Friday, May 01, 2009

What if I really were my number?

I've been reading a book called Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer. It reports on research on how people know and make choices. Because it is research-based, it is largely about how we know (inside) the world (outside). Much of the book is about defining the conditions under which we make better choices when we have less information.

I wonder if we make better choices about ourselves when we put aside the vast and inadequate knowledge we have stored about ourselves and reduce our thinking, as best we can, to the pattern described in a system like the Enneagram. Instead of saying "what do I believe about this?" we can ask "what would a 4 believe about this?" Since we have much less information about 4s than we do about ourselves, this would impose a simplicity on the choice we are considering.

The process is roughly: let's reduce the amount of information available and notice how the choice becomes clearer and more stable. We need some information, so choosing an Enneagram profile gives us enough relevant information without overwhelming our processes for choosing.

A simpler system would work better for the actual process of choosing except for two things: 1) it might distort the real information too much to be useful and 2) if we sense that the information available is not a fair representation of our more complicated selves, we will not be able to accept the choice it suggests.

For instance, if I am looking at business prospects under the current economic conditions, I could ask: what do I believe will happen to my business in the next three months? And then I would face unbelievably complicated thinking about the market, the finances and, most confusingly, my own ability to adapt and interact. If, on the other hand, I ask the question: "What factors would an Enneagram 6 see as important in the next 3 months," I'm going to get a much smaller set of information in reply. One that might actually allow me to see leverage points that would connect the external situation with my internal responses in useful ways (providing, of course, that the 6 is a good description for me).

We have known for a long time that more is not always better.

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