Myers Briggs

1. Intro to this post

Every now and then I’ll be reading something, usually from the rationalist-adjacent community, and someone will say something like, “I want to express my identity, but it falls apart when people use identity to score points and dismiss perspectives,” and I think, well duh, there’s entire groups of people whose lives revolve around scoring social points1. But saying, “High-dominance Fs will be high-dominance Fs” isn’t particularly illuminating without a lot of context. So when someone on /r/TheMotte linked Scott’s Myers-Briggs post, I mentioned that I was thinking of writing a post on Myers-Briggs (which I shall henceforth refer to as just ‘MB’). Two positive responses and a decent number of upvotes gave me the woo-hoo feeling positive social stimulus I needed to get started writing, so here we are.

If you’re not coming here via r/TheMotte, if maybe I know you in real life or I’ve linked you here from somewhere else in the future, then you’ll have to forgive me a certain one-sidedness to my presentation. I’m primarily trying to explain to NTs—apparently predominantly INTJs at that—what people who aren’t NTs are like. If you’re not an NT, and you want to know what NTs are like, this post can still be informative, but mostly because you’ll be hearing me say things like Ss think this way, isn’t that weird and you can then infer that Ns don’t think that way.

One complaint about MB is that it isn’t scientific enough, or that OCEAN is more scientific. I won’t dispute that. If someone wants to write an affordable pop-science-level book about it, I’d probably read it. (Like, seriously amazon?2) But in the meantime, I have found many MB distinctions to be useful.

2. Quizzes

Before we go into this, I want to point out that a lot of online MB tests kinda suck. I had several of my kids3 take one; I would type those kids as INTP, ENTP, and ISTJ, but the test kept giving the same INF result for all of them. Your best option is to familiarize yourself with the system and the dimensions themselves, and then identify which description comes closest to your perception of yourself. You are likely better at matching yourself to your closest description than a test is. That said, if you have no clue what your type is, a test can probably at least wiggle and point suggestively in the right direction.

3. Simple MB vs. Complex MB

One problem I have with handling this topic is that I have several overlapping MB systems in my head. I’ve read two different Myers-Briggs books and some other stuff online, each of which handles MB in different ways.

I learned what I’m calling ‘simple MB’ first, from a book that I found in my grandmother’s house, called Please Understand Me II, by David Kiersey. If you’ve looked at descriptions of your MB type from an online quiz, you’re looking at simple MB, although Kiersey does a much better job of giving you all the pieces and putting them together than any online quiz result. Simple MB gives you the four axes (I-E, N-S, T-F, J-P), the 16 types that result, and the four meta-types (NT, NF, SJ, SP), so if you’ve seen any of that, you’re looking at simple MB.

The other kind of MB I learned from the book Re-Modeling the Mind: Personality in Balance by Ruth Johnston. I highly recommend this book. I became Facebook friends with the author, and she is by far the most insightful person I’ve talked with about the inner workings of people. The book mixes neuroscience, Jung, and personal insights into a complex but very illuminating picture. This version of MB has some overlap with online sources that discuss ‘cognitive stacks’, but goes beyond them.

I will cover some important points about both simple and complex MB, but not even a very long blog post can capture all the important stuff. So, seriously, go read Re-Modeling the Mind.

3. Personality boxes

Seen in a broad way, like turning a telescope on the stars, all human beings have certain motivations in common: they want to survive, form relationships and avoid rejection. If we are all alike (a common focus for psychology research), then there is no way to specify what would be wise for this individual to do. …

But at the other extreme, the narrowest view, each human being is perfectly unique. Nobody will ever again be born in this place and time to this parent, and nobody will ever again read the exact same set of books or live in the exact same set of circumstances. …

Somewhere between these opposite poles, both true to an extent, we can find a way to group individuals in ways that allow them to see how they are alike and to learn from each other. The study of personality is exactly this effort: a way to look at features of individuals and group them so that we gain some wisdom about predicting what will work for them.

I define “personality” as the recognizable pattern of how an individual processes and responds to the world.

—Re-Modeling the Mind, emphasis mine

That passage always sticks with me. It is simultaneously true that a) humans have a great deal in common; b) no two are exactly alike; and c) at a scale in between those, there are personality trends to be identified.

The default human tendency is to model other people’s minds based on our own. Thanks to (a), this is a really useful place to start. By observing other individuals (b), we can learn to predict specific ways in which those specific individuals react to the world differently than we do. But (c) lets us aggregate those individual observations into categorical predictions that we can then more easily apply to other people.

No categorization system outside math is perfect. A lot of people look at MB and decide it only sorta fits them, or doesn’t fit them at all. That’s ok. MB also fails to capture many possible other ways of grouping people. That’s fine, too; it’s still good at capturing the differences that it does distinguish between. In the end, the purpose of MB isn’t to have a system where everyone fits definitely into perfect and complete boxes.

The worthwhileness of MB comes from understanding people better when they do fit in those boxes. Familiarizing ourselves with the system trains us to expect certain ways that other people predictably differ from us. And, hopefully, this leads us to understand and empathize with them. When you see how others are wired differently than you, their incomprehensible behavior becomes a little less incomprehensible, and sometimes that means they become a little less monstrous. Maybe they aren’t doing things wrong after all; maybe they are just doing things in a way that works for them, the way you do things in a way that works for you.

Learning the MB system also helps us predict people outside our bubble. Although you have almost certainly interacted with a wide variety of personality types throughout your life, it is often the case that people self-sort into bubbles with disproportionate numbers of similar personalities. This happens through choosing work fields that appeal the most to particular types, through interacting with family whose types may be (but might not be) similar, or through being drawn to friends who have similar interests. If you read /r/TheMotte or work in a tech field, you are very likely to interact with a disproportionate number of NTs. Learning MB can help you remember that other types exist. This is especially important when you’re the type of person who likes to discuss political solutions that would hypothetically affect other people. An INTJ’s utopia may be an ESFJ’s nightmare. MB can thus tell you why your glorious plan to fix all of society is going to fail, which is a useful prediction to have in advance.

4. Ss and Ns

I’m not going to go into the Introvert-Extrovert axis, because everyone who been on the internet before has a reasonable grasp of the simple MB version of this. It takes on a different meaning in the complex MB version, but we’ll get to that later. For now, we will start with the S-N axis.

S is for Sensing and N is for iNtuition, (because “I” was already taken by Introvert). S-N is the Perceiving axis. It’s about what we literally perceive; it’s about what we pay attention to. This distinction is often described as Ss being outward-focused and Ns being inward-focused, but that can come across as implying that Ns are selfish and Ss aren’t, which is not the case. Selfishness is unrelated to the S-N axis. So let me describe it instead by saying that Ss are paying attention to the things that are literally in front of or around them. In that way, they are the ultimate realists. Ss think about concrete things. Ns are paying attention to abstract things. Ns are only paying enough attention to the real world to get the info we need to keep building and refining our interior models.

Ns think that Ss are shallow. Ss think that Ns have their head in the clouds.

