We love friends, family, and lovers yet some of us find company oppressive. The chit-chat drain of entertaining others, and maintaining banter and good-humour by giving out smiles and laughs and obeying the law that you must make noises with the mouth in response to other noises to relieve the silence, is inessential and a little silly. The same is true of tapping out answers to questions fed to us through messages and email, by the deadline of social taboo. (A day, two days, a week?)
Most conversation is pointless, in the sense of it being forgotten within a month. Yet, the people who would agree it is pointless – brooding angry young men or misunderstood young women – while fashionable in some films, are unfashionable and even failures in workplaces. This is, in fact, because all conversation has a social function: policing of behaviour and rearranging the hierarchy through gossip, or demonstrating you care through a reply. For proof, consider that on the average extroverts are promoted more, more liked, more attracting and report being happier than their introverted counterparts.
True, ironic as it is, introversion is claimed by many on social media; and profit-seeking psychologists, like Sophia Rambling, release books in praise of introverts, but the truth is that, by metrics of success, extroverts have a better time being alive. But the idea of extroversion or introversion or ambiversion are all problematic because humans are context bound creatures, the difference between solitude and hanging-out or between coffee and a party depend on the situation. Rather than inhering in a person their tendency is as much a reaction to their embedded circumstances than their essence or nature.
Consider that physicists and mathematicians, who we might presume are lone scholars like (autistic) Isaac Newton, are social. Such scientists talk through their theories and experiments and academic publication actually functions as a forum for peer conversation. The most impressive mathematician, Paul Erdos, published 1525 papers in his life and his success was so bound by peers that it has a number dedicated to explaining it. Erdos’ number measures the collaborative distance between Erdos and other mathematicians, hence quantifies potential discoveries: the number predicts a better chance of significantly contributing to mathematics and chances of a Nobel Prize.
Akin to Paul Erdos, physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg discoursed together and contributed a shift to our understanding of mechanics by discovering (or inventing or both) truths of quantum mechanics as a result. Such discoveries like the fact that subatomic particles subsist as both wave and particle form; the mutual exclusion of measuring precisely both position and momentum of an object; and that subatomic particles do not exist in a physical state until they are measured. Subatomic particles obey quantum laws whereas the instruments to measure them obey classical laws. The universe is more complex than even the most intelligent humans can make sense of. And all such sense-making was social in nature. Therefore it was not that Erdos, Heisenberg or Bohr were introverted and so bookish loners but that their bookish introversion played out socially, extrovertedly, among humans both social and solitary. To the contrary of cultural shaming of being alone, solitude (enjoying being alone) is not the same as loneliness (displeasurable isolation).
The most creative people in history have never abided by an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert ‘personality diagnosis’. Personality tests like the Myers-Briggs are meaningless. Rather like astrology. Personality tests originated in the speculations of Freud’s star pupil, Carl Jung. The most creative people haven’t been an ambivert, extrovert or introvert because they are fake scientific terms. ‘Fake’ in the sense of having been coined and shared intersubjectively rather than discovered objectively. And fake too, for lacking genuine scientific substance which requires a hypothesis or explanatory theory with falsifiable or verifiable claims. ‘Introvert’, ‘ambivert’ and ‘extrovert’ exist as adjectives akin to subjectively saying one is solitary or social or both (the truth: it varies and the referent is too vague). Such adjectives are—outside of abnormal psychology study—rather meaningless. Rather than make appeals to a spectrum or continuum model of personality with sociable one side and solitary on the other and ambivert equidistant, a more representative model of behaviour is a constellation. Chaotic interactions, not point A to point B gradated scale. Constellations – like the star ‘shapes’ – aren’t constellations objectively: we cluster them contingently or intersubjectively. For example, the bear constellations are in no way bears, we project that they are. Moreover, dressing up being sociable, solitary or a bit of both in jargon serves only to profit self-help sellers and mislead people into mistaking their changeable subjective words, vague adjectives, for their variable, situation-bound, behaviours.
For everyone to understand (and experience) the world better, an embrace of a constellation model of personality rather than a set of inadequate and pretend-science terms is advisable. We are all social, solitary, between both and somewhat abnormal. Classing ourselves as any such terms only serves to make our false beliefs into true behaviours – we might become more social than we were, for example, if we say we are extroverted. And similarly, we might be less social than a large pool of people, an extrapolated ‘majority’, but social in our head at the time of thinking on it or judging by our parochial social group. A lesson of this, then, is that whatever way we would tend to identify, there is more on offer on the other metaphorical side, and there is no set-in-stone identity as a socialite, loner, or dabbler. Bohr and Heisenberg enjoyed bookish time alone and contemplating, but so too socialising, music, and so forth that are informed by both solitude and sociability. As can we be.