If you’re a man on the precipice of marriage or have marriage as a life goal, one worry you likely have is “Will my marriage last?”
While divorce rates have been decreasing since they reached their peak in the late 1970s and early ’80s, there’s still a perception out there that marriage is just a crapshoot — a game of Russian roulette — and that the odds favor you ending up in a family court, or at best in a sad and loveless relationship.
My guest today argues that doesn’t have to be your fate as long as you take a proactive approach to marriage. With some thought and intentionality, you can help ensure that you have a happy, loving, fulfilling relationship that lasts until death do you part. His name is Les Parrott and he’s a clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family. He, along with his wife Leslie, who’s also a marriage therapist, have written a book to help couples prepare themselves for matrimonial commitment. It’s called Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts: Seven Questions to Ask Before — And After — You Marry.
Today on the show, Les and I discuss how a man can know if he’s personally ready for marriage, the myths people have about marriage that set them up for disappointment, and the conversations you should be having with your future spouse to help ensure you have a happy life together. While the conversation is geared towards soon-to-be-marrieds and newlyweds, even if you’ve been married for a couple decades, you’re going to find some useful advice and insights in this show.
How to know if you’re ready for marriage
Why self-awareness is paramount for a successful relationship
The five attitudes towards marriage Millennials have
The effectiveness of pre-marital counseling in helping stave off divorce
What happy marriages look like
The expectations people have coming into marriage that can set them up for failure
The unspoken rules and unconscious roles in a marriage
The three factors that contribute to lasting love
How love changes as a relationship progresses and how to nurture it through the years
Why marriages are their strongest after 25+ years
How to cultivate passion in a long-term relationship
The saboteurs of marriage
The different needs of men and women in a relationship
Why conflict is good for a relationship and how to have a “good fight”
What couples who have been married for awhile, but are experiencing marital problems, can do to solve them
Saving Your Marriage Before It Startsis filled with research-backed insights and actionable steps that about-to-be married or newlywed couples can use to make sure their marriage starts off on the right foot. Even if you’ve been married for a few years, you’re going to find the book useful. Also, consider taking the Parrotts’ SYMBIS Assessment with your spouse for further insights about your marriage.
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Today my youngest daughter starts her senior year homeschooling. (Although each child actually gets 13 years or grades of schooling before college – 12 normal grades and one year of advanced studies and special projects).
My oldest daughter is studying Marine Biology and she is minoring in Psychology but my youngest daughter wants to study Art and Media. Below are her homeschooling curriculum texts for the first semester of this year.
Science:The Biology Book plus the writings of Hippocrates
Religion:Dark Night of the Soul (Saint John of the Cross)
Philosophy: an excellent lecture series on Thomas Aquinas by Peter Kreeft (I took this lecture series myself.)
Literature: the short stories of Tolstoy and Chekhov
Business/Economics/Finance:The Road to Serfdom by Hayek
Mathematics: workbook plus the writings of Euclid
Art: she will be taking the FA Art and Painting Composition study course and reading from the book Stagecraft
She will also have her labs which will cover art, biology, chess, piano, and she has currently chosen to study Italian and Japanese. (She really likes Italian, and finds it easy, but Japanese she finds much harder than Korean. She says that so far Japanese is the hardest language she has studied or tried to master.)
She will also read one magazine per week and will watch a classic film about once every two weeks.
She will have her special projects for the year which we have yet to decide but will probably center around drama and theater.
Finally she is studying to take the SAT since the new state test hasn’t even returned her results yet and she took that test back in April I believe.
To obtain a hard copy of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®), the most popular personality test in the world, one must first spend $1,695 on a week-long certification program run by the Myers & Briggs Foundation of Gainesville, Florida.
This year alone, there have been close to 100 certification sessions in cities ranging from New York to Pasadena, Minneapolis, Portland, Houston, and the Foundation’s hometown of Gainesville, where participants get a $200 discount for making their way south to the belly of the beast. It is not unusual for sessions to sell out months in advance. People come from all over the world to get certified.
In New York last April, there were twenty-five aspiring MBTI practitioners in attendance. There was a British oil executive who lived for the half the year under martial law in Equatorial Guinea. There was a pretty blonde astrologist from Australia, determined to invest in herself now that her US work visa was about to expire. There was a Department of Defense administrator, a gruff woman who wore flowing skirts and rainbow rimmed glasses, and a portly IBM manager turned high school basketball coach. There were three college counselors, five HR reps, and a half-dozen “executive talent managers” from Fortune 500 companies. Finally, there was me.
I was in an unusual position that week: Attending the certification program had not been my idea. Rather, I had been told that MBTI certification was a prerequisite to accessing the personal papers of Isabel Briggs Myers, a woman about whom very little is known except that she designed the type indicator in the final days of World War II. Part of our collective ignorance about Myers stems from how profoundly her personal history has been eclipsed by her creation, in much the same way that the name “Frankenstein” has come to stand in for the monster and not his creator.
Flip through the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, and you will find the indicator used to debate what makes an employee a good “fit” for her job, or to determine the leadership styles of presidential candidates. Open a browser, and you will find the indicator adapted for addictive pop psychology quizzes by BuzzFeed and Thought Catalog. Enroll in college, work an office job, enlist in the military, join the clergy, fill out an online dating profile, and you will encounter the type indicator in one guise or another — to match a person to her ideal office job or to her ideal romantic partner.
Yet though her creation is everywhere, Myers and the details of her life’s work are curiously absent from the public record. Not a single independent biography is in print today. Not one article details how Myers, an award-winning mystery writer who possessed no formal training in psychology or sociology, concocted a test routinely deployed by 89 of the Fortune 100 companies, the US government, hundreds of universities, and online dating sites like Perfect Match, Project Evolove and Type Tango. And not one expert in the field of psychometric testing, a $500 million industry with over 2,500 different tests on offer in the US alone, can explain why Myers-Briggs has so thoroughly surpassed its competition, emerging as a household name on par with the Atkins Diet or The Secret.