I’m an N. When online MB quizzes give you results on a spectrum, I score in the upper half of the N field, far from the midline. One of my daughters is an S. I’ll call her Banana; she’s slicing a banana behind me as I type this. Banana likes to tell me stories about what she sees on her walk home from school. They go kinda like this…

Her: “Mom, I saw this flower on the way home, and it was missing a petal.”

Me: “… ok.”

Listening to her talk is often a case of me waiting for her to get to the point and then realizing she doesn’t have one. For her, the immediate observations themselves are the point.

She recently turned 13 and received a cheap smartphone for her birthday. She took this picture on the way home, and she was really excited to show it to me. For me, as an N, this picture rates a, “huh, interesting”, a moment’s wondering about the science behind one tiny bit not rotting yet, and then my mind moves on to the latest political issue being discussed on /r/TheMotte or whether I’m going to be the DM this week in my weekly online RPG. For her, this unusual sight is practically the highlight of her day.


It’s not just that she finds a mostly-rotted apple with a perfectly good strip more interesting than I do. It’s the difference in what we find interesting about it. To me, the apple immediately triggers wondering about the science behind why the little strip looks fresh when the rest is rotten; that is, I’m focused on how the observation affects my model of the world. To her, the sight is interesting in and of itself. She isn’t focused on the why or on making abstract connections; the concrete thing itself has her attention.

She is just as bored with me, if I try to discuss the kinds of things that interest me the most. She would probably only read this blog post if she knew she were mentioned in it, and then she would skip all the parts that weren’t about her.

Because Ss aren’t as interested in abstract models and making mental connections between things, Ns often interpret that as Ss being less smart. This is far from the case. Banana gets top grades; she is consistently recommended for the school’s Talented and Gifted program4, a feat my N kids have sometimes but not always achieved. (When she was younger, I homeschooled for a few years. When asked to give a summary of a book she’d read, she’d spend twenty minutes giving you every detail of the plot from start to finish, a feat of memory that none of my N kids could come close to matching.) She may not find abstractions and model-building as interesting as I do, but she’s quite capable of thinking things through and finding meaningful connections.

Roughly three-quarters5 of the general population are Ss. Are you an N who grew up feeling that everyone around you was shallow and uninteresting? That’s why. The majority of people you could meet, on average, are Ss. They find mostly-but-not-completely-rotted apples interesting, not because of what it means, but just because it is. They talk about the weather, because the weather is what’s right in front of their faces, and they pay attention to the reality that’s right in front of them.

There are, however, some circles in which Ns outnumber Ss. In academia, the ‘three-quarters’ figure reverses itself, so most of the people you meet are Ns. I expect /r/TheMotte to be almost entirely NTs, with a small minority of NFs and STs.

Even the N-est of Ns may indulge occasionally, but if someone frequently posts pictures of their food to social media, you should guess that they’re an S.

This is an aside, but I’m going to briefly foray into super unreliable territory. I had a conversation with an N friend about whether her young son would turn out to be an S or an N. I suggested that even though it was hard to tell yet, from behavior or conversation cues, that he clearly looked like an N. Something about the eyes, a certain relatability. Something that comes across to my N self as a vague, remote likability. I haven’t figured out what physiological cues are responsible for this, and one likelihood is that it isn’t anything you could tell from a photograph at all, but rather a matter of what the person chooses to look at. If you want to see if you can tell what I’m talking about, try watching Mitt Romney speak and Ron Paul’s response. Or Paul Ryan vs. Biden. Don’t pay attention too closely to what they’re saying. Just watch their faces and listen to the sound of their voices, and see if one of them doesn’t feel more relatable than the other. If you want to know which of the two I think is an S and which is an N, check the footnote6. I hope it goes without saying, but this is a ridiculously unreliable way of identifying Ss and Ns. Another ridiculous way of identifying Ss and Ns? The internet. Romney is an: ENTJ ISTJ,  ISFJ. Pro tip: he’s probably an ESTJ. But you did just hear me say that on the internet, and I did just warn you against believing random people typing others across the interwebs, so take that with a grain of salt.

5. Ts and Fs

T is for Thinking and F is for Feeling. T-F is the Judgment axis, just as S-N is the Perceiving axis. Just as S-N tells us what you are paying attention to, T-F tells us how you judge the world, which scale you use to measure what’s important and what matters. Ts judge the world by rules, numbers, and logic. Fs judge the world by human relationships. Does it matter more that the house you’re thinking of buying is affordable, or does it matter more that it gives you shivers of joy inside? A similar distinction is tapped into when people talk about the left brain being words/numbers and the right brain being art/connection7. Truth vs. Love is one of the oldest dichotomies out there.

To exactly zero people’s surprise, it turns out that demographically, most men are Ts and most women are Fs. It’s important to recognize, however, that those are “mosts”. Female Ts and male Fs exist, and they can suffer if society tries to pigeonhole people into gender stereotypes.

For reference, I’m a T…barely. If the axes were scales, and you put me on the S-N one, the N side would plummet as fast as a feather on the moon. If you put me on a T-F scale, it would drop like a feather on Earth; that is, it would wobble up and down with the breeze for a good minute, and then settle with the T side a feather’s weight lower than the F.

1--401834-Balancing Weight Scales.jpg
There would be more pictures in this post if I didn’t feel so bad about stealing random internet photos.

Being an F is not about being an emotional drama queen. Not that emotional drama queens don’t exist, but Fs can be cool and reserved, especially introverted Fs. Feeling doesn’t mean emotional in this context; it means relationship-oriented. But Fs will pay more attention to emotions than a T. For a T, emotions are unreliable and they often feel like a distraction from the important stuff, like investigating the natural world. For an F, emotions are one part of their toolkit for handling the world—a world made up of people.

Me: What’s most important for a bunch of INTJs to understand about Fs…?

Johnston: Fs don’t find emotions a distraction, they actually learn important truths from them.

—Facebook chat, my emphasis

Read that again, if you skimmed past the quote. Fs don’t find emotions a distraction; emotions teach important truths.

Let me give an example, which my four-year-old daughter conveniently just provided.

She is a very strong F, and she wants to watch TV. She went through asking, being told no, and fake-crying about it, which is pretty typical of any 4yo. But then she told me, “I’m crying about it,” exactly as if that was as an argument for why she should be allowed to watch TV. My T children would never have tried that. They would have cried, but they wouldn’t tell me that they’re crying as a way to persuade me to change my mind. They’d have tried arguing that it was a good time to watch TV, or accused me of being unfair, or something like that. To my little F, the emotion she has about watching TV feels like a perfectly real, logical, and compelling reason to give to another person. When she’s older, she will be able to come up with more sophisticated arguments, just as my little Ts’ arguments improve with age, but her arguments will often still involve seeing emotions as truths.

Fs are often and not unreasonably associated with touchy-feely people, but it’s worth noting that they aren’t necessarily associated with touchy-feely opinions. Personality type does not predict political or social positions. There can be T and F reasons for or against most anything; being a T or F has more to do with what kind of reasoning you use to get to your conclusions, not which conclusions you come to.

