Unalike Minds

mind-0A 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.[1]

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.[2]

the thinker

Ya gotta think about it!

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.[3]

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.[4] Engineers sometimes need to learn when to just listen (same letters as silent) to their loved ones and provide a shoulder.

Higgs Particle - the LHC @ CERN

One of our larger tools!

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.[5]

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.[6]

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.


Fixed it!

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.[7]

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![8]

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.

mind lightsThe 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.[9]

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.

WhyI’ll leave you with this question. What other Minds might be innate to people, and — most importantly — what are your three?

  • Athlete
  • Artist
  • Engineer
  • Scientist
  • Teacher
  • Preacher
  • Politician
  • Guardian (police, etc.)
  • Lawyer
  • 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.

[1] Part of the trick is picking three and only three.

[2] 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 😎 ).

[3] 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!

[4] People usually know how to solve their own problems; what they often lack is support, sympathy, or just an ear.

[5] Guilty! Of all the flaws mentioned. How do you think I came to know them? 🙂

[6] A lesson learned early: Never correct a girlfriend’s love letter!

[7] 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.

[8] 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.

[9] 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.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

7 responses to “Unalike Minds

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Food for thought:

    There is an element of truth to the saying: “Anyone who isn’t a liberal when they’re young has no heart. Anyone who isn’t a conservative when they’re old has no brain.”

    How does this intersect, either way, with the idea that liberal and conservative Minds are innate or learned? (The truth, per Yin-Yang, is likely to be some blend of the two.)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    More food for thought:

    Are there such things as Female and Male minds? (I’m pretty sure there are.) To what extent might they be innate versus acquired?

    (And, of course, per Yin-Yang, people are actually some blend of the two. Some are a fairly even blend, others tip the scale one way or the other, but both are almost always present to some degree.)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    As an example of how Engineers see interconnected systems, here’s what I “see” when I look at a big downtown office building…

    I “see” (in my little mind’s eye things that being with):

    • Idea people (business people, usually) who conceive of a big building in that spot and define its requirements.
    • Head architect who did the main design.
    • Architectural team who did the full design.
    • Software teams who model various building stresses.
    • Construction management teams who design the building process.
    • Procurement teams who list and order the materials.
    • Lots and lots of bullet points involving the actual construction.
    • Various building infrastructure systems (HVAC, electrical, plumbing (water and waste), phone, internet, elevators,…).
    • Building management and sales (of space).
    • Lots of bullet points about how the building interacts with the environment (infrastructure, government, traffic flow,…).
    • Lots of bullet points involving daily building operations (security, custodial,…).

    And these actually just sketch out the basics.

    We live in an interconnected world, and those interconnections grew at an increasing rate as the world developed. Currently we live in a highly connected world, and Engineers are good as seeing those interconnections.

  • rung2diotimasladder

    The question of what’s innate and what’s learned is hard for me to tease out with my own background. Coming up with three Minds is rather difficult when it comes to the innate aspect of it.

    Writer’s Mind, that’s definitely innate. That’s one thing that came from inside me since no one in my surroundings had a love of books. I read everything I could get my hands on back then and I’ve always loved words. I’ve been writing for a very long time. I used to give my parents stories for b-day presents, fully illustrated, of course. (Usually I’d read some book and do a summary in my own words.) For some reason I remember reading The Phantom Tollbooth and finding that experience so mind-glowingly fun that I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I didn’t want the story to end, I was ecstatic. I don’t know if this is a sub-category of Artist’s Mind. I’d think “Artist’s Mind” and “Writer’s Mind” are sub-categories of “Creative Mind,” although writing has other elements to it.

    Definitely not Engineer’s Mind for me. I do take responsibility for fixing any sort of electronic device around the house, and my husband says that I’m really good at coming up with solutions for strange things. Usually the matter of what’s broken has been solved, and what needs to happen to make X work again is known, but how to go about doing that is the problem. Some stumbling block which requires creativity, not the usual way of thinking. That’s when I come in with some unconventional tool that does the job, and I get to exclaim, “I’m a mechanical genius!” (Which is so not true, but fun to say.) Maybe this actually ties into Creative Mind.