Less obvious at first, and then wholly undeniable, is how hard the present-day guardians of the type indicator work to shield Myers’s personal and professional history from critical scrutiny. For the foundation, as well as for its for-profit-research-arm, the Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT), this means keeping journalists far away from Myers’s notebooks, correspondences and research materials, which are stored in the Special Collections division of the University of Florida library. Although they are technically the property of the university — thus open to the public — Myers’s papers require permission from CAPT to access; permission that has not been granted to anyone1 in the decade since the papers were donated to the university by Myers’s granddaughter, Katharine Hughes. Twice I was warned by the university librarian, a kind and rueful man, that CAPT was “very invested in protecting Isabel’s image.” Why her image should need protection, I did not yet understand.
When I wrote to CAPT in August 2014, I received an enthusiastically officious email from their Director of Research Operations, requesting additional details about my interest in type indicator and a book I was planning to write on personality testing. “Will there be descriptions and historical background about other personality tests in addition to the MBTI instrument?” she wrote. “If so, we would like to be informed.” So began nine months of correspondence with the staff of CAPT, which culminated this April in their request that I become a certified administrator of the MBTI instrument. Certification was a necessary precursor to giving me access to the papers, the director told me over the phone. CAPT would even be willing to consider “possibilities for funding the training.”
This is how I found myself in the company of the oil man, the astrologist, the Department of Defense administrator and twenty other people at the certification workshop, located on the sixth floor conference room of the United Jewish Appeal Federation building on East 59th Street. We sat at tables of five or six, our backs pressed against a smoked-glass wall decorated with etchings of Seder plates, unfurling braids of challah, and half lit menorahs. Each of us wore a name tag with our first name, last name, and our four letter type printed on it in big block letters. It was not unusual for people to lead with their type when they introduced themselves.
I said hello to the woman sitting next to me. Her name tag said “Laurie — ENFJ.”
Laurie2 checked me out and sighed, relieved. “We’re both E’s,” she said. “We’ll get along great.”
The most important part of becoming MBTI certified is learning to speak type,” declares Barbara, our instructor for the next week and a self-proclaimed “clear ENTJ.” Dressed in black, with prominent red toenails and a commanding nasal tone, Barb, as she insists we call her, will teach us how to “speak type fluently.”
“This is only the beginning!” Barb says. “Just think of this as a language immersion program.”
The comparison is an apt one. There are sixteen types, each made up of a combination of four different letters. Each letter represents one of two poles in a strict dichotomy of human behavior. From the pre-training test I took earlier in the week, I learn that, like Barb, I too am an “ENTJ.” I prefer extraversion (E) to introversion (I), intuition (N) to sensing (S), thinking (T) to feeling (F), and judging (J) to perception (P). It is strange, this tidy division of myself into these alien categories. Initially, I have trouble keeping the letters straight. Strange too is the ease with which people around me speak their types, as if declaring oneself a “clear ENTJ” or a “borderline ISFP” were the most natural thing in the world.
Of course, speaking type is anything but natural. Still Barb’s job is to convince us that this simple system of thought can account for the messiness of many of our personal and interpersonal relationships, regardless of gender, race, class, age, language, education, or any of the other intricacies of human existence. Type is intensely democratizing in its vision of the world, weird and wonderful in its commitment to flattening the material differences between people only to construct new and imaginary borders around the self. Its populism is most clearly demonstrated by MBTI’s astonishing geographic reach: Last year, two million people took the test, in seventy different countries, and in 21 languages. “As long as you have a seventh grade reading level and you’re a ‘normal’ person” — by which Barb means, you are not mentally ill or blithely psychopathic — “you can learn to speak type.”
Across all languages and continents, however, the first rule of speaking type remains the same. You do not, under any circumstances, refer to MBTI as a “test.” It is a “self-reporting instrument” or, more succinctly, an “indicator.” “People use the word ‘test’ all the time,” Barb complains. “But what you’re taking is an indicator. It’s indicating based on what you told the test.”
Although her statement sounds tautological, Barb assures us that it is not. Unlike a standardized test, like the SAT, which asks the test taker to choose between objectively right and wrong answers, the MBTI instrument has no right or wrong answers, only competing preferences. Take, for instance, two questions from the test I took last April: “In reading for pleasure, do you: (A) Enjoy odd or original ways of saying things; or; (B) Like writers to say exactly what they mean.” And: “If you were a teacher, would you rather teach: (A) Fact courses, or; (B) Courses involving theory?” And unlike the SAT, in which a higher score is always more desirable than a lower one, there are no better or worse types. All types, Barb announces rapturously, are created equal.
The indicator’s sole measure of success, then, is how well the test aligns with your perception of your self: Do you agree with your designated type? If you don’t, the problem lies not with the indicator, but with you. Maybe you were in a “work mindset when you answered the questions,” Barb suggests. Or you had become unusually adept at “veiling your preferences” to suit the wants and needs of your husband or wife, your co-workers, your children. Whatever the case may be, somehow you were inhibited from answering the questions as your “shoes off self” — Isabel Briggs Myers’s term for the authentic you.
More cynically, what this seems to mean is that the indicator can never be wrong. No matter how forcefully one may protest their type, the indicator’s only claim is that it holds a mirror up to your psyche. Behind all the pseudo-scientific talk of “instruments” and “indicators” is a simple, but subtle, truth: the test reflects whatever version of your self you want it to reflect. If what you want is to see yourself as odd or original or factual and direct, it only requires a little bit of imagination to nudge the test in the right direction, to rig the outcome ahead of time. I do not mean this in any overtly manipulative sense. Most people do not lie outright, for to do so would be to shatter the illusion of self-discovery that the test projects. I mean, quite simply, that to succeed, a personality test must introduce the test taker to the preferred version of her self — a far cry, in many cases, from the “shoes off,” authentic you.