6. The simple MB version of J-P

J is for Judging and P is for Perceiving. In Jung, in complex MB, J and P have a complicated meaning; simple MB took that complex thing and boiled it down to asking if you like lists. So simple MB uses J to mean someone who likes to plan ahead, have routines, make lists, be on time. Ps like spontaneity and keeping their choices open.

That’s a valid personality difference, even if it doesn’t capture the complex version, which I’ll get to. In simple MB’s version, I’m a J, because I like lists and being organized. I had to learn that I must never, ever, ever go shopping with my husband if I can help it. My preferred mode of shopping is to go in with a list, pick out the same brand of things that I always do, and get out as quick as I can. His mode of shopping involves wandering slowly—so.  very.  slowly.—through the aisles, looking for anything that happens to strike his fancy, and then spend five minutes in front of each item, comparing prices and quality, before finally coming to a decision. These differences are perfectly acceptable, as long as we aren’t trying to do it together.

7. Four Temperaments

The four MB axes produce 16 combinations, which are then grouped into four larger sets: SJs, SPs, NTs, and NFs. In practice, these four sets seem to convey more real-life relevant information about dominant personality traits than other possible simplifications. My treatment of these will be comparatively shallow, more introducing stereotypes and less personal illustrative examples.

The relationship between SJs and SPs is featured in pretty much every movie or TV series ever. Your SJ has a plan for their life, they do things by the rules, they take their responsibilities seriously. Then the wild and carefree SP comes along and upends their life, urging them to live in the moment, forget about the future, and take chances. That ends happily in Hollywood, but in real life, the SJs are just as likely to have a civilizing and moderating effect on the SPs as vice versa. But office manager convinces freedom-loving thrill-seeker to do boring paperwork is a hard sell for a movie.

SJs are the quintessential workers, keeping up with duties and responsibilities. They make up the largest fraction of the population, and it’s a good thing they do. They get the chores done, and any society would be lost without them. The only downside is that they expect you to do your share of the chores, too. Because SJs are such reliable helpers, they are easy to forget about and so are chronically under-appreciated. Remember to thank your local SJ today.

The furthest extreme of the SP personality is the activity junkie. The guy who does extreme sports, jumps from airplanes, puts his head in a crocodile’s mouth. Since not everyone is an extreme stereotype, SP can also look like a mechanic who likes the hands-on work, an aspiring actress, or a regular office worker who constantly does little things to “mix it up” or “keep it fresh”.

The furthest extreme of the NT stereotype is the mad scientist or the absent-minded professor, oblivious to the mundane details of ordinary life while discovering the secrets of the universe in their lab. Bringing things out of fantasy and back to the real world, NTs like to build abstract models, develop theories, and sometimes test those theories. They make good computer programmers, scientists, etc. Some NTs make great ideologues, because, ironically, their interior model of the world can feel more real to them than the mundane world outside. NT politicians may try to shape the world around their ideas, instead of the other way around.

NFs are like NTs in that they search for deep meaning in the universe, but to them, that meaning isn’t about the structure and laws of the natural world; it’s about relationships and emotions. Their abstract models are about the people and the interactions between people. NFs are the proverbial mystics or gurus. They are insightful, the ones who can pick up on others’ moods and understand the subtle dynamics of people interacting with each other.

It’s worthwhile to note that, while types are often drawn towards certain professions, those professions often can and do benefit from atypical types participating. All the types have complementary things to offer, so an atypical type can fill holes that no one realized were there.

8. All of the above

Everything I’ve written so far is a part of simple MB. Now I’m finally going to move on to complex MB. I won’t be able to cover everything in complex MB; this will just highlight a few essential components. For more, go read the book.

Down the rabbit hole we go!

The first thing to know is that everyone has both T and F; everyone has both S and N. Everyone uses their Sensing to pay attention to the world around them; everyone uses their iNtuition to find meaning and connections. Everyone sometimes judges the world by rules and logic; everyone sometimes judges the world by relationships. These are the four mental functions that everyone comes with.

If you have an N or an F in your MB type, that tells you which function is dominant, which function you use more often than the other, which one has cut deeper grooves in the pathways of your brain.

No one uses their dominant function 100% of the time. Sometimes you use your lesser functions. This can look like a hard-nosed workaholic who is soft and cuddly with the little kids at home, an NT who occasionally enjoys playing with their S artistic side by sketching people, or a stressed-out NF who decides to pursue a less-loved job for the money.

In this way, complex MB is much more dynamic and flexible than simple MB. You can argue that this makes it less useful, because it’s predicting too much and spreading expectation value across too many possibilities; and you’d have a good point. But it’s also observationally true that people act in opposite ways at different times, so a model that doesn’t predict inconsistencies is going to have limited usefulness anyway.

9. Introverted & extroverted functions

There’s a bit in Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Sequences that I wanted to quote at the start here, to demonstrate what I call existential safety. Anyone who is familiar with him will not be surprised that googling “existential safety eliezer” brings up a lot of AI-related links instead. I eventually found it though:

Eliezer18 trusted Science.

…Thus, when once upon a time I came up with a stupid idea, I thought I was behaving virtuously if I made sure there was a Novel Prediction, and professed that I wished to test my idea experimentally.  I thought I had done everything I was obliged to do.

So I thought I was safenot safe from any particular external threat, but safe on some deeper level, like a child who trusts their parent and has obeyed all the parent’s rules. …

That’s the trust I’m trying to break in you.  You are not safe.  Ever.

Not even Science can save you.

No Safe Defense, Not Even Science by Eliezer Yudkowsky, my emphasis

This captures what I mean by existential safety, and the reverse, existential dread. They’re both a feeling, an experience, and so subtle that’s it’s easy to have them affecting you at the edge of consciousness without being explicitly aware of it. Existential dread is not fear of any particular threat that could impact you; it’s fear of somehow just not being ok. Martyrs can undergo terrible torture with comparative happiness if they feel that God has their back; that’s how important or strong a sense of existential safety is. Even though there are specific ways in which they are super duper not ok, they’re somehow still ok. Conversely, anticipation of upcoming suffering is often worse than the suffering itself, because the anticipation isn’t just the fear of specific, concrete results; it’s accompanied by a vague fear of not being ok. 

Now look at Eliezer’s quote again. What did he think he had to do to be existentially safe? Science. The rules of science would protect him. Thinking correctly would keep him safe. 

In that post, he rejects that feeling of safety, arguing (accurately enough) that it’s an illusion. But at the moment, we are more concerned with what generated that feeling in the first place, because all of us are constantly affected by similar existential safety issues in complex ways that aren’t always obvious at first. Eliezer himself says in that post, “I never thought those words aloud, but it was how I felt.”

To reiterate, Eliezer felt that thinking correctly would keep him safe, not from any particular external threat, but just safe period. In MB terms, one of his four mental functions—Thinking—was operating in a way that was looking out for danger and compelled him to feel that he would be safe if and only if he performed Thinking in the way that was RightTM.

