Mindless Algorithm

A blog for someone who sometimes writes

Thoughts on my personality

October 22, 2021

This is likely of interest only to myself and a few others.

It’s always interesting to think about what traits are foundational to a person, and which are generated by the foundational traits. It’s possible that foundations don’t exist, or that they’re so common as to be unremarkable (e.g. wanting sex, status, stuff). But lets assume there are some differences that are useful to talk about.

If I were to pick out foundations of my personality it would be:

Anhedonia

I don’t mean that I am completely incapable of being happy in the moment or anything like that. But I don’t think I feel positive emotions as strongly as other people. I also don’t seem to be strongly orientated towards seeking out good things, in the way that I see others doing.

This has several consequences for me.

Firstly, most of the time I have an emotional reaction to something, it will be a negative reaction. I think this makes me less likely to do things. When you do something, you will experience both good and bad feelings from doing it. If the good feelings are reduced in intensity, then the bad feelings will predominate. So it doesn’t really make much sense to do many things. This leads to a sort of conservatism and laziness.

Second, my motivations (other than avoiding negative feelings) are quite thin. That is, my motivation to make myself happy and give myself good things is limited. This leaves more motivation available to do things that don’t make me feel good - whether because of habit, because I’m told to or for moral reasons. I think this is one of the reasons why I find effective altruism in the form of giving away a lot of money easy - I just genuinely don’t really want to do other things with the money.

Lack of introspection

(I realise this is ironic in an essay about myself)

The people whose inner lives I hear the most about are fictional characters, followed by writers speaking about themselves. Biographies and interviews by journalists also talk a lot about people’s inner lives.

Through the eyes of a writer, people have strong emotions, goals and beliefs which they regularly think about and use to guide their actions.

I think that this view leads us to thinking that the average person’s inner life is complex and explicable. I think that it is neither.

My own experience is that I rarely know exactly why I do things, apart from the most trivial of cases (“I ate the apple because I was hungry”). I can observe my behavior, and vaguely rationalize what might be behind it, but nothing more. The verbal, rational part of my mind simply doesn’t have access to what lies beneath. If you ask me how I’m feeling, I usually draw a blank. My mental states don’t come with little tags attached to say what they are.

Why isn’t this the model we see in writing, or what I see people talking about? I have some ideas:

  1. I am unusual, most other people have rich inner lives
  2. Most people are like me, but lie to themselves constantly about what they’re experiencing (the Hansonian view)
  3. Writers have unusual inner lives, and seeing as most of reality is now filtered by them, they seem normal
  4. Writers exaggerate the inner lives of people they see to make their writing more interesting

I think of this as foundational because people often ask questions like: “What do you want?” or “Why did you do that?” and I never have great answers. I can make up a perfectly good story that may well be true but it doesn’t feel true intellectually, or have the obviousness of a truth about sense data or even a memory. And other people seem to have these answers more readily available.