11.01.2015

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Cognitive Theory

I've been meaning to write on this subject for a long time now (and in general to post content more frequently!) but my lingering insecurities, combined with excessive perfectionism, have made it difficult for me to get motivated enough to produce content of sufficient quality (as determined by my self-judgment) to warrant publication in a publicly accessible location (even despite my self-professed informality at the outset of my blogging adventures back in 2013). Luckily for me, I recently fortuitously discovered a fantastic blog written by a gentleman who calls himself Eevee (after the cute and fluffy Pok√©mon creature of the same name) and whose interests and writing style intersect with mine to a non-trivial extent. I was initially directed to his blog by my manager at my day job, who shared Eevee's highly detailed and informative post on the myriad things wrong with the PHP programming / web scripting language in our #random Slack channel. Since this discovery I have continued following Eevee's blog and hungrily devouring his excellent writing on various subjects (mostly related to programming, since that is his main area of expertise), going as far as to support him on Patreon (a useful site for supporting content creation, despite their unfortunate recent hack).

So what motivated me to write this post? The second post so far that I have commissioned Eevee to write (the first having been on the thorny but fascinating subject of the War on Drugs) was dedicated to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a "personality test" (a term with which I take some issue) that places people into one of 16 categories that indicate certain broad patterns of thinking and behavior specific to each type category. I had already done extensive research on the subject, having rekindled my interest in the subject this past spring while in the process of looking for a job and working with a talented Arlington County career counselor to this end, but I was curious to get Eevee's take on this subject given my strong suspicions that he, like me, is an INTP. I was pleased (but not surprised) that he produced a solid (and humorous, as is his trademark) post on the subject, and after reading it I couldn't help but comment on it and offer my own thoughts on the theory behind the MBTI (essentially a semi-brief and informal summary of my research findings). My comment on his post follows below (relevant links and formatting added after initial "publication").
Thanks for indulging me in what was honestly mostly a fishing expedition on my part to get you to cough up your own type to confirm my suspicions (I was 95% sure you would test as an INTP given your writing / discourse style). I have spent an inordinate amount of time studying MBTI theory, buying several e-books in the process (of varying quality) and devouring them in a relatively short time span this past spring. Oh, and I also read a bunch about socionics, which is the Russian take on MBTI that introduces a bunch of wacky new stuff that sort of meshes with MBTI in most places but seems to diverge a bit in others. Suffice it to say that socionics makes the MBTI cognitive stack theory look like it was written by a toddler, in the sense that it goes way more in-depth and actually proposes an ordering of 8 (!) functions instead of just 4, although it still manages to come up with the same(-ish) 16 types due to some fairly complicated theoretical calculus that does not allow certain combinations (because obviously there exist considerably more possible ways to arrange 8 distinct things than just 16).
OK, so back to MBTI itself. It tends to get a bad rap because it gets frequently misunderstood / misused (especially by corporate folks, as other commenters have pointed out) to put people in boxes (as you mentioned in your post). I totally get that, and I don't think it's fair to deny someone a job (or anything really) just based on their type (which can often be misrepresented by the actual MBTI instrument since people's general mood / affect at the time of taking the test can have an impact on their responses and hence their computed type). That being said, I have consistently been impressed with the predictive capabilities of the theory, in that certain types have tendencies to think and act in certain ways, in accordance with the ordering of their cognitive functions. I've made it a personal sport to try to guess at the types of the people I interact with regularly (and even the types of fictional characters from movies / TV shows), and not just make wild guesses but actually examine their outward behavior and theorize about what that implies about their inner cognitive preferences (and why).
I think that the superficial "horoscope" approach does the theory a great disservice, because it tries to boil down what is actually a pretty nuanced theory into generic-sounding personality profiles that may or may not match up with a person's experience in his / her own life. The problem is that MBTI is more of a high-level blueprint of how a person makes decisions (Judging) and takes in information from the world (Perceiving), which can manifest wildly differently in people based on the sum total of decisions they've made along the way in their lives and the specific experience they've had just living life, rather than a concrete and rigid explanation of every facet of a person's personality (which is most definitely not the goal of MBTI).
