Dec 18, 2013

Lifestyle, Routines, and Creative Output

I've been writing now for 12 years, ever since I was 24 years old (before that I kept journals). Much or most of the writing has been done in bursts of up to several thousand words on a nearly daily basis for weeks at a time. Sometimes I've gone weeks and months without writing anything "productive" at all.

During my better periods the writing has gone into some larger project such as a website or a future book. During less productive periods I'll still continue to write, but in the form of essays or pieces that almost no one will read. It seems that during such periods I lack the will and purposefulness to work on large-scale endeavors and simply continue to write because thoughts and impressions build up in my mind.

Lately I've been building up a lot of momentum in life and seem to have begun a new highly productive phase where I'm working on projects that are going somewhere. It feels great to have overcome the doldrums and doubts of the past few years.

What's different this time around is that my lifestyle and routines are entirely self-crafted. I live alone and have no committed relationship that would require making compromises. It appears I've managed — finally — to find that odd combination of factors that keeps me in good spirits and allows for sustained high creative output. As I've mentioned in past posts, my particular formula includes nutrition, exercise, walking, and a variety of shared activities and often intense socializing.

Due to my high sensitivity, I also prefer to protect myself from sensory and information overload by limiting Internet access, shunning media entertainment, and spending large amounts of time alone. I find I (and probably other highly sensitive people) don't do very well in standard conditions, but flourish in special conditions.

Since my current lifestyle fills my needs well and is almost entirely immune to the most common types of external shakeups (relationship turmoil, job changes, addictive behaviors, etc.), I see no reason why I shouldn't be able to continue living this way for another 1, 5, 10, or 50 years. Indeed, there is a new sense of permanence that I haven't experienced for a long time, if ever.

Then I come across this book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. The book contains descriptions of the daily routines of over 150 well-known creative individuals who lived in during the past 400 years.

The typical creative person spends 2-4 hours a day engaging in the most important — and demanding — aspect of the creative process: writing, composing, drafting, or creating original work. This is usually done in complete isolation with no distractions. There are exceptions, but they are few. The creative work is usually done first thing in the day, before errands and socializing. If the creative person has a regular job, it is almost always something that doesn't tax the mind, leaving the person free to think their own thoughts.

Productive creative people also usually "self-medicate" in order to keep their mind in shape for their work. Tools used include: alcohol, nicotine, caffein, amphetamines, and sleeping pills. Other mechanisms include: exercise, meditation, long walks, and sex. I apparently am in a minority with my rejection of addictive substances, but I too do a number of things to influence my hormones and neurotransmitters in a particular way: I engage in near-daily varied exercise, I strip down and take sunbaths during the colder part of the year, and I swear by my fermented cod-liver oil with butter oil.

Another universal among productive creative people is that all of them have a lifestyle that satisfies their needs for communication and socializing on a daily basis. I've come to see this as perhaps the most crucial element of personal productivity. While socializing needs vary from person to person, there were almost no creative people who didn't need a hefty dose of interpersonal communication every single day.

Typically, to sustain creative output people need both someone to bounce ideas off of and share impressions with a regular basis (usually daily or on most days) and unstructured or unpredictable socializing (generally daily). This mirrors what I discovered from long-distance hiking: a good day includes conversation with a friend, a number of interactions with strangers or acquaintances, and at least some group interaction. It can all total up to as little as two hours. Productive artists have found ways to get these three components of communication in a high-quality form on a daily or near-daily basis.

For some more introverted types, it seems that some of this meaningful interaction can be had online. That definitely doesn't work for me or for most other people.

Recharged from an evening of socializing, boozing, card-playing, or whatever she finds relaxing, the productive artist goes to bed and wakes up the next day to continue the thing that their life revolves around — their creative work. They see it as their primary activity and move everything out of the way in order to engage in it.

It seems that creativity, like willpower, is a limited resource. In order to be highly creative in one part of life, one needs to automate other areas. This could mean taking a maid or a cook (yep, I've done that) or putting in the effort to learn those skills oneself and turn them into routines (I've done that, too). It could mean paying the bills through work that one doesn't have to think about much (my favorite was packing Pepsi-cola) or by doing work that is closely related to one's primary creative work.