Complex MB calls this introverted thinking. 

This is an entirely different meaning of introverted than you are used to. It doesn’t mean ‘thinking that doesn’t like to be around people’. It means something more like ‘danger-oriented thinking that pays attention to an inner sense of right and wrong’. It’s opposed to extraverted thinking, which is something like ‘outward-oriented thinking that goes with whatever works’.

The inward-focused vs outward-focused thing may sound like I’m duplicating the S vs N distinction, but this is something different. All four of the mental functions—Thinking, Feeling, Sensing, iNtuition—have both introverted and extroverted versions. So we can call them iT and eT, iF and eF, iS and eS, iN and eN. I’ll discuss how they all get put together in the next section, but in this section I just want to give a feel for each individual piece.

An8 introverted function is:

  • idealistic, in the sense of believing in Plato’s perfect forms
  • deeply resists change
  • absolutely sure of itself
  • a bit negative

This all flows from the fact that introverted functions are oriented towards avoiding threats. They are functions where our brains have a subtle DANGER WILL ROBINSON playing constantly in the background. This may seem odd in a function that we’re calling “inward-oriented”, since threats are external, but the function is detecting threats by inwardly deciding how things are supposed to look, and then sending you the danger signal when the outside world doesn’t match9.

An extroverted function is basically just the opposite:

  • pragmatically takes the world as it is
  • flexible: rolls with the real world’s changes
  • exploratory
  • a little cheerful

Again, this all flows from having mental functions that aren’t oriented toward danger. The red klaxon is off, the function is basking in the glow of existential safety, so it relaxes and puts its energy towards exploring the real world in its own function-specific way.

It may sound like extroverted functions are always better than introverted functions. If the real world were devoid of any threats whatsoever, that might be the case. Since it isn’t, introverted functions are important to have around.

Re-Modeling the Mind has a whole chapter for each function, laying out what the introverted and extroverted versions look like. Have I mentioned that you should go read the book? Summarizing the important effects into a short paragraph doesn’t do it justice, but here goes.

Extroverted Thinking unsentimentally runs the numbers and figures and acts on them. “People can fool you, guesses can go wrong, and even experience doesn’t always predict what will happen. But numbers themselves don’t lie.”10 eT is competitive, open to rule-breaking if it seems like a net advantage, and thrives in fields like lawyering and real estate, although Re-Modeling the Mind also gives an example of eT showing up in a model giving a TED talk on manipulating appearances.

Introverted Thinking has strong feelings about logic and TruthTM, as seen in the Eliezer quote above. It does well with abstract math, because math follows the rules that iT believes keep it safe. It also has strong feelings about fairness. iTs may compete to be the first in their field, or they may compete to be the most perfect person, however they define that.

Extroverted Feeling pays attention to group social dynamics and pecking order. eFs care about their place in the whole, and may even be competitive about it. They do things that may seem passive-aggressive to others, like withdrawing when hurt and expecting the other person to make it up to them. They may have trouble understanding that other people don’t have the social senses that come naturally to them.

Introverted Feeling is a hopeless romantic who is hurt when relationships don’t match their perfect ideals. iF relates to each member of a group as an individual, and may have trouble with groups, because groups sacrifice perfection for getting along. iF hangs on tightly to the few they deem close. iFs may have trouble expressing their emotions adequately.

Extroverted Sensing pays attention to the sights and sounds as they are. eS is great at having the body control and cheerful confidence to play sports, drive cars, or do acting. eSs make great salespeople and speakers because they can read people’s body language and respond, without necessarily empathizing.

Introverted Sensing wants the world to look orderly and attractive. This can apply to keeping your home clean and wearing nice clothes, but it can also apply to things like how presidents should look presidential, men and women should dress and behave in masculine and feminine ways, and everyone should be respectfully grave at funerals. iS sends out danger warnings when those visual cues and signals don’t match reality.

Extroverted iNtuition makes maps of the world, exploring all the real-life connections it can find. Inventors rely on eN, looking for ways to improve things. eN is imaginative and loves sci fi’s “what if?” questions.

Introverted iNtuition has a sense of what connections are supposed to be there, and looks for those. This gives iNs the feeling that they know truths hidden to others, which makes them great conspiracy theorists and journalists. It also gives them the exact opposite response to social visual cues that iS has: to an iN, those signals dangerously cover up the hidden truth.

11. Putting the pieces together

I said before that everyone has an S, N, T, and F function. In each person, each of those functions is either introverted or extroverted. My N is eN, not iN. My S is iS, not eS. And so on.

Some Jung/Myers-Briggs sources will just list your four functions in a particular order called a “cognitive stack”, that represents the most-dominant to least-dominant functions. Re-Modeling the Mind has a more creative image for expressing this balance—a child’s mobile:

If you look at them left to right, the balls kinda go largest; third; second-largest; smallest.

Each round ball is one of the four functions. Each rod is one of the axes, either the S-N Perceiving axis or the T-F Judging axis. As you can see from the picture, you can’t just have your four functions arranged in any order you want; the strongest will be on the same axis as the weakest. There are other rules for how the functions naturally arrange themselves.

Although I like the mobile picture, I’m not writing a book, so I can’t draw out all the ways that the functions can fit into those balls. Accordingly, in a reluctant nod to the cognitive stacks people, after I list the rules for arrangements, I’ve included a chart that shows all the possible sets and arrangements of functions. Not coincidentally, there are 16 arrangements, and they correspond exactly to the 16 four-letter types.

Briefly, these are the rules for putting the functions together.

  • One function will be top dog and get the most use. It can be any of the eight [e/i] x [NTSF] combos listed in the previous section.
  • On the Perceiving N-S axis, one will be i and the other will be e.
  • On the Thinking T-F axis, one will be i and the other will be e.
  • If the top dog is one of the Perceiving functions, the second strongest function will be a Judging function, and if the top is Judging, number two will be Perceiving.
  • If the top dog is an i, number two will be an e, and vice versa.
  • The first letter in your MB type, I or E, tells you whether the top dog is i or e.
  • The last letter, P or J, tells you whether—of the top two functions—it’s the Perceiving function that’s e or the Judging function that’s e.

In complex MB, I’m not an INTJ; I’m an INTP. Here the P and J don’t have to have anything to do with whether or not I like lists. If you’ve classed yourself as any sort of J or P because online quizzes ask you about whether you like routines, you should forget about that and look at which set of function descriptions fit you the best.

The 4-letter types are built from the cognitive stack, not the other way around. But if you know your 4-letter type, you can look at those first and see if they fit you.

The conventions and conversions are less important for understanding people than seeing the complex ways that different types share particular functions with other types.

