By Sam Levey
What is a function?
As functions are the core of typology, you might think this would be a very straightforward question, but actually it is not.
In Psychological Types, Jung defined a function as “a particular form of psychic activity that remains the same in principle under varying conditions,” but this isn’t particularly satisfactory. Besides that this could refer to pretty much anything or nothing depending on your definitions of “same” and “varying conditions,” it’s also just so vague as to be unhelpful for developing understanding.
How about later sources? Von Franz does not appear to offer one. In Gifts Differing, Isabel Myers prefers the word “process,” but neglects a formal definition. The closest she comes is when she states “Perceiving is here understood to include the processes of becoming aware of things, people, occurrences, and ideas. Judging includes the processes of coming to conclusions about what has been perceived.” As we will see later, her specific wording here is perhaps telling.
And modern sources? CelebrityTypes does not have an explicit definition. Neither does Michael Pierce, an interesting departure from his otherwise meticulous presentation of definitions. The modern writer who comes closest to an explicit definition is Lenore Thomson Bentz.
Bentz writes, “[functions] refer to the structure of cognitive experience – the way in which we reduce a constant bombardment of information to manageable forms that relate to our goals, beliefs, and preferences.” She goes on to say “Each function orients conscious awareness in terms of its own psychic content, just as the four directions orient us to different parts of the external landscape. ” But the careful reader may note this differ’s from Myers’s definition in a key way.
The dimension that I would like to call awareness to here is time. Myers’s phrasing has the property that it is local in time. By that I mean, in her conception the use of a function happens at a specific moment. For instance, if Thinking is defined as “a logical process, aimed at an impersonal finding,” then it is in the execution of this process that one has performed Thinking. If you could observe Thinking, then you could tag the time at which it happened: At 10:23pm, Jimothy used “a logical process, aimed at an impersonal finding.”
By contrast, Bentz’s definitions are global in time. By that I mean, she is referring to a “structure” which persists through time; it is a part of the person, rather than a thing that happens. Someone’s “Thinking” then is rather like a building: you might identify the period during which it was under construction, or note changes that have accumulated as the years have gone on, but a single time like 10:23pm is meaningless to a building. For Bentz, a function is not a single instantaneous process, but a long-term, overarching orientation. These two conceptions are really quite different, but the vocabulary is all the same.
It is my strong suspicion that Jung, Pierce, and CelebrityTypes would all tend to agree with Bentz, or at least her general method, if not the specific details, but obviously Myers differs, as will others in the typology community. But with such radically different conceptions of what a ‘function’ is, how can we even really say we’re talking about the same thing when we talk about typology?
To answer that, we’ll forget all about psychology in the next part, and instead talk about, physics!
Local and Global Theories In Physics
The distinction between local and global theories is not new. There are actually many examples of this duality in the field of physics. I’m going to describe two examples here to help readers unfamiliar with the field get a better sense of the concept.
The first is a theory that is local and global in space rather than time, and it is called Gauss’s Law. Gauss’s Law relates the electric field to the charged particles which produce it, but it can do so in two ways. The local version (the differential equation) relates the local shape of the electric field at a specific point to the charge distribution at that same point. In other words, to use the local law, you specify the charge at a certain point in space, then work your way outward to other points nearby, until you have captured the entire shape of the electric field at every point in space, in full 3 dimensional glory.
But there is also the global law, which works a little bit differently. The global law doesn’t tel you anything about specific points in space, or the specific way the charge is laid out. Instead, to use the global law, you draw an imaginary box. Gauss’s law (the integral equation) says that the sum of the electric field on the surface of the box is proportional to the total amount of charge within the box. It doesn’t tell you anything about individual points in space, only about global properties of the system, like the total charge.
The second example I’m going to talk about is about light refraction. ‘Refraction’ happens when light changes medium, say from traveling through air to traveling through water. Because the speed of light is slower in water than air, it actually bends where the transition happens, and this is called refraction. And this can be described in two ways. The local law is called the wave equation, and it describes the evolution of the system over time. You give it the current state of the system, ie. the light ray is here going in this direction, and it tells you the next state, and you do this repeatedly until you have traced out the whole path of the light ray (you don’t literally do that, but functionally it’s what you are doing when you solve a differential equation).
