Saturday, April 3, 2010


The first time I saw Star Trek: The Original Series, I made fun of the cheesy sets, dated costumes and ham-fisted acting of William Shatner, but eventually I came to love the science fiction ideas played against a backdrop of sociology interpreted through the personality antipoles of Kirk and Spock. I identified a lot with Spock's struggle to fit in using intellectual means.

When The Next Generation came, Data became the logical heir of my character affections. Whereas Spock struggled to control his human half's emotions, Data sought integration with humanity despite being designed without emotion.

I credit chess with bringing me out of an oblivious shell I had inhabited for my first two decades of life. I thought only of pursuit of truth and achievement in a very egocentric manner. My manners must have been atrocious. But chess forces you to think about the mind of another. What is he thinking? What is he planning? What makes him tick?

For most of my life I've considered myself a man of science. Computers, medicine, science and mathematics were my milieu. Language arts and social studies were some of my weaker subjects. I did well and even had some moments like AP 5 on U.S. History, AP 4 on English, but only AP 3 in Spanish. But I once cried because I got a D- on a 6th grade social studies test on the French Revolution. But I find I care more now about music and writing and history and culture. I'm not exactly like Sting in having lost my faith in science and progress, but more often these days, I fall on the judgment that we're foolish in putting our efforts into technology that is within our reach, but beyond our grasp.

My brain has gone through changes the last few years. No longer is my memory as perfect as I remember and I find myself using shortcuts more and more to grasp things that my steel trap twenty-year old mind would have stored in entirety. As I've grown impatient on my way to becoming the grumpy old man I expect to be in twenty years, I also dump a lot more information into the recycle bin. Don't need to know that. This trumps that, so forget that. Information management in my mind seems to involve throwing out yesterday's papers to keep a clean and orderly workspace.

One consequence of these changes is that I think my Myers-Briggs personality has shifted. I took a web-based personality test at and was informed that I was INTJ. The N, which stands for iNtuition, was the weakest attribute at 12% while Introversion remained 100%. I had always thought of myself as ISTJ before where sensory information dominates my perception. But now this test says I'm more intuitive. Am I becoming more an artsy-fartsy and less a scientist?

What exactly is intuition? Is intuition seeing more of the forest and less sensing the trees? Is intuition of higher order or BETTER than sensation? Zbigniew Czajkowski, a fencing master, seems to place sensation near the bottom: "To look is not the same as to see, to see is not the same as to perceive. We perceive, really – on a higher, conceptual-functional level – only what we know, understand well and can give a name to."

A month ago I visited Alaska with the express purpose of seeing the Aurora Borealis. I was lucky that the terrestrial and solar weather cooperated on one of the six nights and I got to see one of the tamer versions of the Northern Lights. I bought a DVD that included a nice ending paragraph that I wish to quote both for its beautiful imagery about the aurora, but also for its separation of senses and intuition.

From "Aurora - Rivers of Light in the Sky" written by David John Rychetnik.
There are many secrets yet to be revealed about the forces that create these majestic lights in the northern sky. Like many things, we see these events in the heavens very differently depending on our worldly point of view. When the physicist and astronomer, the scholar and mathematician look skyward, they see energy and matter, motion and time weaving together, helping make visible an infinitely variable process normally hidden from the human eye. When the poet and storyteller, the mystic and the artist gaze above, they see revelation and meaning, mystery and imagination weaving together, helping make visible infinitely variable expressions normally hidden in the human mind. But anyone lucky enough to witness the aurora will above all find beauty and hopefully be thankful that this tiny fragment of the invisible has been revealed and that the infinite variety of nature's creative hand has touched us once again, stopping us for the moment to enjoy this marvelous and mysterious universe from our simple place within it. This is the aurora, the magnificent rivers of lights in the sky.

Besides Intuitive Perception, Feelings seem to have usurped some of the power I had given to Thinking in my Judgments. I think that I was always a little moody, but like Spock I could push those feelings into a dusty corner. Now I feel more acutely aware of feelings and allow them to rise in value relative to my thinking processes.

I'm still oblivious to all kinds of things. If the Blue Fairy one day turns me into a real boy, I hope I can still recognize the man in the mirror.


qxpch said...

Hi Ernie,

The Myers-Briggs test is fun as long as you don't take it too seriously. I think its best use is for reminding yourself that there really are many different learning and thinking styles, and there isn't a single one that is "correct."

The Intuitive part is helpful for scientists, who in spite of their reputation have to be just as intuitive as artists. A lot of scientists, like me, tend to be INTP's, which is an uncommon type in the general population (3 percent according to Wikipedia).

The danger of the Myers-Briggs comes if you try to make decisions based on it. Suppose you (or your parents) find out that you are an ESFJ, which is the opposite of INTP, and one of the most common personality types at 12 percent. If you're an ESFJ, does that mean you are doomed to fail as a scientist? No. There are plenty of ways to succeed, and science could use some more extroverted, hands-on types.

Soapstone said...

I'll admit my interest in Myers-Briggs is a little overplayed. Personality categorization might have descriptive value, but it probably lacks prescriptive value. Certainly, I don't meet people and say to myself, "Here is an ISTJ; treat with kid gloves." That six billion people can be categorized into 16 personality types is perhaps only a little bit more useful than 12 zodiac types. I have always frowned on astrology as being bunk.

Perhaps I was using Myers-Briggs as a gauge in a vain hope that this drab spotted nerd has learned to broaden his horizons, change his stripes, or grow up to be a bird of paradise.