I’ve been thinking about the difference between types of thinkers which is a continuation of my analysis from the post prior to this one.
Systematizers and Non-Systematizers
One distinction I made was between those who tend towards the systematic and those who don’t.
The systematizersmay be wide-ranging in their interests or not, but either way they have a focused mentality. Even if wide-ranging in their interests, they’ll still try to connect everything not just as a set of relationships but in the context of a specific theory or model, a single idea or belief. They may expand outwards, but the core of their thinking remains solid and everything new is judged in terms of it. This kind of intelligence can seem clever in that it’s complex (or simplistic depending on your perspective) to organize so much data into a single view, but it also can have a practical side to it as it’s part of a desire to bring order.
Quite differently, the non-systematizer has a methodology that would appear (at least from the outside) as random. They may end up with quite a variety of things and yet the only clear connection between them all is simply the person them-self. The non-systematizer’s methodology is more personal and intuitive which means it might not make much sense or seem worthy to anyone else. Still, they may make new discoveries that the more methodical person would never come across. Non-systematizers are the artists who lives in creative chaos, and so the ups and downs of their lives may tend to be magnified. The unexpected good can come from this attitude of faith, but a lack of planning can lead to immense troubles. It’s not that they can’t see the big picture, but rather they see too big of a picture without the ability or desire to focus in. They see so many possibilities (and they don’t want to discount any of them) that it’s hard for them to make judgments of probability. They’re reluctant to consider what the systematizer might point out as inevitable consequences.
The systematizer is more conservative, more careful. They don’t just trust fate, but would rather take control of events. The systematizer is a bit of a pessimist. In being systematic, they make clear judgments about what does and doesn’t belong, and if it belongs they want to know precisely where it should be situated. This is the conservative mindset that believes if things are left to their own accord bad things will happen. The conservative prizes order and furthermore believes that order must be continually reinforced.
The non-systematizer is more liberal. Their outwardly haphazard ways may seem irresponsible to the conservative systematizer. However, the non-systematizer has something of a faith that is grounded in an intuitive insight. Such a person makes up for a lack of organizational thinking with an intuitive grasp of what matters. They could be thought of as more individualistic and idiosyncratic simply for the reason that their vision of life is hard to articulate.
The liberal non-systematizer believes there is something inherently good to people and if not disturbed this goodness will naturally manifest. The conservative systematizer, on the other hand, worries about all of the ways things can go wrong. It’s hard to surprise them because they see the consequence of actions from a mile away (or at least think they do). While systematizers are aware of boundaries even when they cross them, the non-systematizer might simply not notice or else not care. The systematizer might be inclined to say that the non-systematizer is oblivious in not noticing the seemingly obvious, but the non-systematizer might simply feel that they’re focused on what is important at the moment. They follow what inspires them, what excites them. This may not seem responsible, but it does have its practical benefits in that the non-systematizer might notice specific details that the systematizer would miss by looking at the “big picture”. Even though the systematizer may think of themselves as a realist, they may actually be taking in less data from the real world. The apparently irrelevant that the non-systematizer wastes their time on might turn out to be relevant afterall.
Foxes and Hedgehogs
This distinction I’m making is somewhat related to the fragment of writing by Archilochus:
“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
Isaiah Berlin used this quote to divide people between two kinds of thinkers. It’s sort of useful. The fox survives by its wits and by ranging widely. So, the fox can’t just focus on one thing but must apply its intelligence to a broad array of sensory detail. The hedgehog is a simpler creature having one good talent. It doesn’t need to worry too much about the larger world because it has its spines to protect it. So, the hedgehog can focus narrowly.
Approximately, the hedgehog is the same as my systematizer and the fox is the same as my non-systematizer. The only difference would be that I believe Berlin was arguing that foxes are more practical and can make more realistic judgments for the very reason they’re not filtering the world through a single idea or theory. This may sometimes be true. Someone too attached to a particular theory will be obviously biased, but on the other hand someone who entirely lacks theoretical knowledge won’t have the context to make sense of the data. Even though I see hedgehogs as being more practical in terms of the basics of life, the fox might have an easier ability to learn and integrate some of the hedgehog’s talent than the other way around. The foxes talent is mental flexibility and so this would be helpful in learning abilities outside of one’s natural talent. So, potentially a fox could make a better expert in that they could have a broader range of tools. Although, it seems reasonable that some hedgehog types might gain some fox abilities such as if they were raised by a fox type.
