MBTI–flawed but still meaningful

On Facebook today I came across this article in my feed–with the title of:

“Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless”

And I had to respond.  The response is below…
Um.. the critiques that it’s not scientifically valid are totally on.

To say it’s meaningless, however, is somewhat missing the point–in that meaning is not the same thing as scientific validity.

Beyond that–although corporate types will latch onto anything that they think will give them quantifiable/typing results about people–it is them–rather than most people doing mbti–who promote this notion about how this will make you successful in a field.

Anyway–anyone who uses such tests as predictive has WAY BIGGER problems in their heads than this test. I’ve found MBTI to be useful most as a way to teach about diversity in perception, approach, and communication. You’d be amazed–or with you.. probably not!–at HOW HARD it is for people to grok that not everyone sees the world in the same way you do–and that the things that people use to judge whether something is good–or what people are actually doing when they are talking–are pretty simplistic.

Perfect example–(and this rests on the only part of the test–introversion/extraversion–that does have scientific testing behind it..)–when people talk about stuff out loud–it doesn’t always mean the same thing to people. Extraverts–and I’ve watched this in class when I ask them a question–will talk through an idea out loud in front of everyone –but at the end–they don’t just act as if they hadn’t said anything. The points they were making were just discussions of possibilities and at the end they don’t stick to what they said.

Introverts tend to think within their heads first about it–and then only say something when they believe it to be true.


An example of social behavior differences that I’ve found to be true.. 

This is a real difference in how people act–and not everyone understands it. I’ve watched introverted students get ROYALLY frustrated when dealing with an extravert–because they assume that everything said is “meaningful” in the sense of being believed to be true–but it’s not.. it’s just verbal “scratch paper.”

I’ve also seen extraverts complain about an introvert not engaging in all of the discussions–not “bonding” in the conversation/thinking that they are doing—and thinking that the introverts aren’t contributing—when they also then don’t really give them a chance to talk.. (but the introverts then did have something to say..)

If MBTI can be used to make this clear to both groups–it can be meaningful.

Finally–the binary structures they have are clearly bullshit. This becomes very clear in free tests that show you relative numbers (like the humanmetrics site.. where you’ll get I(13), S(1) T(67) P(33)) which shows how far you fell in their binary system. Such a structure is better–in that it gives you a sense more of whether you only strongly or weakly fit their “ideal” types.. and most people fall in the middle–and they vary depending on mood or age…

Now–where the tests really fail is that they don’t actually accurately measure the relative strengths of 4 main traits (SNTF) in a person. Where MBTI can be useful is seeing how people:
S: perceive and process details, facts, sensory information.
N: perceive and process ideas, abstractions, and patterns
T: make decisions, judgements, and ask questions using objective, impersonal criteria & frameworks.
F: make decisions, judgements, and ask questions related to social/human criteria & frameworks.

These things can also be aimed either at the internal, subjective world in our minds (I) or focused more outwardly to the external, objective world around us..

The real flaw in MBTI–is that they assume implicitly in their structure that if you’re good at S–that you must not be good at N. Or that if you are good at F–that T is weaker.

But that’s just bogus. Someone who worked at all of these things could be good at all of these with a lot of work. It might be true that some people’s brains are esp. good at pattern matching–but that might also just be how they were raised–or strongly influenced by it…

So–I reject these “IT’S ALL JUST LIKE ASTROLOGY!” type arguments… Naive understandings and applications of MBTI are terrible–but that’s pretty true of most things. MBTI is an attempt at producing a system of understanding human behavior and cognition–something that humans have a tendency to want to do a lot (see religion, culture, etc..). When people create rigid and “digital” category systems and try to force the analogue reality to fit perfectly within them–they will break and show flaws.

As they should.

But we should not just say the system is totally meaningless–any more than we should say “well, religious theology obviously isn’t scientifically valid–therefore it’s meaningless.” Such pronouncements entirely fail to understand the multiple points of reference that humans use to deal with the universe around them.. and they are more than just a little bit arrogant in their claim to REALLY know how things are..

In the end, I’d argue that MBTI is a tool. It is limited and it can be easily misused–but it does have benefits when used smartly.

And I intend to improve it..

