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Personality Research articles on personality


Popularity, Sensibility, and Empiricism



There are three temperaments. The first involves enslavery to popularity, living a life based on what's most popular (convention) and/or living a life which court's popularity. The second involves slavery to sensibility, living a life which best reflects how you think and feel and/or living a life which involves creating what you think and feel is best. The third temperament involves empiricism, enslavery to objective truth, living a life which involves being/figuring out who you really are and seeing the world as it really is. Everyone is a mix of all of these, and so who you are is a reflection of that mix, but one temperament usually dominates and most influences the choices you make in life. I contend the first two temperaments, which are the most common, yield inferior lives and result in a inherently flawed world.


Not everyone is equal. Some people have more objective value than others (faster, smarter, prettier, etc.). Carl Jung found that most of the issues of his patients centered around over-reaching beyond one's abilities (objective value) or under-reaching (not engaging one's full potential). This is a problem of people not being who they are, false selves. I contend there are two behavioral temperaments that drive this self distortion. The first involves a popularity bias, putting too much stock in what everyone thinks. Within this temperament, I think there are two subtypes. The popularity groupie (the square) lives a life that reflects popular opinion/convention. The popularity guru (the politician) lives a life that courts the approval of everyone usually by embodying the ideal of what's popular.

The second involves a sensibility bias, which also has two subtypes. The sensibility groupie (the hipster) lives a life following/appreciating what they think and feel has value (regardless of what is conventionally popular). The sensibility guru (the artist) lives a life producing what they think and feel has value.

Both of these temperaments involve flawed metrics. While these metrics are far from worthless as the books The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell discuss, they are inherently faulty. Popularity and sensibility can, at best, point to what's very close to truth but they can also be horribly wrong/off (and the rest of the time exist at various places in between). Empiricism, however, is a metric which can verify truth. Despite empiricism being the key to most human progress since Aristotle formulated the scientific method, popularity and sensibility still exert greater influence on people's behavior, and as a result greater influence on the world, resulting in a lower quality of life for everyone.

Empirically, genocide doesn't make sense, but popularity and sensibility metrics have time and time again caused it to happen. Empirically the justification for the Iraq war didn't make sense either. The evidence didn't actually exist. Powerful people influenced by popularity and sensibility successfully distorted the truth. No one was punished for this betrayal which resulted in hundreds of thousands and counting of real people dying. (When you take comfort in feeling you did the right thing or that your actions are popular, what's a few hundred thousand dead people?  If the seat of your identity is not in your frontal cortex, you are not capable of real empathy or consideration of one life or even a hundred thousand.) I'm unaware of anyone gong to jail thus far over the unchecked greed which drove the toxic mortgage crisis. And it's because even the best current political and economic systems remain overly driven by popularity and sensibility, not empiricism. If someone is more popular and/or has better taste/sensibility they get treated differently even when they are wrong. It's because people buy into hierarchy (and getting a socially acceptable and/or personally pleasing place in it) far more than reason that things are how they are.

Smart but conventional people are willing to slave away their lives for a nicer house and a nicer car even in a system that isn't fair and makes little sense. Whether or not you are one of these people, you probably have friends like this, or family, or bosses. Your civility and affirmation of them contributes to this system. Everyone needs food and shelter to survive. You don't need anything beyond that, but most people's want of more contributes to this status quo.  It's a ponzi scheme that tumbles every few decades and will eventually become unworkable unless it's replaced with a system which reflects more empirical truth.

It makes sense, to some degree, that people of different abilities and effort levels are rewarded differently.  Smarter people might better manage resources. Hard work should be rewarded more than laziness.  But financial disparity when it reaches a certain degree is toxic as history has shown.  None of this matters to a population that doesn't make decisions based on reason and empiricism though which is why I don't tie my happiness to the fate of this culture.  If I did, I would be unhappy all the time.