Jung’s Typology and Nietzsche’s Dionysian and Apollonian
So far, I’ve only given two broad generalized types. I feel the need to use the more defined ideas of Jung’s typology to clarify my sense of these categories.
The two functions that get the most attention in our society are those of Thinking and Feeling(maybe for the reason that they most closely associate with gender differences). These are the Judging functions and they roughly equate with the conservative and liberal attitudes. Thinkers (I’m specifically focusing on the combination of Thinking and Judging which translates as Extraverted Thinking) idealize principles and judge by principles. Feelers (specifically, Feeling Perceiving; Introverted Feeling) idealize values and judge by values. Thinking is about objective order. Ideas and people need to be ranked. Something is socially acceptable or not and each thing must be subordinate to its proper place. People should first consider their social role and its attendant responsibilities. Feelers see things less clearly as the significance of values can only be determined according to each specific situation. A simple way to think about this is that a Thinker believes people should serve principles and a Feeler believes values should serve people. In terms of thinking styles, its a question of whether ideas connect people or people connect ideas. Also, it relates to a difference between a focus on the objective versus a focus on the subjective (which would include the inter-subjective).
These two types can also be thought of in terms of the Jungian functions Sensation and Intuition. These originated from Jung’s study of Nietzche’s understanding about the Dionysian and the Apollonian. Jung’s theorizing seemed to at least initially to conflate Sensation and Intuition with Extroversion and Introversion. For Jung, Intuition had an inner quality that particularly connected it to the unconscious. Others have pointed out how our society idealizes the ESTJ type (Extroversion Sensation Thinking Judging) and particularly identifies this as a masculine ideal. As such, the systematizing hedgehog seems more or less correlated with the ESTJ type and the non-systematizing fox with the INFP type (Introverted iNtuition Feeling Perceiving). By the way, the distinction between Judging types and Perceiving types doesn’t originate from Jung. The J/P distinction comes from MBTI and I sense that this particular distinction might fit best the categories of systematizing hedgehog and non-systematizing fox. (For my purposes, I’ve decided to emphasize the connection between all of these categories and so I’m using the ESTJ and INFP types as generalizations to portray a larger trend within our society, but these are only 2 of the 16 MBTI types.)
Going by Intuition (in particular the Extraverted Intuition of the INFP), the fox is ruled by an expansive curiosity. Going by Intuition and Feeling, the fox has a strong aesthetic sense (represented by the fox’s playfulness). This means the fox sees value beyond what is rationally useful and rationally explainable. To return to Nietzsche’s division, Apollo isn’t about rational order but rather aesthetic order: beauty and balance. The Dionysian is pure sensual experience but not aesthetic appreciation. The Dionysian sensuality is embodied and so active rather than contemplative. On the other hand, the Dionysian is also the tragic because it’s so clearly grounded in the concrete world of limitation and death. Dionysus is the god of masks, but he isn’t separate from those masks. Dionysus is precisely what he presents himself to be and nothing more. Apollo, however, points beyond the obvious.
In terms of Jung’s typology, it’s useful to clarify rationality. Intuition is about abstractions and this connects with the common notion of Apollo as being the god of rationality. It’s true that Intuition is about the world of ideas, but it’s also the world of imagination. Rationality, in a more objective sense, is clearly a product of Sensation which is concerned with concrete details and facts. A Sensation type tends towards literalism in that something is what appears to be. Sensation is the rationality of the typical research scientist. They think the data should speak for itself, but of course hidden in this attitude are certain conservative assumptions about the data and the world in general. This lack of subtlety and nuance is what leads to the tragic. A hero is tragic when they can’t see outside of their situation. This is the connection between the scientist obsessed with studies of causation and the tragic hero who is trapped in a world of fatalistic causation. This is the vision of Noir in particular. The Apollonian, from a very different perspective, sees the forces or ideas that are greater than them, but these greater things help to transcend the mind beyond the predetermining causes of matter and society. As such, it’s less of an issue of resignation or struggle. Rather, it’s an attitude of possibility. (By the way, I’d say that Neo-Noir includes examples of these two attitudes of utter nihilism and hopeful quest which is an aspect that; Thomas S. Hibbs writes about this.) Then again, maybe the Dionysian only seems tragic from the perspective of Apollonian. From the perspective of the Dionysian, it’s simply reality.
