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      The Afanasiev Typology, or the Syntax of Personality
      by Rachel Torpusman

      Translation from Russian by Michael Sigal
      Translation of the first epigraph by Ivan Derzhansky

      Every man must prize his lot,
      Life and strife that he has got.
      Take the flute: so hard it ventures,
      Still an oboe it is not!

      Leonid Filatov


      Questions of psychology and character have exercised humanity since ancient times. People would take a close look at each other and perceive both enormous differences and startling similarities between various individuals. Why do human beings differ so much? What determines our character? Why do people who are far removed from each other turn out, on occasion, to be so much alike?

      All kinds of answers were proposed. For many centuries, the most popular explanation was provided by astrology, which divided human beings into 12 character types, in accordance with the number of months in the year. Apparently, most people are not bothered by the fact that twins (or milk brothers), who were born at the same time and in the same place, can diverge radically in their character traits – i.e. belong to different types .

      Another answer to these same questions is supplied by the belief in reincarnation: if the grandson resembles his late grandfather, it is because the latter’s soul has been reincarnated in him. Alternatively: these two people have similar characters, because they were both elephants in their previous lives. Obviously, such claims can be neither proved nor disproved.

      The progress of science has led to a slew of scientific explanations and attempts to construct a typology. However, all of these valiant efforts suffer from one basic flaw: they are not particularly convincing. True, these hypotheses can lead to lengthy and fascinating discussions, and yet none of them hits the mark, as the Periodic Table does.

      Hippocrates: people are divided into four types

      In Ancient Greece, there once lived a thin, unflappable, and thoughtful man named Hippocrates (c. 460 – c. 370 BCE).

      He was a hereditary physician, the scion of a family that traced its descent from Asclepius, the god of healing. Nevertheless, it was Hippocrates himself who came to be considered the father of world medicine: before him, diseases were regarded as punishment from the gods; he was the first to separate medicine from religion, by describing illnesses as failures in the functioning of the human body (which are caused, in turn, by various natural factors), and defining medical treatment as aiding the body in its process of self-recovery.

      However, this does not mean that his teachings were free of errors. True, he was the first to ground medicine in the natural sciences, and yet many of his natural-scientific notions were wrong and had to be corrected during the subsequent development of medicine.

      Among other things, Hippocrates classified human beings into types in accordance with the structure of their bodies. He claimed that each of these types was susceptible to particular illnesses, and had to be treated with different methods. There were four such types, corresponding to the four «bodily humors»: with a preponderance of blood, of phlegm, of bile, and of black bile. Hippocrates asserted that this preponderance of humors influenced not only bodily structure and susceptibility to diseases, but also character traits. What say you, reader? Should this thesis by Hippocrates be classified as correct or erroneous?

      Nowadays, this idea is accepted as correct – although we no longer talk about an excess of «humors» in the body, but only about characters and types of nervous systems. Modern society agrees that human beings are divided into «blood-people», «phlegm-people», «bile-people», and «black-bile-people» – or, to use the original Greek terms: into «sanguine», «phlegmatic», «choleric», and «melancholic» individuals, respectively.

      Nevertheless, few can explain what these terms refer to, and the various descriptions never agree with one another – or with Hippocrates’ original definition.

      For instance, here is a quote from Teach Yourself Psychology, a book by L.Obraztsova: «Those soft, submissive, and touching melancholiacs are truly ‘warm and fuzzy’…». No doubt, Hippocrates would have suffered a nasty shock if somebody were to tell him that people with a preponderance of black bile were «soft, warm, and fuzzy»!

      Let us set these questions aside for the moment and go on to the next theory.

      Kretschmer: people are divided into four types

      In 20th-century Germany, there lived a thin, unflappable, and thoughtful man named Ernst Kretschmer (1888-1964). He was a psychiatrist, and in 1921 he published a book entitled Physique and Character, which became famous and was translated into numerous languages. In it, he set out his theory of four body types that affect character, temperament, and susceptibility to psychiatric illnesses. These types are: asthenic (or leptosomic), athletic, pyknic, and mixed (or dysplastic).

      From these types, Kretschmer derived the temperaments: the asthenic type is characterized by the «schizothymic» temperament, the pyknic type is associated with the «cyclothymic» temperament, etc.