But Barb doesn’t pause to meditate on the language lesson she has started to give us. Instead she projects onto a large screen behind her a photograph of a pale and bespectacled man in a neat cravat. Peering over us is Carl Gustav Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist whose 654-page study Psychological Types(1923) inspired Myers’s development of the indicator. Jung was “all about Freud, the couch, neurosis!” Barb laughs. For the purposes of our training, the relationship between his theory of psychological types and Myers’s commodification of it is a matter of good branding strategy. “Jung is a very respected name, a big name,” Barb says. “Even if you don’t know who he was, know his name. His name gives the test validity.”
Validity is crucial to selling the test, even if it doesn’t mean exactly what Barb seems to think it does. After the certification session is over, the participants will return to work with a 5-by-7 diploma, a brass “MBTI” pin, and a stack of promotional materials that they are encouraged to use to persuade their clients or colleagues to take an MBTI assessment. Each test costs $49.95 per person, more if you want a full breakdown of your type, and even more if you want an MBTI-certified consultant to debrief your type with you. No one questions the sheer ingenuity of this sales scheme. We are paying $1,695 to attend a course that authorizes us to recruit others to buy a product — a product which tells us nothing more than what we already know about ourselves.
Although Barb invokes Jung’s name with pride and a touch of awe, Jung would likely be greatly displeased, if not embarrassed, by his long-standing association with the indicator. The history of his involvement with Myers begins not with Isabel, but with her mother Katharine Cook Briggs, whom Barb mentions only in passing. After the photograph of Jung, Barb projects onto the screen a photograph of Katharine, unsmiling and broad necked and severely coiffed. “I usually don’t get into this,” she says, gesturing at Katharine’s solemn face. “People have already bought into the instrument.”
Yet Katharine is an interesting woman, a woman who might have interested Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem or any second-wave feminist eager to dismantle the opposition between “the happy modern housewife” and the “unhappy careerist.” A stay-at-home mother and wife who had once studied horticulture at Michigan Agricultural College, Katharine was determined to approach motherhood like an elaborate plant growth experiment: a controlled study in which she could trace how a series of environmental conditions would affect the personality traits her children expressed. In 1897, Isabel emerged — her mother’s first subject. From the day of her birth until the child’s thirteenth birthday, Katharine kept a leather-bound diary of Isabel’s developments, which she pseudonymously titled The Life of Suzanne. In it, she painstakingly recorded the influence that different levels of feeding, cuddling, cooing, playing, reading, and spanking had on Isabel’s “life and character.”
Today we might think of Katharine as the original helicopter parent: hawkish and over-present in her maternal ministrations. But in 1909, Katharine’s objectification of her daughter answered feminist Ellen Key’s resounding call for a new and more scientific approach to “the vocation of motherhood.” More progressive still was how Katharine marshaled the data she had collected on Isabel to write a series of thirty-three articles in The Ladies Home Journal on the science of childrearing. These articles, which were intended to help other mothers systematize their childcare routines, boasted such single-minded titles as “Why I Believe the Home Is the Best School” and “Why I Find Children Slow in Their School Work.” Each appeared under the genteel nom de plume “Elizabeth Childe.”
It is not surprising that Jung’s work should pique the interest of “Elizabeth Childe,” an aspiring pedagogue who perceived the maturation of her child’s personality as nothing less than an experimental form to be cultivated, even perfected, over the years. Indeed, Katharine first encountered an English translation of Jung’s Psychological Types in 1923, when she was editing The Life of Suzanne to submit to publishers. She found Psychological Types an unwieldy text, part clinical assessment, part romantic meditation on the nature of the human soul, which emphasized the “creative fantasy” required for psychological thought. Katharine took this as an invitation to start thinking of her children’s personalities as divided into three oppositional axes: extraverted versus introverted, intuitive versus sensory, thinking versus feeling. In 1927, she wrote to Jung to express her feverish admiration for his work — her “Bible,” she called it — and her desire to bring a more practical approach to his densely theoretical observations, which her “children … had been greatly helped by.”
“How wasteful children are, even with their own precious, irreplaceable lives!” Jung once wrote to Freud, a letter that might have doubled as his irritated response to Katharine and her request to collaborate. From the outset, it seems that Jung was impressed by Katharine’s brilliance and flattered by her enthusiasm, but skeptical of her eagerness to bring his typology to the science of childrearing. When Katharine wrote to him for advice about a neighborhood child, a young girl in great emotional distress who she believed she could cure through Jungian type analysis, Jung rebuked her for overstepping her bounds as a dispassionate observer. “You overdid it,” he wrote. “You wanted to help, which is an encroachment upon the will of others. Your attitude ought to be that of one who offers an opportunity that can be taken or rejected. Otherwise you are most likely to get in trouble. It is so because man is not fundamentally good, almost half of him is a devil.”
Despite Jung’s unwillingness to help Katharine see beyond the devil in man, some of the more practical applications of his typology appeared in a 1926 article that Katharine published in The New Republic, winningly titled “Meet Yourself: How to Use the Personality Paint Box.” In it, she would present Jung’s dichotomies as an elegant paint-by-numbers exercise, in which E/I, N/S, and T/F were the “primary character colors” that each individual could “combine and blend” to form “his own personality portrait.” Even babies, those “little bundles of psychic energy,” had types, and the sooner a mother identified her child’s type, the better it was for his mental maturity. “One need not be a psychologist in order to collect and identify types any more than one needs to be a botanist to collect and identify plants,” Katharine assured her fellow mothers. There was no need to doubt one’s ability to type one’s child.
“Meet Yourself” enjoyed quiet acclaim among parents when it was first published, but ultimately, Katharine’s desire to spread Jung’s gospel to a broader audience would inspire a shift in genre. She would abandon The Life of Suzanne as a parenting guide and turn instead to fiction, which she believed would help her reach a larger and more dedicated audience. Her longest work, written toward the end of her life, was a romance novel inspired by Psychological Types called The Guesser, the story of a love affair between two incompatible Jungian types. It was summarily rejected by ten publishers and two film producers for dwelling too much on Jung, whom no one other than Katharine was interested in, and not enough on love.
