By Leon Tsao (INFP)
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” –Friedrich Nietzsche
Type plays a profound role in how the various disciplines in the hard sciences, social sciences, and humanities are shaped. Certain disciplines tend to be favored by certain types, and the predominant types in a discipline set the precedent for what is generally deemed favorable or unacceptable in that discipline. The predominant types’ assumptions about the world become the discipline’s assumptions about the world.1
Perhaps one of the most influential examples in history is science, which generally adheres to an Extraverted Thinking (Te) approach. Science uses accepted objective measurements to test out hypotheses, a process that runs in parallel with how Te works. Science has certainly brought much visible advancement to society, and as a result, its popularity has seeped into the mantra of other disciplines. Thus there is “positivism,” a notion that the scientific method is the best approach for any investigative field of endeavor. This is why the phrase “social science” exists, as if fields like psychology or sociology can fit squarely into the confines of the scientific method. Early sociologist Auguste Comte thought sociology should be called “social physics,” as if interpersonal dynamics can ultimately be boiled down to the hard science of physics. Even the term “soft sciences” implies a subtle value judgment on the rigorousness and integrity of fields like archaeology or economics as compared to biology or chemistry. This judgment has not gone by unnoticed. Postmodern sociologists and philosophers alike have challenged the encroachment of science onto their territory, some taking it to an extreme of dismissing any value or legitimacy of science (in other words, value of Te) in their respective disciplines.2, 3
One of my firsthand experiences with the varying approaches used by different personality types is in graduate school, where I am studying creativity psychology. I worked on a research project that investigated interdisciplinary collaborations between art and engineering students. I am an INFP, and I was assigned with an ENFJ from the engineering department to observe these students.
Thankfully, for the both of us, the research group we were part of was experimental, so it tended to challenge the norm in social science research. Therefore, strict positivistic research methods were questioned. We were invited to bring our own subjective styles into the research project, as we understood that there is no such thing as pure objectivity in evaluating data, which Te attempts to strive for.
In the research project, I tended to create as many themes as possible that I observed were going on (Ne) between the art and engineering students, and then use the data collection (Si) to back up the themes. I advocated the value and importance of interdisciplinary collaborations from my observations (Fi). When I presented my reports to the interdisciplinary team, they were excited and enthusiastic with my research. However, my idiosyncratic approach later became too much for the protocol, and I was instructed to focus on data collection (Si) and then slowly build themes from it (Ne). I could not stand this approach at all, as it did not rely on my strengths.
My fellow researcher, the ENFJ engineer, respectfully requested if she could openly engage with the art and engineering students in heart-to-heart conversations (Fe). She was having a difficult time, since she felt empathetic to the students and could not sit passively by while they struggled through their collaborations. She felt the scientific approach was apathetic. In fact, it was a lot easier for me than for her to be a distant observer and keep up a poker face during observation, as Te is one of my functions, not Fe. The research group discussed her suggestion, and decided to go forth with it. The argument was that the positivistic approach created an illusory separation between the observers (the researchers) and the observed (the research participants, i.e. the art and engineering students), which tended to treat the observed as an “Other.” Te favors this separation because it is trying to make sure that the observers do not contaminate the experiment, influencing its results. Our group’s argument was that researchers will influence the experiment anyway, even by being still, silent, and a distance away from the research participants.
The weakness of the positivist approach became obvious to us when we put the ENFJ’s suggestion to practice. What happened previously was that the research participants would quiet down or clam up when they saw the researchers come around with tape recorders and what they interpreted as icy stares (in the view of science, “poker faces”). After we started conversing with them, they warmed up to us and disclosed a lot of valuable data. Even I benefitted from their greater disclosure, though I still interacted with them with my usual cool, which is quite different from how the ENFJ interacted with them.