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Iowa-2016 Caucuses

Perspective on last night’s Iowa Caucuses:

1. Cruz has successfully won the Republican side–with such other illustrious former nominees like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee.


Wait! Neither of those guys went on to be the nominee! Instead it was Romney (came in 2nd in 2012) and McCain (came in 4th in 2008) who did. What this says is that on the Republican side, Iowa is not representative for the Republicans for who can win the entire process–it favors religious conservatives too strongly. Now perhaps this has finally shifted as the Republicans as a whole have become far more conservative–but Cruz’s win doesn’t actually bode that well for him.

Trump and esp. Rubio are the ones to watch. Now–if Rubio does well in New Hampshire–he’ll become the establishment candidate–and pick up some support (but not that much–it’s like 10% total divided amongst all the establishment candidates). If he doesn’t come in at least 3rd, however, he loses this momentum and it looks again like Trump will take it.

Trump just has to not fold in New Hampshire–and he’ll again be the odds on favorite.

2. On the Democratic side, interestingly, the person who has won in Iowa has gone on to be the nominee the last two times. Kerry upset Dean and Obama upset Clinton. Iowa is a better bellwether state for the Democrats. There are progressives there–but also mainstream and even somewhat conservative democrats.

And what did we see? Well–Clinton appears to have won 49.8 to 49.5 .. by .3%. This is essentially a tie.


With this–she’ll get 23 delegates while Bernie gets 21. However–in context, the Clinton camp must be worried. A year ago, polls had Clinton leading Sanders 60% to 6%. Six months ago, it was 51% to 25%. 3 months ago 51% to 34%. At the start of the year, 47 to 42%, and yesterday it was still 47 to 44%.

Her vast dominance in name recognition and apparent coronation has disappeared from a 54% lead down to a .3% win in the space of a year. She–the former first lady, senator of New York, and secretary of state with the best name recognition of any politician in the country–has barely squeaked by with a win in a farm state over a strongly left-wing social democratic Jew from Brooklyn(not even a solid party member, but a lefty independent) whose history is of being the mayor of Burlington (a city of 42,000 people), then an independent Rep from Vermont (a state of less than a million people), and then finally senator from the same.

Given this–do not talk to me about “electability” arguments. Iowa is a good testing ground for electability for Democrats–and Clinton appears to be barely able to beat someone who calls himself a socialist in public and who many people describe as a radical. Furthermore–Clinton is actually from the midwest–she grew up in a suburb in Chicago–Park Ridge–not far from where I grew up–which should provide you with a better sense of the culture & values of the midwest than a New York Jew.(This is not saying that New York Jews don’t have values and culture–not at all–they have a great culture and values–but it is different than that of the midwest…).

And yet–after all of your money and name recognition–you are barely holding on, Hillary.

What does this tell you, Hillary? Perhaps that if you think you can win by just being the “default” candidate, you will fail.

That is not leadership. Leadership is about vision–it’s about staking out actual positions that people may not agree with and then working to persuade them. You claim to have great persuasive powers having worked in the senate–but you don’t seem to think that you have to use them with the voters who will elect you. That we all will just trust you.

But many of us don’t. You are too close to the people who have regularly crashed the economy and stolen our wealth (to protect their own) and who think of us as peasants. Yes–you have a pretty decent record on reproductive rights and women’s issues–but you did not lead when it came to LGBT at all–and while your history on racial issues is not bad–it’s not any better than Bernie’s. In fact–in all of the issues that you tout as your strengths–Bernie agrees with you (exception being guns–where he’s actually more aligned with what the average American thinks…). But when it comes to inequality and taking on the Oligarchy–you are incredibly silent. You don’t lead–you look flustered and just a bit sheepish.

This must change if you want to win. You will have to steal Bernie’s thunder rather than claiming that thunder is bad.


And yes–this turned into a rant–but it’s an important one.. because this is an important data point for this election. It’s just one–more will follow–but it’s a big one.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Data and Interpretation

So my student numbers for the semester have finally settled down after a couple of weeks of adds and drops.

As it stands I have 61 students in 3 sections.  From these 3 sections, I have the following numbers to report:

61 students
16 women
1 African-American
19 Chinese
1 Korean

Now–that’s just the data–the question becomes–what does the data mean?

