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Thread: Personality Studies and Wishful Thinking (or Why Cognitive Functions are Bullshit)

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    Freshman Member Array simulatedworld's Avatar
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    Default Personality Studies and Wishful Thinking (or Why Cognitive Functions are Bullshit)

    In my travels around this message board and my interactions with others and my endless inner speculation on the various ways of interpreting them, I believe I've discovered a few things.

    I became interested in MBTI because I liked the way it allowed me to see past my own personal biases by conceptualizing the behavioral attitudes of myself and others in terms of a theoretical, impersonal logic system. Since that's pretty much how I approach everything in my head, it was simultaneously humbling and fantastically interesting to finally be able to label and categorize (dare I say understand?) the highly complex game that is interpersonal interaction. I loved the way it could succinctly sum up quite a few behaviors in just a few words--at last, I'd found an overarching theory to summarize (at least partially) a wide range of varying and confusing data in a rationally consistent manner.

    I used to just dismiss every viewpoint that conflicted with mine as illogical, stupid and therefore inferior--until I finally stepped back and realized that hard logic is not the only value system in play, and more importantly, that maintaining logical dominance was not worth sacrificing the numerous benefits of approaching life's many situations with a variety of value systems. I'd been applying the same strategy to every situation, and naively convincing myself that no other strategy was worth paying any attention to. Boy, was I wrong.

    It's illogical to hold everyone else to a logical standard, I discovered.


    But upon joining this forum and beginning to post and read posts by others, I found that many people seemed to be vastly overestimating the predictive abilities of such a simple system. MBTI is useful when taken for what it is and nothing more: a vague and very general description of four behavioral attitudes and preferences which happen to coincide meaningfully with a number of common externalized behaviors.

    It's not really anything new or groundbreaking--it's just grouping similar behaviors in people and giving an arbitrary name to the internal assumptions about others that we all constantly make every day. He's a know-it-all; she's such a control freak; he's so whimsical. At the end of the day, it's nothing more than a sophisticated method of name-calling.

    So where does this cognitive function thing come in? How do we make the leap from grouping behaviors and using them to predict similar behaviors in similar situations to actually explaining the internal cognitive processes that result in these behavioral attitudes?

    Where does "Bob is a J because he prefers having a plan more often than not" get translated into such amateur psychoanalysis as, "Bob is motivated toward this preference by his Xi function (whose very existence is highly speculative and totally unsubstantiated)"?

    How do you know?

    I've been told repeatedly that I should forget profiles and change my approach to just functions, and after listening to several people explain the merits of such an approach I must say I disagree wholeheartedly. To make such a claim is to vastly overestimate the value of typology.

    It seems to me there are two ways to look at cognitive functions. One is just a restatement of the four MBTI letters (this is what you're getting if you take a so-called "cognitive functions test"), and the other is waaaay overstepping its boundaries in terms of predictive ability.

    When I read descriptions of the cognitive functions, I can't help but wonder how anyone could even hope to associate them with particular actions or behaviors in themselves, much less in others. That requires so many more levels of depth of understanding of another person's psyche than is even remotely possible for an outsider that the entire cognitive function system has yet to convince me that it has any value beyond that of a cute guessing game.

    It sure would be nice to be able to explain the entirety of human psychology in such a neat little eight-piece box, but that's frankly unrealistic, and anyone who believes otherwise is simply delusional. Any behavior can be caused by any function, and in reality is likely caused by numerous functions acting in concert. This can take so many different forms and appearances, and moreover is SO person-dependent, that functional theory has little to no value in the absence of firsthand information and subjective experience.

    And yet, proponents of Jung's functional theory truly believe they can accurately and reliably perceive, dissect and properly interpret the internal motivations for virtually everything everyone does. Sure, MBTI is based on Jung's theories, but it's also developed into a separate and mutually exclusive system. Prince is a Jehovah's witness; that doesn't mean I have to be in order to appreciate his work. Jung may have had a few good ideas that later served as the basis for MBTI, but he was by no means consistently reliable--I mean, the man believed in astrology, for fuck's sake.