Experienced MBTI practitioners / researchers who actually know their stuff will in most cases shy away from calling it a personality typing system and instead describe it as a system for teasing out a person's cognitive preferences. This approach leaves a lot more leeway for personal differences, since preferences (whether influenced by nature, nurture, or more likely an interplay between the two) can manifest very differently based on idiosyncratic and environmental factors. Obviously the same falsifiability criticism still applies, since we still don't know why or how the theorized cognitive functions (Ti / Te, Ne / Ni, Si / Se, and Fe / Fi) actually come about and what they mean in terms of a person's actual neurological make-up (e.g. whether they correspond to specific neural networks that can be discerned in a lab setting).
For what it's worth, I really identify with my own type (surprise, surprise, I'm an INTP too) and am almost creeped out by how well Dr. A. J. Drenth's e-book on INTPs (oh yeah, he's an INTP too) describes my inner mechanisms and what they entail in terms of strengths and weaknesses (yes, weaknesses). The fact that a complete stranger can have this insane amount of insight into how I think and behave is a big part of why I'm a believer in MBTI, because without some predictive validity to the theory the chances of this happening are infinitesmally small (since getting so many things right by pure chance / guessing is highly unlikely – think of the whole "monkeys with typewriters eventually writing Shakespeare's works" thought experiment).
Not only that, but I have developed a pretty good "INTP radar", sniffing them out based on the almost immediate intellectual kinship I feel with them based on written or oral expressions of their ideas and theories. A couple of my friends are INTPs (not to mention my French teacher and mentor in high school), and the level of discussion about pretty much anything that I can have with them is virtually unmatched in the amount of intellectual satisfaction it provides (versus having similar conversations with people of other types). This is not to say that all INTPs are necessarily geniuses or anything, because I'm sure there are plenty of "dumb" INTPs out there, but the ones I've interacted with have generally been consistently insightful with regard to a wide variety of topics I care about (and plenty that I don't care that much about).
There's something magical about having my Ti and Ne interface with that of another person, whether via written medium or verbally. As Dr. Drenth puts it in his INTP book: "One of the beautiful things about written works is they can be carefully selected to match the INTP's current concerns and interests. Books may do for INTPs' Ne what new sexual experiences might for STPs or music for Feeling types." Of course this can be expanded to any piece of writing, like well-written and researched blog posts, which at least to some extent explains my ready willingness to buy a lot of books and just generally financially support the creation of quality content (e.g. via Patreon) from authors whose intellectual authority I trust.
Anyway, I could go on and rant about this stuff a lot more, because it is infinitely fascinating to me, but I guess my point is that there's a lot more depth to MBTI than most people realize, and I don't think it's fair for people to write it off as just another horoscope analogue, because it's so much more than that. It is certainly problematic, though, that lots of people have thoughts on MBTI, not all of which do the actual theory justice, and also that the theory itself is in my opinion not fully developed yet and can't really ever gain an aura of scientific acceptance until we figure out the underlying mechanisms by which these magical cognitive functions actually come about (e.g. by creating artificial intelligence / neural networks that process information in a way that approximates how people do it using their MBTI cognitive functions). Still, at least for me it's fun to think about this stuff and try to use it to better manage my real-life relationships with others based on a deeper understanding of how types interact with each other, understanding the limitations of not just other people's types but also my own and trying to work around them to develop more harmonious and fulfilling relationships with others (something that will always be a work in progress, of course).
/rant
I have a lot more thoughts on the MBTI and socionics, most of which will probably never see the light of day (such is the way of the INTP), but I think this is a decent enough approximation for now, not to mention that Eevee's post is already chock-full of information that I'm not going to reproduce here, for the sake of avoiding unnecessary redundancy and also sending him some web traffic (ha, just kidding, he gets way more traffic than I do since he's a way more prolific writer and a better programmer than I am). In any case, I will continue to refine my understanding of MBTI theory and apply it to my own life, and hopefully the theory itself will continue to be developed and maybe even validated scientifically (wouldn't that be nice!) at some point in the future.