Data/facts don’t speak for themselves–they need context.  Some of the context you might want:
1. I teach an engineering course.
2. My course is an upper-level communications course for engineers that is a requirement for most majors.
3. I teach at a renown state university–the flagship university of the state.

Still–given this context–the data remains underdetermined–meaning that you can still make a number of different (and even contradictory) inferences from it.  Some of these might be:
a) Women are under-represented in Engineering.
b) Women’s representation in engineering appears to be climbing.
c) There aren’t enough African-American students
d) The African American representation correlates strongly to the percentage of African Americans in the state coming in with grades necessary to be engineers
e) There are too many foreign students being let in.
f) The university is compensating for declining state funding by bringing in more foreign students, and these just happen to be over-represented in the engineering fields.

All of these inferences might be true (I haven’t actually confirmed all of them)–but they also each may have big holes in them because they only capture a particular viewpoint of the situation.

Data is important–but data is often not enough to grant one understanding–especially if the context and history is not given for it–and the quantity of the data is limited.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Don’t stand in line…

So I’m gonna talk about the upcoming primary and election and a lot about Bernie Sanders.

First I want to put forth three examples/pieces of evidence related to the topic.

a) Robert Reich’s analysis of the last Democratic Debate.  Specifically, Reich said the following:

“3. Hillary presented herself as an experienced politician who is prepared to assume the presidency, while Bernie presented himself as the leader of a political revolution. Both characterizations seem fair. If you assume Washington is not changeable and that the vicious cycle of wealth and power dominating our politics and economics is unalterable, Hillary’s experience is relevant; she will make a first-class president for the system we now have. But if you believe Washington must be changed, and that system can be altered for the benefit of the many and not the few, Bernie’s leadership is more relevant; he is heading up a political movement.”

That seems pretty spot on.  Hillary is running as the establishment candidate while Bernie is running to shake things up.

b) I had a conversation on facebook with an old friend of mine.  We grew up together, went to catholic grade school and public high school together in Evanston, IL–which is a liberal, but moderate and relatively well-off community north of Chicago.  It does, however, have a long history of being a pretty diverse place.

In any case, my friend still lives near Evanston and works in Chicago.  He’s relatively conservative in terms of politics–and voted for Romney (and probably McCain–although I don’t know that for sure..)–but he is smart, college-educated, works at a bank, and is socially liberal in terms of outlook in the grand scheme of things.  From what I gather, he easily would have been a Republican 10, 20, or 40 years ago… (note–we’re both 43..)–but now thinks of himself as an independent.

As it stands–he had posted a comment on one of my posts.  I had been forwarding an article about Bernie Sanders medicare for all plan–how he lays out the policy and the taxes for all to see.  My friend had been responding to a sub-point I had about raising the gas tax, but we got back to talking about Bernie–about what he thought of Bernie–and this is what he said:

“I watched all of the debates. When it comes down to it this is what I am thinking…. as far as who would shake things up for the better here at home where we need it, Bernie, no question. I like single payer idea. I feel he is for the people. I am not anywhere near socialist, but I like him more than the others.”

This is what my independent, center-right, former Republican friend thinks.  He likes Bernie BECAUSE he will shake things up.  He’s also incredibly turned-off by Hillary–as he sees her as just the same as the establishment Republicans–corrupt and working for the interests of big money first.

c) Two days before that–on Saturday, I was at a Meinecke getting the oil changed on one of our cars–and as I was paying, I got into a political conversation with one of  the attendants there.  He had a rural/southern-ish accent–marking him as not from Madison proper–and perhaps not even from Wisconsin.  In any case, he was telling me about the “rewards program” that would mean that I could get a free oil change after 4 times.  He then said that it was “at least something–more than it was before” and he related it credit cards.

But then he noted, wryly even, “Yeah–those credit cards will give you 1% back.. ha!” and I said in response, “of course–but they charge 28%!” and he responded,

“Yeah.. It’s why the rich get richer and why we stay poor.”

And I then followed up, “Yawp–that’s why we gotta do something about this.”

In response, he slowly and cautiously said, “Yeah.. that’s why I’m leaning towards Bernie..”

