BIOS: Bayesian Intersectional Orientation Survey

So, what is a Bayesian Intersectional Orientation Survey?

Well, the short answer is that it’s a psychometric tool to track human development, intended for developmental psychology research and as a personal development support structure. For the longer answer we are going to unpack each of the concepts in the name, Bayesian Intersectional Orientation Survey (BIOS). From back to front, in the classical tradition.

Survey

We all should have a pretty good idea of what a survey is: a bunch of questions asked either over the phone, on a clipboard at the corner, or, like this one, a series of questions on a website. Maybe you’ve filled out bunch of market report surveys in the hope of winning a free iPad. Surveys can be annoying, and I know I usually feel pressured to try and find the right answer instead of the most sincere one.

This isn’t that kind of survey. This is a survey of yourself, and for yourself, first and foremost. Who we each are is always changing, growing and regressing, reprioritizing and resolving. It is important to view each entry not as the definitive declaration of what you are, but rather a single snapshot of who you thought you were at a given time. The value of that snapshot is in the sincerity of your answers.

None of the entries even need be complete. While going through the full survey is a grounding and worthwhile experience, it can take some time, especially if undertaken with deep introspection. You don’t need to set aside a chunk of time every time you want to recalibrate part of your BIOS. Each time you notice yourself feeling a particular way about some facet of your life you can log on, update that part of the survey, save it and carry on about your day.

Orientation

We are ridiculously complicated creatures and have the diverse facets of our existence broken into common, understandable, categories can make it much easier to navigate our complex world. It can be overwhelming to face contemporary society at the pace the world comes at us now. Just knowing that all of us face certain similar challenges because of our shared complexity can help make it a little more bearable.

Everyone struggles with finding a balance between their thoughts and their emotions, their behavior and social rhythms, and each of those struggles is unique to that person’s context. Developing an identity can be difficult when one comes from multiple cultures, some of whom are antagonistic to others. Sometimes just having a place to sort out how you feel about it all, by itself, makes it a little easier to handle. It is also often said that what gets measured gets managed, and one of the central tasks of development is trying to find a way to measure whether or not progress is happening.

The sections and subsections of the BIOS provide both a functional framework to come to grips with the complexity of our lived experience, and a way to measure whether improvement is happening. Orienting yourself, knowing where you are existentially, can allow you to envision where you want to be and map how to get there. This is also true with groups, and the aggregated, anonymous data from the surveys should help us map our multicultural society and maybe give us a better idea of what better can look like.

Intersectional

One of the great difficulties of the multicultural conversation happening in our contemporary society is the tendency to reduce identity to a singular, dominant characteristic when all of us are the unique sum of a multitude of characteristics. It is easier to just think about people in terms of one detail than to try and grasp the enormity of our complexity, so we reduce diversity to things like skin color or reproductive organs.

Our society is too dense and deeply layered for any one label to ever convey all the subtlety of our individual existences. We each belong to multiple groups, and we belong to those groups in different ways. Some we feel good about our belonging, some we feel ashamed. Some of us feel good about belonging to the same group that brings others shame. We don’t even feel the same way toward a given group all the time.

This fluid, shifting concept of an identity that is a constantly renegotiated hierarchy of one’s experiential, relational, and informational intersections defies most traditional, reductive frameworks. The BIOS offers a flexible, generative framework that allows each person to identify where they find belongingness, value, and capacity, empowering them to tell us where they are in the world, as opposed to a survey or a test telling the participant where they are.

Bayesian

At the face of it, Bayesian just means relating to the probabilistic formula proposed by Thomas Bayes a couple hundred years ago. The history of the formula and the resistance to it by academia is fun and dramatic, to the degree that academics can ever be fun or dramatic, but not the heart of our interest.

Bayesian probability is both a statistical mechanism and a rational practice. The basic premise is that any piece of evidence does not prove or disprove any premise, but rather adjusts the confidence level of that premise up or down a degree dependent on the weight of the evidence. That is, a demonstration does not show absolutely that a hypothesis is correct, but just that it is more likely to be correct than you might have thought before the demonstration.

To give an example, I might think that I am pretty smart. Every time someone tells me I am smart, it gives me a little more evidence to believe what I believe. My confidence in the I-am-smart proposition grows. Then one day someone tells me I am not smart. They are very enthusiastic in making sure I know they are voting against proposition I-am-smart. My confidence diminishes, but the question is: how much does it diminish? That depends on how much weight I assign this new evidence. Is this new person a Twitter egg communicating without citation or punctuation? Or is it a peer reviewed article criticizing one of my theories? One of those would diminish my confidence more than the other, but neither would completely remove my confidence in proposition I-am-smart.

The way this survey is designed allows you to log new evidence whenever it appears to you, however frequently you choose. Over time you will build a clearer picture of where your center of gravity resides across the various concept clusters that comprise your identity.

The 3 Contexts on which we focus are our Experiential Context, our Relational Context, and our Functional Context. You can follow those links to discover what exactly we mean by each of those contexts.