The narrator, in Tokarczuk’s Flights, explains their difficulty in studying psychology, which I think is also a good commentary on the difficulty of layering quantitative methods over qualitative ones, and the tyranny of categories more generally:

How was I supposed to analyze others when it was hard enough for me to get through all those tests? Personality diagnostics, surveys, multiple columns on multiple-choice questions all struck me as too hard. I noticed this handicap of mine right away, which is why at university, whenever we were analyzing each other for practice, I would give all of my answers at random, whatever happened to occur to me. I’d wind up with the strangest personality profiles–curves on a coordinate axis. “Do you believe that the best decision is also the decision that is easiest to change?” Do I believe? What kind of decision? Change? When? Easiest how? “When you walk into a room, do you tend to head for the middle or the edges?” What room? And when? Is the room empty, or are there plush red couches in it? What about the windows? What kind of view do they have? The book question: Would I rather read one than go to a party, or does it also depend on what kind of book it is and what kind of party?

What a methodology! It is tacitly assumed that people don’t know themselves, but that if you furnish them with questions that are smart enough, they’ll be able to figure themselves out. They pose themselves a question, and they give themselves an answer. And they’ll inadvertently reveal to themselves that secret they knew nothing of till now.

And there is that other assumption, which is terribly dangerous–that we are constant, and that our reactions can be predicted. (Tokarczuk, 2019, pp. 14–15)

It reminds me of a poem by another Polish Nobel Prize winner, Wisława Szymborska’s A Word on Statistics. We can unlock new understanding with words, but we need to enter into them first.


Tokarczuk, O. (2019). Flights. (J. Croft, Trans.) (First Riverhead trade paperback edition). New York: Riverhead Books.