Learn, UnLearn, Learn: Rinse and Repeat

The reward of the scientist, mathematician, or computer scientist is the emotional thrill of being the first person in the history of the world to see something or to understand something. Nothing can compare with that experience

On The Rise of Gestalt Science

My father died on July 30th, 2013 and I intend to honor him, if I can, by writing a blog about him, his ideas, and their consequences, every year.  This is the ninth year.  First year.  Second YearThird YearFourth Year. Fifth YearSixth Year,  Seventh Year, Eight Year.

If you don’t understand something said, don’t assume you are at fault

Dr. David West Keirsey
David Keirsey self portrait
Self Portrait

Prometheus Unbound (1921-1941)

Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound (1845)

In Ancient Greek mythology, Prometheus was said to be the wisest of all the Titans. In the form of fire Prometheus is credited with bringing mankind knowledge and enlightenment. He stole fire from the Gods of Mount Olympus. For acting against the decree of the Gods, who wanted to keep the power of fire to themselves, Prometheus was harshly punished. He was chained to a rock to have his liver eaten out every day by an eagle. Every night his liver would grow back. This was to be his punishment for all of eternity.

My father had questioned the conventional consensus all his life.

Prometheus — “forethinker, foreseer,” from promēthēs “thinking before,” from pro “before” (see pro-) + *mēthos, related to mathein “to learn”

But in the beginning he was a kid in a small town in Southern California, free to roam like Huckleberry Finn in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The outside world of the Roaring Twenties and Depression of the 30’s was a buffeting environment but my father was pretty oblivious the wider currents of the world.

“… I had learned a lot, but not at school. I began reading when I was seven. Read (most of) a twelve volume set of books my parents bought, Journeys through Bookland. Read countless novels thereafter, day in and day out. I educated myself by reading books. Starting at age nine my family went to the library once a week, I checking out two or three novels which I would read during the week. Then, when I was sixteen, I read my father’s copy of Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy. I read it over and over again, now and then re-reading his account of some of the philosophers.

I mention Durant’s book The Story of Philosophy because it was a turning point in my life, I too become a scholar as did Durant, thereafter reading the philosophers and logicians …”

David West Keirsey, Turning Points, 2012

Prometheus Bound (1942-1945)

“The second turning point occurred when there came a sudden, drastic, and permanent change in my life. In May 1942 I was drafted. I quit school immediately and joined the Navy to become a fighter pilot. Why fighter pilot? Because as a child I had read every book I could find about the fighter pilots of the first world war, finally resorting to 5 cent pulp books, many well written (I have no idea why these planes and their pilots fascinated me). So when called to war I could not imagine my engaging in any other kind of warfare. Not that I wished to go to war. Far from it ─ I wished to pursue, not the enemy, but college studies. Even so, I found flight training fascinating but challenging and hazardous, many cadets failing to pass the frequent tests at each stage of training. Incidentally, it was during flight training that I learned the crucial difference between education and training. An educated person has acquired knowledge; a trained person has acquired skill. An effective person has acquired both.

Do the Work

So from August 1942 to November 1945 I was a Naval Aviator, the last eight months of my war career piloting the F4U Corsair fighter attacking enemy forces at Okinawa, Borneo, and the Japanese islands between Okinawa and Formosa. Deadly dull. Boring beyond belief. Fly for two hours on another’s wing, with nothing to do but stay in formation; ten minutes on target with extreme concentration shooting rockets and machine guns, then two more hours of doing nothing but staring at a wing. Then hours of playing cards and acey-ducy in the ready room for fighter pilots.

“During those eight months I had only one book to read—Man the Unknown by Alexis Carrel”

[Editor note]: Because of that book, my father decided he would become a psychologist, if he survived the war.

A page from his aviator’s log book
Japan surrenders August 15th, 1945

In being trained to fly and shoot rockets and bullets and drop bombs I learned how to train others; not, mind you, to teach others, but to train them in how to take action effectively. I applied what I learned about training when I designed a counseling department in a large university in 1970. It was the largest department in the university with 400 graduate students flocking to the department from all over the nation, because it was the only place in the nation where one could be trained to do corrective intervention. 

The war changed my life in another, more vital, way. I appreciated being alive. It was like being born again. Hey, I get to live! Fantastic! What, I asked myself, am I going to do with my new lease on life? Before the war I was going to be a high school English teacher. After the war I was going to be a clinical psychologist.

Prometheus Tethered (1946-1950)

November 1945 came home from the war with a new lease on life. In poor health (no exercise, boredom, and occasional stress for 8 months) having lost 17 pounds of muscle—165 lbs down to 148 lbs. What was I to do with my life? 

Got married on December 22 1945 to my beautiful and bright and enterprising sweetheart from Junior College days before the war. Had she not consented to marry me I’d have joined my two pilot buddies and gone to Washington to set up an airfield for commercial transports (which they tried, but failed, becoming crop dusters and later bush pilots in Alaska).

The training of naval aviators entailed years of study and practice, for which I was credited with three semesters of college studies, leaving three semesters for my BA degree. I decided to become a psychologist. Took most of the psychology courses offered by three of the colleges in Claremont. September 1947 I attended Claremont Graduate University—the fourth turning point in my life.

In 1949 I interned at a fifty-inmate asylum for the so-called “insane”. There I met three “psychiatrists”. I was not only unimpressed with them, but appalled by them. They seemed ignorant of psychopathology and incompetent in psychotherapy. I and the other intern met with them each Saturday to discuss our findings on the inmates we had studied during the week. Each inmate that we had studied would appear before the three “psychiatrists” and the two interns. None of the three knew how to interview, glibly pronouncing each to be “schizophrenic.” Then came the weekly electro-convulsive “therapy”. All 50 inmates were in bed, 25 on one side of the room and 25 on the other side, each awaiting his turn to be zapped. This happened every Saturday for as long as each inmate was resident. Having studied the many varieties of madness since 1946 I was astonished that all inmates would be treated the same. Indeed, I was astonished that anyone would be so treated. But I did not find out how terrifying and damaging electro-shock can be until I read Mad in America in 2010—seven decades later!

[Editor’s note:]. My father discovered and knew about the invasion of psychiatry into the American school system into the narcotherapy abuse of school children [first Artisan boys] and the eventual capture of “mental health” system by big Pharma and psychiatry, before David Rosenhan and Thomas Szasz publicized it.

Prometheus Revisited (1950-1970)

Prometheus stealing fire from Olympus giving it to Mankind

To us it seems that Hermes’ speech is to the point.
What he
commands to you is to relax from your
self-will and seek the wisdom that’s in good advice.
Do as he says, since wrong is shameful in the wise.

–Chorus Prometheus Bound

In 1950 I dropped out of the doctoral studies program. I was out of money, out of patience, out of incentive, and had acquired an enemy on the faculty to boot, she regarding me as too independent. She was outraged to find that I had devised my own scoring method for the Rorschach Ink Blot test, which I had practiced with for years. After all, she supposed herself to be an expert in the use of the Rorschach test, having studied with Bruno Klopfer, no less. So she kicked me out of her case study seminar and required me to study the Rorschach under her toady, this to teach me a lesson and make me subservient and humble—I failed to achieve either subservience or humility. Later she tried to block acceptance of my thesis, but was foiled by her mentor Bruno Klopfer, the world famous Rorschach expert, he praising me for my intuitiveness. At my thesis examination she was kept quiet by no less than Charlotte Bϋhler, world famed Gestalt theorist and wife of even more famed Gestalt theorist Carl Bϋhler (who later championed my doctoral dissertation in 1967). My mentor was professor Theodore Perkins, the only American Gestalt psychologist still living at the time, he seeing to it that I, his only Gestalt disciple, was supported by the Bϋhlers for my MA and PhD degrees. 

Being a dropout, I got a job in 1950 as a counselor in a reform school for delinquent teenage boys, run by the county probation department — the fifth turning point in my life

 I had practiced responsive listening (“non-directive counseling”) for four years, so I found the method very useful in helping troublesome boys accept themselves. I was their friend. Two of the other counselors, untrained, adopted the method, and were somewhat successful using it. It was a very unusual kind of work, we counselors living at the school for three days, then going home or work elsewhere for three days. 

At the same time I worked for three days a week as a credentialed school psychologist (also licensed as a clinical psychologist) in a small elementary school district (five schools) not far from Claremont. Nobody told me what I was to do, so I asked the teachers to identify all troubled and troublesome kids. Each school had a few of both troubled and troublesome kids. I started with the troublesome ones, all boys. Figured out a way to stop them from troubling their teachers. Called it “systematic exclusion.” Got the mother, teacher, and principal to agree that if the boy made a single noise or motion without permission he was to be immediately excused from class and sent home for the rest of the day, with nobody (teacher, principal, or parent) saying anything to him about his departure from school or his arrival at home. Being a member of a class was defined as a privilege which, if abused, was lost for that day. As long as the boy was not troublesome he could stay in class; the instant he was troublesome in the slightest degree, such as getting out of his seat without permission, he could not stay. (see Abuse It—Lose It ). In contrast, how to help troubled children was an entirely different matter, which took me a long time and a lot of experimentation to figure out how to do.

Starting in 1955 got a job coordinating psychologists and counselors in a much larger district with twenty five schools—nineteen K-6, two 7-8, and four 9-12. Stayed there fourteen years in frequent contact with each psychologist and counselor, while working in the four high schools myself. Was continuously in search of method, while weekly discussing these methods with each psychologist and counselor in the K-8 schools. I also met frequently with the principals to clarify the function of psychologists and counselors as corrective intervention rather than mere testing and reporting. Since graduate schools had no practitioners to train graduate students in corrective intervention, it was necessary that psychologists and counselors learn how on-the-job. Each year they practiced they improved. Many improved a great deal, a few improved a little. The staff of psychologists and counselors became noted in Los Angeles County Schools for the change in their function from the study of pupils to the correction of the action of pupils, teachers, parents, and—yes—principals too.  

[Editor’s note:] My father also started collecting students that had “high IQs” (~ 160-180) and interacting with them. I also was able to observe them when they dated my elder sister. He told me that these individuals had a different problem with the school system. These students saw their teachers, parents, and all authorities as not very smart and would often “lose their way” — finding high school boring and pointless (and not interested in college because they never could tolerate the classroom environment). Meanwhile, I also was observing individuals from a personality perspective, and our family discussed issues regarding human behavior and interaction between individuals and social systems. My personal interest in Science, Mathematics, Computer Science, and Evolution was helped immensely by this perspective.

Crossing paths with Isabel Myers got me in the habit of typewatching way back in 1956. Myers completed her book The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in 1958 and published it in 1962, though Educational Testing Service had been using her questionnaire for some years doing personality research in numerous colleges and high schools around the country, and this is where I first encountered her work.

[Editors Note:] In 1957 my father starting taking classes at Claremont Graduate School again, while having a full time job as the head clinical school psychologist and being a parent. Being primarily self-educated in personality and psychopathology (madness), he was collecting and developing corrective intervention methods [like Systematic Exclusion] in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s and he was training his staff of counselors to help students navigate between their parents, the school system, school teachers, and administrators. Having observed people in action and interaction, he realized that the problems arose from the clash of Temperaments, and their differing agendas.

My father being a researcher in psychopathology (“crazy people or abnormal? people” like in the old vernacular 20th century phrase “abnormal psychology”) and personality (“normal? people”); and, being on the frontlines of the school system, when he encountered Isabel Myer‘s work, he quickly realized the link between the two. Every individual can exhibit “productive” (positive) human behavior and “defensive” (negative) behavior depending on the circumstances. Isabel Myers illuminated the kinds (“types of personality”) of long-term “normal” patterns of human action, generally being productive within society. Ernst Kretschmer and William Sheldon covered “mad, bad, crazy, and stupid” human behavior (thru Physique and Character, Varieties of Delinquent Youth) and my father seeing this defensive (“mad”) human behavior as a function of the kind of inherent personality of the individual and the circumstances surrounding that individual they find themselves in. My father devoted his life in understanding the nature of productive and defensive (madness) behavior relative to his Framework: Temperament.

I soon found it convenient and useful to partition Myers’s sixteen “types” into four groups, which she herself suggested in saying that all four of what she referred to as the “NFs” were alike in many ways and that all four of the “NTs” were alike in many ways — although what she called the “STs” seemed to me to have very little in common, just as the “SFs” had little in common. However, four earlier contributors, Adickes, Spränger, Kretschmer, and Fromm, each having written of four kinds of personality, helped me to see that Myers’s four “SJs” were very much alike, as were her four “SPs.” Bingo! People-watching from then on was a lot easier, the four groups being light years apart in their attitudes and actions.

[Editors note:] Being a practicing Gestalt Psychologist, my father tasked himself to finding methods of corrective intervention, and discovered the writings and work of Milton Erickson and Jay Haley.

Prescribe the Symptom

Milton Erickson tutored Jay Haley for ten years in how to manage madness, whereupon Haley wrote a series of books defining Erickson’s method of managing madness, thus creating a revolution. It started with Haley’s book Strategies of Psychotherapy (1963). This book totally changed my take on both madness and its management, elevating Haley and Erickson far above all others in my view.

What was the counselor to do when asked for help? Tell the client how, when, and where to practice his symptom, and report what happened during and after the practice. The method came to be known as “prescribing the symptom” and “psychotherapy” was forever changed. So was I ─ a turning point in my career.  

I hired Marilyn Bates from a State University to teach my counselors and psychologists her model of group counseling. Her model was brilliantly designed such that it was very helpful to participants. At the end of my contract she suggested that I apply for a job as professor at the University. I applied and was accepted, this a major turning point in my life equal in effect to that of my becoming a fighter pilot. 

Prometheus Unbound (1970-2013)

Bates and I wrote three books, one of them titled Please Understand Me, the contents taken from transcriptions of my lectures and conversations with Bates, she the scrivener. [Marilyn Bates died, in 1977]. I then retrieved and rewrote the manuscript entirely and, finding no publisher, published it myself in 1978—a turning point.

[Editor Note:] Advertised only by word of mouth, Please Understand Me and Please Understand Me II became international best sellers. More than 4 million copies in more than a dozen languages have been sold in the past 40 years.

Bates died in January of 1977 (as did both of my parents, all three within a span of only ten days, my brother died two months later). So I became chair of the department. From September 1970 to October or November 1976 I had been very active and fascinated with ideas on training graduate students in understanding and managing troubled and troublesome children and their mentors, the latter far more difficult to manage than the former. After all, parents, teachers, and principals only rarely saw their own actions as contributing to the troubled-ness and trouble-some-ness of their children. With Bates’s departure from the chair in late 1976 I was suddenly confronted with a totally different task: managing the largest graduate department in the entire university.

Do the Search and ReSearch

[Editor Note:] The Keirsey Temperament Model (KTM) is a Framework for understanding yourself and others. The impact of the Keirsey Temperament Model has been lasting and substantial, helping individuals, groups, and institutions deal with themselves and others in the world.

For more information on David Keirsey and the impact of his ideas.

  1. Professor Keirsey’s blog
  2. David Mark Keirsey’s blog
  3. ProfessorKeirsey.org
  4. David Mark Keirsey’s home page
  5. The Facebook Private Group: Keirsey Temperament Model
  6. Keirsey.com
  7. Wikipedia Page for David West Keirsey (generally correct, but beware)

The Yearly Tributes of Dr. David West Keirsey

First year.  Second YearThird YearFourth Year. Fifth YearSixth Year,  Seventh Year, Eight Year, Ninth Year.

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