And I said, “Yawp.. I’m a big bernie fan myself.  We need to change things.”

And he smiled.

This is not some hippie liberal over-educated grad student supporting Bernie.  This is a working-class, originally rural, mechanic who is picking up on Bernie’s message and found it appealing.

This is the evidence that I’ve noticed in the last week.

What does it say to me?

Well, it tells me that the narrative out there that Bernie Sanders is “too radical” for people is pure hogwash.  Bernie may be too radical for those people who are strongly invested in the status quo, but this is a status quo that is currently not working for the majority of the populace.  Median wages re not increasing–and they haven’t been for a long time.   The economy has finally–after 7 years and repeated attempts to thwart it–gotten going–but it’s not roaring–and it won’t be until we see strong wage growth for the majority of the populace such that it generates naturally and widespread increases in demand for goods and services.

Bernie–as Robert Reich noted above–is the representative of a movement of political revolution–to bring back the values and economic ideas that governed this country in the 1950’s and 60’s–when we had the longest and most sustained economic growth in this country’s history.  When taxes on higher incomes were FAR higher than they were today, when infrastructure spending came first rather than tax cuts, when unions and management worked together because the average worker and the average manager had similar salaries and something in common to work for.

Hillary–well–she’s what Reich says she is–an insider who will be able to work the currently corrupted system pretty well.  She may even do some good while she’s there.
But she does not question the system and she will not challenge it fundamentally.

That’s not what we need at the moment, in my view.  She is, I will readily concede, 1000x better than any of the Republican candidates who don’t have actual ideas on how to govern, but are totally into proving that they are way more angry than anyone else.

Compared to these tantrum throwing two-year olds, Hillary is an adult.  But she’s not going to change the system.

Bernie is–and Bernie is showing that he CAN appeal to independents and working class folk who have been voting for the Republicans in the past, exactly because these people have been repulsed at how much the system has failed them.

They don’t want to stand in line for scraps anymore. They want justice too.

bernie-don't stand in line



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The difference of a word….

… or otherwise titled, “Why you actually need to care about Marketing!”

Let us talk about a system.

This system uses a myriad of sensory techniques to collect data on an individual.  Some of these are obvious and can be noticed by the individual.  Some of these are not, and they hide in the shadows.

Some of these techniques are also used to shape or influence the behavior of individuals.  They may do this by limiting their choices or by presenting some options more than others.

All of these techniques, when you boil them down, are about control.  They are part of a system that has been constructed and designed to exert control over various individuals and groups, and the people that are attempting to exert this control don’t usually see themselves as being aligned or part of the group being controlled.

Now–how we label this system can change our perceptions of it–even if the system itself doesn’t change. 1984

If we call it “Big Brother,” then people–even those who haven’t read 1984–may perceive it quite negatively.

If, however, we decide to call it “Big Data,” then people have more ambiguous feelings about it.  It’s just a tool then–possibly one that will help us become more healthy and better off in the future as all these intractable problems are solved with the magic of infinite information collected about all of us.

Amazing what the difference of one word does.

Is it the impersonality of “data” vs. “brother” that shades the meaning?  Is it just the historical time period that has allowed the phrase “big brother” to have its meaning cemented into negativity?

The systems are the same, functionally.  And a bit more terrifyingly–big brother never actually existed technically in its fullest extent–not even in 1984.

But now it does.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Culture and Coming out..

The alarm went off this morning super early because it’s a special day.

And I heard,

“Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls.
It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world,
Except for Lola. Lo lo lo lo Lola.”
And then I turned off the alarm.. but the thought-train had started.

The Kink’s Lola is my first memory of understanding the utter humanity and normality of what we would now call the LGBT movement…. or–as I like to say–of many dear friends of mine.

The song came out in 1970, was a huge hit, and was also censored in various places around the world–I’M LOOKING AT YOU, AUSTRALIA.

I didn’t really consciously remember hearing it until the 1980’s and I probably didn’t think about the lyrics–or closely listen to them, until 8th grade or so–so maybe 1985-86.

But then I did listen to it–and yes, it was radical and life-changing.  It changed my life.  It didn’t make me gay –I’m pretty boringly straight–but it changed my life because it made me see something.