But there’s also a global law, and that is called Fermat’s Principle, which says that given a starting point and an ending point, the light ray will always take the path that takes the least amount of time. (That sounds simple, but actually it’s fantastical: there are an infinite number of possible paths, and if there are many medium changes this could involve a number of bends and angles, so how did the light choose what would be the shortest path?) And furthermore, it can be shown that these are mathematically equivalent: it would impossible to have one without the other, and therefore it becomes very hard to try to make the case that one “causes” the other.
In case you’re now thoroughly confused, here is the broad summary.
On the whole, local laws:
- Are applied at a single point or moment, and highlight the detailed behavior the system shows
Tend to be very specific and descriptive (the equation might be describing the value of the electric field at point (x,y,z) at time t)
- Tend to create complexity: as you extrapolate out from your initial conditions, consequences at each step ripple through the system
While global laws:
- Are applied universally over the whole system, and highlight the big-picture pattern the system displays
Tend to be very broad and less descriptive (the equation might tell you about the total charge, not about where any of it is or when)
- Tend to veil complexity: summing over a whole configuration hides all the details behind a single number.
And what’s more, local laws and global laws are usually completely equivalent. It’s tempting to ask, “which one is more fundamental? Does one of them cause the other?” But because they can be shown to be necessarily dependent on each other, the math has nothing to say about this question. You simply couldn’t logically have one without the other, so it becomes purely philosophical.
Back To Typology
Now that we know the difference between local laws and global laws, and have seen the inklings of this in typology, it becomes natural to ask, does personality type affect a preference for either local or global laws? I believe the answer is yes, it does.
I believe that Ne-users will show preference for local laws. Local laws create complexity, just as Ne tends to do as it deconstructs topics in order to make connections. The local formulations exist in the world, at specific points in space time, perfect for Ne’s search for objective possibility. Ne looks at a global law and says “surely this pattern must have a more fundamental cause.”
Meanwhile, Ni-users will show a preference for global laws. Global laws tend to create simplicity out of chaos, much like Ni is want to account for every last branch into one coherent system. Global variables, like energy, or entropy, or total charge, might not always have an obvious correspondence in the objective world, but the Ni user doesn’t mind this, is perhaps even encouraged by it. Ni looks at a local law and says “the universe cannot be this messy, there must be a bigger pattern this is obeying.”
With that in mind, I believe we can explain our findings from above: most of the writing on typology takes a global perspective, probably because most of the writing on typology has been done by Ni-types. The notable departure from that would be Isabel Myers, the INFP.
Since any local formulations of typology have been so woefully underrepresented, I intend to partially correct that by outlining my own formulation of one in the next part of this series.
Reaction-Categories: A Formal Outline
It is important to note: although in the previous two parts I have mostly been commenting on the works of others, in this part I will be putting forth some views which are entirely my own. Although as stated above, Myers’s outline of typology in Gifts Differing appears to be a local theory as well, mine is somewhat different and should not be taken to be interchangeable with hers.
First, subdivide the entire universe into two parts. The first is called the “subject,” and that’s your mind and your mental contents. All the rest of the known universe will be referred to as the “object.”
Between the subject and the object, there are exactly 4 directions that information can go:
- Object -> Object: these are events that have nothing to do with you.
- Subject -> Object: this is your “Behavior.”
- Subject -> Subject: this would be your “Inner Experience.”
- Object -> Subject: information from the outside word reaches you, and you have a mental reaction to that information. I will refer to this repeatedly as “Reactions.”
The key insight of Jung is that how a person interacts with outside information affects their personality. In global theories, this is a study of their long-term orientations towards information, and includes some of both Reactions and Inner Experience, but in a local theory, it is a study of their individual Reactions to information. And thus for the moment, we will exclude information which is exclusively Inner Experience with no connection to the outside world.
Although you could study these Reactions in any way you please, the most natural for typology is to categorize them. This leads to my working definition of “function” in the local theory: a function is a category that is used to best describe a person’s reaction to outside information; a “reaction-category” if you like.
The two basic categories we will use will be Judging and Perceiving. We’ll define Judging as any reaction which seeks to evaluate the incoming information against a set criteria. Since we want these two categories to include all possible reactions, we’ll define Perceiving as any reaction which DOES NOT seeks to evaluate the incoming information against a set criteria, or basically, any reaction that’s not Judging.
