Motivation and achievement

Alexander 'Sasha' Chislenko (
Sun, 01 Mar 1998 22:21:03 -0500

I have been thinking about people's motivations lately.
Not of all people, but the most adventurous, brilliant,
etc. - those whose experience may be of significance to me.
(And also of those who are not driven by the idea of progress,
just to understand what they feel.)
The goal is quite selfish - to understand what I personally
should accept as a worthy motivation.

There are some obvious drives.  Self-respect, power, money,
recognition. They can't drive one too far though, it seems.
Once you reach a comfortable level of these things, their
supportive role is over.  They can still play a motivational
role if one wants to get as much of them as possible, but the
continuing motivation by goals that are no longer rational
(and apparently are not analyzed) seems to be a serious
weakness by itself.  I would recommend anybody in such
state to stop whatever they are doing for these goals, and
try to understand why they do it, and whether they should.

I feel really sorry sometimes for the world's so called
greatest people who keep running after power and recognition
for many decades.  At some point, it seems healthy to liberate
oneself from such need.

There are some drives that may seem non-perversely endless.
Such as desire to improve things for other people, or curiosity
to understand everything that exists, and build everything
worth building and experimenting with.

Let's look at these things closer.

Doing stuff for others has its negative points.  As an instinct,
it better be overcome - I really prefer choosing my motivations
consciously, just as I choose my actions.  It also fulfills a
need for recognition and feeling of worthiness; I just talked
about these.  In many cases, the desire to be useful stands in
the way of personal development.  Working for years on a textbook
on a subject that you know pretty well, or pushing forward some
particular discipline are good for readers and the discipline
(which is why they try to convince you that you should be happy
doing it) but are actually detrimental to your effort to study
the world as a whole.  Granted, some of such work can give you
educational personal experience, and it's definitely worth doing
once or twice, but I fail to see how a fifth textbook, a 20th
theorem, or a 300th student can be of much personal use.

Curiosity seems an insatiable thing.  You expand yourself, do
new stuff, discover new goals, see what you can achieve and what
you can do when you do - or do not - achieve, learn to play with
your motivational structure, etc.  We _are_ limited though in
how much we can discover and assimilate.  If you are _reasonably
good_, you can discover N new theories - but with sufficiently
large N, there seems to be an effect of diminishing personal
returns - you get increasingly reluctant to spend the rest of
your life to come up with another N theories.  You've had that
experience before, and N or 2N, you still don't know the world,
so why should you keep running the process that you already
know too well?   If you are truly excellent in your exploration,
things may seem still worse.  You discover dramatic new things
in new areas that people can no longer understand, you discover
new connections between new fields - and you get bored with each
before anybody can understand what it was that you were doing.
No sharing, no emotional support, no chance to learn from anybody,
and no implementation for your ideas. It's pretty lonely at the top.

When people - who do have some serious personal goals - mature,
they seem to hit these issues.  Many people give up on useful work
as both their field and their brain become somewhat stale, and
they no longer have the gratification from achievement.  Some
create an illusion of achievement, and hide in it.  Some settle
in an area they know well, and have enough intelligence and
persistence to be productive in it - but that means abandoning
the idea of boundless and open exploration for unquestioned
pursuit of a stable set of goals.  This also becomes increasingly
difficult, as many fields that are currently on the frontier,
are quite new, so they cannot have any settled old professionals
in them.  The super-geniuses probably leave the observable world
(I mean, one can see their projection on their observations space,
they still seem to walk around and publish something, but their
goals and motives are unobservable and unshared).

Am I missing anything?  (I hope I am)

Alexander Chislenko <>
<> <> <>