I, Robot, Feel
I came across an image that had the fictional character from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Seven-of-Nine, juxtaposed with the character Data from the sister-show, Star Trek: Voyager. They are both an outgrowth of the character Spock from the original series, designed to give a third-person view of human condition. In as many ways as they are similar, they contrast.
Seven was born Annika Hansen, the daughter of maverick space-traveling exobiologists who were searching for a species called the Borg. The hunters became the hunted, and that was quickly all she wrote as they were assimilated into the Borg’s interconnected cybernetic collective, where free will took at back seat to robotic discipline in a hive mind. It was as if the Stepford Wives all had one brain, super human powers and could conduct space travel. Compassion was not their foremost quality. Based on their logic, no matter how cruel it might be, they always thought that the most efficient path was right.
Data was created by an android designer. He was a 100-kilogram droid made up of tripolymer composites and molybdenum-colbat alloys. He was exactly 87.2 centimeters in length and his mind was his programming and storage capacity of 800 quadrillion bits and a computational speed rate of 60 trillion operations per second. His creators did all he could to make Data – who was programed to be personable and compassionate – human. He did not succeed, obviously, in creating human life out of polymers and programs, but Data did sacrifice himself to save the crew of the USS Enterprise.
On the image, beside Seven, the caption read “INTJ” and the “Coldest human.”
Beside Data, the caption read “INTP” the “Warmest machine.”
The four-digit abbreviations were a reference to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, the popular personality preference assessment that illustrates the 16 different ways that people prefer to operate in the world. The assessment compares introversion to extroversion, sensing to intuition, thinking to feeling and judging to perceiving. The first combination measures where you get your strength, the second measures how you take in data, the third measures how you make decisions and the final set measures how you take on the world.
Introverts get their strength from being alone while extroverts get their strength from time with others. People who are sensing process information by collecting data while those with intuition tend to lean toward big picture, theoretical analysis. Those who favor thinking make decisions based on logic while those who lean toward feeling focus on social values and the personal considerations of themselves and others. Often misunderstood, those who are judging tend to like structure and order and those who are perceiving revel in the spontaneous exploration of life.
Like data, I am an INTP and sometimes I do feel like I am the world’s warmest machine, trying my best to be human, just a few steps from being on the inside.
I work in a profession that tends to value extroversion over introversion, intuition over sensing, feeling over thinking and perceiving over judging.
In two of the areas – introversion and thinking – I am way off the mark among my brethren in coaching and psychology.
There is no question that being intuitive is a necessary shortcut in my field and that being too rigid provides great discomfort to both clinician and client. I have come to see that those skills of decided based on logic and reflecting in introversion to develop ideas have tangible benefits for my clients. But sometimes a healthy dose of logic and a guy who really does not want to call you back because he needs his alone time, is not what a client needs at a given time.
There is a running competition among those around me about what makes me most inhuman. At work, they would say that it is my decisions based on logic. At home, there would be a running competition between logic and introversion. I can spend an entire day with my head in a book as chaos surrounds me or alone on a walk. The last day I took off, I did not plan a road trip with friends and go on an adventure with family. I took a hike up Mount Weather, only a few miles from the home of family, and sat on a big rock reading a novel.
Fully sentient, debatably human, I often feel in the world but not of the world, which can be a maddening proposition for me and for others. I can have sympathy for my INTJ brethren – they often make some of the best visionary leaders, which requires them to be surrounded by crowds, but right there with me when it comes to be on the outside. Our types are not the only ones who struggle with fitting in. All introverts do to some degree – INFPs struggle with the intensity of their emotions without being able to share them and ISTJs are too busy being productive to worry about it. ISFPs, a remarkably sensitive type, are good at pretending they are not outsiders. ISTPs would not have it any other way. And INFJs are too busy saving or destroying or destroying and then saving the world.
For me, I wonder about my humanity at times. Sometimes I wonder if I am a reincarnated owl. I
On a good day, if I were forced to tell you I loved you and why, I would articulate factual qualities that logically have made us aligned. It can be quite maddening for those – the sensers – who need the data point of hearing you say it or the or the extroverts who want to hear you say and show it over-and-over again. Do not get me wrong, there is a small circle of people that I love deeply or am proud of, but I struggle with the expression of my feelings, which aligns just perfectly with my intuitive world view, which just assumes they already know it.