Top 2nd 3rd 4th
ESTJ eT iS eN iF
ISTJ iS eT iF eN
ESFJ eF iS eN iT
ISFJ iS eF iT eN
ESTP eS iT eF iN
ISTP iT eS iN eF
ESFP eS iF eT iN
ISFP iF eS iN eT
ENTJ eT iN eS iF
INTJ iN eT iF eS
ENFJ eF iN eS iT
INFJ iN eF iT eS
ENTP eN iT eF iS
INTP iT eN iS eF
ENFP eN iF eT iS
INFP iF eN iS eT

For example. In simple MB, my ESFJ friend looks the exact opposite of my INTP-ness. And yet I quite often find myself noticing a similarity in our thought processes at a deep level. In complex MB, this makes sense; if you look on the chart, you can see that we share all the same functions, just in a different order. That order matters, and anyone who meets the two of us will probably notice those differences before they notice the underlying similarities. But those similarities are there, too, and in some ways, I have more in common with my ESFJ friend than I would with an INTJ, even though I share three letters with the INTJ.

12. Wrap-up

There’s more great stuff in Re-Modeling the Mind.

  • A chapter on levels of dominance; I found this especially helpful, as dominance had always struck me as an annoying thing that other people do; this chapter helped me see both that I had my own, different dominance needs that others may not get and that high-dominance people’s need was legitimate
  • Discussions of what it looks like when personalities are unbalanced and don’t fit the chart you just saw
  • Comparisons of certain functions to types of movies
  • Discussions of how the “top two” functions interact and how that plays into simple MB’s version of what Introverted and Extroverted mean
  • The role of iF and iT in what your conscience looks like

But I need to think about wrapping this post up, and I don’t want to take away all incentives to buy the book, so I’ll leave further details a mystery.

Throughout this post, I’ve tried to scatter ways in which MB predicts different things about people and has a practical effect on my thinking. Now I want to wrap up with a few more examples of expectations that MB generates in me, on a general level. These aren’t high-reliability, scientifically-backed-up predictions; just low-level intuitions formed by MB and experience.

Not everyone cares about truth the way I do. Sometimes this means that people are dominant Fs and are only kinda tangentially interested, if at all, in factual-truth-seeking, but sometimes it means that people have eT and truth is a flexible, practical thing to them instead of the inviolable sacred thing it is to me as an iT.

While everyone in general spends lots of time online these days, Ns—and especially INs11—will on average spend more time than Ss, who get more stimulation from the physical world than Ns do. Online quizzes and the like (more so in some areas of the internet than others) will thus represent Ns at a higher rate than the general populace.

Fs argue differently. They sometimes sound like they’re appealing to facts, but if you keep pushing them from a T perspective, they might not respond well.

If I engage in a friendship with a T, I need to expect that a sense of closeness or intimacy will be much harder to achieve than with my F friends. Ts are, however, great for arguing politics or philosophy (more-so the NTs than STs), which I can’t do so much with my F friends. If I bring a problem to F friends, they’ll give me sympathy and sometimes important insight. Those with dominant iF especially are the most insightful creatures ever. If you bring them a problem, they will try to guide you to your highest loyalty to find the answer. If I bring a problem to T friends, I should expect them to want to problem-solve it and offer solutions. Many people already have that dynamic coded into their brains under male/female differences, but it’s helpful to code it under T/F differences instead for when you meet female Ts and male Fs. .

In writing and re-writing this post, although I talked about my kids because I wanted to use them as examples, I’ve otherwise downplayed the fact that I’m a mom, because that is the kind of thing that I expect to be a turn-off for many NTs. NTs don’t find people as interesting as ideas, so even though this is a post about people, I tried to focus on the ideas-about-people aspect of it instead of doing any extraneous discussion of the real people who show up as examples. So I didn’t list all my kids, their ages or genders; I removed three longer emotional examples from the T-F section; I downplayed my friendship with the author of Re-Modeling the Mind and changed references from “Ruth” to “the author” or “Re-Modeling the Mind” to keep things more abstract. The removed things would have added interest for Fs or even NTs with strong F sides, but would have turned off the T-est of readers.12

For those of you who are familiar with the concept of decoupling13, I suspect that it correlates with one of the personality dimensions; either the N-S axis, so that high decouplers are Ns and low-decouplers are Ss or close-to-Ss…or possibly high decouplers are those who have eN and low decouplers are those with iN.

13. Conclusion

Hopefully you’ve taken away some helpful ways to understand the people around you and predict them better. Even more hopefully, you’ve gained at least a little bit of a sense that it’s ok for them to be different, and that the world works best when we don’t try to turn everyone into ourselves.


  1. To be clear, I’m not saying that being a high-dominance F justifies dismissing other people’s perspectives or anything remotely like that.
  2. For posterity’s sake, that search currently looks like this. A handful of expensive and dense-looking textbooks, and one affordable religious interpretation. Below that are books whose relationship with the 5-factor model looks iffy, or which seem focused on abnormal psychology.Screen Shot 2019-04-12 at 4.21.23 PM.png
  3. I have a lot of kids.
  4. They don’t seem to have a TAG program, which is why I’m confused every year when I go for parent-teacher conferences and the teachers want me to sign a permission slip to let her be in it. Maybe someday I will track down that particular mystery.
  5. Pretty sure both those books cite the exact number, some percentage in the 70s. I, however, am super horrible awful at remembering exact numbers/dates/names. So in my head, it’s just “3/4”.
  6. Ron Paul and Paul Ryan are the Ns and I’m mostly sure that Romney and Biden are Ss. As I expect this post mostly to be read by Ns, I expect them to feel the Pauls are more relatable, regardless of how much you agree/disagree with their politics. My hypothesis is that Ss experience a similar likability towards other Ss, but I haven’t discussed it with any. It’s tricky to convey the question to someone of a different type without giving them the impression that you’re calling them unlikable.
  7. Yes, yes, the sidedness of the brain is greatly exaggerated, yada yada. But the theory persists partly because, regardless of brain physiology, people find the words/numbers/logic vs. art/poetry/music/emotions dichotomy to reflect real life in some way.
  8. There are some almost-but-not-quite-exact quotes from Re-Modeling the Mind going on in this part.
  9. I’m glossing over a bunch of stuff in Re-Modeling the Mind about inborn templates and Jungian archetypes, because the latter phrase alone is going to set off people’s woo detectors. I can’t do justice to it in this post, so I’m staying away from it for now, but let me say that the author takes the concept of Jungian archetypes and turns it into something sensible and un-woo.
  10. Quote taken from Re-Modeling the Mind, to no one’s surprise.
  11. Not to be confused with iNs. iN is a danger-oriented iNtuition function; INs are dominant Ns who have an introverted function as the top dog. INs are INTJ, INTP, INFJ, INFP, whereas iN is had in the top-two by ENTJ, INTJ, ENFJ, INFJ.
  12. The author of Re-Modeling the Mind recently managed to hilariously and accurately point out that I, as an NT, would not want to read a book with me-as-a-mom in it; I’d need to find a way to give myself more science cred before I’d want to read about my experiences per se. (Reading about my ideas is another matter.)
  13. The only link I’ve seen that explains decoupling is one that had pages and pages of discussing something else first before talking about decoupling. If someone has a link with a better, straightforward description of the concept, I’d appreciate getting that.

