your three selfs: the artist, the executive, the critic

From Michio Kaku's The Future of the Mind:

"Although consciousness is a patchwork of competing and often contradictory tendencies, the left brain ignores inconsistencies and papers over obvious gaps in order to give us a smooth sense of a single 'I'."

I always thought that a singular me was in charge of running (and repeating) the process of making decisions. Any inconsistencies could be explained by shortcomings in me, the unified self. Whenever I felt the strong pangs of discomfort from not having an "n-year life plan", this self would arrive upon a way to exit that discomfort.

I now strongly suspect that the decision-maker isn't a cohesive self, but rather a Kakuist "patchwork of competing and often contradictory tendencies." This is reminiscent of that Pixar movie Inside Out, which models the mind as a merry band of characters named Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. I think it's more useful to characterize the mind using more dynamic "character archetypes."

(And now ensues a highly unscientific, very anecdotal, metaphor-driven "analysis.")

The Three Archetypes of the Mind

There's the artist, the inner child whose curiosity drives him to poke/prod/build/break/fix. He creates.
Then there's the executive, the thoughtful driver skilled at steering, deciding, and reacting. He navigates.
Finally there's the critic, the guy who just wants to make sure nothing gets overlooked. He deliberates.

Together, this motley crew can do amazing things. But external stressors and internal insecurities often create imbalances between the three. Over time, each character wields a different level influence on the others. We might call this "personality." We might call it "neurosis."

Stress can to some degree be viewed as the manifestation of the different types of struggle taking place between these three characters.

When the critic is screaming those oh-so-sweet-nothings of self-doubt and unworthiness, it means there's dissonance created by some inability by the artist and the executive to deal with a situation. The artist wants to go one way, but the executive is dragging him in another, or vice versa. The critic is sounding the alarm, but his job isn't to problem-solve; he just knows something is wrong. 

When the executive is overpowering, it looks like an inability to sit still, perhaps caused by some disagreement between the artist and the critic. Maybe the artist wants to express something that the critic doesn't think is a good idea, and the executive doesn't want anything to do with that conversation (even though it might be a useful one). The executive is providing a solution, but he doesn't understand the problem.

When the artist takes complete control, it can be characterized by obsessive, frenetic (and maybe hermetic) tendencies all driven by the desire to create and express. What's the tension here? Perhaps the executive and the critic are having a hissy fit. They can't come to terms on what to do, and so the artist is impatient and decides to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at the problem. The artist doesn't care for solving problems or providing solutions; he just wants to express something core to his being, at the expense of all else. 

Depending on your personality, you may be picking sides already. I know I love the artist and everything he stands for, but I know other people who would side 100% with the executive, and others who think the critic is highly underrated and needs some love, too.

Yet Another Personality Typeset 

All three need to know their role in any given situation. They need to maintain a healthy relationship with each other. That doesn't mean that they all share the load equally. I'd say there are 6 different permutations that arise from a stable-but-hierarchical arrangement between the three characters:

Exploratory Risk-Taking:
  • The artist searches for a medium to create in, the executive guides that search, and the critic only intervenes if the artist and executive are being erratic.
  • Ethos: "Express and create at all costs."

Exploratory Door-Closing:

  • The artist still searches for a medium to create in, but this time is guided by the critic's discerning eye. The executive only steps in if there hasn't been much action for a while.
  • Ethos: "Express in the right way."

Experimental Analysis:

  • The critic is trying to understand a novel situation, guided by the artist's expansive view of the world. Again, the executive only steps in if there hasn't been much going on.
  • Ethos: "Carefully expand capacity."

Experimental Activity:

  • The critic is still trying to understand something new, but he's now guided by the executive's bias for action. This time, the artist sits back and intervenes if the critic and executive are missing something obvious.
  • Ethos: "Carefully test the waters."

Purposeful Doing:

  • The executive knows what needs to be done, and his striving is guided by the artist's ability to figure out different ways to get something done. The critic sits on the sidelines, looking for cracks in the "this needs to be done" argument.
  • Ethos: "Get it done."

Purposeful Planning:

  • The executive knows what needs to be done, but his actions are guided by the critic, who make sure nothing gets overlooked. The artist sits on the sidelines, making sure those two aren't exhaustively searching in the wrong place.
  • Ethos: "Figure it out."

The cool part is that there's a time and place for each one of these permutations. I feel it takes a pretty self-aware person to be able to comfortably go from one to the other; most of us spend our time in maybe two of these types for our entire life. This leads to "old dog, no new tricks" behavior because when you've found a long-term comfort zone with one type, the other types atrophy.