Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist » Blog Archive » Multi-dimensional patterns

Multi-dimensional patterns

Posted: September 7, 2006 at 10:18 pm in people

Okay, so I should be tooling. But I was just out to dinner with friends, and had a thought and want to jot it down so I can think about it later. I was trying to define what made people interesting to me. And the answer I came up with was that I liked well-rounded people, people who had tried a lot of things, people who could surprise me.

For instance, over the past few weeks, I’ve surprised people I know here by (1) having ridden a motorcycle for a couple years, (2) having been to Burning Man, (3) being a sports fan, etc. These people had constructed a little mental model of me, and this additional piece of information forced them to revise their mental model. I like people who have that effect on me, where I frequently am surprised by some observation they make.

What’s the flip side? I’m less interested in people that are predictable. People who have limited experience, who can only see the world from one perspective. They’re the kind of people who I can talk to for a while and start to get the feeling that I can guess their response before they even say it. I know some of that is on me for not being able to draw them out in conversation well enough. But you get the idea.

On my walk home after dinner, I was trying to relate this to my continued fascination with the human mind as a pattern recognition machine. I’ve discussed the idea of the mind recognizing a set of inputs (experiencing a context) and generating a response. I don’t want to imply that it’s mechanistic – click, whirr, here’s a response (although Cialdini explains how that often occurs). It’s fascinating because different contexts bring out different responses – this is the importance of framing.

So what differentiates the interesting people from the predictable people in this model? The predictable people have a limited set of cognitive patterns to choose from, so no matter how you activate them, you get one of a preset number of patterns. Many different inputs activate the same output. Think of somebody that is, for instance, overtly political, and relates everything to the bourgeouis class profiting from the proletariat. Or the environment. Or the power differential due to gender. I’m not saying that any of these positions are wrong, but if it’s the only response somebody has to any situation, it gets boring.

The interesting people have a variety of life experience to draw upon, and thus a myriad of patterns that can be activated. So they can talk about the same topic multiple times but bring different perspectives to it each time depending on the context of the conversation. These are the people who it’s lovely to have conversations with because you can observe the same idea from multiple viewpoints and learn a lot in the process, rather than being sledgehammered with the same idea over and over again.

Anyway, I liked that I could find a way to relate my definition of interesting people back to my theories about the brain. So I wanted to get that down before I forgot it.

One Response to “Multi-dimensional patterns”

  1. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || Influential media || February || 2011 Says:

    […] Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card – yes, it’s trite for a nerd to like these books, and Orson Scott Card’s real-life kookiness makes it hard to support him, but the description of Ender articulated a couple attributes that became long-standing goals of mine. In particular, I love the description of Ender as being somebody who can see right through other people and understand their motivations and their approach to the world, and that’s a skill I continue to work on (although the most interesting people regularly surprise me). […]

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