I sense this is part of the context of my thinking about how Freud and Jung relate to pessimism and optimism, but I’m not sure exactly how. Maybe the Dionysian concrete world is only tragic when isolated from the Apollonian, when the apparent is taken literally. The Dionysian should be taken at face value, but Dionysus’ face value is a mask that must be looked through (by putting it on). Maybe the Freudian tendency to pathologize is to make a literalistic judgment instead of imaginally entering the experience itself. The Jungian view in some ways seems Apollonian in that it looks beyond but maybe the only way one can look beyond is by looking within. I’m thinking that Apollo and Dionysus are two sides to the same thing, but you can only see the one you’re not inhabiting. The Dionysian seems tragic from the view of the Apollonian, but to put on the mask of Dionysus one can then see the beauty of the Apollonian. As Kafka said, maybe the only suffering we can avoid is our own resistance to suffering.
In my own world of ideas, Ken Wilber and Carl Jung personify the hedgehog and the fox. Both have studied widely, but the former systematizes according to very clear models and theories whereas the latter spent decades slowly spiralling around ideas that interested him. Even as Wilber’s ideas evolved, his central conception remained unchanged and his new thinking merely accreted to it. Wilber methodically built upon what he perceived as solid ground. Quite differently, Jung’s ideas often seemed ungrounded and yet somehow still very tangible. Jung was very much interested in helping people (and it could be easily argued that he has helped more people than Wilber), but much of his philosophizing had no direct practical value (such as his writing a book about UFOs). Related to the Freudian and Jungian distinction, I’ve read some critics who have argued Wilber pathologizes the types of experiences Jung focused on. Wilber’s over-arching model is based on his desire for the transcendent. Freud wasn’t interested in the transcendent, but maybe what Wilber and Freud share is a resistance to entering the depths. To enter the depths is risky as Dionysus can be a violent god, but going by the stories of Dionysus it might be even riskier to resist his power.
In case anyone is curious to study Jungian typology further, there are a few books that are helpful in elucidating types in terms of ways of viewing the world. Most pertinent might be Lenore Thomson’s Personality Type: An Owner’s Manual (trust me, it’s much better than it’s title conveys) and there is also a very useful site about her work (The Lenore Thomson Exegesis Wiki), but three others that I’d recommend are Compass of the Soulby John L. Giannini, Integrity in Depth by John Beebe, and Pathways to Integrity by Blake Burleson. These books explore Jung’s ideas about personality beyond simply categorizing people as types. There are also several books about the ideas of Jung and Nietzsche which would discuss the Apollonian and Dionysian. The book I have on the subject is Nietzsche and Jungby Lucy Huskinson, but another one that might be good is The Dionysian Self by Paul Bishop and there are at least a couple of books about Jung’s seminar on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra.
Prodigal Son, Boundaries, and Trickster
Let me add another set of thoughts.
I have a friend who is attracted to the story of the prodigal son and so I was wondering if it works as another example of what I’m trying to articulate. In terms of that story, maybe the prodigal son would be the fox and maybe the son who stays home would be the hedgehog. This relates to boundaries for the prodigal son leaves the boundary of home. He must leave in order to return changed. The home is often a symbol of self-identity, of consciousness and ego. To leave that behind is to enter the unknown, the unconscious. And in the process he lost everything he had been given. But the story seems to imply that he also gained something by his experience. It seems to me that this isn’t a story about the journey everyone has to take but rather about the journey of a certain kind of person.
It’s similar to the fairytales about the three sons who each individually try to accomplish some deed. The two older brothers try first. They have specific talents and plans, but they fail. The last to try is the youngest son who isn’t strong, brave or smart, but he succeeds. The point apparently is that he succeeds because of his openminded attitude towards life and other people. As such, he seems more like a fox.
There are many ideas that relate to boundaries. Hartmann’s boundary types correlate with Jungian typology to an extent. People tend towards thick or thin boundaries which is a basic element to how people relate to the world. George P. Hansen, in analyzing the paranormal, writes about these boundary types and connects it with the Trickster archetype(Keith Thompson also writes about the Trickster and boundaries in terms of the paranormal and further uses the difference between allegory and literalism). The Trickster is involved with both the creation and the breaking of boundaries. The Trickster is somewhat of a tragic figure at times and seems more connected to Dionysus than Apollo, but in certain ways he is more in between them (and in between any sets of opposites). The Trickster is something like Adam in that in some stories he brings death into the world. The Savior, on the other hand, is the Second Adam in that he transcends death (although, Saviors tend to have Trickster qualities as well). In the book Christ In Egypt, Murdock writes about the Christian conception of the savior as it relates to Egyptian mythology. Horus is the corollary to Christ and the name Horus relates to the term horos which means boundary. The boundary has much significance in religion and in ritual. Boundaries create liminal spaces and also create order in the world.
