Chad Perrin: SOB

13 September 2006

systems thinking

Filed under: Cognition,Geek,Liberty — apotheon @ 03:33

There is a class of personality test characterized by their common origins in Jung typology. While the most commonly recognizable manifestation of Jung typology tests is probably the MBTI, that is just one formalized descendant of the concept of personality testing according to Jung typology, which classifies personality archetypes according to a two-tier hierarchical system of characteristics.

I/E: You are either an Introvert or an Extrovert.

N/S: You are either iNtuitive or Sensing.

T/F: You are either Thinking or Feeling.

J/P: You are either Judging or Perceiving.

From these, a series of personality archetypes are constructed. In the course of my life, I have taken Jung typology personality tests several times. The dominant result is INTJ, though I have on occasion come up INTP. This is significant in part because they are among the classic “intellectual” archetypes (xNTx), and more specifically they are the two “systems” types. INTPs and INTJs are both systems thinkers: the INTP is the systems analyst, and the INTJ is the systems integrator.

My INTP leanings definitely show through in my tendency to always want to learn the theory of programming language design and grasp the basics of new and interesting languages. I want to learn how to implement the same things I already know how to do, all over again, in new languages to provide a basis for comparison and to stretch my mind. I want to Learn all I can about principles of such systems theory, and I want to distill these principles to their most fundamental expressions so that I may best understand how, and perhaps most importantly why, they work. I also want to learn and analyze similarly with regards to other complex systems, such as socioeconomic networks, sociopolitical structures, and security systems design.

My INTJ leanings arise in my desire to contemplate extensions of such systems, refinements of them, and recombining of their principles into best-case new system concepts. I am a synthesist: from existing principles, I design theoretical frameworks for new complex systems that are as effective and efficient as possible.

Unlike many with my proclivities, who are often content to pick an area of focus and devote significant attention to it, to the exclusion of other potential foci, I tend to use my leanings and my talents to examine the principles that underly the principles inside such complex systems, and to analyze the relationships between complex systems, and even to develop an understanding (accurate or not) of how these differing areas of focus compare with one another on a judgmental level. What are the most important systems problems to solve? What are the easiest and, thus, perhaps the most deserving of short-term attention? How can I leverage work on solving one set of problems to transfer to solutions for other sets of problems?

I have, so far as I’ve been able to determine thus far, pretty much solved the most important of them — also perhaps the easiest to solve, as it requires the least formal education to understand enough of the foregoing work to develop a system for solving it. I refer to the problem of secular, comprehensive social ethics. A happy accident, it seems from the manner in which I originally approached the matter, is the fact that efficient solutions for other systems problems seem to agree on the whole with the ethical solutions I’ve developed and refined over the years.

I’m still refining, challenging, and logically stress-testing my ethical system solutions (of course). I’ll probably be doing so for the rest of my natural life, at least. As a working assumption, strong enough in my estimation to be relied upon for daily interactions, the comprehensive ethical system I have reasoned through serves admirably. Its implications are still being sorted out a little at a time.

What effect this will have on my programming pursuits in the long run is a question for which I do not have much of a predictive answer. I have my hopes and preferences, of course, but only time will even give me a vague idea of it, as far as I can tell. Anything else would just be guessing.


  1. The MBTI test is a total and utter failure. I recently took one, and I learned more about myself by looking at my thoughts in trying to answers the questions than I did in the test results themselves.

    All too often, standardized tests based on an abjective scale “diagree comletely to agree completely”) fail to take a major factor into consideration: “do not care either about this.” For example, (as well as many other dating Web sites) has an extensive questionnaire about political beleifs. Someone who is not interested in politics will most like choose the neutral answer for most of the topics. They will be considered compatable with someone who is very into politics, but happens to be moderation. There is a world of difference between “I have no opinion,” “I neither agree nor disagree,” and “depending on the exact details I may agree or disagree with differing levels of strength,” yet they all get answered the same way on any of these standardized tests.

    In fact, I have a question-by-question dissection of the MBTI that I recently did. Here is an example:

    You have good control over your desires and temptations

    I tend to not act on them, if that is what you mean by “control”. But the desires and temptations themselves I have no control over.

    I think that at the end of the day, it is possible to get an MBTI-esque evaluation of an individual, but to try doing so through routine tests is absurd. Maybe after getting to know someone well, I can say, “I get the feeling that they are an INTP” but no test will be able to predict that.

    It is also important to understand that any self-questioning test is going to report how someone views themself, not what the actual reality is. Most liars are convinced that they are honesy people, for example. It is only through third party observation that you can see that someone is a liar.


    Comment by Justin James — 13 September 2006 @ 09:40

  2. I, too, take issue with tests, quizzes, and surveys of any sort that provide poorly-phrased questions that make it effectively impossible to answer them accurately and truthfully. It’s a problem that I run across regularly, perhaps because my opinions tend to differ from the mainstream on so many subjects (having actually thought about the subjects in some depth rather than simply accepting a mainstream ‘opinion’ as my own).

    I’ve been thinking for some time of creating a survey-and-compatibility website that achieves its end through a huge database of questions — the more of them you answer, the more accurate and useful the results. I’m pretty sure I could construct it in a way where, even if your preferred answer to a given question isn’t available, you are not required to answer in a way that contradicts the truth in your case. I’m even pretty sure I can do so in a manner that doesn’t require an option for every question akin to “None of the above.”

    I just need to find the time amongst all the other probjects on my plate.

    Comment by apotheon — 13 September 2006 @ 03:17

  3. i’ve bounced between INTP and INTJ as well. i’ve often said that before i feel i understand any part of a system, i have to understand the whole thing. this means a lot of low-level exploration before anything useful comes out. but then i’m the one who knows the answers :-)

    Comment by sosiouxme — 13 September 2006 @ 07:48

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