Monday, 20 January 2014

INTP; really?

Sometimes I surprise myself, which is, on the whole, a somewhat better state of affairs than being continually disappointed in oneself. The latter sits alongside manifestations of 'Imposter Syndrome' and a whole slew of other self-image issues which seems to me to be almost endemic within the 'bubble' of people I know (or try to know through their work or their writing or ...).  Apart from psychopaths and sociopaths, and of course all the mature and well-adjusted people out there, I imagine that a great many of us are troubled with the condition, such as it is. I also suppose that those who are willing to spend a bit of time and effort reflecting on their life will be able to put it into some sort of perspective, but that has to be tempered with the fact that we're often, to one degree or another, opaque to our own gaze. That's where family, friends, colleagues, counsellors and confidantes come in: as a potential source of a more objective insight. Not that I'd advise taking everything they say as meaningful or accurate - indeed, it'll sometimes be quite misleading - but experience, which is not necessarily synonymous with age, tends to allow one to sift out those who truly see and understand from those who don't.

One of the things my students learn about me very early on in their careers is that I am relatively easily diverted: all it takes is an interesting question for five or ten minutes of a lecture to disappear in a tangential discussion around some topic or other. Is this a problem? I don't think so, and judging by student feedback they don't either. We cover the required syllabus, but along the way we'll have indulged in a bit of fun within our chosen subject, and I'll hopefully have ignited not only a passion for its pursuit but also a confidence in their ability to contribute to the endeavour. Of course, what I've just done is illustrate the fact: I opened this post intending to write a brief note on my take on Imposter Syndrome in the context of my evolving week ...

There seemed to be a flurry of people writing on the topic during the past few months, but this may be another example of the distorting effect of Twitter. (I've become a bit of a Twitter addict since I set my account up a year or so ago - originally at the request of freelance journalist Carole Jahme in order to support her project defined by @shakesphere1 as "Pop-up street theatre for the #CulturalOlympiad and beyond. A synthesis of science from Shakespeare's realm and @STFC_Matters frontier science.Needless to say, I was there to cover the contemporary science, hence the reference to the Science & Technology Facilities Council. Herewith the second diversion; spot the pattern?) Notable contributors to the exploration of Imposter Syndrome have included Athene Donald, in two posts, and Hugh Kearnes. Beyond the fact that the concept resonated with me, and from a great many conversations I can be pretty sure that it's an umbrella heading that also has meaning to a significant proportion of the people I know, it caused me to ponder on its meaning and on its consequences. During this time I happened to stumble across a web site - by which I mean I read a tweet which included the URL - which claimed to analyze any given blog and return a Meyers-Briggs personality profile. Despite the fact that I regard this sort of profiling as being only marginally less useless than graphology or phrenology, it was too tempting to resist. 

Into the 'analysis' code went my blogs, and out came a profile declaring me to be of type INTP, which was associated with a graphic purporting to reveal the way my mind works. It'll take only a small amount of time on the internet to find well-argued cases against the claims made for 
Meyers-Briggs profiles, and to elaborate on its limitations here would be to get into a larger-than-average diversion. However, the picture summary and the text that went with it did serve a purpose of sorts. Rather like the input from friends etc. mentioned above, it promoted some reflection on how I might come over to those who read my various written bits-and-pieces. I've always loved reading, and came also to love writing from quite a young age. Indeed, one of the positive reasons for taking 'Flexible Retirement' was so that I'd have more time to write, especially in the context of being a scientist. Thus, almost irrespective of the ultimate value of the profile in terms of an assay of personality, it might, or so I thought, prove useful as a tool in the re-examination of my writing style in light of what it is I'm trying to convey to people. It's one thing to be described as logical and "attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges" and to be compared with Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and Yoda, which the web site's analysis offered, but quite another to be told that I may come over as "arrogant, impatient and insensitive". These are serious accusations, if taken that way. In truth, I may have forgotten the whole thing after that initial scan-read were it not for the fact that my wife read the profile, over my shoulder as it were, and then laughed - I mean really laughed, a lot. Oh dear. In fairness, the bit that caught her fancy was the phrase "Their ability to grasp complexity may also lead them to provide overly detailed explanations of simple ideas, and listeners may judge that the INTP makes things more difficult than they need to be", which pandered to a long-running source of amusement (for us both). However, despite the caveats, her reaction raised the analysis' profile sufficiently to pose some pertinent questions that I'll do well to hold on to as I try to explore what I can do in terms of written work: both in the area of public engagement with science and otherwise. It may be, for instance, that three decades of writing research papers and the like as a professional physicist has narrowed my vision and that, as a consequence, I need to exercise a few creative muscles that have atrophied. Time will tell.

What of the 'surprise' with which I opened this blog? Well, it's simply that having consciously planned to use my new part-time status in order to step up my levels of writing via local news media, maybe a bit of creative short-story fiction but initially through the blog purposefully set up for the purpose, I've found myself actually doing less than in many periods when I was working full-time. This has been for the best of reasons - some far more exciting, challenging and immediate opportunities presented themselves - but it's surprised me nonetheless. Add to that the effect of 'Imposter Syndrome' and some less-than-flattering descriptions of my writing and it's apparent that the real surprise is that I've actually returned to write another post after a two-month gap! Who knows, maybe now is the time to step up the pace; certainly there's a long list of topics scribbled onto scraps of paper awaiting my attention ...

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