Doing creative work requires a lot of planning and coordination of complex components, whether parts in a symphony, characters and plot in a novel, or elements of a building design. After straining his brain's executive functions for several hours, the artist may wish to let them rest for the remainder of the day. Having to plan, manage, coordinate, and execute logistics in one's everyday life almost always uses up energy that might have been spent on one's creative product. Developing near-fixed daily routines (i.e. planning once and then just following that plan) and outsourcing management are typical ways that artists maintain their productivity.

While there are a few basic commonalities in the lives of all productive artists, each has found a lifestyle formula that is well-suited to her personality and physical constitution. What works in one's youth may not work in one's maturity. In any case, the would-be artist must come to know himself and have the courage to craft a life that works for him.

Oct 2, 2013

Donations and Commenting Platform for Cyberstalkers

This blog is frequented by a cyberstalker who likes to leave strange, even obscene comments. Strange, but true!

Stalker, please use this blog post for your comments. Everyone else, just ignore this and read the other posts of this blog. I apologize for the strange and obscene comments. I can do nothing about them except mark them as "spam" and hope that the Blogger platform will eventually figure out that they are to be deleted automatically. I can't wait for the day!

Recently, the stalker has begun sending me money by PayPal. To continue this practice, please use the "Donate" button above, since using payment buttons on one of my other sites suggests that you are asking for the provision of a service. To avoid misunderstandings, use only this "Donate" button here, since I have no intention of providing you services of any kind.

UPDATE 10/07/2013

I have found a clever way to keep the cyberstalker from posting on my blog that allows me not to have to read her messages. But this means that from now on all blog comments will be moderated.

History (for the curious) 
I have never met the cyberstalker in person and have had no contact with her other than e-mail (briefly, before her stalking behavior emerged, over 2 years ago) and some exasperated exchanges on forum (which I left in part due to the harassment, but also for other reasons) and in blog comments. I never had any intention of pursuing a relationship of any kind with her and never gave her any encouragement in pursuing me further that a rational person would interpret as encouragement. She actually called me once on my cell phone, to which I answered, "I have no intention of talking to you" and hung up. I consider her to be mentally ill, probably suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Luckily, she is very low on funds and will likely never have the money to attempt to visit me in person. For a long time I simply ignored and then deleted comments on my blog, but then I decided to change tactics and systematically respond with aggressive derision and sarcasm, since the image of me that attracted her in the first place was that of a tolerant and understanding person. I hoped that by causing her mental and emotional pain she would stop associating me with something positive and be able to give up her attachment. For a while it seemed like this might be working, but ultimately it became clear that I would have to invest much more time and energy in attacking her then I cared to put in. So I have decided to retreat to my former strategy of ignoring, deleting, and not responding to anything, since it requires the smallest effort from me. The stalker also apparently sends me emails, but they are immediately deleted by my email filter. 

Sep 4, 2013

Optimizing for Happiness

I like using the concept of "optimization." Optimization is central to any serious endeavor. For example, in competitive long-distance hiking and cycling, one must optimize a lot of different things simultaneously: gear weight, gear functionality given probable risks and wear and tear, personal conditioning, diet, habits of energy expenditure and personal upkeep (both physical and mental/emotional).

But there is one category of optimization that trumps the rest: optimization of time needed to get from start to finish. One may choose to take slightly heavier equipment if it cuts down on maintenance time, if the sleep quality will be better, if it will improve emotional well-being and resilience, etc., because each of these things in turn will have an effect on the total time needed to reach the finish line.

One may avoid going "all out" in favor of a pace that is right at the threshold of sustainability. One may look for just the right amount of sleep that allows one to walk or cycle as long as possible while still retaining most of the restorative benefits of sleep. And one will develop habits that keep all systems functioning at a sustainable level without significant dips in performance that would require a longer restorative period and thus hurt the finishing time.

In our lives we also try to optimize many things at once: health, fitness, attractiveness, professional success, finances, quality of childcare, acquisition of important skills, relaxation quality, relationship health, and general life satisfaction.

Each of these things is very important. But is there one category of optimization that trumps the others, as in competitive sports (finishing time, points, etc.) or big business (the balance sheet)? I believe there is — or can be, — and that is to optimize for happiness.

In the past I've written about the somewhat conflicting goals of pursuing happiness versus pursuing biological success. I've found it useful to view biological urges and various personal tendencies as being important to happiness, but as having a life of their own. If given free reign, they quickly become destructive (lead to unhappiness), but if too tightly controlled, another kind of unhappiness results. The way to find the happy medium and optimal expression of one's different parts and mechanisms is to make maximizing happiness one's goal.

