What Makes Someone “Interesting”?

January 12, 2008

That was the topic at tonight’s philosophical discussion group (not the Thursday Socrates Cafe meetup, but another organized by John).

The discussion wandered around the concept of “what *is* ‘interesting’?” What makes something interesting, and what makes someone consider something interesting.

I think most of us agreed that determining if something is “interesting” lies with the beholder. Just as everyone has different views and opinions on things, that naturally translates to a level of interest.

One person suggested that he finds watching baseball uninteresting and wouldn’t do it by choice. He likes to *play* baseball, but from the observer point of view, it does nothing for him. He also mentioned that he doesn’t care for football, either, unless a team that he may have mild interest in is doing well and perhaps are in the playoffs.

This led me to suggest that perhaps “interest” has at least two components: intellectual and emotional. Also, I offer that the combination of the two must aggregate such that the level of “interest” is sufficient to overcome the inherent inertia of inaction.

This becomes apparent to me when you consider situations like the watching football only if the team is winning or is in a game of significance (i.e. a playoff game, the Superbowl, etc). Another example given was noticing a skydiver … it may be of mild interest to the observer, however, once the parachute opens, that interest may wain. But, what if the skydiver is a friend, the emotional component is likely increased sufficiently such that the observer’s interest level remains high enough to continue monitoring the activity.

However, I do not believe having sufficient “interest” is the only reason to pursue something or participate in an activity. For example, some work tasks aren’t exactly something of great interest, or perhaps a school assignment, or just cleaning the kitty litter box.

So, what makes someone “interesting”? Assuming that “interest” is from the observer’s point of view, a person or thing cannot be “interesting” in of itself, but rather it must satisfy a collection of intellectual and emotional stimuli of the observer in order to qualify. As these stimuli can expand and contract as the observer learns more about the subject, or as a result of time decay (or increased curiosity). “Loosing interest” could be a function of time decay or learning enough about the subject to realize that the emotional or intellectual stimulation is no longer prevalent enough to continue actively participating.

We also explored the observation that the typical human interest has an odd attraction to negative or dark attributes. For example, casual observation of the major media outlets clearly shows they have a disproportionate amount of negative news to positive news. Some postulated reasons for the gravitation to such dark actions like murder, theft, or revenge include:

  • Determining the “why” a person performed such actions (i.e. understanding the human condition)
  • An inherent desire or temptation within most people to perform a similar action. Obviously most people are not murderers, but most people *have had* an occasion where they would have the desire or temptation to act out of anger or frustration — just not enough to overcome the barrier of common sense or morality and take action. Perhaps also described as an unconscious jealousy of the perpetrator’s ability to act?

In the case of the person who proposed the topic, if he wanted to present himself as more “interesting” to other persons, he should probably find out what those persons found interesting and look inward to see if he had any overlap. If not, all is not lost, as he might just realize that something he hadn’t considered might actually be interesting to him after all, and that in itself could provide a basis for a conversation.

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