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On Society and the Cognitive Functions – a Memoir

By Jesse Gerroir

A ‘game’ that is often played with typology is to ‘type’ a particular society or culture. And opinion that is often expressed is of certain individuals who feel out of place in their particular culture or country.

This all brings up the question of whether or not it is possible to type cultures or countries or things larger than the individual. While I think that there are very few that would argue that there are some profound differences between cultures, societies, and other social groups, the field of anthropology and sociology have devoted decades of research to this, and I am very hesitant to subscribe such differences to personality type. Where I doubt that a culture or society has an imbalance of peoples of a particular personality type over another or any such thing. Additionally I think to personalize a culture or society too much is to grant it too much agency and be flawed in the same way that the Great Man theory of history was. Where society is made up of a morass of individuals and influences and trying to separate what caused what is rather futile and something that is somewhat discouraged today in history. Where if you ask a historian ‘why’ the Roman empire collapsed or  ‘what’ started the renaissance or even exactly what the renaissance was, you will receive a variety of answers and none of them really claiming to be the sole answer. Where the world is a very dynamic thing and history an incredibly complex subject because of it.

However, one thing which I think can be said is that certain ideas, generally contained in some philosophical writing, can be said to have had a profound influence on the development of a society or culture over another.  To this end while I think trying to determine why certain philosophies or ideas caught on over others, or why a culture or society is the way it is, is a bit of an unending endeavour, I do think something can be said about certain inherent biases that are often held by particular philosophies. It should be noted that I did not say cultures or societies. By and large societies are large and encompassing enough that while they may not seem it, in reality they contain so many subcultures and subgroups that virtually any ‘function’ is apparent and can find space to express itself.

However, I do think our society is built upon certain philosophical beliefs and therefore certain philosophical biases and assumptions. I also think the cognitive functions are a particularly good tool for differentiating philosophies, almost more so than it is at differentiating people’s personality where at heart it’s more of a system to describe cognition and once we do that we get more into philosophical territory anyway were  formulating a theory of mind. In this regard I think the biggest disservice Jung ever did to his work is to insist upon it being first and foremost a study of psychology. I can understand why he did so, he seemed to truly want to help people and give people the ability to grow and deal with their problems. But psychology is an applied science and like all applied science it is subject to the methodology and rigour of the scientific process. A process that to be blunt was not kind of Jung’s work and ideas because much of it could not be (and is not) substantiated.

However in the field of philosophy Jung’s general theories of mind can be very useful and interesting and in a way fit in better in philosophy then psychology as a lot of his ideas are so abstracted and involve a framework of patterns more than testable framework of principals or laws. Just as there are many philosophical stances that are contradictory to each other and form branches or schools of philosophical thought, I think Jungian typology is interesting in its ability to explain how all these families relate to one another and in essence how a lot of them arise from how a particular philosopher interpreted the world.

With this in mind I think that there are a couple of biases that can be said about general North American culture and society. I will only talk on North American culture as it is the one I grew up in and am familiar with.

Introversion

I will begin with introversion, as I think North American culture has a bit of a bias toward extroversion rather than introversion. Now there is one thing I want to be perfectly clear about. When I talk about introversion I don’t mean social affluence or social ability or social energy or any of the things that authors like Susan Cain like to expound on at great lengths in books like Quiet: The Power of Introverts which have become somewhat popular. To be blunt I find such books somewhat pandering where I don’t think North American culture is hostile to introverts. I think that overall it’s fairly easy to succeed and do well as an introvert. Yes success often requires introverts to learn to develop the extroversion apparent in their personality type, but success generally requires the same out of extroverts where they have to learn to develop the introverted functions of their personality type. To this end I think any ‘introverted and proud of it’ type of thinking or movement is somewhat misguided and contrary to actual psychological growth.

However, this all said, I do think there is a bias in North American society and culture towards extroversion because of its foundational philosophies regarding rationalism. Where a core belief of rationalism is materialism: the idea that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions. This tends to lead to valuing the objective over the subjective. Where even though seemingly immaterial subjective experiences can arise out of objective material (our thoughts) the end product, the subjective experience is often dismissed or seen as containing very little value. Where if something is to have value, it needs to have objective merit, or where all subjective experiences should be examined objectively to have value.