Activation Energy

In chemistry, activation energy is the amount of energy you have to put into a system before a chemical reaction will occur.Activation energy

Sometimes after the reaction is over, the end result still has more energy than at the beginning (purple); sometimes the end result is a naturally lower-energy system (blue). But in both cases, the system couldn’t change until the activation energy was put in.

I’m continually surprised that this isn’t more often used as an analogy for daily life, especially in mental health circles. I suppose spoons encapsulates a similar concept with fewer syllables. But sometimes I just want to be able to say, “Today the activation energy for me to spend even five minutes ‘getting my body moving’ is 10 Joules, the activation energy to write this post is 2 Joules, and I have 3 Joules to start.”

Activation energy also works on larger scales.

Activation energy (1)

There, I labelled my axes this time. Even if Obama and other Democrats thought universal health care would have resulted in a better1, lower-energy state, getting America there had a much higher activation energy than they could inject into the system, so they settled for Obamacare.

Recent news makes it super clear that gun control laws in NZ have a way lower activation energy than gun control laws in America.


  1. If you’re wondering why a lower-energy system is better in these metaphors, it’s because the metaphorical energy of a system here isn’t how much total energy the system has available, it’s how much energy is being spent on whatever. So spending less energy means the system has more energy available for other things like hanging with friends or investing in infrastructure.

Characterization – The Problem

We need to characterize things. We need to group people into categories—men & women, children & adults, conservatives & liberals, book-lovers and accountants and celebrities. In order to be a category, a given group has to have a set of associated features or traits. Conservatives are pro-life and anti-welfare; accountants like math and are boring.

So you have a group, and you have a list of associated features.

But then you have individuals who only have some of those features.

Let’s say you have…

  • Individual Alex, who has Features 1, 2, and 3.
  • Individual Barbara, who has Features 1, 2, and 4.
  • Individual Colleen, who has Features 3 and 4.

Your grouping options…

  • Characterize ThisGroup with Features 1, 2, and 3. Alex is the quintessential member; Barbara is an atypical member; Colleen is perhaps not a member at all.
  • Characterize ThisGroup with Features 2, 3, and 4. You have no perfectly stereotyped members, but Alex, Barbara, and Colleen are all slightly atypical members.
  • Characterize ThisGroup with Features 3 and 4. Colleen is your perfect stereotype. Argue with people online over whether Alex or Barbara (or both or neither) are “true” members of ThisGroup.

When we run into an exciting and athletic accountant, a celebrity who is a model citizen and has never done drugs, or an atheist conservative, we can either see them as atypical members of their categorization, or we can adjust which features we associate with that categorization.

Real life doesn’t fit into our neat categorizations. But we need to make them anyway, because we don’t usually have the mental tools to deal with the level of complexity that exists without breaking it down into categories. (This applies to both people-categorizations and all other ones…basically every thought ever, since words rely on categorizing existence into…well, words.) So I want to try to make our categories as useful as possible…but how do you point out and talk about the vagaries of human positions and actions when there is always that indeterminacy in drawing the line, with often harmful effects from such line-drawing?





More AI Thoughts

One of the aspects which human brains have…and which AI/other mind-like things don’t have to have…is a sense of “I”, of being a singular self.

Just one more way in which pop representations of AI are grossly insufficient.


Love/Hate Determinism

Humans have a love/hate relationship with determinism.

On the whole, we don’t like the idea that we are deterministic. We want to feel that we have choices (and preferably that those choices are meaningful).

At the same time, we do want anything we see as ‘inanimate’ to be deterministic. That’s why we often aren’t satisfied with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. If an experiment sometimes results in a photon landing at spot A and sometimes at spot B, and the universe itself doesn’t seem to decide which way the photon’s going to go until it actually goes that way…well, we don’t like that, do we? Probably some people are just fine with it, and most don’t care about the topic enough to be bothered. But enough of us keep looking for ways to make the universe deterministic again…because particles are clearly supposed to be deterministic. They aren’t little thinking things, making choices about whether to go to spot A or spot B.

Of course, some of us go the other way. We do want particles to be deterministic, and we don’t want humans to be deterministic…but humans are made of particles. For those who are unwilling to say there is a magical part of ourselves that somehow interacts with particles, but isn’t made of them—for those, the indeterminism of quantum phenomena becomes a way to shoehorn free will back into humanity.

In the end, it’s quite an interesting dilemma. We can’t resolve our own conflicting desires around determinism. And even if we could, the universe isn’t compelled to abide by those desires. It will be what it is, and we will just have to live with it.




QM Summary

Posted this on fb in response to a friend-of-a-friend’s speculation about something on a smaller level making quantum physics deterministic again

When discussing the relative pros/cons of QM theories, there’s three things we want:

*Determinism* – Because we just don’t quite like the idea that the universe is “rolling dice”.

*Locality* – Because we also just don’t like the idea that something *here* can affect something *waaay over there* without anything at all moving across the space between.

*Born Probabilities*, aka BP – Born’s Rule says, ‘oh, you get result A 68% of the time and result B 32% of the time’. And that’s what happens. We want our QM theories to predict (and therefore explain) those observed probabilities.

So now that we know what we’re looking for, let’s look at what we’ve got:

Copenhagen QM: The dominant theory. Locality is included. By making BP itself the underlying explanation for why we see the results we do, it gives up determinism.

Everett QM: Instead of an indeterminate result, this theory posits that both/all results are actually happening, but divergence prevents people from experiencing them at the same time. Hence the impression of ever-branching “many worlds”. This allows for determinism and locality, but it doesn’t explain why we experience the results according to the BP.

Pilot-Wave QM: Instead of a more inexplicable wave-particle duality, this theory pictures particles riding on “pilot waves”. The waves (not the particles) interfere with each other, and the particle just goes wherever the wave decides it goes. Determinism is maintained, BP is explained…but this theory is a non-local theory. It gives up on locality.

In fact…Bell’s Theorem shows, more or less, that any “hidden variable” theory…any theory that says there’s something else going on, something on a smaller level, or something involving a different category than the ones we’ve been looking at…any theory that tries to use those to keep determinism in QM…has to give up locality.

So yes, particles might all be tiny strings or there might be something smaller going on…but whatever it is, it’s either just as indeterministic as Copenhagen QM looks right now…or else we have to sacrifice locality. The only major deterministic and local QM theory that we have so far has its own issues—many-worlds and not explaining BP.

Science of Minds

The nature of minds has been talked of and debated for ages. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek, was the first I know of to argue that the brain was the seat of understanding. Descartes posited mind as a different substance than matter. In the 20th century, philosophy still uses armchair thinking to argue about the exact nature of mind.

As I said in that post, science doesn’t trust human thinking. Humans are subjective and biased, and this skews our conclusions. The whole point of science is to use methods that don’t rely on individual rationality in order to advance the sum of knowledge as a whole.

The irony is that our minds are, by definition, subjective. How do you objectively study subjectivism? How do you find rules and concepts that universally apply to the vagaries of the human mind?