Like her mother, Isabel also began her adult life as a wife and mother. She graduated from Swarthmore in June of 1918 — Phi Beta Kappa, an aspiring fiction writer, and a moderately disillusioned newlywed, who had followed her husband first to Memphis, where he was training as a bomber pilot, and then to Philadelphia, where he enrolled in law school. In each city, she made a list of her future goals in a notebook which she titled Diary of an Introvert Determined to Extrovert, Write, & Have a Lot of Children.
Keep complete job list and do one every day.
Housekeep till 10 A.M.
Two hours writing.
One hour outdoors.
One hour self-development—music, study, friends.
Wash face with soap every night.
Never wear anything soiled.
But despite her clear goals and clean clothes, Isabel struggled to find a job. After an unfulfilling stint at a temp agency, she wrote to Katharine to complain about the difficulties of finding meaning in one’s work, particularly as a married woman who was expected to do nothing more than to have children. “I think under the spur of necessity a woman can do a man’s work as well as he can, provided she is as capable for a woman as he is for a man,” she wrote. “But I’m perfectly sure that it takes more out of her. And it’s a waste of life to spend yourself on work that someone else can do at less cost. I’m sure men and women are made differently, with different gifts and different kids of strengths.” In a perfect world, she concluded, there would exist “some highly intelligent division of labor that can be worked out, so everybody works, but not at the wrong things.”
Isabel’s “instinctive answer” to the question of what to do with herself was to be “my man’s helpmeet.” And for nearly a decade she was. Until 1928, she did housework, gave birth to two children, and at night, when the house was in order and the children were asleep, she continued to wonder what was missing from her life. Although a husband and children and a “beloved little ivy-covered colonial house” in the suburbs were “everything in the world that I wanted,” Isabel wrote, “I knew I wanted something else.” That something else was the time and energy to pursue a career as a successful fiction writer, something her mother had never been able to realize. “In the evenings, between nine and three, stretched six heavenly, uninterrupted hours — if I could stay awake to use them,” she mused.
Working at night, but most often with one fitful child or another in her lap, Isabel started and finished a detective novel, which she promptly submitted to a mystery contest at New McClure’s magazine. The winner was to receive a $7,500 cash prize (over $100,000 today) and a book contract with a prominent New York publisher. Katharine, apparently jealous that her daughter was trying to succeed where she had once failed, had little encouragement for her daughter, only what Isabel lamented as some “cool criticisms” of the “novel’s style.” Much to her mother’s surprise, Isabel’s novel,Murder Yet to Come, took first place, surpassing the writing team behind the Ellery Queen novels, among the many other seasoned pulp writers who had vied for the prize.
Yet there was plenty of reason for Katharine, ever the devoted scholar of Jung, to appreciate how she had inculcated her daughter into speaking — or, in this case, writing — type. Unlike other detective stories of the time, which often pair a brilliantly imaginative sleuth with a more literal minded sidekick, Murder Yet to Come features a team of three amateur detectives: an effeminate playwright, his dutiful assistant, and a brawny Army sergeant. Unburdened by crying children or any other domestic responsibilities, they set out to solve a gruesome murder. Each member of the team possesses what Isabel, in her letter to her mother, described as “different gifts and different kinds of strengths.” The playwright has the “quickness of insight” to uncover the murderer’s identity, the sergeant takes “smashingly, effective action” to apprehend him, while the assistant makes “slow, solid decisions” that protect the family of the victim from scandal. None of the detectives “works at the wrong things.” Like today’s slick police procedurals, in which there are the people who investigate the crime and those who prosecute the offenders, every character in Murder Yet to Come is designed to maximize the efficiency of the team.
As a mystery story, Murder Yet to Come is decidedly second-rate; the villain predictable, his motive commonplace, the detectives flat and uncharismatic. But as a testing ground for the Myers-Briggs type indicator, the novel is a remarkably direct receptacle for Isabel’s ideas about work, right down to its crude division of gender roles between the feminized playwright and the hyper-masculine military man. Strengths and weaknesses are distributed in a zero-sum fashion; the character who possesses a keen eye for sensory details reverts to a slow, stuttering imbecile when asked to abstract larger patterns from his observations. Friendships and working relationships are always invigorated by personality differences, never strained by them. And for death-defying detectives, the characters are all unusually self-aware, each happy to accept his personal limitations and cede authority to others when necessary, like cogs in a well-oiled machine. Reprinted by CAPT in 1995, Murder Yet to Come showcases characters who are “beautifully consistent with type portraits,” according to the forward to the new edition. “Those readers who know type will enjoy ‘typing them’ as the mystery progresses.”
CAPT’s website, where I purchased Murder Yet to Come for $15.00, claims that the novel was Isabel’s “only sojourn into fiction” before she shifted her attention to the type indicator. This is incorrect. The company has not reprinted Isabel’s second novel, Give Me Death (1934), which revisits the same trio of detectives half a decade later. Perhaps this is due to the novel’s virulently racist plot: One by one, members of a land-owning Southern family begin committing suicide when they are led to believe that “there is in [our] veins a strain of Negro blood.” Despite their differences, the detectives agree that it is “better for [the family] to be dead” than for them to be alive, heedlessly reproducing with white people.
Give Me Death is more explicitly about the preservation of the family, but saddled with a far more sinister understanding of type: Type as racially determined. There is talk of eugenics. There is much hand wringing about the preservation of Southern family dynasties, about “honor” and “esteem.” That the novel was written in the years when laws forbidding interracial marriage were increasingly the target of ACLU and NAACP protests makes it all the more reactionary, and thus all the more unsuitable, from an image management perspective, for reissue today. One would hardly enjoy “typing” these characters.
