We wish to be clear that we do not mean to discourage others from using their own judgment in typing. We do not ask others to defer to our authority. Indeed we are aware that we continually make mistakes and also that we have blind spots and lots left to learn. We welcome thoughtful arguments against our typings and, as regular visitors will know, we do change our mind sometimes and move typings. We acknowledge that we can learn from others, and in fact we thoroughly enjoy it whenever we do. So we have written this blog, not to put ourselves on a pedestal, but simply to share our honest opinion on the question at hand.
This is the part where we should probably do the politically correct thing and say: Yes, anybody can become good at typing with enough practice. And they can become good. Unfortunately, if we raise the bar from good to great, that no longer appears to be the case. In order to become great at typing in the Jungian sense, one needs at least three things:
- A capacity to understand and apply some generalized and conceptual ideas that are partly philosophical and partly psychological in nature.
- A high capacity for what is formally called “cognitive empathy,” that is to say, an intellectual capacity for identifying the thoughts and feelings of others. To “meta-represent” them for oneself in order to make sense of their place within the other person’s cognition.
- An ability to withhold judgment and a willingness to revise deep-seated claims.
Of these three, #1 and #3 can be learned be any academically minded person, but #2 is harder to learn if one does not possess the inclination to begin with. Thus it is not enough to observe a trait in the person one is attempting to type and then stick some Jungian letters on that. As we have noted in our video on Bill Gates, around 10:15, Jungian typology is not behaviorism, that is to say, observing a trait, or a given type of behavior, does not in itself constitute the building blocks for successfully typing someone. Rather, what is needed is for the typer to “meta-represent” the observed behavior for himself, in order to determine the significance of the observed behavior in relation to the observed person’s cognition. Thus what we are doing when we type someone with a Jungian approach is that we apply what we have observed psycho-dynamically to the subject. And as anybody who has read Jung will see, Jungian typology is strictly a psycho-dynamic system.
By now we have raised two points: (1) A capacity for “cognitive empathy” is very hard to learn if one does not possess it by the time one reaches maturity, and (2) Jungian typology is not behaviorism. Lets’s start with the second one:
Jungian Typology is not Behaviorism
“[Behaviorism] is a psychology without a man.” – C.G. Jung
“[Behaviorism is an] unsound philosophical prejudice.” – C.G. Jung
It should be clear from reading Jung that his typology does not rely on behaviorism. This can be very confusing to people who have only learned about the system from internet sources like forums, YouTube, and random blogs. But even if you haven’t read Jung, the fact that Jungian type is different from behaviorism should still be clear from the fact that Jung dubbed his own system to be a system of “analytical psychology.”
Where matters get tricky, however, is that in 1984, David Keirsey came up with a simplified take on the theory. His take rejected the Jungian functions and uptalked a behavioral approach to typology, using the same letters that Jung/Myers did. This alternative approach to the 16 types has caused a lot of confusion and only recently have Keirsey and his son stopped using the Jungian letters to refer to their types.
Likewise, since Keirsey, a new generation of internet-based typers have emerged. These typers very much accept the Jungian functions as the basis of type, but nevertheless still apply those functions within a behavioral framework. Needless to say, this makes the confusion even greater, and if that were not enough, these typers have usually learned what they know from internet resources and not from the original authors in the field such as Jung, Myers, Von Franz and Van der Hoop.
Now don’t get us wrong: There are some good resources on the web, e.g. Personality Page (although they have a bias towards describing the N types at their best while describing the S types based merely on their average). However, the practical effect that the over-reliance on internet material has had is that the above-mentioned typers tend to dabble in popular prejudices, like the false notions that anybody who ever made anything seminal must be an N type, or that anyone who has anything reserved or “mysterious” about their character must be an Ni type (i.e. an IN-J type).
We are not saying that the older material, as published in books, was perfect, but nonetheless it was written by authors who took the typology very seriously, and furthermore, most of the old authors understood this notion of psycho-analytics (rather than behaviorism) being the method at the core of Jungian typology.
Okay then. Now on to the next point:
A capacity for “cognitive empathy” can scarcely be learned. Through our professional and personal experience with Jungian type, both of us have seen how some people seem to naturally possess this knack for not just understanding psychology, but also for “meta-representing” the thoughts and feelings of others for themselves. This does not appear to be the result of any conscious effort or training on the part of these people. They just “get it”.
Conversely, we also see people who are interested in learning the typology and who have privileged access to both the best literature as well as to senior practitioners (who do indeed possess this faculty). On the face of it, these people possess all the best prerequisites for learning to type correctly, and yet, in spite of a year-long proximity to the best materials and mentors, their ability to type correctly simply fails to progress beyond a certain point. They cling to simplistic behavioral indicators, such as believing that anyone who has contributed to science or philosophy must prefer Thinking, or that anyone who has written emotionally moving lyrics must prefer Feeling.
These experiences have led us to conclude that the faculty for “meta-representation” is likely reliant on brain structures that either are inborn or must be formed in early adolescence. And though we did not arrive at this assessment through any kind of study of neuroscience, it seems that modern neuroscience actually lends itself to support this conclusion rather well.
In his book, Zero Degrees of Empathy, Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of Developmental Psychopathology at Cambridge University, asserts that the central building blocks that jointly make up a faculty for cognitive empathy are as follows:
- Meta-representation. The ability to reflect on thoughts and emotions and to model them for oneself.
- Psychological Knowledge. Knowledge about the different kinds of emotions that a human being can experience and what the meaning of each emotion is in the given context.
- Decipherment of Agendas, Convictions, Goals. Summing up individual nuggets of data into an overarching analysis of what a person is up to.
- Attention Controls. The inclination to have one’s attention automatically focus on the giveaways to the other person’s internal state (e.g. the muscles around the eyes, which cannot be consciously controlled).
Throughout the book, Baron-Cohen spends a lot of time documenting how these four building blocks form a necessary prerequisite for a person to develop a correct “theory of mind,” that is, a theory of what is going on inside the other person’s mind. Baron-Cohen also goes to great lengths to show how these building blocks relate to different physiological parts of the brain and to show how a faculty for cognitive empathy develops in the brain.
We should mention that after Baron-Cohen has shown us how these faculties for cognitive empathy are dependent upon structures in the brain, he does end the book by saying that we can help people by training them in empathy, which seems to indicate that the faculties can be developed in adulthood. However, we noted that there is no real transition from the first to the second part of the book. Baron-Cohen may be right, but, to us, the last part of his book stands as his personal manifesto and message of hope, rather than as a scientific argument.
So while all people can learn to become good at typing if they put their minds to it, not all people can become great at it. In this way, the endeavor of typing is similar to the practice of psychotherapy. As the famous psychologist Carl Rogers once said: “Don’t waste your time training therapists – time is better spent in selecting them.”