa. The search for an overarching, fundamental HSP trait runs into the needle-in-the-haystack problem that plagues socionics and other personality characterizations.

The exact nature of high sensitivity is not yet entirely clear (e.g. "processing sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly"), but there are some interesting lines of research that suggest that the trait can be pinned down physiologically and/or through behavioral testing. That is much better than personality questionnaires which are subject to biases and misinterpretation.

A problem with practical application of the HSP construct is that it has no well-developed counter-category with a potentially positive image — e.g. "low sensitivity person, or LSP." People only read about HSPs and may incorrectly self-identify with it because it seems to suggest creativity or intelligence or provide justification for problems they may have experienced. HSPs, on the other hand, are probably unlikely to wrongly identify themselves as non-HSPs.

Highly Sensitive People and Personality Type

In terms of the MBTI, introverted intuiters were most likely to be HSP, followed by extroverted intuiters and lastly by introverted sensers. Most HSPs are MBTI introverts, and extroverted sensers were not found among the admittedly small sample group studied (I believe under 30). Keeping in mind MBTI type skews relative to socionics, I would expect the trait to be more evenly distributed among the socionics types. For instance, I think I have known at least two SLE HSPs and at least one LSI, two LSEs, a few ESEs, two ESIs, and probably at least one SEE, not to mention many intuiters and SEIs and SLIs.

One can take the approach of examining the trait in isolation from socionics types, or in the context of types. The second approach might help one to identify the uniquely HSP-specific characteristics that are always present regardless of the type, but the risk is becoming too conceptual about the trait. The first approach often leads people to inject too many of their own individual qualities and experiences into the trait.

Effects of sensitivity on socionic type

High sensitivity seems to have a huge effect on personality. In my experience, the HSPs I know are all psychologists in a way and are particularly sensitive to other people's emotional lives and internal experience. They are all at least a bit brooding and are introspective and focused on processing their personal experiences. This is true whether their type is IEI or SLE, EII or LSE.

Such is the sensitivity of HSPs that an HSP LSE may be far more interested and thoughtful about things like perception, trauma, and overcoming internal obstacles than a non-HSP EII (this is coming from my personal experience). Non-HSP LSEs may listen to discussions of these topics with interest, but they have relatively little to say about them or their comments lack depth.

HSP SLEs, LSIs, ESIs, LSEs, etc. tend to lack the callousness that is often attributed to their types. On a philosophical level, HSP types with extraverted sensing (SLE, SEE, LSI, ESI) may reject any form of interpersonal coercion and may be wholly uninterested in politics, power, etc. They may often seem "unsure of themselves" or hesitant, and their extraverted sensing may seem to "flicker" on and off. Of course, this is all happening in the mind of the observer, who has a construct of what extraverted sensing is and is not. Without that mental construct, there's probably nothing particularly paradoxical about an HSP's behavior.

HSP ILEs and IEEs I have known (myself included) appear less extraverted than their non-HSP counterparts. More time is spent ruminating about things within oneself, and less time is spent gathering and distributing "random," superficial information, which is more typical of non-HSP ILEs and IEEs.

Effects of sensitivity on socionics schools

The best example of this I can think of is the contrast between Yermak's hard-headed analytical socionics and Gulenko's School of Humanitarian Socionics. Both are LIIs, but the first is non-HSP while the second is HSP.

Effects of sensitivity on intertype relations

HSP-ness seriously impacts intertype relations. The "truest" form of many potentially adverse intertype relations, for instance, is when an HSP is affected by a non-HSP. In other words, an HSP SLE may be more traumatized by a non-HSP ESI than a non-HSP SLE. Put an HSP ESI in place of the non-HSP, and the "supervision" would likely be seriously altered. A HSP IEE might not be much of a "supervisor" at all to a non-HSP ESI. The effect of the supervision might be so gentle as to basically be negligible for the ESI. In fact, the "supervisor" HSP IEE might well experience more distress as a result of the interaction as the "supervisee" ESI.

An HSP child might find even virtually optimal intertype relations with parents to be "traumatic," while another non-HSP child gets by just fine with parents from a completely different quadra. HSPs seem to need things to be "just right" in order to feel good in relationships and in general in life. As a missionary at age 19-21, I experienced many varieties of poor-to-awful relationships and just a few good relationships with missionary companions, while many non-HSPs seemed to "have a great time" with just about everyone they worked and lived with. So much for intertype relations!

