Sunday, November 27, 2011

What Steve Jobs teaches about psyche and adaptive advantage

Steve Jobs bachelor party consisted of him, a reluctant Avie Tevanian, and one other guy. At that point in his life, he had no true friends. It's not clear how many he ever had, though he had many acolytes and several congenial colleagues.

He was a nasty person, though, like most of us, he improved somewhat with age. He never made it within two sigmas of decent however.

He was also a great gift to me and my family. We got the products of his company, without the displeasure of his companionship. It would, however, have been fascinating to observe his mind. It was extraordinary.

It was also completely unsuited to most of human existence. Even his powers of manipulation could not outweigh the enmity he created throughout most of his life. Were he born at another time, he would have likely died young. Throughout most of human existence his mind would have been a disability, not a gift.

There was a place and time where his mind was perfectly suited, and he had the fortune to be born to that time and to that place.

It's a good lesson on the distinction between adaptive advantage and dysfunctional trait. The distinction is not the trait alone, but its suitability to the environment.

It's also a lesson on the evolution of mind. Human minds are astonishing diverse; in physical terms it's as though a single species could have children with fins and children with wings. A winged mind flies in some times, drowns in others.


swiftone said...

"It was also completely unsuited to most of human existence," say you. Is that historical humanity, or humanity now? Just curious because it is a pretty big claim.

I've been thinking about a letter John Adams wrote quoted in a truly conservative website that might make you gag on your cherios if I linked it (and I'd have to take time to look it up.) Admittedly Jobs was an odd one. But I have a similar brother, and he's done well, but maybe he's not quite as unfit for humanity as Jobs.

JGF said...

I was thinking historically, but, yes, it's a big claim and I bet I'm wrong.

Isaac Newton, for example, was a famously miserable human being. It's not clear he had any friends. Even so, despite being born to poverty, he rose to great power and wealth.

Jeff Dutky said...

Steve Jobs was smart and charismatic. He had enthusiasm for many things that most other people simply accept or ignore, and he was able to channel that enthusiasm into action, and into concrete products. He also had some skill at politics. All these traits would have served him well in almost any age or place.

He may have been severe and unfriendly, but we mostly get reports of his misdeeds from people who admittedly disliked him (so we should take these reports with some suspicion). He seems to have been loved by his family, and a few people seem to have considered him a life long friend. What more can anyone expect from life?