I think this is somewhat in error and does a disservice to introverts. Where the introverted functions are inherently subjective. Yes, if enough people experience the same thing it tends to be seen as objective, this is one of the tenants of the scientific process, repeatability of experiments, but far too often the individuals subjective experiences aren’t seen of value unless they can or are experienced by others. This even goes for the individuals who are experiencing such subjective experiences themselves. Where we are quick to dismiss or forget about the subjective experiences we have or think nothing of. When really they are the things that can tell us more about ourselves than anything else. Where in my opinion subjective experiences never really feel subjective to those experiencing them precisely because the unconsciousness’ or the mind wants the individual to realize it and so makes it seem like the subjective experience is coming from outside of the person or has an inner existence in of itself. Where it in effect the unconsciousness is holding up a mirror up to the psyche of the person.

To give an example of this I will talk a bit about introverted feeling.

Introverted Feeling (Fi)

I’m using introverted feeling partially because I think that it is often misunderstood in North American society. Introverted feeling is an attenuation towards inner feeling of the self. Like introverted thinking which tends to create inner abstract frameworks of thought to categorize and explain things encountered in the world, or introverted sensation which tends to create strong memory based impressions of what something is, introverted feeling, like all the introverted functions tends to abstract stimuli encountered in the outer world and grant the abstraction a strong sense of inner subjective meaning.

Plato’s theory of forms explains this rather elegantly. Where the Form of something is an ideal of it that isn’t existent in the world. It is the Form from which all forms of the same nature in reality are derived. However contrary to Plato I believe that the Form is also derived from repeated occurrences of the forms thus kind of closing the loop.

Anyways, introverted feeling is a coalescing of  inner emotions into virtues. Basically personal characters that are seen as promoting greatness, generally through some kind of ethical or emotional action. However in North American society we often are used to thinking of feeling and emotion in terms of reactions to stimuli. You hit your thumb with a hammer and cry out, your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you and you cry and feel sad, you see a mistreated animal and feel sympathy, you are celebrating with friend and feel joy.

However there are also many times that we react to emotions that don’t have such an outward stimuli or where the connection between event and emotional reaction are a bit more abstract or tenuous. Things like nostalgia, where we feel intensely for some aspect of the past by looking at something ordinary; disappointment when we come to some realization that something isn’t going to work out the way we thought it was; or where we’re not so much reacting to something but the absence of something.

Now all these emotions are reactions from stimuli but they are more subtle where the object is passively triggering something in an individual. These types of emotional reactions also tend to be very subjective. Not everyone is going to react the same way to the same stimuli and very often people are going to have a hard time understanding why the other person is reacting that way emotionally.

INFPs and ISFPs being introverted feeling dominants are often attuned to individualistic emotional experiences, either of themselves or others. Where they will feel things intensely and develop strong inner thoughts and world around various emotions. This is a little more apparent in ISFPs who tend to be more artistic. Where ISFPs will often create artwork that reflects their inner emotional vision of things; in essence artwork that reflects how they see the world emotionally. Many INFPs can become or are artists also but it’s a bit different where being intuitives their experience of inner emotion is a bit more abstracted. They tend to be drawn more to writing and song as a result. Where they can express the layers and abstract nuances of their inner emotional visions and worlds. Like ISFPs their art tends to take on a highly individual style

INFP poets like Edger Allen Poe are a good example of this. Poe’s work had a strong sense of emotion and style about it, that while easy to recognize and list off elements of, is very hard to define, and yet his work really does seem like its own world like his stories hearken to some kind of melancholic 19th centaury New England that never really existed.

In this manner INFPs tend to go through life reacting to events, circumstances, implications, happenings, and other such things in more of a subtle or easy going way where the emotional impressions of things kind of coalesce into inner emotional worlds. While these emotional worlds can be reminiscent of other ages or other times, they often don’t recall a particular time or place and neither do INFPs really want them to or think they do. Where what they are reminiscent of more than anything else, is the spirit of a time or place, the spirit of an age.