      (Actually, it seems that, in some other works of his, he wrote that there were not four, but only three body types. In addition to this, he admitted the possibility that, as people age, their type could change. This admission waters down his theory, reducing it to the level of a mere hypothesis.)

      Kretschmer was a vigorous researcher, quantifying the proportion of asthenics, athletics, pyknics, and dysplastics among the mentally ill; he headed the Laboratory of Constitutional and Labor Psychology, which he himself had founded, and taught a large number of students.

      In spite of all this, his research did not yield any tangible, practical results. Kretschmer and his theory are usually treated with a degree of reverence – but, to the best of my knowledge, nobody uses his ideas in practice.

      Jung: people are divided into eight types. Or sixteen?

      In 20th-century Switzerland, there lived a psychiatrist named Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), whose ideas have had a strong influence on humanity. Thus, it was he who coined the terms «introvert» and «extravert», which are nowadays used rather liberally (even though, as in the case of «melancholic», few can explain what these terms mean. Extraversion tends to be equated with sociability; one can read comments such as: «I’m an introvert, but I’m very sociable», etc.).

      Jung was convinced that every person is born with «a comprehensive personality sketch, which exists in an inchoate form from the moment of birth», and that «the environment does not cause the individual personality to come into being, but merely brings out the attributes that are already there».

      In 1921, Jung, like Kretschmer, published a book on personality types. His was titled Psychological Types, and it, too, became famous and was translated into numerous languages. He wrote that his typology was «a tool for the practicing psychologist, which enables him, on the basis of the classification of the patient and of the psychologist himself, to choose the most effective methods and avoid errors».

      According to Jung, each person is characterized by the predominance of one of four psychological functions: thinking, feeling, sensation, or intuition – in addition to the general orientation, which can be either extraverted or introverted. All in all, this gives us «eight distinct psychological types».

      Jung’s typology served as the basis for the Myers-Briggs typology, which has been accepted in the US (it was developed in the 1930s-40s by Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers), and for the theory of socionics (which was developed in the USSR in the 1970s, by the economist and sociologist Aušra Augustinavičiūtė). However, both of these typologies describe not eight, but sixteen personality types!

      All three typologies are very popular. Lectures on the «Jungian types» still manage to draw listeners. In the US, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is commonly used to screen potential employees. In the 2000s, socionic questionnaires began to be used in Russia for the same purpose.

      However, the notion that socionics is a pseudoscience has become fairly widespread in the Russian-speaking world. In English-speaking countries, too, one can often hear dissenting voices who claim that the emperor has no clothes (see, for instance, the article Say Goodbye to MBTI, by Prof. Adam Grant, which has been published online).

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        Afanasiev: a trivial story with a non-trivial result

        The structure of the world is very simple. We just cannot grasp the exact nature of this structure. A chaotic jumble of mysterious systems and incomprehensible theories; we have a hard time wrapping our minds around this. And then, suddenly, as in the case of Maxwell, once the formula has been written down, everything becomes simple and explicable; everything can be expressed through four equations, and nothing else is needed.

        Natalia Berloff

        In the second half of the 20th century, there lived a man in Moscow whose name was Alexander Yurievich Afanasiev (he was born in 1950). In many respects, he was a rather ordinary man. He had a family – a wife and two kids; he worked for a living and was interested in literature, music, karate, world history, and other curious subjects.

        However, in some respects he was not so ordinary after all: he had no interest in career advancement or social status. For this reason, he took on odd jobs – a props man in a theater, a security guard, an editor in the journal of the Orthodox Patriarchy, a matzo cook at a synagogue – all in order to feed his family and give himself the opportunity to pursue those activities that truly interested him. He painted, composed music, wrote books; the fact that he read a lot should go without saying. He was a thin, unflappable, and thoughtful man.

        Once, he experienced a life crisis. Well, actually, the story itself is rather trivial: he had a complicated relationship with his wife. At a certain point, he left her for a new girlfriend, but this affair, too, quickly reached a dead end. He was depressed, and tried to make sense of his situation – why does it have to be like this?