Talking about AI gets muddled, fast. When will we have self-aware computers? Will they be friendly to us? How can we make sure that they will be? Will we recognize that self-aware capability in the first place? Will/should we give them legal human rights, and at what point?

So let’s talk a bit about what we mean by consciousness and related terms. People frequently throw in a variety of different words to get at the difference between “inanimate tools” and “minds like ours”—intelligent, sentient, conscious, self-aware.

Since I ultimately want to draw distinctions between different kinds of awareness and thought processes, let me start by giving one kind of mind a label: “H-minds”, for the kind of minds that humans have.

H-minds have quite a lot going on in them. They…

  1. process sensory information that comes in from outside;
  2. are aware of processing information;
  3. have positive/negative pain/pleasure attached to (much of) that data;
  4. have emotions, internal processes that build on the positive/negative values, but which also get more complex (for example, anger and sadness are both negative, but not the same);
  5. create/use words to categorize experiences and to abstract concepts
  6. has some sort of process for evaluating possibilities and doing things—whether you believe the process and result are purely determined or not, there’s something like “agency” or “doing” that transforms internal states into external states. (For example, the internal processing that results in your neighbor saying aloud, “Boy, sure is sunny today.”)

This is meant to be neither a complete nor a precise list. It’s just a starting frame of reference for comparing what kind of minds we might end up with, in creating AI.

For reference, compare that to what I’ll call 0-minds. (That’s zero-minds, or zed-minds if you’re British or Australian, but I’m still going to start calling it ‘oh-mind’ in my head, because the font I’m currently looking at renders a zero like a lower-case o, and because ‘oh’ is a lot easier to sound out than ‘zero’.) Rocks are the stereotypical 0-mind.

0-minds have, literally, nothing going on in them, because they aren’t minds at all. No awareness of what’s around them, no pain/pleasure response, no talking. Their “actions”—like the melting of water, the falling of rocks down a cliff, the burning of charcoal, the floating of a helium balloon—are seen as pure physics, mindless and unchosen consequences.

For many or most people, especially those who haven’t thought about it much, computers will either be 0-minds or H-minds. Our brains aren’t intrinsically wired to consider third options, because most things in the world around us can be modeled as either an 0-mind, an H-mind, or a smaller/deficient H-mind. Thus, when we picture the transition of computers to consciousness (and this picturing is most often happening in SF venues), we are picturing a jump straight from 0-minds to H-minds. Inanimate matter mysteriously becomes a fully-functioning human-like mind. This mysterious transition is buoyed up by the fact that we don’t fully understand what goes on in the human brain to lead to the experience of consciousness; if our consciousness is a secret, then the transition of robots or computers into sharing our consciousness will likewise be a secret.

But let’s look now at two real-life instances of things that are neither quite H-minds nor quite 0-minds.

A-minds, the minds of animals, have (1) and (3), listed above. Most probably have (2) and (4), although those are trickier concepts to objectify and measure. A very few species appear to have a rudimentary language ability (5), but most don’t. (6) can also be tricky to define and measure; a dog can choose to chase a stick or not, but does a fish choose to swim upstream or not? Do sunflowers choose to turn toward the sun, or is that a reaction like a hot plasma expanding?

C-mind is what your average laptop or desktop today has. There is absolutely the processing of information from ‘sensory’ data, (1). Unless the processor has been disconnected from the monitor and speaker, there is also (6), the conversion of internal states to external ones. Robots generally have an even greater range of external actions open to them. (3) and (4) appear to be completely lacking; we have not built computers or robots with the equivalents of our pain circuits or dopamine response. The closest we get to that, that I know of, is the reinforcement learning of a neural network. (2) and (5) are trickier to evaluate. If a programmer writes code that uses objects and variables, is that like hard-coding “words” into a computer’s processes, instead of the experience-based creation of words within the processes of a human brain?

Now let’s talk about awareness for a moment. When a human sees something, they aren’t just seeing it. They are also aware that they are seeing it. There is a particular part of the visual cortex that is (partially?) responsible for the latter part: the striate cortex. There is a super eerie effect called blindsight where patients who have had the striate cortex damaged report being blind out of one eye or both. As far as what they are conscious of, they can’t see anything at all. They can, however, react as if they could see. If asked to “guess” where something in their blindspot is, they are correct far more often than not. When asked to move down a hallway of obstacles, one patient who had blindsight in both eyes successfully navigated the hallway—but then reported that he had just walked down the middle. (See that video in the blindsight link.)

In other words, it’s possible to see something, but not be aware of seeing it. 

And that doesn’t even touch on the way that humans, without feeling blind, can simply be completely unaware of something in their field of vision, because their attention was focused elsewhere. (See the gorilla experiment.)

Hearing may have a similar effect; where one can hear something but not be aware of hearing it. A different part of the brain is involved in that, which means that we can’t point at the striate cortex and declare it the center of all consciousness. But it is one necessary part of full awareness.

Applying this to computers, it immediately seems to me that a laptop with a built-in camera can see what that camera reveals. But we haven’t built them with the functional equivalent of a striate cortex (why would we?), so it couldn’t be aware of what it sees. Even that begs the question of whether there is any awareness to ‘send that information to’, so to speak. But the level of information-handling that happens with a computer seems like we ought to at least attribute it the level of mind that an amoeba has: some sort of sense-and-react system.



I think my point here is that consciousness isn’t one simple thing, like we’re used to thinking of it as. We expect to recognize when AI happens by seeing all the signs of an H-mind instead of a 0-mind. But if we don’t build computers in such a way that they can experience emotions, they won’t. A computer could theoretically have awareness of what it’s doing without ever experiencing pleasure—even pleasure at doing its job well—because we haven’t built it that way. The possible combinations that include part(s) of what we think of as “self-aware minds” without including all of those parts are a lot bigger than we normally expect.









Thesis: Two Minds, Conclusion

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

(Part 1 is the really important background to read. Skip parts 2 & 3 if you want.)

Part 4: Conclusion

The reason I wanted to make a distinction between the tobee (the part of the mind that processes inanimate behavior) and the zidee (the part of the mind that processes mental behavior) is that a bunch of the debate over human souls is based on trying to interpret humans using either the tobee or the zidee.

Science is fundamentally about using the tobee to understand everything. It looks for behavior that follows rules, that is deterministic, that is predictable. It has always been difficult to model humans according to reductionist theories simply because humans are so complex. That’s presumably why our brains evolved the zidee in the first place.

But using the zidee to model humans is imprecise. Sure, it’s obvious that the guy who cut me off in traffic just wanted to get where he’s going faster. But I still don’t know what my husband’s going to do if I throw out half the kids’ toys, or whether acupuncture is going to make me happier.

The zidee is made to model minds using factors like intention and emotion. That’s what it does; that’s what it’s for.

I think I’m giving too much background, not enough point. Let me refer to computers to see if I can get this across.

We look at computers and, by and large, see inanimate machines. We don’t worry about our computers feeling pain if we reboot them or destroy them. They’re just tools. If you’re into scifi, then you see computers as all kinds of potential for future minds, but everyone pretty much agrees that we aren’t there now. 