In this manner most of the introverted functions tend to create a sense of spirit. What I mean by spirit is a complex, intangible, nuanced idea or expression that seems to almost be its own little world or to thing in-of-itself. Where it contains a holistic grace that makes it hard to define and holds a variety of elements.

Art as the Last Refuge of the Spirit

In Western society I feel that art has become the “last refuge of the spirit.” What I mean by this is that one is pretty much free to express whatever they want in art and have it be seen as valid. Like as I mentioned Poe’s poetry and stories often hearken to some kind of melancholic 19th centaury New England that never really existed. And because of its quality it is seen as being of value of being important. Yet if Poe had tried to use a more factual or different medium to express the spirit he perceived it likely would have been met with more criticism or opposition instead of being lauded.

Where in effect we are used to subjectivism in art and there are very few other mediums to really express subjectivism. The only problem with this is that art is also seen as being somewhat fanciful or inconsequential. Where it is seen as a thing of beauty rather than importance.

In the past subjective experiences, such those typical of religious experiences, were seen as important things containing value despite their subjective nature. Where they had the ability to transform the individual and for them to reflect upon their psyche by having it be made apparent to them in a way that seems outside of themselves. Today the closest we often come to this is in the general new age movement which encompasses things like meditation and other spiritual activities that essentially seek to teach people not to dismiss the spirits their introverted functions make apparent to them.

This is almost comically seen in the existential philosophers. Where if I had to sum up existential philosophy in a single sentence it would be a bunch of depressed IN’s discover their Sensing functions. Where they kind of realize that sitting all day in a room thinking about stuff isn’t exactly conductive to leading a fulfilling life and that life is kind of meaningless if you spend it just thinking about things and never actually do anything. That to live life you actually have to live it. Where I think that to most strong sensing types, existentialism is not all that interesting or profound not because they can’t understand or some such thing it but because they already live it.

Anyways, I do think there are fewer mediums or ways to expresses subjectivity and have it be seen as valuable. Jung tried to provide these primarily through opening a dialogue on spiritualism and how it seems to be vitally important in early society and tribes but something that modern society lacks.

I feel like the internet has assuaged this to some degree albeit in somewhat of a negative fashion. Where if you go onto any comment section of any article or internet site you will see a bunch of comment espousing some kind of highly charged political or social view. Where basically the person has some inner framework of feeling or thought, some subjective inner model, some realized spirit, of how the world should run and is trying to make it objective basically through volume of expression. Where by sharing their subjective view leads credence to it making it objective.

Overall beyond the obvious fact that political, racial, social, etc. extremism in general is bad. I think this is a negative thing for it is the realization of the subjectivity of the spirit that brings to fruition it’s true value and all subjectivisms, no matter how abhorrent they may seem, do contain value to the individual. And in our current society, because we overvalue the objective and undervalue the subjective people are less likely to view their realized subjectivisms as subjective. Where the only subjective activity that is seen as having value often is those related to or producing art.

To some end I think that, interestingly, the development of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in psychology can help legitimize subjectiveness once again.

CBT acknowledges that there may be behaviours that cannot be controlled through rational thought, but rather emerge based on prior conditioning from the environment and other external and/or internal stimuli. CBT is “problem focused” (undertaken for specific problems) and “action oriented” (therapist tries to assist the client in selecting specific strategies to help address those problems), or directive in its therapeutic approach.

Where in essence simply realizing or examining inner things; thoughts, ideas, feelings, sensations, insights, is useless unless they are put into action. It is somewhat reminiscent of existential thinking but whereas existentialism is kind of weighed down with introspection and statements about meaning and life, CBT is more problem and action focused. Where in essence the realized subjectivism or spirit is useless if it is just talked about or more commonly on the internet, ranted about. That the person needs to realize the subjective nature of the subjectivism by seeing it and taking action upon it, entirely within the context of their own life. Where once again we begin to see a place where subjectivism is valued and activities for the person to process and express it realized.

REFERENCES

  • Cain: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking Broadway Books 2013
  • Gerroir: The Difference Between the Extroverted and Introverted Functions CelebrityTypes 2013

Published in Jesse Gerroir