Some Previous Thoughts
A recent discovery of mine is research showing that the MBTI correlates with Ernest Hartmann’s boundary types. Let me go into more detail here because this is an important part of my viewpoint. There are four components to the MBTI: Introversion vs Extraversion (E/I), Sensation vs Intuition (S/N), Thinking vs Feeling (T/F), Judging vs Perceiving (J/P).
(1) Introversion and Extroversion seem to have the least correlation to boundary types, but there were some aspects to it that seemed to fit. Introverts tend to have more of an ability to focus intensely and for long periods of time, and they tend to be more territorial about personal space. Extraverts, on the other hand, are drawn outwards and so are more easily distracted by their environment. Here is a relevant quote from Hartmann’s book Dreams and Nightmares:
“Those who have taken psychedelic drugs, such as LSD, report that under the drug’s influence they have thinner boundaries in a number of senses. On the other hand, taking stimulants such as amphetamines, or for some people, antidepressants, definitely produces a thickening of boundaries. In the most extreme case, people given large doses of amphetamines first become intensely focused; they are the opposite of distractible, keeping their thoughts entire on one line of thought.”
(2) Sensation and Intuition have the highest correlation to boundary types according to the studies. Simply put, you can think of the difference here being between those who tend towards the concrete and those who tend towards the abstract, but there are many other dimensions to it. Another interesting aspect is that Sensors tend to be more conservative basing their decisions on past experience, whereas Intuitives are more innovative because they can more easily see future possibilities. Obviously, Sensors (and in particular the SJ temperament) are the practical sort of person who sees reality for what it is (based on what it was). Some Intuitives, on the other hand, may seem like daydreamers, but Intuives also tend to be the innovators.
The concrete preference of Sensors is what makes them thick boundary types. Things are clearly what they are and each thing is clearly distinct from other things. Sensors have commonsense. The abstract preference of Intuitives lends them to thin boundaries. Distinctions are more blurred. Because they can more easily shift distinctions, they can see new relationships between things.
In this symposium, I’ve definitely noticed the contrast between the practical-minded realists and those drawn to more theoretical understandings and far-reaching (or over-reaching if you prefer) possibilities. As I believe, it’s not a matter of either style being more correct. To speak from a green vmeme perspective, it takes all types.
(3) Thinking and Feeling are slightly less correlated to boundary types, but there are some important connections. Thinking is about principles and rules with a focus on autonomy. Feeling is about values and morality with a focus on relationships.
There is a fairly strong split with most Thinking types being male and most Feeling types being female. This same division comes up with boundary types. Thick boundary types tend to be male and thin boundary types tend to be female. To understand this archetypally, this relates to the animus and the anima. To understand this in the real world, this relates to the conflict between Integralists and New Agers. It has been pointed by others how the Integral movement is dominated by men. Also, you could think of this division in terms of Ken Wilber’s Grace and Grit or the movie The Fountain.
(4) Judging and Perceiving are an interesting division that was original to Jung’s typology. Studies have shown that J/P doesn’t test as separate from S/N with young children, and so there is some developmental aspect to this (whether biological or psychological). In MBTI, J/P simply determines which function you Extravert, but it can be looked at as its own category and there is some correlation to boundary types. Judging types like order and conclusiveness. Perceiving types are more about creative chaos and they prefer to keep their options open.
With J/P, I sense a similarity to a division between two kinds of thinkers which brings me back closer to this symposium. I’ve seen distinctions (here and here) made between Ken Wilber and William Irwin Thompson. This partly seems like a difference between a systematizer and a bricoleur. Interestingly, William Irwin Thompson’s son (Evan Thompson) co-wrote some books with the enactivist crowd. So, this made me think of the possible differences between enactivism and tetra-enactivism. From what I’ve read, Varela seems to have intentionally avoided systematizing his ideas, but then Wilber took Varela’s ideas and systematized them for him.
The bricoleur is a term I’m using in its relationship to the George P. Hansen’s book The Trickster and the Paranormal(2001). Hansen uses the term bricoleur as one way of describing the Trickster archetype. Hansen also brings up Victor Turner’s ideas of liminality, anti-structure, and communitas. Enactivism questions the traditional assumptions of science and so blurs the boundaries somewhat. Varela was influenced by phenomenology, and Hansen says that ethnomethodology was similarly influenced. Ethnomethodology (along with sociology of scientific knowledge and studies of experiment expectancy effects) puts the scientific endeavor into a very different context.