    Try taking him with a little bigger grain of salt! As always I'm reminded of the parallels with poker:

    MBTI looks at a player, notices that he seems to bet in situation x more often than not, and makes a mental note that he probably prefers betting in situation x. This implies that he may also bet in similar situation y, but makes no attempt at explaining the unconscious internal motivations for why he bets this way.

    Jungian functional theory looks at a player, notices that he seems to bet in situation x more often than not, and then declares with impunity that he does this because he has an unconscious need to win every pot where situation x occurs in order to prop up his fragile self-esteem.

    Can you spot the difference?!

    I, for one, think Keirsey had it juuuust right--anything beyond categorization of behavioral attitudes, and you've wandered right over the line into purely speculative pop-psychology drivel. You can speculate as to internal psychological motivations until the cows come home, but without experiencing life through the eyes of another person, you simply do not have the data necessary to make any kind of useful functional assessment of others at all.

    There's a reason MBTI is taught in college psychology and business management courses, and Jung is not. If you think the four-variable system is too simplistic or otherwise inferior, it's because you expect typology to do more than it can reasonably be expected to.

    Hate to bruise egos here, but you are not "reading functions" in others any more than Taurus with a Virgo rising (or wtfever) is influencing human behavior--no matter how skilled you may be at twisting the data to trick yourself into making it seem internally consistent.
    If you could be anything you want, I bet you'd be disappointed--am I right?

  2. #2
    Babylon Candle Array Venom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by simulatedworld View Post
    In my travels around this message board and my interactions with others and my endless inner speculation on the various ways of interpreting them, I believe I've discovered a few things.

    I became interested in MBTI because I liked the way it allowed me to see past my own personal biases by conceptualizing the behavioral attitudes of myself and others in terms of a theoretical, impersonal logic system. Since that's pretty much how I approach everything in my head, it was simultaneously humbling and fantastically interesting to finally be able to label and categorize (dare I say understand?) the highly complex game that is interpersonal interaction. I loved the way it could succinctly sum up quite a few behaviors in just a few words--at last, I'd found an overarching theory to summarize (at least partially) a wide range of varying and confusing data in a rationally consistent manner.

    I used to just dismiss every viewpoint that conflicted with mine as illogical, stupid and therefore inferior--until I finally stepped back and realized that hard logic is not the only value system in play, and more importantly, that maintaining logical dominance was not worth sacrificing the numerous benefits of approaching life's many situations with a variety of value systems. I'd been applying the same strategy to every situation, and naively convincing myself that no other strategy was worth paying any attention to. Boy, was I wrong.

    It's illogical to hold everyone else to a logical standard, I discovered.


    But upon joining this forum and beginning to post and read posts by others, I found that many people seemed to be vastly overestimating the predictive abilities of such a simple system. MBTI is useful when taken for what it is and nothing more: a vague and very general description of four behavioral attitudes and preferences which happen to coincide meaningfully with a number of common externalized behaviors.

    It's not really anything new or groundbreaking--it's just grouping similar behaviors in people and giving an arbitrary name to the internal assumptions about others that we all constantly make every day. He's a know-it-all; she's such a control freak; he's so whimsical. At the end of the day, it's nothing more than a sophisticated method of name-calling.

    So where does this cognitive function thing come in? How do we make the leap from grouping behaviors and using them to predict similar behaviors in similar situations to actually explaining the internal cognitive processes that result in these behavioral attitudes?

    Where does "Bob is a J because he prefers having a plan more often than not" get translated into such amateur psychoanalysis as, "Bob is motivated toward this preference by his Xi function (whose very existence is highly speculative and totally unsubstantiated)"?

    How do you know?

    I've been told repeatedly that I should forget profiles and change my approach to just functions, and after listening to several people explain the merits of such an approach I must say I disagree wholeheartedly. To make such a claim is to vastly overestimate the value of typology.

    It seems to me there are two ways to look at cognitive functions. One is just a restatement of the four MBTI letters (this is what you're getting if you take a so-called "cognitive functions test"), and the other is waaaay overstepping its boundaries in terms of predictive ability.

    When I read descriptions of the cognitive functions, I can't help but wonder how anyone could even hope to associate them with particular actions or behaviors in themselves, much less in others. That requires so many more levels of depth of understanding of another person's psyche than is even remotely possible for an outsider that the entire cognitive function system has yet to convince me that it has any value beyond that of a cute guessing game.