If Isabel had started her life as her mother’s experiment, she had quickly grown into Katharine’s student, her apostle, and even her competition. Fiction had presented one way for her to unite her mother’s talk of type with the intelligent division of labor, ordering imaginary characters into a rational system with a profitable end: bringing criminals to justice. After World War II, the emergent industry of personality testing would give Isabel the opportunity to organize — and experiment on — real people.
The second rule of speaking type is: Personality is an innate characteristic, something fixed since birth and immutable, like eye color or right-handedness. “You have to buy into the idea that type never changes,” Barb says, speaking slowly and emphasizing each word so that we may remember and repeat this mantra — “Type Never Changes” — to our future clients. “We will brand this into your brain,” she vows. “The theory behind the instrument supports the fact that you are born with a four letter preference. If you hear someone say, ‘My type changed,’ they are not correct.”
Of all the questionable assumptions that prop up the Myers-Briggs indicator, this one strikes me as the shakiest: that you are “born with a four letter preference,” a reductive blueprint for how to move through life’s infinite and varied challenges. Many other personality indicators, ranging in complexity from zodiac signs to online dating questionnaires to Harry Potter’s sorting hat, share the assumption that personality is fixed in one form or another. And yet the belief of a singular and essential self has always seemed to me an irresistibly attractive fiction: One that insists on seeing each of us as a coherent human being, inclined to behave in predictable ways no matter what circumstances surround us. There is, after all, a certain narcissistic beauty to the idea that we are whole. “If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald of his greatest creation, Jay Gatsby, in the same year that Katharine fell under the sway ofPsychological Types. Learning to speak type means learning to link the quotidian gestures of life into an easily digestible story, one capable of communicating to perfect strangers some sense of who you are and why you do what you do.
Yet the impulse to treat personality as innate is, in no small part, a convenient way of putting these gorgeously complete people in their rightful places. Just as each one of Isabel’s three detectives serves a unique purpose in her novels, a way of moving the plot forward that follows from his innate “gifts,” so too does the indicator imagine that each person will fall into their designated niche in a high-functioning and productive social order. This is another fiction — to my mind, a dystopian fiction — that most personality tests trade in: The fantasy of rational organization, and, in particular, the rational organization of labor. “The MBTI will put your personality to work!” promises a career assessment flier from Arizona State University, a promise that is echoed by thousands of leadership guides, self-help books, LinkedIn profiles, and job listings, the promise that underwrites such darkly futuristic films as Divergent or Blade Runner. To live under an economic system that is not organized by personality, thinks the heroine of Divergent, is “not just to live in poverty and discomfort; it is to live divorced from society, separated from the most important thing in life: community.”
Or as a trainee belts out in the middle of an exercise, “Team work makes the dream work!”
Genes, like people, have families — lineages that stretch back through time, all the way to a founding member. That ancestor multiplied and spread, morphing a bit with each new iteration.
For most of the last 40 years, scientists thought that this was the primary way new genes were born — they simply arose from copies of existing genes. The old version went on doing its job, and the new copy became free to evolve novel functions.
Certain genes, however, seem to defy that origin story. They have no known relatives, and they bear no resemblance to any other gene. They’re the molecular equivalent of a mysterious beast discovered in the depths of a remote rainforest, a biological enigma seemingly unrelated to anything else on earth.
The mystery of where these orphan genes came from has puzzled scientists for decades. But in the past few years, a once-heretical explanation has quickly gained momentum — that many of these orphans arose out of so-called junk DNA, or non-coding DNA, the mysterious stretches of DNA between genes. “Genetic function somehow springs into existence,” said David Begun, a biologist at the University of California, Davis.
This metamorphosis was once considered to be impossible, but a growing number of examples in organisms ranging from yeast and flies to mice and humans has convinced most of the field that these de novo genes exist. Some scientists say they may even be common. Just last month, research presented at the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution in Vienna identified 600 potentially new human genes. “The existence of de novo genes was supposed to be a rare thing,” said Mar Albà, an evolutionary biologist at the Hospital del Mar Research Institute in Barcelona, who presented the research. “But people have started seeing it more and more.”
Researchers are beginning to understand that de novo genes seem to make up a significant part of the genome, yet scientists have little idea of how many there are or what they do. What’s more, mutations in these genes can trigger catastrophic failures. “It seems like these novel genes are often the most important ones,” said Erich Bornberg-Bauer, a bioinformatician at the University of Münster in Germany.
The Orphan Chase
The standard gene duplication model explains many of the thousands of known gene families, but it has limitations. It implies that most gene innovation would have occurred very early in life’s history. According to this model, the earliest biological molecules 3.5 billion years ago would have created a set of genetic building blocks. Each new iteration of life would then be limited to tweaking those building blocks.
Yet if life’s toolkit is so limited, how could evolution generate the vast menagerie we see on Earth today? “If new parts only come from old parts, we would not be able to explain fundamental changes in development,” Bornberg-Bauer said.
The first evidence that a strict duplication model might not suffice came in the 1990s, when DNA sequencing technologies took hold. Researchers analyzing the yeast genome found that a third of the organism’s genes had no similarity to known genes in other organisms. At the time, many scientists assumed that these orphans belonged to families that just hadn’t been discovered yet. But that assumption hasn’t proven true. Over the last decade, scientists sequenced DNA from thousands of diverse organisms, yet many orphan genes still defy classification. Their origins remain a mystery.
In 2006, Begun found some of the first evidence that genes could indeed pop into existence from noncoding DNA. He compared gene sequences from the standard laboratory fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, with other closely related fruit fly species. The different flies share the vast majority of their genomes. But Begun and collaborators found several genes that were present in only one or two species and not others, suggesting that these genes weren’t the progeny of existing ancestors. Begun proposed instead that random sequences of junk DNA in the fruit fly genome could mutate into functioning genes.
Yet creating a gene from a random DNA sequence appears as likely as dumping a jar of Scrabble tiles onto the floor and expecting the letters to spell out a coherent sentence. The junk DNA must accumulate mutations that allow it to be read by the cell or converted into RNA, as well as regulatory components that signify when and where the gene should be active. And like a sentence, the gene must have a beginning and an end — short codes that signal its start and end.