--lbds137

5.09.2015

Time Capsule: High School Graduation Speech

While rifling through my room as part of some spring cleaning that I've been doing, I decided to flip through the various awards I've gotten throughout the years (how narcissistic of me), specifically those received in the era spanning from elementary school through the end of high school. Nestled together with my high school diploma, I found the printout for my long-lost valedictorian speech at the graduation ceremony (I no longer have the original digital version of it, although a recording of my speech exists somewhere on a DVD). Excited, I reread it and typed it up to save for posterity. Although the speech itself is overly referential and wouldn't make a lot of sense to someone who did not experience middle school and high school together with the Landon Class of 2009, I still think there's some merit to posting it for all to see. Personally, I am simultaneously embarrassed by and fascinated with the actual content of the speech, because it provides a window into a very different version of myself from almost exactly six years ago (whew, it's been a long time). In any case, here it is:
June 5th, 2009
It is an honor and a privilege to be speaking to you today, and I cannot fully express how thankful I am to everyone who has helped me get to where I am today. To my mom, who has always been there for me, and my dad, who has sometimes been there for me, to my teachers, who have not only taught me a great deal but have also helped shape me into the person I am today, to my friends and classmates, who have helped keep me sane and smiling throughout my years here at Landon, to the members of the Landon community, who lovingly accepted me into their great bear family and have been supportive every step of the way, and to countless others who have touched my life in countless ways, I owe a great debt of gratitude.
Coming to the United States at the age of nine was quite an ordeal, but I’m happy my mom brought me here, because it’s such a great place. The first few months at school were a bit awkward, however, because I didn’t know any slang and had no idea what some kids were calling me. Luckily, I had a friend who brought me up to speed and taught me every swear word in the book. After two years of public school, I found Landon, or rather Landon found me. It was a great fit, though it took a little while to get used to the dress code.
Middle School was kind of rough, but given all of the changes taking place all at once, I think it went pretty well. I remember how many of us hated our trip to Echo Hill, not knowing how much worse Woodlands would be, how awkward a certain segment in Mr. Lewis’ class was, and how a number of us tried Mr. Wu’s patience on a daily basis in Chorus, and later Choir and Glee Club. I remember how everyone started using the word “defenestrate” after having learned it in Mr. Harding’s geography class, how some of us sent hundreds of blank emails to each other just to be annoying, and how boring Julius Caesar was. I remember how bad we smelled after Woodlands, how noisy and obnoxious we were in Mr. Carter’s class, especially during the art history segment, and how awesome Mr. Johnson’s Ancient History class was. Yes, Middle School was certainly an interesting experience.
Upper School was very different from Middle School. No longer did we have to put up with assigned lunch seating, and we slowly became more and more independent. We had a huge influx of kids freshman year, which completely changed the social structure and made things a lot more interesting. Freshman year was a lot of fun – we had a blast at Camp Letts, tried to walk in a straight line while wearing beer goggles in Mr. Lawson’s Life Skills class, and dissected rats in Ms. Osborne’s class. Sophomore year was pretty good, too – I remember how Mike Mutryn made Mr. Fed’s PowerPoint a lot more moist, how my old laptop made me walk right into a “that’s what she said” joke, and how we all learned just how awesome free periods are. Junior year was a lot harder – we all got to see the inhumane side of Humanities, and we learned to hate the SAT – but quite a few of us had some fun playing L.I.F.E. and making fun of Justin Donaldson. Senior year was a mixed bag – first semester was really stressful, as each of us scrambled to shore up his GPA and to complete his college applications on time, but second semester was a vacation by comparison. One of the most important things I learned all year was that I had been using my electric razor incorrectly – apparently I wasn’t supposed to use shaving cream. I also learned that you don’t mess with raging rapids, especially not when you’re on a raft with five other people.
All joking aside, Landon has been a great place to be, and I’m sad to say goodbye. I will never forget the life lessons Landon has taught me and the strength of the bear brotherhood. We have had some good times together, and I’m confident that we will have good times in the future. We will all soon be attending fine institutions that will continue to prepare us for anything life can throw at us. Most importantly, we will always be the Landon Class of 2009, which means we will keep in touch with each other and will return to Landon as alumni more often than our busy schedules will permit. To all my ‘09 brothers, and to everyone in the audience, I wish you the best in your future endeavors.
Thank goodness, the cringefest is now over. I hope it was at least mildly entertaining.

