In the quest of simpler explanations – Part I.

It was summer time. The weather was fine. The ants were tiptoeing to their holes. And I was screaming my heart out at the scariest mega roller coaster ride. They make you stand straight, uptight, back up against a tube wall and then they pull the ground from beneath your feet. So you free fall before the water gushes past and drags you on and on at different angles. But the thrill of the ride lies in the moment when you are standing and you know that they will pull the lever any second now, and the ground will disappear.. And then it does. There are some questions out there which do just that. They pull the rug right out from beneath your feet. They leave you unsteady and rattled. I came across one such deadly snake today. My question is, what do I do that is completely and entirely intrinsically motivated? Is it just me who has to think about the answer to this or can others share my scepticism?

I started reading this paper- and it talks about various categories of motivation. It talks about a state of amotivation, where you completely lack an intention to act- a state of extreme apathy. Now, this I am more than regrettably familiar with. Lying inside my blanket *groans*, pretending the time has stopped simply because I have would very well describe numerous mornings. In this case, I am not acting at all but it also refers to acting without intention– just flowing through the motions without really caring.

Then you have extrinsic motivation– and so many different categories in it. First, External Regulation– When you study because your mother tells (shouts?) you to (or clean your room for that matter?). The perceived locus of causality (location of the cause of your actions) here is completely external to yourself.

A second type is Introjected Regulation – when your behaviours are performed to attain ego enhancements such as pride or to avoid guilt or anxiety. How many times were you motivated to do something simply to demonstrate your ability (or to avoid failure) to others or to yourself? To maintain a sense of worth? To impress? This is generally shunned in society; it is shameful to admit you did a good job on the project because you wanted to impress your teacher. Sometimes you even do things like fixing a really complicated code for your own sense of self worth. Although internally driven, it still has an external perceived locus of causality.

The third category is regulation through identification– when you do something, or work towards a goal that is personally valued. For example, if you decide to start jogging every day for five miles because you want to stay fit. Then you have something quite related- integrated regulation– when the above mentioned identified regulations are fully assimilated to yourself and accepted as something you value and need. For example, you identified waking up early as useful to yourself because it keeps you fresh and active through the day and you did this everyday so that it became a habit. This action is accepted or owned as personally important. Although it shares many qualities with intrinsic motivation, these actions are still considered as extrinsically motivated because you are doing it for a separable outcome and not because the activity itself gives you pleasure.

Finally, you have intrinsic motivation– which is different from all of these. None of these categories intersect with each other. It is something you do solely for your inherent pleasure and enjoyment and not towards any practical utility. You could say that you read books only for your own pleasure but would that be entirely true? Perhaps subconsciously, you also read them so you want to follow the pop culture like your dad follows the news. Or you read them because it helps you make good conversations with your friends. Or you read them because you want to feel knowledgeable. Maybe you claim to do it for one reason but really do it for another. Or you start off doing it for one reason and end up doing it for another.

A question often asked is- why is intrinsic motivation even adopted, generally, as a superior form of motivation to the others? What makes it better than any of the others? Why is someone who does a task equally well for money or fame any worse than someone who does it for his own pleasure? After all, Individuals differ enormously in what makes them happy – for some competition, winning and wealth are the greatest sources of happiness, but for others, feeling competent or socializing may be more satisfying. Can you say that some motivations such as money are inherently inferior to any other?

Well, one answer could be- someone who is intrinsically motivated to study science would keep studying science even when school is over. He would have greater engagement with science problems and he would be willing to understand concepts thoroughly, to discuss and debate over things. He would do this because he wants to and not because he has to. This has a major impact on the amount of engagement and the depth of knowledge. He would push his boundaries harder and harder- till they collapse.

But does this ghost of a concept really even exist?

My professor says there is nothing like intrinsic motivation. He believes, “If a person says that he is performing an action because he is intrinsically motivated to do so, then the person is simply not digging deep enough into his own subconsciousness. Or he doesn’t want to admit the true reasons to himself. Or perhaps, he don’t know the true reason why he is doing it. The concept of intrinsic motivation is utter rubbish.”

A person not knowing the true reason for his actions aligns with the Freudian belief that we have unconscious desires which drive us, that we are simply actors in the drama of our own minds. But if this is the case, we can never know the truth. We can never know why we really do the things we do which makes my question redundant. Let us assume for a second that there are subconscious desires which we can probe into, that we can understand the meaning of our actions and that we are not governed by an unknown entity inside us.. or outside us, then what is it that you do which is purely and completely intrinsically motivated- devoid of any others?

(Well, I suppose getting laid would be one.)


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