(I think it’s important to pause here to note that although a reaction happens at a specific time, by definition in the local theory, that does not mean that it can’t take a while. Much like deliberations of the courts or the tax auditors, it often takes some time to come to an evaluation of an object. This could be seconds, or minutes, or even hours: how many times have you sat in your bed at night deciding how you felt about something for several hours? And you might not even come to a conclusion (maybe you fell asleep…) but the fact that you were seeking an evaluation is enough to label the reaction as Judging.)
Next we’ll divide Judging into two categories, depending on the type of criteria being used. If the Judgement is attempting to evaluate the value properties of the object, then we’ll call it Feeling. If it is evaluating non-value attributes, then we’ll call it Thinking.
In a parallel way, we’ll divide Perceiving into two categories based upon where your attention is directed. If the attention is directed towards actual reality, then we’ll call that Sensation. If the attention is directed towards non-reality, then we’ll call that Intuition. However, “non-reality,” being an infinite set of possible anythings, includes a lot of thoughts that might not really fairly be called reactions, such as daydreaming. Since we are categorizing reactions and not anything else, we’ll have to limit this a bit. Above we defined reactions as dealing with outside information, so instead of all of “non-reality,” we’ll limit this to ideas which are inspired by outside information (but which are not actually a part of it).
And finally we’ll divide each of these 4 categories into another two parts, once again based on where the attention is directed. We’ll define Extroversion as a focus on the object, and Introversion as a focus on the subject. Then we’ll split the Judging functions based on where the criteria is coming from: in the extroverted Judging functions, it will be an objective criteria, and in the introverted Judging functions a subjective criteria.
For the Perceiving functions however, it will need to again change slightly. If we defined the introverted Perceiving functions as simply perceiving the Subject, then that would again be a significant departure from Reactions. Reactions require an outside stimulus to get going, but perceiving the Subject does not. To fix this, we’ll limit the focus from “all of the Subject” to only “how the Subject is affected by outside information.”
We’re now ready for all 8!
- Extroverted Feeling: a reaction which seeks to make a value evaluation of incoming data, using criteria found in the object.
- Introverted Feeling: a reaction which seeks to make a value evaluation of incoming data, using criteria found in the subject.
- Extroverted Thinking: a reaction which seeks to make a non-value evaluation of incoming data (such as logical consistency or efficiency) using criteria found in the object.
- Introverted Thinking: a reaction which seeks to make a non-value evaluation of incoming data (such as logical consistency or efficiency) using criteria found in the subject.
- Extroverted Sensation: a reaction which does not form an evaluation, while paying attention to actual reality in the object.
- Introverted Sensation: a reaction which does not form an evaluation, while paying attention to what actual reality in the object evokes in the subject.
- Extroverted Intuition: a reaction which does not form an evaluation, while paying attention to information inspired by reality, in the object.
Introverted Intuition: a reaction which does not form an evaluation, while paying attention to what information inspired by reality evokes in the subject.
These are meant to be the definitions of the functions. I’m not (presently…) disputing what claims authors often make about the functions, such as saying that Fe is accommodating, or Fi is individuating, or what have you. However, I am saying that (at least in the local theory) those claims are not definitional to the functions, but rather follow as consequences of habitual and repeated use of the functions as preferred patterns of thought.
Notice that the categories we created above form a complete set: it is not possible to have any reaction to outside information which does not fit into exactly one of the above functions. Furthermore, it would be somewhat bizarre to claim that some people don’t ever do some of them. We all do them all some time. The most obvious two are Se and Te. We all “pay attention to actual reality in the object” from time to time, like when you get absorbed in a movie, without particularly forming opinions or impressions until after. And we all “make a non-value evaluation of incoming data using criteria found in the object” from time to time, like when you determine if your two scheduled appointments overlap or not.
So to that extent, everything preceding applies to all thinking people, and really anything at all that can react to information. The way it will vary amongst individuals must then be in either their quantitative or qualitative relationship to the particular functions. That is, some people use some more often than others, and/or feel a certain way or take an attitude towards some of them. That is where more mainstream typology theory takes over, and this part ends, having filled in the appropriate gaps as intended.
The aim of this essay has been to provide some better tools for these discussions, and to point out areas where debating parties might not realize that they aren’t even close to being on the same page. I hope I’ve accomplished that somewhat!