--lbds137

4.26.2015

In Honor Of National Poetry Month

I almost missed the occasion due to ignorance (my 7th and 8th grade English teacher's efforts notwithstanding), but today I remembered that April is National Poetry Month in the United States and realized that I only have a handful of days left to use it as an excuse to post some more of my homegrown poetry. The poetic series (really, just a humble "dilogy") under this post's spotlight deals with the complex subjects of consciousness and cognition, particularly the subjective nature of perception as experienced on the individual level. We often take the intricate machinery of our minds for granted, but during instances of altered mental states (such as those encapsulated by the continuum that separates wakefulness and sleep) we are given the uncommon opportunity to witness the sometimes beautiful and often bizarre inventions of the creative subconscious, unmolested by the filters that are normally in place when we operate on the normal level of waking consciousness.
[ I ]

Ruminations upon the state of the world
Electrify the neural conduits of my brain,
Buzzing along majestic axons unfurled,
Opening new paths in a quest to explain
Opaque overtones and Orwellian occurrences.

Tarnished by habitual consumptive recurrences,
My mental motivation molds and mildews,
Enfeebled by excess, entitlement, and ease,
Suspending earnest goals and ambitious to-dos
'Cause it's easier to wait for calmer seas.

Overwhelming at first, sober lucidity paves
The way to the light, leaving behind dank caves
To pursue true greatness unfettered by fear,
Youthful and confident that I belong here.

[ II ]

Softly drifting forward under a bright yet burdened sky,
Weary travelers thoughtfully reflect on journeys past,
Entranced by the implications of a question: Why?
Earnest explorations of a realm intricately rich and vast,
Together with insatiable curiosity, certainly play a part.

Shapes of habitual mundanity shatter and become art,
Undulating rhythmically yet unpredictably, like unending
Random digits in the natural constants, proceeding without
Regard for established orderly ways but rather bending
Every physical rule with absolute glee, devoid of doubt.

Novel ideas and perceptions often face stiff opposition,
Driven by fear, tradition, and implicit societal imposition.
Explorers defy convention and give up easy acceptance,
Rather forging an uncertain path towards transcendence.
These poems were written almost exactly five months apart, the former in late November and the latter literally today. Although the first part was written with a sequel in mind, the minutiae and trivia of daily life caused me to put that project on indefinite hold, until I had a sudden burst of inspiration and wrote the second part this afternoon. I had considered reversing the displayed order of the poems to violate their true chronology, but then I decided that their natural order works better thematically. Feel free to reverse the order mentally if you think I made the wrong call – after all, these poems are about subjective experience, not only mine as the author but also yours as the reader!

--lbds137

2.23.2015

Close Encounters Of The Canine Kind

There are few experiences in life that are as raw and visceral as sex and fear. In the name of decency and privacy, I will probably never write about the former, but in the aftermath of today's events I am compelled to write about the latter.

Ever since I was a little child, I have never been particularly fond of dogs as a species. Setting aside pragmatic concerns such as hygiene (dogs like to get dirty and stinky if given the opportunity) and time commitment (pet dogs need an escort in order to properly do their business outside), what I take issue with most regarding dogs is their natural potential for aggressiveness and ferocity. I discovered this potential at an early age, having had the misfortune to be bitten by both stray and pet dogs, both times in the same park near my childhood home.