Duality and sensitivity

Dual relationships may be quite different depending on partners' sensitivity levels. Two HSPs will probably have higher levels of understanding, but may need to take great care to regulate personal space and autonomy in order to avoid feeling "repressed." An HSP with a non-HSP may experience less mutual understanding, but the non-HSP may provide a greater degree of emotional stability in the relationship. Two non-HSPs may have a more stable and conventional relationship and fewer problems regulating optimal emotional/physical distance.

These are just suggestions, since I would need a lot more relationship experience than I have to make any far-reaching generalizations. Elaine Aron comes to similar conclusions, saying that both combinations have pros and cons but that she believes two HSPs together is probably a better combination than an HSP with a non-HSP.


I'm particularly interested in readers' comments on this post. I'm sure people will have a lot to say. 

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.

Feb 14, 2012

Why Socionics Is Awesome

Amidst all the angst of the socionics community and my own frequent critiques of socionics as a half-baked system not particularly conducive to scientific progress, I sometimes forget my own personal experience of socionics, which is that… socionics is awesome.

So, lest I be mistaken for another disgruntled ex-socionics junkie, let me lay out the ways in which socionics has been an extremely worthwhile and positive school for me.

1. Socionics can easily be used to improve quality of life. For over a year after learning about socionics (age 23), I experienced virtually no interpersonal distress for the first time in my conscious life. Granted, much of this was due to the fact that I was in a constant state of private intellectual discovery and thus was not as sensitive as usual to real or perceived negative interpersonal situations (disagreements and conflicts, loneliness, lack of acceptance, social awkwardness, etc.). But mostly I attribute it to the fact that I had begun applying a constructive, socionics-based approach to managing my emotional and social life, consisting of: 1) a recognition that my emotional state is less the product of my own making than the result of my social interactions; particularly 2) the quality and depth of my connections to people of various personality types; specifically 3) whether I am too emotionally connected to the wrong types or too distant from the right types; suggesting that 4) emotional life can be improved by reducing emotional investment in one set of people and increasing investment in another set.

At first this required a kind of willful restructuring of my interpersonal connections, but eventually it became second nature. This formula clearly works — if it is not too compounded by other issues. I consider it one of the most important life skills, right alongside things like learning to provide for yourself and manage money, avoiding addictions, and taking care of your physical health. Some people are raised with one or more of these skills and may never appreciate what it takes to acquire them through conscious effort. Like these other life skills, keeping your interpersonal life in order requires a certain amount of self-love. No one else is going to do it for you.

Over time my understanding of what kinds of people are "right" or "wrong" for some kind of emotional interdependency has grown to include a lot more than simply socionic type. But the foundation for this skill was laid by socionics.

Positive relationships, particularly intimate ones, impact one's life in a variety of ways. If you have an idea what you're looking for — even if it's as simplistic as "a dual relationship" — that probably increases the chances that you'll find it. I'll never know how much of my romantic success or failure has been due to socionics, but I consider myself quite fortunate considering where I was coming from and what I have experienced so far in life. It could have been a little bit better, but it could also have been far, far worse.

2. Socionics is a secret weapon. My own socionics schooling — which included ruminating over the writings of Augusta (other authors' writings seemed dull in comparison), large amounts of introspection, studying my reactions to people, observing them closely and trying to identify their types under the guidance of a skilled but imperfect teacher, over a hundred hours of poring over photographs trying to recognize personality traits in facial features and expressions, and eventually meeting other socionics aficionados — brought to my awareness many things that had previously been unconscious. At the time it felt like I was acquiring a secret weapon that made my responses to the outside world less blind or mechanistic than other people's. When I realize at what level most other people think about the people around them, using conventional descriptors such as "nice," "good," "dull," etc. and assuming the superiority of their own psychological makeup, I'm eternally grateful to have undertaken a serious study of people and relationships and to have a more objective understanding of why I experience different feelings towards people.

Socionics also makes it easier to recognize and take advantage of numerous "shortcuts." Having a feel for someone's type (or at least elements of their type) allows you to build beneficial relationships quicker than otherwise, particularly if you have accumulated a large body of experience dealing with people of different types. Knowing that there is someone you will be able to confide in and rely upon to some degree may encourage you to take that risk and move to a new location that you feel will be better for you. Or, you may more quickly realize when you are in a bad situation due to the types and prevailing culture of a group you have landed in. A knowledge of socionics provides a more sophisticated feel for how much and in what ways you may be able to rely on someone and, in turn, be useful to them. This can help in choosing employers, partners and assistants, hobby groups, and roommates, not to mention romantic partners.

The caveat is that spiritual and interpersonal choices work best when they are based foremost upon feelings, not mental concepts, so it is very important that you develop an understanding of socionics that is congruous with and highlights your actual emotional experience rather than letting ideas about what you "should be" experiencing according to some interpretation of socionics take precedence over your actual feelings. This one caveat basically encompasses all the potential negative side-effects experienced by so many socionics aficionados. This is a complex problem not at all unique to socionics, and I no longer blame socionics for it. When a school of fish changes direction, it could be said that only the lead fish — the one with the strongest internal compass relative to herd instinct — is following her "true instincts." For whatever reasons, the other fish choose to repeat her movements instead of trying to access their own internal compass — at least, until a greater stimulus (e.g. predator) comes along, temporarily overriding the imperative to "follow the fish in front of you." The issue of negative side-effects of socionics is actually a fundamental and intractable "internal compass vs. external suggestion" problem. It's probably best dealt with individually by strengthening the internal compass (as if it were that easy!) and distancing oneself from the source of suggestion, if necessary. But if a person is able to do this at all, they probably didn't have much of a problem to begin with! Suggestibility exists, and it serves a function for the individual and for society. If people were insusceptible to suggestion, there would be no person-to-person learning.

3. Socionics can trigger a cascade of new intellectual pursuits. Before socionics I had less than a layman's understanding of science and hadn't seriously grappled with its big ideas. I had developed a theologically centered worldview that was clearly at odds with reality and insulated me from scientific and philosophical thought. As imperfect a scientific theory as it is, socionics suggested to me a simple universal principle that gradually undid my entire worldview: all things have their causes. I realized that up till then I hadn't really concerned myself with the causes of things, but had gone around in mental circles trying hopelessly to live up to acquired religious ideals. At first I applied this cause-and-effect idea to the emotional and interpersonal sphere (see #1), but soon began examining everything in its light. I became fascinated by thinking about phenomena divorced of moral judgments and reflecting on the likely material causes of things, eventually formulating my interest as follows: I want to know what is, not what is supposed to be. Later I formulated: the rejection of faith as a guiding principle is the very foundation of science. There's no good reason to have to stop asking "why?" — at least inside yourself — when you reach things that you or anybody else would like to be true but actually have no compelling reason to believe.

Through socionics I became interested in psychology and got a minor in the field. A couple lectures into psychology, I realized that the foundation of modern psychology was evolution. So I began reading about evolutionary psychology to mine it for important ideas, and soon read Darwin's Origin of Species for background, gaining a great admiration for scrupulous rational thought. Then I did quite a lot more reading on evolution, biology, memetics, and the philosophy of science. I literally felt my mind expanding; I could think thoughts that just a few months before had been totally out of reach. Later I would learn to appreciate philosophy in general and read widely in esoteric spirituality. Once I began developing Socionics.us and Wikisocion, socionics became a springboard for learning more about art, music, and history. All this careful thought and reading greatly stimulated my intellectual life and contributed to me later becoming a writer.

Oddly enough, I've never met anyone who experienced anything quite like this as a result of learning about socionics. To many people it sounds as strange and counterintuitive as a waiter becoming a fighter pilot as a result of ballet lessons. Clearly, my particular intellectual response was determined by the mounting tension between my acquired religious worldview and my natural disposition. Nonetheless, I will never forget that it was socionics that opened the floodgates.

4. Socionics encourages and rewards braininess. Sure, there are plenty of people in socionics with personal problems; that's what brings most people to it in the first place. There's nothing shameful about that. Why would you ridicule scrawny or overweight people who go to the gym? But most people who get into socionics are also smart, and it can become a kind of social refuge for brainy people who lack community. It's okay to be smart in socionics, to speak (write) using nerdy terminology, to defy conventional wisdom and present your own wacky ideas to be shot down by others whom you can call names like "conservative" and "orthodox." Sure, there are some people who just pretend to be brainy (just as there are people at the gym who pretend to be buff), but at least the community culture rewards braininess due to the nature of the subject. When I first got in contact with the Ukrainian socionics community, particularly publishing or researching socionists rather than aficionados, it was the first place I had been where you could be as brainy as you wanted. All the communities I'd experienced before that — even my high-achiever high school and university — still had this attitude like, "Hey now, don't get too brainy on us here, hahaha." Through socionics, I've met some really intelligent people that I wouldn't have met otherwise. This has been really valuable to me. Since then, I've found a few other places where braininess is accepted and rewarded, but socionics was the first.

5. Socionics opens the door to higher levels of objectivity, helping to weed out typocentrism and other kinds of biases from one's worldview. It allows you to see, as William James says in Pragmatism, that each man's philosophy is merely a justification of his native disposition. We will likely continue to act in typocentric ways, but at least we can begin to remove biases from our conscious values and worldview, granting other people the possibility of living a legitimate and dignified life according to our own definitions, though we choose to live differently. A study of socionics clearly suggests that 1) there are different legitimate life strategies, each with its potential pitfalls, 2) no type-determined trait can be considered a defect in any sort of intellectually honest way (i.e. such a defect is in the eye of the beholder), and 3) many of the things that bug us in other people are outgrowths, or extreme expressions, of fairly typical and basically benign qualities, thus 4) the "defect," if any, is in the disbalance or misapplication of traits, not in the underlying traits themselves. From these thoughts it seems natural to conclude that 1) each set of traits has its place and its purpose, 2) your own traits may "feel" superior, but only in some abstract ideal sense, as natural selection has decided otherwise by not granting them to everybody.

For me, these realizations have encouraged me to look beyond what works only for me and people like me and look for formulas that are more universal. At some point, I realized that philosophical acceptance of other temperament-determined strategies could itself be considered an extreme viewpoint, given that rejection thereof is a far more common occurence. Most likely, I am in fact less philosophically accepting than much of my writing suggests, and militant promoters of a temperament-specific philosophy are actually not as militant as they appear. In certain situations, I might turn out to be more vehement than them. At any rate, thanks to socionics I am able to think about these things much more clearly, recognizing potential biases as they crop up in myself and others.

So, there you have it. Socionics is awesome! Despite the lack of empirical studies and other flaws, and despite all the caveats and pitfalls. Probably, after reading this article, you will have realized that each person's response to idea systems is highly individual.

Feb 4, 2012

Socionics Model and Associations

Here's most of a letter I wrote recently regarding my typing of person that was discussed at the Polish socionics forum:

The fact is, all socionists type by association, even those who claim otherwise. And all socionists apply some type of "model thinking" — even those who seem to type by association alone. I used to make more of an effort to present my thoughts and conclusions in "model language," but I don't care enough anymore. It's a kind of intellectual laziness that comes from feeling that the socionics model as it is is doomed anyway. Associations with people of known types are actually a good way of typing (and again, every socionist relies on them heavily) inasmuch as the types of the people being associated with were properly identified and analyzed by the typer.

People would like to think that socionists have some strict algorithm they apply, because this would make socionics easier to understand, apply, and develop further. However, I don't believe I've ever met such a socionist. As soon as a person begins taking responsibility for his typings of others, he finds that "model thinking" alone is insufficient to produce a result. It's like listening to a technical debate between two experts and trying to determine who is right using your emotional reactions alone with no intellectual knowledge of the subject. Emotional reactions can be honed and cleansed of outside influences to the point that they become a fine tool for understanding many things, but they are clearly inadequate to deal with primarily intellectual matters. Likewise, socionics is primarily about how we respond to different types of people on a mostly unconscious level. Using "model thinking" alone (if that were even possible) can get you quite far, but it's not the ultimate arbiter. The ultimate arbiter is the network of invisible psychological-emotional connections between people, which are hard to put into "model language." Once this invisible network becomes evident, you can use that to correct your understanding of the model.

At least that's the way I see things. Many socionists who emphasize a model-heavy approach would disagree with me, particularly those who are unable to feel the nuances of interpersonal interaction on an emotional level. But actually the whole reason of socionics' existence is to explain relationships, and the better it does that, the more useful it becomes. The model is a semi-decent approximation at best.