A while back I realized I had an Engineer’s Mind. I’ve always had a sense of that. What I realized was the significance of the Engineer’s Mind category. And of other categories of Mind — for example an Artist’s Mind (which I didn’t discover I also had until high school; see My Life 2.0).
Having a given Mind doesn’t mean one is necessarily good at something (skill takes practice), but it does suggest a predisposition or talent for it. Our minds seem to come pre-wired in two ways: core wiring that makes us human; and “flavor” wiring that gives us (some of our) basic traits. For instance, some people have — or strongly do not to have — a Math Mind.
I’ve found Mind a useful metaphor as well as a game to play.
The game involves picking the three Minds that most define you (in the description sense of define). I’ve found the question needs to be considered for a while, sometimes for years — the answer often evolves over time.
I learned in high school that Artist was one of mine. In fact, this game dates to then and my discovery of a whole other way to be. At the time, I thought Scientist was my original Mind (since childhood), but I’ve come to believe Engineer is more apropos.
My third one was Teacher, but changed to Philosopher after several years.
And changed back when I decided not to compare myself to real philosophers (’cause I’m so not).
Lately I’ve wondered if Minister (or better: Rabbi) is more accurate (there is an element of belief in what I’d try to teach).
If nothing else, it’s an interesting tool for self-reflection.
And it can make for an interesting conversation starter.
Anyway, here’s my take on My Three Minds…
Engineer’s Mind: The key characteristic is that Engineers are problem-solvers. They see problems and obstacles as challenges. They revere precision and simplicity (often called “elegance”) but, ironically, deeply appreciate complexity.
A downside with human relations is that humans often want their problems heard and sympathized with, not solved. Engineers sometimes need to learn when to just listen (same letters as silent) to their loved ones and provide a shoulder.
Engineers are tool users, but more importantly, tool designers. And they’re good at using what’s available to accomplish some task (the original definition of “hacker”).
Engineers take a systems level approach — they see things as interconnected systems.
Their appreciation, even lust, for complexity can lead to designs that are both beautiful and terrible.
In particular, Engineers look for ways a system can fail (its “failure modes”) so they can design one that doesn’t. The downside is that Engineers instinctively look for flaws, even in people and social interactions.
Most humans don’t take that well.
In general, Engineers are critical (in the analytical sense) which often leads to people seeing them as generally critical (in the negative sense). The problem is that nothing is perfect, so there’s always room to improve, and Engineers are all about improvement.
So Engineers are Fixers, but fixing something means identifying what broken or wrong.
That means Engineers are prone to assigning blame, even in social situations. What’s wrong or right instinctively matters to them.
The social concept of ignoring blame (because it makes people feel bad) and moving on to a solution can be almost hard to fathom for an Engineer.
It doesn’t work that way with systems. The broken part has no feelings to consider (if it did it would seek the sweet dream nepenthe of the trash).
Ultimately, the thing is, an Engineer’s Mind focuses on things.
Artist’s Mind: The key characteristic is the need to express one’s unique view of reality in some medium. Artists don’t absolutely require an audience, but without one art is, in some sense, unfinished — art is produced and consumed.
I’ve written about the idea of an Artist’s Mind before, so I won’t go into it here. See What is Art? and Breaking the (Art) Rules. Or more recently and half-assed philosophically: Crumpled Paper Balls.
The short version is that I define art as what artists do, so the category of Artist’s Mind becomes crucial to defining art. I do believe it’s an innate trait that some have (and some don’t, sorry).
Creativity and imagination are bigger, more inclusive, categories that are necessary, but not sufficient, for an artist. Creative and imaginative people are not necessarily Artists.
Teacher’s Mind: The key characteristic is the desire to pass on knowledge. To see minds move from not-knowing to knowing.
To see the light go on in someone’s eyes when they get it.
That I enjoy teaching others is another thing I learned back in high school (in most regards, high school was a wonderful time for me; life got “interesting” afterwards).
But I’ve always questioned to what extent ego is involved: Meesa so smart; meesa teach you!
Maybe it’s both. I really do love seeing someone learn a new thing. It’s almost as much fun as learning a new thing myself!
Okay, I’m running high on word-count, so let me get to the point.
The idea of Mind here is of an innate mind-set a person has.
Most parents with kids have seen how — often despite their best efforts — boys kinda love guns (combative outward action) and girls kinda love dolls (consensual inward action).
These seem hard-wired tendencies.
As a wee bairn, I rolled my clay into wires and networked my wooden blocks. My first words were “star” and “light” (both of which fascinate me to this day). I have always had what I’ve described above as an Engineer’s Mind.
The way I took to theatre lighting and other forms of art (like a very thirsty man to an ice-cold beer) tells me the Artist’s Mind is also built-in; it has always been there.
Many years later, in college, the way I took to computer programming also seem reflective of my Engineer’s Mind. (See: My Life 3.0.)
Crucially, neither of these Minds exist in my parents or sister.
Interestingly, both my sister and I are adopted (as babies), so both our genetics differ from our parents’ genes. This seems evidence of the hard-wiring behind Mind.
Which causes me to wonder if Teacher (or Rabbi) is a learned Mind. My dad was a minister, my mom a music teacher, and there are many teachers and preachers in my family tree. My sister also became a teacher, so this may be more cultural or familial than innate.
I’ll leave you with this question. What other Minds might be innate to people, and — most importantly — what are your three?
- Guardian (police, etc.)
- Progressive (or Conservative)
It can be hard to decide what’s innate and what’s learned. Is a political stance (progressive or liberal) hard-wired or acquired? To qualify for the list, it should be arguably innate.
A good argument is that it reflects in the behavior of young children, but the counter-balance is that children are socialized early and quickly. For all I know, very little of this is actually innate.
I’m just introducing the idea to see how it flies.
 Part of the trick is picking three and only three.
 Here’s a geeky kid-scientist story: I’m on the school bus, 4th or 5th grade, using a weight on a string to demonstrate (the bus’) acceleration to a classmate (even then I was trying to impress the girls 😎 ).
 Although I’m told I have a … non-typical definition of what constitutes casual conversation. Apparently stellar fusion, analysis of cinema, theories of mathematics, and so forth aren’t common conversation? If not, you guys are kinda missing out!
 People usually know how to solve their own problems; what they often lack is support, sympathy, or just an ear.
 Guilty! Of all the flaws mentioned. How do you think I came to know them? 🙂
 A lesson learned early: Never correct a girlfriend’s love letter!
 Incidentally, animals aren’t Engineers. Many of them are Builders of one kind or another, but they don’t engineer anything. Nor, as far as we can tell, are they Artists. That doesn’t mean they don’t create beautiful things, but art and beauty are not the same.
 Yes, a deliberate Jar-Jar reference. While I despise those movies, Jar-Jar was never the problem for me. He paled in comparison to how god-awful the whole thing was.
 Actually, my sister got into painting in college and writing afterwards. She has even published a couple of YA novels, but, as with me, that was untapped during our formative years.