        He was told about socionics, the new psychological theory that purported to explain – and even predict! – the relationships between people of different types. He was initially interested, but quickly became convinced that socionics was of no help to him, that it would not give him the answer, even though that answer surely lurked somewhere nearby.

        He kept on thinking – and found the answer.

        He laid out his discovery in a book entitled The Syntax of Love: a Typology of Personality and a Prognosis of Relationships in Couples (1991).

        Yet another biography – mine

        When looked at in the right way, facts that seemed to be completely contradictory, disjointed, and illogical suddenly acquire a logical explanation… Events fit snugly, accurately, and seamlessly into the general theory, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, provided that this theory is correct.

        Alexander Y. Vasiliev

        I was born in 1970, in the town of Reutov near Moscow. I was the fifth dweller of a one-room apartment, which also housed my father, mother, grandmother, and grandfather Mark (Meir), who had become paralyzed after a stroke. My grandfather passed away when I was 2 years and 3 months old, yet I have a fairly clear recollection of him. In 1974, my sister Miriam was born. She was named after our grandfather, as is the custom among Jews.

        Only in 1984 were we allowed to move into a more spacious apartment, and only in 1987 were we permitted to leave the USSR for Israel – a move that both of my parents had dreamed of, even before they met.

        * * *
        When I was six, my mother enrolled me in a musical school, to learn to play the violin. I didn’t like the violin, and had to suffer in vain. But when, in solfeggio class, we studied a song about a wolf, I rewrote it, using different words while keeping the same theme and tune – essentially translating it from Russian into Russian. I still recall the amazed reaction of my teacher, Marina Genrikhovna, when I showed her my “translation”. Is it possible that my scribblings have miraculously survived, and are still in her possession? I’d like to take a look at them…

        Three years later, Miriam began to attend the same school, whereupon she quickly mastered the art of playing the violin. The stunned listeners would tell our mother: «Oh, how she vibrates!». This is something I’ve never managed to learn.

        However, I did manage to learn to read at the age of 3.5, and soon began to devour all the adult books that I could lay my hands on. At five, I would bring smiles to the faces of the adults by quoting from Faust and The Life of Aesop. By contrast, Miriam, who had also learned to read at the age of three, would always run out of steam after a word or two.

        When I was ten, We and Our Children by Boris and Lena Nikitin became one of my favorite books. I envied the lives that their children led, and believed every word written by the Nikitins – after all, their claims were not idle flights of fancy, but the products of extensive parental experience and detailed observations. And they claimed the following:

        «All these factors put their stamp on the future character of the children growing up in the family. Can we foresee every eventuality? No. Can we be responsible for everything? In my opinion, we have to! I often marvel at the ease with which mothers complain to each other: ‘my boy is so unaffectionate’, or ‘my girl is so weepy’, or ‘mine is growing up so stubborn, I wonder who he got this trait from’, etc. – and never the slightest attempt to search for the root cause in their own parenting behavior! Supposedly, their children were just born like that… And yet, I cannot recall a single instance in which some particular flaw in our children did not stem from thoughtless, incorrect, and irresponsible actions by the adults – especially by their relatives and loved ones, and most of all by us, their parents».

        These words by Lena Nikitina always filled me with optimism: ergo, my own children would be wonderful – affectionate, docile, and not prone to weeping; after all, I would always act thoughtfully, correctly, and responsibly! Their childhood would be utterly unlike my own!

        My childhood, and that of my sister, was not all sunshine and rainbows. We both grew up in considerable psychological discomfort, to put it mildly.

        * * *
        I was always interested in three subjects: languages, poetry, and psychology. I studied English at a special school in Moscow; I learned a smattering of Yiddish from my grandmother. As for Hebrew, I began to learn it at the age of ten – first from my father, and then in home-based study circles (which were illegal and dangerous at that time). At school, I would sometimes try my hand at translating ballads by Lord Byron, and sometimes – at Jewish songs. Poetry was always within easy reach, whereas psychology was fraught with difficulties. From early childhood, I had been troubled by questions: why are people so different? How can one learn to deal with unpleasant or aggressive individuals? Why am I – and others – occasionally driven to behave rather irrationally?