In addition, the RNA or protein produced by the gene must be useful. Newly born genes could prove toxic, producing harmful proteins like those that clump together in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. “Proteins have a strong tendency to misfold and cause havoc,” said Joanna Masel, a biologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “It’s hard to see how to get a new protein out of random sequence when you expect random sequences to cause so much trouble.” Masel is studying ways that evolution might work around this problem.
Another challenge for Begun’s hypothesis was that it’s very difficult to distinguish a true de novo gene from one that has changed drastically from its ancestors. (The difficulty of identifying true de novo genes remains a source of contention in the field.)
Ten years ago, Diethard Tautz, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, was one of many researchers who were skeptical of Begun’s idea. Tautz had found alternative explanations for orphan genes. Some mystery genes had evolved very quickly, rendering their ancestry unrecognizable. Other genes were created by reshuffling fragments of existing genes.
Then his team came across the Pldi gene, which they named after the German soccer player Lukas Podolski. The sequence is present in mice, rats and humans. In the latter two species, it remains silent, which means it’s not converted into RNA or protein. The DNA is active or transcribed into RNA only in mice, where it appears to be important — mice without it have slower sperm and smaller testicles.
The researchers were able to trace the series of mutations that converted the silent piece of noncoding DNA into an active gene. That work showed that the new gene is truly de novo and ruled out the alternative — that it belonged to an existing gene family and simply evolved beyond recognition. “That’s when I thought, OK, it must be possible,” Tautz said.
A Wave of New Genes
Scientists have now catalogued a number of clear examples of de novo genes: A gene in yeast that determines whether it will reproduce sexually or asexually, a gene in flies and other two-winged insects that became essential for flight, and some genes found only in humans whose function remains tantalizingly unclear.
The Odds of Becoming a Gene
Scientists are testing computational approaches to determine how often random DNA sequences can be mutated into functional genes. Victor Luria, a researcher at Harvard, created a model using common estimates of the rates of mutation, recombination (another way of mixing up DNA) and natural selection. After subjecting a stretch of DNA as long as the human genome to mutation and recombination for 100 million generations, some random stretches of DNA evolved into active genes. If he were to add in natural selection, a genome of that size could generate hundreds or even thousands of new genes.
At the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution conference last month, Albà and collaborators identified hundreds of putative de novo genes in humans and chimps — ten-fold more than previous studies — using powerful new techniques for analyzing RNA. Of the 600 human-specific genes that Albà’s team found, 80 percent are entirely new, having never been identified before.
Unfortunately, deciphering the function of de novo genes is far more difficult than identifying them. But at least some of them aren’t doing the genetic equivalent of twiddling their thumbs. Evidence suggests that a portion of de novo genes quickly become essential. About 20 percent of new genes in fruit flies appear to be required for survival. And many others show signs of natural selection, evidence that they are doing something useful for the organism.
In humans, at least one de novo gene is active in the brain, leading some scientists to speculate such genes may have helped drive the brain’s evolution. Others are linked to cancer when mutated, suggesting they have an important function in the cell. “The fact that being misregulated can have such devastating consequences implies that the normal function is important or powerful,” said Aoife McLysaght, a geneticist at Trinity College in Dublin who identified the first human de novo genes.
De novo genes are also part of a larger shift, a change in our conception of what proteins look like and how they work. De novo genes are often short, and they produce small proteins. Rather than folding into a precise structure — the conventional notion of how a protein behaves — de novo proteins have a more disordered architecture. That makes them a bit floppy, allowing the protein to bind to a broader array of molecules. In biochemistry parlance, these young proteins are promiscuous.
Scientists don’t yet know a lot about how these shorter proteins behave, largely because standard screening technologies tend to ignore them. Most methods for detecting genes and their corresponding proteins pick out long sequences with some similarity to existing genes. “It’s easy to miss these,” Begun said.
That’s starting to change. As scientists recognize the importance of shorter proteins, they are implementing new gene discovery technologies. As a result, the number of de novo genes might explode. “We don’t know what things shorter genes do,” Masel said. “We have a lot to learn about their role in biology.”
Scientists also want to understand how de novo genes get incorporated into the complex network of reactions that drive the cell, a particularly puzzling problem. It’s as if a bicycle spontaneously grew a new part and rapidly incorporated it into its machinery, even though the bike was working fine without it. “The question is fascinating but completely unknown,” Begun said.
A human-specific gene called ESRG illustrates this mystery particularly well. Some of the sequence is found in monkeys and other primates. But it is only active in humans, where it is essential for maintaining the earliest embryonic stem cells. And yet monkeys and chimps are perfectly good at making embryonic stem cells without it. “It’s a human-specific gene performing a function that must predate the gene, because other organisms have these stem cells as well,” McLysaght said.
“How does novel gene become functional? How does it get incorporated into actual cellular processes?” McLysaght said. “To me, that’s the most important question at the moment.”
THE LITTLE DEATH OF THE VIKING CAT AND HOW I CAME TO BETTER UNDERSTAND MAGIC AND MIRACLE
The Following is an essay I wrote a few weeks back but never had the chance to post for various reasons. I plan to rework it and include it (or at least the ideas expressed on Theurgy and Thaumaturgy) as part of my new book The Christian Wizard.
We had a rough day today. In one sense at least. Pretty astounding day in others. As it also led me to understand some things I’ve been struggling with for months now.
It began in this fashion. The girls took Alex in to the vet to get neutered and discovered he had both cat leukemia and cat AIDS. Didn’t even know there was a cat AIDS. So we had to put him down.
I know he’s only a cat, but I have over time grown quite attached to him. Matter of fact I love him. Vets said he must have been in tremendous pain and should have been tired all of the time, but he wasn’t. Like me he seems to have had an incredible tolerance for pain. As far as energy, the cat was a dynamo.