Following the metric of popularity reduces individuals to a game of who is closer to what's popular, it makes people compete to be something other than who they are, something other than what's true or even empirically best. If you are objectively better than what's popular, to the degree you value popularity (or the rewards it offers), you will feel bitter, unappreciated, and unfairly unrewarded. Instead of just being and enjoying who you are, you live a life of mourning for why others don't appreciate you. If you are objectively worse than what's popular, you are a loser. Your awareness and investment in the idea that other people are better than you (which may very well be true) keeps you from enjoying your life.  A functioning society is dependent on the optimal working of all of it's parts.  Certain tasks are not as complex or unique but their competent completion is essential.  People who treat a competent janitor with any less respect than a competent world leader are irrational slaves to what's popular and/or their own slanted sensibility.

Following the metric of sensibility leads to madness because unless your sensibility is in accord with objective truth all the time (and it never will be), you will pursue incorrect paths with the same investment and abandon as you pursue correct ones.  Sensibility driven people have a sense of self that popularity driven people don't have, but they have no mechanism to hone their senses or select which sensibility is true.  The empiricist can possess just as much instinct but adds empirical judgment which saves them from madness.

The square, politician, hipster, and artist are not truthful about who they are because they derive their sense of self from incomplete metrics. Substituting empiricism as one's primary metric, allows one to truly be who they are. Empiricism is more cognitively taxing than just following the crowd or one's instincts/sensibility but it results in a better life for individuals, and therefore collectively, the world.

What does it mean to be empirical versus following convention or sensibility. Let's say you are overweight or become overweight. Now if you are empirical, you think everything means something. Based on the bulk of scientific evidence you know that being overweight lowers your quality of your life. It makes it more likely you will have health problems and die at a younger age. It makes it less likely you will have fulfilling romantic relationships. You will naturally conclude it makes no sense to be overweight and then you will research the best methods to lose weight and engage in them, altering your methods based on what works best. If you find exercise unpleasant, you will still do it because you don't mistake feelings for truths. You are following what makes sense, not what necessarily feels good at any given moment. You might learn that after awhile you like exercise, but even if you always hate it, you will do it because you don't want to have health problems. You don't want to die young. You don't want to be physically unattractive.

On the other hand, if you follow sensibility you are only going to do what feels right. If exercise (or the amount of exercise required to lose weight) is unpleasant, you won't do it. If you follow convention/popularity, well then it depends on what the conventions of your particular subculture. You will be fit or unfit depending on what is deemed popular.

You often hear people talk about the importance of a good personality. People with a popularity bias have borrowed personalities. They are in the extreme, pod people, the kind that inspired movies like The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Stepford Wives. People with a sensibility bias, while certainly more authentic, have fickle fluctuating personalities, see any of the countless documentaries/biopics about artists that died young or lived unstable lives (Morrison, Cobain, Pollock, Hughes) if you want to get a good sense of that dynamic.  Only by attending to the empiricist path, can you have an actual authentic personality, being who you are, doing or attempting to find not what is popular or validated by your innate sensibility, but what actually works.  I really can't think of any films about empiricists.

The conventional person has no self to betray. The artist will never betray their sensibility even if it leads to unhappiness, even death. The empiricist will go against anything, even themself, if something else works better. The conventional take comfort in a familiar path, the artistic take comfort in the path that best matches their sensibility, the empiricist takes comfort in the path that best matches rational evidence. As I said in my last article, the only risk of the empiricist path is ignoring sensibility and convention entirely. It's important to listen to, enjoy, and heed the aspects of the conventional and one's innate sensibility that do reflect truth, to do otherwise would be cognitively inefficient. The empirical discoveries of today are the conventions of tomorrow, and your sensibility/instincts contain a lot of accurate instincts hardwired by millions of years of evolution. I think marriage is an institution which doesn't fit well with how society has changed (i.e. women not being property anymore and being able to have careers). However, monogamy or even rings to signify monogamy seem to have rational value. Certainly, if the world ever becomes a lot more empirical, there will be a lot more evidence on any given subject with which to better make the best decisions. Until then you at least have your own life to intelligently experiment with, or just keep following convention and/or sensibility and see where that gets you.


UPDATE: Popularity (Materialistic), Sensibility (Offbeat), and Empiricism (Thinking) + two additional drives Intimacy and Vitality, make up the new MOTIV Personality system.

Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I love this article, probably because I love the truth!

  2. Truth is different for everyone.

  3. Thank you for this article. Apparently what I am seeking now.

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