This particular experience, as well as a number of others I have encountered in academia, reminds me of the allegory of blind men feeling different parts of an elephant. One focused on the tusks, another on the body, and another on the tail. They each insisted that their way of interpreting the elephant is the ultimate way. The MBTI can be used to counteract this issue by showing us there are fundamentally different ways of processing information, and if we want the full picture, we must admit ways other than than our own to better see the elephant for what it is. Interdependency is necessary.
It is easy to tell ourselves and others to be open-minded, but the MBTI can show us how. It proves to us quite clearly that we take for granted the way our type thinks, and that we have instinctive prejudices towards other types’ ways of thinking. With the MBTI, we can better observe our prejudices. I saw firsthand that type biases in thinking are standardized or even expected in different disciplines.
There needs to be greater tolerance between the disciplines as well as acceptance of different approaches to investigative research. This does not mean we do not ensure quality. In fact, diversity of approaches can increase overall research quality, since different approaches make up for each others’ weaknesses. The ENFJ saw the gaping blind spot in positivistic research. If we were in a more stringent and less open-minded research group, this blind spot would go unchallenged and be given a chance to loom ever larger.
The ENFJ and I told each other sometimes we felt like people who loved research but were born inferior researchers. She had it worse, as she felt like an inferior engineer too, even though she created her own environmentally-friendly recycling invention. All of these assumptions we made of ourselves turned out to be false.
What I have learned is that it is best to follow your instincts about what you love to do and go about it in your own fashion, in a way that is conducive to your individual strengths. You may very well overturn a status quo set up by other types and may even revolutionize your own area of endeavor as a result! Remember, though, not to turn into a monster in the process, and allow others the freedom to do the same to your own discipline.
1. I would say, as a whole, sociology is a favored discipline of INFJs. Ni is the primary function of the INFJ, followed by Fe. Ni creates a critical commentary of culture by peering past the labels provided by society that are taken for granted. Fe and Ti work in conjunction to figure out how people function as groups and in social dynamics, and Fe wants to know what is best for the common good. There are definitely many non-INFJs in the field, but Ni, Fe, and Ti tend to be the favored functions in sociology.
Academic philosophy today is a favored discipline of INTPs. There are certainly many well-known philosophers who are not INTPs, but academic philosophy departments of universities tend to draw upon a Ti approach. Ti is the primary function of the INTP, followed by Ne. The norm in academic philosophy is defining and clarifying frameworks (Ti), exploring multiple hypothetical scenarios (Ne), often called “thought experiments” to test out these frameworks, and then using deduction to support or negate information based on whether they adhere to the frameworks or not. Some academic philosophy departments ignore the philosopher Nietzsche (an INTJ) because his primary mode of processing is in Ni as opposed to Ti. He made aphoristic and prophetic pronouncements (Ni) that they either did not know how to deal with or dismissed as unsuitable to a proper pursuit of philosophy. I am not stating this is a norm in philosophy in general or even for INTPs, many of whom may use Ne to be open-minded to various approaches, but rather it is a common phenomenon in academic philosophy.
2. I should mention here there is nothing wrong with the Te approach as it is as valid as any other. To merely resort to discrediting its merits as some postmodernists have done is hypocritical. This would amount to the oppressed (non-Te users) becoming the oppressors by denunciating Te. I would also like to state that Te users do not necessary assume that there is such thing as pure objectivity. It is an ideal standard they set for themselves that they work hard to attain as best as they humanly can while knowing full well they cannot meet it. This is an admirable and worthy effort on their part to set such high expectations. What I am suggesting here is that Te should not be considered the exclusive approach to research and investigation, as there are many types who can bring a diversity of approaches to the table.
3. What is interesting is that in the real world there are some non-Te types who do favor positivism, even though the approach generally goes against their grain of thinking. The reason for this is that from secondary to higher education, positivism had been presented to them as the de facto way of investigation and research. I personally believe there is a difference between preference and ability, and thus I know of non-Te types who are quite good at science. However, they might experience a certain dissonance with it whereas a dominant Te-user will feel more comfortable and at home with it. Thus anyone may feel alienated in the field they are trying to pursue that is dominated by another type.