I detest death however. Especially death of the young. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame Death, who I consider to be an Old Friend, and quite kind. It’s the being separated from those you love, even if it’s just a pet that I detest. That part of death. What I call the little death. The loss of the companionship in this world.
On the other hand he (Alex) lived exactly as he wished. The vet said that given the progression of the AIDS it looked like he had sex with a lot of female cats, and he fought and got tore up a lot too. He lived completely free and as he wished. 3 years of wildcatting. He truly was a Viking cat.
Also he was an extremely intelligent and affectionate cat (though I did have to nearly shoot him once to get him straightened out – after that though he was a doll), he just also happened to be huge, adventurous, and reckless as hell. And absolutely fearless.
So although I am sad, my whole family is sad, I am not grieving at all. We had a big celebratory dinner for him tonight and a drinking salute. He’s also going straight into my children’s book The Viking Cats. Actually he was already there, but now I know the heroic death he will have.
Strangely enough his death gave me great reason for optimism and led me to finally and fully grasp an idea of Wizardry, Magic, and God I have been struggling to fully formulate but now I can. At least for the most part.
As some of you know I’ve been studying Advanced Wizardryby ben Abechai. And the Original New Testament, and making my own line by line and word by word translations of both the Old and New Testaments. And so now I’m going to say something that might seem strange, but I’m becoming more and more convinced of it, from both the Old and New Testaments. Reincarnation is real.
Oh, I don’t at all draw the same conclusions as the Indians do, nor do I think it operates in the Hinduistic, and certainly not the Buddhist sense. And it seems extremely rare, I can only find about four instances of it ever being directly and openly mentioned in the Bible, though there are other allusions, but it is there. And it does not seem to work as a universal constant nor does there seem to be anything like a “karmic” inclination to the process. And I’m not sure how it works. It’s too vaguely described. In Hinduism it is thought the soul reincarnates, in Buddhism merely the “impression” or personality (Buddha was both an atheist and a non-spiritualist). In the Bible I don’t see that, but rather what the Hebrews might call the “spirit.” In that very limited sense I think Alex may very well return to us.
(Other things I have become convinced of in my studies are these: Heaven is at least as big as the physical universe itself, and probably much larger, though concepts like time and space as we know them are utterly meaningless there. That Heaven is filled with Beings and creatures we can’t even imagine or yet begin to imagine, and that nothing ever really dies. Spirits and souls cannot be fully destroyed – though they can be amplified or corrupted and diminished – anymore than matter or energy can be created or destroyed. There is a conservation principle of spiritual and psychological existence similar to, or far more stable than, the conservation principles in our universe of matter and energy. If nothing else everything is retained within the intelligence and memory of God – though neither term is really accurate because the intelligence and memory of God goes well beyond anything we can conceive of with such terminology, and therefor it is simply not possible to erase any viable living, biological, spiritual, or psychological pattern of existence once it is established. And such patterns may lie buried in the “Mind of God” as nothing more than mere potential for what would seem to us an eternity – if it is even possible for the mind of God to be mere potential – I doubt it – but it is never actually erased or destroyed. In other words God never forgets. So nothing ever really dies, it simply changes form in regards to our universe and the kinetic pattern prevalent at the moment it physically exists. So Alex is no more “dead” than I am, though his body has suffered the little death – in relation to me and this world at least. In reality he is no more dead than I am and never will be and as far as I know he may one day be alive again in relation to this world and to me. Though wherever Alex is, and whatever world he inhabits, he lives.)
But now on to what Alex’s death made me realize about Magic. Now when modern people say magic their mind instantly springs to Harry Potter and making things happen by some unknown agency or invisible force (I think the invisible force part is partially accurate) but that is not how the Magi would have viewed magic at all (they wouldn’t have viewed what they did as magic in our sense, period) but rather Magic, or Magiaesm (the etymology of the real word) involved simply understanding the way the forces of existence actually operate, how, and for what reasons. (And optimally knowing why, though that’s as far beyond Real Magic as it is beyond Real Science, because ultimately, only God actually knows the why). The Magi of course would have called this Magic (though they used a different term), but it wouldn’t have meant some unknown agency. They knew very well the Agency. Just as I do. But because the word Magic now has thousands of years of misapplication and skewed definitions attached to it I’ll use the Greek word I prefer: Theurgy.
Theurgy simply means “a working of God,” or before Judeo/Christian influence upon the Hellenes, “a working of the gods.” But Theurgy really flowered among the early Christians and later the Neo-Platonists and meant a “Working of God.” And although they could be amazing, they were essentially a “little working of God.”
The Greeks had a much, much larger word for what we would call a Miracle, and they would have called a “Wonder-Work of God,” namely, the word Thaumaturgy. These were huge works of God. Now I had already come to this conclusion and used these definitions on my own. But Alex’s death, along with these studies, has helped me make the final step to what all of this really means. Let me illustrate. Theurgy is a small or little work of God. What do I mean by little work of God? I mean a work of God that is small in scale, not small in meaning, purpose, or targeted effect.
For instance if Jesus healed a blind man that would be Theurgical, and many at that time would consider it “magical.” Look at all of Jesus’ healing miracles and you will see a technique, even if it is only a declarative stamen “Go your way, your daughter is healed.” Here is another prime example. To pay a tax Jesus tells someone to go catch a fish and they will find a coin in its mouth. Even many people today would call that bordering more on magic than miracle. It’s Theurgical. It’s a small work of seeming unknown agency. Of course we know the actual agency but it seems magical. It seems like it shouldn’t be there and that the coin was “conjured” from nothing. Nothing could be less true, but that’s how it looks. Now to anyone witnessing these things, they are “magical” and they are also small in nature. They are not Earth shattering, they are amazing, but not wholly miraculous. As in utterly Miraculous. It’s Theurgy. A Work of God but on a small scale. It’s not a small scale to the man being cured of blindness, to him it is miraculous and earth-shattering, but to those who are not blind it is astounding and amazing but not “Earth-Shattering.” Another thing about Theurgy is that it is replicable. It can be done over and over again and not just by Jesus, but in some cases the Prophets, like Elijah, or the Magi, can do it. Or even pagan Egyptian priests. Jesus could heal, and cast out demons, and do things of that nature over and over and over again, within reason – he also had to rest. Then again so could many of the the Prophets. Impressive Works of God, true, but relatively small scale and of a subjective and personal nature. I term Works like this Theurgy, or Magiaesm. If you think on a scale then they are smaller Works of God, at the very genesis (excuse the pun) of the Works Scale. They are the province not only of Prophets and of Jesus but also of Magi and Wizards. And much of their power, faculties, and force lies in understanding the way God has set up things to Work and how existence actually operates. In some ways they are proto-science, in some ways science, in some ways psychological, and in some ways metaphysical. They are small Magic, they are Wizardry.