        As has been said above, I did manage to receive a partial answer from L.Nikitina: people are different because they were influenced differently by their parents in early childhood. And yet, my puzzlement refused to go away. I wanted to study psychology at the university, but suspected that even there I would not find all the answers. At any rate, they were not to be found in books, either – as I learned after reading works by Pavlov, Vygotsky, Kretschmer, and Vladimir Levy. It turned out that Levy’s books, while explaining little, did help me to live, in some unfathomable way. I gave up on the rest of official psychology, and began to study linguistics and classical philology at the Hebrew University.

        When I was twenty, I read in the papers about socionics, a new science of human characters that had been developed by Aušra Augustinavičiūtė on the basis of Carl Jung’s theories. I was excited at the prospect of finally having my questions answered, and bought a book on socionics.

        The book was devoured in a few hours, yet it left me perplexed. I spotted contradictions in the description of the characters, while seeing no contradiction whatsoever between the «dichotomies» that were supposed to be diametrically opposed to one another. The tests were virtually impossible to answer. Questions such as: «Planning or improvisation – which do you prefer?» or «What is more important to you – logic or personal relationships?» sounded to me like: «What is more important – the hands or the feet?» I asked my father to answer the test questions, and saw him similarly perplexed. The proposed options clearly did not fit either of us. On the next day, I brought the book back to the store and sold it back at half-price, regretting the wasted time.


          * * *

          At the age of 18, I married a man who had three children from his first marriage (their ages were ten, eight, and three). I lived with him for 19 years, raising these three children and giving birth to three of my own. I apologize to the readers for this jumble of numbers, but they seem rather necessary to the story.

          My marriage turned out to be far from ideal (and that’s putting it mildly). Moreover, despite Nikitins’ assertions my relationship with the children was not always sunny and rosy – though I did my best. To my amazement, I often had an easier time dealing with my stepchildren than with my own flesh and blood.

          At the age of forty, I had just as many problems as I had had in my youth. True, I did manage to find my vocation: the translation of documents became my profession, while my translations of poetry became successful enough to merit a Wikipedia page. However, my dealings with my sister and parents (and now with my children, too) remained as complicated as ever. My attempts to create a new family drove me to despair. Supposedly, all you need for a harmonious relationship is a mutual desire to be together. But it turned out that this is not enough…

          Fortunately (unlike in the days of my childhood and youth) I now had a new blessing: the Internet, which created new opportunities for reading and interacting with people. And so, one day in January 2011, I read an article on LiveJournal that discussed the late Alexander Afanasiev, the creator of a new psychological typology. The article was titled «A Simple Russian Genius».

          The author, a Moscow-based psychologist named Alexei Roshchin, wrote: «Take note: I’m saying this without any trace of mockery or condescension, and I don’t mean something like: ‘this is good enough for country bumpkins’. No, what we have here is a full-fledged genius on a global scale, who bears comparison with Freud or, if you will, with Mendeleev. Come to think of it, this man has indeed created a kind of ‘periodic table’ in the genre of psychological typology – a genre that seemed exhausted and used up… This typology is very deep, and – most importantly – it practically begs to be extended to various fields of applied social science, from psychotherapy to political studies…»

          As might be expected, this article piqued my curiosity – as had socionics twenty years earlier. And, obviously, I was unwilling to accept the new typology on faith – yet equally unwilling to dismiss it without taking a closer look. Like socionics, it merited careful scrutiny.

          So I sat down to read Afanasiev’s The Syntax of Love and found out that it answered all of my questions.

          According to Afanasiev, each person’s character is determined by an inborn hierarchy of four elements: Body, Emotion (feeling), Logic (thinking), and Will (self-awareness). As should be apparent, these four elements can form 24 combinations: BLEW, EBWL, LWBE, etc. – i.e. 24 psychological types (in contrast to the astrologers’ claimed 12 types, Jung’s eight types, Augustinavičiūtė’s and Myers-Briggs’ sixteen types, etc.).

          Afanasiev lists the attributes of all the variants (Will-1, Logic-3, Body-4, etc.) and describes the level of comfort/discomfort of their interactions. I began to test this theory on myself and my family, and, unlike socionics, it was a perfect match. All my intractable questions were solved one after the other; all my family woes fit neatly into Afanasiev’s pattern, like pieces in a puzzle.

          Everything clicked into place. Contrary to popular perceptions (which I myself used to hold under the influence of Lena Nikitina), it turned out that the problems are not «rooted in childhood», in «our relationship with our parents», etc. All the issues stem not from childhood, but from the psychological type. The discomfort experienced in the relationship with our parents is not the cause, but the consequence of insufficient compatibility between the psychological type of the parent and that of the child.

          Undoubtedly, a person’s psychological type is not the product of education or upbringing, but rather the outcome of a prenatal genetic predisposition, since it determines body constitution, reaction time, and other uncontrollable attributes.

          For about a week, this was all I could think of. My job, kids, and all other affairs were proceeding alongside these thoughts. My brain worked at a feverish pace, like a wound-up mechanism, calculating the psychological types of all of my acquaintances, and I could almost hear it clicking and humming. (I had never experienced anything like this, either before or since.)

          I saw why my marriage never had any chance of becoming harmonious and why, in spite of this, it had managed to last for 19 years. I found out why I had an easier time communicating with my stepdaughter than with my sister. I realized why I had difficulties relating to some people, while being able to establish a rapport with others effortlessly… I saw, for instance, why the relationship between Vladimir Vysotsky and Marina Vlady was doomed to constant conflicts, whereas the marriage of Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev was harmonious… and so on and so forth.

          Roshchin turned out to be right: Afanasiev’s scheme was indeed a work of genius – it was backed up with facts, and was simple, clear, and precise, like Mendeleev’s Periodic Table.

          Actually, this hierarchy of self-awareness, body, feeling, and thinking is the same thing that Jung referred to as: «A comprehensive personality sketch, which exists in an inchoate form from the moment of birth». Augustinavičiūtė wrote along similar lines: «Different personality types, after experiencing identical situations, recall completely different things and tell about them in very different ways… There are oppositions that lead to a permanent state of conflict, or to the smothering of one member’s activities by the activities of the other. Conversely, there are complementary oppositions, which restore balance to a person’s psyche and energize his life…» These general descriptions are completely accurate; however, Afansiev succeeded where Jung, Augustinavičiūtė, and all his other predecessors had failed: he managed to determine the exact structure of a person’s psychological type and enumerate the functions of which it is made up.


            * * *
            Afanasiev’s system has only two drawbacks.

            The first is the sheer amount of information and terminology that one has to learn and get used to. The student must memorize the name that Afanasiev gave to the WELB type («Akhmatova»), the LWBE type («Laozi»), etc. In my case, this process took two months, even though my memory is quite good, and I studied his system quite intensively.

            The second drawback is the less-than-perfect naming. While the system as a whole has been mapped out and described impeccably, the assignment of particular people to psychological types – even when made by Afanasiev himself – is sometimes erroneous. For instance, it turns out that the philosopher Laozi was most likely not LWBE (this subject will be addressed below), and this psychological type is in need of a different name.

            Besides, the name originally given by Afanasiev to the system as a whole – «psyche-yoga» – is rather infelicitous; his second choice – «psychosophy» – is hardly better, since it can easily be confused with Rudolf Steiner’s mystical doctrine. Personally, I would call this science «psychonomy» (to distinguish it from psychology, by analogy with astrology and astronomy); unfortunately, though, it turns out that this term is already used – in a sense different from the one intended by Afanasiev. Therefore, the most neutral name (for now) is «Afanasiev’s Typology».

            Finally, I think that The Syntax of Love, as a book, contains flaws that do not detract from the system itself, yet may perplex the reader. This is because, in addition to describing the modus operandi of the four «functions», Afanasiev also lays out his conjectures regarding their evolution, as well as some other thoughts. This material is much more controversial and (in my opinion) unnecessary – at least for the general reader. It is difficult to process, and would lead only to fruitless discussions. Therefore, I would advise most readers to skip the detours into evolutionary history and other difficult passages, and concentrate on his indisputable discoveries.

            * * *
            After reading The Syntax of Love, I wrote to Roshchin, the author of the fateful article. Since the proof of the pudding is in the eating, I offered him a kind of mutual psychological supervision: trying to determine each other’s psychological type. A correspondence sprung up between us. We successfully determined each other’s types, as well as those of numerous other historical characters (after some initial missteps that served as learning experiences).

            I found out that Yelena Konstantinovna Afanasieva, Alexander Yurievich’s widow, still lives in Moscow and does all she can to rescue his legacy from oblivion. Among other things, she publishes his books. I purchased several copies of The Syntax from her. I was surprised to discover that the posthumous edition of the book assiduously kept the original dedication: «To Irina» – that same girlfriend of Afanasiev’s whose troubled relationship with him had led him to his discovery. It turns out that Afanasiev met Yelena Konstantinovna at an advanced age, when The Syntax was already written, and that, thanks to her, his last years were happier than his earlier life, despite his failing health.

            I called my sister and told her about Afanasiev’s typology. We talked for about two hours – probably the longest conversation we’d ever had. Since then, we have begun to discuss these questions on an almost daily basis. The poor compatibility between our psychological types, which used to poison our relationship, turned out to be a boon for scientific collaboration: we see everything from different angles, have very different life experiences, and serve as a source of valuable information for each other.

            Incidentally, the previous negative relationship experience also proved an invaluable aid for mastering the art of typifying people…

            * * *
            When I described Afanasiev’s typology to my family, friends, and acquaintances, their responses were varied. Actually, this variation was easily predictable – in perfect accord with the typology itself.

            Some took it to heart, and eventually learned it quite well.

            Others were initially curious, but soon lost interest.

            The third category (mostly those with Logic-1) listened politely, yet retained their adamant conviction that such things are impossible.

            The fourth group responded hesitantly: «Well, there are all kinds of theories… Have you heard of Jung’s scheme?… And there are lots of others… How can you possibly know that this theory is the right one?» (Such a response is typical of Logic-3, although Logic-4 may also respond in this fashion.)

            The fifth kind of people (mostly BLWE) greeted it with hostility, declaring it quackery or nonsense.

            The sixth bunch (usually, these were also people with Logic-2) grasped everything at once, yet avoided discussing it.

            Two individuals became my constant interlocutors on these subjects: Olga Proshchitsky, a poet and librarian, my and Miriam’s cousin; and my new acquaintance Alexander Burtyansky, a physicist by training, who soon became my husband and got on splendidly with my children (as we had foreseen, thanks to the science of psychosophy).

            In 2013, we set up a website dedicated to Afanasiev’s typology:, and used it to share our observations, ideas, and doubts.

            A poem by Boris Zakhoder

            This poem was written in 1992. I don’t know whether Zakhoder was aware of Afanasiev and his discovery, and whether it was written with him in mind. However, in my opinion this poem fits Afanasiev’s case rather nicely.

            Call a genius by his rightful name,
            And you’ll give the people a hearty laugh.
            After all, proving such a claim
            (They would tell you) is rather tough!

            But these same people will be overawed
            – thanking God till their voices crack –
            When the title of «Genius» is bestowed
            On a charlatan and a hack.

            Then, they won’t ask for proof, nor examine his lineage.
            He’s a genius in their own image!

              Hello!!! I am an English speaker from America looking to learn more about Psihosofiya, does anyone know of any more sources or books? Could you please link them? I have already read the syntax of love but I’m looking for the actual type descriptions, for instance, I am LVEF, where can I find a detailed description? Thank you!!

              Здравствуйте!!! Я англичанин из Америки, желающий узнать больше о Психософии, знает ли кто-нибудь больше источников или книг? Не могли бы вы их связать? Я уже прочитал синтаксис любви, но я ищу фактические описания типов, например, я LVEF, где я могу найти подробное описание? Спасибо!!
              Zdravstvuyte!!! YA anglichanin iz Ameriki, zhelayushchiy uznat’ bol’she o Psikhosofii, znayet li kto-nibud’ bol’she istochnikov ili knig? Ne mogli by vy ikh svyazat’? YA uzhe prochital sintaksis lyubvi, no ya ishchu fakticheskiye opisaniya tipov, naprimer, ya LVEF, gde ya mogu nayti podrobnoye opisaniye? Spasibo!!

                Hello, Fooheads, I am glad to welcome you here.
                Regretfully, I don’t know other sources in English.
                I cannot provide you a detailed description of LWEB, but as far as I know, they seldom use exclamation marks, and never three in sequence…
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