Although I was spared the unpleasant experience of the old-fashioned series of abdominal anti-rabies injections after being bit by the stray, I still had to endure several comparatively less painful shots, in addition to the terrifying encounter itself. The second bite was different in that I was riding a bike and the aggressor was a pet rather than a feral dog, and I was also unprepared for the bite since I thought the dog was only playfully chasing me as I rode laps around the park. Still, both events left a lasting impression upon my young mind, and it took me a long while to get over these negative experiences and begin developing a more neutral attitude towards canines.

Imagine the relief I felt when, upon returning to Bucharest for my first visit in almost four years, I was informed that the stray dog problem was finally resolved (unfortunately, it seems that it took the death of a young child for things to finally change). Although my father cautioned me that, despite the best efforts of animal control personnel, some strays likely remained in more remote pockets, I put an excessive amount of faith in the abilities of the Romanian authorities and decided that it ought to be perfectly safe to go running anywhere in the city. This is not to say that I recklessly threw caution to the wind and deliberately sought danger, for this was not the case, but I didn't worry much about taking detours on a whim for the purpose of urban exploration. Having already completed two runs without incident, I developed a false sense of security and paid less attention to my surroundings as I let whimsy guide my path, unknowingly taking a wrong turn along the way and ending up in a less traveled part of the city.

I did develop a slight suspicion that had I ended up in a different place from where I intended to go, but I shrugged and continued onward, figuring that I would find my way eventually and color in my Strava heatmap in the process. It came as a complete surprise to me, then, when I unexpectedly ran into a pack of five stray dogs on the shore of Lake Floreasca (a mostly drained, muddy shell of its former self). When I entered their line of sight, the feral creatures almost immediately started running towards me, barking furiously. At that point, I entered an almost dreamlike mental state, with a sinking feeling in my stomach and thoughts along the lines of "this can't be happening to me".

At first I tried the calm approach, orienting my palms parallel to the ground and verbally pleading with the dogs to leave me alone. Once the dogs darted towards me, I realized that this approach wouldn't work, so my self-preservation instincts took over and I adopted an aggressive stance, stomping the ground, yelling, and inching forward toward the dogs to get them to back off. This worked, albeit earning me only a foot or two of extra distance from the snarling animals, but it was enough for me to get a running start in the opposite direction. Unfazed, they started chasing me, and when they got within five or six inches of my exposed calves I turned around and repeated the aggressive stomp maneuver, once again getting them to back off a bit.

The thing that worried me the most was the dogs' intelligent attempts to surround me: as two of them gave chase behind me, two passed me on either side and tried to cut off my escape (the fifth dog was a bit late to the party, but nonetheless it caught up and joined the angry posse). I had to engage in a delicate balancing act, stomping towards the flanking dogs and also paying attention to the one nearly nipping at my heels. After three or four repetitions of the stomping game, I finally caught a break: a white van drove down a perpendicular street and turned in the direction the dogs were coming from, scaring them off as it almost ran them over. Still, I desperately wanted to get out of there, so I appealed to the kindness of a lady in her compact car, heading in the same direction as the van.

I knocked on her passenger window, presumably looking like I had seen a ghost, so she rolled down the window and I breathlessly explained that I was being chased by dogs. She agreed to give me a ride to a safer place, and I apologized to her profusely for my physical state (I had slipped and fallen in a mud puddle during my getaway, luckily getting back up quickly enough to avoid being bitten). Despite the emotional overload caused by the fear response (good old fight-or-flight), I still managed to remember to turn off my GPS for the duration of the quick drive and then turned it back on once I got out of the car and started running back home. I even contemplated the fact that I'd probably want to stitch together the two GPX files generated by Strava once I finished my run, just for the sake of having a more or less contiguous run map (the result isn't perfect, but it's certainly the best I could have hoped for given the circumstances).

As I ran the rest of the way home, I must confess that I briefly indulged vivid mental fantasies of returning to the scene and "euthanizing" all five dogs for the anguish they had caused me (and to prevent others from suffering a similar fate), although of course pragmatic concerns quickly put an end to that line of thought. Ultimately, when I finally walked in the door, I felt more scared than angry, but I was also relieved and thankful that I had emerged from such peril with only a muddy right flank.

--lbds137