What about things like feeding 5000 with very little food and still having leftovers. Things like that lie right on the line between Theurgy and Thaumaturgy. So now I guess I should better define Thaumaturgy.
Thaumaturgy is a Great Work of God in the sense that it involves a large number of people, is seemingly impossible (nevertheless it happens) and is totally unique and not replicable. This is real Thaumaturgy – Moses parts the Red Sea (it’s only happened once and has never been replicated), Jesus walks on water, Christ is resurrected (not a general resurrection, which will also be a single once ever event, but he is resurrected as a single individual foreshadowing the general resurrection), and so forth and so on. If a Work of God is large scale, has a profound effect upon a large number of people or witnesses, is seemingly impossible, is not replicable, and is a totally unique event, then it is True Thaumaturgy. A Wonder Working. A one of a kind, non-replicable event. Unique in world history. Thaumaturgy is also always absolutely intentional. What we in English would call a Miracle, capital M. Thaumaturgy is a large-scale Work of God that only agents like Christ, the Prophets, the Apostles, and The Saints are able to trigger.
(I know that in English, being a very spiritually impoverished language, we call all unusual works of God Miracles, but Resurrection, that is a True Miracle, is a non-replicable Wonder, whereas predicting that a fish will have a coin in its mouth, although amazing to a degree, that is Theurgy, or what our ancestors would have called Magic, or Magiaesm. Even a stage magician would do it if properly prepared.)
Theurgy on the other hand is a smaller scale Work of God that is replicable, is subjective, targeted to a rather small or tactical problem or issue, has a profound effect upon individual recipients but merely fascinates most witnesses, seems amazing but not impossible, and can be astounding, but is not unique. Theurgy can be worked by many agents of God, intentionally or unintentionally, such as by Wizards and Wise Men and Women of all kinds, Magi, Scientists, or sometimes simply by what we might call Experts or really experienced men, or even by nearly anyone given the proper set of conditions or circumstances or the necessary emergency or contingency.
(Sorcery on the other hand is not a Work of God at all, but is a cheap imitation of either Theurgy or Thaumaturgy designed to harm or to do evil. It is the very opposite of Theurgy and Thaumaturgy and is evil’s attempt at imitating a Work of God, for purely selfish and self-aggrandizing motives, be that work small scale or large scale. The ultimate end of sorcery is not to understand, nor to assist, nor to do good, but to control, to tyrannize, and to harm.)
Well, I could go on for a very long time in this vein but I’m sure by now you more than get the point. Anyway, today Alex’s little death, my recent studies, and all of the things surrounding these events have led me to fully understand these things. And now I can fully define the differences and similarities between Theurgy and Thaumaturgy and now I am that much closer to understanding Magic. By that I mean Real Magic (which is just a short hand Oriental way of saying both Theurgy and Thaumaturgy, or what we in English would altogether call Miracles, though that’s not really an accurate term).
Or perhaps I would do better to say, “Wonder-Working.” Or unusual and wondrous Works of God that man directly participates in. Well, I should go to bed now. I tire and I am written out. But I go to bed convinced that I shall again see Alex, and perhaps soon, either in this world or in Heaven or in some other world. And not just him but everyone I have ever buried and wish to see again, person or animal. But in any case I intend to pray that Alex is returned to us, reincarnated if you will, though I think that probably a very primitive and inaccurate term for what I actually mean and how it actually works, which I make no claims to explaining. Because I no more know the real mechanism(s) than I know the mechanism(s) by which God transforms inanimate matter to animate matter. But he’s done it and obviously knows his stuff. Somethings it is okay just to know that it does Work, you don’t have to know how it actually Works. And something’s no man will ever know how it truly Works.
However I will not pray or request of God that any person ever be returned to me, as in returned to me in this world, even if such a thing were possible. That would just not be Wise. People are free to make their own decisions about what world God allows them to inhabit (unless they have chosen hell, and I am firmly convinced some do and that God lets them) and I have neither the right nor the power to even request they give up whatever world they are enjoying merely to be in my company again. Besides I don’t think it works like that with people anymore than it works like that for angels, and besides there will be plenty of time for me to enjoy their company in a better world. I have no right to attempt to bind people to me in this world or in any other merely for my own benefit.
But maybe that would work for animals. Maybe that is how God made animals. Or at least some animals. As companions for people and the world they inhabit is really unimportant. I truly don’t know. But I’m gonna make the attempt (if it’s impossible it won’t happen anyway, will it?), pray that if it is possible, and if Alex so desires (for all I know God gives them a choice as well) and so chooses he will “reincarnate” (whatever that really means and however it really works) and return to us.
Still adventurous and affectionate and intelligent and exploratory in nature, just not nearly so reckless. And I’ll whack his balls off pretty quick too, if he does return. For his own good and to preserve him from disease and early death. I hate that, but if he is to long survive this world it may be necessary.
Anyway I go to bed very happy, still sad we parted in this way, but happy, and with what I suspect is a much better understanding of my old friend Death, and I suspect even with a better understanding of God and how the universe actually works. So see ya and hope all goes well for you.