Friedrich Nietzsche once exclaimed: “We are unknown, we knowers, to ourselves…Of necessity, we remain strangers to ourselves.” This quote was taken out of context by none other than Walker Percy, who used it as a kind of introduction to his book, Lost in the Cosmos.
There is a certain value to the statement, especially in regards to the subject of his book. It seems that we have lost our sense of self-knowledge, and that we are seeking to restore that notion of selfhood.
I have noticed an affinity for personality tests in my own circles of friends, and on a larger scale, this is becoming a trend across campuses and universities. The most prominent example is the Myers-Briggs test, which classifies personalities through a few letters, each of which are representative of a particular trait.
When I took the test, I was classified as an INTJ, which stands for “Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging.” After a few questions, my essence was narrowed down to four letters.
I think the trend reflects a thirst for self-knowledge. In our “lost-ness,” we pursue tests and labels that will define our troubled souls, and the Myers-Briggs test is one of the ways we attempt to understand ourselves, although it's a bit reductionist and doesn't account for the subtle nuances that define the individual human person.
If used properly, these tests grant us some knowledge about our individual selves, shining light on particular characteristics about individual personalities. However, we can't make these tests responsible for defining a whole person, which would be all too similar to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
If you will recall, Brave New World is a novel about a completely stratified society in which classes are not based upon wealth, but upon personality and ability. There's no room for individuality, creativity, or human greatness. Everything is regimented to undercut the value of the individual person.
Though I do not believe that we have gone as far as Huxley's world, I do wonder whether the personality test trend could be dangerous to the individual person. If we follow Percy’s logic, “wondering” is the basis of self-knowledge. I only wish that we would look to sources other than psychology.