Monday, August 29, 2005

Pigeons and personalities

originally uploaded by sopayaso.

"You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile."

(Chuck Palahniuk, "Fight Club").

The Dirichlet principle (also known as the pigeonhole principle) states that

If n>m pigeons are put into m pigeonholes, there's at least one hole with more than one pigeon.

The same happens with personalities; there are 6,446,131,400 (CIA july 2005 estimation) people in the world, and there aren't that many personalities. Hence, as unique as we might think we are, we are not.


  1. The eggie fly strikes back!! ;)

    I see a hole in your explanation. You are assuming there is less than 6,400,000,000 (a million chinese more or less) personalities, but I think it depends on how you define a personality. If you only split people in shy people, sad, chatter, etc... sure there aren't many personalities.

    I prefer to think one's personality is much more complicated, and although two people could be very similar, there is always something unique in each one.

  2. Yes. Of course it depends on your definition of personality, and I was frustrated when I looked up the first definition in the Real Academia de la Lengua Española dictionary: personality is "the individual difference that constitutes each person and distinguises that person from others". According to that definition it is impossible for 2 people to have the same personality. Let aside the fact that even identical twins (100% DNA shared) are not exposed to the same things all the time and hence will be different (blinking eyes at different times could mean that one twin has seen a thing that the other has not seen, for example).
    I was thinking about the big picture: the way we react to situations, the things we say when confronted with others, etc. I think there is a set of categories in wich we can class people, and it would result certainly in less than 6,400,000,000 "pigeonholes". I just have not the space to prove it...

  3. The definition of personality from a philosophical point of view, however, is "the set of qualities that constitute a person or intelligent being" (according to the Real Academia de la Lengua Española dictionary, again). If we knew the exact number of qualities to be accounted for, we would know the exact number of personalities available. Any estimation?

  4. I did the maths. If you consider 32 of such qualities and you define the personalities by having (1) or not having (0) each queality (bye bye fuzzy logic), there are only 4,294,967,296 possible personalities.
    If you consider 33 (or more) qualities, there would be 8,589,934,592 (or more) possible personalities and I would be wrong.
    Hence, our uniqueness depends of how many qualities define our personality.

  5. Anonymous2/9/05 15:27

    Buff!! Too many numbers for me!!

    I agree with Simba: there is always something unique in each one. And I found that's great! It'b be very boring if all of us had exactly the same "personality" (in whatever definition you consider).

    But on the other way, it's true that although some little differences can be found, in the base, I think that some general divisions can be done.

    Do you imagine?? 6,400,000,000 "pigeon" and only... ¿10 or 20 big holes, for example?

    The question now could be: how many big holes? Or: which aspects could we consider as "general"?