It made me see the humanity of a group of people that were never spoken of, never addressed, and never, ever treated as anything other than something wrong and unspeakable.

This wasn’t taught to me by anyone–and it wasn’t something that my parents or family did (other than just not talking about it).  Rather, it was something that was just “clear” and something that you learned in your education on the playground.

We all avoided being a “faggot” or a “fucking queer”–some of the worst of all insults.

Lola changed that.  It didn’t change it by preaching.  It changed it by merely presenting Lola as a human–a human like any other.  A human who loved and liked.  A human seeking the company of another human. A human seeking intimacy and kindness–and one wanting to give those as well.

That was radical as fuck.

Not that I suddenly became a full-blown advocate for LGBT rights at that moment.  Not at all.  But the seed had been planted.  The logic–or rather–let’s be honest–the bullshit lies and fear that I had learned by cultural osmosis that would make me want to hate and separate myself from LGBT folk was made transparent.   I realized that it didn’t make me stronger to fear anyone because of this–it made me weaker.

And that would be stupid.

A few years after that–I would meet my first gay man officially through a much more enlightened friend.  Then in college I would have a manager and friend who let me know he was gay.. and we are friends still.

Being LGBT became a non-thing for me.  Or rather–it became just another facet of this complicated world we live in.

But it did become a cause for me in the sense that I have always believed in equality for everyone–and to see inequality and unfair treatment doled out to these other humans for no other reason than the person they loved–well, that’s just fucking bullshit.

Fuck. That.

In the end, Lola changed me.  Perhaps she helped make me a man too.

Moments like this matter–and culture–as conservatives like to talk about–that does matter too. This song did immense cultural work upon me–it made me a better human–because it provided a crucial–if also incredibly ordinary–example of the humanity of so many humans that I like and love.

Although I happen to be straight–Lola was a coming out moment–not for me in specific–but for all of us in general.  And every time I have a friend in the LGBT community who finds the courage to come out and show the world that “we’re all just folk…” here–that makes the world a better place–and I will always applaud them for it–both in my head, and to anyone within earshot.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

How do you Want it?

I don’t exactly remember where this NOM came from.  I know it sprang from a situation where I was reading about people talking about “wanting” something in some way that made me think about how I wanted things.. because they were different.


More than that, however, I no longer know.  Despite putting down “NOM-Wanting” on my lists of “daily tasks to get done” for the past couple of weeks–there were always more important tasks that took precedence.

I had yardwork to do.
I had the kitchen to clean.
I had to go meet about with people about the upcoming semester.
I had wood  to chop.
I had dinner to make.

Of course, not all of those things above sound all that fun.  But I chose to do them instead of writing on this blog.


Did I want to do those things more than writing on this blog?

Yes. I wanted to chop wood more than write.
I wanted to clean the kitchen more than write.

“What’s up with that?” you might ask.  You wanted to do dishes instead of blog? Are you insane?

Probably. Given what’s considered “sane” in much of culture and society–I might just be a bit insane, but I think I can also explain it by delving into the concept/term/idea of wanting. 

As I am wont–not want–to do (oh what a pun!***), I will first look at the definitions and etymology of the word want.

Want is interesting. In the languages closest to English–namely Dutch and German–the equivalent verbs are “wollen”(3rd person “will”) and “willen.”  This verb exists in English also–not surprisingly in the modal verb “will” (from old –but its meaning has changed.  In both German and Dutch,  “wollen” and “willen” mean “to wish, want, desire,” whereas in English, “will” has come to mean something more like “am willing, shall, choose” and to imply the future.

So where did want come from?

It came from Scandinavia.  Want comes from Old Norse vanta, which meant “to be deficient, lacking.”   One can see this kind of meaning in the expression, “It was found wanting.” ==It is deficient, flawed.  An english cognate of this verb is found in our current verb “to wane,” meaning “to diminish, decline,” and which is most commonly associated with the phases of the moon.