    It sure would be nice to be able to explain the entirety of human psychology in such a neat little eight-piece box, but that's frankly unrealistic, and anyone who believes otherwise is simply delusional. Any behavior can be caused by any function, and in reality is likely caused by numerous functions acting in concert. This can take so many different forms and appearances, and moreover is SO person-dependent, that functional theory has little to no value in the absence of firsthand information and subjective experience.

    And yet, proponents of Jung's functional theory truly believe they can accurately and reliably perceive, dissect and properly interpret the internal motivations for virtually everything everyone does. Sure, MBTI is based on Jung's theories, but it's also developed into a separate and mutually exclusive system. Prince is a Jehovah's witness; that doesn't mean I have to be in order to appreciate his work. Jung may have had a few good ideas that later served as the basis for MBTI, but he was by no means consistently reliable--I mean, the man believed in astrology, for fuck's sake.

    Try taking him with a little bigger grain of salt! As always I'm reminded of the parallels with poker:

    MBTI looks at a player, notices that he seems to bet in situation x more often than not, and makes a mental note that he probably prefers betting in situation x. This implies that he may also bet in similar situation y, but makes no attempt at explaining the unconscious internal motivations for why he bets this way.

    Jungian functional theory looks at a player, notices that he seems to bet in situation x more often than not, and then declares with impunity that he does this because he has an unconscious need to win every pot where situation x occurs in order to prop up his fragile self-esteem.

    Can you spot the difference?!

    I, for one, think Keirsey had it juuuust right--anything beyond categorization of behavioral attitudes, and you've wandered right over the line into purely speculative pop-psychology drivel. You can speculate as to internal psychological motivations until the cows come home, but without experiencing life through the eyes of another person, you simply do not have the data necessary to make any kind of useful functional assessment of others at all.

    There's a reason MBTI is taught in college psychology and business management courses, and Jung is not. If you think the four-variable system is too simplistic or otherwise inferior, it's because you expect typology to do more than it can reasonably be expected to.

    Hate to bruise egos here, but you are not "reading functions" in others any more than Taurus with a Virgo rising (or wtfever) is influencing human behavior--no matter how skilled you may be at twisting the data to trick yourself into making it seem internally consistent.
    god dammit you need some Te!!!

    here is what you could of posted and called it a day:

    It seems to me there are two ways to look at cognitive functions. One is just a restatement of the four MBTI letters (this is what you're getting if you take a so-called "cognitive functions test"), and the other is waaaay overstepping its boundaries in terms of predictive ability.

    When I read descriptions of the cognitive functions, I can't help but wonder how anyone could even hope to associate them with particular actions or behaviors in themselves, much less in others. That requires so many more levels of depth of understanding of another person's psyche than is even remotely possible for an outsider that the entire cognitive function system has yet to convince me that it has any value beyond that of a cute guessing game.

    It sure would be nice to be able to explain the entirety of human psychology in such a neat little eight-piece box, but that's frankly unrealistic, and anyone who believes otherwise is simply delusional. Any behavior can be caused by any function, and in reality is likely caused by numerous functions acting in concert. This can take so many different forms and appearances, and moreover is SO person-dependent, that functional theory has little to no value in the absence of firsthand information and subjective experience.

    And yet, proponents of Jung's functional theory truly believe they can accurately and reliably perceive, dissect and properly interpret the internal motivations for virtually everything everyone does. Sure, MBTI is based on Jung's theories, but it's also developed into a separate and mutually exclusive system. Prince is a Jehovah's witness; that doesn't mean I have to be in order to appreciate his work. Jung may have had a few good ideas that later served as the basis for MBTI, but he was by no means consistently reliable--I mean, the man believed in astrology, for fuck's sake.
    Yes, having 64 types would be more 'accurate' and yes having more than 8 functions would probably make it more 'accurate' and yes having functions based on actions rather than cognitive processes might make them more 'accurate'. But after all of that, you would have 30,000 functions for the myriad of actions a human can undertake. the point of the functions is to pinpoint one "desire line or process of thinking" that underlies a myriad of those possible actions.

