The Sign of Four

To all Sherlock fans out there: apology—this post has nothing to do with that Jonathan Small case. It of course does not altogether mean that you shall not be interested in reading it through. For what it’s worth, it’s gonna try to answer (or at least start a discussion about) the mystery of constantly repeating quartet patterns around us. You see, sociology has probably explained so much about human’s dyadic (consisting of two people) and communal (typically uncountable) interactions, but little effort has been put into shedding more lights upon bonds between four individuals.

The more relevant question to begin this with is probably:
do such quadrangular connections actually exist, or is Afu just completely wasting my time into a delusion of a non-existent order?


Well, my shallow belief contends that either you’re part of one, or you know a group of four close friends who seem to be a real match to one another. I don’t just mean any random friendship of four, but a strongly-tied relation whose balance is reached exactly because there are four nodes and not less or more. Shall one of the people in the group leaves, things don’t seem to work out.

In case you’re none-of-the-above, then here are some fictional references of the Great Division of Four (different personalities):

  • The four female characters in Ayu Utami’s Saman surely have something in common, but they are four different animals by nature: Shakuntala the undomesticated, Cok the ever-thirsty, Yasmin the spoiled, and Laila the curious.
  • In Candice Bushnell’s Sex and the City, each of the foursome stands out with their own, unique qualities (Carrie Bradshaw the columnist, Samantha Jones the businesswoman, Charlotte York the art dealer, and Miranda Hobbes the lawyer) but they are also a perfect combination for one another and make a greater whole than sum of its parts.
  • Lastly, the fact that all of us feel like we belong in either of the houses in Hogwarts (Gryffindor the courageous, Ravenclaw the clever, Hufflepuff the nice, and Slytherin the ambitious), must mean that somewhat there’s gotta be an explanation behind J.K. Rowling’s division of four.

Have psychologists came across this interesting pattern?

Well, the truth is, they have. Despite the fact that it is not their mission to untangle the mystery of human interactions (since they usually focus on self-discovery or person-per-person psychoanalysis), they have—through the ages—been coming up with personality categorizations that focus on four quadrants:

  • Time-traveling back to the ancient times, there was Hippocrates who came up with four temperaments that he thought shaped us all: the Choleric, the Sanguine, the Melancholic, and the Phlegmatic—each of which reacts differently to various stimuli. Now I’m not sure why exactly he got the four combination, but it is interesting to further look at.
  • Only recently, psychologists develop personality test for companies/organizations to figure out what condition suits their employees best—it says that we’re either one of the four colors: blue (the relationship way), gold (the action way), green (the logical way), or orange (the organized way) in day-to-day working situation. Knowing this, companies/organizations can set up better, enabling conditions that would allow them to be more productive.
  • Last but most compelling to me, is the famous Myers Briggs Test Indicator (MBTI), which puts us in four major boxes: the Idealist, Rationalist, Artisan, and Guardian. It revolves mainly in four elements of personality: 1) introversion/extroversion, 2) intuition/sensing, 3) thinking/feeling, and 4) perceiving/judging.
    Later this builds up to 16 different combinations of personality that explains (or even predicts) an individual’s behavior.

Now literatures might not offer the same level of wonder since we can simply blame the authors for arranging stories around the omnipresent four, out of personal, arbitrary decision. But those psychological theories, typically based on close observation of human behaviors, really fascinate me.

Having said this, however, I would still have to say that the difficult part is to connect the dots in real life. Luckily enough, my laboratory for social experiment sits right here in my own friendship. Let me quickly introduce you to Diku, Kiki, and Ipeh—three girls who probably have the biggest impact in my life, especially for accepting my unusual obsession towards patterns. (Trying my best to maintain the scientific tone of this post and not get all emotional here.)

So one day Kiki, Ipeh, and I had a dinner where we laid out our MBTI results (after some 30-minute rants on boys and politics), which looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 16.37.51

Now I would lie to say that this finding did not excite me. As I’ve been repeatedly saying, yours truly is pretty much a bitch for patterns (why do you think I bother to make this post from the first place), SO YEAH IT DID REALLY THRILL ME TO HAVE THIS DISCOVERY!

From then on, some derived premises have been knocking on my overthinking brain’s door:

  1. It is not that the four of us happen to like the same things or possess identical personalities; rather, the four-node balance is formed because we are both similar and different from one another. To be precise, each of us is actually excluded from the rest at one specific aspect—Ipeh for being the sole extrovert, Kiki’s rather extraordinary sensing ability, Diku’s feeling-based rationality, and my, well, slow progress toward making conclusions (I have a subconscious tendency to keep things open-ended).
  2. We dig into really engaging conversation when we are together because there’s a shift of balance of power (a.k.a. topic-driver) every now and then, making a dynamic to its flow. Imagine if we’re all thinking machines or sensing analysts—our friendship might not be as exciting (and enriching) as I remember it now.
  3. Our friend (Diku’s boyfriend) Sindhu, later convinced me (through Diku) an alternative view: that we’re a circle of clicking personalities. It goes Diku-Afu-Kiki-Ipeh (and goes back to Diku). This would explain not only why Diku-Kiki needs me to connect, me-Ipeh needs Kiki to connect, and so on, but also how Kiki connects best with me and Ipeh, or Ipeh with Diku and Kiki.

Ah, patterns. I could continue talking all night but I’m sure you’re starting to lose interest at this point, so I’ll just stop. I also know that these are all premature hypothesis—ten years from now, I might find this post obsolete or the four of us might actually stop being friends to one another because we lose the balance (psychology does support the idea that personality is ever-changing). But even then, I would be grateful to ever experience being part of a sociological artefact that could explain the link between quadrangular personalities and sociology of four.

Even then, I would cherish this little infinity of (almost) five years we’ve been together. Cheers, girls.



  • Sindhu, for coining the phrase ‘sociology of four’ and being our first and so-far-only interested observer who came up with the proposal from the first placealthough, to be fair, I had it at the back of my head since the time of Ayu Utami and Candice Bushnell (long before we had our first conversation).
  • Diku, for shoving Sindhu’s staggering (yet effortless) examination into my head, and adding a lot more sense to it through your advanced comprehension upon human behavior and outstanding ability to elaborate.
  • Kiki and Ipeh, for simply being yourselves and finding us at the right place and the right time—you know how obsessed I am with patterns and your mere presence is already a gift (note that this is a sociological remark, of course you bitches mean a lot more).
  • Rizky (and plausibly two currently-non-existent boyfriends of mine and Ipeh’s as well), for stimulating follow-up questions in analyzing our respective counterparts—to be curious about whether or not a pattern of eight puzzle pieces exists at all.


  1. hi afu,
    i was wondering what website did you use to test whether you’re infj, or intp, etc..
    coz i’ve googled it and come up with many sites, i’m confused. can you recommend a site to do so?


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