Historically, the verb is first noted as appearing around 1200 AD, but I would reckon that it probably came over with the Danes back in the 800’s, when they (as Vikings) conquered much of England and set up shop in the Danelaw for the next 200 years.   Perhaps it was only noted in 1200 because all of England had been ruled by the Danish King Canute between 1016-1042, and then England was again conquered in 1066 by the Normans–who were Francofied Viking descendants–and French became the main written language on legal documents (as well as Latin) until well into the 1200’s.  Although I haven’t found direct sources for this, it would make sense for the gradual seepage of Old Norse terms first into commonly spoken english, then into the upper classes, to happen because of these historical events.

In any case, want remained a verb solely denoting deficiency or lacks into the 1700’s, which is when we start to see the crossover in meaning towards “desire, wish” in its meaning. This meaning has become dominant since that point, and current definitions almost always begin with the meaning of “desire, long for” in current dictionaries.

This evolution of meaning from “to be lacking” towards “to desire, long for” in a pretty ubiquitous and oft used word in English is pretty fascinating to me.   If you think about it, there are some profound shifts in structure and meaning that went into this..  Previously, to say, “I want knowledge.” (I am ignorant.) would have been extremely negative and would have implied a kind of reflexive or passive reaction to the subject.   Currently, saying “I want knowledge.” would be seen as rather positive–that the person is actively desiring or seeking out knowledge (let us agree that this is a good thing.).

This is a pretty profound change in a word, and I believe it plays a role in the original cause for this post–namely my reaction to somebody talking about their wanting.  Specifically, they were talking a lot about all the things that they wanted (desired) that they could never seem to have (these were material things, mainly).  It made me think of all the people who focus so much desire on material objecst–say like an iPhone–or the whole Black Friday phenomenon–and how intense their desires actually are.
Wanting had become pure desire for them.

This struck me mainly because my sense of wanting was different.

It’s not better.  That is DEFINITELY NOT MY CLAIM HERE. I’m speaking just for me here.

But it is different.

When I talk about wanting something, it is much more of a transient kind of phenomenon.   If I want something, I dedicate myself towards having it–and then marshall all my energies towards getting it.   These things that I want can be big–I desperately wanted to be with my best half after I met her and fell in love with her–or it can be something as simple as my morning coffee.


However, these things that I want, I act until the want is gone.  The intensity of this action is expressed quite well by the sentiment on the side of this coffee mug.

Which is mine.  I saw this mug online. I wanted it. I made it mine.

The flipside of this phenomenon, however, is that when I find something that I desire, but I realize that the amount of energy that would be needed to get it would be unmanageable–or detrimental–then I stop wanting it.  I concluded that I was not lacking this object, or goal–and this would free up space for me pursue other things.

Perhaps I’m just lying to myself here.  Telling myself a story that I don’t want these things–but it works.  And I don’t tend to think about it much more.

Again–I’m not saying this is a better strategy–I’m only saying it is mine.  It works for me, but I’m also an amazingly privileged individual–I’m white, male, upper middle-class, American, and over-educated.

Being free from wants is pretty simple for me to accomplish. Thus the caveats.

What interests me more than pushing an agenda is to think about the range of meanings covered by wanting.

Wanting is about our desires.

Wanting is about what we are missing.

Between the two points of desire and lack, there is the crucial element of need.

And that’s where things get interesting.  If things we are lacking are necessities–then our wanting can be very, very strong–and it can drive our actions.  If, however, the things we are lacking are merely our desires–they aren’t really needed–then our wanting can become a possibly destructive force (only possibly–because sometimes desires are important tools towards accomplishing goals we don’t need, but which make life better… anyway..).

I see this when I think of people waiting in line for days for a new version of the iPhone.  Or the stampedes on Black Friday.  This is desirous wanting run amok. It is where a desire is treated as if it is a necessity–and the force of wanting is used to drive our actions.

Some of this, I believe at least, comes from the overlapping meanings and connotations in the word want.   It spans a huge gamut of meaning in the English language and there are a wash of subtle, and yet powerful emotions and motivations that it can express.

Furthermore–we are living in a society that wants increasingly more.  As google can tell us, the overall usage of the world “want” has more than doubled in the last 40 years and is climbing.   This is almost certainly related to our rapidly expanding consumer society–but it is something that we are starting to realize is problematic when we think about issues of sustainability.

What do you want? and How do you want it?

Those are question we need to think about a lot in the next decades..

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment