Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Foxes, hedgehogs

As a constitutional recluse, I have a great deal of internal grumbling at this time of year, when academic events take me out of the house to what I regard as an excessive degree. But this evening's speaker was excellent.

A delightful string of words was uttered in the course of his career retrospection (gracious contextualizing occurred in the talk format, but I will offer links as the blog equivalent): "I'm a sad hedgehog and a happy lumper."


1. I am a resigned splitter and a happy fox!

2. Despite the gist of the second Wikipedia article, the two definitional systems are not congruent.

3. I agree with this evening's speaker (the point was implicit rather than articulated) that lumper-fox is the most desirable intellectual configuration.

4. Splitter-hedgehog is potentially tiresome, or at any rate less intellectually stimulating than the other configurations--but a great deal of valuable scholarship is done by splitter-hedgehogs.

5. Fox-hedgehog is the more democratic of the two axes, since it can apply to various measures of personality; lumper-splitter is only applicable to those with a fairly developed intellectual practice of accounting for large-scale phenomena of one kind or another (historical, cultural, economic, biological, etc.).

(This is all pursuant to recent conversations about Gygaxian aspects of Myers-Briggs-type personality instruments. I am imagining a Pynchonesque secret history in which aspects of the D&D "alignment" system turn out to have been inflected or influenced by top-secret early-1960s LSD research by the US Department of Defense!)


  1. Post seems incomplete without self-diagnostic internet quizes!

    Alternative characterization is scanner versus diver (surveying versus drilling down).

    Your point 4 re: potential tiresomeness is clearly _from the perspective of a non-(splitter-hedgehog)_!

    Not sure about "most desirable intellectual configuration". Is the marginal productivity of that type greatest - is the world crying out for more of that one type over the rest? Or is the average productivity of that type higher than all others? Or of those who are engaged in intellectual pursuits are those who are of that type the happiest?

    Perhaps the secret history should be more about the creation of compelling frameworks that avoid the very idea of something the conspiricists do not want considered.

  2. Yes, and the real question is whether I have made a legitimate self-diagnosis or whether perhaps these are areas in which it is actually quite difficult to know oneself! It is possible for instance that a reviewer of my academic book manuscript might reasonably and irritably think that I am too much of a lumper, or that someone who sees I keep on writing books about heredity and breeding might deem me a hedgehog...

    Slightly tongue-in-cheek on potential tiresomeness--all of these come in good and bad flavors. A stoned teenage Marxist lumper-fox is potentially far more tiresome to converse with than a lively elderly expert on trilobites! It is partly a question of whether one is thinking of temperamental or intellectual qualities--playfulness is more urgently needed by splitters than lumpers, I think...

    Diving/scanning: but surely those are more explicitly complementary activities, highlighting need for multiple strategies in intellectual investigation? Certainly harder for me to choose a self-identification out of those two than the other pairs...

    Re: secret history; you mean a sort of purloined letter strategy? A gap hidden in plain view/excluded from maps? Mind control?!? One of these days I really am going to read that book on the 20th-century history of brainwashing...

  3. I am ridiculously wordy in comments today - but forgot to say previously that of course the lumper-fox configuration is only most desirable in the sense that it is most enjoyable for the lumper-fox and possibly also by extension for those who read/contemplate his/her insights! I take no position on social utility...

  4. ObSF re: secret history - _In the Country of the Blind_, Michael Flynn. Put the book down at the half-way point, though, and just walk away.

  5. Unrelated to this post -- but how may I contact you with details of three literary events we here at The Georgia Review are sponsoring in NYC in late April and early May? Pulitzer Prize winners and more...three separate events. We'll be in the city for the National Magazine Awards -- The Georgia Review is a finalist for General Excellence -- and planned these events around that one. Write me directly at ingle.david@gmail.com