    Its unrealistic to think that a personality system would be very useful if it had the precision that you desire of it (it would be too fucking complicated!).

    no one is saying that there is actaully a "Te" organ in the brain! so its not really as psudoscientific as you are making it sound. No one takes the functions as scientific. They just help group and categorize a myriad of actions/thinking styles.

    If you took 1000 ESTJs and 1000 ENTJs (who had taken the profile test w/o functions) and had them read through Te Fi Ni Si labeled as A1 A2 B1 B2, I would bet that there would be a statistical significant amount of Te chosen and Si or Ni chosen respectively.

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    Quote Originally Posted by simulatedworld View Post
    I, for one, think Keirsey had it juuuust right--anything beyond categorization of behavioral attitudes, and you've wandered right over the line into purely speculative pop-psychology drivel. You can speculate as to internal psychological motivations until the cows come home, but without experiencing life through the eyes of another person, you simply do not have the data necessary to make any kind of useful functional assessment of others at all.
    I kind of agree. But I personally tend to think of, say, Ti (or T) as a description of a similarity between people who fall into the INTP and ISTP categories, which in my experience is often useful to talk about (if it weren't useful for me, I'd dump it in a heartbeat). You can extract what Ti means from there, whether or not it's actually an explanation for their behavior.

    This is very similar to what Kiersey does with grouping NTs, NFs, SJs, and SPs, using temerament to describe similarities between the groups of types.

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    Freshman Member Array simulatedworld's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by greed View Post
    I kind of agree. But I personally tend to think of, say, Ti (or T) as a description of a similarity between people who fall into the INTP and ISTP categories, which in my experience is often useful to talk about (if it weren't useful for me, I'd dump it in a heartbeat). You can extract what Ti means from there, whether or not it's actually an explanation for their behavior.

    This is very similar to what Kiersey does with grouping NTs, NFs, SJs, and SPs, using temerament to describe similarities between the groups of types.
    Yeah, definitely. Obviously I find it useful or I wouldn't be here; grouping people according to general behavioral attitudes is the whole point. I just think people are taking it too far when they start describing functional priorities of others, or explaining internal motivations for particular actions/behaviors with particular functions and expecting any sort of reliable accuracy.
    If you could be anything you want, I bet you'd be disappointed--am I right?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Babylon Candle View Post
    god dammit you need some Te!!!
    That's funny--a certain self-described authority on the topic thinks I have an excess of Te, and yet here you are insisting that I need more. Thanks for proving my point about subjectivity of functional interpretation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Babylon Candle View Post
    here is what you could of posted and called it a day:



    Yes, having 64 types would be more 'accurate' and yes having more than 8 functions would probably make it more 'accurate' and yes having functions based on actions rather than cognitive processes might make them more 'accurate'. But after all of that, you would have 30,000 functions for the myriad of actions a human can undertake. the point of the functions is to pinpoint one "desire line or process of thinking" that underlies a myriad of those possible actions.

    Its unrealistic to think that a personality system would be very useful if it had the precision that you desire of it (it would be too fucking complicated!).

    no one is saying that there is actaully a "Te" organ in the brain! so its not really as psudoscientific as you are making it sound. No one takes the functions as scientific. They just help group and categorize a myriad of actions/thinking styles.
    Ummm....I don't want it to be more precise. That's exactly the opposite of my point, which (no offense), I think you missed. The point was that I think a lot of people expect an unrealistic level of precision from it, and it leads to overconfidence in amateur psychoanalysis.

    You're using functions in the first way I described--a rehashing of MBTI letters. If you're only using them as descriptions/groupings of externalized behavior, then you don't really need them, because they don't really add anything new beyond the basic preferences described by the four two-letter dichotomies. It's just the same concept reworded.

    I don't think anyone thinks there's a "Te organ" in the brain, either; the point was that some people don't know where to draw the line between categorizing external behaviors and actually attempting to explain the inner psychological motivations for the behaviors of others.

    In the latter method, you have to cross the impenetrable barrier between the outside world and someone else's inner self--which is impossible. In the former, you're just describing general behavioral attitudes and grouping/labeling them, which is fine.

    Your criticisms have already been answered, as I covered this distinction pretty heavily in my post. In your effort to improve its efficiency, did you miss this? From an externalized effect perspective, we could describe this effort as "using Te", but this doesn't actually give us any more information than the basic MBTI lettering. All we know is that we've arbitrarily labeled this particular set of behaviors as "Te", but we don't really know anything about why it's happening.

    From an internalized cause perspective, if we called it Te, we would be making a huge leap of faith about the internal processes that caused you to behave in this manner. Do you see the difference? This is the crux of my whole post. I am not criticizing MBTI in general, but rather people who overestimate the predictive abilities of the function system.

    Quote Originally Posted by Babylon Candle View Post
    If you took 1000 ESTJs and 1000 ENTJs (who had taken the profile test w/o functions) and had them read through Te Fi Ni Si labeled as A1 A2 B1 B2, I would bet that there would be a statistical significant amount of Te chosen and Si or Ni chosen respectively.
    Yes, that's because this use of functions is only as an externalized categorization system--just another rewording of MBTI letters. That's not what I was criticizing.

    It's impossible to actually test another person's internalized cognitive functions because you can't get around the filter of someone else's subjective experience. The problem isn't that we're categorizing certain behaviors as T or N or I; it's that some people aren't able to stop there and accept the limitations on the system's usefulness. They think it can go further than that, and actually understand the subjective experience of another person with greater accuracy than that person can.

    When one is overconfident in one's ability to associate the external behaviors of others with internalized cognitive functions, it leads one to erroneous conclusions about the MBTI type of that person. The problem comes when you watch someone, declare with certainty that you know which functions are responsible for all of that person's actions, and then make an assumption about that person's MBTI type based on your functional reading--when in reality, simply categorizing the person's average behavior according to the four MBTI dichotomies provides a much more accurate and practically useful assessment. But it must always be open to change as newer and more pertinent information becomes available! Anything less is bound for failure.

    The issue with the internal function "reading" is that it's impossible to discern which functions are governing the behavior of others with any degree of reliability. MBTI's external behavior categorization system doesn't attempt to do this, hence the reason Keirsey had no interest in cognitive functions.

    Do you see the problem now?
    If you could be anything you want, I bet you'd be disappointed--am I right?

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    Quote Originally Posted by simulatedworld View Post
    That's funny--a certain self-described authority on the topic thinks I have an excess of Te,
    Just curious; is that someone here, or someone vocal out in the type world (who probably influenced those here who have charged professing NTP's with having too much Te use)?
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    I just want to make sure I'm understanding you correctly

    you're saying that predicting the use of functions on the bases of actions beyond reasonable doubt is inaccurate.

    but you would agree that actions and cognitive functions do have some correlation, and it's just not accurate to make assumptions of exactly which functions are being used.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric B View Post
    Just curious; is that someone here, or someone vocal out in the type world (who probably influenced those here who have charged professing NTP's with having too much Te use)?
    ^_^
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    Quote Originally Posted by Azseroffs View Post
    I just want to make sure I'm understanding you correctly

    you're saying that predicting the use of functions on the bases of actions beyond reasonable doubt is inaccurate.

    but you would agree that actions and cognitive functions do have some correlation, and it's just not accurate to make assumptions of exactly which functions are being used.
    No, I'm saying that cognitive functions are useless when considered as explanations of internalized mental processes.

    A lot of people use them as just another labeling system of external behaviors, which is fine, but offers no more insight than MBTI's four letters in the first place and is therefore not really the same as the context in which Jung meant them.

    Undoubtedly actions do have correlations with some sort of brain functions; I just question the ability of Jung's function system to accurately describe the internal motivations for them.

    Typology can't tell you anything about yourself that you don't already know; it just organizes the information in a way that happens to be efficient.
    If you could be anything you want, I bet you'd be disappointed--am I right?

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    Quote Originally Posted by simulatedworld View Post

    Typology can't tell you anything about yourself that you don't already know; it just organizes the information in a way that happens to be efficient.
    It is of use when it does something more than that : make predictions about you and your behaviour which you did not already know. A good example is shadow types (which one may not have faced in life, and yet still have them lurking underneath).

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