One of the frustrating aspects of life is the many things that go unseen and the importance that is attached to the few things that are seen. This bias explains many economic fallacies, but its level of frustration is also more down to earth, when for instance, the McMansion is seen, but the $500,000 mortgage is not. Oh yeah, and that you see my RV but don’t see my stock portfolio.

One of the prime problems of interpersonal understanding is comprehending the personality aspects that go unseen. (I consider this book my bible of this field. I wish more normal people would read (it).) It is “seen”, actually heard, what people say, but it is not seen, what people mean, it is not seen what people hear, and it is not seen what people understand from what they hear.

One of the biggest behavioral differences comes from the difference between introversion and extraversion.

It is often said, perhaps annoyingly derisive, that introverted persons have a rich inner life. One way for an extravert to understand this is to think of the “inner voice”. I have never been in the head of an extravert (I imagine it is a quiet and lonely place), but I can tell you how this works in my head. I am heavily introverted. At any point in time, that is, practically all the time, I have either a monologue or a dialogue going in my mind. I need to be involved in something that requires my full attention (or else I will die/screw up/break something) to turn it off. When I talk with other people, that one person just adds one voice to the mix. You may think of it as a 25% or 33% improvement in quantity. One problem, of course, is if the added quality is low (another problem is that speaking freely typically happens at 110WPM and my inner voice speaks somewhat faster than that), for example, if the person is boring, then my inner “voices” will either start drifting off and talk about something else or try to analyze if there is anything significant about whether the person thinks it is going to be warm today or that her niece just turned 12 years old or that his sports team won the playoffs.

(There usually isn’t.)

Now I speak of voices, but what I really mean is using a language to think—incidentally it is posited that a poor command of language means a poor ability to think. It has been shown that introverts have a greater level of blood flow to the frontal lobes, the cranial center of analytical processing, than extroverts, who keep their blood reserved for the back of the brain which is the center of sensory input and emotions. I also think in terms of equations, geometric figures, flow charts, contingencies, or body movements (for martial arts). If I played more chess, I might be thinking about chess positions and playing games in my head. Again, several lines of thought are concurrently ongoing. All the time.

What I am trying to convey here is primarily

  • In extravert terms, I have an ongoing internal party, and I am never alone or understimulated.
  • Outgoing interaction may increase or decrease the quality. Interacting is never exclusively a positive experience. It may be quite tiring or boring.

Another way to understand it is in terms of music. I do not know much about music except what I like and what I don’t and that my taste is quite eclectic. However, I recently learned that I very much enjoy contrapuntal music with many different layers and concurrent independent melodies.

This quote from the link above puts it better than I can:

It is hard to write a beautiful song. It is harder to write several individually beautiful songs that, when sung simultaneously, sound as a more beautiful polyphonic whole. The internal structures that create each of the voices separately must contribute to the emergent structure of the polyphony, which in turn must reinforce and comment on the structures of the individual voices. The way that is accomplished in detail is…’counterpoint’.—John Rahn

(In contrast most music today relies on harmonies and homophonic melodies (…Tick tock on the clock but the party won’t stop. No. Wo-oh-ohoh, Wo-oh-ohoh…), which I find boring. Perhaps this change came about when music was popularized to normal people who don’t deal well with complexity rather than being the domain of mostly introverted composers who revel in it.)

If we try to understand the introverted mind in terms of the quote above it may make more sense, why talking with others is generally not an aesthetically rewarding activity; or why going out and having a conversation over a cup of coffee or a monster truck rally is not desirable. To an introverted mind this can be worse that nothing but from what I understand about the extraverted mind, which cannot generate stimulation internally and thus needs to find stimulation in other people much like a diabetic needs insulin, talking is an improvement.

Now the question remains: How may we introverts try to understand the extraverted mind? For extra credit, find a piece of music that somehow reflects the operation of your mind.