There are also some other blog posts that cover similar territory as this one.
Concluding Thoughts, Personal Context
These are just some thoughts, some connections… tentative as they are. I haven’t fully articulated the possible significance of this line of thinking. I’ll surely be returning to this more in future posts.
By the way, going by some of my blog posts, someone might conclude I was a hedgehog. I do have a slight tendency at times to systematize, but it isn’t exactly my inherent nature. When younger, I had an extremely unsystematic mind, but was raised by two extremely systematic parents. I not only learned how to be systematic, but learned to highly value it. My mind is a chaos of ideas and impressions. I’m more systematic in the way Jung was. Jung was capable of thinking systematically in order to clarify some set of ideas, but he wasn’t attached to the results. Jung’s thinking was eternally tentative. Likewise, ideas in my head tend to constellate together organically rather than my trying to fit them into a particular theory. Also, I’m an INFP type. INFPs are the penultimate artist living in creative chaos (you should see my room), but INFPs have Thinking as their inferior which means (according to Beebe’s theory) its what we aspire towards (for example, the systematization of Jung’s typology in the form of the MBTI was accomplished by an INFP). This aspirational Thinking was magnified in me as my parents are Thinking types. So, I may aspire towards systematic thinking, but unlike my parents I’m completely impractical about it. Even when being systematic, I’m lost in the abstractions and imaginations of my mind. My systematizing still is subordinate to my creative chaos.
I’ll add some last thoughts. There are many reasons for thinking styles. Personality type and traits are just some of the most obvious or at least the easiest to understand.
In light of this, I’d say that hedgehogs may or may not be systematizers, but their one big idea or belief would tend towards the systematic in that everything is filtered and ordered accordingly. However, a hedgehog may or may not inherently have a systematic personality. For instance, someone who experiences some trauma or life changing experience can become a crusader fighting against or for something. If someone was abused as a child, they may become an advocate for children as a career and they may take this on as their central sense of identity. Another type of experience would be something like a spiritual vision or an alien abduction. If the person openly speaks of this experience, they might become polarized into an extreme position because of negative reactions from others. There is an attraction to becoming a hedgehog for having such a clear sense of vision or purpose can be very motivating and comforting. This often happens in conversion experiences where a person actively prosyletizes their new found belief and organizes their whole life around it. Brought to the extreme, this one big thing becomes their whole reality (like a conspiracy theorist).
Foxes too can become the way they are through life events and experiences. If someone rebels against some belief system they were raised with, then they may become the complete opposite and try to deny all belief systems. Or else psychiatric conditions can create tendencies. Personally, depression has probably encouraged a fox attitude in me by how it scatters my psychic energy. But another depressed person might turn to a belief system to conserve their energy or else become obsessed with something to counteract the lack of focus. I do at times become obsessive with certain subjects which does seem a direct response to depression, but the scattermindedness always prevails. I know that for me it’s a combination of personality, moods, and general life experiences.
I’ll say I wouldn’t mind having some transformative experience that turned me into a hedgehog because I’d probably get a lot more done. Plus, most great thinkers who are remembered as being great by historians are almost exclusively hedgehogs. Rightly or wrongly, hedgehogs have the most direct influence on society. The experts with strong opinions are the ones that get to be the talking heads on tv. The foxes who can see multiple perspectives have a hard time getting to a clear point and so their opinions don’t make for good sound bytes. Foxes probably make for bad debaters as well. Foxes either end up creating convoluted websites or else writing tomes that few ever would read (or writing blogs). If a fox can’t learn some hedgehog abilities, they might as well give up trying to communicate.
There are reasons to be critical of typing people at all. Most people don’t perfectly fits into any given category. Hartmann talks about this in terms of boundary types and MBTI practitioners recognize this. People may act differently in different situations. Someone may have a focused mind at work where they’ve learned to implement a particular model or system, but at home they may pursue a wide variety of subjects and ideas completely outside of or even contrary to their work mindset. So, an academic might simply accept a hedgehog-like attitude just to fit in, but secretly hold doubts or alternative views. A religious person, in particular, may act like a hedgehog, not just to convince others but even to try to convince themselves. As such, this person would look for all the ways this belief system can be supported in order to assuage their doubts. On the other hand, a person who is confident in their hedgehog thinking may be less vocal and so may not even be noticeably hedgehog-like. Still, despite situational behavior, most people probably have a basic personality or personal preferences in their thinking style and will act that way when given the freedom to just be themselves.