Why do we all agree that?

Because computers don’t have the kind of behavior that sets off our zidee-detectors. It doesn’t shake its keyboard at us when it’s angry. It doesn’t run away in fear when we yell at it or kick it. It has less personality than that triangle from Part 1.

So we default to treating computers as tools. We think of them using our tobee. We don’t have any other options hard-wired in. It’s especially easy to see them as unaware machines following set-in-stone paths because we are the ones who made them in the first place.

But what if computers were conscious? What if they were minds, capable of intentionality, and we just didn’t recognize it because they aren’t minds like our minds?

What is intentionality in the first place? How is it, that we can say that the symbol “2” somehow stands for something other than the line used to draw it? That the binary “10” and the base-ten “2” and “two” all somehow refer to something which is not any of those symbols, yet all the same?

How would we recognize intentionality in a computer, if it’s not accompanied by lust and jealousy and gratitude and empathy?

Now bring the question back to human minds.

We know we have intentionality because we experience it within ourselves, and the evidence suggests that other humans (and other living things to various extents) have it too.

But the fundamental point of cognitive science is to come up with a tobee explanation of the mind, not a zidee one. The purpose is to find the rules that the brain runs on, and see the machine for a machine. If we come up with an explanation for the mind that isn’t deterministic or can’t be quantified with math, it won’t satisfy the scientists. There have to be rules, the more absolute the better, because that’s what the search is about.

If there’s a third way for things to be, then our minds may not find them, because we’ve only got the two archetypes to start from. Whether that third way is a computer with intentionality, or a human mind that follows patterns that neither the tobee nor zidee can ever fully capture.

I guess, the point is, that I don’t see how the tobee is ever going to explain intentionality. The whole point of explaining the brain in a scientific way is to remove the unreliableness of subjectivity. Using a function designed to model inanimate matter to model the brain can give us the satisfying feeling of turning humans into something predictable and comprehensible, but I don’t see how it can account for the very thing it’s trying to remove from the equation—subjectivity.

It’s like trying to decide whether a computer is conscious when you’re starting with a model that reduces a computer to transistors and moving electrons—components that are, by your mind’s definition, inanimate.

But, you know, maybe I’m just missing part of the picture still.







The Brain Is Too An Information Processor

This is in reference to Robert Epstein’s article The Empty Brain, which I hesitate even to link to.

Here’s what I posted in a Fb comment box… I may or may not modify this into a more proper article at some point.

Epstein’s article is really dumb.

1) Claiming babies are born without algorithms and then pointing out exactly some of the innate features that babies are born with isn’t consistent. It’s an appeal to an outmoded view of babies as “blank slates”.

2) The history of false analogies based on then-current technologies is his only real decent point. But cognitive science has actually tested its theories to a much greater level than any of those previous analogies did. The IP model, while not perfect, and while not always seen as the final state of cognitive science, has held up better than any other model so far.

3) The information-processing model does NOT mean that a human brain is a type of digital computer. Yes, as a metaphor, the computer imagery guides some of the conceptions of the IP theory; but cognitive scientists do understand that there are significant differences between how a computer works and how the brain works, at multiple levels.

4) The “faulty syllogism” he points out is not at all the syllogism that cognitive scientists are working from. Their syllogisms go more like a) Model B of the brain predicts Y; Model IP of the brain predicts X.. b) we observe X… c) therefore IP is a better model of the brain than B.

5) When he claims that “memory isn’t stored in a cell”, he seems to be making a claim based on ignorance; we don’t know exactly how memories are stored and recalled, therefore it doesn’t happen… which is all kinds of dumb. As I understand it, memories are recalled associatively: triggering one neuron can prompt connected neurons to fire, and such. If we know someone well, there is a single neuron that fires when we see or think about that person. He keeps claiming the image of the dollar bill isn’t stored in the brain, but HE DOESN’T BACK UP THAT CLAIM. Grah.

6) His alternative suggestion of experiences + association of experiences with more important experiences + rewards/punishments. GAH! *sigh* First off, that’s basically the theory of behaviorism, which was DISCARDED by cognitive scientists back in … I forget which decade of the 1900s, but it was a lot of them ago. Because rat studies showed that EVEN RATS, dumb as they are, can’t be successfully modeled by behavior + reward/punishment models alone; rats who got to wander around mazes for awhile without reward/punishment then later did get food put in one spot, and they got to it a lot faster than rats who had never been in the maze before, thus showing that rats were PROCESSING INFORMATION about the maze (remembering it), and not just making turns because they were rewarded for turns.

7) “Misleading headlines notwithstanding, no one really has the slightest idea how the brain changes after we have learned to sing a song or recite a poem. But neither the song nor the poem has been ‘stored’ in it.” …. THIS AGAIN. GAAAAAAAAAH. Seriously. “We don’t know how it happens; so it doesn’t happen”?!?!?! What the bleep kind of logic does he think he’s using? Does he really think that we somehow re-experience songs or poems *without storing the song or poem in any sense*? That just… doesn’t make sense.

8) So, that catching the baseball thing? He PROPOSES AN ALGORITHM AND THEN SAYS THERE’S NO ALGORITHMS INVOLVED. I mean, really… this part here… “to catch the ball, the player simply needs to keep moving in a way that keeps the ball in a constant visual relationship with respect to home plate and the surrounding scenery (technically, in a ‘linear optical trajectory’). This might sound complicated, but it is actually incredibly simple, and completely free of computations, representations and algorithms.” Dude. You obviously don’t know what an algorithm is, because YOU JUST DESCRIBED ONE. Keeping the ball in any kind of “visual relationship” means using representations. Also, exactly how do you think we figure out the path that keeps the ball in that constant visual relationship without some level of computation? I’m not saying the player has to know the exact number of feet involved or doing subconscious multiplying or something, but anything that results in “too far” or “not far enough” is, at some level, involving a calculation using representations.

9) ” the mainstream cognitive sciences continue to wallow uncritically in the IP metaphor,” … blatant pandering. Mainstream cognitive scientists are fine with criticizing the IP model—I’ve read serious critiques before—they just haven’t come up with anything else yet that has as much success.

10) Downloading human minds into computers is still science fiction. The IP metaphor doesn’t actually tell us that it’s possible; it just sorta vaguely suggests that maybe, possibly, we can’t rule it out. So making a case against downloading is not a case against the brain as an information processor. And he doesn’t make a case against downloading, either, except to point out that we’re all unique. As if that somehow disproves the possibility of downloading? I’m pretty sure he’s just pandering to people who already think the concept of downloading is ridiculous.

11) Oh, hey, look, someone made a huge claim and then their project went down the tubes… don’t bother telling us *why* it went down the tubes—was Markel mismanaging the money? Were there interpersonal employee problems?—no, let’s just blame it on the underlying model that was one piece among many others, both conceptual and personal, that went into the project. Even though that model HAS stood up to any number of other tests and thought experiments thrown at it.