    The odd ball is philosophy. I never thought of myself as a logical person, but I was always questioning certain things, mostly religion. (In most other areas, totally conformist.) When I took logic, I thought I’d end up failing on an epic scale, but I was surprised to find that it felt natural to me. Now, this is Aristotelian logic, not formalized. No symbols. That probably had a lot to do with my success. It was words, words, words.

    I can see Lawyer’s Mind as fitting me, but I don’t know if that’s innate. I’d probably want to do boring paperwork, that sort of thing. Nothing that involves talking in front of a judge and jury.

    As for politics, I can’t say any of my political beliefs are innate. I’m not much of a political person. I think that’s the part that could be innate: Whether someone is political rather than what side one’s on. I suspect the latter has a lot to do with culture.

    Engineer, Scientist, Artist, Athlete…those seem like they could be innate in certain cases. But as you well know, being an Engineer doesn’t mean you’re not an Artist. The whole “right brain, left brain” thing doesn’t fly well with me.

    Anyhow, this has gone on long enough. I haven’t come up with my three minds. “Creative” is the one that feels definitive for me.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “The question of what’s innate and what’s learned is hard for me to tease out with my own background.”

      Yeah, it definitely takes some thinking. Most people seem to have at least one that immediately springs to mind, but then it gets harder.

      “Writer’s Mind, that’s definitely innate.”

      There ya go, that popped up immediately. A very good clue is how far back into your own past it goes.

      I do think a Writer is a type of Artist. It’s that need to express one’s interpretation of reality. Storytelling is an ancient version of that.

      I’m not sure Creative Mind isn’t too vague to qualify. Just about everyone has some degree of it, although some clearly have more. It would be interesting to talk to child experts. Do all children show approximately the same level of creativity or are there notable differences? (I have no idea.)

      Try this on for size: Artistic Mind + Textual Mind.

      Is the written word central enough to your being to be a mindset?

      “Definitely not Engineer’s Mind for me.”

      I think I know you well enough to agree completely with that. 😀

      “The odd ball is philosophy. […] I can see Lawyer’s Mind as fitting me…”

      Both of those, as you describe them, sound so very textual to me. I never really thought about it, but perhaps there is a Textual Mind. I mean, why not?

      “As for politics, I can’t say any of my political beliefs are innate.”

      It’s more, I think, whether you are fundamentally progressive and liberal or fundamentally conservative. (It bothers me I can’t come up with good other words for conservative… There’s liberal vs. conservative, which is one thing, and progressive vs. conservative, which is another. I need another word to oppose one of those.)

      “But as you well know, being an Engineer doesn’t mean you’re not an Artist.”

      Absolutely! None of these are intended to be exclusive. (Well, in some cases, there’s two sides to the coin, like progressive-conservative, but it’s really one coin.) It’s more like a build-your-own combo plate.

      “‘Creative’ is the one that feels definitive for me.”

      I’m not convinced a Creative Mind is a thing (just too hard to pin down). I think Artist definitely applies (I see it in your relationship to music, too), and chew on Textual Mind and see if it fits. The intersection of the two produces Writer.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        ” (It bothers me I can’t come up with good other words for conservative… There’s liberal vs. conservative, which is one thing, and progressive vs. conservative, which is another. I need another word to oppose one of those.)”

        ‘Traditional’ maybe? Depends on how you want to color the meaning. 🙂

        I can see what you mean about Creative Mind being too vague. It seems like everyone has it to some degree or in some area, but then it shuts down in other areas.

        Textual Mind fits pretty well. Except that in math, word problems weren’t any easier (on the contrary).

        Artistic Mind applies to me in a mild sense. I like doing art, but I’m not exactly thrown into it the way some people are. I’m fairly mediocre in music and painting, but I see those as fun hobbies.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “Traditional” is a good one, thanks!

        I don’t know that math word problems signify anything. I look more to your account of writing in your past.

        “Artistic Mind applies to me in a mild sense.”

        A Writer is an Artist, so I think it applies more than you might think. “Art” includes literature, music, and dance, for instance. These are just different mediums for the Artist.

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