If I am anything in this world, it is introspective. As such, from time-to-time, I take a look at my strengths and weaknesses. Several months ago, I noted that I was failing in the department of feeling, and that when it came to expressing it I was just lost. Someone asked around that time to tell them how I felt about something, as opposed to what I thought about it, and my mind just went blank. It was striking.
So, began the month of what I can only assume was suffering for those around me. After all, I was suffering during every minute of my journey to the danger zone, a place more frightening than any Borg cube and more disconcerting than being blown up. This is the place where people have feelings and for some inexplicable reason they share them. It was an experiment. I am glad it’s over. I am glad I made it out the other side alive.
On this trip to hell-and-back, I shot off some letters to friends sharing how I felt about them. I saw the power of the impact among those who did not know – as baffling as that was for me -- and appreciation those who were sure. There were also some amusing reactions.
One person was convinced, as they read my letter talking about how I felt, that they were reading the beginning of a suicide note.
Another was sure that the penultimate paragraph would be that I broke up with my girlfriend.
Another one was convinced that my letter was about to tell them that I was dying.
When I was done with the experiment, I was unexpectedly struck by a desire to write an essay about a friend who shares a powerful connection with me. We are kindred spirits, different colored eggs in the same basket. My intention had been to put it on the shelf, but for reasons born of that connection, I decided to share it.
After I sent it, I wanted to write, “Is this has uncomfortable for you as it is for me?”
I am sure it was.
I am done with all that for now. I am sure my friends are grateful.
What I learned on my journey, was that while I love my introversion, relish my intuition and would not want to live in a world where I did not plan my vacations five minutes after I got off the plane, I have a certain type of Data-like envy for those who can make decisions based on feelings, social values and personal considerations.
I find them utterly human. Me, not so much.
While I might be the guy you want to saw your arm off when it has become infected and if it is not removed you are going to die, you are going to want them there to kiss it and make it better. Sometimes I wish I had it in me to do that job.
Do not get me wrong, that envy can go both ways.
The feelers of the world often long for my brutal, self-persevering and protective logic. It helps me find shortcuts to not getting hurt and, while they gave this tin man a heart, I am able to help protect them from a failure to put themselves first or let others run all over them. What I learned most was that the key for me is not so much expressing my feelings – although those around me can benefit from it from time-to-time – but it is being guided by my value of compassion as I decide to do what’s logical.
I will make the case for introversion on any given day. I have spent the last week alone with the one introvert in my family and I have not felt this energized in a long time. I love my rich inner world. It’s a place where I often feel fulfilled and only rarely feel lonely. I remember going on a family vacation and someone remarking how weird it was that one young child in our group was playing alone. I thought about how lucky he was – he did not need us to build a world out of his seashells and castles in the sand.
I would make the same strong case for intuition. I would not want to not see the big picture or play the long game. I love my world where analysis trumps data, where the big picture is more than the sum of the parts of the evidence, where imagination beats out reality, where ideas trump practicality. It is a place where unconventional is conventional and where I really do not need you to tell me that you love me for me to know it.
Just as well, I love the free-flowing spontaneity of my perceiving qualities – my ability to adjust in a crisis and talk about ideas for hours, even if it does leave a lot to be desired in the Department of Focus, Prioritizing and Time Management.
And, truth be told, I find comfort in being driven by logic. I just wish I could be a little more human about it.
Any logical analysis would tell you that, on paper, I am my mother’s curse.
I do not know what she did previously in her life to deserve it but it does not make any sense that she should be so punished as to have me as her child if you meet her now.
She is an ENFP and she is the most empathetic, compassionate, accepting, accommodating and tender person I know (See! I’ve grown! That was just me abstractly illustrating my thoughts about a person, indirectly, in a blog post that is not directed to her, that I will never send her, but I know she will eventually read. Progress!).
She would make the case that it is about counterbalance. That we need people different than us to shore up our strengths and that we need people with slight differences to provide the missing piece to our own puzzles.
I hear you, mom.
But I need to go now.
I have bigger things to worry about than these imaginary social constructs – like quantum physics, the dystopian novel I am reading and the gigantic black hole recently discovered in the NGC 1600 galaxy.
I thought I was going to become more human. But, maybe, what I learned most on this journey of feeling-land, is that a warm robot is who I am supposed to be -- and, maybe, there isn't anything wrong with that.