What would your life look like if you optimized for maximum happiness? Where and with whom would you live? Where, how, with whom, and how much would you work? What, where, and how would you eat? How would you balance your needs for privacy, companionship, and community?

These questions might sound reminiscent of mundane questions like "what would your dream job be?" or "if you could do anything and get paid for it, what would it be?" The answers to questions like these tend to be things like "travel the world" and "work on a laptop from a Bali beach" and other things that people commonly dream of.

But is what you dream of what would actually make you happy? Psychological research suggests not. People are notoriously bad at predicting how different events will affect their contentment. I suppose people's dreams are more geared towards achieving some variety of biological success than towards happiness.

Now imagine you are participating in a competition. A massive prize goes to the person who achieves the highest average happiness level over a year-long period as measured by some objective metric. You have now turned into a professional happiness seeker; instead of being one of many things you are trying to achieve at the same time, achieving objectively measurable high levels of happiness has become your single most important goal.

Now how would you approach the pursuit of happiness? I'll bet you'd obtain some kind of "happiness meter" and keep track of it on a regular basis during the day. Maybe you'd take notes on what things seem to cause the peaks and valleys. Perhaps there are some tricks to avoid the dips in happiness you are used to experiencing. Maybe, with an idiosyncratic set of tweaks arrived at by trial and error, you can maintain your happiness at a consistently high level over a long period of time.

Somewhere up there is your theoretical personal happiness ceiling, determined by genes and psychological makeup. "Extreme" happiness levels probably express themselves quite differently in different people.

This is just a thought experiment, but I think this is a worthwhile pursuit — perhaps the most worthwhile pursuit a person can undertake. I suspect that most of the things that make us happy are quite close to home and can be achieved with some important tweaks here and there.

Something to think about: do happy people reproduce as much as those who pursue biological success?

Aug 29, 2013

Am I a Body or a Mind?

At the moment I'm experiencing a really satisfying and upbeat period in my life. I have a pretty clear idea about why I feel so good.

I am physically active and engage in some kind of group and individual sports on a daily basis, including table tennis, indoor rock climbing, ultimate frisbee, a brief set of high-intensity exercises, and frequent backpacking trips. As opposed to an individual fitness regimen, I do these activities with or around other people and can't wait for the next session. The social benefits and camaraderie are substantial and increasing as time goes on. I am in great shape, but it's really my body's functionality and health that I'm developing, not just my external physique. The better shape my body is in, the more I feel like using it whenever I have the chance. I look for opportunities to immerse myself in ice-cold mountain streams, something that would have made me cringe two years ago. I enjoy climbing over obstacles and hanging on tree branches. Not long ago, I went canyoning with a group of 10 people. The physical challenges and bonding made for a powerful experience, and I had that rare feeling: this is what we were made to do.

I have finally put in the critical mass of effort to turn cooking for myself into a stable, nearly automatic habit. For the most part, I know what to eat and why. The food I eat tends to be highly nutritious, and I rarely let myself get very hungry like I have been prone to do in the past. I am taking a supplement that is delivering some of the vitamins and nutrients I was low in, and my vitamin D levels are approaching optimal values. I can tell my stress hormones are down and my serotonin and confidence are way up. From the different blood tests I've taken in the past two years, it is safe to assume my vitamin and mineral levels are up and my endocrine system is in a lot better shape (I won't be able to test them for another few months). My levels of alertness are much better; my body feels rested and I no longer fret so much about getting enough sleep.

My mind is clear and sharp, and I once more feel like tackling hard work requiring extended focus and concentration. I love being able to fully concentrate on projects and skill acquisition once again. I feel like I'm finally moving forward in life rather than trying to catch up to where I once was. I've managed to finally set up a great living situation that I expect to maintain long-term. Crucially, instead of having Internet at home, I have 2 places within a 6 minute walk that I regularly visit for online work. One is a hostel with wi-fi that has allowed me to use their wi-fi for a reasonable by-the-hour price. Naturally, I'm writing this post at home where I can fully concentrate on my thoughts without distraction.

I went through some hard times in the past 3 years, including the end of a relationship, adjusting to life in a new country with a new culture and language and no friends, loneliness and loss of motivation, depressed immune function and frequent illness, passing out and narrowly escaping death from carbon monoxide poisoning, changing residence multiple times, living with transient foreigners while trying to establish myself long-term in a new country, banking on a big new project and seeing it fail completely before ever really starting, facing imminent financial problems, and waffling over important decisions. That is the period I came out of this summer.

There are other good things currently going on besides what I've mentioned, but I really feel the main story is about my body and the improvements in my physical life. I was reflecting about this today when I realized that back when I first began studying socionics deeply, I was in a very different state of mind. Whereas now I am very focused on my body, back then at age 23-26 I identified intensely with my mind. What was most important to my self-identity were functions and preferences embedded in my brain and discerning how they expressed themselves and interacted with those of other people.

Now I am firmly in a stage where I identify with my body. All those powers of observation and discernment that were once focused on mental functions and interaction patterns are now directed at physiology. I now study and internalize information about neurotransmitters, hormones, nutrients, and physical processes just like I once mulled over socionics. Well, maybe not quite as much.

When I let on to people the degree to which I've studied my own physical functioning, I find that some are turned off and think there's something unnatural or counterproductive about thinking so much about these things. This reminds me of people's reactions to socionics. People imagine themselves doing what I'm doing and thinking what I'm thinking and sense that it would throw things off balance in their lives. But I'm different from them and it's perfectly okay for me. Self-study for me is like watching a good movie for someone else. I derive great satisfaction and insight from my deep study and self-tracking practice and increasingly have that feeling of possessing a kind of secret esoteric weapon that I had during the period I was most focused on socionics.

I love knowing that I possess accurate, objective knowledge about the different components of my life and how I feel. I love being able to know that this month is objectively better than the previous one and in what ways, and that I have not felt this good this long for well over two years. And I know which areas contribute most to this feeling and which areas are deficient and can be corrected to further improve my life.

For now at least, I am definitely a body. I look forward to continuing to develop its potential and optimize for health and happiness.

Aug 9, 2013

Living Well — Catalog of Sources

I've realized recently that my study of psychology (including socionics), physiology, nutrition, etc. is all based on an interest in living well. By "living well" I am talking not about standard of living or material success, but achieving as high a degree of happiness and contentment as is possible.

Different facets of good living have interested me at different times. Perhaps due to upbringing, my interest in mental and interpersonal aspects initially far outstripped my awareness of influences from the body and nutrition. Now these last two have become very important, and I am slowly becoming something of an expert on them and have had a fair bit of success implementing my knowledge of them in my day-to-day life.

Here is a kind of catalog of good and very good books I have read recently that may be of interest to readers. Following each book I assign it a category in parenthesis and give a very short summary. I heartily recommend all these books.

Rick's "Living Well" Catalog

(last update Aug. 9, 2013)

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (psychology, lifestyle) — proven contributors to happiness according to scientific research, plus some philosophy

The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions (general psychology) — the seven basic emotional systems, their origins and operations

The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal (lifestyle) — what to do to get your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual engines running properly

The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It (general psychology) — facts and studies that illuminate how our minds work and how we are able to concentrate and focus our will

The Highly Sensitive Person (psychology) — people who are prone to overarousal, the challenges they face, and the individualistic lifestyles they lead

The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast! (skill acquisition) — the principles and practice of skill acquisition with a number of practical examples

The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman (physiology) — developing our bodies' potential through wise nutrition, training, and technique, supported by abundant research and self-experimentation

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (nutrition) — study of traditional societies, their overall health, and what they ate

Apr 19, 2013

Interesting Video about Jungian Types and Math Learning

A link to this TEDx presentation was recently posted by Jonathan in the comments of my "Fooled by Socionics" post.

My critique of this video will be similar to what I've been saying about typology for a long time.

It's really interesting to hear about individual differences that affect learning, and I will be excited to hear more about this. On the surface it would seem that the research conducted supports Jungian typology. Students are divided into types, and far-reaching differences in learning processes are discovered.

What this proves is that whatever algorithm was used to divide the students into groups (types) was to some degree predictive of their behavior when learning math. What is not clear is:

  • The relationship between the algorithm used and the theory of Jungian typology. In other words, what assumptions were made in producing the algorithm that do not necessarily directly derive from the theory?

    What I'm hinting at here is that the researchers' explanations of types may differ from those of other Jungian typologists, because the theory is basically unquantifiable. Different researchers might therefore end up with different divisions of schoolchildren with higher or lower predictive value.

  • Is the algorithm used by the researchers actually the best possible one for the purposes of this study? In other words, is there another way of dividing up the children that would be even more predictive of their behavior when learning math?

Occasionally socionists in Ukraine and Russia produce similar kinds of studies which are often tantalizing, but always inconclusive. For typologists in general, the focus is to generate empirical support for the theory rather than the best possible predictive outcome. I don't have much respect for this approach anymore. Maybe it's okay for the early investigation stage of new hypotheses, but it's not okay for a mature theory.

What I mean is that if we have a method "A" that we suppose influences outcome "B," then what typologists always do is — "let's apply our A and see what B we get." They never focus on maximizing the outcome! That would be — "let's see what A will maximize B."

This is probably the single most important idea to take away from my recent posts about why I have left socionics behind. This is what science is all about, and typologists — some bluntly, others more subtly — resist it for whatever reason (laziness and boredom, overconfidence, lack of acceptance of such research among their reference group, lack of research funds, etc.).

Going back to the TEDx video, let's imagine the research was not to "see what this way of applying Jungian Typology can predict" but to "see what method we can find for grouping children into learning groups with the greatest predictive power."

They could even start off using their existing typological method just to get things going. Then, they would look at how these children responded to different math learning methods and environments. Then they would consider whether they might move some children from one group to another based on their observed behavior, or whether there were large enough differences within a single group to justify dividing it further. Then they would try to formulate the key characteristics separating one group from another. They would have to decide whether these characteristics were more discrete or continuous and at what threshold level a person might be switched from one group to another. Finally, they would work on developing the most effective method for dividing children into these learning groups.

At some point, they would have to deal with the problem of the 99 percentile and 1 percentile math students who learn so much faster or slower than the other people with their supposed learning style that it is simply impractical to leave them in the same group.

The method produced might be a 5-minute test instead of a hours-long talking session on the differences between types. Or it might be a brain scan or physiological test done while performing different tasks. Maybe the behavior of interest is so complex that, for now, the only way to confidently identify it is in the classroom, over a longer time span. This might even lead researchers to say — "let's just use our talking session on Jungian types plus the following additional tweaks."

At any rate, the method would be optimized for enhancing math learning and would not necessarily predict any of the other things that Jungian typology is supposed to predict. But it would be rock-solid and other researchers could take it and build upon it.

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. 

- - - - - - - -

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. 

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.

Apr 8, 2013

Reexamining Socionics: Information Aspects

This is a continuation of my effort to critically examine the foundations of socionics, which I began in January.

Information aspects (note: NOT "elements of information metabolism," i.e. "mental functions") are a not-terribly-productive construct introduced by Augusta as she developed her unique perspective on Jung's Typology. Instead of being merely "modes of processing information" as in Jung's Typology, the psychic functions became instruments for "perceiving, processing, and conveying" information. Augusta saw the functions as responding to different streams of information coming in from the outside world. A stream of information could then be labeled by the corresponding Jungian function that processed it. The extraverted sensing-function processes extraverted sensing-information, and so forth. One person's extraverted sensing responds to extraverted sensing-information and conveys extraverted sensing-information to the outside world, and another person's extraverted sensing picks up that extraverted sensing-information and responds to it in a way defined by the position of extraverted sensing in his socionic type. The response might tend to be confident and authoritative, it might be curious and accepting, helpless, narrow-minded and categorical, etc. depending on the person's type.

I say that information aspects have not been very productive as a construct because there is really not much to be said about them other than "extraverted sensing-information is what the extraverted sensing-function perceives and produces," etc. They can't be defined in isolation from psychic functions; something is only "information" if it is a message that is potentially perceivable by a human observer. Augusta gave the information aspects more abstract definitions (see here, for instance), almost suggesting she first divided up reality and types of information, then found that her division matched Jung's functions. I'm certain it was actually the other way around.

Augusta's descriptions have been revised and concreticized by subsequent authors to more closely match how people of different types perceive the world in practice. And, to be honest, nothing much has been said or done about information aspects (also called "information elements") since Augusta wrote about them. Usually, they are simply confused with IM elements (elements of information metabolism), which are another name for the Jungian functions. In fact, most professional socionists even confuse them (another symptom perhaps?).

So, is there any use in dividing up information into different types? I think yes, if the division is arrived at empirically — rather than off the top of one's head — and improves understanding of the real world. In the case of socionics it appears that neither is true. The kind of division Augusta suggested is far from obvious. If one were to attempt to categorize information coming from a general science perspective, one would probably take a different approach:

  • By sensing organ/receptor: light and visual information, sounds, scents, tastes, tactile information, various bodily sensations, emotions and moods, etc.
  • By relevance to the perceiver: important/unimportant/potentially important, pleasant/unpleasant/neutral, etc.

If you had to divide up information, how would you go about it?

Feb 17, 2013

How Important Is Happiness Really?

It is generally assumed that happiness is not only the abstract "aim of our existence," but also one of the main sources of motivation in people's decision making. People choose to do one thing or the other based on whether they think it will make them happy or not. Research has shown that we're not always that good at predicting what will make us happy.

My observation both of myself and others has led me to the conclusion that, while happiness is indeed important to people, they generally assume (often incorrectly) that it will follow as a by-product of other, more important pursuits, which can be summed up as "biological success." 

Biological success is a complex concept encompassing physical health, sexual attractiveness, social standing (status, recognition, influence), material well-being, security, and prospects for the future. These are the kinds of things that probably most affect the likelihood that one will pass on one's genes to future generations. What evolution prescribes is an often conflicted mixture of things that "feel right" on a personal level and things that will gain the approval of one's particular reference groups and provide one's offspring with better chances of enjoying a secure position in that society.

According to this evolutionary logic, it seems that as soon as "sufficient" success is achieved in one area, one's attention shifts to another area of greater perceived weakness. This might be one way of looking at why people gain weight after marriage, sacrifice a degree of physical fitness to own a car (especially in poorer countries), or give up hobbies and social lives to become workaholics. In many contexts, these are choices that increase biological success — as long as most of the people around them are making the same choices. The logic is similar to that of an arms race. 

There is also a minority subculture of people who seem to do the opposite — give up things that would win them broad social approval in order to maximize physical fitness, richness in their emotional lives, enjoyment from hobbies and non-monetary pursuits, etc. I sympathize with this subculture, but I think they enjoy, on average, less reproductive success (I don't have data). Even these people are highly subject to social influence; they simply band into communities that have a somewhat different value system, and proceed to do things that will earn them esteem within that community.

At any rate, it seems exceedingly rare to meet someone outside of the psychotherapist's office for whom maximizing happiness is the chief aim of his/her existence. Even for these people, I think unhappiness only really becomes a problem when it is seen as a cause of failure in other areas of life. 

My own experience in studying happiness has been eye-opening. When I began my practice of self-quantifying (tracking various aspects of my everyday life through an increasingly sophisticated rating system), it was to learn more about how I was living my physical life. It became clear to me that my emotional life had an effect on my physical life, so I began to track that as well. Then, I added components of my intellectual life. I figured I needed a composite score, so I created an algorithm that accurately reflected my feeling of well-being for that day based on all the separate aspects. I also commented on specific things that influenced my well-being over that day. 

While this exercise was initially begun to get control over my physical health and was later expanded as an engaging intellectual exercise, it has served to help me dedicate a bit more of my attention to maximizing my own happiness as opposed to pursuing other goals. In my case, this is a much-needed shift. Now I can see how my quality of life has slowly been improving as a result. (Or at least so it seems at the moment. Like chronic dieters, maybe I'll just abandon the entire process when something really bad happens, then resume tracking when the worst is already behind me.) The act of consciously observing something changes behavior. At the same time, I note that I consistently do things, or allow things to happen, that hurt my feeling of happiness. 

For instance, virtually every time I make a move between countries, I have a depressed sense of happiness for at least several days before and after the move due to the stress of finishing up last-minute business, packing, losing sleep, being packed together with unfamiliar people for many hours, and figuring out my life in the new location. Yet I continue to do this time after time, believing that the stress is worth it because of some other more important objective. 

As I become more and more aware of what exactly is affecting my level of happiness, I increasingly gain the ability to make choices about whether or not to submit myself to different things whose effects on my happiness are now well established. I also spend more time thinking about whether there is some way to "tweak" things so that the same stimulus won't have a negative effect. And I've begun to place more value on things that have clearly been shown to enhance happiness, treating them like food or medication that needs to be taken in certain amounts on a regular basis. 

Now, if I can only get other people to start taking their own happiness more seriously, then that will raise the prestige of this activity and I can use my expertise in pursuing happiness to achieve greater biological success...

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 website will be preserved in its current entirety and moved to a sub-section of another of my websites,

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.